Interviewer:

 Mason Funk

Camera:

 Natalie Tsui

Date:

 July 07, 2017

Location:

 Home Of Trella Ann Laughlin, Eureka Springs, AR

TrellaLaughlin was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1937. After her mother died, Trellagrew up in her grandmother’s boarding house. Trella’s family was white. Her primary caretaker, Daisy, was an African-American woman, whom the family promptly dismissed after young Trella was heard calling Daisy “mama” in public. Escape for Trella came when she left Jackson to attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

During college, Trella worked for a year as a flight attendant on American Airlines. After one of her flights caught fire and made an emergency landing in the foothills of Colorado, Trella received American's Distinguished Service Award for Valor which, in her words, was worth “about $1 in true appreciation”.Trella did graduate work at Stanford University and the University of Texas in Austin (where she played in an all-women’s country western band), then taught English in a program for US military serving abroad.

In the 1970s, Trella joined the lesbian separatist movement, living in a tent in central Arkansas. Eventually she headed back in Austin,taught English and journalism, and joined an anti-racism group that confronted the Ku Klux Klan at recruitment events.

In 1980, Trella created a public access television show called Let the People Speak as a forum for white people to speak out against racism and imperialism. For nearly two decades, she  traveled the globe from the Middle East to Central and South America documentinginjustice and imperialism. She was in Managua, Nicaragua the night before the Sandinista Revolution and in El Salvador, she taught female FMLN commandants camera skills to document their struggle for liberation.

A few months after her interview, Trella asked when the OUTWORDS book would be published. When we told her May 2019, she said, “I will be 82 then. Hope I am alive.” Then she added: “If I have gone to another place, please know I will love you and my comrades forever. Respect yourself, and fight for a just and compassionate world. VENCEREMOS."

 

 

 

