Penelope Starr was born in 1945 in New York, NY. As the daughter of two eccentric artists – her mother a jeweler and her father a painter – Penelope grew up in a loving home that encouraged creativity and individuality. 

After a short time at college, Penelope moved to Woodstock, New York in 1966. Living in what she considered the “epicenter of the universe,” Penelope decided to drop out of the modern world. Soon she married her first husband, Seth, and gave birth to their son, Eli. While she didn’t mind being married to a man, Penelope’s relationship with Seth became strained, and in 1969 she left with her son for Denver, Colorado. There, she went back to college, got a double degree in human services and women’s studies, and became deeply involved in feminist activism. She also came out as lesbian, more as a political cause than as her only path to sexual fulfillment. Today, she proudly identifies as a polyamorous bisexual lesbian. If folks don’t like it, that’s their problem, not Penelope’s.

Eventually, Penelope made her way to Arizona. She started a Navajo rug restoration business that still functions today. She also got married again – this time, to an openly gay man. Their relationship was built entirely on friendship and shared support, and ended without rancor when Penelope fell in love with a woman. In 2009, Penelope fell in love with a different woman named Silvia. This time, it stuck. Penelope and Silvia got married on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and today they live on the northern outskirts of Tucson, in the shadows of Saguaro National Park.

In 2004, Penelope founded Odyssey Storytelling, a monthly community storytelling event. Over the years, she’s watched it flourish into a popular gathering, attracting people from all walks of life. Based on her experiences, Penelope wrote the book called The Radical Act of Community Storytelling, which she describes as “a memoir with a twist of advocacy.” Penelope offers writing and community storytelling workshops, and is now engaged in penning her first novel. In addition, she has been working for several years with two other women on a documentary film about a legendary women’s-only community on the outskirts of Tucson called Adobeland. She also delights in her six grandchildren – five of whom she only learned about in 2008.

Penelope’s story is full of surprising twists and turns, but it’s been guided throughout by her determination to live by her own rules. From New York to Arizona, that determination has guided her as clearly as a star in the desert sky.
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Thank you again for your patience.
Penelope Starr: No, this is interesting to me.
Mason Funk: Good, okay.
Mason Funk: So do me a favor, star off by stating and spelling first and last names, please.
Penelope Starr: My name is Penelope Starr, P-E-N-E-L-O-P-E S-T-A-R-R.
Mason Funk: And please tell me the date and place of your birth.
Penelope Starr: I was born on July 3rd, 1945, in New York City.
Mason Funk: Okie dokie. Now tell me a little bit about your family.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] You said you were raised by hippies.
Penelope Starr: Oh, no, I was the hippy. My parents were artists.
Mason Funk: Okay, maybe I confused artists and hippies. So tell me about that.
Penelope Starr: Because I'm too old to have parents that were hippies. My parents were both artists. My father was a commercial artist and a painter, and you'll see some of his paintings around here. And my mother was a jeweler. And I was raised on Long Island in the '50s and '60s, so it was the height of the conformity ...
Penelope Starr: [00:01:00] I mean, totally about conforming.And my parents were always a little off. My mother didn't wear the three inch heels that she was supposed to, she always wore white, stretchy socks instead and sneakers. So my sister and I were always encouraged to be creative and to find our bliss, as it were. So I've done a lot of artistic things in my life.
Penelope Starr: [00:01:30] Is this where you want me to go?
Mason Funk: Don't go full ... we're going to stop it a lot before we get there.Just tell me a bit more about your family, you mentioned your sister.There was kinda like a conformist era, but your parents were implicitly giving you permission to be nonconformist?
Penelope Starr: Yes. Yes, they were. And we were encouraged to be creative. If we wanted to buy materials for an art project, that was fine, my parents would get it for us. If we wanted to buy the latest fashion,
Penelope Starr: [00:02:00] no, not so much. So my mother made our clothes. Or we worked in a five and dime and stuff like that, so we could get money to buy the latest fashion, because my parents couldn't care less.And we were loved. And I'm one of those weird people that came from a happy family. My parents loved each other. They loved us, my sister and me. My sister and I are best friends, even though she lives in Australia.
Penelope Starr: [00:02:30] So I'm an oddball, because I'm an adult child of a normal family.
Mason Funk: You're not an adult child of an X, Y, or Z.When I move, when I nod, do I make the camera move?
Natalie Tsui: No. There's a sound.
Penelope Starr: There's an airplane outside.
Mason Funk: It's a helicopter.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Is it always there?
Penelope Starr: No.
Natalie Tsui: Okay.
Mason Funk: Let's just halt because it's getting louder, I think.
Natalie Tsui: Okay ...
Penelope Starr: Then there was a, what do you call it, a big balloon, like a balloon that goes up into the sky,
Penelope Starr: [00:03:00] one of those kinds of balloons, that people get in the basket, came down right over in the next road.
Mason Funk: So when did Woodstock, because Woodstock is part of your story-
Penelope Starr: Oh yeah, because I lived in Woodstock. After my sister and I graduated and moved and went away and went off to college, my parents were released from Long Island. So they moved up to Woodstock.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, I can see your hand.
Mason Funk: When I did what?
Natalie Tsui: When you drank your ...
Mason Funk: Oh here? Alright, good to know.
Penelope Starr: [00:03:30] You wanna move that way?
Mason Funk: Just start over. Just start over again.
Penelope Starr: So when my sister and I went off to college, my parents were released from Long Island. So they moved up to Woodstock. And that was in probably 1964. No, it was 1966. They moved to Woodstock in 1966, when my sister graduated from college. And I rented a house up there for a summer and then I ended up staying also.
Penelope Starr: [00:04:00] So I was in Woodstock when everything was going on. It was the epicenter of the universe as far as I was concerned. And Bob Dylan lived up there and the Band lived there. And there was all kinds of music all the time and people from the city would come up and do what they called sound outs. They'd rent a big field, or just take over a big field and artists like Jimi Hendrix and people like that would come up from the city and they'd put on a concert.
Penelope Starr: [00:04:30] And I don't remember paying anything. That was just what it was going on at the time. So it was kind of like the Back to the Land Movement, everybody was making their own stuff, what they're calling Do It Yourself now. They didn't have a name for it then. So I was a weaver and I made granola and sprouts and yogurt, and I still do those things today.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] So how did you see yourself in comparison to this big cultural upheaval that was happening? Did you feel like very much a part of it? Did you feel not sure? How did you picture yourself in regard to this ... the '60s. Maybe it was the '60s so you didn't realize it was the '60s, because it was the '60s.
Penelope Starr: No, you know, I'm one of those weird people whose drug of choice was alcohol,
Penelope Starr: [00:05:30] so I was never a good druggie, so I do remember the '60s.So, yes, I think we knew that we were in the middle of change. And change was gonna happen. And in that time in my life, I was married to a man, and we were gonna change the world, but ... mostly by dropping out. Mostly by not participating in the institutions.
Penelope Starr: [00:06:00] We tried to live a low profile, we didn't make a lot of money, we just kinda got by. And that, in a way, is a real challenge to the real status quo, when you're just saying, "I don't think I wanna play your game."So that was 1969, I moved to Denver.
Mason Funk: Okay, let's pause for a second.
Mason Funk: [00:06:30] So when you got married, how did you ... what was your perspective on this act of marrying a man? How did it seem to you?
Penelope Starr: It was fine. I loved him.
Mason Funk: Tell me what you're talking about.
Penelope Starr: Oh. Being married to a man was fine. I loved him. I wanted to marry him. I ended up having a child by him. But he was not somebody that you want to stay married to. He was somebody that didn't ... he wasn't very responsible.
Penelope Starr: [00:07:00] So when my son was nine months old, I left and went off on my own.
Mason Funk: Did you think originally you would stay married to him forever?
Penelope Starr: Well, I did, because my parents were married forever. And that was the role model that I had, was that you get married to somebody you love and you stay married to them and you stay in love. I had no experience with somebody who was a drinker. That was completely out of my experience and that ...
Penelope Starr: [00:07:30] he wasn't somebody who I could count on.
Mason Funk: So you left him and you were a single mom.
Penelope Starr: I was a single mom and I was living in Denver at the time. And I got on welfare, which is how I was able to leave him, because I didn't have any money and he didn't have any money to give me.
Penelope Starr: [00:08:00] So that worked out great, because I ended up going back to college. And I had dropped out of college when I was 18, and this is 12 years later and I bumped into this woman who I knew who was on welfare and she had a car. And I said, "How did you get a car?"And she said, "Oh, I went back to school and I got financial aid."And I said, "Oh, I'm going to do that, too."So I went back to college so I could get a car. And I got $350 a month in extra money for financial aid.
Penelope Starr: [00:08:30] And that was enough, actually, to buy a washing machine.So when I went back to college, this was... Feminism was just starting to foment. It was a really exciting time. I joined women's groups, I went to consciousness raising groups,
Penelope Starr: [00:09:00] I got involved with putting on Take Back the Night marches. And at that time, the whole country was trying to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. And Colorado was in the process of passing their own state ERA and that was a big deal. And I was active with that.In college there was a women's organization that I was part of, Associated Women Students,
Penelope Starr: [00:09:30] and we did all kinds of things on campus. We demanded child care for every event and we made a lot of trouble, which was great. I had a great time.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt for a second. Two things: when you said you made a lot of trouble? What kind of trouble? How serious was the trouble you made?
Penelope Starr: You know what? I never got arrested. I always figured I'm going to save it for something important. And I still haven't gotten arrested. So maybe now as a gray-haired grandma is a good time to get arrested for something that I believe in.
Penelope Starr: [00:10:00] But it was just getting people's attention. Being at the capitol building with the signs and the screaming. And learning the rhetoric and being very out as a feminist. Being part of the National Organization of Women, as they were saying, "You know, we really don't want lesbians in this organization,
Penelope Starr: [00:10:30] because then it will distract from what we want to happen."So they were very anti-lesbian in those days. I wasn't a lesbian yet. But I was fighting for the rights of the lesbians to be able to be in now.
Mason Funk: Lemme-
Natalie Tsui: Oh yeah, she's just a little shiny, so I'm wondering if we-
Penelope Starr: I'm shiny?
Mason Funk: Little shiny.
Penelope Starr: Oh.
Mason Funk: We have powder over here.
Penelope Starr: I'm shiny!
Mason Funk: Are you happy to hear that?
Penelope Starr: [00:11:00] Yes.
Mason Funk: Does that mean your skin's not dry, does that make you happy?
Penelope Starr: I don't know. I just never, nobody ever told me I was shiny before.
