Marya Atwood

Interviewee: Marya Atwood
IWY TX 037
Interviewer: Johnye Mathews
Date: November 20, 1977

Marya Atwood, of Arkansas, was 26-years-old and identified as a lesbian. She worked as a hotel housekeeper, among other jobs. She attended the National Women’s Conference to show solidarity with the lesbian cause and to participate in the “Beyond the ERA” rally. Atwood was injured during the Beyond the ERA rally, when individuals believed to be part of the Ku Klux Klan began a counter protest and violence broke out. In this interview, Atwood recounted her own experiences with violence, discrimination, and harassment because of her lesbianism. She also discussed lesbian friends who were attacked at a gas station by men. Interview includes discussion of the conference as well, including Atwood’s critique of how few participants were the working-class women or economically vulnerable women.

Sound Recording

Transcript 

Johnye Mathews: I’m Johnye Mathews. The date is Sunday, November 20th, 1977, in Houston, Texas, the International Women’s Year. And what is your name, please?

Marya Atwood: My name is Marya Atwood.

JM: And what is your connection with the International Women’s Year?

MA: I’m a lesbian and I came here to show lesbian solidarity with my other sisters against the right wing. To shuffle them all together. (Laughs)

JM: I understand. There was an incident where some people were hit yesterday. Did you witness that exhibit?

MA: I sure did. I also got hit. (Slight laugh.)

JM: Oh, you did?

MA: Yeah.

JM: Describe the event then?

MA: Okay, what I saw was, we were having another Beyond the ERA rally across the street, saying what else we want from this meeting that the ERA doesn’t even come close to.

JM: Is this a lesbian rally?

MA: No, this was a mixed group, mixed women wanting more than they got. So we were there and it had just ended and a Chicano man came running up the street and said, “The KKK is coming.” And we looked down the street and they were coming up a parking lot which is right across from the Convention Center. And immediately women started mobilizing and we went over onto the side of the road where we could see them and started to chant, ‘Ku Klux Klan, scum of the earth, Ku Klux Klan, scum of the earth’. And we waited and some women tried to go out into the street and we thought, no we should all stay here because we’ll be safe. And then they marched across the street and up onto the Convention Center in front, they were all the way in the middle of it and had stationed themselves looked like to like they were going to be standing there for a while. And women at that point broke the line and went across the street and started forming opposite the KKK, because I do think that’s who they were, and chanting all the way. And then some women joined hands and started making, as if to encircle the KKK at which point they started moving back. And so then we started this progression of moving forward, moving back; some place in there we, a scuffle, somebody hit somebody or somebody yelled something and somebody hit, something happened. I saw a woman, there were women and men with the KKK, they had young, white women who I think were brought only because it’s a women’s conference, they felt like scapegoats or something.

They kind of mobilized in front of us and one woman, I was standing next to a friend and one woman, one of the KKK women had a picket, a sign in her hand and she smashed down with it like this, and it broke and then she went down with it again, like trying to hit somebody. And it splintered in two and then what she did was she used her fist and hit my friend in the eye. I didn’t see her connecting with my friend’s face because I was watching her, and then I also saw a man in a blue shirt who had been with them coming around to the side and he came and grabbed my friend behind, around the neck and was pulling her off.

So I went off after her to help him to start pulling him off and I grabbed him on one side and apparently one of my other sisters pulled him on the other side, although I didn’t even see her. And I don’t really know what happened to me because all of a sudden something hit me upside the head on my ear, on the side of my head and I thought I was going to be deaf because I have read many police reports where they deafen people by hitting them just with their hand on their ear. I thought, great I’m deaf, they got me, I’m deaf. So I went down and when I came back to I looked up and the women had moved farther down from where I was and a woman said that I had fallen down and she’d picked me up and apparently I passed out but I don’t remember any of that.

JM: Wow. Were you taken to the hospital or?