Time Speakers Transcript Text
Trella Ann Laughlin: Please.
Mason Funk: Just state and spell your first and last names. What's your name?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:00:30] Trella Ann Laughlin. TRELLA ANN LAUGHLIN
Mason Funk: Okay. Do you want to be identified on screen as Trella Ann or just Trella.
Trella Ann Laughlin: The reason I put the Ann is my mother's name is Trella May. It's irrelevant now.
Mason Funk: Okay. All right. We'll probably just go with Trella-
Trella Ann Laughlin: It's fine.
Mason Funk: … because that's how people know you.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Sure.
Natalie Tsui: Trella would you mind just fixing your collar?
Trella Ann Laughlin: Who?
Natalie Tsui: Would you mind fixing your collar? Yeah, it's just a little … It's fine, just lay it flat on your shirt. Yeah, that's great.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Hold on. How's that?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's great.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:01:00] Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay. Do me a favor and … first of all when and where were you born? Please give us the exact date and location of your birth.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Yeah, it's also in what I wrote for you.
Mason Funk: Right.
Trella Ann Laughlin: February 21st 1937. Jackson Mississippi.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Okay. Tell us a little bit about your family. You mentioned you were mostly raised by your grandparents or your grandmother. What kind of family did you came from?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:02:00] My birth died when I was eight months old. I lived in a boarding house with my grandmother, my father and my beautiful nanny Misses Daisy Rudd. I always say misses because in the south at that time black women were not allowed the courtesy of being called misses. I was raised in downtown Jackson in my grandmother's rented mansion that was falling in where she provided meals for white working people. 25 cents all you could eat full quarter.
Mason Funk: Did that have some kind of a shaping influence on you living in that house with those people coming and going?
Trella Ann Laughlin: Absolutely.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] Tell me about that.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:03:00] I loved Daisy with all my heart. She was my soul mate and I thought we would get married when I grew up, which started my lesbianism. I was supposed to play the piano. We had and old upright. I would play … people would come to the foyer to wait for the dinner and they'd say, “Stop that racket.” I would stop then somebody else would come in and then say, “You better play. They are paying for lessons.” I could play and then I'd stop. I realized I had to do what I wanted to do. It had a great influence. We had men there from the Second World War who were rooming with my grandmother. All kinds of people. All white people but a lot of black women cooked and cleaned and served the meals and they were my delight.
Mason Funk: Why do you say that? Why were they your delight? The black women?
Trella Ann Laughlin: Fun.
Mason Funk: Start with a complete sentence.
Trella Ann Laughlin: They were more fun.
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] Like, the black women who worked at my grandmother's boarding house.
Trella Ann Laughlin: The black women who worked at my grandmother's boarding house were kind to me, attentive. We had a lot of fun. They had joy even being underpaid and overworked. I adored them.
Mason Funk: [00:04:30] Was there some kind of identification happening even at that early age with them?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:05:00] I'm not sure I would say that. Identification I became aware of their oppression because white people would continually talk in a cruel nasty way about black people. I would hear it. They would hear it also. It was as if they were invincible. I became aware of that. Mostly it was because I love daisy. Daisy and I were very close. We spent a lot of time together because my birth mother had died. We had a lot of fun. She took me to her home in the black community and I could hear the music, which I loved and the joy. I was astonished that the oppression did not kill the joy. I sat that again in El Salvador when I worked for the [inaudible 00:05:43] videotaping the liberation of the people. I cried a lot.
I run the camera by myself and sometimes a camera would be shaking because I would cry. I got a card from them on time thanking me for my work. It had a picture of a child crying. Inside it said, “Cheer up Trella. Stop crying.” That was just amazing to me how people could go through such pain, grief, the sorrow of losing their children, their husbands, their wives and still live with joy. Good lesson.
Mason Funk: Wow. Give me one second. You don't even have to cut Natalie. I just need to plug my laptop in.
Female: Okay. Should I close this door? We're getting some outside sound.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Certainly.
Female: [00:07:00] I don't know if it's going to-
Trella Ann Laughlin: The front door is open too Natalie if you want to close it.
Female: Yeah. I'm getting a little sound vacuum.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Is that better?
Female: [00:07:30] Yeah. I think it blocks out some of the sound. I do love the sound of the chirping but-
Mason Funk: Okay. Let me know are we still … we're still speeding?
Female: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Great. Meantime you mentioned your stepbrother.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Stepbrother?
Mason Funk: [00:08:00] Brother as not in your questionnaire. You mentioned being beat up or abused or in some way harassed by him. Can you tell us about that relationship?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:08:30] We had a gothic southern family. My mother died. My biological uncle was killed in a drunken wreck. His son, who was my cousin, became my stepbrother when the in laws married. Pretty gothic. He was very jealous of his mother, wanted his mother to himself. She, becoming my stepmother, was terrifying to him. He was very hateful, jealous of me, abusive, beat me, threatened my live and molested me. I learned to fight back early. I would see where he was in a room or in the yard and figure out how long it would take me to get to my grandmother or daisy then I'll kick him in the shins and run like hell. He is a wealthy republican, racist woman hating man in a nursing home now. I never see him. I don't want to see him and I'm still trying to learn forgiveness.
Mason Funk: When you say you would kick him and then … strategically kick him and then flee for safety. It wasn't exactly, if you were completely his victim, because you also figured out ways to fight back.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:10:00] Tell me about that. Where did that come from?
Trella Ann Laughlin: Well, relatives would always say I was too willful and I always had been. I had Daisy's love. I had my grandmother. I had people who cared for me. I guess they gave me the strength to resist.
Mason Funk: [00:10:30] Okay. Great. You also mentioned in your questionnaire that one of the things you didn't have that you would have wanted to have was you said truthful answers.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:11:00] I think the history of white supremacy, white people is to lie. Most white people will not tell you how prejudiced and bigoted they really are. We cover it up. We make up stories. Certainly of my generation in the Deep South most white people would never tell you what they supported, what they did so they lie. It's just like the confederate flag business. I hate the confederate flag. It stands for nothing but cruelty and slavery. Yet there some white folks who say, “That's heritage. It's all about heritage. It's not racism.” Yes it is. I had a wonderful experience in [oxfen 00:11:46] where I did most of my video work. When the clan and the Nazis came to the capital to recruit other haters I got a confederate flag about this big and I thought I'm going to burn this.
Being a video person I knew how to get the media over. I help my flag up. I had a lighter, burnt it on camera. The problem was it was plastic and plastic melted all down my arm and burned me. I said, “I am not going to act like it hurts. This is my heritage and I'm burning it.” That's what I mean by not ever learning the truth.
Mason Funk: We're going to get to Austin later because I have question about Austin.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Okay.
Mason Funk: I'm not going to get there yet because I like to work chronologically.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:13:00] Sure.
Mason Funk: [00:13:30] Give us a picture … one of the great, for me, benefits of this archive is American social history not just LGBTQ history. So paint us a picture of Jackson Mississippi in say the 1940s and ‘50s in terms of the racial politics and the structures and the dos and the don'ts and the signs. Take us back to this pre-civil rights era.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:14:00] Remember I was born in 1937. I grew up in the ‘40s at my grandmother's boarding house. The schizophrenia of the Deep South at that time was that we could have very close intimate, loving, even respectful relationships with some of the black people as long as they knew their place. I had playmates who were black children. I fished with an elderly black man that I called uncle. I loved the women who worked for my grandmother. Had close associations with them. I woman named Daissy lived in out basement. I would stay with her. She had, I would never forget that she had covered the walls so that the draft wouldn't come in, with cut outs from the newspaper of Eleanor Roosevelt.
I would cut out tickets and give them to her and say, “Give me a ticket and I'll sing for you.” She would give me a ticket. Or, “Give me a ticket and I'll dance for you.” We had loving wonderful times. That was constricted not cased off. Total segregation in the schools. In where you could live and couldn't live. Most black people lived in shacks owned by rich white folk in a certain area of town.
They couldn't go to a white doctor. They couldn't go to a hospital. It was apartheid and it was ugly. I began to see that clearly as I went to Daisy's house that was in the black community but very segregated. It would walk … it was about three miles. Or take the bus sometimes and it was a whole different world. Segregation in churches. Mental segregation. Books were all about how wonderful white people were and there were no books about black people or their culture. I think it makes white people mentally ill. I want to write about that some time. It is spirit crushing for people of color to have to endure. There's no real reason for it of course. It's just power and privilege and money and I began to hate it.
Mason Funk: Great. In the midst of all this when did you begin to experience feelings of attraction for women, sexuality, when did that all begin to bubble to the surface for you.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:17:30] I was very repressed because I was forced to go to a fundamentalist, up type, right wing … What can I say? Church and there was no sexuality. Nobody had any. Not even straight married people. I don't think I was attracted to women as much as repulsed by male supremacy.
Female: Sorry this thing just did something weird.
Mason Funk: Just turn it off and start it again.
Female: Yeah. I've never seen this before.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Female: [inaudible 00:17:53].
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's start that over again.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:18:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: You said … I just basically asked you when your own sexuality … when you began to be aware. Start off by saying you were raised in this right wing fundamentalist. Start there again.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:18:30] Okay. I was raised in a right wing fundamentalist racist woman-hating environment. Sexuality was never discussed even straight people didn't have any. I never heard the word homosexual, certainly not lesbian. I think my first love and my first sin according to those folk was loving black people. I stepped out of the cage as it were. That began my rebellion and my education and my adventures. I didn't really have sexuality. I had love for my female friends. Being so repressed it never occurred to me. I dated boys as long as they didn't touch me. I played tennis on the team, high school. I read Plato. I stayed away from sex. When I finally got out of Mississippi I began to experiment. Repression is very harsh. We don't know how to enjoy our bodies, our selves, our sex. It took going to Buckley out in your area. The first dance I ever went to where women took their shirts off. I thought, “Woo, this is for me.” I feel in love and began to grow and to know that it is okay to be sexual with other women. It's okay to love.
The only problem that I have about it now is the right wing bigots seem to always obsess about gay sex. I just wrote a letter about that in the paper and said, “Something's wrong with you all. Our lives are much more than just sex. They are about love. Growing. Nature. Cooperation. Not just sex.” I don't put sex down. I know that during the ‘60s and ‘70s there was a lot of experimentation; The gay baths. Although women didn't have that even in San Francisco. We certainly did have lots of lovers. Never thought about it. It was before aids. That's okay. For me experimentation was more to fill a whole in my heart because a lot of times I didn't even know the woman I was sleeping with. I wouldn't do that now. Of course I'm married and I like that. I like that the pressure is off. That I don't have to do anything I damn well don't want to do.
Mason Funk: [00:22:30] You raised an interesting topic in passing which is it is true that we're not all about sex. At the same time we're not necessarily all about love. I think we queer people are also asserting our right to enjoy sex for it's own sake. I wonder if that's been part of your journey as well.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:23:00] I had to learn how to enjoy sex because I was so repressed. Of course sex is life. It's part of life. It's wonderful. I'm just saying the pressure sometimes in the past and maybe even now is hurtful, can be hurtful. People have to choose what they want. We have the right to choose what we want even if sometimes the choices can be distractive. I think we have to try to healthy in our sexual experimentation and love. I don't want to come off as a Christian. I'm not a Christian. I'm an atheist, a humanist who loves nature and believes in the possibilities of people.
Mason Funk: Great. Fantastic. Tell me what got you … before we move on to that. You mentioned or there was something I read on line. Someone wrote about you cleaning hotels, the New Orleans hotel for Barbra Scott
Trella Ann Laughlin: Why.
Mason Funk: Who you're aware we're going to be interviewing-
Trella Ann Laughlin: I know.
