Before the Internet: Dyke Anthem Redux

Last night I had a conversation with a friend about this whole lesbian anthem thing and she shared her point of view.

Although we’re almost the same age, we hail from different parts of the country. I’m from the west, she’s from the south. I came out later in life, after opposite marriage and a child. She’s known she was a lesbian forever.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and went to a women’s college. I worked in the liberal non-profit sector. Even before I came out, I knew plenty of lesbians.

Before arriving in the Bay Area, work took her to many different places in the United States, none of them as liberal as the rarefied environment I’ve lived in.

In other words, we are two women at a similar point in our lives who took two very different paths getting here.

Last night, she reminded me that the internet has dramatically changed life for lesbians. It has both brought them together, and segmented them. Women used to gather at bookstores and potlucks, brought together by bulletin board notices. They showed up at events and were relieved to see and be seen by other dykes, regardless of age or interest.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, when my sweetheart was moving around the country, she carried a worn copy of the Damron Travel GuidesWomen’s Traveler, which lists lesbian bookstores, community centers, bars, and restaurants, and the Lesbian Connection, a national magazine that was then the opposite of slick or glossy. With that information, she could pretty much pinpoint a community’s gay neighborhood. A women’s bookstore would always have a bulletin board and a copy of the local gay newspaper, if one existed.

This is how lesbians found their people before the internet. As she explains, “You couldn’t just land in a town and look up a queer bookstore in the yellow pages.”

No wonder lesbians have embraced the internet as a way of meeting and dating, finding communities with like interests, and publicizing events. The opportunity for socialization has exploded, just in the last decade. Now there are kinky lesbian communities, dance clubs for the over-40 set, and events for butch-femme, sporty, sober, and dog-loving lesbians. There are Meetup.com groups, and Facebook, CraigsList, and Twitter connections.

It may be too late for a dyke anthem. There may too many kinds of us and too many diverse lesbian communities now.

So while I want an anthem that makes me want to sing along, to tear up, and to stand up and dance, my sweetheart says it needs to be rooted in history. She suggests we look to women’s music pioneers like Chris Williamson, Holly Near, Ferron, Meg Christian, or Tret Fure to find our theme. And in doing so, we should try to remember how liberating and empowering it was the first time we heard a lesbian singing a song about a life loving women.

The butch in my life suggests Meg Christian’s “Ode to a Gym Teacher”. Unfortunately, this is the only video I could find with Meg Christian singing the song.

Ode to a Gym Teacher, by Meg Christian

She was a big tough woman
The first to come along
She showed me being female meant you still could be strong
And though graduation meant that we had to part
She’ll always be a player on the ball field of my heart

I wrote her name on my notepad and the ink got on my dress
And I etched it on my locker and I carved it on my desk
And I painted big red hearts with her initials on my books
And I never knew till later why I got those funny looks…

She was a big tough woman
The first to come along
She showed me being female meant you still could be strong
And though graduation meant that we had to part
She’ll always be a player on the ball field of my heart

In gym class while the others talked of boys that they loved
I’d be thinking of new aches and pains the teacher had to rub
And while other girls went to the prom I languished by the phone
Calling up and hanging up if I found out she was home

She was a big tough woman
The first to come along….

I sang her songs by Johnny Mathis
I gave her everything
A new chain for her whistle, and daisies in the spring
Some suggestive poems for Christmas by Miss Edna Millay
And a lacy lacy lacy card for Valentine’s Day
(Unsigned of course)

She was a big tough woman
The first to come along…

(Here comes the moral of the song…)

So you just go to any gym class
And you’ll be sure to see
One girl who sticks to teacher like a leaf sticks to a tree
One girl who runs the errands and who chases all the balls
One girl who may grow up to be the *gayest* of all…

She was a big strong woman
The first to come along
To show me being female meant you still could be strong
And though graduation meant that we had to part
YOU’LL always be a player on the ball field of my heart!

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