Jewelle Gomez was born on September 11, 1948 and grew up in Boston. Jewelle is of Cape Verdean/Wampanoag/Ioway descent, and was largely raised by her native American great-grandmother, who pushed her to develop her imagination, read, and pursue education. Jewelle graduated from Northeastern University, and earned her MS in Journalism from Columbia University. While in New York, she became involved in activist movements and black theater.  Just as importantly, she started writing.

In 1975, Jewelle saw the play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, by Ntozake Shange.  The play lit a fire within her, giving Jewelle the courage to focus her writing on her own life as a black, indigenous woman and lesbian. A few years later, while still finding her own literary voice, Jewelle had a chance conversation with a woman in an elevator.  When Jewelle told the woman she was a poet and was looking for a publisher, the woman said, “Don’t wait for a publisher – do it yourself!” That stranger turned out to be renowned writer Grace Paley. On Paley’s advice, Gomez self-published her first book of poetry, The Lipstick Papers, in 1980.  

Over the course of her long career, Jewelle has written poetry, novels, plays, essays, short stories, and articles; but she is best known for her novel The Gilda Stories (1991). A Lambda Literary Award winner for fiction and science fiction, The Gilda Stories takes place over two centuries, from 1850 to 2050, following the protagonist Gilda on her journey from slavery to empowerment, mortality to immortality. Through Gilda, Gomez finds hope and potential for herself as a native American, African-America, lesbian on her journey through America’s queer community, and America itself. 

Along with her literary pursuits, Gomez has been equally committed to organizations and movements demanding equality for marginalized communities. She worked on “Say Brother,” the first weekly black television show in the United States; was a founding member of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD); served as President of the San Francisco Library Commission, and on the Board of the Astraea Foundation, and was part of the 2004 lawsuit to make gay marriage legal in California. 

Jewelle and her wife Diane Sabin, executive director of the Lesbian Health & Research Center at the UC San Francisco, live in a beautifully preserved California Craftsman bungalow in San Francisco’s Westwood Park neighborhood. Fog and sunlight took turns dancing outside the windows on the May 2017 morning when Jewelle sat down to tell OUTWORDS her story.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:00:00] [inaudible]
Mason Funk: And so I have a combination of notes from her, notes from your questionnaire which you very graciously filled out, thank you for that.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah. Sure, sure.
Mason Funk: Some people are like It's been interesting. This is a new thing, that questionnaire, and some people find it either maybe too overwhelming. You don't seem to-
Jewelle Gomez: It wasn't overwhelming at all. I thought it was perfect because if you're doing this kind of project, you're interviewing so many people. It's not like this is a documentary about me.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:00:30] You're trying to put together a lot of things so it would be it makes sense to me that you would have a set of questions that people could respond to, one that would introduce you to us but to give you some continuity in the pieces that you end up cutting together. I thought it was smart.
Mason Funk: Oh, good. Okay. Thank you for that.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] I think some people I don't know. I don't know. Somebody said to me that if you're a writer, that you'll have a really hard time; but you're a writer and you didn't have a hard time but she's like, "Oh " It's just person to person, I think.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Mason Funk: It's totally person to person. Okay, you're ready to go Natalie?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. I am great.
Mason Funk: I have to cut her off.
Natalie Tsui: You're cutting me off. That's not fair. [crosstalk 00:01:16] we got to move on.
Mason Funk: Yeah, sure. So
Natalie Tsui: Although it was funny as Okay, I just need to do one thing.
Mason Funk: See.
Jewelle Gomez: I'm so happy, though, that you're doing this because our lives just could evaporate, disappear.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:01:30] I mean, chances of that happening anymore are much smaller because everybody records everything but Anyway, I'm sorry.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay. No, but I agree with you. Several people I think it's rare for someone to come along and say, "I don't want you talking about this topic or this topic. I want to get a broader review of your life story."
Mason Funk: [00:02:00] Some of the stories that I'm collecting or that we're collecting, they don't pertain to ... All that to me feels germane.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah, because of misperception of who we have been. Certainly of my generation and earlier, it's huge. It's really huge. Anyway, I lost that thought.
Mason Funk: Okay, so let's start off by having you tell me your name and spell it all out for me, please.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:02:30] My name is Jewelle Gomez, that's J-E-W-E-L-L-E. Gomez, G-O-M-E-Z
Mason Funk: By the way, just nod over to make Natalie invisible.
Jewelle Gomez: I'm looking at you.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk].
Natalie Tsui: Do you mind if we The sun changed outside if you noticed.
Mason Funk: I see it again.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah, I just recently saw it [Word is Out] again and when I saw it, it totally changed my life because I guess I was probably I don't know, 23, 24 or something like that.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:03:00] Totally changed my life. It was really amazing, and you think about what film can do. It's great. It's great.
Mason Funk: I ordered a copy recently on DVD and it arrived and it won't play.
Jewelle Gomez: Huh!
Mason Funk: I'm like, "Ah!"
Jewelle Gomez: What?
Mason Funk: I was literally going to watch it this last weekend because [crosstalk 00:03:21]
Jewelle Gomez: Oh great.
Mason Funk: and he's [crosstalk 00:03:24]-
Jewelle Gomez: Great. Yeah, yeah.
Mason Funk: other people that I know that I've I just have forgotten ... I just haven't seen that film [crosstalk 00:03:29].
Jewelle Gomez: [00:03:30] I know, and they had a big anniversary here-
Mason Funk: [crosstalk 00:03:32].
Jewelle Gomez: a couple years ago. I have a friend who was one of the co-producers so I mean, who I met later, much later. Just thinking about how that It could just Film can change people's lives.
Jewelle Gomez: It's really great to see
Jewelle Gomez: a life.
Mason Funk: Right. Yeah. Okay, so back on track. You told us your name-
Jewelle Gomez: Right.
Mason Funk: Tell me please of the day, your birthdate and where you were born.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:04:00] I was born September 11, 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Mason Funk: Okay. Great. You've given intimations through your questionnaire that your family was complicated, complex, and you ended up being raised at the age of eight by your great grandmother, but fill me in give me a little bit of a sense of what your family was like, the family you were born into.
Mason Funk: [00:04:30] You mentioned being on welfare or public assistance. Just give me a picture, paint me a picture.
Jewelle Gomez: Okay. I came to live with my great grandmother when I was eight years old. She was, I think, already in her 70s but she was still working for a little while anyway. Then she retired from a factory where she worked in our neighborhood.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:05:00] Her daughter, my grandmother, came and lived within blocks of our house so she kind of helped to raise me. My great grandmother, in order to receive public assistance for me, she had to legally adopt me because my parents, my father, still lived in Boston and my mother lived about an hour away.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:05:30] So public assistance would not support her unless she was my legal guardian. She went through that whole process and I watched her go through that. I found it amazing because she was really elderly, and to navigate those kinds of municipal That's red tape. We lived in Boston's South End, not to be confused with South Boston.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:06:00] Which was more of a mixed neighborhood in many ways in terms of class. It was mostly African-American but the South End at some point had also been a very popular nightclub area. A lot of blues and jazz artists used to play in the clubs in the area.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:06:30] People travelling through, famous people as well as local people, so It had been kind of a snappy neighborhood probably in the 40s and 50s and it still had a little bit of an echo of that musical past which I felt, so it always seemed like a really great neighborhood to be raised in.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:07:00] I also think because my grandmother had been a chorus girl in the 20s and 30s so she was very musical. My great grandmother also played the piano. I, on the other hand, I'm not that musical.
I had an incredibly music-filled childhood both in my home and around me. I visited my father on the weekends, almost every weekend, because he lived nearby.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:07:30] He was a bartender so, again, the music was alive around me. I forget how much that affected me as a thinkerMy ability to feel things, I think a lot came through the emotional release of music.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:08:00] As a young kid I think I was very I was sensitive to the fact that I did not live with my parents, that I had been moved around a couple of times before I got to my great grandmother so I think I felt a little bit insecure. I think that leads some people to anger. It led me more to that pleaser personality; if-I'm-good-they-won't-move-me type of thing as a little kid but I was always a big reader.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:08:30] Everyone in my family was a big reader. My great grandmother and I would go to secondhand sales and any book she could get for a quarter, she would have a shopping bag and bring them home. She stacked them up beside the couch. She would read them and I could read them, whatever they were, it didn't matter. So I grew up reading everything,
Jewelle Gomez: [00:09:00] It didn't really matter what it was. Detective novels, Fall of the Roman Empire; whatever cost a quarter, I was reading it. That was my major education, I think, and that understanding that reading was this whole world that you could go into and go out of yourself and into this other world.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:09:30] We also, and in some ways this may seem counterintuitive, but we also watched a lot of television. I was living with my great grandmother the late '50s, I guess '56 or so and TV was starting to become more of the norm. I remember when I was younger than that, not everybody had a television.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:10:00] In my neighborhood when I was with my great grandmother and then going into my teens in the 60s of course everybody had a TV and we watched TV. My great grandmother and I watched TV a lot. We read a lot, we watched TV a lot, and we looked out the window a lot. It was like we had these ways of seeing the world, these three different real windows of seeing the world.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:10:30] I think about that a lot when I'm writing, that observing through the window, observing narratives on television and the reading which is more interactive in a way but it's still taking in other people's narratives.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:11:00] That's how I grew up, and I went to all girls' schools.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt for a second.
Mason Funk: I want to go back and pull up-
Jewelle Gomez: Oh, okay.
Mason Funk: -all those threats because there's lots in there. It reminds me when you talked about looking out the window. Recently I heard oh, it was it was it was Diane who said typist typed, "writers look at the window."
Jewelle Gomez: That's right.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk 00:11:24]
Jewelle Gomez: Right, right.
Mason Funk: I'm quoting it back to you, but what did you see when you looked at the window?