Mason Funk: … next week because you gave me her name.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:24:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: Tell me that story because I'd love to hear about just when did that happen and where did that happen. Where was this hotel and who was Barbra Scott?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:24:30] I lived with other women at the South Fork of the little red river in central Arkansas. We lived in army mesh tents, climbed on a climbing rope to get across the river, grew our own food, washed in the river, fished. We wanted to live simply without money and without electronic gadgets like we have today. Which had their place. It was that time. We got sprayed by two four five T, which is a derivative of the Agent Orange. Very Cosmogenic. Very bad herbicide so we had to live. I was a refugee. I had met Barbra Scot who had bought the New Orleans hotel here in [eureka 00:25:11] springs. She offered me and my partner a job running the hotel which involved cleaning, waiting on white haired ladies on their tours to the passion play. It was awful. I was not a good maid. I mainly smoked dope and tried to figure out how to get out of there. As you will find out Barbra Scott she's also from Mississippi but she talks like this and she's a plantation owner.
I love Barbra but we don't have a whole lot in common really. My parents came to visit once and Barbra invited them to come up the hill to her home for dinner. I was not going to go to dinner at the boss' house because I was angry. I said, “I'm not going.” My parents were used to this by then. They went up, had a lovely dinner and came back to the New Orleans hotel where I was the maid and shook the head I'm sure, “Why couldn't Trella Ann grow up like Barbra?” You tell Barbra hallo for me.
Mason Funk: [00:27:00] I think for an outsider it's so fascinating to hear you deconstruct … or not decon … You and Barbra might look like … You're both from Mississippi. You're both ladies of a certain age. You mush just be the same. For you to break it down that social class structure. Can you just talk more about that? Even just in general and general terms about the differences even among white people in Mississippi.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:27:30] Oh yeah. First of all you call me lady. I'm no lady. That was the pressure put on me. Lady has class connotations. There was no black woman who was ever called a lady back then. I rebelled against being a lady. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to walk big. I wanted to be free. Lady was very constricting. You had to wear dresses and hoes and gloves and hats and sit just right and never speak up and never have any fun. It was definitely a class connotation. That was one of my buzzwords. My partner gets so sick of my buzzwords because I go to the Unitarian fellowship and they are always saying church. I'm allergic to church. I keep saying, “It is a fellowship. It's not church.” I've lost that battle. Now I say, “Church, church, church.” It's a class thing. Although it got in the middle class, the upper class ladies always intimidated me. I never fit in. I didn't have the power. I didn't have the money. I sometimes wanted to be like them but I just wasn't. I was too rowdy, too much a dike. I liked that really.
Mason Funk: Fascinating. Barbra Scott was from a totally different world as far as you're concerned.
Trella Ann Laughlin: She's from the delta.
Mason Funk: [00:29:30] Do me a favor. Start by saying Barbra Scott.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:30:00] Barbra Scott is from the delta of Mississippi, up there were the land is always ruined that grew cotton for the master. I was from the city. My folks were not slave owners, plantation owners. They were working people. My great-grandfather who I grew up knew the civil war. He had a small farm until he couldn't do it anymore and they moved to Jackson. They came from working people and not the rich folk.
Mason Funk: Great. Now how did you eventually get out of Mississippi? What happened?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:30:30] I went to college. I have to say one thing. I was never aware that I was a lesbian as such. I had a good friend from golf port Mississippi who I adored. She was gay and out in her way. Her mother who Alice called god called my parents and said I was responsible for all the homosexuals on the coast. Okay. Of course I wasn't. I wasn't aware of that. I'd never had sex with anybody. My parents freaked, threatened me with the mental asylum in Whitfield, which was a snake pit. Had me under house arrest all because I was accused of being gay in high school. I wanted out. I went to college in Texas, Baylor University, which was certainly no citadel of freedom. I got in trouble there for mentioning that we aught to discuss segregation and integration in the newspaper. I got called on the carpet about the president of Baylor University. That was the way it was back then.
Mason Funk: Tell me that story. Could you go into more detail about that story? What did you say and what happened [inaudible 00:32:04] the president?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:32:30] I didn't really say a whole lot. I don't even know how I suggested that we aught to be discussing integration. This is in the ‘50s. Word got back to him and since I was potentially a nice white Christian lady he wanted to nip that in the bud. Being called into his rather opulent office with this gloomy white man sitting behind a big desk was meant to intimidate me. I was always rebellious. I wasn't going to be intimidated. I knew that I was right. We were right. I couldn't see the problem with having a discussion. But it was opening the door. You open the door they'll come through.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] We're not gong to hit every single beat of what … From Baylor how did you go further afield? How did you get to Buckley basically? I don't know-
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:34:00] I was bored to death with those Baptist. Between my junior and senior year I became an airline stewardess and was based in Chicago. I met many different people. I was in a forced landing where three out of four engines caught on fire. We landed almost in the mountains of Colorado. That was when I was based in Manhattan Beach, your stomping grounds. That got me out of the South. I went back and graduated then I got a scholarship to Stanford University. Of course that did it right there, being out there new San Francisco. I was an intern on the now debunked news called bulletin newspaper. I got to have fun, travel around, meet people, see things, learn. That really did it according to my parents. I used to be a good girl and now look what happened. That did it. Then I became a hippie, a lesbian hippie. We were trying to find land for women. We travelled back and forth and that's when I lived on a rooftop in San Francisco. It was very nice. The weather was good. We had a sleeping bag, beautiful view of the city. We just lived on this rooftop. I lived in Oakland and around. Just being around different people and sometimes it was assumed that I was a racist piglet because I was a southerner. I didn't want to be a racist piglet. I had attitudes I'm sure and I had a lot of learning to do about class, privilege. They certainly taught me. I got busted a lot on my issues and I'm glad for it.
Mason Funk: [00:36:00] Do you remember particular conversations or moments when you got busted?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:36:30] Yes. I lived near a Ronald Reagan stomping ground, I forget where that was, in a rented cabin with my artist lover. A woman from Oakland came down to visit us and she was going to take me back because my lover said, “Can't you go anywhere. I need space.” I thought, “Oh, how rude? Yes I'm going to Buckley.” I drove with her up there and I said something about people who live in Oakland trashing things too much, littering too much. That's racist. Never understanding poverty. There's no trash pickup in certain neighborhoods. The despair people live with. Never understanding anything and she busted me on it. She said it was racist. My feelings were hurt. We white people don't like to learn like that or be told that we're full of shit. Then I realized, “Yeah, thank you.”
Mason Funk: I like that. We sure don't like this. We sure don't like to be told or called on our stuff.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Absolutely.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I have a list of different places you were including Mulberry house.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Oh yeah.
Mason Funk: They don't all necessarily make sense including they might not make sense chronologically.
Trella Ann Laughlin: They don't.
Mason Funk: Right.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:38:00] It's because I travelled back and forth. I travelled around. Mulberry house was and is dear to my heart. When-
Mason Funk: Frist of all what was Mulberry house?
Trella Ann Laughlin: It was started by-
Mason Funk: Start by saying Mulberry house.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:38:30] Mulberry house was a bastion of gay energy where gay men lived. I think the rent was maybe $90 a month. A lot of people could live there. It had a beautiful garden and a wooded space. My lover and I when we left Eureka Springs and they New Orleans hotel went there. We lived out of our Volkswagen bus in the parking lot. I becomes very close to my gay brothers who were just up here yesterday thinking about buying a small house. It's falling apart. I'm so glad because we've been friends all these years. It was an odd assortment. There were these gay men who at that time called themselves sissies or fairies. Who were learning to appreciate their gentleness and became their kind of feminist. Then they were the dykes who were angry and strong and loud. We made an interesting family. I loved it.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] Tell me some more details about what it was like living with this men who as you say were learning to be fairies and sissies and getting comfortable with that. You all were coming into your power and rough and tumble and ready to go to war. How did you guys find common ground?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:40:30] I think they were afraid of us and rightly so. We were not going to take any shit from anybody. It was like they did their consciousness raising and had their men's groups and we were the annex outside. They respected us and we respected them. We did things together like canning. We canned a lot of food. We didn't know how and often times we'd put it in the basement and you'd hear something blow up. That would be the beer or some exotic fungus growing out of the tomato source. It was great. They rented a small house in downtown [inaudible 00:41:01] for their consciousness raising and because one of the men had a young boy child. They would meet down there and get their energy together. Some homophobes, some men, came around and threatened them and were violent and scare them to death. We said well we're not having that. We're not having it. We, the women, we had broom and a rake and an old 22 riffle that couldn't shoot straight.
We went down one night and hid in the bushes said let them come on. Come on. We waited all night and of course they never came and they never came back. It was our idea of family.
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] This is a little bit of tangent but those men, the radical fairies, the sissies. What's your perception? You've watched a lot of change occur in this so-called LGBTQ community. Those men have not necessarily always been welcome. In fact a lot of gay men probably did as much as they could to get as far away from that type of man as possible. What are your thoughts on that? What have you perceived or seen about how men had dealt with the sissies in their midst at the same time that they're trying not to be called fags.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:43:00] You're going to be interviewing Susan Fare. She wrote a wonderful book about the foundations of homophobia and woman hatred. I think it is a cultural hatred of women and the feminine. Of course we as women have to liberate ourselves to embrace our love and embrace each other and the feminine. Men have a particular job to do in giving up their male supremacist privilege and thinking that there's a certain way you have to be a real man, which is so crushing of the sprit and of being gentle and loving and fun and wearing a dress. I like that. I like men wearing dresses. It's all woman hatred. It's fear of the women. It's misogyny. Men have to give up male supremacy just like white people have to give up white supremacy. This whole idea of supremacy is cruel, unnecessary, killing. We can get rid of it. The sissies, the fairies, my brothers showed me how women can be celebrated. How the feminine in them can be embraced. I love them.
Mason Funk: That's great. Thank you for that. It inspires.
Trella Ann Laughlin: What?
Mason Funk: That inspires.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Good.
Mason Funk: [00:45:00] Okay. Somehow or another, before or after Mulberry house, you ended up at yellow harmer farm. That maybe was a high point of your separatism if you were a separatist at that point. I'm very interested in this thread of separatism but so maybe weave that into the story of Yellowhammer farm and what that was. Start by saying Yellowhammer farm and where it was located.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:45:30] Yellowhammer farm is East on Hawaii 16 on Fayetteville Arkansas. My lover Patricia and I bought 80 acres with a down payment from my dead grandmother who had bought me a war bond. Like most of the Ozarks it was rock, excuse me.
Natalie Tsui: Do you want a glass of water?
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] Are you okay?
Trella Ann Laughlin: Let's have water.
Mason Funk: We'll start that all over again.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Was a picture of his two boys with a dead exotic animal they had shot. That did it, that did it somehow, somehow. Go back to Yellowhammer, no go back to, yeah Yellowhammer.
Mason Funk: Is my computer okay where it is right now?
Natalie Tsui: [00:46:30] Yes.
Mason Funk: You basically the things you said before, we're going to start over. You mentioned buying 80 acres with your grandmother's war bond.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Yes. You want me to say that?
Mason Funk: Yeah, give me that whole little background, and you mentioned it was East of Fayetteville Arkansas Hawaii 16. Give us setting and how you acquired the land and how it began.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:47:00] My lover Patricia and I had been looking for land for women for years. Money was always an issue where, who. My grandmother had left me a war bond. We found this land East of Fayetteville Arkansas, 80 acres of rocks, nothing on it, I mean nothing but rocks. We liberated it for the lesbians and because we found that too often except for the sissies and the fairies, our male brothers would pull some stunt of sexism. We weren't going to have it anymore. We didn't call ourselves separatists at first, we just wanted a place where women could be and be together. When it got really hard a friend of mine there said, “We bought 80 acres of rocks so we could run around with our shirts off.” That was just part it because we lived in tents, we lived totally collectively, being god socialists and it was ridiculous in some respects.