MA: No. I saw two nurses and they said really I was probably alright. Although, I feel like I got hit by a sledgehammer. One thing about the way I was hit, it wasn’t just somebody that was mad and just kinda, “Ooh, I’m gonna hit you.” It was definitely very well planned because the whole side of my face just hurt and ached and it was red for hours and hours and hours and it swelled up and I can’t chew, they’re having to give me little pieces of food because I can’t chew still. It was planned, I felt like it was somebody that had been trained, that knew what they were doing.

Right before that happened, there were two things that happened at once. There was the me getting hit and my sisters getting hit, and then on the other side was one of the men. He was about 6’2 or 3”, he was huge and he had grayish/brown hair and a crew cut, real short crew cut, and he was big, big ‘round, big man. And civi clothes, he was wearing like a blue jean jacket with the sleeves cut off and glasses and blue jeans and boots. And somebody kicked him at one point, I don’t know what happened exactly but I saw a foot fly out and try to kick him, and he turned around moving away from the kick and pulled his badge out of his coat pocket, like flashing it at us to intimidate us that he was a cop and we shouldn’t hit him. And then he ran off with the pro-lifers or KKK or whoever they are. In other words that says to me he was not there to protect us. He was there to protect the KKK, he was not even a mediating force. Because I think I saw him hitting somebody, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one that hit me because I feel like I’ve been hit by somebody that’s 6’4” and 400 pounds.

So I’m, I really wanna get that across that there was police there, there were two women who were taking pictures that say that they thought they saw badges, quite a few badges, like underneath the coat. Not visible, not where you could tell this is a policeperson that might be here to help me.

JM: Do you think someone (unintelligible at 6:17) of the incident?

MA: Yes. There should be lots of them, lots of women were there and had the sense to be taking pictures.

JM: How many people were hit that you’re aware of?

MA: I think I’ve heard between 7 and 12 women, and one or two women are filing charges. This is, I heard this morning that the Houston Police are denying the fact that women even got hurt, that there was even such a demonstration, such an incident happening.

JM: Where was the nurse, where did you see a nurse?

MA: This was after it was all over, many women saw me hurt and they were all coming up and asking me if I was alright and if they could help, and one woman said, “Here’s a nurse. She wants to look at you.”

JM: So the nurse was out there on the scene? In uniform?

MA: No, she wasn’t in uniform. No, she was, she was an observer or something. No, she wasn’t, she just came to help, came out to help.

JM: (Unintelligible at 7:14)

MA: Yeah, I was gonna say it’s hurtin’ me to talk right now.

JM: Is it?

MA: Yeah, it is because it’s swollen here and all the way up behind my ear. I got hit, that’s another thing makes me think it was a big man that hit me because it wasn’t, like a woman’s fist would just about cover your ear and it wouldn’t be hurting above and below, but it hurts from about halfway down my jaw, about halfway up my head and down my throat and everything. I couldn’t eat at all yesterday.

JM: Are you going see a doctor when you get home?

MA: Yeah.

JM: I think it would help. Do you have any impressions of the Conference as a whole that you would like to add?

MA: Yeah, I have a lot of feelings about it. From, just from base one I feel pretty stifled about having any input to this whole Conference. I feel that I as a white, working-class woman who had to borrow money and beg, borrow, and steal, that kinda thing, to get here, I know that other women who don’t have money were not able to be here and I really feel that those women are the ones that should be here. These are the women that need government programs. These are the women that need input into how government programs are going be run. Women who are going to be using the daycare centers if we get daycare centers, who are going to be using the health clinics because the rich women are going to a specialist they can pay. The women without funds are gonna be dependent on what the government decides to put out and those women are not here. And there’s $5,000,000 allotted for this Conference and frankly I think it could’ve been used a whole lot better. We don’t need entertainment at these Conferences if we can get women who need to have input to how their lives are going to be run at these Conferences, it’s just crazy to me. I’ve heard that they’ve been paying people $2,000 to be here, to entertain, at a state conference I was told that. A state conference I’m from.

