by Judy Whitaker
Cut, no. 24-25, March 1981, pp. 33-35
The following four interviews are of women who see themselves as lesbians. That is the common link between them. Backgrounds vary. Fannie Freed and J.A. Marquis are Jewish. Gladys is Black. Anna Maria was born in Italy. Gretta was born in Germany. Dagmar, Romaine, Lulu and Ea are of English, German or other European descent. While there appears to be some difference in class background, no attempt here is made to establish what it exactly is. A11 of the women are college educated. All work to support themselves.
As a general policy all names are changed, although some women had no objection to use of their actual names.
At the time of the interview (interviews took place between 1977 and 1979), Fannie Freed is 37. Romaine and Ea are 34. J.A. Marquis is 33. Gretta is 32. Lulu is 31. Gladys is 29. Anna Maria is 28, and Dagmar is 24. Fannie, Ea, Romaine, Gretta, and J.A. all had their 13th birthday between 1955 and 1959. They are of a 50s generation. Lulu, Gladys, Anna Maria, and Dagmar had their 13th birthday between the years of 1961 and 1967. They are more of a 60s generation.
These interviews are accounts of women growing up in an environment of film and TV among other things. The interviews are biographical sketches, not sociological or psychological studies. They start with childhood impressions of film and/or TV and work through adolescence up to adulthood. Questions about identification, love, and opinions about certain genres appear in all the interviews. An attempt here is made to be consistent with the questions, but the personalities and situations vary greatly. Staying with the particular dynamics of each interview took priority.
For example, use of the phrase "identify with" is intended by the interviewer to mean "associate closely with." However, that meaning does not stay consistent, as some of the women use "identify with" in a way that could be interchangeable with "love," itself a tricky word. "Love" can have at least three different meanings along with shadings for each: "sexual craving and desire for," the same as lust; "sexual desire for combined with affection for"; and "affection for." The distinctions are important if the reader wants to know what is really being said. Meaning here is dependent on context.
Some women speak directly about having strong sexual desires for other women. Is this journal the place for such a discussion? Without a doubt, yes. It is unusual for women to speak about strong sexual desires for anyone let alone other women. Eros is a male god. Historically, men have had the power to define their sexuality, and this at the expense of female sexual expression. If women had power over their sexual expression, the institutions of marriage and prostitution with the split image of "good woman/bad woman," "wife/mother — slut/whore," would probably not even exist. There are no analogous terms to "slut" or "whore" for men, no terms really that carry the same heavy sanctions of guilt and shame. Why would powerful women tolerate a split image of themselves? Men have had the power. They have seen female sexuality primarily for their benefit and only incidentally for women themselves. Even today, an unmarried sexually active woman, especially one with children, can get the label "slut" if she is not with a single male. Lesbians, who are sexually independent of men, are "unspeakable" or "dykes" or a source of titillation for men. Stag films and x-rated movies are the creation of men, not women. Pornography is about "bad women" and/or men from mostly a male point of view. It is oppressive and repressive of women's sexuality because of the assumption that women are what men say they are, with all the attendant powerlessness and guilt.
It can be argued that women's liberation should not only be about fighting oppression but about shedding repression caused by a "good women / bad woman" split image. Women's sexuality can be more than an imitation of male sexuality. Women's creativity and integrated well-being are inextricably tied to their finding their own sexual expression: one that is first and foremost for women themselves.
Of the nine women who were interviewed, at least six said they identified at some time with male characters. Often the explanation is that men had the interesting active roles. Does this mean that these lesbians want to be like men? That would be a specious conclusion. None of the women who identified with male characters were "in love" with the characters' girl friends.
All of the interviewees were "in love" at some time with actresses, but they did not identify with or want to be the male suitors of those actresses. While the context of the discussion is film, what these women are really talking about is their lives. And in their lives, they want to have a full range of options to act on in the world, to lead rich lives, and not to be like men but their own definition of women.
For most of the women interviewed, their alienation from predominating heterosexist, sexist and racist values is clear, and so is the women's vitality and staying power. Transformation and positive self image are dominant themes in what they have to say. Hollywood is transcended.
