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Guest Writer: Cheryl Dumesnil, “Where Were You When?”

Gilda Mansour, adiposity a close friend of ours from San Francisco, came with her partner Krista Gaeta to join us for a month in East Africa. Gilda has contributed to Out & Around twice before in her stories Coming In and Gilda finds the Supergay Palestinians. We’re thrilled to have her share with us her surprising travel experience in Zanzibar…

During my research of Tanzania I looked forward to many things the country had to offer, such as the Serengeti, safaris, archeological sites and Zanzibar. The one thing I didn’t look forward to was the uncertainty of what would happen if Tanzanians found out I was in a relationship with a woman.

During safari, Jenni, Lisa, Krista and I met two American travelers, Alan and Troy*. It was easy to see Alan was the quick-witted, self-deprecating one and Troy was the “face jockey” (the guy with little personality, but a handsome lady-attracting face). Interestingly enough, “face jockey” was a term I learned from Alan, which shed a little light on their dynamics. The guys seemed to be traveling the same Tanzanian route as us and we later saw them at Kendwa Beach in north Zanzibar.

Our hotel was hosting a party and we planned to have dinner and drinks with Alan and Troy. The six of us sat down to a beautiful candle and torch lit table. The conversation flowed easily as we discussed books, travel and current events. At some point, Alan and Troy asked us how we all met and how serious our respective relationships were. While we trusted that Alan and Troy wouldn’t extort money from us for our secret, we all felt some hesitation about sharing.

It was the first time in Tanzania that anyone had asked us about the status of our relationships. However, we took a chance and shared our respective coupling stories. We figured, how bad could their reaction be? They listed to NPR, after all. Oddly though, the guys then asked if we had all slept with one another at any point. Providing a little gay relationship 101, we told them that we were in monogamous relationships and just because we are attracted to women didn’t mean we indiscriminately slept with all females.

The two were not fazed by our sexuality (although maybe a little disappointed by our lack of promiscuity). In fact, they appeared stunned, if not a bit outraged, when we told them being gay in Tanzania was punishable by imprisonment, which is what made the events of that night especially perplexing. They bought a couple of bottles of wine for the table, a classy gesture of a new friendship, I thought.

During dinner I sat between Troy and Krista, my partner of three years. Several times during our meal, Troy leaned in intimately to say something and placed his hand on the small of my back or knee. Troy told me he was going closer to the stage to watch the youth dance show. He stood expecting me to join him before he left the table. Instead, I told him to enjoy himself.

The wine was poured and the party began, we all left the table and sat at the bar. That’s when Troy turned up his “charm” and told me I had beautiful hair and skin. I took his flirting in stride (and I wondered if this stuff worked on his other lusted-after ladies). Troy, however, felt he had to make his actions crystal clear by announcing, “I’ve been flirting with you all night and you have no idea!” He acted as if I was too dense to understand him coming on to me and that I was about to miss out on his amazing gift of manliness. I pondered, did this fool actually believe I was just hanging out with Krista waiting for a man to come along with an offer?

Of course, Krista heard Troy’s declaration. She and I laughed as I explained that I was aware of his intentions (even a rock would have noticed) but was ignoring his advances. Even though Troy seemed to be too narrowly focused to understand it, Krista and I were in love and secure enough to know that even the best “face jockey” could never come between us. I’m not sure if Troy’s confidence was supercharged by alcohol; if he really thought he could “turn” me; or if he generally and regularly disregarded lesbian relationships or romantic partnerships of any kind, for that matter.

I will never know what caused Troy’s behavior, but I do believe that if Krista were a man, Troy would not have let the compliments run from his mouth or his hands fly so freely, at least not in front of a boyfriend. Needless to say, I was disheartened by that night’s events. It’s ironic that I was fearing Tanzanians’ negative reactions to my sexuality and was sadly reminded that some of my fellow Americans – even the world traveling, public radio listening ones – still require a lesson in respecting and understanding the seriousness of lesbian relationships.

*Names have been changed.

Jenni and I wish we could be in San Francisco right now to celebrate the positive step the federal appeals court panel made to strike down Proposition 8. One of our very own Supergays, medical writer and poet Cheryl Dumesnil contributed this article to Out & Around. We love her as our California correspondent writing about the crossroads of parenthood, health lesbians and suburbia.


Where Were You When . . .

Each generation has its “Where were you?” questions.

For people my age: Where were you when Ronald Regan was shot? Sixth grade, viagra approved on the basketball court at Williams Elementary School, hurling the ball over a classmate’s head, hoping to hear it “shlank” through the chain-link net.

For San Francisco Bay Area residents: Where were you when the 1989 earthquake hit? Driving my Mercury Lynx through San Jose, wondering why the radio had cut out in the middle of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.”

For LGBT folks and their allies: Where were you when the Court made its milestone announcement about same sex-marriage rights in California? Well, let’s see . . .