JM: Did you go to the state conference in your state?

MA: Um-hum. I was told that a group of, two group of comediennes were paid $2,000 to be there. That’s rumor, I have no idea whether it’s true or not but I’m sure that money was spent in those ways.

JM: Do you want to identify your state?

MA: Arkansas. I sure would. Also, one other thing I’d like to say, that I’m disappointed about the structure of this Conference. We’re women, we’re living in a man’s world, a patriarchy. The way Robert’s Rules of Order delegates, here’s the floor, there’s a microphone, that’s all how men do things. I personally don’t think it works very well. I’m very frustrated that we as women didn’t get together and say, look we want to get something done at this Conference, how can we do it, how can we set it up that really happens, in a different way than Robert’s Rules of Order. Because I think we can, I know we can.

I know we’re doing it in small groups across the Country with each other, in our work groups, in our study groups, in our consciousness raising groups. I know we’re making this and I’m very disappointed that the effort wasn’t even made to have this Conference different. We could’ve started at the state level with trying to make different kinds of structures. So, I’m very frustrated about that.

JM: There was a great deal of controversy in Arkansas as I recall after the state conference by the anti-ERA forces who felt that they were not adequately represented and had not been included in the planning sessions. How do you feel about that?

MA: Welcome to the boat. (Laughs) I wasn’t included in the planning sessions. Lesbians are certainly hardly even spoken of in Arkansas. I’m against, you know, I would be against the law in Arkansas.

JM: (Unintelligible at 11:11)

MA: Yeah, I don’t want to think about it but I am. I wasn’t involved in any planning sessions. I had no money given to me to get down there. I had no places set aside for me to stay, I drove around Little Rock for a day and a half trying to find a place to sleep.

I don’t also really believe that’s true about the pro-lifers because they get lots and lots of media coverage. They have had this whole conference, I don’t know, worried since we started talking about having a Women’s Conference. Everybody’s been scared to bring up anything controversial because the “pro-lifers are going be there.” What do we do then? So I don’t really think that’s true, I think that we’ve all been hearing the pro-lifers’ stands our whole lives: all the churches, all the radios, the television, the newspapers.

JM:  You know, I can say (unintelligible at 12:05).

MA: We certainly have. So I just can’t really see that, I think that that’s, that just is an indication of how much media coverage they do get, that that was even made a big thing of in Arkansas.

JM: Did you have a consciousness raising session in your life somewhere? Was there some event or some awareness that came to you?

MA:  Well, I grew up on the border between this country and our sister country to the south, Mexico. That was quite a consciousness raising being a white woman in a predominately Latin culture, Latin area. Seeing how the Latin people are totally ripped off, they get put down because they don’t speak English instead of us having to learn Spanish because we’re only five miles away from their country.

JM: Right.

MA: Being a white woman and realizing the privilege that white skin has been given, on brown and black and all colors, all those people’s cultures, because we are on top, we have the power. And having to deal with that. I’ve always been pretty political. I’ve never liked this culture, what it does to people, how it separates us and makes us weak. And I’ve always seen that and always had to say things about it, so I’ve always been pretty unpopular. (Laughs)

JM: How did you become a lesbian?

MA: Well, I’ve been a lesbian all my life. What happened was that I discovered that I was a lesbian. (Laughs) What it is you go through your whole life being guilty and scared and not lookin’ at yourself too close because you really do know what’s there and that’s not right, the whole world tells me I’m wrong. You shouldn’t love women. Even though men rape us and beat us and kill us, (laughs) you shouldn’t love women. But –

JM: Well, men don’t rape because they love us.

MA: Oh, that’s it, I forgot. (Laughs)

JM: They rape because they hate women. They tell…

MA: That’s the story now. Coming out was a big consciousness raising for me because suddenly you experience oppression about it that has nothing to do with who you as an individual are. Which is something like racial oppression. I don’t know, I never will know racial oppression, I’m a white woman. But I think that it’s a little closer to that than I was before and that is quite a consciousness raising. I walk into restaurants and they ask me to leave.