TALKING TO ROMAINE, ANNA MARIA, GRETTA, DAGMAR AND EA
JUDY: What films made an early impression on you?
ANNA MARIA: I loved ALL ABOUT EVE, particularly because I had a crush on Bette Davis, a wonderful model. She's a strong bitchy woman who knows what she wants and gets it and yet has stayed human and sensitive. I was particularly interested to see her pitted against another woman and to see a whole bunch of other great tough women in the film like Thelma Ritter. I first saw it when I was 12 and have seen it at least eight times. I came to this country when I was ten and to a great extent learned English by growing up with old films on TV. I fantasized getting into a lot of characters, especially Auntie Mame, who was like a counterculture character. Still most of those films were upper class, and it was hard to find characters living my kind of life. I identified with AUNTIE MAME not in a class sense but because she was a beatnik. That character really got to me when I was about 11 or 12. Nobody stepped on her feet without her letting them know.
ROMAINE: Because we didn't have a television for a long time and I saw very few movies, I mostly identified with books. To the extent that I identified with film characters, it would be with Robin Hood, male characters, cowboys.
J: What about Maid Marian?
R: No, she didn't do anything. Women characters were all boring. Later on I liked Katherine Hepburn in THE AFRICAN QUEEN and then Marilyn Monroe, whom I was always caught in a terrible ambivalence about and felt I had to defend because there were so many jokes about her. Marilyn Monroe was almost like a dirty word, yet I found appealing her character and the qualities that came through on the screen. My ambivalence was to like her but hate what she was doing.
DAGMAR: It's hard to reconcile what happened to her with what kind of roles she played. I feel, "This was an exploited woman," and it's hard to ignore that when I see her films. Also, she was a brilliant woman, which does not come across.
R: Something original though came through. If she hadn't been stereotyped, Monroe would have been a great actress. But Bardot did nothing for me.
GRETTA: Well, for me Marilyn Monroe just comes across as a dumb bunny, and boring. But Bardot sparkles.
A.M.: Monroe was so stereotyped, people couldn't see her as a craftswoman, as a talented practitioner of the art, but only as a symbol.
R: During McCarthyism, one of the most repressive periods in American history, Monroe had fewer options than if she'd come out in the 30s.
D: The fewest options. Either be "herself" or Doris Day, the eternal virgin.
R: Not even that choice. The way she started, she was put on a route.
A.M.: Doris Day was more protected by the virgin role. At least a virgin doesn't get constantly raped.
R: McCarthyism in Hollywood ultimately may have given us Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
EA: I saw GONE WITH THE WIND, also from way back then, when I was 12 or 13, after I had read the book, and that film impressed me greatly.
D: Me, too. Yet I remember in the early 70s when women and some men rejected GONE WITH THE WIND as classist and racist...
E: And sexist...
D: And sexist. But growing up with a film like that you almost excuse it because of your sentimental feelings about it.
A.M.: You even internalize it. You do more than excuse its problems. You don't recognize them. Part of GONE WITH THE WIND is still great for me. But seeing it at age eight made me totally unconscious of all the crap it brought along with it.
E: Sure, Rhett Butler carrying Scarlet O'Hara up the stairs. That's rape, but how things were supposed to be.
A.M.: And it was exciting.
G: I really like Joan Fontaine's 1940s film FRENCHMAN'S CREEK. An aristocrat leaving her husband, she goes to her country house where a pirate who's put in at the cove has coincidentally been living. She runs away to sea with the pirate, kills a man who tries to rape her, and wears trousers and blousey shirts instead of empire dresses and 50 million skirts. She's in drag, looking like an adolescent boy.
D: Did she fall in love? Become feminine?
G: Still acting out the adventure, she dressed in her lady clothes to entertain her husband and his friends while the pirate was supposed to be escaping. Instead he came back to the house to rob them and kidnap her, but it didn't work out because of her kids.
