My Lesbian Book

Thirty years ago, I wrote a thesis about lesbian identities and lesbian spiritualities: a lesbian theology of liberation. I didn’t have the grounding and context to publish it beyond my academic program, and I have always regretted that it didn’t make it into a book. Recently, I have been asking myself, could I find a way to publish it now?

It seems in one sense a foolish idea, because so much has changed in thirty years. The realities of then are not the realities of now. But while much of the change has been empowering for lesbians and others on the LGBTQ continuum, some things have been lost as well. There was something amazing about the flowering of lesbian community I experienced during that time–joyful, life altering, transformative.

I first encountered lesbian community in Grand Rapids, Michigan, of all places, and at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival in 1979. This was before my own coming out, and certainly an instrumental part of my coming out, though that process took several years. There was a fundamental intersection between lesbian and feminist communities that was happening then, that opened up this world to me. In 1983 I moved to Chicago to go back to school, and found more lesbian community there.

ADB jam, Women’s Peace Camp, 1985. Photo by hershe Michele. https://peacecampherstory.blogspot.com/2014/12/herstory-028-helen-friedman-aka-helen.html

In 1985 and 86, I lived at the Women’s Peace Encampment in upstate New York for several months of each year, and that was like crossing the border into Lesbian Nation. The photo above is from a musical jam session that was one of many I participated in, though I am not in that particular photo. In 1986 I moved to the Boston area. The feminist and lesbian communities there were large and diverse: they supported–and were supported by–two book stores, several lesbian bars, a women’s community center, a woman’s monthly periodical, and so much more. It was in 1990-91 that I wrote my thesis in the context of Episcopal Divinity School’s Feminist Liberation Theology and Ministry program.

When I left Boston in 1999, it was to venture into a career as a Unitarian Universalist minister, which brought me back into the more mainstream world. I was still out as a lesbian, I was still connected to other lesbians, but being a minister shaped my role and altered my relationship to community. That, and the fact of changing my location, first to Cape Cod and then to Portland, Maine, which were very different places from Boston. Somewhere along the way, it seemed like the lesbian community I knew disappeared. I might have thought this was just my personal experience, but then in 2016, Bonnie Morris published The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbians Spaces and Culture. I haven’t yet read her book, but it has been sitting on my bedside table waiting.

It has only been in retirement, in older age, and perhaps in the isolation of this pandemic, that I have looked back at my lesbian thesis and wondered about it. From thirty years on, I can see how difficult it has been for us to pass on a “lesbian heritage” from one generation to the next. I notice how individuals of newer generations may sometimes find themselves lost and lonely as they try to grapple with sexual or gender identity. I also notice how newer generations re-invent themselves on their own, and in their own ways, very differently from those of us in earlier generations. So perhaps all of that is fine.

But perhaps there might be something valuable in resurrecting the voice of the me of thirty years ago, perhaps it might be useful to someone. After I did an oral history for a program at the University of Southern Maine, a student who listened to the recording was inspired to write a poem, “What if God were a lesbian?” And significantly, that was very like the original question that inspired my own book. What if?

Business Is Funny

title-pageMy book, Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community is now available for $17.99 through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and via special order at your local bookstore through Ingram, as well as directly from lulu.com.  You can follow the links, or search using my name.  It may ask you, Did you mean “Mike Johnson”?  Say, no, “Myke Johnson.”

A funny thing.  If I go to its listing  at Amazon.com, it also says there are “2 used and 11 new copies” available from other sellers. But obviously, there are no used copies in existence yet–this is a print-on-demand book that was just released.  But there are all kinds of discount booksellers who list it at prices varying from $14.52 to $24.44 plus shipping.

From the business side of things, it is still better for me (financially) when folks order it directly from lulu.com or get a copy from me in person.  This is because other sellers take over half the list price, so I receive about a third of what I would receive if someone ordered it directly from lulu.com.  On the other hand, if someone orders it from their local bookstore, it helps to support local booksellers, which is fabulous. And I myself use Amazon.com for its convenience and speed, and its free shipping when I accumulate a few titles. Plus, you can look “inside” the book on their website.  So all in all, it feels good to have it listed out there in multiple venues, so folks can get a copy in the easiest way.

