Maggie Jochild – “Chasing the Second Wave in San Fran”

As 1978 began, I was living in a lesbian-separatist land collective outside Durango, Colorado. I was 22 and voraciously reading the output of wimmin’s presses. When the two collective members I was closest to announced they wanted to leave, head for a city, I threw in my lot with them: I wanted to be where the action was. And where uncoupled dykes could be found.

We settled on the Bay Area for two main reasons: We had read there was a group that was arranging for the fostering of lesbian teenaged runaways by older dykes, and we wanted to offer our reconfigured household for that effort. We also read somewhere (Lesbian Connection, maybe) that a group of wimmin, presumably dykes, were kidnapping and castrating repeat rapists, then dumping them on the steps of S.F. General. We hoped to plug into that activity. We each had deeply personal reasons for doing so.

By the end of March, we were living in a railroad flat on Brosnan, in a building that would soon go entirely lesbian, a block from 14th and Valencia, on the edge of the Mission’s dyke mecca. I went from rural isolation to one or two events every evening, mostly benefits against the Briggs Initiative. I joined All Age Lesbians, a committee to help lesbian and gay runaways, Lesbian Schoolworkers, and became lovers with someone in Lesbians Under 21. I went to the Women’s Building, then still on Brady, and attended a few meetings of a support group for dykes new to the Bay Area, which provided me with a part-time job and lasting friends. It is not sentiment to say I lived in a haze of wimmin energy and I had the time of my life.

I also thought it was possible the Revolution could break out any day now, and I usually carried a snub-nosed .32 revolver in my sweatshirt pocket. I bought boots with steel toes, I did total income-sharing with my household, I learned how to do crit/self-crit at meetings, and I wrote a poem a day.

In February 1979 I became a founding member of Lesbians Against Police Violence, and on May 21, we organized a rally at the corner of Market and Castro to respond to the verdict in the Dan White trial. Our members, two dozen of us, decided to lead the furious mob to City Hall and stage a protest against the cops there. When it erupted into the White Night Riot, we slipped away after patrol cars were ablaze. There is a point during the burning of a cop car when the siren goes off, unabated, and the ululations echoed back and forth between the massive stone buildings in that plaza before City Hall. We organized ourselves against subpoenas against grand juries, but because of a backroom deal, we escaped retribution.

Later that year I joined a support group fighting incestuous sexual abuse of children called the Pleiades, one of the first in the country (indeed, in the world) and the only one that operated according to working-class, egalitarian principles. We created much of the theory that informed the movement against child sexual assault. (The details of our work appears in Nancy Whittier’s newest book, “The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotion, Social Movements, and the State.”)

On the fridge in my household’s kitchen were various lines we had written out and posted to the porcelain, words we honestly tried to live by:
“Eat rice / have faith in wimmin.”
“We do each other in and that’s a fact.”
“Remember, make an effort to remember. Or failing that, invent.”
“The woman in your life is you.”
“Biology is not destiny.”
“Some die slow and some die quick.”
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

My second day in SF, my roommate Jude said “Let’s go to the East Bay. In terms of wimmin’s politics, it’s as important as here, maybe more so.”

I was afraid to drive over the massive bridges I had distantly seen in my approach via the peninsula. I didn’t want to admit that fear. Instead, I said “Maybe the traffic would be better on the weekend?”

She looked at me keenly and said “I can show you where it happened.”

“What?”

“Where the motorcyclist died. In ‘A Woman Is Talking To Death.’”

I shivered involuntarily. She’d hit the nail on the head.

“I’ll drive” she offered.

“No, I can do it.” So we went to ICI on Broadway, The Brick Hut across from Ashby BART, and the Edible. We had no money to spend but met wimmin and had a good time. The following week we returned to Berkeley for a Malvina Reynolds memorial, and I left on my own with three wimmin I’d just met in a quest to have a beer in every woman’s bar in the Bay Area. I got thrown out of the Bacchanal for refusing to show ID, I got cruised at Scott’s, and I pissed off the regular pool players at Hart’s Delight. Amelia’s had not opened yet, Mother G’s had just closed, and I don’t remember Peg’s Place that night, I was too drunk by then.