D: I loved TV, which we got when I was 12, and I started eating up adventure movies like TARZAN and JUNGLE JIM. As I got older, I started feeling guilty about only liking female characters, having crushes on them, and identifying with them because they were attractive.
J: Your being in what role? Their role or your being a suitor of theirs?
D: I thought that these would be kind of women I would fall in love with. Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn stick out in my mind. Through my adolescence, I did try hard to like male characters because I thought I was supposed to, but I found most of them nebishes.
J: If you'd had your choice, would you have been Spencer Tracy?
D: No, not to be in that particular role. It wasn't sexuality where I would have fantasies about wanting to sleep with these women, but I thought they were beautiful. Consequently I used to put up pictures of them whenever I could. I idolized someone like Marlene Dietrich, not necessarily even conscious of her as a strong woman but finding something appealing about her, the way she looked. These were beautiful romantic women wearing beautiful clothes. As I got older, I liked the parts they played. But the appeal is hard to put my finger on. I recognize that feeling, too, and as you were talking about it, I thought about which women turned me on and which women didn't. Monroe, Dietrich, and Garbo had an aura about them, but certain others like Sandra Dee...
A.M.: You asked, "Did I make myself be Spencer Tracy?" That's the rub about growing up a lesbian and trying to put yourself in the film situation in some way. You're attracted by these women and yet you don't fit in — an incredible contradiction for me. At times I'd identify with a character. Other times I'd float outside the situation, sort of watching the effect this attractive woman was having on me. I'd imagine Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together, or sometimes I'd be Katherine Hepburn. And I might be sort of behind Spencer Tracy but I wouldn't be Spencer Tracy. I felt a tug of war with that. At age 14 or 15 suddenly this gauze or screen got torn away and I realized I could be me, a woman caring about this other woman. There were all sorts of problems with self-hatred and all that, but it became a possibility. Up to that point, it hadn't been.
J: It wasn't film that told you it was OK to love women.
A.M.: No, but it did give me the context in which to play out all these ideas, fantasizing romantic encounters and playing one of many roles, always switching around when it got too hot in one seat. I eventually worked out something acceptable to me. In addition to books, film had a central role in allowing me to come to terms with lesbian sexuality.
E: I can remember when I was in seventh and eighth grade being riveted to the Spin and Marty TV series on DISNEY WORLD and fantasizing that I was Marty and my girl friend was Spin, both having all kinds of adventures together. No matter that Spin and Marty were boys. And I always identified with cowboys in the westerns who had buddies to ride off into the sunset with.
R: I identified with cowboys, too, and paid no attention to the sex differences.
A.M.: I always worried about it. As a matter of fact, I worried about whether Tweety Pie was a girl or a boy. I thought, "Oh, my god, I betcha Tweety Pie is a boy And all this time I thought it was a girl!" I was always really pushed to resolve in some way what just would not fit, and so I found it hard to identify with male characters. I had to change them in some way.
R: I identified with male characters even after adolescence, and maybe still do. At a young age nothing seemed to stop me from being anybody I wanted. The cowboy archetype meant being strong and independent, not needing anybody, and moving around a lot. Being free of everything and living with nature were especially important. As a child, independence was something I needed to feel. I had to feel free of society — an attitude I now see as alienated in many ways.
E: The women were minor characters. I identified with the men, who were heroes, were approved, and solved society's wrongs. They were like gods and just about as remote.
A.M.: Some women played in those roles, like Barbara Stanwyck as Annie Oakley. A film on Calamity Jane starring, you're not going to believe this, Doris Day, had a good first half which she spends totally covered with dirt, scratching her butt, swearing up a storm, and shooting all the men. By the end, she's horribly cleaned up and in love.
D: Then there was the woman with the heart of gold who got knocked off at the end. Or your saloon woman.
E: Or as in HIGH NOON: "Don't go. Don't fight it out. Stay home. Play it safe!"
G: Actually, sensibly, these women kept saying, Who are you trying to prove it to?
D: Those women were in the way of the horse
R: They could have exposed the male ego trip but they didn't. The films depicted them as a reactionary force preventing social change.