Two women from New York came down to be there, Jewish women, totally out of their culture and one of them smokes cigarettes. We would have one of the meetings they would go on and on and on. We voted on every single thing. We voted that she could have money for cigarettes. I just loved the response, it was one of those educating moments. She grabbed the table and was going to turn it over and said, “I'm going to smoke. Give me the money for the cigarettes.” “Oh, well if you feel that way.” That was ridiculous but it was an experiment. We built a cabin out of hardwood from the saw mill. I don't know if you know about hardwood in Arkansas. You can't nail into it, you have to drill a hole. We had no electricity, excuse me, all old tools, hand drill a hole in the board and then nail into it through the hole.
You cannot just nail the board, it's so hard and it was uncut. We built this cabin finally reading out of a book, drill to the right and take a number two nail. We did build it but we had no money, little money so we made the roof beams, excuse me, we made the roof beams out of tuber force and scabbed them and when the wood dried it gave in. The roof wasn't in and rain, oh no, so we covered the cabin with plastic. We got building plastic, covered it all up, we looked like a package out in the middle of the rock field to make it through the winter. I don't know how we survived that but because of issues amongst us, clads, who was a lover with who, and the land was in my name. I didn't want it to be, I wanted to have a land trust bit we didn't know how to do it. We finally broke up, Patricia dumped me because of my bad behavior and moved to Buckley.
Buckley, I learned a lot from Buckley but I was in shock. My lover had left me, everybody had gone back to the city so I sold the land and I distributed the money to women's causes and women and moved back to Austin to begin my career as a left wing, radical, feminist, antiracist journalist. That was another adventure.
Mason Funk: Wow, that's a hilarious description it looks like a package. I picture a big FedEx truck.
Trella Ann Laughlin: True.
Mason Funk: [00:53:00] Tell me just a bit more about Yellowhammer. It's easy to probably look back and see what went wrong. What were some of the things that really went right, when it was working? Mention Yellowhammer by name.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:53:30] Yellowhammer was an experiment, an experiment in trying to eliminate money as a major factor in community. Learning, as I said we learned how to build out of books which takes some doing because you have to read it, you have to look it up, you have to read it, pick the tool up and try to build. Women found we could do it, we could do anything. We could build, we could sub hardboard, we could plumb, we could do plumbing, we could do electrical work, we could grow a garden even on rocks. One needed to learn how to be cooperative with each other, because Americans, North Americans are taught, we're insular, me, mine and mine and not yours. One lesson for example, in the garden that we had I was working one day and I went by and somebody had left a how blade side up. we had had some of those boring meetings about how to take care of tools, don't cut your arm off, so forth.
I looked at it I thought, damn, people know, women know not to do that, we need to turn it over so it won't hurt anybody but I'm not picking it up, I'm sick of doing this. I went on and did something else, came back not paying attention, stepped on the hoe and it hit me in the head and I thought, you know there's a lesson there and that is you do the job of creating community without blame. You do it because it's the right thing to do and you learned from it. I had a lot of learning to do because I was brought up white and middle class and self-centered. That was one of the things we learned at Yellowhammer was how to live collectively, loved having group mails, lighter in a life when I was in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution. I had the privilege of going to radio Fantino that would be an incredible equipment by the Scandinavian countries.
They did revolutionary soap operas, I love that, I love that. I was there, at lunch time we all had our bowls and our utensils and we'd stand in line to get the food and I'll sit at community tables and enjoy freedom and equality and revolution. I learned so much in Nicaragua and grieve for what the United States did, funding the countries. I'll never forgive Reagan and the Republicans for stuff they've done, never. I don't believe in political forgiveness, I believe in personal forgiveness but I hold a grudge against fascists and racists and I'll never let it go as long as I live.
Mason Funk: Great. We're heading to Austin then we're going to get to Nicaragua again.
Trella Ann Laughlin: All right.
Mason Funk: Because I think it followed, it came later, right?
Trella Ann Laughlin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: [00:57:30] Tell us about moving to Austin including these two organizations at least that were a part of the anti-clan committee-
Trella Ann Laughlin: And the foundation.
Mason Funk: The black … Will I have black-
Trella Ann Laughlin: No, no, I'm not black. They were my allies.
Mason Funk: They were your allies, okay.
Trella Ann Laughlin: I was their ally.
Mason Funk: You were their ally.
Trella Ann Laughlin: True.
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] Give us a picture, paint us a picture of when you went to Austin. It seems like you really went there specifically to do antiracist, antiracism work.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:58:30] No, no. Yellowhammer had broken up, I sold the land. I moved back to Austin because one of my best friends Linda Elvis, who later spent 18 years in prison in California for political acts, she was there. She influenced me greatly to join the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. There I was, a country lesbian from Arkansas, worn out with community struggle, tired of looking at my issues. I had just quit drinking because it was not good for me. I was one of those belligerent angry, nasty drunks and thanks to some of my fairy brothers who would say, “Trella, I love you but I don't want to be around you when you're drinking.” What? It woke me up and my bad behavior had to stop. When I got to Austin, Linda got me in the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and I had never been through such rigor. It was like being in the people's army.
The leadership was bound and determined we white people and John Brown we've got to deal with that white supremacy. Not only did we study and read incredible works by [Fenton Max 00:59:50], some of the new African freedom fighters, I never read them but we had to go to the streets. Wasn't enough to be an armed chair revolutionary and it was not easy. White folks don't like to be uncomfortable and we really don't want to dare with white supremacy when it gets down to the nitty gritty because you have to give up privilege, you have to give up your way of thinking, you have to deal with the hurt that you feel because you're not the center of the universe anymore. I had the privilege of working with strong African-American people in Austin and the Brown Berets, the Mexican-American revolutionary group.
They really were sick of white supremacy and were going to take no shit. They were in leadership and that was a good idea. That came out of SNCC throwing white folks out and saying, “Thank you very much, we can deal with our own people without your interference and your arrogance.” I met one of my dearest friends Mrs. Dorothy Turner who was president of the black citizens task force and we were tight for years. She helped, she'd come into her room, tall big woman and she'd say, “I'm a strong black woman and angry.” Uh-huh (affirmative), thank you Dorothy. I was there at her home later, years later when she died, and I miss her every day. John Brown was good training. It broke up due to FBI harassment, government interference.
I was on TV then with my program Let the People Speak and I was just the political person talking. I didn't do any actions, the only thing illegal I did was think and fight back but the FBI didn't care about that. They want to intimidate you, get you to shut up, they protect property not people. They sent agents around to everybody I knew, my partner Marie got a visit in her farm in Wisconsin by three agents from Los Angeles. I don't know why they couldn't find local agents and save a tax payer a dollar or two. They went out there, and she was a teacher, they harassed her and showed her all these ugly black and white pictures and said, “You know any of these people?” My spouse Marie who is a liberal and I am not tried to be polite, invited them in for tea, finally she got fed up, and they said, “What would Trella say?”
I was still in Austin, she said, “Trella would say get the hell out of my house and that's what I'm saying.” She threw them out. They went to everybody, my employer, a friend who is head of the head of the nursing department in Texas, walked into her office, tried to scare everybody because they wanted to find people who were underground carrying out direct action against right wing government. I didn't know anything, that's not a strategy. If need to know, I didn't need to know where they were, I didn't need to know what they were doing, I supported liberation struggles and I talked about it. I thought by giving information to people of good heart that we could change things and we did a little. We helped in El Salvador I know for sure and Africa, against apartheid in Africa, constant demonstrations, picketing and there's a place for that.
] There's also a place for the underground struggle, direct action, and this is very difficult and frightening for people. I got so angry at what I call the Gestapo. I'd already been harassed by them when I was a teacher oversees working for the University of Maryland on spy basis, because I spoke against the Vietnam War they set me up and said I bought $8 worth of hashish in Turkey. It was really because I didn't support the Vietnam war, they always did that. They did it in Austin against us. My beautiful friend Linda who did participate in direct action, she and Marilyn Buck and other revolutionaries whom I greatly respect and love, 18 years she spent imprisoned in California. I don't know how she did it. She gave her life, many people have given their lives to change this society to be a world citizen.
I hope you saw my flag out there, it says, “I'm a world citizen.” That's why in the Fourth of July parade I marched all by myself as a socialist and somebody said, “It isn't America's birthday.” I said, “I'm not an American, I'm an internationalist, I'm a child of the planet and a world citizen,” and they look at you funny like oh God, here we go. It's true.
Mason Funk: [01:07:30] Talk more if you would, I'm intrigued by this union between talking about change and as you call it direct action. We haven't interviewed many people who were either involved in direct action or proponents of direct action, or no people who've spent 18 years in jail. How do you see those two? But we have interviewed a lot of people who've talked about the need to work inside the system and outside the system which I think is similar. Can you just talk a bit more about that?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:08:30] I used to get angry at folks who demanded that we work within the system. I thought, how does that work, how can I be a good Nazi? But I've learned that I have to be more lenient towards sisters and brothers who do good work within the system, I can't do it. Once I was talking to Linda on the phone having trouble with my dear spouse who's a liberal and I'm not and we got in crossways and I said, “Linda, I can't stand this liberal stuff. She's a liberal.” My friend Linda who served 18 years in prison for direct action said, “Trella, they're all we have.” That's true, so you have to balance between what you want and what you fight for and the realities of people who do good work within the system. I spoke of my fairy brothers and two were here yesterday one of who works in the hospital in Fayetteville who sees such poverty and violence and despair and he is a loving spirit.
He does all he can to help people get proper care. He treats people with respect, remember the poor. I love him and I honor him and I can see the damage that this constant grinding down of people of spirit by a system that is only respectful of money and power. He does it every day because he loves people, because he's a beautiful person, because he's a fairy, my brother, and I love him for it. I couldn't do it, I didn't do well in the system. I drunk, I hollered, I was dysfunctional, I was self-centered. I was very fortunate to be able to work invidia outside the system but Genevieve Vaughan's creation of the foundation for a compassionate society. I couldn't have done it within the system.
Mason Funk: [01:11:30] I don't know if you realize this but when you say, this is my perspective, when you say I'm not a liberal most people are going to hear that and think therefore you are a conservative. They don't realize that liberals are too soft for this. Can you talk about, just expound upon the fact of how do you see liberals? These people we call liberals, what are they to you and who are the to you?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:12:30] Growing up in Mississippi my people were Dixiecrats, the racist, the civil war re-enactors. So to become a liberal I had to fight for that. I remember a cousin of mine at the segregated swimming pool saying, “But Trella, you're a liberal,” which was the worst thing he could call me. I fight to become a liberal. Then I realized that the problem with liberalism in my experience is that too many liberals want to nibble at a problem. This doesn't work. Radical means you go to the heart of the problem, from Latin, reed oaks, go to the heart and fix that for total change. Of course I'm not a conservative.
Mason Funk: Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Trella Ann Laughlin: What happened?
Mason Funk: I think the AC went on, is that possible?
Trella Ann Laughlin: It might be, how about the fan?
Natalie Tsui: That's been on the whole time.
Mason Funk: The fan's been on the whole time.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:13:30] We can cut that off easily.
Mason Funk: There we go.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Do you want to cut it off?
Mason Funk: Yeah, no, not the fan, the fan is fine.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's been there.
Mason Funk: It was just like the-
Trella Ann Laughlin: Got it.
Natalie Tsui: It's still on.
Mason Funk: I know, it will cut off in a second. I can hear the air.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Can you still hear it?
Mason Funk: I can still hear it now but it will … I saw you pumped up the temperature.
Trella Ann Laughlin: To 80.
Mason Funk: Because it's very comfortable.
Trella Ann Laughlin: It is, I would have never turned it on.
Mason Funk: We'll just wait.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:14:00] Is it off now?
Mason Funk: No, it's still going.
Natalie Tsui: I'm just going to cut.