Mason Funk: You're a shiny Christmas tree bulb.
Michael Brewer: I gave you the extra Kleenex.
Penelope Starr: You did, I just ignored you. I'm sorry.
Mason Funk: You did, I thought it was funny when you said, "Oh, I'm not going to be shiny." Most people are like "Shiny? No!"
Penelope Starr: It's warm.
Michael Brewer: You don't shine, you glisten.
Mason Funk: You glow.
Penelope Starr: Thank you, I glow.So is this what you want?
Mason Funk: This is great.
Penelope Starr: Am I doing okay?
Mason Funk: Yeah. We're going to go back and I'm going to pull on little threads.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] Because some of the stuff that is normal to you is not normal to everybody else.
Natalie Tsui: Take off your glasses for a second, I'm just going to ...
Michael Brewer: You know what? You want to ... You want to make sure you don't get it on her black ...
Penelope Starr: Am I sweating? Or just greasy?
Natalie Tsui: I think it's just natural, like everyone has a little bit of glisten.
Mason Funk: That's accentuated by having lights shining on you.
Penelope Starr: Right. Don't get me coughing, though.
Mason Funk: [00:12:00] You can cough, you don't have to suppress it.
Penelope Starr: You don't want me to start coughing, because I go into these coughing fits and I can't stop. So I'm trying to be moderate of my coughing.
Michael Brewer: See it on the light, the side that the light is on the ...
Natalie Tsui: What?
Michael Brewer: [00:12:30] You see the shine on the side?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. That's a little bit better. I just have to get a little bit more and then. I'm just going to get right here your eyes. Just to get-
Penelope Starr: Oh, my glasses will be there, too.
Natalie Tsui: [00:13:00] You're going to sneeze?
Penelope Starr: No. I said my glasses will be there.
Natalie Tsui: Oh yeah, it's true. It's still, it's just right around that area. I think you are good.
Mason Funk: Yeah, we're good.
Natalie Tsui: Little piece of dust. Got it from the napkin.
Penelope Starr: Right.
Natalie Tsui: [00:13:30] Funny enough. Okay. Great. Oh, I've been rolling this whole time.
Penelope Starr: Oh, good.
Mason Funk: Okay. So first of all, two things: one is, tell us a bit more, to someone who doesn't know this part of the history of the women's movement, how
Mason Funk: [00:14:00] NOW, the National Organization of Women, felt about lesbians, say in the late '60s, early '70s? How did they see lesbians? Did they want them to come on in? Or what?
Penelope Starr: No. Well, actually, Betty Friedan was in charge of saying that lesbians were a distraction. And they felt that if they had lesbians involved, then people wouldn't take NOW seriously. That everything would be going towards that issue, rather than towards the demands that women had.
Penelope Starr: [00:14:30] So they basically banned lesbians. I guess you could not be out. I'm sure there were a lot of women who did that.Lesbians were behind a lot ... the whole AIDs thing, lesbians were the ones that were caretakers. Lesbians were out in the marches and things. Lesbians are there for birth control and abortion rights
Penelope Starr: [00:15:00] and a lot of them, that doesn't affect them. But it doesn't matter, you know? It's what's good for all women, is good for individuals also.
Mason Funk: Okay, and we'll go back to that as well, in terms of ongoing, just what you were saying. But I also want to touch on another thing you said in passing, you were in a consciousness raising group.
Penelope Starr: Right!
Mason Funk: So people today don't know what that is.
Penelope Starr: [00:15:30] A consciousness raising group is when you get together with some other women and you talk, you share. And you talk about issues in your life. And you start to see a commonality. And the catchphrase at the time is the personal is political. So if this is happening to me, if I'm being oppressed at work. If I'm being harassed, that's a good thing to talk about now. If there are unwanted advances by some man ... and it happened to me.
Penelope Starr: [00:16:00] It's not just about me. It's about all women, because all women have the same problems, that's what we're seeing now with the MeToo thing. It's actually a really good example of that.So consciousness raising groups, we go to somebody's house, we'd sit in a circle on the floor and smoke cigarettes, that's what we did then.
Penelope Starr: [00:16:30] And we'd tell each other about our lives and it was revolutionary. And it raised my consciousness. I learned a lot about, this isn't how I see the world, this is how the world is. And that's one of the reasons I became so political.And that's where I was challenged,
Penelope Starr: [00:17:00] because I was sleeping with men and they told me that I was sleeping ... No, why did I give aid and comfort to the enemy? And I was basically shunned for sleeping with a man. So I thought, well, maybe I should sleep with women instead.
Penelope Starr: So that's what we called at the time, I guess that's what they defined after the fact,
Penelope Starr: [00:17:30] because I don't think we would've used this term then, but that's what they talk about when I consider myself a political lesbian. It was because of my beliefs that I chose to make this decision to say, "Oh, I would like to have a woman for a lover. It makes much more sense, my friends are women, my emotional attachments are with women, my support system is with women.
Penelope Starr: [00:18:00] Why am I giving my sexuality to men?"It's a very different point of view, and a very different experience then someone who says, "I was born knowing that I was this way. I have no choice." And that's not my experience. And I'm not alone in that. It's valid, although I think
Penelope Starr: [00:18:30] because of the politics right now, it's more important to say there's a gay gene, because if you don't have a choice, then you deserve rights. If I have a choice, then I should choose to be with men and then I wouldn't be making waves. And I never minded making waves.
Mason Funk: [00:19:00] That's great stuff. So I want to go back again and keep pulling this apart a little bit, because it's so interesting ... In a very specific sense, so how did you decide what woman you were going to sleep with first? Tell us the story.
Penelope Starr: I did interviews. No. It was easy, because I was a-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, tell me what you're talking about, so when it came to picking ...
Penelope Starr: When it came ... Well, I didn't really say, "Okay, now I'm going to sleep with some ..." Well, yes I did, actually.
Penelope Starr: [00:19:30] I was in a women's studies program and there was actually no major for women's studies. So I had to make it up. So I met lots of women and ... Actually I don't want to talk about who this was, because we don't have a relationship.
Mason Funk: Can you just say the woman I chose and ...
Penelope Starr: [00:20:00] Well, the woman I chose was a lesbian, she was very active socially, politically. We had a lot of friends in common. We just didn't have a lot of chemistry. So it wasn't a bad experience, it just wasn't a heart experience. So I just had to say, I said to myself, "Well, it was fine. But maybe now I need to find somebody that I have a heart experience with."
Penelope Starr: [00:20:30] So that's what I did. So it was like she, we joked about it and she said it was her coming out service.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. That's a good kind of ... it's just interesting, because you know, as a gay man myself, it was never like to me that I did it for political reasons.
Mason Funk: hard on. So that's was just all, that was like ...
Mason Funk: [00:21:00] So anyway, it's a totally different, as you said, it's a totally different way of approaching the choice of who we're going to have sex with.So in these consciousness raising circles, when they shunned you, when they ostracized you for sleeping with the enemy, was that basically a rule that every single woman there, no matter how naturally, or not naturally she was attracted to women, it became kind of the ethos? Is that correct?
Penelope Starr: No, not really. I think I mislead you with that, because in the consciousness raising group,
Penelope Starr: [00:21:30] there were some lesbians. It wasn't all lesbians. But it was the groups that I was involved with politically that we were putting on workshops and doing this and that. Getting together with speculums looking at our cervixes and stuff like that.
Mason Funk: Tell me more about that.
Penelope Starr: That was a big thing, everybody had to be able to see what they looked like.
Penelope Starr: [00:22:00] So there were these plastic speculums and there were mirrors and you'd get together with a group of women and everybody would check out everybody else's cervix. And yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. See, this is why I love this project. I learn stuff that I would never ... I don't know if it's embarrassing to you. But I don't know exactly what you mean, because I don't know female anatomy well enough to know what this would involve. What a speculum is and what the process was? To the extent that you're comfortable, can you spell it out for us?
Penelope Starr: [00:22:30] So if a woman goes to a doctor and has an internal exam, they use a thing called a speculum and it's something that opens up the lips, so that you can view inside the vagina. And that's ... there were these little plastic speculums that were floating around everywhere. And you'd just get everybody together and somebody would sit on the group and open their legs and everybody would gather around to see. Because we'd each take turns, you know.
Penelope Starr: [00:23:00] It was kinda weird, actually.
Mason Funk: But it had a purpose. What was the meaning or purpose?
Penelope Starr: Oh, the purpose was to get to know your body and to not be afraid of it and to look at the glory of your own body and other women's bodies and how we're put together. Betty Dodson wrote this book called ... was that the one? "Liberating Masturbation?" I can't remember.
Penelope Starr: [00:23:30] But there's drawings of women's labia. It was like pornography. It was the most amazing book and it was pictures of women's bodies that you never see and it was very liberating. And it was like taking our bodies on our own terms instead of giving, being in control, controlled by other people, and the medical monopoly or the body shaming, or all that stuff.
Mason Funk: [00:24:00] I know that in this time period, the book "Our Bodies, Our Selves-"
Penelope Starr: Right, very important book.
Mason Funk: Tell us about that a little bit, as just a slice of our history.
Penelope Starr: I have the original one if you want to see it.
Mason Funk: Okay. So what was "Our Bodies, Our Selves?"
Penelope Starr: "Our Bodies, Our Selves" was a Boston Women's health collective, I think is what they were called. And they wrote a book on the common, everyday thing that happens with women's bodies that was hush hush.
Penelope Starr: [00:24:30] It was about masturbating, it was about breastfeeding, it was about childbirth, it was about getting older.The next issue that they came out with had a whole section on getting older, because the women were younger when they did it and they didn't think about it. But what are the changes, what's natural, what's normal in your body?
Mason Funk: [00:25:00] And it might not seem so revolutionary now, but in that time period, this was just hugely important.
Mason Funk: Tell us about that, just kind of give us a little bit of a sense of how important it was in that era.
Penelope Starr: Well nobody talked about it at all. I mean, the sex education that I had from my mother was, she gave me a little pamphlet one time, saying "You might need this." And it was about what would happen when I got my period. Other than that, the sex education was ...
Penelope Starr: [00:25:30] there wasn't any. Nobody talked about it.This is also the time of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield and all these women who were sexy, and Sophia Loren, and you know they are of course, right?
Penelope Starr: [00:26:00] And women were to be looked at and admired, but you're not supposed to know anything about how your body works. The other thing that was a big deal at that time was natural childbirth. So it was about taking control of our own bodies and it's all about knowledge. That you have to know about how things work so that you have some control over it.