E: The shoot-out at O.K. Corral doesn't signify social change.
J: What about lesbian films?
D: I think of a "lesbian film" as one where I actually knew two women were in love.
A.M. & G: THE CHILDREN'S HOUR.
R: CHELSEA GIRLS, a really creepy decadent film by Andy Warhol. This woman wearing jeans kept shooting up heroin in the ass.
J: Were there two women?
R: Only two? Warhol wasn't into that. There were five or six women, but they were just talking. It was presumably a documentary.
J: Did you believe that being a lesbian meant you were decadent?
R: I think so. That was before I was out. Warhol deals with gay men in a more human way. Yet he has this film with a bunch of gay cowboys doing their super faggot number with each other. But then they ride into town and rape a woman. I felt really ripped off by that movie.
A.M.: A section at the Women's Music Festival for camping was called Solanis Woods. That's just a little sidelight on Warhol's effect.
E: That's right. Valerie Solanis shot Warhol.
D: I was too young to see THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE or THE FOX. With THE CONFORMIST I immediately fell in love with Dominique Sanda's strong character but felt very uncomfortable with the film's defining fascism as the outgrowth of homosexuality.
E: In ROME, OPEN CITY, the lesbian is also a Nazi.
D: THE CONFORMIST, by depicting the life of a fascist man who had been homosexual as a child and was repressing those feelings, tried to link fascism and repression. But the dance scene between the two women was so strong, and Sanda was really the only powerful person in the whole film. Although she was married to one of the main characters, I identified with her as a lesbian. She falls in love with a woman, whom she sweeps up in a tango. It's marvelous! That was the most positive screen image of lesbianism for me.
A.M.: I've never seen a positive lesbian image in commercial film.
G: In REBECCA Dame Judith Anderson was trying to protect Rebecca. I knew something was going on but I didn't know what because I was little.
E: It makes me angry that positive roles are so missing and that roles are usually so negative when they do appear.
D: We're so starved we go to see anything because something is better than nothing.
E: It's a compromise. It's a given degree of alienation.
TALKING TO LULU AND FANNIE FREED
JUDY: How did movies affect your coming of age?
FANNIE FREED: I was very confused. I knew I wasn't an Indian, Superman, or a cowboy. I was Lois Lane and Wonder Woman a little. I was real fond of Gordon MacRae in THE DESERT SONG who seduced a woman by singing to her.
J: By "fond of" do you mean identified with or were in love with?
FF: Identified with. I was in love with Robin Morgan who played Dagmar in I REMEMBER MAMA. The blonde ladies with straight hair and the cowboys were in a world that didn't match what I knew, and I never believed women behaved like Katherine Hepburn. All I saw at home were these big 400 lb. women who wore black fur coats and sat in a separate room from their husbands, whom they didn't talk to. Katherine Hepburn was out of a play, not like people around me who never played tennis — they'd have turned their ankles. My parents, the most Americanized in my family, tried hard to fit that image but had a lot of trouble. For a long time, because of Hollywood images, I didn't accept myself and felt like I didn't belong, like a failure. Later I invented an image of myself that was apart from all the screen images.
LULU: Not much of a filmgoer, I am still in love with Anne Bancroft in THE MIRACLE WORKER. I'd read the book and was already in love with the character when I saw the film. Bancroft attended the opening, and I and some classmates went back stage to meet her. When she asked if we had any questions, I couldn't open my mouth but just froze. Later my friends and I vowed to wear red blouses and black skirts (like she had worn in the film) to school the next day, but only I did — which made me feel odd because I was the only one. I made an Anne Bancroft scrap book where I pasted in everything I could find about her. My father, a psychologist who was working with a state group that decided to give Bancroft an award that year, said I could go to the award luncheon and then said no — probably because he and my mother thought I was getting too involved. That was a blow. At the time I didn't feel contradictions about sex roles, but I got the message that my parents weren't comfortable with my crush.
J: Were there people that you identified with, as opposed to being in love with?