Jewelle Gomez: [00:11:30] Well, it was very sweet. We had Our two front windows looked out on the main street. It was a big street in Boston, Tremont. She would sit in one window and I would sit in the other. You'd see your neighbors, obviously. People going in and out of the drugstore on the corner across the street; friends, strangers, people going to church.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:12:00] Once I saw a woman pull up in a pink Cadillac
Natalie Tsui: Sorry. Can I interrupt for a second?
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah?
Natalie Tsui: Would it be possible to turn off the refrigerator? It's making a buzzing sound and I think it's
Jewelle Gomez: Yes.
Natalie Tsui: in the direction. We can put the car keys in it so we don't forget.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:12:30] I was telling you the story You said what do we see out the windows?
Mason Funk: Oh, yeah. Exactly.
Jewelle Gomez: One time-
Natalie Tsui: Excuse me, there's a plane.
Mason Funk: Okay. Oh I see, yeah. She also hears everything because she has headphones on.
Jewelle Gomez: Right. We're 15 minutes from SFO.
Mason Funk: SFO, yeah. You're probably mostly in the takeoff path, right? Because they tend to come in from the South ?
Mason Funk: and then take off this way.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah and it's really good to be that close to the airport.
Mason Funk: [00:13:00] That's pretty awesome, yeah.
Jewelle Gomez: Oh my God. I can't tell you the flights I have just made.
Mason Funk: Waaaaaiiiiiiiittt!
Jewelle Gomez: Exactly.
Mason Funk: Then the doors close. How are we?
Natalie Tsui: I can still hear It's starting to dwindle down but it's like zzzzzzzz. Okay, it's not [crosstalk].
Jewelle Gomez: Is there something buzzing now?
Natalie Tsui: It's the plane.
Mason Funk: No.
Jewelle Gomez: Still?
Mason Funk: There's something over here buzzing.
Jewelle Gomez: Something buzzing.
Natalie Tsui: [00:13:30] Oh really? Maybe that's It's not the plane, it's just the I wish it's not my phone.
Mason Funk: Wait, what was I hearing?
Natalie Tsui: Maybe it's the alarm.
Mason Funk: Oh no, I was just hearing the camera.
Jewelle Gomez: It's the camera.
Jewelle Gomez: See, now I'm sensitive.
Mason Funk: Right. Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, so let me just record again. All right, and all good. Great. Hold on lovely.
Mason Funk: Okay, story.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:14:00] My great grandmother and I would sit in these two windows that faced on to the main street, Tremont Street and we just look out the window and talk. "Oh, look at that," "Oh, there goes Buster. I wonder if he's getting ice cream," that kind of thing. Watching our neighbors move back and forth, or "here comes the postal carrier, Jimmy, and he's going to come over here. I'll run downstairs " One day I was sitting there and I saw a woman drive up in a pink Cadillac, and this was way before the Aretha Franklin song.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:14:30] She got out of the car, she was dressed in all hot pink. Head to toe, high heels, everything; and she had a pink poodle, a miniature poodle who was dyed pink. It was the wildest thing I had ever seen. I don't know, I must have been 10 years old. I said, "Ma, are you seeing this?" She said, "Yeah " I don't know where she went.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:15:00] She went down the street somewhere. She was probably a lady of the evening because we had quite a few of those in the neighborhood, but I had never seen anything like that and it was amazing to me as a little kid. We just saw wild things and normal things but for me, I think I always wanted to make up stories about the things that I saw, always wanted to know what was behind it.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:15:30] Where was she going in this outfit? In my mind I decided that she was going to visit her mother and she dressed up to visit her mother, which of course was a reflection of me because whenever my mother came to visit me I had to dress up and put on my best face and play my piano exercises for her, which I was really terrible at.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:16:00] I realized I would make up stories and they always had something to do with me no matter what the story was about.
Mason Funk: What was that like growing up in a world where you dressed up to see your own mother? What is that like for a child?
Jewelle Gomez: [00:16:30] It was-
Mason Funk: All right, and tell me what you're talking about as you start in case my question is [crosstalk].
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah. I think dressing up to visit your mother or have your mother visit you is a little bit alienating, certainly for me as a child.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:17:00] I remember her coming to visit me on my birthday or the holiday, usually it was more like the holiday, Christmas or something like that, and my great grandmother telling me what to wear. Part of me was resentful because I felt I was kind of chubby as a kid so am I going to wear this dress and is it going to be uncomfortable or make me feel awkward, and I have to do this because she is coming.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:17:30] On the other hand, when my mother came she was so beautiful. She was always dressed up and her husband, they seemed very glamorous to me. It was both I admire them and found them intriguing, but at the same time I was a little bit resentful especially around the piano.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:18:00] Everybody was musical in my family, I took piano lessons and I wasn't that good, and I certainly couldn't sing like they all could, my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother. I would play these little halting pieces from my piano lessons and I was miserable because I knew I wasn't as good as them.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:18:30] I felt like I was being judged. They were all very nice about it but, again, I think having been moved around a lot as a kid, I was always worried I wasn't going to be good enough and I'd get moved again.
Mason Funk: Why weren't you living with your mother?
Jewelle Gomez: When my mother-
Mason Funk: Sorry.
Jewelle Gomez: That's okay.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Jewelle Gomez: You want some water?
Mason Funk: No, no it's okay. I'll be okay.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:19:00] Okay. Well, my mother and father split up when I was two. I don't know why I wasn't living with my mother. I know that I was sent to live with my father's parents when I was two and I stayed there until I was eight. Then my father's mother passed away.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:19:30] My grandmother came and got me and I stayed with her for a little while but she was still working and she was living in a very tiny flat in New York so then she brought me to her mother. That's how I ended up with my great grandmother. I guess my mother was starting a new life. My father also had a new life, so there I was.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:20:00] I felt ultimately, and this was the good news, ultimately I felt really fortunate because I was living with probably the oldest relative who had great stories, who had been raised on Indian land in Iowa.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:20:30] She was stalwart and steady and really was a great counterbalance to that insecurity that I felt. Incredibly loving although she didn't talk that much. She had that real traditional Indian thing but it was a really.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:21:00] I feel lucky because I understood fairly quickly that I was lucky to be where I was. My mother was incredibly charming and a narcissist. She was with a French Canadian guy who was delightful.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:21:30] He always had wanted a daughter so he was really nice to me. They lived in a dipstick town in Rhode Island. I mean, they looked so glamorous to me when they came to visit. When I finally went to visit them, it was like night and day. They lived in a really as my grandmother call it, a cracker box. They lived in this failed mill town in which people went crazy in her neighborhood when they realized my mother was not White.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:22:00] They thought either she was White or Central American or but mostly I think they thought she was White and then they realized that she wasn't when me, my grandmother and my great grandmother actually went to visit her. Before that they always came to visit us in Boston.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:22:30] It became this horror show and people burned trash on their front yard threw bricks through their window, called with threatening phone calls day and night. It was just really horrible and this was like a White working class town.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:23:00] It got solved because Interstate 95 cut through the neighborhood and so everybody had to move. That was the only thing that really stopped the harassment. I was really lucky I didn't live with them. I was really, really lucky because I didn't have to deal with any of that.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:23:30] I didn't have to deal with the fact that my mother couldn't assimilate all that information and it didn't translate for her into any kind of pride or understanding. I mean, she hated it when I stopped straightening my hair, she hated it when I got involved with African-American culture.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:24:00] She hated all of that in me. I don't know if it was because it made her feel vulnerable. I don't know; but everything was about her because she was a narcissist. As I said, people loved her. She was fun. She was a party girl but she had never grown up really. She had a husband who adored her and treated her kindly and was charming and grand as they lived in these really reduced circumstances.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:24:30] Ultimately I felt very fortunate to be with my great grandmother because she was I thought, well, intellectually and emotionally more mature.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:25:00] Ultimately, my mother went on this genealogical search and found a lot of the background for our Wampanoag side of the family and started to settle in more with herself as she got older but when I was young she wasn't in tune with me at all. Visiting my father, he was much more, let's say, fair. He was more regular, old.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:25:30] He lived in a neighborhood where any and everybody came into his bar where he worked. Some of my best clothes when I was in high school and college came from the drag queens who came into his bar. Miss Kay who was just my size except for she wore this high heels that I would never wear.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:26:00] The suits and skirts and all of that stuff I got from drag queens who worked in my father's bar because we didn't have a lot of money. The world he lived in was much bigger because it was the public sphere, it involved musicians. He was much more of a relaxed person and much more interested in me as a person.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:26:30] We had a deal at one point where I would teach him Spanish because I was learning it in high school and I'd give him manicures, and he would teach me about music because he had a great music collection. I had a different relationship with him. Part of that is you don't expect you expect different things from mothers and from fathers even as a kid.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:27:00] I felt more abandoned by my mother than I did by my father. Part of that was because I had lived with his parents for a while and he came to visit me but also because I saw him more regularly. Those were circumstances that The culture taught me to feel like she was more responsible so of course I felt more abandoned by her.
[00:27:30] On the other hand, that was the good fortune because being with my grandmother and my great grandmother was really it was really special.
Mason Funk: Great. Wow. That's a lot that's a lot of story. Tell me a bit about your great grandmother as a person. You mentioned that she had she was from Iowa or she had lived in Iowa and she had Native American genealogy or-
Mason Funk: Who was she?
Jewelle Gomez: She My great grandmother-
Mason Funk: Sorry, start again.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah. My great grandmother, her name was Gracias Archelina Sportsman Morandus. I wrote a poem about the names in my family because they're always so interesting to me. Grace A. she was called. She was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Her father was an Ioway Indian.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:28:30] Her mother I think was African-American. I don't know why her mother left New England and went to Iowa. I have no idea of that story but her father, he would be my great, great grandfather, he died. I think he was kicked by a horse that's why her name was Sportsman because he was a horse trainer.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:29:00] Once he died my great, great grandmother moved back to New England and moved to Cambridge. She married off my great grandmother to a Wampanoag Indian who was much older.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, there's like a drilling sound next door.
Mason Funk: Oh.
Jewelle Gomez: Across the street.