Mason Funk: It's great stuff, this is just so basic, but it's so important, because it's, sometimes-
Penelope Starr: [00:26:30] Yeah, and there's a lot of young people that don't know any of this stuff. It's really kind of interesting. And I feel so lucky to have lived through all these changes. I think that my life spans some pretty amazing times, yeah, I feel really lucky.
Mason Funk: Lemme check my notes here. Are you, I want to talk more about your son.
Mason Funk: [00:27:00] You said for a long time you were a secret bisexual.
Penelope Starr: Yeah. That's, again-
Mason Funk: So tell me what you're talking about.
Penelope Starr: Okay. So after I figured out that I can have women as sex partners, I still liked having sex with men and I didn't see any reason why I should give that up. They were two separate things, it was different parts of my life. But when I was on a committee for,
Penelope Starr: [00:27:30] oh I don't know, some conference in Denver, and one of the women from the committee called my house and there was a man at my house and he answered the phone, she let it be known that there was a man who answered my phone and they shunned me.That was, they cut me off. I wasn't invited to parties any more. So I learned my lesson,
Penelope Starr: [00:28:00] that there are rules at that time, I don't know what it's like now. But there were rules. And that said if you're going to say that you're a lesbian, you can only be a lesbian. And if you're going to say that you're straight, you can only be straight. And there's nothing else. There were no other alternatives.Well, I didn't want to be straight, and I didn't want to be a lesbian. I wanted to be who I was. So I continued to have my secret life,
Penelope Starr: [00:28:30] my boys on the side as it were and I just didn't tell anybody.
Mason Funk: Did you have a term for this?
Penelope Starr: No. There wasn't any language for it. So I just, well I had my own terms, I was a lesbian who slept with men.
Mason Funk: So had you not, does that mean that, when they said that you were giving aid and comfort to the enemy,
Mason Funk: [00:29:00] how did you justify... Like, how did you rationalize that with the fact that you liked men and you still wanted to have sex with men? How did you make those two pieces fit together?
Penelope Starr: It made me angry.
Mason Funk: Tell me what made you angry.
Penelope Starr: It made me angry to think that I only had two choices. And it made me angry to feel like, that they were making the rules and I didn't have any opportunity to contribute to the rules.
Penelope Starr: [00:29:30] So I thought, I'll just go underground with it. And that worked for a long time. Until I learned the word. Until I learned, oh wait, this is a viable option. Why didn't anybody tell me about this?And then, I could tell people, "Oh, I'm bisexual." Well, of course, being bisexual is ... You know the magazine, I don't know if it still exits, there was a magazine called, "Anything That Moves,"
Penelope Starr: [00:30:00] that was the bisexual magazine. It's like, "Oh, you're bisexual because you can't make up your mind what you want to be."Or, "You're bisexual because you were harmed by your husband and so you're afraid to be with men."And it's like nobody allowed me just to say, "Wow, this is my choice. This is what I want." You were born with genes or whatever it is that says,
Penelope Starr: [00:30:30] "Oh, I'm gay," or, "I'm straight." I was born with a personality that says, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm not prejudiced. I'm interested in the person and the person who appeals to me. And if that person turns me on, that's, I don't care what their gender is."
Mason Funk: So without obviously smearing the whole women's movement, what you're highlighting is the fact that there was a certain level of tyranny that could creep in vis-a-vis who got to make the rules and who had to obey the rules.
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] I don't know if tyranny is the right word. How would you describe it?
Penelope Starr: I think that there was ... subgroups always have to have an identity. And the identity for being a lesbian had a certain sort of characteristics and a certain ... you had to dress a certain way, you had to look a certain way. Any subgroup does that.
Penelope Starr: [00:31:30] And so in the '60s, or in the '70s when all this was happening for me, and also in "Our Bodies, Ourselves," gender roles were out.The whole butch femme thing from the '40s and the '50s, no. We're all equal here. We don't have to dress like men to explore, to be lesbians, we don't have to look like men. We all wore overalls anyway, so.
Penelope Starr: [00:32:00] Okay, I lost my train.
Mason Funk: You said, "Like 'Our Bodies, Ourselves-'"
Penelope Starr: Oh, in "Our Bodies, Ourselves," oh, no, it was "The Joy of Lesbian Sex," and they were talking about how some people might think that you can play around with SM or power issues in sex
Penelope Starr: [00:32:30] , but women don't do that. No, that might be ... straight couples do that, because there's power issues. But women, we're all equal and we're all the same and we would never want to have power over each other.And that was the book that I read to figure out how to be a lesbian, so. And I thought, "Well that's kind of weird. There are power imbalances, and maybe it's something that you might want to play around with.
Penelope Starr: [00:33:00] And maybe you do want to dress up a little bit." There were rules about how to be a lesbian and how to be a feminist. Right. Couldn't wear a bra, or had to wear a bra.I worked in a, what we called it in those days, a shelter for battered women, it's now domestic violence center. We were going to march in some parade as safe house.
Penelope Starr: [00:33:30] And the biggest fight we ever had in that group was if we had to wear a bra or not when we're marching in the march. Wearing this safe house t-shirt.And it's that same argument, is like, well, it's that whole NOW argument, we don't want to offend anybody, we want them to take us seriously, so we should wear a bra, so that we look like we're normal people and we don't scare anybody. It's like, no,
Penelope Starr: [00:34:00] fuck that! We want to change the world, what are you saying?
Mason Funk: Did somebody come in?
Mason Funk: Okay. Sylvia might have come in, but I think she was really quiet. So we're good. I just wanna make sure that ... is she all the way in now?
Michael Brewer: Yeah, I think. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay, cool. Alright. I figured that's what it was.
Michael Brewer: But there's some movement.
Mason Funk: That's alright.
Penelope Starr: Yeah, the dog's back there, too.
Michael Brewer: Just thinking the dog so-
Natalie Tsui: I just heard the door open and close. But it was very negligible.
Penelope Starr: [00:34:30] Is my lipstick still on? Or am I eating it off?
Mason Funk: It's on. It's not as bright as your coral necklace.
Penelope Starr: Okay, good.
Mason Funk: I think when we stop you can do a little touch up.
Michael Brewer: Although, will it be bad for continuity? I think it's fine to just leave it.
Mason Funk: Okay. Now, in the midst of all this, you had a son.
Penelope Starr: Yeah, I had
Mason Funk: Raising a son.
Penelope Starr: Yes, right.
Mason Funk: I've been very fortunate, we've been very fortunate to
Mason Funk: [00:35:00] interview some women who were very much involved with the lesbian separatist movement, but none of them was raising a son. And I know that was really amazingly problematic if you had a son and you also wanted to be a lesbian separatist. So talk about that. Just introduce us to your son and tell us how raising him played into these, your life story as you were growing and finding out who you were.
Penelope Starr: Well I went to either the first or second Michigan Women's Music Festival,
Penelope Starr: [00:35:30] I don't remember which one it was. And I left my son home with someone, and I think he was around two or three years old. Because I had heard that there was an isolated boy camp, and I didn't want him there. Either he was going to be with me, or I would leave him at home.So when I got there, I was kinda missing him. This was a big trip for me,
Penelope Starr: [00:36:00] I hadn't spent a lot of ... I think he was two or three years old. And I was ... I got on the transport to go to the camp site and one of the women had a little girl that was around the same age as my son.I said, "Oh, I left my son home."And she said to me, "Thank you so much for being a woman of consciousness and raising a son. Now there'll be somebody for my daughter to marry."
Penelope Starr: [00:36:30] And I thought, "Oh, wow, that is so nice of her. But why does she think her daughter's going to marry a man?" But anyway, it was a really sweet thing to say. But there was no way I was going to bring him there.And that was the nicest thing anybody ever said to me about having a boy child. But the fact that I could raise a male child with a different kind of consciousness was important to me.
Penelope Starr: [00:37:00] But I was excluded from a lot of things. But in those days, whenever there was women's concerts or Margie Adams or somebody like that would come to Denver, the, what was it called, the Denver Boulder Men's Collective, which was a bunch of gay men, would babysit for us.And a lot of the men in my son's life were gay men.
Penelope Starr: [00:37:30] One of my best friends would take him places. So he was raised, I don't know how you say it, you could ask him. I actually did interview him one time. I interviewed him and his ... My friend Lisa Marie Evans was making this movie about lesbian parents and she asked me to go interview him.So I said to him, "Did you know that I was a lesbian when you were little?"
Penelope Starr: [00:38:00] He was like, "No.""Did you know that all of our friends were lesbian or gay?"And he said, "No."I said, "What'd you think."He said, "I didn't think anything, mom. It's like a fish being in water. It's just my life." And he went to alternative schools and their parents would be two women or two men or none or whatever. So I don't think he knew that we were odd.
Mason Funk: [00:38:30] But how did, I mean, I think that within the lesbian separatist movement or community, it was really complicated for women who had male children. Can you just give us from what you saw, from what you witnessed, what was it like, if not necessarily for you, but for other women who were raising male children, boys, but who were lesbian separatists? And how boys were seen in that world at that time?
Penelope Starr: [00:39:00] I don't think I knew anybody who actually had moved into a separatist community. But I was really interested for a while in alternative communities and I did some research and I went and talked to some people. And my impression was that I would not be welcome. And I just didn't want to do that.
Penelope Starr: [00:39:30] I didn't want to put my son in a position where he was seen as the enemy. I just wouldn't do that to him. And I understand it's a real problem. And I think what it did in my life is I think it kept me from going that far with my feminism and my ...
Penelope Starr: [00:40:00] I'm sputtering here.I think if I had been alone, I think I would have gone that path. I think I would have isolated myself and dropped out completely. But I couldn't. I didn't have that choice, because I had a male child.
Mason Funk: One second.
Natalie Tsui: So this has been happening. But it's been happening more as she keeps on glancing
Mason Funk: [00:40:30] Oh, okay. You might not be realizing you're doing it, but you might just be glancing at the camera occasionally.
Penelope Starr: Oh, sorry.
Mason Funk: Just try-
Natalie Tsui: Don't look in that direction.
Penelope Starr: I don't even see it.
Mason Funk: You don't even see it.
Natalie Tsui: It looks like you're looking at it through the interview.
Mason Funk: It looks like you can't decide where to look. But anyway, just avoid the camera.
Penelope Starr: Okay, look at you.
Mason Funk: Yeah, and look at me.Do me a favor, start that thought over again. I think what you were sputtering towards was, if you hadn't had a son, and then just continue with that thought. Maybe just go a little deeper, like,
Mason Funk: [00:41:00] how your life might have been different. But, and then carry on from there.
