I don't think I was the only one to take Florence to a dyke bar. But, I know I was the only one to take her on her 60th birthday.
We huddled at the bar and I know we drank because I never knew Florence to not drink when there was something nearby to be drunk. I pulled out a pile of wrapped presents - all books - and said "Happy Birthday".
Each and every one of those books was about getting older in Lesbianland - coming out, getting freed, living your life on your own terms.
We looked through them and drank and then I think she went off to meet friends. (I was not invited. That's because she didn't tell anyone she had kids. A bit of a surprise for some of them at her memorial.)
The world outside the bar wasn't safe. Florence fought with and chased after more than a couple of muggers. She lived in a neighborhood that watched everything she did. What she was and what she wanted was still considered a mental illness, even if the AMA had taken it off the "sicko" list.
But that bar? That bar was safe. That bar and all the bars like it gave us shelter from the storm.
My mom took her books back home and in between teaching piano students in her living room, she'd pull them out from under the couch and look at the life she was finally calling her own.
I don't know if she ever hung out at that 18th Street bar again. I just know it was there if she wanted to. Whatever she did or didn't do, that night, we both felt safe from the world. It was, however briefly, a rare moment for both of us where we could be family to one another in a place that didn't remind us of the awful past. It was, however briefly, our new home to celebrate her birthday.
And that's what a good dyke / gay bar is. Shelter. From the storm or your life or your past or your fears or a broken heart or your family or your ex (unless they drink there too) or a world that refuses to say the words that admit you are a part of it. In that bar, you are safe and you are home and you are family.
I barely drink, I hate going out and I'm married to a man (he went to Sarah Lawrence so he's as close to a writer/dyke I'm going to get in a man). But after Orlando, all I wanted was to go to every dyke and gay bar in the world and stand for safe and home and family.
MY PRIVATE CONEY presents IT WAS HER NEW YORK, the short stories that accompany the work-in-progress video and photo collection of the same name (myprivateconey.com - media link - IT WAS HER NEW YORK). The stories and the media explore the tender rubble that holds both my mother, Florence's and New York's soul as one disappears into old age and the other into gentrification. All are real observations and/or experiences with very little tall-tale telling.
Except when it makes the story better.
Please visit myprivateconey.com for additional information and sample works.