It has been illuminating to learn more about the business side of book publishing.  I don’t expect to make a lot of money from this adventure in publishing, but I do want to get the message out to wherever it might be welcome.  It is up to me to do the promotion and marketing for the book.  But it won’t really work without some help from my friends. Thanks very much to those who have already purchased a copy!

And thanks very much to some wonderful members of my congregation who are hosting a book launch party this weekend.  If you are near Portland, Maine it is from 12-2 at the Allen Avenue UU Church on Saturday, January 14th.  There will be copies of the book to buy, a reading of selections from the book, music, refreshments and I will sign your copy. Everyone is invited.

Other ways you can help:  If you read the book and appreciate its message, tell your friends about it or give it as a gift.  Share it on Facebook.  You can also help promote it by writing a review under its listing at lulu.comAmazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com and then sharing it via Facebook or Twitter.  Thank you in advance!

Resting and Nesting

Book Shelf

It is amazing how books on a book shelf can induce a feeling of home.  After a pretty busy few weeks (or shall I say–months?), I had this weekend off, and filled it with resting and nesting. I was able to figure out an arrangement for bookcases in the living room, and then unpack some boxes of books–I brought my best old favorites for this spot.  We also have bookcases in the basement, in the area that eventually will be a guest nook, and I arranged those bookcases and put some of my other books there.  That space is still filled with boxes though–but my fantasy is that it will be ready for summer guests.

CD ShelvesI also helped Margy get started in her office, which doubles as the music room–unpacking and shelving all the CDs and LPs.  She has quite a few recordings from all stages of music history, including a Victrola from her grandmother (in our living room), vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and CDs. I’ve moved on to digital mp3s, but she preserves our music history!

In between my frenzies of unpacking, I fell into long naps, or binged on Parenthood on Netflix.  I cooked curried chicken one night, and mowed the front lawn with our push mower one morning. It has felt so restorative to be focused on domesticity for these few days.

Letting Go and Giving Away

Books on Shelf DSC00283Even when there are no new houses to look at, there is plenty to keep me busy. Another side of searching for greener housing is getting ready for the move into a smaller place. This means paring down what we have collected over the years in a space that has abundant room for keeping things.

First stop: Books. I have shelves full of books that I have read and loved for many years. But I also have developed an allergy to any book that is more than a few years old. If I want to read one of my older books, I have to put on a mask and gloves, and even then I might get a headache from it. So perhaps now is a good time to let go of most of these old friends, and to pass them along to others who can enjoy them.

I had to take a deep breath when I thought about actually giving away my books. I decided to take pictures of the books on the shelf, because it makes me happy to see the titles there. And I still have to keep a few of my long-time, life-changing favorites. Even with a mask, I might need to read them again. I will also keep the books I am currently using in my work. In other words–I will still have a lot of books, just not as many as before.

I learned that our local independent bookstore, Longfellow Books, will take used books in trade for store credit. You can only bring in one bag or box at a time. My first grocery-size brown bag netted about $14 in store credit. It’s not a way to get rich, or even get very many new books. But it is a way to re-use and re-cycle and get a few new books, and support a great local institution.

I also did some research to see if prisons would accept book donations for their libraries–but I learned that certain ingenious addicts had figured out a way to import drugs into the prisons through book donations from their friends–so no more donations are accepted from individuals. But then, I heard about a Native group collecting books by Native authors to donate to the prison for the benefit of American Indian prisoners in Maine. I can’t imagine a better home for these particular treasures. I gathered two boxes that I will drop off.

I now know that the Portland Public Library will take book donations, and that Preble Street accepts donations of books and magazines for its center for homeless youth and adults.

There is a kind of joy in simplifying one’s life, in having fewer possessions to haul around. But it is an even deeper joy to think that someone else might be inspired through these books, by insights and stories that were so important to me on my journey.