JM: They do?

MA: Yes, they do.

JM: They can tell just by looking at you that you’re a lesbian?

MA: Well, I guess so (laughs) ‘cause they sure ask me to leave.

JM: Probably because you’re not wearing a dress.

MA: That’s probably part of it, and having short hair, it’s grown out some now.

JM: Well I have short hair (laughs) and sometimes I don’t wear a dress.

MA: But you have a dress on. (Laughs)

JM: Yeah, well I have one on today because I was afraid that the anti-ERA forces would not trust me.

MA: Um-hum.

JM: That they would not talk to me. I might get in trouble back in Arkansas if people knew that I was interviewing you sympathetically.

MA: Um-hum.

JM: That’s entirely possible.

MA: I’m sure you would. I’m sure you would.

JM: I’m not concerned about it, however.

MA: (Laughter) Good.

JM: Do you have any problems other than, you know, the fact that you can’t walk into a restaurant that you – what other problems do you have as a lesbian?

Unidentified Speaker 1: Employment is a problem.

MA: Employment, yeah.

Unidentified Speaker 2: Housing.

MA: Housing is another good one. We get thrown out of our houses quite often. (Laughs)

JM: Do you?

MA: If you can even get them – oh yes. It’s to the point where lesbians across the Country are saying, look we’re going to have to pool our money together and buy houses because none of us have got places to live! You just barely move in and then a couple of your friends start comin’ over and that’s it. The land person comes over and says, “Your kind can’t stay here.” Something like that.

JM: And they legally do that?

MA: Well you see that’s another thing I’ve learned is that legal depends on how much you fit in. The police aren’t very sympathetic to lesbians either. And the police are the ones who enforce the laws and the landowner goes and says, “You know what? There’s some queers livin’ in my house and I don’t like it.” And the cop says, “I know what you mean, I can’t stand ‘em either.” Shuffle, shuffle under the rug and there I go. I don’t feel like I get protection from the police, I don’t expect it. I wasn’t surprised to see that guy pull his badge out of his – I wasn’t surprised. I feel like that’s mostly true.

JM: What kind of jobs do you have trouble getting?

MA: Well, the only job, I’m a working-class woman so that’s part of my trouble I guess. Most of my jobs have been maid jobs. I keep, that’s one thing about these hotels and they keep having these conferences and I’ve cleaned hotel rooms so long, I walk into a hotel room and I start thinking about how hard it’s going to be to clean it. (Laughs) So I have that trouble with this convention (laughs) but maid jobs and, oh I worked in a food co-op for a while, been involved in alternative food situations for some years now. But that’s volunteer, that isn’t usually money. Telephoning jobs where you’re trying to sell people stuff over the telephone. (Laughs) Everybody’s favorite. Those are my kinda jobs.

JM: Everybody’s rude about that.

MA: Oh yeah, yeah. Those are my kind of jobs.

Unidentified Speaker 2: Harassment on the streets.

MA: Harassment on the streets, that’s a big one.

JM: Okay, tell me about that.

MA: Especially in a college town, and especially with all this Anita Bryant stuff. People are beginning to get a closer look at lesbians, seeing there’s more, we’re move visible. They’re getting to kind of get an idea of the, there’s a different energy, you know, and getting to, people are naming that, they’re seeing it and naming it. And it’s very dangerous because they want to kill us, they don’t like us a whole – some of these people really don’t. And many times the town I live in I’ll be walking down the street and the fraternity boys will all line up on one side of the street and go, “Hey dyke! All you need is . . .” you know, fill in the blank. And things like that. Men’ll come up and say, “I don’t like women like you.” You know, “I like soft women, I like women that’ll talk to me. I don’t like uppity women. I don’t like strong women.” That’s happened to me in laundromats, that’s happened to me in restaurants [laughter], it’s happened to me in filling stations. Friends of mine just got beat up in a filling station simply because they looked strong.