Jewelle Gomez: They're doing their They're renovating the house.
Natalie Tsui: It's definitely there. Hold on, let me just try and bump. I mean, I want to just hear it just that [inaudible] we've stopped them.
Mason Funk: Now they've stopped.
Jewelle Gomez: You're right, they've stopped.
Mason Funk: I think what I'm going to ask you to do also is maybe, because I'm aware of the time, I'm going to ask you to maybe tell me about your great grandmother but maybe condense her backstory a little bit-
Jewelle Gomez: [00:30:00] Yeah, okay.
Mason Funk: so that we can just get a portion of her.
Mason Funk: Including who her ancestors were, who her family were but trying to-
Jewelle Gomez: Condense her.
Mason Funk: condense her pretty quick.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. I'm still rolling.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:30:30] My great grandmother, her family was living in Iowa. Her father was an Iowa Indian. When he died, my great grandmother and her mother moved back to Cambridge. At a young age my great grandmother was married to a Wampanoag Indian, Wampanoag being the largest tribe in the New England area. She was very ill as a young person but she ended up Her husband passed away way before her and that she used to tell me she had been a widow for 50 years by the time I got there.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:31:00] She was very independent, she was very social; she belonged to social clubs. Not religious. She had a Bible but she didn't go to Church. She sent me to Church but she didn't go to Church. She had a large social circle and went to play Pokeno and that club stuff that older women do.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:31:30] She was very laconic, she didn't talk a lot. I mean, I could spend hours, just the two of us sitting in the window and I would mention seeing something or she would mention seeing something but not really having a big conversation. She was very determined that I'd be able to take care of myself.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:32:00] That was her biggest concern and I think, because she'd worked in a factory most of her life she was very she was very aware that women needed to be able to take care of themselves. Her daughter, my grandmother, had been married a couple of times but most of her life she was on her own. She danced on the stage in her youth, she worked in department stores and stuff like that bar made, that kind of thing.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:32:30] My great grandmother was very concerned that I'd be able to take care of myself that she pushed me through school. I mean, I love school; she didn't have to make me go but it was always what is this going to do to help you when you're out of school. When I got a scholarship to college, she was very, very, very thrilled because she really didn't have that in her experience on her side of the family but she knew that if I went to college I would definitely be able to get a job.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:33:00] I think her steadfastness Did I do something?
Natalie Tsui: It just like you're having me and just like I said but Ive been meaning to fix it. [crosstalk]. Okay, go ahead.
Jewelle Gomez: You want me to talk so you can see if you can hear me?
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] Well, I've got a question.
Natalie Tsui: It's on.
Mason Funk: Is it on? Okay, because I see one battery and it looks like it's barely, barely are those two bars ?
Natalie Tsui: Oh, no. This is battery.
Mason Funk: Oh that's battery down there.
Mason Funk: Okay, cool. All right. Oh, I see. Okay.
Natalie Tsui: They're all charged. They're all fully charged. I don't know why that one went. It might be a bummed battery or
Mason Funk: Okay. That happens too. Okay, so let's re-settle a little bit. So your great, great grandmother had this incredibly strong emphasis for example if you go to college.
Mason Funk: [00:34:00] What I want to ask while we're paused is what I guess, what would be the lasting legacy that you feel like you took from that very important relationship with your great grandmother?
Jewelle Gomez: [00:34:30] Two things I think I took away from my great grandmother that still guide me today, one is the need to be independent. That you can't really you shouldn't rely on other people to take care of you, that you should be able to figure out a way to do whatever it is you want to do and things will work out if you understand you need to take care of yourself.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:35:00] That has served me very well. Particularly wanting to be a writer, I was never going to sit around and wait for a publisher to show up and do this or that for me. I was never going to wait to become famous. I was going to write, which is the thing I wanted but also figuring out how to have a job and write.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:35:30] The other thing that I carry is that sense of how important the history is. Because she was so much older, because she carried her history with her, and she wanted to tell me what she knew, I feel like her narratives became my narratives in some level. It really fed my desire to be a writer.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:36:00] I think that's part of the reason that most of my fiction is historical fiction on some level. Because I feel like the history is really important for us. We need to carry our history with us because it help show us where the future is oddly enough. Those would be the two strong things I think I got from my great grandmother.
Mason Funk: [00:36:30] You partially answered my question because I was going to say why is it important for us to carry our history with us, and you gave me a reason, because they helped inform our future but I wonder if you could expand on that. Why is it important to carry our personal histories with us consciously as we move through life?
Jewelle Gomez: I think in a country like the U.S. where the tendency is to individualize.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:37:00] You are the master of your own fate, you create who you are. We tend to cut ourselves off from the past. We don't want to know how we got here, we don't want to remember the horrible things that were done in the past. We want to just say, "I am me, look at me."
Jewelle Gomez: [00:37:30] I think that's a falsification of who we are. We are those things that happened in the past, those things that are inside of us. You don't have to have had slave owning relatives to be a part of the slave holding legacy. You need to understand that and figure out who you're going to be in this culture today.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:38:00] This is a country that does not appreciate memory or history, really, and it's important certainly for people of color or people who've been oppressed or queer people to understand that the history can help us understand who we are both personally and politically, and we need that. We need that to be strong, we need that to be well rounded.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:38:30] We need that history to make sure it doesn't get repeated.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay, awesome. Thank you for that. Let me check. These are where my questions are, needless to say. Okay, so let's fast forward because one of the first things you put on your questionnaire was working for a Black TV show in the late 60s. I was going to go backwards one step and then we'll get back to that, but when you talked about watching a lot of T.V. with your great grandmother.
Mason Funk: [00:39:00] I wondered when you first became aware of the fact that probably there were very few people on those T.V. shows that looked like you. Do you remember when that when you when that became [crosstalk]?
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah
Mason Funk: Was that a thing?
Jewelle Gomez: We used to watch-
Mason Funk: Tell us what you're talking about?
Jewelle Gomez: [00:39:30] Yeah, the Sundays used to have a rotating series of Westerns. Of course I can't remember any of their names now but one of them, one of the shows had a Native American character played by Michael Ansara, who was not Native American, but for me it was really interesting that there was a Native American character.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:40:00] There was also the Lone Ranger, had a Native American sidekick who was actually played by a Native American, Jay Silverheels, I think that was his name. That struck me as very, very interesting. I watched the shows because of them, but I also found that I have a lot of anxiety about it, about watching them.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:40:30] Because I knew ultimately the things that happened, the ways that Native Americans were killed and their land taken and things like that. They were somewhat anxiety provoking to watch that. Any kind of western films really freaked me out because they were always waiting for the Calvary to come over the hill and I knew that was going to be a bloodbath.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:41:00] I mean, I knew that at 10 years old. I think later a show that made me very aware was of course Star Trek because it was the first time really I'm seeing an African-American woman with a speaking role that was significant.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:41:30] My great grandmother and I watched Star Trek all the time, faithfully. It was fascinating to see a kind of I don't want to say fully rounded because she was probably the least we knew the least about her but she had a significant role and that she was in charge of communications I always found compelling.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:42:00] She was the one who could tell the captain what was being said back at the base and what was being said with aliens. She was the link between the different species. I always like that. I always like that. Lieutenant Uhura was to many people in my generation she was a hero in many ways.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:42:30] It was a very ... post '68, things became much more people became more conscious of there's a market out here with Black people, let's see what we can do to capture that market. Up until then it was just very unusual. Variety shows. We would always look at to see what comedian or singer Is Nat King Cole going to be on or Ella Fitzgerald and stuff like that.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:43:00] After the late 60s, literally if you were at somebody's house and a black person came on a commercial everyone would yell so that people would come in to the room to see the commercial because it was so unusual. Isn't that pathetic?
Jewelle Gomez: [00:43:30] It's really It's just so bizarre because there weren't real reflections of yourselves. Once the Lone Ranger is gone there were no Native Americans on TV as far as I can tell until Star Trek Next Generation.
Mason Funk: This seemed like an odd question because I don't know if you think about these things this way, and certainly it's not my background.
Mason Funk: [00:44:00] But growing up with both African-American relatives and family members and Native American relatives and family members in both these relations, I wondered if there was if you're able to say, if your consciousness and awareness of your connection to this culture, your African-American heritage or your Native American heritage, how they developed did they develop hand in hand or was one more present to you at some time and the other one present at other times? Like I said, this is not my world but I wonder if for you what because you carry so much in the way of lineage and traditions from different cultures.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:44:30] Well, because I come from sort of a multi-ethnic family, all the ethnicities were there. My father's family was Cape Verdean.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:45:00] A lot depended on how close each culture was to you. I didn't know really my father's father at all. He was the one who was Cape Verdean. I didn't grow up with any Cape Verdean culture on a day-to-day basis, and I was aware that I was missing that.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:45:30] My great grandmother was my grounding in Iowa and Wampanoag culture, but she'd left Indian land when she was quite young. She had some stories to tell but not a lot, and we lived in an African-American neighborhood. As the 60s came into as we came into the 60s, African-American culture, the Civil Rights Movement, were on the rise.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:46:00] And so it was very hard to bring anything into the light except being African-American because the implication if you said you were something else, the implication was that you were not happy to be African-American. That didn't really work to sustain the Native American aspects although it was all there for me.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:46:30] When I was in high school my great grandmother wrote out a genealogy from me, going back to Massasoit who was the chief of the Wampanoag Indians when the colonists arrived and he was the chief for whom the State of Massachusetts was named.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:47:00] She literally lined it out on a piece of paper which I still have. That list has always been inside of me. It's really, I'd say, in the last 20 years that I've actually been able to try to integrate all of those things together, to start to write about some of them.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:47:30] When my mother got older she decided to follow that Wampanoag trail and got accepted into a group of Wampanoags in New England as did I and got my Wampanoag name. It was only later in life that I've been able to do that and to write about it, but not as a younger person
Jewelle Gomez: [00:48:00] Particularly I think for people who have been oppressed, the more you can consolidate your identity the stronger you feel particularly if your identity is one that has been denigrated or taken away from you. When I teach writing I try to get my students to think about who they are. Who were their ancestors? Where did they come from? Did they come from Germany? Did they come from Ireland, Spain?