Mason Funk: Yeah, you can cut.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Damning the liberals.
Mason Funk: I'm loving it. I think we got most of the idea. I think I just want you to basically just sum up by saying … I don't know.
Trella Ann Laughlin: I got-
Mason Funk: [01:14:30] You got a little more? Okay.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:15:00] What conservative's like, they want to conserve a system of racism, inequality, homophobia, no services for poor people. Look, I don't use the given name of our so called president. I call him Cheetolini and the reason I do is his hair used to be orange, the color of Cheetos until his advisors said, “Tone it down Mr. President,” and lini is as in Mussolini, because Cheetolini struts and acts like a fascist. Cheetolini is cutting off services for the poor, for working people and giving tax rights to the rich, that's conservative. Conserve inequality, ignorance, put the church in command of everything, hypocrisy, how can anybody want to conserve that? I'm far from being a conservative, not a liberal even though some of my best friends are liberals, it's how we got to live.
Basically I had to come through my experiences and people helping me and teaching me and being the streets protesting that we have got to change. We've got to change everything, so that's why I call myself a radical.
Mason Funk: Fantastic. What was Genevieve … Who was Genevieve Vaughan and what was her gift economy philosophy.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:17:00] Genevieve Vaughan is still an activist. I learned from her a couple of months ago that she's going to speak to UN but I never did find out exactly when or what she said but she's brilliant. She was born in Corpus Christi of a rich family, married an Italian intellectual, lived in Italy, had three daughters, divorced him, moved back to Austin and decided to give her money to progressive courses. I know for a fact that she gave over $30 million, probably more. She's a feminist and she created this foundation for a compassionate society of women from various races, backgrounds, cultures, sexual orientation to implement her philosophy of the gift economy. She's written many books which people can look up. Genevieve Vaughan, V-A-U-G-H-A-N. She has a website, she's no longer able to distribute money because she gave it away.
Her gift economy is anti-capitalist because capitalism because capitalism depends on power. It's not equal, it don't concert itself with the needs of the poor and it's unnecessary. She always said, “There's plenty to go around.” Scarcity is an idea pushed by the imperialist, “We don't have enough.” Cheetolini always says that, “It's not enough, we have to cut all these programs.” Head start, food stamps, MedicAid and give the money to the rich who need it. That's a big lie. He must have studied the Nazis propaganda, lies. I can't stand it. I can't stand him and his minions, our senators and so I can't watch TV anymore. I've become a Netflix person, I read. I'm reading Stud Terkel's The Good War now about the second World War. Even a good war is barbaric, brutal, terrible.
That's what I do instead of watching the Gestapo.
Mason Funk: Good. I want to be clear, you said the gift economy stands in contrast to capitalism but what does the gift economy promote? The philosophy?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:21:00] The gift economy supports giving, even the good book of the Christians, it's better to give than receive. It's about love, it's about … It's really fun and nice to give and it's a way to bring equality that folks who have a lot can give a lot. We all can give. When I was in Nicaragua there wasn't a lot of extra stuff or luxuries and I lived simply with the people. I had a press pass that was issued by the Nicaraguan government but I made my own, a really huge one. I wore it around my neck and I'll probably say this poorly in Spanish but I said, “Periodista contra imperialismo,” a journalist against imperialism to put it right out there. The people who I interviewed and spent time with were so generous and a tortilla wit beans was the most delicious.
Giving, it accomplishes a lot for the person who gives and the person who gets it and it's a way of living, it's a way of thinking. Instead of compartmentalizing everything in an uptight way, money, cost, price, who gets it, who doesn't? That's what she promotes. She's really brilliant, she's written several books, none of which I understand and I'm an educated person but wow, she goes on and on. [inaudible 01:23:00] Italian of course, has a home in Rome and one in Austin. I love Genevieve. We clashed a lot because we're strong will Irish women. I learned to love her a great deal. Excuse me.
Mason Funk: Is there any water, Annie?
Trella Ann Laughlin: I think I'm okay.
Natalie Tsui: [01:23:30] I think I'll just get it.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Thank you. Sorry about that.
Mason Funk: That's all right, you finished your thought just in time.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Yeah, I tried not to choke. I've been on TV a lot.
Mason Funk: So you've managed to suppress the urge until you finish your thought.
Trella Ann Laughlin: That's true.
Mason Funk: I've sat here waiting for someone to finish just going … The he finish and he's like …
Trella Ann Laughlin: Thank you very much.
Mason Funk: There you go. That's a nice [crosstalk 01:23:57].
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:24:00] Thank you.
Natalie Tsui: Actually I pumped it a little too much. I was like, oh no. We can. Actually that's not on camera but I think this is.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Thank you.
Natalie Tsui: Right here.
Mason Funk: Tell us … are we still speeding?
Natalie Tsui: Yes.
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] Tell us the story of being in Nicaragua and filming a lot and crying a lot and what the women said to you.
Trella Ann Laughlin: First of all I had to learn it's not film, it's video and the reason that's important, although I love film, it's beautiful format but expensive. I was able to travel with heavy equipment and their invocases and their lights and the blah blah because-
Mason Funk: I'm going to interrupt you for a second.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:25:00] Yes.
Mason Funk: I need you to set me up in where you're travelling. Say Nicaragua and what you went to do there and then get into the fact that you cried a lot.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:25:30] As part of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee in Austin I started a program called Let the People Speak and I was able to use public access. As you may know back then the cable companies had to give a certain amount of money for the public, for public access and Austin had a great studio. Where we started out was a little room in the back of a toy store and progressed until a new building was built and we had all kinds of equipment, editing rooms and professional studio, very fortunate. I used their equipment and I was able to check out the cameras and the lights from them. When the I worked for the foundation for a compassionate society Nicaragua was a hotspot because of the Sandinista revolution and Reagan's opposition to that and his funding of the countries.
I went to Nicaragua with the equipment to videotape the people's struggle with a focus on the women's struggle and I lived in a pension and ate with the people and videotaped everything, their art, their music, the women's groups, the country attacks. It was a very spiritual experience. I was there the night before the first free election seeing hundreds of people, thousands probably, some had walked hundreds of miles to be there, walked. Young people hanging out of the trees, the banners, the red banners, it was knocked on a church. I loved it. The people had won against Somoza. I want people to remember that our country, the United States, our money, our tax payer money has always funded dictators. In Nicaragua specifically Somoza was the dictator.
When the Sandinistists won, 50 years it took them, Augusto Sandino was murdered by Somoza in Managua when he was invited to a peace talk. Somoza murdered him. The same day and hour that I was born, February 21st 1937, he was assassinated and I was born and I always said he was going out of this world trying to teach me Spanish [foreign 01:28:52] and of course I didn't understand that. It took me years to learn that from Mississippi but the people fought so hard to just run their own country. The United States sent a plain to pick Somoza up when he lost. He loaded the plane with all the money he could steal out of the national treasure of art work, everything he could take and flew where, to Miami, on our tax dollars.
It's continued for hundreds of years, that our government supports dictators under the guise of fighting communism. It's bullshit. I call myself a communist when it offends people. I'm not happy with what China's done with their form of communism. I certainly don't like Putin who has destroyed communism but I really like Cuba. They have problems, they aren't done perfect but I really like equality, and when I was there, it felt different than being in Nicaragua that was ruled by eight families. One day I was soaping stuff I got my camera and I said, “I'm going to walk up that boulevard by myself, with my camera and video tape all of those rich people's houses.” And I did and they had a soldier on each balcony with a gun looking down at me. Whose side are you going to be on?
Mason Funk: Well.
Natalie Tsui: I suppose there's a plane flying overhead.
Mason Funk: Yeah, we're up, I think it's okay.
Trella Ann Laughlin: What happened?
Mason Funk: We had a little plane going over but we're okay. I think we're fine.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:31:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: You've talked about Linda Evans but you named two other people that you wanted to talk about.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Who?
Mason Funk: Who are Patricia Jackson, you did talk about her, let's talk more about her and also Laura Brooke. Do you want to talk about Patricia Jackson?
Trella Ann Laughlin: I don't know that she wants me to, she won't talk to me.
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] Well, it's up to you. You're going to have a chance to review this transcript afterwards but…
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:32:30] Patricia Jackson was my lover for eight years, a beautiful strong dyke. She lives in San Francisco now, she was very good to me, she loved me. I was an alcoholic abusive woman, she dumped me rightly so, left Arkansas and won't have nothing to do with me now, it's my heartbreak. I worked to change and I did change, I met Laura Brooke in Austin when I was working for a PhD at the university. Laura was a wild child, rode a motorcycle, played guitar. I was an uptight teaching assistant, I rode behind her, took [inaudible 01:33:19] day with her, learnt to love the country nature. We lived in [inaudible 01:33:32] on this farm with Lion, who let the girls live out there, and she was just wonderful.
We were putting on the 10 roof to the farm when we were building it, when a huge storm came up and was traveling the [inaudible 1:33:57] ten roof. I thought, “Oh my God, it's going to kill us Laura”. And she said, “Won't that be an orgasm?” And I said, “No, I'm out of here.” She's a wonderful woman and I learnt so much from her, I called her my girlfriend, because she thought with original energy. She was a true leader, a musician, a kind person. Sometimes it wasn't easy being her friend, I was too arrogant, stubborn, she soaked me a couple of times, rightly so. I was fortunate enough when I quit teaching for the [inaudible 01:35:02] in Europe, meaning United States government, we travelled around Morocco. Ron and Nadra, who I'm still friend with after 50 years, in a Volkswagen van playing music, going to the Sukes, learning from the burban people, always so much fun to be away from United States imperialism.
I'm just saying that we had the privilege to do it, we had little money, could buy gas, I'm saying the contradictions but I was so fortunate to get out of America, and be with other people who just wanted to live, enjoyed life and Laura gave me that. That understanding and that experience. She died of two, four, five tea poisoning, as I mentioned because we had lived at the South Fort of breast cancer in 2000. She saw the new century come in and I was there in Promisetown when she died. She's one of my mother's, when you came you probably saw the flowerbed a tribute to our mothers and besides the biological ones, she's there as is Nadra because they nurtured me.
They helped me heal, they taught me, they loved me and we had a lot of fun and good clean fun is hard to get.
Mason Funk: [01:37:30] That's great. On the topic of healing, you've mentioned a few times having been very angry, alcoholic, self-destructive and now you're still here, your anger hasn't gone away, but you must have found some kind of peace, maybe peace with your anger. That's just a guess on my part, but I'm wondering how you've… Where you are now with regard to that fierce anger you felt that in some ways it sounds like almost destroyed you?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:38:30] I think if you're not angry, you're not paying attention. The problem is how you express it, what you do with it, and that's a big problem. You can take it out on yourself, you can hurt other people, you can abuse children, you can destroy the environment, you can kill animals, that is no good. George Jackson, a black panther, wrote ‘Soledad Brother' if you remember, and he talked about perfect hate and perfect love. A lot of people especially white middle class folks get freaked out validity of hate. George Jackson taught me, that there are things to hate, that's why he called it perfect hate. One needs to hate imperialism, racism, woman hatred, homophobia, I could go on and on. And if you don't hate those things, you're not paying attention.
The catch is what you do with the hate, what you do with the anger and that's why I said I'm so grateful to women and men who have taught me about how you channel the energy. Channel the energy in changing the world, channel it so real love, equality and cooperation can blossom. But if you're not angry, you're satisfied with the status quo, and I would never accept that. The only peace I really have is knowing that I'm a good person. I've worked to change, I've tried to change. I've been in therapy forever helping some of my therapists, because they're only human. I've tried to learn whatever I could in therapy from people, from animals, nature, other cultures, books, music, art, I love it, and it's possible to change, it's very hard work but worth it.
I didn't want to be a white southern hypocritical racists, I wanted to be free, I wanted to learn to love and I did. So the anger, it's in everybody but we have to be careful what we do with it and how we channel, otherwise it eats us up, it hurts other people, and it's a lot more fun to be happy and to have friends and to live in harmony with the earth.
Mason Funk: Great, thank you. Natalie, questions?
Natalie Tsui: Oh yeah I was wondering if you could talk about your marriage actually, because you're talking about in the hallways, that might be good on camera.