(Break in recording 18:51-18:53)

JM: This is Johnye Mathews, I am at Houston, Texas at the International Women’s Year Conference. I am interviewing a young woman who has identified herself as a lesbian and she is, has just told me about a friend of hers who was beaten up in a service station. Would you repeat the details of that story in case they did not make it on tape five?

MA: Yeah. They were just passing through the town, a couple…I think it was four women in the vehicle. And they stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom. There were a group of men, I think it was between two and three men, who were just harassing them, like trying to push the door open into the bathroom and come into the bathroom and saying things about them, “Hey dyke. Hey lesbian.” Etc., etc.

They got upset about it and one of the women went outside and picked up a stick and the other woman went out and picked up a 2 x 4. And then I guess there were words being exchanged, and he – yeah, anyway I guess he was, he got angry at some point and grabbed the 2 x 4 out of one of the woman’s hands and hit the other woman on her forearm. Just broke it all to pieces, it was multiple fractures, they told us that we couldn’t move her for five days because of the danger of gangrene. They wouldn’t even set it because it would have to be one of those where they pull the arm out and reset the bones, and they’re probably going to have to put plates in her arm.

And that was simply – people will say, well they shouldn’t have picked up the sticks, but it was the boys, the men, whatever you want to call them, that were pushing open the door, you don’t even have the right to use the bathroom by yourself. Come on, you know, where does the fault really lie? The men think they own everything, that they can come in and do whatever they want, it’s their right to come into the women’s bathroom and push the door open and harass women who are using it. This happens a lot, this happens to my friends a lot around the country.

JM: Do you have any problems from women? They may not be strong physically, but do you have any harassment from women?

MA: No, it’s a different thing with women. They’re…some women are scared, you know, they’re just real scared. But generally no, I don’t have that kind of trouble with women. I can, you know, talk to them. I am an “out” lesbian and I pretty much try and let that be known from the very beginning when I’m dealing with straight women because I don’t want to have anything weird happen. Generally, I don’t do much with them unless I’m at a job with straight women or something, you know, there’s a lot of work to be done around women’s issues. There’s a whole lot of work we all need to be doing and a lot of struggling, and that’s pretty much what I’m trying to do, trying to grow as an individual, strong, righteous woman myself and trying to learn how to help my other sisters grow. Trying to learn how to love each other because we’re all taught how to hate ourselves first, and hate everybody else in the bargain.

JM: We’re pretty good at that.

MA: We’re real good at that. We all do martyr numbers and self-hate and everything. So that’s pretty much what I try to do, it isn’t hard with other women. Sad a lot but not hard.

JM: How do you feel about men in general? Do you hate men, do you distrust them?

MA: Well, I don’t like men. Basically I don’t think about ‘em much, but when things like yesterday happened, sure I hate ‘em. I hate that guy that did that to my sisters and to me, and I hate those men that were there because I look at those men and I think of all of the people the KKK has murdered in hundreds of years, I looked at those men and I thought of all the black women sitting at home after a lynch mob took all of the rest of their men folks. Cause it’s a different situation with black women. And that, I hate that.

JM: Well how about men who are not members of the KKK or far out?

MA: You mean like psychologists say women, lesbians hate men and they have bad male images and –

JM: Feminists seem to from the way they talk. I don’t know whether they really do or not.