Jewelle Gomez: [00:48:30] Where do they come from and what do you know about that? What do you know about them? What do you know about immigrants? What do you know about the country that they immigrated from because all of that puts you together as a wholeness? I think White, who we call White, they have all that stuff too.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:49:00] It's just they don't have to think about it and I feel like people are stronger if we can integrate who everyone is, who all your people All your people, who are they, how do you hold on to them. Again, it's about the history. I don't think African-Americans really have that singular identity at all, really.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:49:30] Most people in the U.S. are mixed in so many different ways it's like silly to think Black is one thing and White is something else in many ways so...
Mason Funk: Great. Thanks for going out that path with us. Now, I want to get back to that TV show.
Mason Funk: I missed two calls from my dad's nurse.
Jewelle Gomez: Check it in.
Mason Funk: Let me just pause.
Jewelle Gomez: Check it in, yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Let me just cut.
Natalie Tsui: I wasn't recording.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk 00:40:13]
Natalie Tsui: Okay. I was recording and then I pressed "record again" and then it stopped working. I'm so sorry.
Mason Funk: That's all right.
Mason Funk: Thanks for noticing. Oh my goodness.
Jewelle Gomez: Okay, so let me go back. I can repeat myself, no problem.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:50:30] Come in when you're ready.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, recording.
Jewelle Gomez: The Gilda Stories emerged first from a singular incident where I was harassed on the street by two guys late one night and I surprised them by going ballistic, I was crazed. I was so insulted and furious. I screamed at them, they run away. I went back to my flat but the adrenalin was still coursing through my body so I sat down and I wrote the incident.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:51:00] In the story that I wrote, I killed these two guys and throw them into the Hudson River. Then I started to think, well how could a person do that? How could a singular person do that? I had read Anne Rice's vampire novel, I had read Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's huge vampire series so I said, "Oh, of course my characters are vampire."
Jewelle Gomez: [00:51:30] Already it has morphed for me to my character. She's a vampire, that's how she could do that and then I said, "Oh, this is really interesting. Well, who is she? Where did she come from?" I started thinking more about it and the philosophy behind it because I didn't want to write more Dracula.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:52:00] I wanted a character that was specific to me and my experience so I think, "Well, yeah. Would she keep people with her that she loved? Would they always be with her?" I thought, "Yeah, I would keep my great grandmother with me. I would keep my grandmother with me." I started thinking of the stories each time I wrote one. It was as if I could have them travel with me always even when they were gone.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:52:30] Each time I would sit down to write a Gilda Story, I was connected to them in this really visceral way even though they were already gone. Over time, I wrote eight of them, I guess. They were very popular. I would read them do intimate reading. A couple of people approached me about publishing them.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:53:00] I sent the story ... I asked Audre Lorde, who was one of my mentors in New York, if she would read them. It was very forward to really do that. She really didn't know me that well. She was like the Poet Laureate of the State of New York and I said, "Audre would you please read this and tell me what you think I should do?" She said in her very elegant Caribbean accent.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:53:30] "I don't care for short stories that much and I really don't care for vampires but of course I'll read them." She read them. She gave me fabulous notes and she said, "But this is really a novel. You have to change it." I thought, "Okay, this is a novel." Nancy Bereano who ran Firebrand Books which was one of the premier lesbian feminist publishers said, "I'm really, really, really interested but we have to turn this into a novel."
Jewelle Gomez: [00:54:00] I said, "Funny you should say that. Audre said the same thing." We spent a year working on that, how to create a line through and make the narrative really hold together. That's how the Gilda Stories was born and published in 1991.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:54:30] It was The novel was a combination of so many things I felt politically and socially. How the Gilda character needs to find family even though she now has power over life and death. Even though she's come from these dire circumstances, slavery. It doesn't mean her life was perfect, it means she has to relearn how to be in the world.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:55:00] She has to relearn what's important, what's valuable; how to manage this power so that she's not the same exploiter as the people who enslaved her because she's got power over life and death. How does she learn to tame that power? That was really interesting for me philosophically to think about.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:55:30] Because it is about power and responsibility, community and family. I think those are the themes of pretty much everything I write. Gilda has become my I don't know what you call it, not Avatar but my muse in a way.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:56:00] I can always go back to her and think about her and find another story. I'm now working on the second Gilda novel. I mean City Lights Books just did the 25th anniversary of the Gilda Story so of course it's on my mind and it has reignited the audience, some are people who come to me to readings says, "Oh, I read this when I was in college 25 years ago".
Jewelle Gomez: [00:56:30] And others who just had never heard of the book so it's reignited their interest and my interest. I'm about halfway through a second Gilda novel. The book will emerge from who I am but certainly I'm a different
Jewelle Gomez: [00:57:00] I don't want to say different but I'm 25 years older so the stories I want to tell are a little bit different and that's fun for me. That's exciting.
Mason Funk: Oh, I love all that. That's so cool. Congratulations, by the way. I'm so glad to hear that you're writing another one.
Let me ask you, there's a few questions in there. One, I love this idea that Gilda has attained the ultimate power, power of life and death. That's pretty much That's it.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:57:30] That's what yeah.
Mason Funk: That's sounds like power. With this power comes this responsibility that she has to work out. I also wonder if, in a way, Gilda, if you see her as a stand in for the extraordinary power that queer people have that's not always recognized, needless to say, by society or even embraced but it is an incredible power.
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] We see her as and us as like all having this power that we have to learn how to embrace and channel. Is there any connection there for you?
Jewelle Gomez: There's definitely a connection for me with Gilda and the queer community because in many ways her life parallels what I see we as queer people have had to do.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:58:30] Certainly queer people of my generation and before. That is, develop a community that will sustain us because we can't count on our biological community. I wanted Gilda to be the kind of person who understands the need to connect so I created a vampire community who understands vampires survive because they are connected to mortals.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:59:00] It's not just the blood connection, it's they need to be connected emotionally to mortals, and I feel that for queer people that's our super power, really connecting with each other. You can go to any queer community in the world.
Jewelle Gomez: [00:59:30] It's usually going to include a more diverse group of people than any other community. I know their issues around which clubs don't want Black people in them and how we have the Latino gay bar here. I know that happens because we are also a reflection of the larger culture.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:00:00] However, in most queer activism you will find a huge diversity of people. I always feel fortunate because if I weren't a lesbian I wouldn't know the vast array and variety of people that I know. I would be living in a much more monochromatic, mono cultural community as I think heterosexuals do most of the time.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:00:30] That is our superpower; we can make a connection with just about anybody in the world. Ill never forget, my spouse and I, Diane and I, were down in Gulfport, Mississippi. I had some step cousins and my stepmother that we had moved back down there. Needless to say, I don't know anything about the south. I had never been raised in the south or anything so it was really freaky for me to be in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:01:00] We just went down to help my step cousins get organized. We went to one of those big box stores to buy some groceries for the house and things for all the kids. We're going up and down the aisles. It was a little nerve wracking. I was nervous; I mean as a Bostonian, a person of color, a lesbian. You could really tell I'm a lesbian when I'm with my girlfriend who's a fabulous butch.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:01:30] We looked down the aisle and we saw two gay men. Our radar went up and we started stalking them through the store. There were two white gay men. They were probably a little bit younger than us. I was wheeling my cart and I went around to try to get in front of them.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:02:00] They came up and I just said, "Hi." They were just, you know, "Hello." They didn't make contact. Then Diane came around the corner and once she was beside me they realized we were lesbians. Then they said, "Hi! How are you all doing?" We're like, "Great! How's it going?" They're so cool. Everything is cool. We just said maybe three sentences, five sentences and we were connected.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:02:30] If we had wanted to know more, we could've talked to them more but we werent going to be there long and all we wanted was the connection, and they were totally cool with that. That wasn't going to happen except that we were queer and we recognized each other, and that was fabulous. That was fabulous. I think we do that with each other, and that's the thing.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:03:00] If we can bring that to a deep political movement, that's the thing I think that will change the world, how we connect with each other. I think as a lesbian feminist I see that all the time and wanting that to spread throughout the queer community because I do see that as a big instrument for social change, that ability to connect.
Mason Funk: [01:03:30] That's really interesting partly to me because I keep saying as a refrain for when people say why OUTWORDS. I keep saying you've just given me a lot more, I don't know, a foundation for what I've been saying which is that I feel like our community has wisdom that is valuable to the larger community.
Mason Funk: You really just put that in a word.
Jewelle Gomez: It's true. I mean, we do. We have this
Mason Funk: Tell me, when you say "we."
Jewelle Gomez: [01:04:00] I think that queer people have great understanding of living on the margins being both in and out, and we utilize that all the time. We know how to find each other usually. Once we find each other, we make family, we make community. Nowhere is that more evident than when you look at some of the political movements of the last 25 years. The AIDS crisis was certainly a moment.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:04:30] And I'm using the queer community to include everyone, all the initials. That was a place where we were able to come together because we needed to and it was life or death. I think we've learned since then that we can do that around other things like, supporting political candidates and figuring out what our children need when they go to school, how to protect them.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:05:00] How to educate the educators so that the kids are treated well. I mean, we've got these skills, we've got these superpowers that as queer people we could help the world understand a lot better and do a lot better. As I said earlier, going to my father's bar were everyone was welcome, I learned every place needed to be like my father's bar.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:05:30] I could not go someplace and reject one person because I didn't know them or didn't understand them or had never seen anyone like them. I couldn't do that. I find that I have that in common with most queer people I meet.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:06:00] The ones who have a difficult time with difference, they're teachable. They're teachable. I've been around the country to all kinds of events, queer events. I was in Iowa for gay pride in a college at Grinnell and they had a dance on a Saturday night. I was there as a speaker.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:06:30] They said, "Oh please come to the dance tonight," and so I did. Everybody was wearing pink triangles and I thought, "This many gay people in Grinnell College in Iowa?" The student who was organizing it said, "Oh no, they're wearing them in solidarity," and I thought "smart." Smart to get even non-gay people to understand.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:07:00] If you mark yourself, you're going to be recognized and that could be both a good thing and a bad thing, but to understand there is a way to be in solidarity with people that maybe you don't understand or had never seen before, and it was great. This kid, this young kid, he was probably 19. His parents came, they drove in from their farm, three hours, wearing their pink triangles at this dance in Grinnell Iowa.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:07:30] In that, I saw how social change happens, and we're the ones who can drive it.