The first time, March 11, 2004, I was languishing on my couch, six weeks pregnant, nauseous, exhausted, and blissed out after having married my wife, Tracie, at San Francisco City Hall earlier that day. The phone rang, calling us back to the Castro, STAT: the Court had shut the door on same-sex marriage, right after Tracie and I had passed through it, ending what we now call “The Winter of Love.”

The next time, five months later, roundly pregnant, I was driving to my final summer school class, when I heard on NPR that the Court had invalidated our marriage license. Yes, I had suspected that the fancy piece of paper embossed with my state’s seal and our names would hold no legal value, but that word, “invalid,” stabbed at me every time I heard it: invalid, invalid, invalid. I shut the radio off. When I stopped at Safeway to buy cookies for my students, the checker asked, “How are you this morning?” I looked at her cheerful face, at her wedding ring, at her cheerful face. I wondered how much to say.

Fast forward to May 2009, another “Day of Decision Demonstration” in San Francisco. Tracie, now my legal spouse, stayed home with our two sick kiddos (who, I would later learn, were, despite their fevers, stomping around the living room, chanting “No on 8!”). Meanwhile, I marched through the city streets, flanked by a crew of Supergay friends, burning with the sting of the Court’s rejection, awe-struck by the peaceful and positive energy emanating from our thousands-strong crowd. Someone said, “I’m hungry.” Out of my purse I pulled an energy bar, a bag of almonds, and a box of raisins. Everyone laughed, “You’re such a mom.”

Three years later, I can’t even remember which decision had spawned that May 2009 demonstration. There have been too many: the one when I nursed my infant in front of the Supreme Court building; the one when I raised a sippy cup to the television because we were stuck home with fevers (again); the one in 2008, when, sitting on a bench at the local playground, listening to the radio, I became the crazy mom lost in her wild happy dance, after I heard that same-sex couples could get married. (Again. Before we couldn’t. Again.)

While pre-parent me had the luxury of showing up for any demonstration at any time, parent me has learned to balance the needs of my family with the needs of the marriage equality movement.

Today that balance lands me at home, nursing my ailing gallbladder (a.k.a. Lucy), while demonstrators gather in front of the offices of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, where, at 10:00 today, they will announce (yet) a(nother) Court decision regarding Proposition 8.

After forty-three years of faithful service, Lucy-the-gallbladder has announced her retirement. In two days she has an exit interview with an exquisitely skilled surgeon. Meanwhile, I am feeling rather like I did when this whole marriage-and-court-decisions thing began eight years ago: exhausted and nauseous. Simultaneously, the kids’ schools have been incubating a nasty stomach flu that could cause serious Lucy complications if I contract it. So the kiddos are home, too, in an attempt to keep us all germ-free. While my activist self is itching to be out there on the streets of San Francisco to celebrate or mourn with my people, this time Lucy wins.

To soothe my inner activist, I remind her that today’s decision is not THE decision. Whether the Court rules in our favor or not, this is not the endgame. It’s simply another play in our team’s maddeningly slow, yet inevitable progress toward equal rights. Not for a moment do I waver in my belief that we will cross the goal line eventually. But having witnessed so many fumbles, delays of game, and turnovers has taught me to keep my emotions in check. (Forgive the Superbowl-influenced football metaphor, but it’s February, and it fits.)

Blending parent and activist, I’m turning this morning’s decision into (yet) a(nother) kitchen table civics lesson for the kids. First, I review the Prop 8 story. The five-year-old responds, “I hate laws.” I think, ‘Right on, anarchist,’ but say, “Tell me more about that.” He says, “Well, except the laws from the olden days, like when you didn’t have to wear a seatbelt and you could stick your head out the car window. I like those.” The seven-year-old chimes in, “Yeah, but those laws are about safety. Prop 8 isn’t about safety. It’s just not fair.” Apparently my work here is done.

Maybe it’s my Lucy-induced exhaustion, maybe it’s my living room’s utter lack of snarky protest signs, fabulous boas, and news vans, but when 10:00 rolls around, I’m feeling distinctly lackluster about the announcement. Hoping for a jolt of vicarious excitement, I turn on the TV and see not the “breaking news” broadcast I’m expecting, but Drew Carry welcoming me to The Price Is Right, with a banner streaming across the top of the screen, acknowledging that yes, the Court has ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. (Again.) On my cell phone, texts and Facebook posts start pinging like mad, but none of our local TV stations have interrupted their regular programming, amplifying my sense that this is less “big news” and more “another box we’ve checked on our scorecard.” Yes, thanks to a tireless legal team supported by activists and allies of all stripes, we have moved one step forward. (Again.) Hooray! (Again.) But the fact is that people are still waiting to get married. And the wait is unjustifiably long.

“So, where’s the show about Prop 8?” the five-year-old asks.
“I guess it’s not on,” I say, clicking the TV off.
“Maybe we can go on our nature walk now?” he suggests.

Where were you when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals announced their ruling on Prop 8? Walking around the backyard with my kids, counting slugs, bird songs, and worms.

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