MA: Well, women think I hate men cause of the way I talk but that’s… I’m in touch with my anger with men, yes. It’s taken me as old as I am to get in touch with my anger for the ways I’ve been held back and put down and shoved aside. Yeah, I am in touch with that and it comes out pretty quickly when things happen. But basically I don’t care about men. (Laughs). I just don’t care, you know? I wish that they would go off into a corner of the world and leave us alone, but that’s obviously impossible. (Laughs) So I’m just concentrating on women. That’s what it meant for me a whole lot when I came out as a lesbian was, I’m not going to deal with mankind anymore, I’m not going to patch up his psyche, because I felt like I’ve been doing that all of my life. Patching up my father’s psyche, my brother’s, anybody who came near, “There, there, you’re alright, it’s okay to cry, it’s alright to talk,” you know. Bologna! They can do that for themselves. Women need each other now, we need to get strong.

JM: Does your family know that you are a lesbian?

MA: Well, they probably will now. (Laughs) Yeah, the national television helps a lot. (Laughs) “Well look! There’s our dear darling daughter!” (Laughs) “Getting beat over the head!” (Laughs) “Aww, look at that…Well, she said she was a…” Yeah, I don’t think I’m going home for Christmas this year.

(Laughter)

MA: No, I haven’t told them, I – it’s usually pretty obvious. I’ve found that generally when I tell people, “Yes, I’m a lesbian.” They go, “Oh, well we knew years ago.” And I think, why didn’t you tell me? (Laughs) But no, I haven’t come out to them yet. I’m worried because when I was still living in their home, light term there, I, as I said I’ve always been very upset about the conditions in this country, and my parents didn’t like that. For about three years they told me that I could not speak to my sisters and brothers, I have five younger sisters and brothers. I was not allowed to speak to them because I was such an awful influence. That was the exact term that was used, I was a bad influence. I could only speak like, “Hand me the butter.” “What time is it?” And I’m afraid, I really am afraid that they will do something like that again.

JM: How old were you when this experience happened?

MA: Oh, let’s see. I must’ve been probably 15 to 18, something in there, those years. It was very difficult.

JM: So you were an untouchable in your own home?

MA: Yeah, oh yeah.

JM: How did you feel as a young child? Did you feel different from the rest of your brothers and sisters, that you were treated differently by your family?

MA: I always, my sisters and brothers and I always were pretty solid. I’m the oldest and I do really love being with younger people. And I loved ‘em, I raised them, you know? We had a lot of ups and downs. We were, you know, we yelled at each other but I loved ‘em and they loved me and that was the interesting thing when this happened was that my parents obviously didn’t even get what they were trying to accomplish, because it just made my sisters and brothers tighter with me.

I have since talked about my feelings about this with the one sister in particular who always supported me. I mean, I’d come in screaming and throwing things and slamming the door and she would come in and listen to me and talk to me and just be with me. In other words, just a quiet, “I love you, you’re not off the wall, you are saying good things.” And I just told her because she was so much younger, I asked her, you know, “Do you still remember that?” “Do you remember that? Cause I do and I know that you’re a righteous woman.” And she said, “I remember. I remember.”

JM: How old are you now?

MA: Let’s see, 26.

JM: What is your younger sister, the one you just spoke about, what is she doing now?

MA: Well, she’s going to college. She’s going for an engineering degree, which if anybody can get she will cause she’s stubborn, ooh she’s stubborn. (Laughs) But I don’t know, she’s taking it real slow. The town that she lives in there’s not much women’s movement going on and I’m pretty much her only connection with that, and I send her books and write her long letters and try and make time to see her. She’s pretty important to me because she is a real strong, beautiful person.

JM: You didn’t go to college, is that right?

MA: No. I went for about half a semester and was totally bored, because (laughs) they were tellin’ me stuff I’d learned in freshman year and I said, this is – I can’t do this, this is not what I want to do. (Laughs) What a waste of money. So no, I didn’t go to college, I hitchhiked around the country trying not being, trying to be a hitchhiker around the country gypsy, but trying to find places to live and stay and it was very difficult. And I was usually cold and hungry on the road at midnight in the rain, but I did that for about six years.

JM: I have heard charges from the KKK possibly, or other right wing sources that lesbians tend to use drugs a great deal. Is this true or not true, or do you care to comment on it?