Mason Funk: That's awesome. I love that story. I drove last summer, in the first year of OUTWORDS, I drove five hours to Iowa-
Jewelle Gomez: Oh God!
Mason Funk: from Chicago.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah. Yeah, right.
Mason Funk: [01:08:00] [crosstalk 01:07:58] this guy and he ended up making story. I could tell you more about that, but I want to go back to the incident that provoked the provoking incident for the Gilda Stories namely these two guys who harassed you. I wonder if you can comment a bit more on how this negative incident You laugh about it now but at the moment you're enraged to the point of literally yelling at two men who very positively had the ability to hurt you and how that became this catalyst for something very creative inside of you. I guess I just wonder if you can comment on that, that alternate.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:08:30] Right, right. I think in general I'm a very positive person. I'm very usually pretty hopeful even under circumstances I don't understand or I feel hurt. I may go down but I bounce up pretty quickly.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:09:00] When these two guys verbally harassed me, they didn't physically harrass me, they verbally harassed me, there was something about that particular moment in which I was so insulted and enraged as a woman. I felt like all the women who had ever been insulted on the street were in my body.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:09:30] I could feel them rising up inside of me and if I had to pick up a garbage can from the corner and beat these guys I was going to do it. Fortunately, they thought I was nuts so they run away. When I got home and I'm still shaking because there is a chemical reaction, of course, with that kind of emotion, I wrote out a story in which they're killed but then I became the artist.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:10:00] Then I understood I wasn't going to write a story in which the main character is going to kill somebody. That was not in keeping with who I am as a lesbian feminist, it was as a writer, I think.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:10:30] My perspective then shifted. Well, how can I move this character so that she does protect herself, she does save herself and she doesn't kill them?
Jewelle Gomez: [01:11:00] Ultimately, the story that gets published is she reaches inside the guy, because there's one guy in the story, and shifts his perceptions so that when he wakes up after she takes his blood, when he wakes he's a changed person. That became the basis of the philosophy for my vampires which is blood is you're sharing. You take the blood from the person and you leave them something in exchange.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:11:30] That has been the philosophy of the whole novel and the play that I wrote. I think it was being a writer that got it to metamorphose into a more creative, thoughtful exchange rather than a murderous rage.
Mason Funk: [01:12:00] That triggers some thoughts about the AIDS epidemic which I wanted to get to already, but one of the ideas I mean, needless to say when AIDS really began to run roughshod through our community and God knows we weren't getting any help from the powers that be, it ignited rage. In my sense of things, it wasn't only rage about the specific incident, and a disease, and a non-responsive government. In a way, I thought it was the rage of the ancients.
Mason Funk: I guess and so once again I felt like that rage saved us and that rage could never We can never again look at rage as a-
Jewelle Gomez: Totally negative, yeah.
Mason Funk: That's just a theory of mine. I wonder if that resonates with you in terms of what you witnessed in the transition from being knocked back completely by this horrible disease to this powerful response that saved us.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:13:00] Yeah, yeah I was literally just talking about this last night. I'm part of an anthology called Radical Hope and we were asked to write essays about radical hope between the election and the inauguration. We had a month literally to get this done. One of the things that
Jewelle Gomez: [01:13:30] We did a reading last night and one of the things all the authors felt was if we can take away anything positive from these election, the 2016 election or what I call the Zombie Apocalypse, it is it's so enraged people that we know we got reactivated, that people who had been activists became activists again, those who had never considered being activists were going to be activists.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:14:00] I think rage is a place to start and what we figured out, I think, during the AIDS crisis, the rage was a buildup of all of the things that had happened to us; parents' rejection, inability to rent apartments, losing jobs, and now the healthcare system was going to let us die.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:14:30] I think that rage was a gathering of all those things historically and then we were able to take it to the next phase which is action. The great feminist of the great suffragettes, Emmeline Pankhurst, said "Deeds not words."
Jewelle Gomez: [01:15:00] We were able to create action from those words and from that anger and pull community together to follow through on those deeds, and it changed our community. It changed the United States, really. It's a very It could have been so devastating that we were down and we couldn't get back up, but fortunately it wasn't. Fortunately it wasn't.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:15:30] I know the anger sometimes is still there when I think back on it. I still have a lot of anger, fury and how long it took but that fury served us well, and we need to remember. It is a fuel, you know? It is a fuel, so
Mason Funk: [01:16:00] Yeah. It's a fossil fuel. It's a good fossil fuel.
Jewelle Gomez: It is a good fossil fuel.
Mason Funk: Now I want to talk, because in your questionnaire you commented on how the AIDS crisis shifted the mainstream's focus, sometimes in troubling ways to us and our human rights.
Mason Funk: [01:16:30] There's two things in there that I want to follow up, one is how to shift to our focus and what were the troubling ways that you why did you write that?
Jewelle Gomez: For the mainstream culture, AIDS became for a while an example of what was wrong with gay culture. They got focused on sex, they got focused on bathhouses.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:17:00] I mean, I was in New York at the time. I participated in the group that founded GLAAD and our real focus was how to keep the daily newspapers from demonizing the gay community. How to keep the newspapers from supporting this culture of hatred for gay men which of course then reflected on gay women and all of us.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:17:30] That was very dangerous. That was very, very dangerous because it was very easy to point to the pride parades and the men wearing leather halters and stuff and say, "Isn't that horrific?," "Isn't that horrible?" as opposed
Jewelle Gomez: [01:18:00] I mean, I could point to heterosexual men in leisure suites and say, "Isn't that disgusting" quite honestly. That was scary and that was dangerous. It could have just as easily kept going that way except that organization stepped up and said, "No, no, no, no, no. You can't do that." GLAAD had it's very first The very first editorial meeting that the New York Times and the Daily News ever had with a gay organization and serving notice.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:18:30] No, you can't get away with that because we actually do have power. If every gay person in New York City cancel their subscription to the New York Times, you'd be very unhappy. You'd be very unhappy. In that way it was both scary and negative.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:19:00] At the same time made us recognize the power that we had as gay people, that we could move in concert to shift the paradigm. Then, amazingly, people can poo-poo all they want. Hollywood actors do this and that, and why is this so important? Well, it is important because they're larger than life. When you go to the movies you see somebody up on the screen, they're 15 feet tall.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:19:30] It doesn't matter that they're only just an actor and probably don't read books. What matters is that they're Elizabeth Taylor telling you, you got it wrong, you need to be shifting into gear to figure out what we can do to help people. It doesn't matter that Rock Hudson was so closeted and helped in being closeted by his agents and everybody who wanted him to keep making money.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:20:00] What matters in the end is you've seen him for 25 years, 15 feet tall on your screen. He meant something to you and now he's got it and now you need to think about what you're going to do about it. It's odd that the culture works that way but it does and it meant something and it still means something.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:20:30] For Ellen to come out how many years later, that was huge. That was huge. It doesn't matter who Ellen was, what matters is what she looked like, how familiar she was and that she stepped out of the TV screen and say, "Yep, I'm gay." It helps that she has a happy personality, a sunny disposition, that's fine.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:21:00] The complications of who we are, you got to come through a door somewhere, it might as well be somebody with a happy disposition and then learn the complications of who gay people are and we need that. We still need it. It's one of the reasons the marriage movement was such a big deal. Quite honestly, I don't believe in marriage as an institution but that didn't keep me from being a litigant because I felt like it's a right.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:21:30] If people want to have it, they should have it. I did end up getting married but my feeling is the reason it was successful is because marriage means something to everybody. There isn't a person in this country who doesn't know somebody who's married, married themselves, been divorced. I mean marriage is something that touches everybody and in a culture in which African Americans were refused the right to marry in slavery and refused the right to marry people of different races, marriage means a lot.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:22:00] Naturally, it fanned the flames of hatred, but it also made people understand more about gay people. You will get people talking about marriage and talking about gay, they said the word gay for the first time in their life.
Mason Funk: [01:22:30] What an interesting idea that that's how some people probably said the word gay. It was attached to the word marriage bizarrely enough. That would have been the first time they could say it out loud because they were saying it in the context of gay marriage. There's the word gay coming out of that one.
Mason Funk: [01:23:00] I want to go back to another question about the epidemic which was you also mentioned prior to the epidemic the women's movement had been going through a huge growth period with all kinds of different sub movements and separatists and a lot of just explosive power. There was at the time what some people called the pride divide. There's a thing called the pride divide.
Mason Funk: [01:23:30] People have commented a lot on how AIDS served a function with regard to the women and the men and coming together in a way around that disease but I've also heard, I don't know if this resonates for you, that for women in particular there was a real sacrificial quality of coming to the aid of their gay brothers at a time when they had just began to shed their roles. I'm not your caregiver, I'm not your nanny, I'm not your nurse. I don't know, I only heard one person say that and a lot of other people pooh-poohed that idea. Do you remember anything about that?