L: James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE — I had an absolute identification with him. He was the picture of strength and sensitivity and power and caring. He once played Frankenstein, another great hero of mine. It made sense to me that Dean played him. Dean had a lot of qualities I liked that weren't particularly gender defined. His most important relationship in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE seemed to be not with his girl friend but with Sal Mineo. I never identified with a female character as much or in the way I did with James Dean. Hepburn and Tracy's relationship seemed dated and not in the least romantic. WOMAN OF THE YEAR was horrible. I liked Dietrich but could hardly identify with her through a whole movie. She played such a horrible character in THE BLUE ANGEL.
J: What about cowboy movies?
L: I think I identified with them by default because there were no real female roles in the Western. I always assumed that most people did that. Then I talked to an older woman who surprised me by saying she'd always been interested in what the women did with each other. Maybe the earlier westerns had more positive women's images than I've noticed. From Westerns I incorporated into myself a strong silent image. Enough that I'd like to get rid of some of it.
FF: You know what a strong image was for me — the one who played the quick shooting woman, Annie Oakley. Yet she was a blonde woman who missed on purpose — missed the shot on purpose so that the man she loved could beat her. ANNIE GET YOUR GUN had lines like, "You can't get your man with a gun," and you're supposed to be "sweet and pure as a nursery," etc. Here's this woman working her goddamn heart out, but this schmuck comes, she gives it all up — throws the show. What a message
L: When I started watching TV at age ten, situation comedies gave me a similar message, loud and clear. Basically an oddball appears in the show, often a child, who finally gets corrected. The oddball doesn't conform in gender role. These oddballs were tomboys or sissies or too involved in some interest. FATHER KNOWS BEST was so fascist. Once the father decided that the little girl Kathy had to go out with boys and stop playing baseball with them, even with her good friend who was a boy. The parents set this whole thing up — making her dress up in a dress and keep her feet still and have the boys come in. Crying, she proclaimed, "I don't want it." Horrifyingly, the non-conformists to gender roles got squelched, as did anybody who cared about anything too much.
FE: Two messages for women in the 50s were to be very competent, yet give it up for your man, and to be a little lady, dressed up and fitting a mold.
TALKING TO J.A. MARKIS
JUDY: In your early memories of film roles whom did you tend to identify with?
J.A. MARKIS: I've thought about it. I was identifying with men. At age eight, nine or ten and on, when it came to Elvis Presley, I didn't scream, or drool, or cry or really buy records — I wanted to be Elvis Presley. For a Halloween party I bought those little sideburns you stick on, had a guitar, and wore my father's flashy shirt. I don't remember ever identifying as a child with any female characters.
J: What about cowboys?
J.A. : Well I liked the Mounties. I also liked Superman. I liked Wonder Woman in the comics but most comic books were male, like Batman. Friends of mine and I were into Hitchcock or the Mummy and Dracula, which was great for Halloween. Very soon though I got too scared of Dracula movies. I had to invent a way of dealing with that and then I stopped seeing them. I saw SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS several times for its dancing and stuff, but I really identified with the seven brothers. The men were the ones who were interesting characters. They were doing stuff I wanted to do. The female characters were just props. Why the hell identify with that? I did identify with a couple of women, especially the Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy movies and those with Bette Davis. Davis often had undesirable roles but was strong and real, even more than Katherine Hepburn.
J: How did a Jewish background affect your attitudes about film characters?
J.A.: My parents used to point people out to me and say, He's Jewish, as with Jack Benny. Most of the film characters I remember were blonde, at least a lot of the women were. They were from a world I never had much contact with. That added to the fantasy, the unreality of film. I remember interestingly enough, and she wasn't Jewish, one woman I was always looking for — Lena Horne, the only black woman portrayed as beautiful in film. She had a magnificent presence although few lines. I was pretty attracted to Lena Horne and remember her doing "heat wave" and sashaying around. She appeared as black-identified, with a black band. Somehow I always felt a little better when she or Carmen Miranda showed up. Somebody who's different, not like all the others. But I don't remember too many Jewish characters, only small fat bald men and minor characters. GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT, about the hidden agenda to be anti-Semitic, impressed me very much. It was powerful and scary, about the world that I hadn't much to do with. I was suddenly in there and wasn't welcome.