MA: Sure, I’ll comment. This is funny you asked me this because just yesterday evening I was sitting next to two obviously upper middle class white women who had come in to see a play. They weren’t even IWY delegates or anything. They were saying how everybody smokes pot these days, why they just went down the road just, I don’t know, it was just funny because obviously they move in a different group than I do (laughs) and everybody in their group smokes pot. I don’t think lesbians use drugs a lot. I think this is a drug culture. I think we’re oriented to be addicted to things in this culture: we’re addicted from everything from cigarettes to love, to romance. Um-hmm.

Unidentified Speaker 1: This thing is making me so nervous I’m starting to smoke cigarettes again.

MA: (Laughter)

JM: What about alcohol? Are lesbians, do lesbians have an alcohol problem?

MA: No, I think where that comes from is because for so long when everybody was in the closet there were just gay bars where you could go and meet other women, you know. And –

JM: Are there gay bars for women as separate from men?

MA: In a good town there is.

(Laughter)

JM: Are there co-educational gay bars?

MA: Yeah, there’s all kinds. Yeah, we got ‘em for everybody. But I don’t think alcohol’s a problem. Per se.

JM: Do you have any trouble with male gays? Or do you get along with them or just have no contact with them?

MA: There’s a lot, there are a lot of gay men I think who hate women, and sure I have trouble with anybody who hates women. (Laughs) I don’t care what they say they are. But it’s, there are a few that I can work with and they choose to call themselves “sissies,” they’re reclaiming the word because they were always called sissies when they were little and queer and didn’t fit in with the macho image.

JM: Much like the females are calling themselves dykes now?

MA: Yes.

JM: That was a derogatory term at one time.

MA: Yes, it’s reclaiming it and reclaiming a part of yourself at the same time. For years I hated being called this and it scared me and hurt me and now I’m saying it with pride. So there are a few sissies that I can work with that I know if something comes down in a demonstration they’re going to be there to help me. If I need bail money, ‘cause this is a part of my life as a lesbian, it’s not that I’m so rowdy that I need these things it’s that this is the reality of lesbianism. You’re against the law, you’re a minority, people hate you, they’ve been taught for many thousands of years to hate who you are.

JM: Are lesbians ever arrested simply for being in a hotel room together or living together or something?

MA: Yeah, they don’t usually say it that way, they usually find somethin’ else to –

Unidentified Speaker 2: Like child custody cases.

Unidentified Speaker 1: That’s the big one.

MA: Yeah. Child custody cases is the usual way that happens.

JM: This is a lesbian who has had a former marriage or love affair and is the mother of –

MA: Um-hum.

JM: – a child?

Unidentified Speaker 1: One-third of lesbians have children.

JM: One-third of lesbians.

MA: One-third of lesbians. A lot of it is economic.

Unidentified Speaker 1: You know, we’re totally distinct from other women and we’ve never had relationships with men, you know, that this is – so somehow straight women can say, “I’m not like them. They were never like me.” And that’s not true.

MA: That’s not true.

Unidentified Speaker 1: It’s a choice. It’s coming in touch with a part of yourself and affirming that, affirming what most women deny who have those feelings. And that’s what the difference is, that’s why many women are frightened of it.

JM: Because they’re afraid that there is something in themselves –

MA: Um-hum.

JM: – they are not willing to face.

MA: Yeah. Yeah.

JM: I see.

MA: And a lot of the reason also that a third of lesbians have children is economic privilege. Not having money. When I left my parent’s home I didn’t have any money. And there was a man who wanted to be with me and so I just hung out with him for five years and it nearly killed me. (Laughs) I don’t know how I’m here today but…that was purely economic, I had no skills, no money, no idea of how to go about getting those, and he was a man, he could get a job anywhere, just walk in with his male privilege and sit right down and if they had a job to fill he could fill it. You know? And that’s a whole lot of lesbians are like that and more all the time I think. I think a lot more women are realizing, yeah that was a phase of my life where I was totally helpless and just doing the only thing I could do to survive, which meant a man.

