by Sara Renberg
“I did a reading at Bluestockings in New York City about four years ago, and there was a big discussion afterward about how frustrated I was that younger lesbian writers are not having lesbian content in their work. I know why they’re not doing it: because you can’t have a career if you have it. But unless people keep submitting that material, it’s never going to change. What we see is really bad-quality work, because the most talented writers are escaping the content. The literature gets destroyed.”
—- Sarah Schulman, interviewed by the Believer
I started off my creative career firmly outside of the closet. I felt like straight people had enough art by and for them, and since I was queer, then by god, my art would be too! I thought the distinction between “gay artist” and “artist who is gay” was irrelevant because I thought it was nonsense to rank aspects of myself. I named my band “The Dykings.” I wrote songs with queer narratives, queer references, she and her. At the time I was living in Chicago and buttressed by a strong gay community.
I remember I did not want to tell my mom the name of my band.
I decided to move to Portland in the summer of 2011 and left my friends and community behind. I did not know anyone in Portland. I drove across the country with the bare minimum amount of personal effects, and had the remainder delivered three weeks later once the moving company had obtained enough westward shipments.
The truck driver showed up at 10:45 on a Thursday night. He said he knew it was late, but he’d like to get one last load in. He said I would have to help him unload, which I was surprised and annoyed by. But I was eager to sleep in my own bed so I agreed.
Once he got inside he surveyed the extent of my belongings. I had three guitars, a laptop, a cat, and a pile of blankets. “Do you play guitar?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “I play guitar.” “Are you any good?” I said that I was. “When we’re finished,” he said, “I’m going to play a song for you.”
It was midnight by the time we were finished unloading. I hoped that he would forget his earlier declaration but he did not. I told him that I didn’t really think it was a good idea because my neighbors had asked me not to play guitar past ten o’clock. “I’m just going to play one song,” he said.
He played me a song, which I will charitably describe as “not my taste.” Then he handed me back my guitar and told me to play one.
I sighed and agreed. I tried to think of something that was complex, guitar-wise, so that I could prove to this asshole that I was a good guitar player, but also not too long, since I wanted him to leave. I settled on a song called “The Function of Lilith and Eve.” It was a good representation of my work at the time, and was often the song I sent to people who were in charge of booking. I began singing. There’s a reference in the second verse to the Songs of Bilitis, which is a coded gay reference, but I wasn’t too worried about him picking up on it. Then, as I hit the bridge, I realized what I was about to sing, which was something that was blatantly gay. It was, in fact, the gayest thing I’d ever written. I realized I was about to sing the gayest thing I had ever written for a truck driver who had consistently made me feel unsafe and uncomfortable, alone in my house well after midnight, in a city where I knew literally no one. What would happen when he found out about my gayness? Should I stop singing? What if this gets ugly? Was he going to murder me?