Jewelle Gomez: [01:24:00] Politically, I think it was a very, strategically and politically, it was very significant that in the women's movement in the
Jewelle Gomez: [01:24:30] By the mid '80s I think women had really gone through that development of an independent self in which the caregiving aspect of our culture, women's culture, was sloughed off. I think the movement had just started to reach another phase which was really more about employment.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:25:00] It was about sex and sexuality. It was just turning to its own strength, the women's movement, in a way that made it possible for women to step in. Women are acculturated to be caregivers, still are. A lot of lesbians were nurses. I mean a lot of lesbians even going back further went to Vietnam as nurses.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:25:30] Twenty-five years later, a lot of lesbians are still nurses, it was natural because that was their job and they were right there in the front seeing it all. They could be a bridge for lesbians who didn't have that specific caregiving education.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:26:00] And really wanted to do something by the time they understood what was going on politically but that ... it might have been difficult. It might have been difficult to step in as a caregiver. However, I do believe many lesbians were friends with gay men. It wasn't as if
Jewelle Gomez: [01:26:30] Even though we are separate in our many ways culturally, socially separate, I went to the garage and danced. There was a minority of women but I went there and danced. I knew a lot of gay guys. I worked in theater. I know a lot of gay guys. We were going to be touched no matter what. If a woman or a community of women is touched by something, hurt by something, angered by something, we respond.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:27:00] That's how we are acculturated. We do not shut down, we just don't. I mean I think it's one of the reasons that as the movement went on women asked, "Okay, so now how do we respond to breast cancer," which has been going on for so long and it's killing so many women and nobody is doing what they could be doing around breast cancer.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:27:30] That's how those two things got linked later on because more women were involved in ACT UP and the research. It worked to create community in this strange way and I think there were some women who were never going to be caregivers or caretakers, but I think the majority of women, they feel that urge to step up and be there.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:28:00] They acted on it.
Mason Funk: That's great, that's great. This brings to my other question. I wondered as we've been interviewing women here in the city this week and of course, this is going to go on all over the country as we shoot 130 years this year, hopefully, but I'm fascinated by the ...
Jewelle Gomez: [01:28:30] Wow!
Mason Funk: Yeah, I know it's [Crosstalk].
Jewelle Gomez: Damn.
Mason Funk: Got my work cut out for me.
Jewelle Gomez: Natalie is like going into shock. I saw that.
Natalie Tsui: No, I'm not. I'm only here for this week but if you ask me later, I'll be down but yeah, it's [Crosstalk].
Mason Funk: Natalie was like, "I didn't know about that part of the [Crosstalk].
Jewelle Gomez: Oops.
Mason Funk: No, actually, I was going to say I dreamed of and this will be an evolution even this year of me setting up teams.
Mason Funk: [01:29:00] It won't necessarily be me, it will be the women; a guy and a woman. A woman ask some questions and the guy is shooting. But I become really fascinated by the separatist portion of the women's community, the feminist movement in that day. I wondered how you related to the so called separatists, how much you identified or did you identify with them?
Mason Funk: [01:29:30] Also, I wondered if you see or saw any parallels in terms of that subculture within a bigger movement between the separatist and sort of the more militant black activists, civil rights activist in the year of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I'm just curious culturally if, if you see parallels and differences between these sort of sub factions that were having to work it out? That's a big question.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:30:00] Yes. I would say about separatists, I didn't like to call them separatists because the implication was it was in relationship to men. I thought of them more as Congregationalists. These were women who wanted to be in the company of other women. If that meant that men were not involved, that was a good thing for them.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:30:30] I like to take the connectivity to men out of it as much and emphasize that it was women who wanted to be around other women. I was not part of that movement specifically because most of those women bought land or moved to land where they could be together and I was living in New York City and men were everywhere.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:31:00] I was very close with a number of men. Vito Russo was the person who said, you got to come to these meetings with this group that turned out to be GLAD. He was my friend and while I understand that patriarchy is a big part of our problem I think men need to be educated as well.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:31:30] It's like we can't "smash patriarchy," to use one of the great slogans, without educating men as well just like we need to educate heterosexual people. We need to educate white people. I mean we can't do this all on our own. I wasn't really involved in that and I found it ... it's very difficult for people of color to splinter like that.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:32:00] For a woman of color to say well, I'm going to this land and be there with all these women and I'm not going to interact with my brother or my son, that's very hard because as an oppressed group, our families have already been splintered and fractured by racism and slavery and stuff like that.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:32:30] That wasn't really for me although I think philosophically we learned so much more from some of the writings because we were learning how women could create community together in the power of that. Connecting women who are focused on other women in a congregational manner I do think is a little bit of a reflection on like the Black Panther Party and the Black Nationalist Movement which again was a way ...
Jewelle Gomez: [01:33:00] The Black Nationalist Movement and the women who wanted to be together independent of male society, both of those reflected a response to oppression. I, of course, as a younger person admired the Black Panther Party and admired black nationalism.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:33:30] It gave me a lot, the writings, it gave me a lot, but I couldn't see myself as part of it because I had people in my family who are not black. Where was that going to leave me? I wasn't going to have a splintered family.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:34:00] I feel like what's going to evolve is much more how do we create the alliances for progressive change. I did work for black TV show. After '68 the country started producing all these black shows because they saw there was a market and I worked for this show at WGBH Say Brother, and around that time we had a national conference of producers who worked on these shows, African American.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:34:30] We were taken to Wisconsin Conference Center and for three days to talk about the strategies we were using to create these television programs, what they meant politically, socially. The group wanted to have there be an organization to grow out of it, a national organization of black media producers.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:35:00] And I remember arguing, and I was 20 at the time, everyone there was probably five to ten years older than me. I remember arguing why start so narrow. National Association of Media Producers of Color, start there then you can include the Puerto Ricans who are moving into the process.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:35:30] You can include Asian Americans who have their own television stations, you can include the variety of people of color and you have a stronger base. Well, that was not going to happen in 1969 and it was a lost, to me it was a lost opportunity because the nationalist fervor, black nationalist fervor really wanted to focus on the single community, black community, and right for that community.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:36:00] As, then, knowing I was a lesbian then and was a feminist, I knew that was really too narrow, that we were going to have to evolve to have a stronger base so that we were more inclusive. It's taking a long time to get there. I think we're just starting to get there.
Mason Funk: [01:36:30] That's really, really interesting and I do think I'd think you'd agree that for a long time, as you said, we bring our prejudices and our racism into We bring it with us whether we're gay or not, very similar. There was a long time when it seems like there was a tendency to focus on our people, I'm gay so I'm going to get all the gay people who look like just me.
Mason Funk: [01:37:00] I'm sure other groups felt the same way. Now we're gradually realizing that if we make our base broader and wider we're going to be stronger for the next, maybe the next generation of whatever comes.
Jewelle Gomez: It's okay to have those caucuses in which it's everybody who looks just like you. It's fine. I mean I feel like I would like more white people to get together and talk about what needs to happen to have things progress because then they have to go inside themselves.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:37:30] It's okay, I think, for African Americans to get together and look at their lives, their culture from their perspective, from our perspective. It's okay to have ethnic caucuses and gender caucuses, that's fine because then it means you can come to the larger group, I think, a little bit stronger and that's the thing I think we need to learn from activism of the past.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:38:00] There's an organization here in San Francisco called APIQWTC as for Asian and Pacific Islanders Queer, Trans and I can't remember what the C is for but that is a great organization. They need each other. They need to learn each other's lives and histories and stories and then when they have their annual banquet, everybody is there.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:38:30] I'm there, white people are there. I mean and it's in Chinatown usually in Oakland. Everybody can go, and that's the power of being queer together. We can pull all those things back together; our superpower, that's our superpower.
Mason Funk: [01:39:00] That really is interesting. It's like not losing our own heritage but as you've been talking about, connecting
Jewelle Gomez: Bringing it in.
Mason Funk: because then that's something that we bring to the whole community.
Jewelle Gomez: One of the things that we've learned and psychologists will tell you this, isolation is a destroyer. When I go down to my office and I want to write, I need to be by myself but I'm not totally isolated, I have all my characters. Isolation is just devastating.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:39:30] I mean as a young person I have a lover, a female lover when I was in high school for four years, high school, first year college, and then she got married. It was the 1960s, '68, I was alone. I was totally alone. I was alone in the middle of the Black Power Movement working on a black TV show with wonderful people who were lovely but I couldn't talk about being a lesbian.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:40:00] I couldn't talk about being part Native American. I lived in that isolation until I moved to New York in '71 and then spent probably two years figuring out how to be connected to a gay community and the isolation was devastating. I spiraled into a depression because I felt so alone.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:40:30] Even though I had dear friends I had no gay friends and where was I going to put being a lesbian in the middle of all of that. They say the same thing about elders, elder people. When they suffer isolation, they die, that's just what happens. They, we. We human beings don't do well with that kind of emotional and physical and psychological isolation and that, as gay people, that's what we can do is break that isolation.
Mason Funk: [01:41:00] Wonderful, such good stuff. Let me see where we are both for time and my list of questions. Okay. We're going to have to wrap up pretty soon but not too, too soon. I know what I want to go back, I want to go back to marriage equality because Diane told me that a year before 2008 maybe when you two got married that you had apparently written a column for Ms. magazine saying are you opposed to marriage and it always come back
Jewelle Gomez: [01:41:30] I know.
Mason Funk: You can be around this day and age and nothing you do.
Jewelle Gomez: Nothing goes away.
