A couple of weeks ago I was standing out on the sidewalk in the overflow crowd of an SRO lesbian poetry slam. It was one of those private parties held in a former storefront, booze sold out of a bathtub, smoking allowed everywhere and a small poodle running around with a ribbon around its neck that said, "Kiss Me, I'm Irish."
A young woman approached me who looked like one of those religious pamphleteers with her dark eyes burning a hole through whatever she set her sights on. She introduced herself as one of the organizers of a dyke march planned for this summer, and she asked me to appear as a speaker. I didn't know her, but I do love dyke marches -- in the bigger cities they're usually scheduled to happen a few days before the bigger, all-inclusive gay parade. They're a frisky and fierce occasion for a bunch of topless women to march down the street, chanting, "What do we want? Pussy! When do we want it? NOW!" You'll also hear more sober slogans in favor of lesbian civil rights and feminist concerns that definitely deserve a day of their own.
The woman who invited me to participate seemed like she had some of these more serious issues on her mind. I asked her what other speeches had been planned, and she said, "Well of course, the top of the list is talking about lesbians and Y2K." She paused to let the magnitude of this revelation sink in.
I did not have one blessed clue what she was talking about. I almost made a joke -- "You mean the day when all our vibrators fail?" -- but I could tell by the tone of her voice that the lesbian angle on Y2K is no laughing matter. Finally, I just blurted, "Right on! Dykes and Y2K! Excellent!" and changed the subject.
My mind was racing: "The reason I am such an ignoramus is that ever since I had a kid, and then started living with a man, and then, finally -- the nail in my coffin -- passed the age of 40, I have no idea what's going on anymore! My lesbian night life (or any kind of night life for that matter) is kaput. I am a clueless old duffer hasbian! All the dykes are getting on a space ship to leave mother earth on 12/31/99 and the bisexuals are being left to rot!"
But my paranoia passed with the evening. By the next day, I had returned to my millennial oblivion. Soon after, however, I visited some of my rural dyke friends in Northern California, and when I went to use their bathroom, there I found a whole stack of Y2K preparation books next to the toilet. Now, whatever my friend Sharon has next to her toilet is an unimpeachable weather vane pointing to the next big trend in lesbian consciousness. I remember the time she had a book on organic composting toilets next to the potty, and I came out of the john saying, "Oh for crying out loud, are you serious about this?" The next thing you know, every lesbian with land and a dog was building her own organic composting toilet.
Now, you might be thinking, "This isn't a lesbian thing, it's an ecology trend." But it's more than that. You see, a lot of lesbians "got off the grid" voluntarily in the '70s and '80s to found their own communes, land preserves and hideaways -- 100 percent removed from the patriarchy and all its institutions. As my lesbian friend Sailor says, "I have a lot in common with a Montana militiaman, except I don't hate queers."
"That's the truth," says our mutual friend Michelle Tea. "If there's an apocalypse, I can tell you who's going to do best: all those Christian survivalists and the lesbian separatists -- you know, the ones who set up the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival every year. They can build anything, and they've been hoarding all their crumbs and matchsticks for two decades."
Michelle has been wistfully dreaming of Y2K inaugurating a "cosmic karma class war" in which those who have the most, have the most to lose. A nice big jolt like all the computers going down could be a lovely little leveler. "Everyone knows the government is the least compliant, so there are an awful lot of people hoping that their student loan and tax files will be lost forever."
But what about all the lesbians who don't have outstanding government debt and live a life of relative luxury? I would call up such a woman and ask her about her feelings on Y2K, but there aren't any in my Rolodex.
"Doesn't that tell you something?" Michelle asked. "There aren't that many dykes living off their blue chip stocks. But still, you're right, there's the whole Dinah Shore golf tournament crowd, the ones planning all-girl cruises for New Year's Eve. They're probably all going to David Bowie's rave in New Zealand, and they're not worried about a thing."
A writer buddy of mine, Lindsay Van Gelder, disagrees: "I know lesbians of all kinds who are obsessed with Y2K, and I'm disgusted with all of them. I even know a woman who is leaving Miami the night before to travel to Toronto because she thinks Canada is 'safer.' It's like some kind of Cinderella story where they all believe that the computers are going to turn to dust at the stroke of midnight.
"This Y2K mania is a marriage of a political malaise to total techno ignorance. What's really going on is that a lot of dykes feel unhappy with the way things have worked out for us. Our 15 minutes of fame are over, and the Hollywood celebrity number is hollow comfort now. In the midst of all this gloom and doom about the millennium, there's a secret wish among some oppressed groups that there will be some kind of systemic breakdown, and that's what we'll get for our booby prize instead of a real revolution.
"Things really are better for lesbians now than they were 10 or 15 years ago, but where it's still bad -- women fighting custody battles for their kids, the DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], teenage misery -- it's really bad. I just wish people were more invested in what we're going to do about the future instead of counting on a cosmic calamity to provide a second-rate adjustment."
Lindsay wasn't the only skeptic, just the most eloquent. Kris Kleindienst is the editor of a new book called "This Is What Lesbian Looks Like: Dyke Activists Take on the 21st Century," and she had a distinctly unfuzzy approach. "I'm interested in social change, not social clubs ... I won't even use the word millennial. It's too Christian for me. A revolution is not something you put in your datebook."
Personally, I would love for my student loan records to be magically wiped out, but I'm afraid I am one of those who think Y2K events are going to be more of an inconvenience than a curse on the ruling class or a tidal wave bringing overdue social justice. The only thing I've been convinced of is that I ought to get a high-powered battery vibrator in case we spend a few cold weeks in early January with nothing much to do except light the kerosene lanterns.
But how is it that I even know kerosene from Krazy Glue? I didn't realize until this issue came up that it's because of all the mentoring I got back when sisters were teaching each other how to do everything for ourselves, from making our own tofu to fixing diesel engines to, yes, installing that organic composting toilet. For me, with my typical urban girly-girl background, it was quite an education.
But now, with the new century breathing down my neck, I've got lipstick in one pocket and my Leatherman multi-tool in the other -- I am ready for the Dyke Rapture! "If God is coming," the old bumper sticker says, "I know She's pissed," but in the event that the New Age takes a little longer to arrive, I'm going to plan for the long haul. I'd like this whole world -- not just my little bunker -- to be around in another 100 years, which means we better take decent care of her today.