Video Interview, Elizabeth Bell, August 16, 2012

  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So, first of all, give me
  • the correct spelling of your first and last name,
  • as you want it listed on the screen.
  • LIZ BELL: Liz-- L-I-Z Bell--
  • B-E-L-L.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
  • I see.
  • CREW: Liz, you can't have that, because I'll hear the paper
  • moving (unintelligible).
  • LIZ BELL: Can I just read it?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yes.
  • CREW: (unintelligible)--
  • LIZ BELL: I want to read this in the beginning
  • and read this at the end-- read something else.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: (unintelligible) directly if I can.
  • LIZ BELL: OK.
  • CREW: OK.
  • You want to do that first?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah.
  • CREW: OK.
  • Let's do it.
  • Hang on.
  • (unintelligible).
  • Camera is ready.
  • LIZ BELL: Well, this is hot off the press.
  • And my story sounds so incredulous,
  • so I decided it needed a little preface.
  • Back when I was just a girl, girls grew up to be girls--
  • mothers, grandmothers, great great great great grandmothers.
  • Girls, one and all.
  • "Woman" remained a word unspoken, not a compliment
  • in the closet, except for the likes of Eve such femme
  • fatales.
  • Though, it is true, then, as now, that
  • to call a man "boy" was, and is, to insult,
  • offend, and put down.
  • Girls, we were ad infinitum.
  • Age, maturity, responsibility all mattered not.
  • Girls were girls, and boys were young men, period.
  • We were given to know our place.
  • In the ways of those old days, in beauty parlors,
  • the girls gathered.
  • Barbershops were for boys and men only.
  • For I kid you not, my friends, a barber's license
  • could be revoked for knowingly cutting a grown girl's hairs.
  • Woe to any she desirous of a "he" haircut.
  • Those were the ways in those old days.
  • Good girls wore high heels, pert dresses, and pretty skirts
  • to a proper fetching length--
  • just below the knees.
  • Culottes-- pants/shorts that looked like a skirt.
  • Culottes, failed the dress code.
  • Failed the dress code.
  • Improper attire.
  • No admittance, I was told.
  • I kid you not.
  • For boys and men wore the pants back then--
  • both literally and figuratively.
  • Boys were taught to lead and girls were led to follow--
  • and not just on the dance floor.
  • Girls played secretary to the he-man boss,
  • nurse to the he-male doc, teacher to the gentleman
  • principal, wife to the hubby, sister to the bro,
  • et cetera, et cetero.
  • And woe to those poor girls who got A's in those days.
  • Old Maid was the game of cards and of life.
  • So be forewarned Miss.
  • Beware, Missy.
  • The Old Maid was the real loser.
  • Draw not her card.
  • The mark of real success, MRS.
  • In the ways of those old days, guys
  • were given to ask the gals to date, to dine, to dance,
  • and to marry or not.
  • "Wallflowers" was the word spoken to describe
  • girls-in-waiting--
  • girls waiting to get a chance to dance with a guy.
  • And then, along came Sadie--
  • Sadie Hawkins-- born of a hillbilly comic strip.
  • To the annual Sadie Hawkins Day dance,
  • the girls-in-waiting all got to go.
  • Because in that hillbilly way, that was the one big day
  • that the girls got to do the inviting,
  • as long as the one invited and danced with was a guy.
  • Yes.
  • Those were the ways in those old days, my friends.
  • Muscles were considered most unfeminine.
  • And therefore, girls' basketball rules ruled girls.
  • Three dribbles max.
  • One, two, three, stop.
  • No more.
  • And for a girl to run full court-- from basket to basket--
  • foul.
  • Good girls do not put one toe across the center line.
  • Cross not.
  • Trans not.
  • Good girls did not run--
  • neither too much, too fast, nor too far.
  • And really good girls--
  • the best back then--
  • competed for cheerleading, leading
  • good cheer for the boys.
  • "Rah, rah, sis, boom, bah."
  • Oh, and back then, really good dads went to the office
  • and really good moms stayed home.
  • And real men ate meat and potatoes, and never a cucumber
  • and watercress sandwich.
  • And if a real man did not want to eat his broccoli, so be it.
  • But I digress.
  • So many words in that closet--
  • unuttered, unspeakable, unheard.
  • Divorce back then, only whispers--
  • until song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E."
  • But divorced, and battered, abused, incest--
  • words, actions, hushed, silenced.
  • And unwed mothers-- people, girls, hidden, and cast out.
  • For abortion was then unmentionable,
  • unpardonable, illegal, deadly.
  • Oh, such silence-- all the trans words and people.
  • Oh, and that "L" word sounds like "thespian" and "has been."
  • Lesbian.
  • Nonexistent.
  • The love that dare not speak its name.
  • Oh, those were the days, my friends.
  • And yes, we thought they'd never end.
  • And so I begin by saying thank you.
  • Thank you now, National Association
  • of Women, born 1966.
  • Thank you, Stonewall, born 1969.
  • Thank you, Ms. Magazine, born 1971.
  • Thank you, Title IX, born 1972.
  • Thank you, Roe v Wade, born 1973.
  • Thanks be to all on whose shoulders we may stand tall.
  • And yet, still, may we never forget
  • that big old closet still remains full of words,
  • words yet unspoken and unheard, in so many languages,
  • so many people.
  • We offer you our shoulders, one and all,
  • that someday you too may stand tall.
  • There.
  • Thank you.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I loved the part you put the little shoulders
  • just standing in there.
  • But, you know what?
  • I'll make a little DVD copy of that just for you.