Mason Funk: I'm curious, you already touched on it, but I'm curious, talk about writing an article in Ms. magazine explaining why you were opposed to marriage for queer people and how in the end you got married and maybe that doesn't mean you just throw all those beliefs overboard.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:42:00] I wrote this article for Ms. magazine about gay marriage. They'd asked me to do it and I tried to have arguments on both sides and I'd interviewed Kate Kendell who's the head of National Center for Lesbian Rights. My feelings at that time and are still my feelings is that marriage is an economic institution that had been designed to keep women in their place and to keep their economic dependence.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:42:30] Which is why women couldn't inherit and why estates went to the sons or the husbands not women. That in the divorce the person who had the most money was the one who came out on top and usually, that was the husband.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:43:00] Marriage was always suspect to me. It had begun as an institution to oppress women and make them property and it had evolved very slowly but not enough to me to justify it as an institution. As we evolved, of course, there's the issue of children, a lot more gay people were having children so they needed to find protections for their children and marriage was the one institution that seemed like it would do that.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:43:30] We as certainly lesbian feminists had created all of these ceremonial things for bonding. A lot of lesbian feminists and I'm sure a lot of gay men did handfastings and all the kind of Wiccan things or jumping the broom, which was an African-American thing to signify a bond publicly.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:44:00] I think that's human nature, people want to signify that they're together. When the NCLR and oh, I'm just going blank, ACLU. NCLR and ACLU decided to do this suit against the State of California.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:44:30] Kate knew how I felt because I'd interviewed her and she wanted people who had not been married so that the suit indicated our right to marry was being blocked. There was a right and we were being kept from it. She needed people who were not married yet. She called me and Diane.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:45:00] We're feminist, we had a discussion about what marriage meant and when people went to city hall to get married we talked about it and decided maybe not. We'd spend a lot of money doing all the paperwork so that legally if something happened to one of us, the other was protected. Something you really don't have to do if you're married.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:45:30] When Kate called us and said, would you be litigants, we spent, I don't know, 30 seconds and said of course. Because despite putting aside what we felt about the institution, if people wanted to take part in that, if people wanted that right, why should they be blocked? That would be like saying, "Oh, gay people can't vote," as far as I was concerned. That was the equivalent of saying no, gay people can't vote.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:46:00] We agreed and spent four years on the campaign trail doing all the interviews and things like that. Of course, everyone always asked, "When are you going to get married?" We decided to do it and ultimately, what I learned was the institution still has a lot of problems.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:46:30] I, as a feminist, I can see why; but as a strategy, I think it was a brilliant strategy for our movement as gay people because, as I said, marriage touches everybody. Everybody has either has been married, knows somebody who's married, wants to get married. I mean marriage is such a core institution. It raises opinions, it raises discussion and for me, that was really valuable.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:47:00] Nothing else we were doing in the movement was going to involve the mainstream culture in the way that marriage did. Whether you like it or didnt like it, nothing else in the culture was going to be that far reaching as marriage was going to be. That felt good. That felt important.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:47:30] If I could look around the institution and look at the right, I felt very good about our participation in that. Then at the ceremony, which we had at the Public Library, what I saw in that moment was this is a way you build community. Because I can look around, see members of my family, Diane's family, close friends and library staff, because I was president of the Library Commission.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:48:00] The head librarian was there, the library secretary was there, the guards who knew me because they saw me every time I came in. "Hey commissioner, how are you doing?" I said, "Well, I'm getting married next week. Come on upstairs to the Hormel Center and witness my marriage," and they came.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:48:30] I saw that was how you build community. I performed a ceremony in a Mexican restaurant for two friends of mine and at one point, when we did the ceremony, the guys who were the busboys, they all stopped. They had their vests on, This was here in San Francisco.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:49:00] They stopped, they put their hands behind their backs in a formal stance. They knew what was happening. I dont know how well they understood English, but they knew what was happening, they could see what was happening and they respected it. That's how you build community. We all have a right to build our community. That moment was very moving to me.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:49:30] Those guys, you know, they were in their 20s. They didn't know us and here were all these lesbians but they knew what was going on, so that was great.
Mason Funk: That's a great story too. That gets me-
Jewelle Gomez: It makes me cry. It makes me cry.
Mason Funk: Yeah. You make me cry. Yesterday, my mother-in-law made me cry. All right, do we make you cry, Natalie?
Natalie Tsui: I'm okay.
Jewelle Gomez: She has to be able to see.
Mason Funk: [01:50:00] She has to be able to see. All right. We haven't covered everything. I love that we wove in a little bit about libraries in there because Diane had also told me to talk about library.
Mason Funk: We should probably start wrapping up. You'd been incredibly generous, so thank you for that.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, I have.
Mason Funk: She's like, But I have to focus on the camera. I can't prepare my questions. But do you have questions?
Natalie Tsui: [01:50:30] I actually have one.
Mason Funk: Great.
Natalie Tsui: I was curious, I mean this is like an archive so, I'm wondering if you could tell your coming out story.
Natalie Tsui: I know it's kind of cheesy but I was wondering if you could tell us that.
Jewelle Gomez: Not cheesy at all.
Natalie Tsui: Oh, okay. Great.
Mason Funk: You'll tell me as if I answered that.
Natalie Tsui: Dont look over here at all. I don't exist.
Jewelle Gomez: Well, Natalie, let me tell you. I've actually written this in my book of essays.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:51:00] I think coming out stories is the one thing gay people have in common. Wherever you are, you've either come out, you're not going to come out, or you're going to come out. The idea of coming out is really important I think in our culture. I went to the movies to see Alien with Sigourney Weaver. Maybe that was '79. My mother and my grandmother were visiting me in New York. We saw the movie, we're in the bathroom.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:51:30] They were in two stalls. I was washing my hands trying to get that butter off and my mother starts reading graffiti off the bathroom wall and they were reading it. We're laughing. My mother says, "Oh, here's one that's interesting." It says something like queer nation or something.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:52:00] She says queer nation, my eyes popped open or whatever it was. I thought to myself, "Okay. My life is passing before my eyes. I can say something or not say something." Because I lived in New York, they didnt really see me socializing that much, but I thought this is the moment, I really need to make a decision here.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:52:30] My grandmother in the next stall said, Well, I have this one it says dykes unite. I thought, "I need to say something." I said, "That's funny but I have a money stamp I use that's on my desk at home. I have to show it to you when we get home." My grandmother says, "Oh, I saw it. It says lesbian money."
Jewelle Gomez: [01:53:00] Of course, people are coming into the bathroom and you could hear a pin drop. I said, "Yeah, I only use it on my big bills." My mother and my grandmother cracked up. That was my coming out. That was it and I felt so fortunate that they lived up to my expectations. I felt like they would step up, they would not freak out.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:53:30] I was really grateful that that was true, that was true. That was that, really. It helped that I wasnt living at home at the time and I was in my, 1979, probably I was 30 or something. I was born in '48. I was an adult in that way.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:54:00] I know I feel very proud of them. I felt very proud of them that they managed to take it in and I'm sure they had their own issues and had to think about it. I never had to think about it again when I took my lover home or had them come to visit me in New York and lovers were there. Never had to think about it again.
Mason Funk: [01:54:30] It's a great story and it's a great illustration about humor.
Mason Funk: It's like a transportation system.
Jewelle Gomez: Humor is definitely the way My theory is always if people are laughing, their mouths are open. They're open to things. I often use humor to talk about hard things. It's the same with genre fiction.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:55:00] One of the reasons I like writing vampire stories or speculative fiction stories, you can do more breaking boundaries and barriers when it's in some world that doesnt seem your everyday world. That's one of the reasons I really like writing speculative fiction. She's a vampire, she's also a lesbian, but the real deal is she's a vampire. That works for me. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:55:30] Natalie, other questions?
Natalie Tsui: Okay. I have one other one. This is Yeah, also for the archive purpose but can you talk about your I mean vampires are really synonymous with lesbians in some right because it's like someone turns you.
You have like a second childhood where you're like discovering the rules. I'm wondering if you could talk about your personal experience and what that experience was like when you like got turned or when you realized this about yourself or did you always know or?
Jewelle Gomez: [01:56:00] I think I knew I was a lesbian certainly by the time I was eight years old. I had a big crush on a girl across the way and another crush on another girl. I was really focused on girls. I dated boys when I was in my teens and stuff because that's what you did.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:56:30] I had my first lover when I was, I think 15, a school friend. We both fell into it laughing. We're laughing over something and the next thing you know. She was the same age but she was more sexually mature than I and I knew I wanted to be lovers with her but I was really scared.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:57:00] Once she initiated, I was definitely into it. We stayed lovers for about four years and it didnt seem odd. It didnt seem bad, I didnt feel bad. I knew it was a secret and in high school, because I went to all-girls schools until I went to college because in Boston, it was like that mostly.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:57:30] In high school, everybody knew we were best friends and only once or twice did a couple of girls make nasty comments about it. I remember one girl saying something about my girlfriend and I was furious and I said, "Oh no. No, no, no, no. You don't want to go there."
Jewelle Gomez: [01:58:00] The good news was my girlfriend was on the basketball team and the basketball team, all-girls school, they were the stars of the school like any high school. They were the stars of the school, so nobody was going to mess with her because they knew the whole basketball team would then mess with them. We were lucky in that way and I really went through high school fortunate to have a lover and the sadness was we were isolated because we didnt I mean I know there were other lesbians.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:58:30] There had to be, it was an all-girls school. We were isolated. We didnt share our community. We didnt share our lives with anyone else. I had the good fortune not to feel bad about it at all. I felt I was lucky to have someone. She and I are still friends even though she married. She's on, I think, on her third husband now but we're still friends.
Mason Funk: [01:59:00] There's still time for her.
Jewelle Gomez: Yeah. Exactly. Once, her second husband and he was acting like a maniac, I said, "You could pack up your children and move to New York and I would take care of you." She was really in shock and I said, "I'm not saying you have to be my lover.
Jewelle Gomez: [01:59:30] I'm just saying I will always be your friend. You do not have to stay around for that." That was a real gift to me as a young person. It has remained this gift for me. I did not suffer the guilt of being a lesbian as a kid. I dont know how I escaped it, maybe because I was in a nontraditional kind of family. Everything seemed okay. Whatever I did was going to be okay.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:00:00] My father was appreciative of gay people. Whatever reasons I did not suffer and my family was kind. That was a gift.
Mason Funk: Great. Anything else, Natalie?
Natalie Tsui: That's all I have.
Mason Funk: [02:00:30] I have a standard four questions I always wrap up with which is speaking of coming out, if somebody came to you today, later today and said, I'm thinking about coming out. Maybe just someone you know well, maybe not. They're going to take a big step in that direction. What couple of little nuggets of support or wisdom would you share with that person?
Natalie Tsui: Can I pause a second? There's a really-
Jewelle Gomez: Plane.