J: Do you ever remember having a conflict about wanting to be strong and active and then somebody telling you that you couldn't be?
J.A.: From film I got a sense of the roles women didn't play. Strong women are aberrant in this society. It's a conflict society hasn't worked out as well as I have. Women were supposed to be goody-two-shoes, beautiful and stereotypically flawless. Being a lesbian was coming to terms with that, and it was quite a release. It was like a whole bunch of chains fell off.
J: Would you fall in love with characters you identified with? Like Katherine Hepburn?
J.A.: I'd for sure be intimidated by Bette Davis. I'd feel I was on very thin ice.
J: So whom would you fall in love with?
J.A.: Marilyn Monroe in SOME LIKE IT HOT wasn't two-dimensional but nurturing. In both BUS STOP and SOME LIKE IT HOT, she was portrayed as helpless in some respects — a good-hearted victim person — which offered an attractive, "Here, I'll take care of you," kind of thing.
J: What about Sandra Dee?
J.A.: Forget it. None of the Mouseketeers. None of the goody-two-shoes. Not Doris Day. I guess still Lena Horne really stands out, and she didn't even have lines.
TALKING TO GLADYS
JUDY: What early films can you remember responding to?
GLADYS: It may not be the first film I saw, but THE BLUE ANGEL had the most lasting impact. I was just enthralled with Dietrich. I didn't get into the professor at all nor understand how serious his problems were, like how he might lose his job. I just got into the fact that here was a saloon singer, which is the closest thing I ever saw to a sleazy woman. I can remember her singing with her leg up on a chair. I can also remember vividly the school boys planting her promo cards — not a picture of her naked but nude enough with a little feather covering her bottom half and you blow it and you'd see it all. I just thought that was fantastic. How wonderful it would be to blow it up and see Marlene Dietrich's — pudendum.
That's without a doubt the first film that had a lot of impact on me as a kid. You didn't usually see women being sleazy German barroom singers. You saw women being asinine for the most part. Dietrich had substance. I thought the character was very well developed, as sexist as it was when I think back. But when I was eight years old, sexism didn't mean a thing to me, and I was probably the most sexist person in the audience looking at almost naked Marlene Dietrich on the silver screen. I can remember thinking about it a lot. I'm not particularly a fan of German film, but of Marlene Dietrich. She has a sustaining quality about her that I know has turned on thousands of women in this world. I can't say I identified with her. I wasn't thinking racially in terms of black and white in those days. But there was no identification.
J: What was your fascination?
G: Lust, childhood lust, I'm sure.
J: And love?
G: Lust. Purely lust. I knew full well that I would never see anyone like Marlene Dietrich in real life. It had to be lust. Like looking at a magazine. You can't call that love. It's lust.
J; Did anybody ever tell you that you shouldn't have those kinds of reactions to a woman?
G: No, I was a real quiet child. I never really discussed my life. I can remember my mother asking me what I saw but not really discussing it because she never saw the film. I have relatives, honest, who probably haven't seen a movie since GONE WITH THE WIND was made. My brother went to films but he could have cared less about what I saw. He was three years older than me. So I never got trips laid on me that way, at least as a child. I can remember going home and thinking about those movies forever and ever and ever, not modeling myself after them but carrying them around. Perhaps I did model myself after them in a lot of ways, but I can't admit to that now. That would take a whole lot of deep thought. I'm positive, being a visual person, that seeing films all my life, I've carried over several portrayals into myself. It would take three years of psychoanalysis to bring it up. I identified with Dale Evans, who was great as a cowgirl.
J: Were you into cowboys?