Penelope Starr: Yeah, I think at the time I was pretty-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, tell me at what time we're talking about.
Penelope Starr: Okay, I was very involved politically and I was getting a degree in women's studies, I was doing research, I was really interested in dropping out and being with women only.
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] Do me a favor. I'm going to interrupt you. Just tell me, because people might think, oh, she's in college. But they might have not heard the part where you-
Penelope Starr: I was old.
Mason Funk: So, in my late 20s, early 30s. Go on from there.
Penelope Starr: How old was I? Yeah, in my late 20s and early 30s.
Mason Funk: So start over again and just go straight through it.
Penelope Starr: In my early 30s, I was very interested in separatism, I was very interested in deep feminism,
Penelope Starr: [00:42:00] deep lesbianism, and I really thought that I wanted to separate myself from society. I didn't like what was going on. But I could not go to a place that was women only, because I had a male child. He wouldn't have been accepted, and it wouldn't have been an environment that I would want him in.So in an odd way, that kind of altered the way my life went.
Penelope Starr: [00:42:30] And, of course I'm grateful, because I like my life. I like the fact that I've had lots of different experiences. But at that time, I felt, I think I wasn't angry at him, I was angry at them, that they wouldn't accept him and that it would have been a hostile environment.
Mason Funk: Did you ever have any arguments or was it mostly internal, interior arguments?
Penelope Starr: It was mostly interior.
Mason Funk: You ever test the water?
Penelope Starr: [00:43:00] No. Other than going to Michigan. I knew that I couldn't. And I didn't want to disappoint myself. So I knew that I had another path. And my path was to raise another human being who was sensitive and accepting and loving and a mensch.
Mason Funk: [00:43:30] And how has that turned out?
Penelope Starr: He's great. He's absolutely great.
Mason Funk: We're going to jump forward in time to the present. Tell me about your son.
Penelope Starr: My son is-
Mason Funk: Say "my son today."
Penelope Starr: My son today is a 45-years-old and he's married to a wonderful woman and she actually gave me the best compliment in the world. She thanked me for raising a feminist son. And that made me feel great. He's a recording engineer
Penelope Starr: [00:44:00] and he works with all kinds of different people and he gets along with everyone.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay. Good. I'm glad we covered that. It's these little mini, these micro stories that make up our movement.Let's see, now then, next you got married to a gay man.
Penelope Starr: Oh, yeah.
Mason Funk: I'm sorry, let's tell the story, then let's take a little bit of a break.
Natalie Tsui: Actually, I can do it after the story. That's just changing.
Penelope Starr: [00:44:30] So I was a single mom for 18 years.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Just, perfect starting, but just say from this age to this age.
Mason Funk: Because I, roughly, just roughly, just so we know. From my mid 20s to my mid 40s, whatever you want to say.
Penelope Starr: From my late 30s, to my mid 40s, no.
Mason Funk: That's not 18 years. Late 20s.
Penelope Starr: No. It wasn't.
Penelope Starr: [00:45:00] Oh yeah it was. No. Yes.From my late 20s until my mid 40s, I was a single mom. That was a period of about 18 years. But when my son was 13, he and I met this wonderful gay man. And we all three of us became friends. And we became kind of a family. He lived 100 miles away and he would come up on weekends and we'd hang out together.And we did this for about five years until my son, Eli, went off to college
Penelope Starr: [00:45:30] At that point I had nothing that was attaching me to the community that I was in. It was a small town in Northern Arizona. And Gordon and I were best friends. And we thought, well what would happen if we lived together? We could be great support for each other. He worked at a bank, he had an income. I was a great person to build a home,
Penelope Starr: [00:46:00] I was a great emotional support. We were a perfect compliment.We used to say he made the money and I spent it. It was a great relationship. And we decided, hey, let's just do this. Let's live together. So I sold my house up in Camp Verde, and he sold his house in Scottsdale and we bought a house together in Phoenix.And we set up housekeeping and it was great. It was really fun. That was a huge adjustment for me,
Penelope Starr: [00:46:30] because I didn't have to work. So all of a sudden I was a banker's wife. And I didn't have the shoes. It was just this whole new world that was completely bizarre.Not being married to a gay man, that was easy. But being a banker's wife was bizarre. So we were together about a year and I needed some surgery. And I didn't have insurance. So we just decided to get married.
Penelope Starr: [00:47:00] And it was a great marriage. We were married for 14 years. And he ... We had an open marriage. We both had our own partners, but we were primary partners with each other.We used to say we had a great relationship because we didn't have to worry about money and we never fought about sex. So it was easy, it was really easy relationship.
Mason Funk: [00:47:30] Just for the record, because people are going to be asking, does that mean you had a sexual relationship as well?
Mason Funk: Okay, alright. That was ... I was a little unsure of what you meant when you said you were each other's primary.
Penelope Starr: We were each other's primary partners. But we were not sexual partners. So that meant when I would have a relationship with a woman outside of our relationship,
Penelope Starr: [00:48:00] I always let her know, I'm with this person, I'm going to stay with this person, but I'd love to have a relationship with you also.This is when I found the word polyamory, because I was a person who had many loves, that's what polyamory means. Now I was a bisexual lesbian polyamorous married woman. It was getting complicated. I had a lot of titles.
Mason Funk: [00:48:30] And was it, and I presume that Gordon had sexual relationships outside of the relationship as well. So you're in a relationship that is not sexual, but it is primary. And so what were the rules of the road in terms of having outside relationships and talking to each other about those relationships, even if you two weren't sexual partners, were there still ways in which you had to work through issues of trust and confidentiality and transparency and all that stuff? How did you navigate all that?
Penelope Starr: [00:49:00] It was really easy. Neither of us were jealous. Both of us were committed to the relationship. We knew that this was our primary relationship, but we also knew, we wrote our own marriage vows, and we got married on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon by a Park Ranger, it is legal, or was legal, we're divorced now.We knew that things change, and our lives would change.
Penelope Starr: [00:49:30] So part of the marriage vows were we love each other, we're each other's best friends, we want the best for each other, and things might change. And that's okay.
Mason Funk: Do you think, oh wait, Natalie did you want to do something?
Mason Funk: We're going to change the
Penelope Starr: The light. I can tell its getting really dark back there.
Mason Funk: I forgot the question I was going to ask you first. But I probably had something to do ... Oh yes, I remember what it was.
Natalie Tsui: You're in the shot if you lean forward.
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] My question for you is: in the relationship you had with Gordon, and in the spirit in which you approached it, in the vows you exchanged, do you think there's a model there for, effectively the future of marriage or future relationships? Future of marriage.
Penelope Starr: So I have a friend named Deb Nox and she's living ... sorry. A straight women-
Mason Funk: [00:50:30] You should start completely over.
Penelope Starr: I have a friend who is a straight woman, named Deb Knox. She's living in a house with another woman. They are not partners, they are not helpers to each other, they are what they call POSSSLQs, they're starting this whole little movement and everything. They're persons of similar sensibilities sharing living quarters. And so they're interested in the intimacy that comes from sharing space with someone else.
Penelope Starr: [00:51:00] They've become, after a year of living together, very close and very good friends. They didn't know that was going to happen, they hoped it would happen. I think that's the same kind of thing that I was doing. We were a family unit and we were very much connected financially, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, just not sexually.
Penelope Starr: [00:51:30] And I think that's one model. That's one of many models of different ways people can arrange their lives. There's no, there shouldn't be this is the norm and everybody else is wrong. Everybody else has to make it up for themselves, what works the best for them.
Mason Funk: So how do you view, Fenton, of course, is very passionate about the benefits
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] and the things that have been gained and lost with state-sanctioned marriage, same-sex marriage. And I'm going to sneeze here in a second, but my question is, how do you, what are your opinions, what are your views on this new thing that everyone fought for so hard and they finally got it, what has that meant to us as a queer community?
Penelope Starr: I didn't think much of it when they first started.
Penelope Starr: Okay. When the whole movement came about for what they call gay marriage,
Penelope Starr: [00:52:30] or same-sex marriage, I didn't think it was the right battle to fight. I thought there were more important things. But I was completely shocked and amazed at how quickly it moved and how significant it is in many people's lives.So I think I was wrong. It was the right thing to do. Sylvia and I, my partner and I have talked about getting married. But financially for us it doesn't make sense.
Penelope Starr: [00:53:00] I'm 14 years older than her, I'm getting social security, I have medicare, and she's still in the workforce and it makes a lot more sense for us to not get married at this point.Down the road, it might make sense financially, I don't know. But it doesn't change our relationship. But honestly, I like being married, I think it's neat. It is an extra connection. And it really doesn't have anything to do with the state for me.
Penelope Starr: [00:53:30] Even though it does make everything easier with all the financial arrangements and hospitals and that sort of thing.But other than that, I think there's something that's unexplained that happens when you get married that you have a different kind of connection with somebody and I think it's great. And I'm really glad that everybody is allowed to have that now, if that's what they choose.
Mason Funk: So to finish the story of you and Gordon, what happened at the end of 14 years that caused you to get divorced?
Penelope Starr: [00:54:00] Well what happened was-
Mason Funk: And tell me what you're talking about.
Penelope Starr: So after Gordon and I were married for about 13 years-
Mason Funk: Actually, let me back up and say, reset the story for me, that Gordon was a gay man. So basically, for 13 years, as if someone doesn't know this information yet.
Penelope Starr: So Gordon and I lived together very happily in our gay marriage. But we were not that kind of gay marriage.He was gay, I was gay, we were both living together and married to each other.
Penelope Starr: [00:54:30] And it worked very well for us and we were both happy with the arrangement. And then I fell in love with someone.And we knew this could happen at some point. So what I decided to do ... It wasn't just me. All three of us, Gordon and myself and the woman that I fell in love with, all sat down together and we all talked about what are our options here. And Carolyn and I wanted to live with each other and how was that going to work,
Penelope Starr: [00:55:00] should we all three of us live together?So should all three of us live together? Should we divide the house up? Should we live in her house? So we made a choice that I was going to move out. And after a while it just made sense that we wouldn't be married any more, so we got divorced.But he's still my best friend. He lives in North Carolina now. And he's still very much a part of my son's life.
Penelope Starr: [00:55:30] He's his step-father, basically. And they're still very close.
Mason Funk: So it didn't cause ... People are like, "Oh, if you play with fire, you'll get burned." Whatever the case is, it didn't cause any ... were there unexpected consequences, would you say?