Mason Funk: Yeah and talk to me even though Natalie [inaudible 01:42:14]
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:42:30] Yes, sure of course. I met Marie Howard in 1968, she also was teaching for the University of Maryland overseas program as [inaudible 01:42:27]. We met in [inaudible 01:42:29] turkey, a spy base of both the United States. That was one of the crazier environments I've ever been in. Everybody spied on everybody, we were worried about Albania invading Texas, and of course I made that up but it was nuts, they were all nuts, they were all crazy because it's imperialistic outpost, but I was teaching English literature, and I was a womanizer so I had lots of girlfriends, all in the closet, all hiding from the powers that be, but I met there and she fell in love. I didn't have enough sense to fall in love with anybody because I was drunk and self-centered.
We went, we came back to the states, I went around travelling and she got sick of me, had enough of my womanizing, threw me out of the school bus, we had turned it into a camper and she went back to Montana. That was that and I went on with my life, my path, for many years. One day, in Austin as I was… Had been celibate and single for five years, thought about her, called her up, found out where she was, called her up in Wisconsin, where she was teaching English and said, “Hi, remember me?” Which of course she did, and I went up there and we started being lovers again and trying to learn how to be friends, I was however a revolutionary in Austin and she was a high school teacher.
So when I went to visit her, I didn't fit in very well, it was in an all-white community, an all-white high school, all republicans and I was right off the front lines, so we didn't sync too well and I unfairly criticized her. Marie has made her way by hard work, she grew up in severe poverty in the mountains of Montana, she had made a way for herself and become and become an excellent, caring, loving, teacher. And I thought, I didn't want that racist bullshit as all white people and all these republicans, and in my arrogance I think I hurt her feelings a great deal. And I went back to Austin, she came to visit on the summers, and then she retired after having a brain tumor and came to where I had retired and bought the 80 acres of rocks in Madison County Arkansas.
We started trying to learn to understand each other, be friends and lovers and she tried to survive the ticks and chiggers. I build a big barren with this alcoholic carpenter, was gorgeous, as in Europe, the big barrens with some money I got from my great aunt and I was going to grow fruits for the masses but I was getting old, it was really hard work, we didn't have any money. After I build this barren Marrie said, “I don't want to live here anymore, it's too lonely, too isolated.” I said, “Why didn't you tell me before I build the barren?” And she said, “I didn't know.” So I cried for a month and decided I don't want her to be unhappy, so we sold the farm, we moved up here, kept trying to know each other, learn how to live as independent, as sisters, as friends, lovers, and then the issue of gay marriage came up.
Because I enjoy irritating the right-wing, Marrie decided to get married, I said, “Well, where we going to go, we can't go to Massachusetts, it's too far or California, I don't even know if y'all heard that then”. So we went to Iowa and her friends from Wisconsin came and some of my friends, and we got married on the banks of the Mississippi river, in a little whatever they have, little hut, with place to sit, with two… They used to call them Hobos sitting there. When we arrived with the flowers and the guitars, I said to them, “Do you accept gay marriage and two women getting married? And they said, “Oh yeah”. So I said, “Well you're welcome”. So they officiated and we got married. We came back to Arkansas and we said, well I want to get married where I live.
So the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down our bullshit laws thanks to Cheryl Maples, who's our lawyer, who fought for that. So we said, “Okay, let's go to the court house and get married”. We had two hours before the police showed up to close it down because the right-wing had gotten an injunction, but we got married however, it wasn't really legal because the right-wing you know blah blah. So then the supreme court of the United States of America, decided that gay people could get married, so we went down to the court house again with other lesbians and gay men and Eureka inn Arkansas and got married again. So we've been married three times, neither of us believing in marriage necessarily, it's more of property and heterosexual thing, but anything to irritate the right-wing.
So we've been married three times, we've known each other since 1968, we have a nice home here in Eureka with a pond full of fish, three dogs, we used to have Mash the cat and we survived. We're getting old, I'm 80 and she's 82 and we appreciate each other. Growing old together is not easy, but is sure is worth it. I like being married.
Mason Funk: Excellent, other questions Natalie?
Natalie Tsui: [01:51:30] Let me see, I guess one question is why did you move back to Arkansas?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:52:00] After 25 years in Houston, during television work and activism and my comrades had all gone, or were imprisoned or died, and I was simply worn out. You can relate all these equipment was heavy and I carried it all around the world, and do you think that NBC, ABC, CBSNO would help [inaudible 01:52:02] I thought you had all women doing this, you do it by yourself. And they always had tall strong young men to carry their stuff, and it just wore me down. And Javier was winding down the foundation, she'd given all that millions of dollars away. I had decided I had friends here, I loved the beauty of Arkansas, I loved Arkansas. So I sold my house and moved back, bought the 80 cares of rocks and came back where there were people I respected and loved and I've been in struggle with for many years. So Arkansas became my home.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, that's it for me.
Mason Funk: Okay, I think we've covered mostly everything but I have four questions I always finish with and these are intended to be as short as possible, really just quick thoughts.
Trella Ann Laughlin: Okay.
Mason Funk: [01:53:30] What is it if somebody comes to you and says I'm thinking about coming out. Whatever that means to that person, from your experience what pearl of guidance or wisdom from your own experience would you offer that person?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:54:00] You must be who you really are and if you're a lesbian, a gay man, transsexual person, a bisexual, you have to be who you are, or you'll never be happy. It's very hard to come out, I try to come out every day still, and I wouldn't be any other way, I like myself. I don't hate myself anymore, so that's worth it, it's worth it to come out.
Mason Funk: [01:54:30] Great, what is your hope for the future?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:55:00] I'm 80 years old, I have to deal with the reality of death, I've decide that I want to be buried in a tree, and that's not a joke with the grain burials, you can get your cremains put in the dirt ball of the tree and buried with the tree. So I hope that that tree flourishes, I hope it's a fruit tree and feeds people. So that's what I'm dealing with but for the future, for people who are not necessarily facing death, I hope for justice, for compassion and for a world not based on money and greed, hate, racism, woman hatred, homophobia, all those things. I want a different world.
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:56:30] I grew up in a southern tradition of talking, as you can tell I talk, we learnt from each other. It's very important that LGBTQ younger people know of their heritage of those who've gone before. We had a hard time and I'm not saying it's not hard now, it still is. We've made a little progress, we need to keep on, maybe some of my words will help, I hope it alleviates pain and loneliness. We are a family of queers, lesbians, gay men, people who never fit in thank goodness, that's why I talk.
Mason Funk: [01:57:30] And finally this project is called ‘Outwards' and it's an attempt to gather stories like yours from all corners of the country. What do you see is the importance of a project like ‘Outwards'? And you can mention ‘Outwards” in your answer.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:58:00] We have to be out. ‘Outward', that's a good name, we can't hide anymore, we can't be full of shame, that's a message from the master, to hate yourself because you're different. Being out is a lot more fun and you find people who will teach you, who'll love you, who'll be your friends, who'll knock you around a little bit and that's the way it has to be, to be out. So look outward, thank you for coming, I appreciate you, thank you for your work.
Mason Funk: Thank you. That's wonderful, thank you so much, is there anything we haven't talked about that we need to talk about?
Trella Ann Laughlin: We have to eat the lunch Marie and I prepared.
Mason Funk: [01:58:30] Excellent. We're going to do a couple of things first, we're going to do thirty seconds of silence in this room.
Natalie Tsui: [inaudible 01:58:31] Okay, that's good, thank you.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:00:30] Trella Ann Laughlin. TRELLA ANN LAUGHLIN
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:01:00] Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Okay. Tell us a little bit about your family. You mentioned you were mostly raised by your grandparents or your grandmother. What kind of family did you came from?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:02:00] My birth died when I was eight months old. I lived in a boarding house with my grandmother, my father and my beautiful nanny Misses Daisy Rudd. I always say misses because in the south at that time black women were not allowed the courtesy of being called misses. I was raised in downtown Jackson in my grandmother's rented mansion that was falling in where she provided meals for white working people. 25 cents all you could eat full quarter.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] Tell me about that.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:03:00] I loved Daisy with all my heart. She was my soul mate and I thought we would get married when I grew up, which started my lesbianism. I was supposed to play the piano. We had and old upright. I would play … people would come to the foyer to wait for the dinner and they'd say, “Stop that racket.” I would stop then somebody else would come in and then say, “You better play. They are paying for lessons.” I could play and then I'd stop. I realized I had to do what I wanted to do. It had a great influence. We had men there from the Second World War who were rooming with my grandmother. All kinds of people. All white people but a lot of black women cooked and cleaned and served the meals and they were my delight.
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] Like, the black women who worked at my grandmother's boarding house.
Mason Funk: [00:04:30] Was there some kind of identification happening even at that early age with them?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:05:00] I'm not sure I would say that. Identification I became aware of their oppression because white people would continually talk in a cruel nasty way about black people. I would hear it. They would hear it also. It was as if they were invincible. I became aware of that. Mostly it was because I love daisy. Daisy and I were very close. We spent a lot of time together because my birth mother had died. We had a lot of fun. She took me to her home in the black community and I could hear the music, which I loved and the joy. I was astonished that the oppression did not kill the joy. I sat that again in El Salvador when I worked for the [inaudible 00:05:43] videotaping the liberation of the people. I cried a lot.
Female: [00:07:00] I don't know if it's going to-
Female: [00:07:30] Yeah. I think it blocks out some of the sound. I do love the sound of the chirping but-
Mason Funk: [00:08:00] Brother as not in your questionnaire. You mentioned being beat up or abused or in some way harassed by him. Can you tell us about that relationship?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:08:30] We had a gothic southern family. My mother died. My biological uncle was killed in a drunken wreck. His son, who was my cousin, became my stepbrother when the in laws married. Pretty gothic. He was very jealous of his mother, wanted his mother to himself. She, becoming my stepmother, was terrifying to him. He was very hateful, jealous of me, abusive, beat me, threatened my live and molested me. I learned to fight back early. I would see where he was in a room or in the yard and figure out how long it would take me to get to my grandmother or daisy then I'll kick him in the shins and run like hell. He is a wealthy republican, racist woman hating man in a nursing home now. I never see him. I don't want to see him and I'm still trying to learn forgiveness.
Mason Funk: [00:10:00] Tell me about that. Where did that come from?
Mason Funk: [00:10:30] Okay. Great. You also mentioned in your questionnaire that one of the things you didn't have that you would have wanted to have was you said truthful answers.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:11:00] I think the history of white supremacy, white people is to lie. Most white people will not tell you how prejudiced and bigoted they really are. We cover it up. We make up stories. Certainly of my generation in the Deep South most white people would never tell you what they supported, what they did so they lie. It's just like the confederate flag business. I hate the confederate flag. It stands for nothing but cruelty and slavery. Yet there some white folks who say, “That's heritage. It's all about heritage. It's not racism.” Yes it is. I had a wonderful experience in [oxfen 00:11:46] where I did most of my video work. When the clan and the Nazis came to the capital to recruit other haters I got a confederate flag about this big and I thought I'm going to burn this.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:13:00] Sure.