I didn’t miss much. I was looking for the sizzle which had produced the Women’s Press Project and Olivia. I attended or did support work for WAVPM, Take Back The Night, the Jewish Feminist Conferences, Fat Lip, Carry It On, Dos Lesbos, Valencia Rose, Old Wives’ Tales, Osento, Pickle Family Circus, Didi Glitz, the Women’s Building, Swingshift, Brown Bag Readers Theater, the Wallflower Order, Rhinoceros Theater, JEB’s slideshows, “Passing Women,” the Dinner Party, the Artemis Café, Quan Yin, Plexus, Amazon Kung Fu, protesting the Klan in Contra Costa, FMLN, fighting Rancho Seco, La Peña, New Bridges, CIL, Wages Due Lesbians, and edited poetry for Common Lives/Lesbian Lives. I stopped drinking in 1984 out of solidarity for my Clean and Sober friends. The week Mount St. Helen’s blew I got to meet two Sandinista women wearing red and black scarves, listening to their stories as we put together a fundraiser. I read the broadsides of the Red Queen and knew who he really was. I was a Contact Dyke.

When our kitchen light went out, we called Wonder Woman Electric. I shopped at the Haight Street Food Coop until they went under, then Rainbow Grocery. I got burritos before meetings at Chapalita’s, brunch on Sundays at the Patio Café until the boycott, and corn chowder at Artemis. If I needed copies, I went to the women’s press beside Old Wives’ Tales.

I went to every wimmin’s music event I could, listening to Trish Nugent, Mary Watkins, BeBe K’Roche, Woody Simmons, Robin Flower, Nancy Vogel, Joan Balter, Teresa Trull, Sweet Honey, Margie Adam, Gwen Avery, Betsy Lippitt, Tui, Rhiannon, Alive, Casselberry and Dupree, Kay Gardner, the Dyketones, Izquierda, Casse Culver, Sirani Avedis, BWMC, June Millington, Ferron, Alix, Holly, Meg, and Cris. I was part of caravans that traveled to MWMF every year and attended the West Coast Women’s Music Festival.

I knew the difference between APSC and APSP, the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and Prairie Fire, and had friends in each, though maybe not at the same potluck. I carried a wet bandanna in a baggie to protests, a quarter for the phone in my sock, and knew not to march anywhere near the RCP contingent. I saw Tania on a street corner one evening and wanted to take her photo but a friend stopped me, for which I am now grateful. I made graffiti runs in the Avenues and sat by the phone during some events to provide a contact for release on OR in case of friends’ arrests.

In April 1980 my building on Brosnan held a butch/femme party that went viral, with over 400 wimmin showing up. One of our residents worked at Lyon/Martin, and we handed off the idea to them as an annual fundraiser.

I heard Whoopi Goldberg and Lea Delaria before they were famous. I listened to the poetry of a woman then calling herself Cherry Brown. I ate lunch at Leslie Gore’s foodcourt at Pier 39, “It’s My Parsley.” I stood on the stoop at 150 Liberty Street because it’s where Susan B. Anthony stayed when she visited San Fran. I learned the prologue to “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” and I often wept when I topped a hill and saw The City spread out below me. I thought of her as Lesbos By The Bay.

One frantic spring, I had a standing date every night of the week with a different woman, except Sundays when I did laundry and called my mama. I began slowing down when I went into full recovery as an incest survivor. Sexual compulsion had been the octane that fueled much of my activism. I burst into laughter when I read the old lie that the Second Wave was sexually repressed. What that usually means is that that particular writer couldn’t find the kind of sex she wanted. She obviously didn’t run in my crowd.

I had the “Sisterhood Feels Good” poster by Donna Gottschalk over my bed all those years, and I believed it, therefore it was true for me. I was afraid much of the time, but I felt part of a community and was shaped by the vital, smart, loving wimmin I knew in ways which have endured. I believed “the politics worth having, the relationships worth having, demand that we delve still deeper,” and I dig daily.

The idea that woman is a construct entirely within my own hands, an idea I learned from everyday life in the women’s community of the late ’70s, has conferred on me a source of endless power. I developed a practice of insisting “Look at me as if you have never seen a woman before.” While the institutions which nurtured that practice slipped away under Reagan and the antifeminist backlash within and without our ranks, I am not defeated or depressed. I have let go of the ridiculous arguments over purity, yet retained faith in the good intent of our struggles. My working-class pragmatism helps me keep re-examining what worked and what did not. Isolation, poverty and disability have made cynicism a luxury I cannot afford. And my meat still hangs on my bones for my own use.

© 2011 Maggie Jochild

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