Penelope Starr: [00:56:00] Everybody presumed that we were straight. So when we'd go places, we'd have to kind of say, wear a sign that said, "I'm gay, I'm gay, really I am." Because, we looked like a straight couple. So we were constantly having to say to people, "No, we're queer, we're really queer, because we're both married to each other."
Penelope Starr: [00:56:30] Bad consequence? No. I don't think so. I mean, people would be shocked. And he was kind of in the closet for a while with his job. But it wasn't a horrible thing. No, I think it was fun, because we got to educate people. And a lot of people just go, "Oh, yeah, they're married. Oh yeah, they're both gay, yeah."There wasn't anything bad that happened. The sky didn't fall.
Mason Funk: Right, right. I think it's just really interesting, because, again, polyamory is a new term for many people.
Penelope Starr: [00:57:00] Oh I can tell you what went wrong. There wasn't anything in our relationship that was a problem with the polyamory. We both loved each other, we trusted each other, we knew we were each other's best friends, if we were having trouble with a girlfriend or boyfriend, we'd talk about it. We'd give each other advice, we were solid in it.
Penelope Starr: [00:57:30] It was the women that I had relationships with that said, "Oh, no problem. I can do this." And actually, they found out that they couldn't, or they didn't want to after a while. So that's where the jealousy came in. It wasn't between me and Gordon, it was the other relationships that I had.And there was always some kind of problem.It's my tummy. It was growling.
Mason Funk: No. That's fine. There's always some kind of a problem. Give me an example. Or give me something-
Penelope Starr: [00:58:00] Oh, there was some jealousies. There were some ... There were assumptions that, "Oh, I would see the light and I would leave him and I'd go off with them." And I made it really clear from the very beginning, no, I'm not going to leave him. This is the arrangement, if you're not okay with it, tell me upfront. I'm going to tell you everything honestly.
Penelope Starr: [00:58:30] And a number of them would say, "Oh, no, it's fine. Oh yeah, this is very modern. This is great. I don't mind. I don't want a significant relationship, I don't want to be your primary relationship." And then things would happen and change and we'd get closer and I still was in that, I hadn't changed my mind, but they were wanting more and more and it just wasn't going to happen.
Penelope Starr: [00:59:00] So there were some breakups and there were some hard feelings sometimes. But then when this woman came along and I fell in love, and I thought, this is different. This is really different. So I wanted to make the change. It wasn't that she was forcing me, I wanted the change.
Mason Funk: Along the way, would you say you moved from being a so-called political lesbian to being some other kind of lesbian?
Penelope Starr: No, I'm still very political.
Mason Funk: But would you define yourself as a political lesbian to this day?
Penelope Starr: Oh, you mean in terms of the origin?
Mason Funk: [00:59:30] Yeah, in terms of the fact that-
Penelope Starr: No. I think that was a long time ago. We're talking-
Mason Funk: What was a long time ago?
Penelope Starr: [01:00:00] It's been 40 something years, 45 years since I came out, basically. If people want to label me, they can make up their own labels. I don't really care. Right now I'm living in a committed, monogamous relationship with a woman, and it looks to everybody that I'm a lesbian. And that's fine, I'm a lesbian.And I don't have to be a political lesbian, I don't have to be any other kind of lesbian. I'm just a lesbian. Or sometimes I'm bisexual, but I don't act on it. That's the difference. If your nature is that you're bisexual, you have some choices, you may or may not act on that.I'm in a committed, monogamous relationship. So I'm with one person and that person's a woman, so it looks like I'm a lesbian.
Penelope Starr: [01:00:30] I like being a lesbian, because I like my identity being known. I like people to know this is what a lesbian looks like in addition to all the rest of the images of women. But it's just one of my identities; I'm an artist, I'm a writer, I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother. I'm lots of things. And I'm a lesbian.
Mason Funk: [01:01:00] Great. That was fantastic. Michael and Natalie, it's almost your turn. They get a chance to ask questions. But before we do that, tell us about AdobeLand. Did we talk about this already?
Penelope Starr: On camera? No.
Mason Funk: What is, because you may end up being the only person who tells us about AdobeLand.
Mason Funk: So tell us about what Adobeland-
Penelope Starr: Do you want me to tell you about how I started doing it?
Mason Funk: [01:01:30] Sure. What I meant was the actual place as opposed to the film. So yeah. So first of all introduce us to the place called AdobeLand.
Penelope Starr: [01:02:00] Well, in 1979, a woman named Joan Pepper bought some land, nine acres out on the western edge of Tucson. And she had been a teacher. She'd been a gym teacher and she retired. And she had a horse and she moved out to this land and allowed other women to come and live there if they wanted to.She put a trailer on it. It was very primitive, there was no water, there was no bathrooms. There was not a lot of houses in that area, so they just went into the desert, I don't know. They had to go to a spigot and haul their water.
Penelope Starr: [01:02:30] Word got out. There's a great grapevine of land dykes. And they heard there's this land out in Arizona and some of the women were living in cold places, and boy that sounds good. Why don't we go down to Adobeland?There was a book published, I'm not sure quite what year. "Lesbian Lands" it was called, and it was featured. There's an article about it in there. There's-
Mason Funk: Sorry, it was my turn. Carry on.
Penelope Starr: [01:03:00] There are lesbian magazines that are about, there's one still being published called Maize, there was one, I can't remember the other names of them.
Penelope Starr: [01:03:30] But word got out that there was some land there. And there were other women's lands that were formed with all different kinds of structures. Some were land trusts, some were started by one charismatic leader, some of them had a lot of rules. There was basic tenets that everybody agreed to. AdobeLand didn't have any of those things.Weve interviewed ... Can I talk about the film?
Mason Funk: Sure.
Penelope Starr: [01:04:00] Two friends of mine and I, Lu and Pat and I, have been working on a documentary film about AdobeLand, very slowly, for seven, eight years. And we've interviewed dozens of women, and if we ask them the same question, we'll get dozens of answers. Everybody's experience was different. Part of it is because the place changed over the years and also because some of them said, "Oh yeah, there was a rule: no men."And somebody else would say, "I don't remember that rule. There was a boy there. There was a teenage boy there."
Penelope Starr: [01:04:30] So the experience of AdobeLand was in each individual woman's experience, is what AdobeLand is. It's still out there, it's very derelict. There is running water out there now. There is one flush toilet. And there are some women living out there. And they're keeping the spirit of it alive. And it's a great thing.
Penelope Starr: [01:05:00] These women are just moving back there now and they're very hopeful that they will be able to bring it up again like the Phoenix from the ashes.
Mason Funk: And what would you say the spirit of the enterprise is?
Penelope Starr: Independence-
Mason Funk: Give me a complete sentence.
Penelope Starr: [01:05:30] The spirit of the ... I'd say the women that I've talked to, what I admire most about them is their sense of independence, of self-reliance, of wanting to create something of their own, being only in women's space, feeling like they have more control over their lives and not having to It's very cheap to live there. So they don't have to produce a huge income. They don't have to be tied into the system. They can ... it's the same dropout thing.
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] Fenton talked a lot about, this morning, about unfettered capitalism that has taken over. He dates it back to Reagan, he says since Reagan it's just been runaway, doesn't matter who is in the White House. Can you mention, if you relate to that term, or is counteracting that movement in our society, is that part of what AdobeLand is all about?
Penelope Starr: [01:06:30] I don't think AdobeLand is formulated as a protest. I really think it's very personal. And I can't speak for everyone. But I think the women that are there really want to live their own lives. They might individually have very strong belief systems about specific things, especially the degradation of the environment and pollution and things like that. And that might be a thread, but there's no requirement. There's no club that you have to join in order to live there.
Mason Funk: [01:07:00] That sounds very appealing, especially given how angry you were when you found out that there were all kinds of rules about
Penelope Starr: I would have fit in pretty well there. Except over the years, I've grown accustomed to comfort.
Mason Funk: So not an option for you?
Penelope Starr: No, not for me, not now.
Mason Funk: Also very important to cover is the organization you created, StoryArts Group. Tell us about that and the book you wrote.
Penelope Starr: [01:07:30] So StoryArts Group, well I have to backtrack a little bit. 14 years ago I started Odyssey Storytelling. And it was based on a community storytelling event my daughter in law started in San Francisco called Porch Light. And it's very democratic. So the concept is six people tell ten minute stories on a theme once a month. The theme changes and there are always different people.
Penelope Starr: [01:08:00] There's really no requirement other than you have a story that makes sense and you want to share it and you can stick to the ten minutes. We don't censor. We allow anyone to tell their stories. When I first started it, I invited my friends to tell stories, so it was very female-dominated, it was very lesbian and queer-dominated. And as the years have gone on, other people have joined and now we have a much broader demographic.
Penelope Starr: [01:08:30] But one time, for the queer, what are they called, LGBT Chamber of Commerce, I did a slideshow of all of the LGBT members who had been storytellers. And it was probably a quarter of all of the story tellers that we've had. So it's a wonderful platform for people to be able to talk about their lives in front of maybe a straight audience and get some understanding and some compassion going.
Penelope Starr: [01:09:00] So after maybe four years I decided we needed to incorporate. So that's what StoryArts Group is, it's our nonprofit that is the umbrella for Odyssey Storytelling and any other projects that have storytelling components.
Penelope Starr: [01:09:30] So we also did something called A Colorful Life. Or I think it was called the LGBT Elder History Project or something like that.And we did kind of what you're doing right now, except we did it in front of an audience. We invited LGBT elders to come to this place and talk about their lives for an hour to an audience. And we taped them. And I just last week donated seven of them to the Arizona Queer Archives.
Penelope Starr: [01:10:00] And I'm really excited that we did this project, because three of those people have died since we did it. So we have this, we preserved this history, which is wonderful.So, after having been, when did I write that?
Penelope Starr: [01:10:30] So eight years into running Odyssey Storytelling, I thought, "Hey, you know, this is a great thing. I want other people to be able to do this in their own communities. Maybe I should write a book." And the book would be a how-to, this is my story, these are the benefits of community storytelling. This is why you should start on in your own community.
Penelope Starr: [01:11:00] So I wrote a book. And it's called "The Radical Act of Community Storytelling. And it's been out for a year. So now I'm a published author. And I'm also ... So after writing this nonfiction book for almost six years, I thought, "Oh, I really wanna do something else." So I decided to write fiction, because I'm tired of telling the truth.
Penelope Starr: [01:11:30] So now I'm writing a novel in short stories. And a lot of the stories about women who live on women's land.
Mason Funk: Based, I would presume on some of the interviews. The material you got.
Penelope Starr: All fiction, all out of my imagination. But the sense of place and some of the issues runs through this book, yeah.