Mason Funk: [00:13:30] Give us a picture … one of the great, for me, benefits of this archive is American social history not just LGBTQ history. So paint us a picture of Jackson Mississippi in say the 1940s and ‘50s in terms of the racial politics and the structures and the dos and the don'ts and the signs. Take us back to this pre-civil rights era.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:14:00] Remember I was born in 1937. I grew up in the ‘40s at my grandmother's boarding house. The schizophrenia of the Deep South at that time was that we could have very close intimate, loving, even respectful relationships with some of the black people as long as they knew their place. I had playmates who were black children. I fished with an elderly black man that I called uncle. I loved the women who worked for my grandmother. Had close associations with them. I woman named Daissy lived in out basement. I would stay with her. She had, I would never forget that she had covered the walls so that the draft wouldn't come in, with cut outs from the newspaper of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:17:30] I was very repressed because I was forced to go to a fundamentalist, up type, right wing … What can I say? Church and there was no sexuality. Nobody had any. Not even straight married people. I don't think I was attracted to women as much as repulsed by male supremacy.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:18:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:18:30] Okay. I was raised in a right wing fundamentalist racist woman-hating environment. Sexuality was never discussed even straight people didn't have any. I never heard the word homosexual, certainly not lesbian. I think my first love and my first sin according to those folk was loving black people. I stepped out of the cage as it were. That began my rebellion and my education and my adventures. I didn't really have sexuality. I had love for my female friends. Being so repressed it never occurred to me. I dated boys as long as they didn't touch me. I played tennis on the team, high school. I read Plato. I stayed away from sex. When I finally got out of Mississippi I began to experiment. Repression is very harsh. We don't know how to enjoy our bodies, our selves, our sex. It took going to Buckley out in your area. The first dance I ever went to where women took their shirts off. I thought, “Woo, this is for me.” I feel in love and began to grow and to know that it is okay to be sexual with other women. It's okay to love.
Mason Funk: [00:22:30] You raised an interesting topic in passing which is it is true that we're not all about sex. At the same time we're not necessarily all about love. I think we queer people are also asserting our right to enjoy sex for it's own sake. I wonder if that's been part of your journey as well.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:23:00] I had to learn how to enjoy sex because I was so repressed. Of course sex is life. It's part of life. It's wonderful. I'm just saying the pressure sometimes in the past and maybe even now is hurtful, can be hurtful. People have to choose what they want. We have the right to choose what we want even if sometimes the choices can be distractive. I think we have to try to healthy in our sexual experimentation and love. I don't want to come off as a Christian. I'm not a Christian. I'm an atheist, a humanist who loves nature and believes in the possibilities of people.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:24:00] Yeah.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:24:30] I lived with other women at the South Fork of the little red river in central Arkansas. We lived in army mesh tents, climbed on a climbing rope to get across the river, grew our own food, washed in the river, fished. We wanted to live simply without money and without electronic gadgets like we have today. Which had their place. It was that time. We got sprayed by two four five T, which is a derivative of the Agent Orange. Very Cosmogenic. Very bad herbicide so we had to live. I was a refugee. I had met Barbra Scot who had bought the New Orleans hotel here in [eureka 00:25:11] springs. She offered me and my partner a job running the hotel which involved cleaning, waiting on white haired ladies on their tours to the passion play. It was awful. I was not a good maid. I mainly smoked dope and tried to figure out how to get out of there. As you will find out Barbra Scott she's also from Mississippi but she talks like this and she's a plantation owner.
Mason Funk: [00:27:00] I think for an outsider it's so fascinating to hear you deconstruct … or not decon … You and Barbra might look like … You're both from Mississippi. You're both ladies of a certain age. You mush just be the same. For you to break it down that social class structure. Can you just talk more about that? Even just in general and general terms about the differences even among white people in Mississippi.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:27:30] Oh yeah. First of all you call me lady. I'm no lady. That was the pressure put on me. Lady has class connotations. There was no black woman who was ever called a lady back then. I rebelled against being a lady. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to walk big. I wanted to be free. Lady was very constricting. You had to wear dresses and hoes and gloves and hats and sit just right and never speak up and never have any fun. It was definitely a class connotation. That was one of my buzzwords. My partner gets so sick of my buzzwords because I go to the Unitarian fellowship and they are always saying church. I'm allergic to church. I keep saying, “It is a fellowship. It's not church.” I've lost that battle. Now I say, “Church, church, church.” It's a class thing. Although it got in the middle class, the upper class ladies always intimidated me. I never fit in. I didn't have the power. I didn't have the money. I sometimes wanted to be like them but I just wasn't. I was too rowdy, too much a dike. I liked that really.
Mason Funk: [00:29:30] Do me a favor. Start by saying Barbra Scott.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:30:00] Barbra Scott is from the delta of Mississippi, up there were the land is always ruined that grew cotton for the master. I was from the city. My folks were not slave owners, plantation owners. They were working people. My great-grandfather who I grew up knew the civil war. He had a small farm until he couldn't do it anymore and they moved to Jackson. They came from working people and not the rich folk.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:30:30] I went to college. I have to say one thing. I was never aware that I was a lesbian as such. I had a good friend from golf port Mississippi who I adored. She was gay and out in her way. Her mother who Alice called god called my parents and said I was responsible for all the homosexuals on the coast. Okay. Of course I wasn't. I wasn't aware of that. I'd never had sex with anybody. My parents freaked, threatened me with the mental asylum in Whitfield, which was a snake pit. Had me under house arrest all because I was accused of being gay in high school. I wanted out. I went to college in Texas, Baylor University, which was certainly no citadel of freedom. I got in trouble there for mentioning that we aught to discuss segregation and integration in the newspaper. I got called on the carpet about the president of Baylor University. That was the way it was back then.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:32:30] I didn't really say a whole lot. I don't even know how I suggested that we aught to be discussing integration. This is in the ‘50s. Word got back to him and since I was potentially a nice white Christian lady he wanted to nip that in the bud. Being called into his rather opulent office with this gloomy white man sitting behind a big desk was meant to intimidate me. I was always rebellious. I wasn't going to be intimidated. I knew that I was right. We were right. I couldn't see the problem with having a discussion. But it was opening the door. You open the door they'll come through.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] We're not gong to hit every single beat of what … From Baylor how did you go further afield? How did you get to Buckley basically? I don't know-
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:34:00] I was bored to death with those Baptist. Between my junior and senior year I became an airline stewardess and was based in Chicago. I met many different people. I was in a forced landing where three out of four engines caught on fire. We landed almost in the mountains of Colorado. That was when I was based in Manhattan Beach, your stomping grounds. That got me out of the South. I went back and graduated then I got a scholarship to Stanford University. Of course that did it right there, being out there new San Francisco. I was an intern on the now debunked news called bulletin newspaper. I got to have fun, travel around, meet people, see things, learn. That really did it according to my parents. I used to be a good girl and now look what happened. That did it. Then I became a hippie, a lesbian hippie. We were trying to find land for women. We travelled back and forth and that's when I lived on a rooftop in San Francisco. It was very nice. The weather was good. We had a sleeping bag, beautiful view of the city. We just lived on this rooftop. I lived in Oakland and around. Just being around different people and sometimes it was assumed that I was a racist piglet because I was a southerner. I didn't want to be a racist piglet. I had attitudes I'm sure and I had a lot of learning to do about class, privilege. They certainly taught me. I got busted a lot on my issues and I'm glad for it.
Mason Funk: [00:36:00] Do you remember particular conversations or moments when you got busted?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:36:30] Yes. I lived near a Ronald Reagan stomping ground, I forget where that was, in a rented cabin with my artist lover. A woman from Oakland came down to visit us and she was going to take me back because my lover said, “Can't you go anywhere. I need space.” I thought, “Oh, how rude? Yes I'm going to Buckley.” I drove with her up there and I said something about people who live in Oakland trashing things too much, littering too much. That's racist. Never understanding poverty. There's no trash pickup in certain neighborhoods. The despair people live with. Never understanding anything and she busted me on it. She said it was racist. My feelings were hurt. We white people don't like to learn like that or be told that we're full of shit. Then I realized, “Yeah, thank you.”
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:38:00] It's because I travelled back and forth. I travelled around. Mulberry house was and is dear to my heart. When-
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:38:30] Mulberry house was a bastion of gay energy where gay men lived. I think the rent was maybe $90 a month. A lot of people could live there. It had a beautiful garden and a wooded space. My lover and I when we left Eureka Springs and they New Orleans hotel went there. We lived out of our Volkswagen bus in the parking lot. I becomes very close to my gay brothers who were just up here yesterday thinking about buying a small house. It's falling apart. I'm so glad because we've been friends all these years. It was an odd assortment. There were these gay men who at that time called themselves sissies or fairies. Who were learning to appreciate their gentleness and became their kind of feminist. Then they were the dykes who were angry and strong and loud. We made an interesting family. I loved it.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] Tell me some more details about what it was like living with this men who as you say were learning to be fairies and sissies and getting comfortable with that. You all were coming into your power and rough and tumble and ready to go to war. How did you guys find common ground?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:40:30] I think they were afraid of us and rightly so. We were not going to take any shit from anybody. It was like they did their consciousness raising and had their men's groups and we were the annex outside. They respected us and we respected them. We did things together like canning. We canned a lot of food. We didn't know how and often times we'd put it in the basement and you'd hear something blow up. That would be the beer or some exotic fungus growing out of the tomato source. It was great. They rented a small house in downtown [inaudible 00:41:01] for their consciousness raising and because one of the men had a young boy child. They would meet down there and get their energy together. Some homophobes, some men, came around and threatened them and were violent and scare them to death. We said well we're not having that. We're not having it. We, the women, we had broom and a rake and an old 22 riffle that couldn't shoot straight.
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] This is a little bit of tangent but those men, the radical fairies, the sissies. What's your perception? You've watched a lot of change occur in this so-called LGBTQ community. Those men have not necessarily always been welcome. In fact a lot of gay men probably did as much as they could to get as far away from that type of man as possible. What are your thoughts on that? What have you perceived or seen about how men had dealt with the sissies in their midst at the same time that they're trying not to be called fags.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:43:00] You're going to be interviewing Susan Fare. She wrote a wonderful book about the foundations of homophobia and woman hatred. I think it is a cultural hatred of women and the feminine. Of course we as women have to liberate ourselves to embrace our love and embrace each other and the feminine. Men have a particular job to do in giving up their male supremacist privilege and thinking that there's a certain way you have to be a real man, which is so crushing of the sprit and of being gentle and loving and fun and wearing a dress. I like that. I like men wearing dresses. It's all woman hatred. It's fear of the women. It's misogyny. Men have to give up male supremacy just like white people have to give up white supremacy. This whole idea of supremacy is cruel, unnecessary, killing. We can get rid of it. The sissies, the fairies, my brothers showed me how women can be celebrated. How the feminine in them can be embraced. I love them.
Mason Funk: [00:45:00] Okay. Somehow or another, before or after Mulberry house, you ended up at yellow harmer farm. That maybe was a high point of your separatism if you were a separatist at that point. I'm very interested in this thread of separatism but so maybe weave that into the story of Yellowhammer farm and what that was. Start by saying Yellowhammer farm and where it was located.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:45:30] Yellowhammer farm is East on Hawaii 16 on Fayetteville Arkansas. My lover Patricia and I bought 80 acres with a down payment from my dead grandmother who had bought me a war bond. Like most of the Ozarks it was rock, excuse me.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] Are you okay?
Natalie Tsui: [00:46:30] Yes.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:47:00] My lover Patricia and I had been looking for land for women for years. Money was always an issue where, who. My grandmother had left me a war bond. We found this land East of Fayetteville Arkansas, 80 acres of rocks, nothing on it, I mean nothing but rocks. We liberated it for the lesbians and because we found that too often except for the sissies and the fairies, our male brothers would pull some stunt of sexism. We weren't going to have it anymore. We didn't call ourselves separatists at first, we just wanted a place where women could be and be together. When it got really hard a friend of mine there said, “We bought 80 acres of rocks so we could run around with our shirts off.” That was just part it because we lived in tents, we lived totally collectively, being god socialists and it was ridiculous in some respects.