G: No. I was into robbers more than cowboys. I was into robbers, thieves, and murderers more than the clean cut cowboy. Roy Rogers was so dull. Gene Autry was the dullest. I would identify with the cowboy who got away with the money and the girl or who died in the street. I related to Frank Sinatra in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, to his anguish, his leaning in the hallway needing a fix. Marion Brando in THE FUGITIVE KIND, Eartha Kitt in ANNA LUCASTA, Marlene Dietrich, the fugitive — that's the kind of image I identified with more than with the staid member of society. I'd identify with Lex Luther in SUPERMAN. I'd identify with the smut. I still do. However, I don't see lots of porno films because none of them are women-related. For the same reason I don't see Black garbage films. You don't need to pay $4 to see someone oppressed — just walk outside. But a good amount of smut is always nice in a film. I love Lina Wertmuelller. She's just gross! Women have to be gross at times. I think that is real liberating.
J: Did you get into REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE?
G: I always saw James Dean as being a spoiled kid. He didn't make any impact at all on my life. For a little while I identified with Elvis Presley in those horrible, horrible early movies. He always had money or women hanging on him, was good looking, etc. I didn't have money or women hanging on me, but it was an ideal.
J: What about your identification with Eartha Kitt as a Black actress?
G: I love Eartha Kitt. ANNA LUCASTA had a great impact on me. It was the first time I had ever seen a Black family on the silver screen, not particularly a positive family image but an image. In the film Eartha Kitt had to make up her mind about marrying a climber or a card shark. She ran away from her family and did what she wanted to do. I can relate to that as far as being a lesbian — doing what you want to do and not really bothering with what anybody else said.
In terms of being Black, there weren't, and still aren't, many roles to identify with. You could be Hattie McDaniel in the role of mammy, Butterfly McQueen in the role of stupid, Eartha Kitt in the role of slut, Lena Horne in the role of light-skinned dark woman leaning against a piano and singing songs. Those are the only images you had or really have. Another one is the strong mother like Jane Pittman. I'm not that, I'm not a slut, and I'm not a rag-on-the-head mammy. Whom can I identify with in terms of a Black woman in film? Still the closest would be Eartha Kitt as a slut in ANNA LUCASTA. Even today just try to name ten Black actresses. I think of myself as a movie person, and I'm having trouble thinking of five. That's a statement about film. We just can't remember all the names of the maids, that's the problem.
J: You had a special invective talking about GONE WITH THE WIND before.
G: That film sucks shit. The whole film in its portrayal of Black women and men is so blatantly racist. They must have spent hundreds of dollars on glycerin to make all the Black people look greasy. Every Black person looked like they had been in 100-degree sun for hours. Everyone cried on Hattie McDaniel's shoulder — that's bullshit. Almost all Hollywood films are racist, both when they don't have Blacks in them and when they do. And they're sexist. It comes from the minds of the people who make them. It's bad news that we have to pay money to go see this schlock. But I do keep going. We have no alternative. I'm an avid reader, but I enjoy movies. And sometimes horrible movies can be really enjoyable because they hit me on a certain level.
J: What kinds of characters do you identify with as a lesbian?
G: I identify with strong women who are out in the world doing things. I identify with unmarried women but not usually with a married woman unless she's in a crisis trying to get out of the marriage. Then I can identify with that on some lesbian level. I always think these people should come out. THE TURNING POINT would have been a much better movie if Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft had come out in the end. After the fight in front of Lincoln Center, they should have embraced each other and said, "Let's forget all this shit and let's come out and go to the Duchess."
J: What about lesbian characters in film?
G: THERESE AND ISABELLE was the first film I saw with real lesbians. I saw it four times and can only remember them screwing behind the altar. Lesbianism was alluded to in WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, but with no actual lesbian portrayal. I identified with Barbara Stanwyck, who owned a whore house and was in love with Capucine. But in the end Capucine left and Stanwyck flipped out. It wasn't a positive image.
When Liv Ullman played Queen Christina of Sweden in THE ABDICATION, in the end Hollywood had her fall in love with the Peter Finch character, which I'm sure she never did. I think she went to her grave having sex with women. I'd love to see films where you could say, "I went to see this movie, and it was about two lesbians," not about somebody "who may have been a lesbian." We've been alluded to so much. I think it's time people saw a real one. Then they could say, "That's what one looks like."