JM: Well I think there’re a lot of straight women who are having the same experience. They have been housewives and cannot see themselves doing anything that would earn money.

MA: Um-hum. Certainly, certainly.

JM: What problems do all women have from your point of view that you are particularly interested in seeing changed?

Unidentified Speaker 2: Sexism.

MA: Sexism really, that’s a big one. Rape.

Unidentified Speaker 1: Violence in the home.

MA: Violence. Self-determination. Strength. We’re not taught how to be strong in this culture.

JM: No.

MA: We’re not given the choice, you know, the possibility, that’s very close to my heart. I think that women struggles are innately tied up with all oppressed people’s struggles, cause we all just don’t fit into the big machine and so we’re thrown out on the heap. And that’s not right and it’s a waste anyway, and we’re also killing the earth. She is dying. She is our sister and she is in enemy hands and she is dying. (Laughs)

JM: Mother Earth is done in.

MA: Yes, she is, she really is.

Carol Murphy: It’s like one of the reasons why this convention is so important is that the few women that have made it in the world, have got some money and power, is to remind them, well don’t forget about us back here. And too many of those women tend to say, well you know, I have to fight to keep this power and so it means that they have to go along with the whole system that they up until that point have been fighting. And we have to remember, you know.

MA: Where we came from, why we’re here, why it is, we have a lot of strength as women, and our strength comes with each other, with all of us together. And that’s a lot, because we have been oppressed for so long that we know that our only real friend is going to be someone else who has experienced that same oppression. And I don’t want us to lose sight of that and that’s what I, one thing that, like I say, bothers me that there aren’t any working women here at this conference.

We do need these women who are powerful, who are getting power, economic power, policy-making power, they need to be reminded of all the rest of us. That’s why I was at the Beyond ERA rally and I was very vocal there because yes, there is much that needs to be done. The big thing about the ERA is not that it’s going to solve our problems, it’s just this is the most we can get right now and it’s better than what it would be otherwise, what the other solution is.

JM: Okay. Do you have anything else that you would particularly like to add that I haven’t asked you about? With respect to this conference in particular? And perhaps lesbian’s attitudes toward it?

MA:  I would like to have seen something coming out of the entire caucus of women here in support for the struggles of oppressed peoples across the globe, in support of an anti-racist statement from all of us white women here. It’s not enough to say, we don’t like racism, what we have to do is pledge ourselves to root the racism out of ourselves. I would like to have seen strong statements of support coming out of this conference. Support for all the women across the country who are doing actions in their own cities against city officials, against grocery chains, against utility companies, because those are the women who are accomplishing change, that’s how we’re all going to make changes is to get together with other people and be strong about it.

And I feel like that hasn’t been done here and I wonder, what is it we’re doing here? What is the purpose? Who is it we’re really trying to help? And it looks like us. I talked to a Third World woman yesterday about the demonstration and what violence had happened and she said, “Well it’s the same case, all the white women run to the back and all the Third World women are left up front.” And I think, we haven’t been able to find out for sure, but I think every black woman or Third World woman that was at that demonstration got hurt. I think that there weren’t very many of them there, but I think every last one of them got hit and not – it’s true, the white women do run to the back, we do leave our Third World and our colored sisters up front to take it. So I would like to see us dealing with these kinds of issues and I want to see us changin’ ‘em in ourselves so that then maybe we can have a change on the world.

JM: Well, thank you very much for helping us with our study.

(Mathews adds commentary at 38:38)

JM: This is Johnye Mathews commenting on the above interview. Actually the chant that the women were using when they were confronting the men marching down the center of the street in front of the Convention Center was, ‘Ku Klux Klan, scum of the land’, it rhymed. They garbled it slightly when remembering a day later.

End of Interview

(38:58)