Mason Funk: So the title of your book, "The Radical Act of Community Storytelling," why do you consider that a radical act? What's radical about it? Make sure you refer to your book title.
Penelope Starr: [01:12:00] I think what's radical about community storytelling is that we give everyone a voice. You don't have to meet a certain criteria in order to have your ten minutes on the stage, which means that we have people from all walks of life. And we look for diversity, we look at building community.
Penelope Starr: [01:12:30] If somebody's sitting in the audience and they're listening to somebody tell a story about their transgender journey, this is not something they might hear when they live in a gated community every day. Their world has opened up a little bit. And we're not, what do they say, beating anybody on the head, we're saying, "Hey, why don't you come and listen to what people's stories are." Stories are what connect us. That's what makes us a community.
Mason Funk: [01:13:00] Great. That was great. Michael, it's your turn. Do you have questions?
Michael Brewer: I can have a couple. You're not going to do it before? You'll do those after?
Mason Funk: Yeah, we'll do those at the end.
Penelope Starr: You're sitting in the dark.
Michael Brewer: [01:13:30] A couple things. First of all, when you were undercover, having relationships with guys, were you the only one? Were you the only one doing that?
Mason Funk: And you'll answer me.
Penelope Starr: Right. Now?
Penelope Starr: When I was undercover as a bisexual person, I didn't know any other bisexual people, I'd never even heard of it. I didn't know it was an option. I thought I'd made it up.
Michael Brewer: [01:14:00] Looking back now, if you were looking back at your younger self, what advice would you give yourself in the future? Say when you had your son and still in different relationships? What would you tell yourself, given everything that you know?
Penelope Starr: I don't think that I'd change a thing.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, yeah, just to say, looking back-
Michael Brewer: Incorporate the question in the answer.
Penelope Starr: [01:14:30] Looking back, I don't think I would change a thing. Parts of my life were really hard. And part-
Mason Funk: Oh sorry.
Michael Brewer: Just a lawn mower or something.
Mason Funk: Small plane, I think. Or a drone.
Penelope Starr: I've never seen a drone out here.
Mason Funk: Maybe just a whiny car.
Penelope Starr: Motorcycle. Do you need a cough drop?
Mason Funk: I'm okay. Getting over, hopefully, the cough.
Natalie Tsui: The light is completely different, by the way. It's gone from.
Mason Funk: It's fine.
Natalie Tsui: You probably noticed.
Penelope Starr: [01:15:00] So what would I tell ... Looking back at my life, I-
Mason Funk: Sorry. Start clean.
Penelope Starr: Yeah. Is that okay?
Penelope Starr: Looking back at my life I don't think I would change anything, even though times were tough some times and times were wonderful some times. I think that had I known more about my options, I don't know that I would've changed anything, because I think you have to learn your own lessons.
Penelope Starr: [01:15:30] I don't think your older self telling your younger self, "Oh, listen, you better do this," I wouldn't have listened to myself anyway.I think my son's a happy person and I have no regrets.
Michael Brewer: [01:16:00] There was a movie out, and now I think it's a TV series, it's a movie that Spike Lee did called, "She's gotta have it." And basically, the gist of it was a woman had different, multiple partners, but each partner fulfilled a certain need that she had. And do you, I heard some people agree with that and some people do not. Do you think that that's true? That people fulfill different needs and that it's ... what do you think about that?
Penelope Starr: [01:16:30] Never saw that movie.
Natalie Tsui: There's this computer sound that keeps-
Mason Funk: I know. It'll be alright if she ... It's just the kitchen. Sorry.
Penelope Starr: Is it me?
Mason Funk: No, it's my computer that's receiving email.
Penelope Starr: Oh, okay.
Penelope Starr: [01:17:00] I've had a lot of different relationships in my life, some loving, some friends, there've been a lot of people in my life, I'm a people person. And I think everybody that I've met, I have learned something from. Everybody in my life, to me, has given me something. And hopefully I've given something back to them.
Penelope Starr: [01:17:30] But I don't think you can get all things from one person. I think that even now, in my monogamous relationship, I have friends that I see outside my relationship. It's not sexual friends, they're walking friends or book group friends, or going to the theater friends. And my partner and I have a great relationship, but we can't do everything together all the time. Does that make sense?
Mason Funk: Okay, I'll just have Natalie. Do you want to take a turn?
Natalie Tsui: Okay. I had a question for you. Do you identify as bi? Is that your ... how you identify?
Penelope Starr: [01:18:00] I identify ...
Mason Funk: Talk to me. Sorry, start clean.
Penelope Starr: I'm trying to rephrase that.I've always been somebody who really didn't like to take on labels. But I will identify as bi if there's any bi shaming or slamming going on. I will identify as a lesbian if there's any lesbian bashing going on. I will identify as a jew if there's any ... what's the right word for it?
Mason Funk: [01:18:30] Antisemitism?
Penelope Starr: Okay. Do I have to start from the beginning?
Mason Funk: Just start over. I will identify as a jew ...
Penelope Starr: I will identify as a jew if there's any antisemitism going on, even though I was raised secular. I will take that on, because I'm not going to allow anybody to do that in my presence. So I don't really identify strongly as any particular, with any particular group, I identify with them all.
Penelope Starr: [01:19:00] I know, it sounds terrible, doesn't it?
Natalie Tsui: That actually wasn't a question, it was like a pre question. I was wondering if you could speak to ... if you could talk about, because there's this whole thing about bi erasure. There's an erasure of bi people. They're omitted.
Penelope Starr: That's why I come out as bi.
Natalie Tsui: [01:19:30] Or they're ostracized and then, additionally that and then moving into the umbrella term of queer, which you've used and not everyone that we've interviewed has used that.
Penelope Starr: Right, I can talk about that.
Natalie Tsui: So I was wondering what were your thoughts on both of those things?
Penelope Starr: I think ... So this whole idea of bi erasure is one of the things that makes me come out as bi. It's a real thing and I think it's used to control people, when they say, "Oh that doesn't count," or "there's no such thing," that's not true. In the LGBT, the Bs are almost always invisible.You don't see them, nobody knows.
Penelope Starr: [01:20:00] What was the other part of it?
Natalie Tsui: What your thoughts are about queer as an umbrella.
Penelope Starr: So when I worked at Wingspan, which was Tucson's LGBT community center, and I ran the senior program there. So in my navet, my very first event-
Natalie Tsui: There's a sound in the background, sorry. Can you hear it?
Penelope Starr: Yeah. It's not the refrigerator.
Natalie Tsui: [01:20:30] It's the plane. It's getting louder.
Penelope Starr: I never knew there were so many planes here.
Penelope Starr: Could be a truck on the road, too.
Mason Funk: It'll get louder or go away, presumably.
Penelope Starr: Get louder and go away.
Mason Funk: Or go away. I think it's fine.
Michael Brewer: [inaudible]
Mason Funk: Yeah, I think we're fine.In my navet
Penelope Starr: [01:21:00] In my navet, the very first meeting that I had, I gave them an assignment, and I said, "I want you to tell your coming out story," to the seniors that had assembled there, men and women. And some of them hadn't come out yet. And I was appalled and shocked and chastened, because that was a crazy thing to make an assumption, not everybody's out.
Penelope Starr: [01:21:30] I can't remember your question. Oh, queer.So one of the things that the seniors did not want to be called was queer, because a lot of them, it had been used against them, it was a bad word. They were intimidated by it, they were scared by it. And then they'd been traumatized by that word. But I saw all the young people using that word.
Penelope Starr: [01:22:00] Then I went to Queer Camp. And Queer Camp is in New Mexico and it was the ... I can't remember the real name of it. But anyway, that's where everybody identified as queer. And it made perfect sense to me, because that way, you're part of a spectrum, you really are part of a group that way. But you don't have to dig through your niche and defend it and use that against somebody else.
Mason Funk: [01:22:30] So for bi people, because they in some ways are the ones who have the hardest time creating a niche and having it be respected.
Penelope Starr: And being invisible.
Mason Funk: I would assume you kind of get why, I think this might have been what you were asking, Natalie, that for them, the umbrella term queer, which is now sweeping into use, why they feel like it's obliterating them again?
Penelope Starr: Oh, to me it seems like it's more inclusive. See, I didn't-
Mason Funk: Is that what your experience is as well?
Penelope Starr: Is that what you were saying?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. It's totally more inclusive.
Mason Funk: [01:23:00] Alright. I've never been a bisexual person, so I don't know how they experience the coming of the word queer.
Penelope Starr: No, I love it, because it's much more inclusive.
Mason Funk: Start over, I love it, it's much more ...
Penelope Starr: I love the word queer, because, to me, it's much more inclusive. It lets everybody into the party and it doesn't say, well, you're not queer enough or your not bi enough or you're not lesbian enough. But I'm unusual, because there's not a lot of people my age, I'm 72, that are happy with that word. I love it. I think it's great.
Michael Brewer: [01:23:30] I just have one little follow up.
Mason Funk: Okay, but let me ask mine before I forget.Do you remember when you first, like you said at a certain point, you didn't have a word for being bisexual. Do you remember when you first heard the word and went "Oh, thank you?"
Mason Funk: No? Okay.
Penelope Starr: It was a long time ago.
Michael Brewer: I was just going to ask. So you were ended a relationship, the gay relationship. And you said empathically that you left when you fell in love?
Michael Brewer: Correct?
Mason Funk: That's right.
Michael Brewer: How did you know that you were in love?
Mason Funk: What was different, I guess, is that your question?
Penelope Starr: So I had had lots of relationships and-
Mason Funk: During the years I was married to a gay man.
Penelope Starr: [01:24:30] During the years I was married to a gay man and I had a lot of relationships, I considered them deep friendships, but I never considered myself in love. When I met my last partner, I fell head over heels. I was giddy, I was silly, and my husband at the time, helped me identify those feelings.He's the one who said, "I think you're in love with her."And I was like, "No!""Yes you are, yes you are, that's what it is."Is that what you-
Mason Funk: Yeah, but do me a favor. When you finish these answers, don't ask him-
Penelope Starr: Don't turn.I'm sorry.
Michael Brewer: [01:25:00] Okay then, so go on. What qualities, you know, because you said in different relationships, but this person had different qualities-
Penelope Starr: [01:25:30] I don't know. I'm not in that relationship anymore. It went sour, that's a hard question for me to answer. I'm in a really solid, good relationship right now and I'm very much in love with my partner. And we have gone through some tough times and we stuck it out and I'm starting to understand what that means and how you become more and more attached and your love can become deeper and deeper. It's a wonderful thing.
Natalie Tsui: I have one more question.