Mason Funk: [00:53:00] Tell me just a bit more about Yellowhammer. It's easy to probably look back and see what went wrong. What were some of the things that really went right, when it was working? Mention Yellowhammer by name.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:53:30] Yellowhammer was an experiment, an experiment in trying to eliminate money as a major factor in community. Learning, as I said we learned how to build out of books which takes some doing because you have to read it, you have to look it up, you have to read it, pick the tool up and try to build. Women found we could do it, we could do anything. We could build, we could sub hardboard, we could plumb, we could do plumbing, we could do electrical work, we could grow a garden even on rocks. One needed to learn how to be cooperative with each other, because Americans, North Americans are taught, we're insular, me, mine and mine and not yours. One lesson for example, in the garden that we had I was working one day and I went by and somebody had left a how blade side up. we had had some of those boring meetings about how to take care of tools, don't cut your arm off, so forth.
Mason Funk: [00:57:30] Tell us about moving to Austin including these two organizations at least that were a part of the anti-clan committee-
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] Give us a picture, paint us a picture of when you went to Austin. It seems like you really went there specifically to do antiracist, antiracism work.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [00:58:30] No, no. Yellowhammer had broken up, I sold the land. I moved back to Austin because one of my best friends Linda Elvis, who later spent 18 years in prison in California for political acts, she was there. She influenced me greatly to join the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. There I was, a country lesbian from Arkansas, worn out with community struggle, tired of looking at my issues. I had just quit drinking because it was not good for me. I was one of those belligerent angry, nasty drunks and thanks to some of my fairy brothers who would say, “Trella, I love you but I don't want to be around you when you're drinking.” What? It woke me up and my bad behavior had to stop. When I got to Austin, Linda got me in the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and I had never been through such rigor. It was like being in the people's army.
Mason Funk: [01:07:30] Talk more if you would, I'm intrigued by this union between talking about change and as you call it direct action. We haven't interviewed many people who were either involved in direct action or proponents of direct action, or no people who've spent 18 years in jail. How do you see those two? But we have interviewed a lot of people who've talked about the need to work inside the system and outside the system which I think is similar. Can you just talk a bit more about that?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:08:30] I used to get angry at folks who demanded that we work within the system. I thought, how does that work, how can I be a good Nazi? But I've learned that I have to be more lenient towards sisters and brothers who do good work within the system, I can't do it. Once I was talking to Linda on the phone having trouble with my dear spouse who's a liberal and I'm not and we got in crossways and I said, “Linda, I can't stand this liberal stuff. She's a liberal.” My friend Linda who served 18 years in prison for direct action said, “Trella, they're all we have.” That's true, so you have to balance between what you want and what you fight for and the realities of people who do good work within the system. I spoke of my fairy brothers and two were here yesterday one of who works in the hospital in Fayetteville who sees such poverty and violence and despair and he is a loving spirit.
Mason Funk: [01:11:30] I don't know if you realize this but when you say, this is my perspective, when you say I'm not a liberal most people are going to hear that and think therefore you are a conservative. They don't realize that liberals are too soft for this. Can you talk about, just expound upon the fact of how do you see liberals? These people we call liberals, what are they to you and who are the to you?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:12:30] Growing up in Mississippi my people were Dixiecrats, the racist, the civil war re-enactors. So to become a liberal I had to fight for that. I remember a cousin of mine at the segregated swimming pool saying, “But Trella, you're a liberal,” which was the worst thing he could call me. I fight to become a liberal. Then I realized that the problem with liberalism in my experience is that too many liberals want to nibble at a problem. This doesn't work. Radical means you go to the heart of the problem, from Latin, reed oaks, go to the heart and fix that for total change. Of course I'm not a conservative.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:13:30] We can cut that off easily.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:14:00] Is it off now?
Mason Funk: [01:14:30] You got a little more? Okay.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:15:00] What conservative's like, they want to conserve a system of racism, inequality, homophobia, no services for poor people. Look, I don't use the given name of our so called president. I call him Cheetolini and the reason I do is his hair used to be orange, the color of Cheetos until his advisors said, “Tone it down Mr. President,” and lini is as in Mussolini, because Cheetolini struts and acts like a fascist. Cheetolini is cutting off services for the poor, for working people and giving tax rights to the rich, that's conservative. Conserve inequality, ignorance, put the church in command of everything, hypocrisy, how can anybody want to conserve that? I'm far from being a conservative, not a liberal even though some of my best friends are liberals, it's how we got to live.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:17:00] Genevieve Vaughan is still an activist. I learned from her a couple of months ago that she's going to speak to UN but I never did find out exactly when or what she said but she's brilliant. She was born in Corpus Christi of a rich family, married an Italian intellectual, lived in Italy, had three daughters, divorced him, moved back to Austin and decided to give her money to progressive courses. I know for a fact that she gave over $30 million, probably more. She's a feminist and she created this foundation for a compassionate society of women from various races, backgrounds, cultures, sexual orientation to implement her philosophy of the gift economy. She's written many books which people can look up. Genevieve Vaughan, V-A-U-G-H-A-N. She has a website, she's no longer able to distribute money because she gave it away.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:21:00] The gift economy supports giving, even the good book of the Christians, it's better to give than receive. It's about love, it's about … It's really fun and nice to give and it's a way to bring equality that folks who have a lot can give a lot. We all can give. When I was in Nicaragua there wasn't a lot of extra stuff or luxuries and I lived simply with the people. I had a press pass that was issued by the Nicaraguan government but I made my own, a really huge one. I wore it around my neck and I'll probably say this poorly in Spanish but I said, “Periodista contra imperialismo,” a journalist against imperialism to put it right out there. The people who I interviewed and spent time with were so generous and a tortilla wit beans was the most delicious.
Natalie Tsui: [01:23:30] I think I'll just get it.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:24:00] Thank you.
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] Tell us the story of being in Nicaragua and filming a lot and crying a lot and what the women said to you.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:25:00] Yes.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:25:30] As part of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee in Austin I started a program called Let the People Speak and I was able to use public access. As you may know back then the cable companies had to give a certain amount of money for the public, for public access and Austin had a great studio. Where we started out was a little room in the back of a toy store and progressed until a new building was built and we had all kinds of equipment, editing rooms and professional studio, very fortunate. I used their equipment and I was able to check out the cameras and the lights from them. When the I worked for the foundation for a compassionate society Nicaragua was a hotspot because of the Sandinista revolution and Reagan's opposition to that and his funding of the countries.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:31:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] Well, it's up to you. You're going to have a chance to review this transcript afterwards but…
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:32:30] Patricia Jackson was my lover for eight years, a beautiful strong dyke. She lives in San Francisco now, she was very good to me, she loved me. I was an alcoholic abusive woman, she dumped me rightly so, left Arkansas and won't have nothing to do with me now, it's my heartbreak. I worked to change and I did change, I met Laura Brooke in Austin when I was working for a PhD at the university. Laura was a wild child, rode a motorcycle, played guitar. I was an uptight teaching assistant, I rode behind her, took [inaudible 01:33:19] day with her, learnt to love the country nature. We lived in [inaudible 01:33:32] on this farm with Lion, who let the girls live out there, and she was just wonderful.
Mason Funk: [01:37:30] That's great. On the topic of healing, you've mentioned a few times having been very angry, alcoholic, self-destructive and now you're still here, your anger hasn't gone away, but you must have found some kind of peace, maybe peace with your anger. That's just a guess on my part, but I'm wondering how you've… Where you are now with regard to that fierce anger you felt that in some ways it sounds like almost destroyed you?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:38:30] I think if you're not angry, you're not paying attention. The problem is how you express it, what you do with it, and that's a big problem. You can take it out on yourself, you can hurt other people, you can abuse children, you can destroy the environment, you can kill animals, that is no good. George Jackson, a black panther, wrote ‘Soledad Brother' if you remember, and he talked about perfect hate and perfect love. A lot of people especially white middle class folks get freaked out validity of hate. George Jackson taught me, that there are things to hate, that's why he called it perfect hate. One needs to hate imperialism, racism, woman hatred, homophobia, I could go on and on. And if you don't hate those things, you're not paying attention.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:42:30] Yes, sure of course. I met Marie Howard in 1968, she also was teaching for the University of Maryland overseas program as [inaudible 01:42:27]. We met in [inaudible 01:42:29] turkey, a spy base of both the United States. That was one of the crazier environments I've ever been in. Everybody spied on everybody, we were worried about Albania invading Texas, and of course I made that up but it was nuts, they were all nuts, they were all crazy because it's imperialistic outpost, but I was teaching English literature, and I was a womanizer so I had lots of girlfriends, all in the closet, all hiding from the powers that be, but I met there and she fell in love. I didn't have enough sense to fall in love with anybody because I was drunk and self-centered.
Natalie Tsui: [01:51:30] Let me see, I guess one question is why did you move back to Arkansas?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:52:00] After 25 years in Houston, during television work and activism and my comrades had all gone, or were imprisoned or died, and I was simply worn out. You can relate all these equipment was heavy and I carried it all around the world, and do you think that NBC, ABC, CBSNO would help [inaudible 01:52:02] I thought you had all women doing this, you do it by yourself. And they always had tall strong young men to carry their stuff, and it just wore me down. And Javier was winding down the foundation, she'd given all that millions of dollars away. I had decided I had friends here, I loved the beauty of Arkansas, I loved Arkansas. So I sold my house and moved back, bought the 80 cares of rocks and came back where there were people I respected and loved and I've been in struggle with for many years. So Arkansas became my home.
Mason Funk: [01:53:30] What is it if somebody comes to you and says I'm thinking about coming out. Whatever that means to that person, from your experience what pearl of guidance or wisdom from your own experience would you offer that person?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:54:00] You must be who you really are and if you're a lesbian, a gay man, transsexual person, a bisexual, you have to be who you are, or you'll never be happy. It's very hard to come out, I try to come out every day still, and I wouldn't be any other way, I like myself. I don't hate myself anymore, so that's worth it, it's worth it to come out.
Mason Funk: [01:54:30] Great, what is your hope for the future?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:55:00] I'm 80 years old, I have to deal with the reality of death, I've decide that I want to be buried in a tree, and that's not a joke with the grain burials, you can get your cremains put in the dirt ball of the tree and buried with the tree. So I hope that that tree flourishes, I hope it's a fruit tree and feeds people. So that's what I'm dealing with but for the future, for people who are not necessarily facing death, I hope for justice, for compassion and for a world not based on money and greed, hate, racism, woman hatred, homophobia, all those things. I want a different world.
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:56:30] I grew up in a southern tradition of talking, as you can tell I talk, we learnt from each other. It's very important that LGBTQ younger people know of their heritage of those who've gone before. We had a hard time and I'm not saying it's not hard now, it still is. We've made a little progress, we need to keep on, maybe some of my words will help, I hope it alleviates pain and loneliness. We are a family of queers, lesbians, gay men, people who never fit in thank goodness, that's why I talk.
Mason Funk: [01:57:30] And finally this project is called ‘Outwards' and it's an attempt to gather stories like yours from all corners of the country. What do you see is the importance of a project like ‘Outwards'? And you can mention ‘Outwards” in your answer.
Trella Ann Laughlin: [01:58:00] We have to be out. ‘Outward', that's a good name, we can't hide anymore, we can't be full of shame, that's a message from the master, to hate yourself because you're different. Being out is a lot more fun and you find people who will teach you, who'll love you, who'll be your friends, who'll knock you around a little bit and that's the way it has to be, to be out. So look outward, thank you for coming, I appreciate you, thank you for your work.
Mason Funk: [01:58:30] Excellent. We're going to do a couple of things first, we're going to do thirty seconds of silence in this room.