Natalie Tsui: Rolling and the plane's at an acceptable distance.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:01:00] If a person came to me talking about taking that step out of a closet, a lot of course would depend on the age they were, their circumstances. For a young person who lives at home, that's a whole different thing and mostly, the biggest deal for me I think is the lesson I learned from my great grandmother.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:01:30] Know you're going to have to take care of yourself. If you know you can take care of yourself, whatever happens will happen. Also, I would say remember you've had a long time to think about this maybe to process it. Your family hasnt and they have pinned all of their hopes on a you that doesnt exist.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:02:00] In a way you're killing off a character they've had in their minds all of their lives to show them who you really are, so be prepared for them to be upset about that. Dont take it on, that's their problem. Know that coming out is a lifetime process, you dont do it just once. Every time I go to my manicurist, I have to come out because she asks, "Where is your friend?"
Jewelle Gomez: [02:02:30] When Diane has been with me to the manicurist, she says, "Where's your friend?" or they ask me, "Are you married? Do you have children?" I have to decide, Am I coming out? Once you know that coming out is a process, you're going to have a chance to do it more than once. The first time may be the hardest but it won't be the last. That's really what I would say.
Mason Funk: [02:03:00] That's great. Yeah, I remember at Trader Joe's not too long ago, for whatever reason the checkout, the guy putting my groceries or no, the checkout guy, he's like, "Oh, you're going to cook dinner for your wife tonight?"
Jewelle Gomez: It's like what? There's the-
Mason Funk: Actually, yeah, I'm going to cook dinner but it's going to be for my husband. He was totally fine.
Jewelle Gomez: It's a teachable moment because you never know.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I was just like, "Hey dude, turn on the light bulb and [inaudible].
Mason Funk: [02:03:30] Second question of the final four is, in these radically changed times that we live in, what continues to give you hope for the future? Youre a very helpful person, I know. You're not a dark person.
Mason Funk: What is your hope for the future that we're in, this new era?
Jewelle Gomez: I think it's been an amazing thing to see how people can come together and be furious at the developments since the election.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:04:00] I feel like progressive people were doing important progressive things and we were trying to support the organizations we thought we're going to bring social change or help the homeless or help education or help health. Now, we're starting to be galvanized. I dont think it's temporary.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:04:30] Going to Washington, D.C., which I did for the Women's March, it was expensive. It was kind of nutty to do to spend that money. I put on my pink pussy hat and it was worth every penny because I could see the range of people who were not going to take any of the oppressions lying down, and that's what we need to see.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:05:00] For me, first just seeing firsthand Washington, D.C., every kind of person you could imagine, male, female, everything in between ethnicities, I loved it. In front of the Native American Museum, they had a dance circle for women. It was America.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:05:30] They were not going to take this lying down. That always gives me hope when I can see the variety of people who will commit themselves to social change. If they can do it over a long period of time, and they say an army of lovers can't fail. I feel very hopeful. After the first day when I went into my bed and put my pillow over my head and was sure I wasnt going to come out of my bed for four years.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:06:00] I got hopeful because I could see the people being galvanized around me.
Mason Funk: Great. Why is it important to you personally to tell your story?
Jewelle Gomez: [02:06:30] It's important for me to tell my story for two reasons. One is for myself. I feel like I get validated when I can hear my story or see it written just for myself. If I never published it, if I never told it out loud to anyone, I then feel the story. I feel my great grandmother, I feel my grandmother, I feel my first lover, I feel my father alive in me, and that gives me a lot of strength and joy.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:07:00] That's the first reason. The second reason is I believe storytelling is how we learn. It's how our community, any community learns its own power, its own strength, its own abilities is by hearing the stories around it in the community.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:07:30] Storytelling is how we always pass down our mores and values traditionally. I think that's still true. The fairy tales that we heard as a kid taught us what to believe and what to trust. The stories that I tell are meant to help people understand what the cultures you're in, what are the dangers, what are the pitfalls, what are the powers that you have.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:08:00] Storytelling is core I think.
Mason Funk: Great. We're going to wait for that jet to pass.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, it's very loud.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's funny there weren't At first it seemed like it was going to be a jet every minute and then it would seem like it's sort of subsiding.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:08:30] Right. They have different patterns.
Jewelle Gomez: A lot of times they're going down as if I have no directional so [inaudible] instead of going to Oakland.
Mason Funk: Last question is this. This project is called, been called OUTWORDS. I think you've got a general idea but it's really an attempt to collect our story. As I say keep all of our stories in one place. It's like the first nationwide effort of this type.
Mason Funk: [02:09:00] Focusing almost entirely on our elders and our pioneers, people of like 60s and on up. What do you see therefore as the importance of a project like this? It's a little bit Well, what do you see is the importance of a project like OUTWORDS?
Jewelle Gomez: Sorry. I participated in a project, a performance thing a couple of years ago. It was celebrating the writer Audre Lorde and Pat Parker.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:09:30] We told stories. We read their work and the main question that we got asked afterwards, it was about ten of us doing this because we knew Audre and Pat. The main question that got asked afterwards said, I didnt realize you all had so much fun. They thought of us as these activist feminists, I dont know, soldiers but there was no fun.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:10:00] I said, "Are you kidding me? I was your age. I was 22. I was 25. Of course, we had sex and fun when we were your age. That was part of our activism. We were social." I felt horrified that there was this whole generation or two that taught of me as a soldier but didnt think of me as a sexual being or someone who laughed or that I could sit around drinking wine with Audre Lorde and have a good time.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:10:30] I couldnt believe there was this gap in understanding and it made me realize, "Oh, no wonder they dont want to be activists because it seems like they're joining the army." I think a project like this bridges that gap because then people get to see me, us as not someone out there distant from them but someone who tells a story that sounds like something they would recognize.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:11:00] They see me laughing or telling a funny story or talking about my anxieties as a young person and my anxieties as an older person and they can connect. I think it's important to bridge the gap between cultures and whether that means a younger person.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:11:30] Or that means a person who lives in Idaho who's never met a black lesbian, a person who lives in New York City who's too cool to hang out with an old lesbian. I think there's a very big gap. There are gaps we dont even know about and a project like this is exciting because people can go to the site. They can look at it, they can hear it and they're going to learn something. They're going to learn something.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:12:00] That's important. Filling those gaps, those storytelling gaps, is important because that's how we make human connection.
Mason Funk: Fantastic and before I forget, I still would love to have you read the poem to your great grandmother if you're up for it.
Jewelle Gomez: Oh sure. I can do that. I signed the release. I have to go downstairs and get it off my desk.
Jewelle Gomez: I just signed.
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk]
Mason Funk: [02:12:30] Not that I know of.
Natalie Tsui: What's that sound?
Jewelle Gomez: That's something else sounding. I'm going to move-
Mason Funk: Yeah, go ahead and grab for it.
Mason Funk: It's right in this book here.
Mason Funk: I think it was page either 62 or 162 when I looked it up a minute ago.
Jewelle Gomez: Okay. Let me just
Mason Funk: I heard that sound I heard earlier as well. Do you hear that little
Natalie Tsui: That sounds like a phone but that's okay.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:13:00] You know what? I wonder if it was my phone in the kitchen.
Mason Funk: No. It's been a little it's been very, very
Jewelle Gomez: You know what it is? I just realized what it is.
Mason Funk: What is that?
Jewelle Gomez: It's the timer.
Jewelle Gomez: Those pine cone lights are on a timer. I'm sorry.
Natalie Tsui: That's okay. Actually, I didnt hear it before. Maybe there is like another sound happening.
Mason Funk: It's just going to be white noise anyway.
Mason Funk: You found it?
Mason Funk: Okay. Great.
Jewelle Gomez: 62
Mason Funk: I'll come back. Yeah, I'm going to sit down.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:13:30] I'm going to have to put on my glasses.
Mason Funk: Sure. That's totally fine. Just briefly introduce and say this poem is a poem that I wrote, blah, blah, blah, briefly before you actually read it.
Jewelle Gomez: Okay. This poem is a poem I wrote for my great-grandmother based on a story she told me. It's called the Buckskin Dress.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:14:00] It was a story I heard several times when I was a kid. At eight years old, I wasnt sure what a buck might be even as she told the story. But I long to see her buckskin dress, a gift from her Ioway father. A mystery stolen before I was born, from a trunk in a city basement where cobwebs hung over all remnants of the past.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:14:30] Still, I carried the image conjured up from episodes of Gunsmoke and the Lone Ranger. I imagine fringe swaying around her legs as she walked through broken glass blossoming in the park. The fabric dances on her sturdy stride like silk. The soft rustle of hide is seductive music as she passes. All eyes are drawn to the sparkle of hard-worked beading alive at her neck.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:15:00] That dress is inside my head where I yearn to touch its butter-soft folds, smell the wildness of Iowa before it fell to those who unsettled our lives. Although it has been said they live no more I want to hear the sound of her dancing with the Native women in a dust-filled circle, proud of the work they wear.
Mason Funk: [02:15:30] Wonderful. That's great.
Natalie Tsui: Do you mind showing us the picture of it maybe? You could forward it to the camera.
Mason Funk: Yeah, if you can just Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Maybe she could say what it is.
Jewelle Gomez: Okay, this is from Tending the Fire which was edited by Christopher Felver. I wrote the poem for my great grandmother as I said and Christopher came and took my picture and asked me to write out a poem.
Jewelle Gomez: [02:16:00] This is incredible book of people who identify as a Native American and our poetry. It may be the first time I used my Native American name so I got to sign it as Jewelle Stillwater Gomez and that made me feel really good.
Mason Funk: That's great. Okay, we're going to do one last type of thing which is 30 seconds of room tone. You've probably done this before. We all get to breathe and relax.
Natalie Tsui: [02:16:30] You know what's funny though, we're not going to hear any of the things that we would actually get to record. The neighbors stop working. Okay, anyway, I'm just going to Room tone.
Natalie Tsui: [02:17:30] Okay. Cut. Thank you.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: May 11, 2017
Location: San Francisco, CA