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    Entranced With the Oldest

    By Jewelle Gomez–

    I grew up in Boston, a town that is proud to be old, at least in the context of the United States. It’s not old in relationship to the rest of the world. In my recent visit to London, I thought about the relativity of the idea of “old.” It is impressive, at least to me, to stand on streets that were originally carved out by the Romans when London was called Londinium (47–50 CE). But if I ever get to visit Machu Pichu (built ca. 1450 CE), I may levitate with excitement!

    No matter the place, item, or idea, I’ve always been entranced with the “oldest,” like original buildings and first-edition books. The origin of things is magical to me; maybe because I was raised by my maternal, great grandmother, who adopted me when she was in her 70s, and her daughter. They both lived into their late 80s and were active and energetic until they passed away.

    One of the highlights of my trip to London this year was reuniting with some old friends I’d met when my novel was published in the U.K. by Sheba Press a feminist, nonprofit. They are total originals: Val Wilmer, who is a legendary photographer of jazz and blues musicians from the U.S. and the U.K. as well as an author (Mama Said There’s Be Days Like This), became a friend of mine and introduced me to other women who were making their own mark in the culture.

    San Francisco Bay Times columnist Jewelle Gomez (left) reunited with friends (left to right) Margaret Busby, Val Wilmer, and Sue O’Sullivan during a visit to the U.K. for the 37th BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival during March. Bay Area filmmaker Madeleine Lim’s documentary, entitled Jewelle: A Just Vision, featured at the festival, traces the story of Gomez’s life, work, and activism.

    Margaret Busby, born in Ghana, was Britain’s first Black, female publisher (The Spook Who Sat by the Door). She later asked me to contribute to her anthology, Daughters of Africa. I also met Sue O’Sullivan, originally from the U.S. but a decades-long U.K. resident. She is a writer and publisher who was a member of the Sheba Collective as well as the Spare Rib magazine collective and author of sex positive texts. She included me in her radical feminist cookbook, Turning the Tables.

    None of the descriptions do justice to the enormity of their accomplishments at a time when women (like children) were still meant to be seen and not heard. The point, though, is that, by looking at what mountains have been cut down to size by those who trod the path before us, we can take heart as we try to make inroads into the thicket of patriarchy.  I’ve run out of metaphors here!

    The four of us and my spouse, Diane, spent a rowdy, jolly, plaintive, and celebratory afternoon together eating the extravagant lunch Sue made for our reunion! Of course, we had our heated anger about how women still needed to claw our way through to make any personal or professional progress. It seemed there is no end to the number of times the battle must be fought for women’s rights to our own bodies and minds.

    Yet several things about these “old” friends felt extraordinary. At 74 I happened to be the baby of the group, but not by much. And I noticed the first thing we had in common was that, unlike the popular expectation, none of us had grown conservative as we aged. Whether decrying Brexit’s anti-immigrant tones or continued belief in the importance of hearing women’s voices, we had not retreated to the safe, middle-of-the-road space.

    Three of us lesbians, one not, were each immersed in the cultural life we’d had in our younger years. What a relief it was to have a discussion of music, books, and films that was as lively for us in 2023 as it had been more than 40 years before. Our energy remained unsuppressed by time or physical changes.

    When we parted, it was palpable that we each were looking forward, not just behind us. Our memories and how we framed the past for others was significant for us. Maybe our experiences had made us wise but not smug. Our greater energy was still focused on what we might do next: to fulfill our own dreams and to aid the promise of the next generation.

    Jewelle Gomez is a lesbian/feminist activist, novelist, poet, and playwright. She’s written for “The Advocate,” “Ms. Magazine,” “Black Scholar,” “The San Francisco Chronicle,” “The New York Times,” and “The Village Voice.” Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @VampyreVamp

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