Six Sundays in July
Six Sundays in July is a story written by shukyou and illustrated by neomeruru. It ran in Yes, And 1 and can be found at http://s2b2.livejournal.com/254910.html and http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/mirror/six-sundays-in-july/.
Three decades in the lives of two friends.
The first time I kissed Frank was the night Joe Cornish died.
From fail-fandomanon.dreamwidth.org: "Jen and Frank and their relationship through the years, from the AIDS vigils of the 80s to the rigidly politicised 90s through to something-or-other in the 2000s. Jen and Frank seem secure in their respective sexual identities (lesbian and gay) but they find themselves hooking up over and over, turning to one another to fill both a physical and emotional need."
From pinboard.in: "the one about LGBT activists in the '80s having het sex in secret"
Six Sundays in July is unconnected to other stories or universes.
Everything in this story actually happened, almost. The specific people, Jen's book, and the rally/protest in the last scene are all fictional, but everything else around it is real.
I credit this story's genesis largely to Ann Cvetkovich's An Archive of Feeling, which is a book about what lesbians have done and still do to memorialize their traumas from and contributions to activism in the early years of AIDS. In the midst of a larger discussion about the power of rallying around ACT UP's identity, some of the lesbian members told stories about how they were having affairs with gay men back then -- and could tell nobody, for fear that their other gay-rights-involved friends would completely shun them. From the relevant section, excerpted from interviews Cvetkovich did with three of those sources:In a lot of ways, this is hard for me personally to wrap my brain around, since for me, there's always been the B in LGBT, and I came out within a context of people who stressed the fluidity of sexuality over adherence to other people's 'correct' definitions. But as those first and last quotes say, a community that perceives itself as under attack will often tighten its borders and demand strict us-vs.-them boundaries, and for the gay men and lesbians involved in ACT UP at the time, one of those uncrossable boundaries was the boundary of heterosex.
Well, I was having an affair with one of the men in ACT UP... We fucked a couple of times but we never told anyone. It was very verboten ... because we were both big dyke and gay man on campus. Look what happened to me after I did end up having a real afair with a man. I lost every single one of those friends. So there were very good reasons not to let people know. And there wasn't a lot of room for fluid sexuality because everything was predicated on a somewhat Manichaean view of the world. It was limited, when I look back on it. In the moment it didn't feel limited. It felt like "the truth". But I look back on it and I realize we actually really only saw the world one way. So when you see the world that way, it doesn't allow for a lot room for something like, "Oh, I'm a lesbian but, you know what? I actually find some men attractive and I want to have sex with them." There just wasn't room for that. You were either straight or you were gay. That's it. And that was part of the "you're either part of the problem or part of the solution" mentality that existed. I think it was a siege mentality, too, and that's what created some of the excitement of it, and the closeness. And that's what created, also, a lot of claustrophobia, incestuousness, and insularity problems. [...]
[...]I was also having a relationship with a man in ACT UP, a bisexual man, that I didn't think I could talk about or make public, either. Part of the reason I had this relationship was because I was talking about safer sex a lot.... I had never done it, so this man and I started fucking partly so I could learn how to do safer sex and practice; make my theory real in practice. Also, I liked him. He was a nice guy, and I didn't think it made me not a lesbian anymore because I was having sex with this man. It was the first man I'd had sex with in about twenty years.... But we were pretty clandestine about it. [...]
I fell in love with ACT UP, and part of what I loved about it was it was so queer. I don't think we used the word queer back then, but it just felt so good to be open about being gay and to feel so affirmed by everyone and to feel -- oh, I really belong here. Over the course of time I was involved in ACT UP, I had several different relationships. And although my relationship with Gregg [Bordowitz] was very on-again, off-again, it probably spanned the longest period of time and was a very deep relationship. When I first found myself feeling attracted to him, it was surprising and confusing, and I think it troubled me and made me sad because I thought, oh here's a place I finally belong, I finally identify with a group of people and feel like I belong, and now this set of feelings that doesn't belong here is rearing its head.
At the time, it was curious to me that so many people seemed invested in what I was doing, that people had opinions, that people were either "supportive" (quote/unquote) or angry and unsupportive of our relationship. In retrospect I can understand that. We had created a safe queer space and now there were people having heterosexual sex within that space, occupying that space. I can understand now why that was threatening. At the time it felt small-minded and painful. But I stayed in ACT UP and I still felt good there most of the time, and I still felt I could be a contributing member. There was still room for me to explore my lesbianism, I had relationships with other women while I was in ACT UP, and a queer space is still a space I feel really comfortable in.
Coming out as gay -- it gave me a container for my feelings. I had this word, and it could contain my feelings and describe them, and that was such a relief. I think the discomfort I experienced in ACT UP made me learn all over again that the trigger has to come from inside, from your initial desire. And I think now I'm more committed to finding a language that describes my experience rather than finding a definition that works for other people. I think identity politics can be a double-edged sword that way in that this definition and the container you seek for your feelings or for your culture is so helpful, but it can also be restrictive.
I'm not sorry for reflecting some uncomfortable yet historically accurate views on gender, identity, and sexuality here, but I am sorry a lot of them existed in the first place. There are lots of words in here that the Jen of 2013 would cringe to remember she'd once used -- but the point isn't that she's perfect at all times and in all places, but that she was doing good work the best she knew how and learning as she went. Part of the problem of progressiveness is that it's always progressing, and in working toward a better future, it has to encounter a lot of the problems of its own well-meaning past. But I think it's important to remember the 'well-meaning' part of that equation too.
My wife wrote her dissertation on ACT UP and the Moral Majority in the 1980s, and one of the conclusions she came to was that both sides often behaved reprehensibly, but the people connected to ACT UP at least had a reason: they were dying. That kind of survival mode doesn't lend itself to doing the most detailed critical reflection, and the people caught up in it often leave others behind, but at the time it's often what's necessary to prevent annihilation. What needs to happen next is that those left behind need to get gone back for. What actually happens isn't always so thoughtful.
It was originally conceived as a punchline for just the fifth section, but I think Frank's claim that 'anything is kind of gay if you do it right' is really the moral of the whole story. Can penis-in-vagina reproductive sex between a cisgendered man and a cisgendered woman be queer sex? Well, I myself have never tried, so I can't say one way or another -- but I know a whole lot of people who have and say it indeed can, and I'm not going to invalidate their experiences just because they don't match what I personally think is the 'appropriate' definition. I am many things, but the Great Arbiter of Authentic Gayness is not one of them. I believe that I personally do not know what the boundaries of queerness are, but I'm very interested in poking them all the same.