CAMPOut: The Skinny on Tallulah
|by Fay Jacobs|
|Vagina. There, I've said it. Now I can relax. We will, of course, get back to that word presently. (Don't worry, boys, it's going to be okay.)
The past few weeks have taught me a thing or two. Uh-oh, you're putting this together with that first sentence and imagining that this column is going to be waaay too much information no need to panic.
The things I learned were about movie stars, local politics, and the power of great theatre. I'll start with the movie stars. Former investigative reporter-turned biographer Diana McLellan has just published a book called The GirlsSappho goes to Hollywood. In it, her reporter's quest for historical accuracy brings to light great (and exquisitely documented) lesbian romances of some of our most legendary Hollywood elite. From Garbo to Dietrich to Stanwick to Talullah, these Hollywood hotties ricocheted through the movie studios and in and out of each other's Hollywood Hills bedrooms. From actresses to screen writers, costumers to confidential secretaries, Hollywood buzzed with sapphic romance. It's a wonder these girls had any time to make movies.
While most everyone except Garbo had one of those con-venient lavender marriages, all this lesbian activity was very well knownonly the press winked and respected their privacy. If my generation thinks it's the first to live openly Sapphic, we've got another thing coming.
And while it's great to hear what fun our fore-sisters had, it's disturbing too. If pre-World War II Germany, New York, Paris and Hollywood openly embraced same sex romance, exactly what happened to give us the wretched 1950s and 60s? Was it Hitler, Fascists, Hollywood censors or America's post-war retreat to "family" values? It's clear that no matter how far we've come in attaining our visibility and rights, it could all be swept away in another conservative tide.
Which brings me to the second lesson. After a siege of vitriolic anti-gay sentiment from pulpits North of Rehoboth, a local politician getting hoof in mouth disease and a show of lobbying strength from the gay community, Delaware's anti-discrimination bill made it through the Delaware House of Representatives on a 21-20 vote. Passage by the senate remains to be seen, but for the moment, we see a light at the end of the tunnel.
But, like those Hollywood bright lights long ago, you never know when the dim bulbs are going to take over and try to send us back to the closets.
And that's where empowerment comes innot just for those of the Sapphic persuasion, but for women everywhere. From the Million Moms who marched to stop gun violence to the continuing fight for reproductive freedom, it takes empowerment to succeed. And there's a very empowering thing going on right now in the Big Apple.
Two weeks ago, I was sitting in a New York restaurant listening to an ad on a local radio station. It featured two female voices.
"Hello, Box Office. May I help you?"
"Yes, I would like two tickets to the Monologue show."
"You know, The Vagi, um, er, errrrr, Monologues"
"Come on honey, you can say it"
"Okay, I want two tickets to the (deep breath) Va-gi-na Monologues.
"There, I knew you could do it."
Not only was it a clever ad for a hit show but it appealed to the inner prude in all of us who find that word, not to mention the subject difficult to discuss. As it turned out, Bonnie and I had tickets for The Vagina Monologues the next day. And to tell the truth, I'm not sure if I ordered my tickets over the Internet for convenience or to avoid having to enunciate the show title myself.
Which, of course, is the very reason there's an Off-Broadway show called The Vagina Monologues in the first place.
As we neared the 43rd Street theatre, the marquee spelled out THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES in letters two feet high. Oy. Were we ready for this?
Inside, the mostly female audience was decidedly racially mixed. My gaydar honed in on lots of lesbians, but there were as many grandmotherly types and soccer moms. A handful
of brave men and quite a few teensmale and femalerounded out the house. I spoke to a woman in the ladies room who had seen the show the week before and was now back with her husband and adolescent son. "It's important, empowering and hilarious!" she told me. Now that's a good review.
And she was right. Eve Ensler's little play performed by three actresses perched on stools on an otherwise empty stage, is a knock-out. As well as a sell-out.
The ground-breaking, eye-opening script is very, very funny, but also shocking and poignant. It was developed from over 200 interviews with women of varying ages and backgrounds telling stories about their intimate experiences. From sex education to sex itself, birthing, to violence, the monologues covered it allincluding desensitizing the house to formerly verboten language and subjects.
As Gloria Steinem says in the printed play's forward, "I come from the 'down there' generation where the words were spoken rarely and in a hushed voice and weren't accurate, much less prideful."
And so Eve Ensler went about writing a play that encouraged feminine empowerment by saying the unsayable. And if you think the title or concept is way out of the mainstream, just listen to the line up of performers who have already been seen and heard onstage in this shocker: Nell Carter, Calista Flockhart, Amy Irving, Rita Moreno, Lisa Gay Hamilton (last week's Oscar winner!) Gina Gershon, Glenn Close and many more. Everyone wants to be part of a show that's bold, funny and racy. Marlene, Greta and Tallulah would have loved it.
They also might have had some advice for us here in Delaware. With legislation pending to give Delaware gay men and lesbians equal rights, it's time to speak out for equality, stand up to bigotry and liberate ourselves from any residual self-hatred and shame.
Eve Ensler's doing it by touring her show all over the country and giving $10 from each ticket sold to the V-Day Fund, which supports groups working to end violence against women. Surely we can harness some V-power ourselves (okay, and some P-power, too) and help turn Delaware into a state that values equality and freedom from shame for all.
As Tallulah loved to say, "Press On!!!"
A national award winning columnist, Fay Jacobs is a regular contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 11, No. 3, Apr. 6, 2001.