Natalie Tsui: This is because Valentine's Day is coming up, who knows.
Mason Funk: Oh my god.
Natalie Tsui: What is ... I'm single, whatever. But what is love? How do you know?
Penelope Starr: [01:26:00] Oh my god. How do you know?
Mason Funk: Talk to me.
Penelope Starr: Okay, I'm thinking, I'm thinking. How do I know that I'm in love? To me it's a process. It's an attraction, physical attraction and you're attracted to the person's mind and their intellect. But the deep falling in love takes time and it just builds and either the hard times blow you apart, or they pull you closer together.
Penelope Starr: [01:26:30] It's different than loving a child. You love a child because they're your child. There's no question. I've loved my parents, because they're my parents. But falling in love with a peer is completely different, it's a process.
Natalie Tsui: Cool, thanks.
Mason Funk: [01:27:00] Okay. Let me check my list real quick and then we have these standard four questions that we ask at the end of every interview. Let me see.
Penelope Starr: Yes, no, no, yes.I don't know about love. I'm not the right one to ask.
Natalie Tsui: I'm just thinking if I was someone who was watching this archive, what would I want to know.
Penelope Starr: [01:27:30] I was single for 18 years. I didn't want to have a partner, I was perfectly happy. I had lots of lovers, that was fine with me. I didn't need love. And then it came along and it was great.
Mason Funk: That was the 18 years that led up to when you-
Penelope Starr: Married Gordon.
Mason Funk: So that's interesting. So you define that as love coming into your life, even though, again, this is counter intuitive for our audience, that wasn't sexual.
Mason Funk: Can you just-
Penelope Starr: [01:28:00] Right. It's like family love, it's familial love. It's best friend love. It's somebody you can rely on. He's the most trustworthy, honest person I know, knew at the time.He and I just really clicked. We both have sick senses of humor. We both make terrible jokes.
Mason Funk: [01:28:30] I know that you don't want to be prescriptive, but would you recommend that ... everyone needs lovers. And everyone needs really good friends. You basically chose your really, really good friend as the person you lived with and centered your life on and then you kind of took the lovers as they came and went. Sounds pretty good.
Penelope Starr: It worked for me.
Mason Funk: Do you recommend it to others? Hey try it, you might like it?
Penelope Starr: [01:29:00] It's such a tremendous taboo for so many people. That's probably the weirdest thing I've done. Well, I've done some other weird things. But people just don't get it. "What do you mean that he's gay? Why would you be married. Oh, you're his beard." Beard, do I have to explain that?
Penelope Starr: Or, "Oh, it's a marriage of convenience." Well, yes, I was able to get his insurance, that's why we got married, but we would've stayed together as a couple. It wasn't convenience, it was by choice. It was both of our choice.
Mason Funk: [01:29:30] Yeah, no, I think it's great. Like you said, like you've already said, the more models there are out there, viable models, the better it is for everyone to be able to choose what we're going to ...
Penelope Starr: You asked me, would I recommend it. No, I recommend that people figure out what their own relationships are and build it so it suits them.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay, let's do these final four. First one is, we've almost kind of been there already, but if somebody came to you tomorrow,
Mason Funk: [01:30:00] a friend of a friend or whatever, and said, "I'm thinking about coming out." Whatever that meant to that person. What little piece of wisdom or guidance would you offer to steer that person, to support them?
Penelope Starr: I would say get as much support as you possibly can, before you start telling everybody. So I do a lot of bibliotherapy, I read a lot of books, so that's where I would go. There's so many great groups and support systems and
Penelope Starr: [01:30:30] First connect with people that are gay or lesbian or whatever so that you have a sense of not being alone in this. And learn as much as you can. I think it's different if somebody falls in love with somebody and goes "Oh, my god, this is a woman. I guess I'm a lesbian," vs. somebody who's like, "I got this feeling."
Penelope Starr: [01:31:00] To tell them that being in the closet is much more harmful than coming out. And the more people that come out, the safer it is for everybody.
Mason Funk: Great. Secondly, at this moment in time, what is your hope for the future?
Penelope Starr: Of?
Mason Funk: What is the hope when you ... When you look to the future, what gives you hope or ...
Penelope Starr: [01:31:30] A change in the regime. I think right now in history everybody is just holding our breaths waiting until something changes for the positive, because the news is just awful every day. And I am an optimist, and I do know that after you live a certain length of time you see that the pendulum swings and there almost always is going to be a change. And we just have to wait it out and not go to sleep while we're waiting. Make our voices heard.
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] Okay. Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Penelope Starr: I think I've had a lot of fun and done a lot of interesting things and, like you said, maybe I can give somebody, I could be like a role model for somebody because they could say, "Oh, wow, if she was able to do that, maybe I could do it, too."
Mason Funk: [01:32:30] Great. And lastly, why do you think this project OUTWORDS, what is the value or the importance of this project? And please mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Penelope Starr: I think OUTWORDS is important because of the visibility. I think the scariest thing is if we just disappear and our history also. I think it's really exciting that you're looking for a lot of diversity and you're looking at people from different types of lives,
Penelope Starr: [01:33:00] because that is the whole picture .Of course you can't build the whole thing, but I think it's a wonderful project. I love stories. I love listening to stories. And I think that's a way that we can build connections to each other.
Mason Funk: Great. Now normally we'd be done. But you said in passing, when you were talking about your marriage to Gordon, you said, "It was the weirdest thing I've ever done. Well I've done a lot of weird things." And I can't let that go.
Penelope Starr: [01:33:30] I don't know, what are the weird things I've done?
Mason Funk: Come on. What are some other weird things you've done?
Penelope Starr: I've done things without knowing what I was doing, I guess that's what I would say is weird. I started out Odyssey storytelling knowing nothing. I'd never put on a production of any sort. I just acted as if I was going to get this done and I did.
Penelope Starr: [01:34:00] And 14 years later, it's still there, it's pretty amazing. I wrote a book. I didn't know what I was doing. I took some classes at the community college and said, "I'm going to write this book," and when I got it published, people said, "Wow, we didn't think that you could do that. You should be so proud of yourself."And I thought, "Why?" I said I was going to do it and I did it." Not knowing what I was doing never stopped me in any way.
Penelope Starr: [01:34:30] I've had jobs I didn't know what I was doing, I did them anyway. I usually end up doing a pretty good job.I'm taking a poetry class now, at Pima Community College, and I don't know anything about poetry and it is so much fun. And the reason I'm doing it is because I don't know anything about it and I'm not somebody who really likes poetry. So I'm hoping that I'll learn enough so that I understand what's going on with it.
Mason Funk: [01:35:00] And I have one more followup as well, and maybe even more. I also don't want to let it go that you were involved in battered women's shelters, what we now call domestic violence survivors and so on. For someone out there who is in a relationship experiencing domestic violence, it might be valuable to know if that came from a place of your own experience. If you have a story that someone might be able to go, "Oh, she went through that, she survived that." That might encourage somebody. So, to the extent that you're comfortable sharing, is there something there to share?
Penelope Starr: It was just out of the whole, I wanted to save every woman in the entire world that I was working in the battered women's shelter. And it was a strong feminist place to be and we were in the forefront of the domestic violence movement in Denver then, in, I guess it was '78, we put on the first national conference on domestic violence in the whole country.
Penelope Starr: [01:36:00] We were going to change the world. It was an amazing place to be.
Mason Funk: You ever met a woman down there named Carol Lease, did you? L-E-A-S-E?
Penelope Starr: Oh, my god.
Mason Funk: She's one of our interviewees.
Penelope Starr: Really?
Mason Funk: Yes. We can talk about that too.
Penelope Starr: I don't remember what she looks like.
Penelope Starr: I know her name, though.
Mason Funk: I can show you her photograph today.
Penelope Starr: Oh, wow, yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. I think we're done. This has been fantastic, we need to do what's called room tone, which is just silence.
Mason Funk: [01:36:30] Let's do room tone, because we're not recording this-
Natalie Tsui: Let's just room tone.
Mason Funk: And we'll be done then.
Natalie Tsui: [01:37:00] Okay, 30 seconds of room tone.
Natalie Tsui: [01:37:30] Thank you.Ready. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Tell us about your daughter.
Penelope Starr: In 1965, I had a child. I wasn't married and I was not in a position to be able to take care of her, I was pretty young.
Penelope Starr: [01:38:00] So I gave her up for adoption. And I went to some therapy and I came to terms with it and I knew it was fine. I felt like I was doing the best thing for her.So fast forward 44 years and I get a phone call one morning at eight o'clock in the morning from a woman who says, "Are you the person," and she gives my maiden name.
Penelope Starr: [01:38:30] And I'm like, "Yeah. This is about that child, isn't it?" And I knew, I just knew what it was. I had never gone looking for her, but I also knew that I would not stop her from finding me. The reason I didn't look for her is because I didn't want to interfere with her life. My whole goal was to set her up with a stable family, because I couldn't provide that for her.So when she contacted me, I was very happy to meet her.
Penelope Starr: [01:39:00] Now, over these last many years, I've heard lots of stories, horror stories, about adopted children and parents getting together. One of them is, something's wrong with them, they're sick, they're crazy, they want money, whatever. And I just thought, "I wonder what this is going to be." But I didn't think it was going to.This person that called me was a go-between. She was the one who actually found me. So she said,
Penelope Starr: [01:39:30] "Is it okay if I give your daughter, her name's Nancy, your phone number?And I said, "Yes, she can call me."So at four o'clock that afternoon, she called me. And we had this very awkward conversation. "Hi, how are you?" "Yeah, fine, where have you been for 44 years?"But over the course of a couple of days of conversation, because it got so intense, we both said,
Penelope Starr: [01:40:00] oh let's hang up, we can't keep talking, but over the course of a couple of days of talking, we were just trying to get to know each other a little bit. And we made arrangements for her to come and see me.So you're trying to figure out, what things do you tell, what do you not tell. So I said, "Oh, and I'm bisexual."And she said, "Oh, I am too."And I said, "I hope you're not a republican."She's like, "No, no, no."I'm like, "Okay. So we can meet."
Penelope Starr: [01:40:30] She came out to visit, and I called my son and I said, "Would you like to meet your sister?" Because he had known about this.And he said, "Sure." So he came out. We had a family reunion. And it turns out she's a wonderful person and the people who raised her were great. And she was married and she had five kids.So all of a sudden, I went from having one grandchild to having six grandchildren.
Penelope Starr: [01:41:00] So I went out to see her near Chicago and met the kids and we've grown a loving relationship. And her parents, the people who adopted her, her fathers died in this last year and her mother now has dementia. So it's kind of like Nancy has a spare mother now.And she was married to a guy. And after a couple of years, she started dating women while they were still married with his permission.
Penelope Starr: [01:41:30] And then after a while, she left that marriage and came out as a lesbian. And then she got married to a woman.And we just keep thinking, "Is that hereditary? How did that happen?"And she said meeting me helped her, answered a lot of questions for her, because we're very similar, which is kind of freaky,
Penelope Starr: [01:42:00] being that we've only known each other for eight years.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Penelope Starr: So, I said to her, "I want you to come to Odyssey Storytelling, and I want you to tell this story with me."And she said, "I can't do that, I'm terrified of public speaking."Well, she has lots of tattoos, and she said, "I will tell a story on Odyssey, if you get a tattoo."And I'm like, "No way, I'm not going to do it."
Penelope Starr: [01:42:30] And then I thought about it, and I said, "I'll tell you what, I'll get a dot."And she said, "I'll tell you what, I'll tell a sentence." So she's definitely my kid.So turns out, she comes to Tucson, she's going to tell a story. We got the same tattoo.
Natalie Tsui: Can I zoom in?
Mason Funk: Yeah, just hold that right there for a second. Rotate your arm a little bit more, back to the way it was before, because now you're-
Natalie Tsui: [01:43:00] Now you're in your light.
Mason Funk: So just move it back to-
Natalie Tsui: Or out.
Michael Brewer: Do you want to lift it up again?
Natalie Tsui: But kinda twist it.
Penelope Starr: I don't think my arm will twist any more.
Natalie Tsui: Oh yeah, that's good.
Penelope Starr: Can you get it?
Michael Brewer: You want to lift it up again?
Mason Funk: Yeah, maybe so. Are you tight now?
Natalie Tsui: I'm tight.
Mason Funk: Move your arm back to normal position. And then just go ahead and raise it up.
Natalie Tsui: Do it, but don't look at the camera.
Penelope Starr: Okay, right, okay.
Natalie Tsui: If you could point at it with your other hand.
Penelope Starr: [01:43:30] Okay. So yes, we got our tattoos.
Michael Brewer: Can you get any tighter?
Natalie Tsui: It's tight. How tight do you want it?
Michael Brewer: I was thinking like an insert.
Mason Funk: Was it tight enough to be an insert?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, I guess I can just-
Mason Funk: That's what I thought you were doing.
Penelope Starr: You want me to move close?
Mason Funk: No, it's easier if ... Can we just ... yeah, exactly.
Mason Funk: [01:44:00] So this time, you can just keep your arm, now you'll lower your arm and when Natalie says go.
Natalie Tsui: Hold on. Actually I need the arm in, so I can get focus.
Mason Funk: Okay. So raise it. That's good.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, so now we're not seeing your eyes, so it doesn't matter what you do with your eyes. Just raise your arm.
Natalie Tsui: Oh, it's a little too high.
Mason Funk: Sorry, go down.
Natalie Tsui: [01:44:30] That's a little out. Put it where it needs to be, so raise it and move it over this way. Yeah, that's perfect. So if you can remember that spot.
Mason Funk: Now just lower it.And go ahead and raise it.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, let me check focus again, because it kind of changed position.
Michael Brewer: It's not ... because she's coming from this way and then it will focus on that. It's coming from the opposite side.
Mason Funk: [01:45:00] Okay. So put your arm back on the armrest. And you're going to have to do the whole motion, and try to hit that mark.
Natalie Tsui: Beautiful. Cool. I can zoom in even closer, too.
Mason Funk: Okay, so remember that position.
Penelope Starr: Do it again?
Mason Funk: Uh huh. Are you ready, Natalie?
Natalie Tsui: Nice, yeah. Cool.
Penelope Starr: So that was my first tattoo at age 67.
Natalie Tsui: [01:45:30] Wait, hold I need to get-
Mason Funk: Wait, she needs to get-
Penelope Starr: Oh, okay. So it's definitely a conversation piece.
Mason Funk: Tell me what, describe it to someone as if they are not seeing it. As if they are not able to see it. My tattoo is of a blank. My tattoo is a blank.
Natalie Tsui: I gotta get focus-
Penelope Starr: She's got ... yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:46:00] The tattoo, my daughter and I have the same tattoo, it's a blank. Whenever you're ready.
Natalie Tsui: Got it. Okay, go ahead.
Penelope Starr: My daughter and I have the same tattoo. It's a bracelet and it has two stars in it. And it has five dots in one star and that's her five children. And has one dot on the other star, that's my other grandchild. And she has the same exact one.
Penelope Starr: [01:46:30] So that was my first tattoo at 67. And then she came back to town and then we got more tattoos.
Mason Funk: That's great.
Penelope Starr: Wanna see my other tattoo? I just have one more.
Mason Funk: No, we won't do this. We're fine. I think one tattoo-
Penelope Starr: It's a snake.
Mason Funk: We're not going to show probably more than one. That's the one that has all the emotional ...
Michael Brewer: The one that sealed the deal.
Mason Funk: That's great. Just a quick followup question, what, when you became pregnant at 21, was it?
Penelope Starr: [01:47:00] 20, well 19 I was-
Mason Funk: Oh at 19. How did your parents react to that?
Penelope Starr: Oh, it's so complicated, really.
Mason Funk: Oh really?
Penelope Starr: Yeah. I was in Mexico in 1964, I guess it was, with a man, when I was 19 and I got pregnant. Or I could've gotten pregnant before I went to Mexico, I don't know. But I left him in Mexico and I came back home and my parents were in Long Island.
Penelope Starr: [01:47:30] And my father said, "Oh what do you want to do?"And I said, "I don't know."And he said, "If you want an abortion, I'll talk to my lawyer," because it was illegal in New York then. So you could not get an abortion safe and legally. So he talked to his lawyer, and the lawyer said I could go to Puerto Rico and get an abortion. I would have had to fly there by myself. It was kind of scary.
Penelope Starr: [01:48:00] And I thought, "You know what? I've got, what do I have left, about five months? I can be pregnant." So I just decided to keep the baby. So my father ... my sister was still in high school and this was, the time is very hard to describe to anybody who wasn't there.But it was so shameful to be pregnant and to not be married. To have a child out of wedlock, have a bastard child. All this judgment that was going on. So my sister was still in high school and it would've been difficult for her.
Penelope Starr: [01:48:30] So I went to a home for unwed mothers in Manhattan. And I lived there for the last three or four months of the pregnancy.And I had the baby there and it was through an agency and I got to specify how, what my preferences were for who would adopt her. And one of the things that was important to me is I wanted her to be in a family of artists. And it turns out that she was, her father was an artist.
Penelope Starr: [01:49:00] So they did what they said they were going to do.
Mason Funk: Great. Great. I think now we've truly told all the stories. Thank you for sharing that, by the way.
Natalie Tsui: Oh, the light. Did the light turn on?
Penelope Starr: He just turned the light on.
Mason Funk: We've already done room tone?
Natalie Tsui: We did do room tone. I guess I do have one thing, not to belabor this, sorry-
Natalie Tsui: But there was this thing that you did when we were packing up and you summarized your romantic history really well-
Mason Funk: [01:49:30] Oh yeah, your life. Your life story.
Natalie Tsui: you kind of like bullet points, like here I did this, I did this.
Penelope Starr: And do that?
Natalie Tsui: So if you can just do that again.
Mason Funk: To me.
Penelope Starr: Now? Okay. Let's see. First I had a child. And I wasn't married. Then I got married and then I had a child. But then I divorced that husband.
Mason Funk: Sorry, you skipped the part about giving the child up for adoption.
Michael Brewer: And gay marriage.
Mason Funk: She's not there yet. She hasn't gotten there yet.
Penelope Starr: That hasn't come yet.So first, so I yeah ... I do things out of order.
Penelope Starr: [01:50:00] So first, thing I did was I had a child and I gave her up for adoption. Then I got married to someone, a man, and I had another child. Then I divorced him. Then I was a single mom for 18 years. And then I married my gay husband. And we were married for 14-
Michael Brewer: Oh fuck. Airplane.
Penelope Starr: I had no idea there were this many airplanes that fly-
Mason Funk: It's not that many, actually. It's just that I'm tired, we had a late night last night.
Mason Funk: [01:50:30] It's like we're close to being done. This is so good. But when another plane comes, I'm like "oooh."
Natalie Tsui: Planes come to those who wait.
Penelope Starr: Om.
Penelope Starr: I'll come up with a-
Mason Funk: You were doing ... everything you were saying was absolutely dead on. It's great.
Penelope Starr: See if I can remember my life. Okay. So what I said was. So I do things, but not in the right order. So first I had a child and gave her up for adoption.
Penelope Starr: [01:51:00] Then I got married, I was married to my husband. Divorced him. I was a single mom for 18 years-
Mason Funk: But you didn't mention having a son with your husband.
Penelope Starr: Oh, boy!
Mason Funk: Sorry. Just I'm sorry, but these are the key things that we need.
Penelope Starr: Yeah, okay.
Mason Funk: And also, 19-
Penelope Starr: I watched you out there.
Mason Funk: Exactly. There's no shame, believe me, there's no shame to your name. But mention, at 19.
Penelope Starr: Should I say the thing about-
Mason Funk: No, you're fine. Start the ...
Penelope Starr: [01:51:30] Okay, so when I was 19, I got pregnant. I had a daughter and I gave her up for adoption. Then I got married and had a son. I divorced that man and then I was a single mom for 18 years. Then I met this great guy, who was gay and we ended up getting married and we were married happily for 14 years until I fell in love with a woman, who I lived with for five years.
Penelope Starr: [01:52:00] That didn't work out. I was alone for five years and now I'm in a wonderful relationship with a woman for the last eight years.
Mason Funk: And who knows what happens next. I think you said in your questionnaire, you said, you made a reference to "This is my last relationship."
Penelope Starr: This is the last one. I'm not doing this anymore. It's just too much work and I'm too old and this is it. It's fun. I like it.
Mason Funk: [01:52:30] In that little moment I had with Sylvia, she seemed like she was great.
Penelope Starr: Yeah, she is. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay, are we all good? Are we all good? We asked a lot of questions?
Natalie Tsui: Is that a wrap?
Penelope Starr: I won't mention anything else.
Mason Funk: Yes, don't.
Penelope Starr: I won't tell you about the time I-
Mason Funk: I'm afraid of the stories that we've missed at this point.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk and Michael Brewer
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: February 06, 2018
Location: Home of Penelope Starr, Tucson, AZ