  • LIZ BELL: OK.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Send it to you.
  • CREW: (unintelligible).
  • LIZ BELL: I'm sorry.
  • I'm sorry.
  • I'm sorry.
  • I get-- I could cry.
  • I can't do that.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So let's talk about some of those early days.
  • LIZ BELL: Yeah.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Now, if I remember
  • from our previous conversation, you
  • were a student at the U of R.
  • LIZ BELL: I was a student at the U of R.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
  • So let's just start there.
  • Talk to me what it was like on the university campus coming
  • to terms with your sexual identity
  • and all that stuff that goes on in your nineteens
  • and your twenties.
  • LIZ BELL: Oh, those days.
  • I was a student at the U of R. It was my junior year.
  • It would have been 1969, '70.
  • I was dating a guy.
  • And he was a Med student.
  • And he was an upperclassman.
  • And I did what I was supposed to do.
  • I dated him.
  • I dated him.
  • But I always used to go to this place
  • that I knew this woman who just made my heart beat.
  • I knew her class schedule.
  • And every once in awhile when I saw her, I used to just watch.
  • I didn't know what it was.
  • Like I said, the word "lesbian" didn't exist in my vocabulary.
  • So I dated a guy.
  • That was all my junior year.
  • And this woman lived on my hall.
  • I was a resident advisor.
  • And I thought she was a friend.
  • And so too, in high school, I'd had those feelings
  • of friends that started dating boys, and it didn't make sense.
  • But still didn't have the language for it.
  • Well, that year, as I was dating this boy-- and, I mean,
  • this is where it sounds incredulous.
  • But we practiced the rhythm method, this boy and I.
  • And I became pregnant.
  • And I had an illegal abortion.
  • And that's a whole other story.
  • But that was the depth of alone that I knew.
  • And as it turned out, he didn't call for four days
  • after the abortion.
  • He was at a party.
  • I had told my family that I was going to a party.
  • So I got on a train and did it.
  • And I won't go into that story, but that
  • was before Roe versus Wade.
  • And I came back to school and was kind of a mess.
  • That was in the winter.
  • And I was a mess that spring.
  • And my friend was very supportive.
  • And I was a mess the next year, and ready to kill myself.
  • And my friend was very supportive.
  • And my thought was that if I just got rid of everybody
  • and made them dislike me, that I could do myself in,
  • because nobody would miss me.
  • But she wouldn't let go.
  • There were several that wouldn't let go.
  • And then one day, a secretary for somebody in the dorms
  • was going out of town and she said, "You want to house-sit?"
  • And I said, "Sure."
  • And my friend and I went and house-sat.
  • It was over on Parcells-- her house.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I've got to stop, but just for a second.
  • I'll get the door.
  • OK.
  • If we can just pick it right up from when you're asked
  • to house-sit.
  • LIZ BELL: I was asked to house-sit.
  • And the secretary knew that my friend and I were friends.
  • Maybe she knew more than I did.
  • But we went together-- my friend and I--
  • to house-sit at her house--
  • her house and her husband's house on Parcells.
  • And it was wonderful getting off campus.
  • As a student, I didn't get that too much those days.
  • And it wasn't until we went to bed--
  • and it was just one big double bed--
  • that we fell into the bed and found each other.
  • And it was bliss.
  • It was unimaginable.
  • It was a wonderful weekend.
  • And then, we came back to campus.
  • And it was oh, my god.
  • What's this?
  • What have-- what?
  • So then they had to hide.
  • And then it became underground and furtive.
  • And that's when I knew I was this word, "lesbian."
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: And so, from that point,
  • you start hearing about something about a gay/lesbian
  • group on campus.
  • Right?
  • LIZ BELL: Oh, it was, let's see, the GLF.
  • Time's not really good-- my strength.
  • But there was this guy named Marshall Goldman.
  • Oh, Marshall.
  • He made a movie of my first love and I. And Marshall was gay.
  • Marshall lived on Gilbert--
  • the dorm.
  • He was a student also.
  • And Marshall used to talk about how he was the one in the dorm.
  • He is the gay guy who used to make the gay jokes,
  • because then he could make everybody laugh.
  • And everybody would know that he wasn't gay.
  • Marshall was one of the people that
  • was the core of starting this thing called GLF--
  • Marshall, and Karen, and RJ, and a tranny person
  • from the city that I loved.
  • But that's another story.
  • I'm not sure where the tranny person--
  • some people you still don't know whether to name or not.
  • But anyway, they were meeting in the room above the student
  • union--
  • Todd.
  • But Marge and I were afraid to go.
  • And those first meetings, we knew when they were happening.
  • Oh, there was also Hope.
  • There were several of us.
  • And we knew when the meeting was happening.
  • And we'd walk around the building
  • and get our guts up and courage up to walk in.
  • And eventually, we made it.
  • And it was welcome home.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: And, I want to pick it up there.
  • That first experience of walking in,
  • what was going on emotionally, mentally?
  • As you said, it was kind of going home.
  • But I want to expand on that.
  • But I really want to get a sense of what
  • it was like to walk into that room
  • and almost get like a breath of fresh air.
  • LIZ BELL: So we were walking around and around Todd Union
  • and knowing that the meeting was going on.
  • And sometimes, you'd catch glimpses
  • of people coming and going.
  • And you didn't know if they were or they weren't.
  • And at that point in time, there were a lot of people from town,
  • from the city that were going.
  • And they were strangers.
  • But the school was big.
  • And so you didn't know.
  • And you watched.
  • And eventually, we got the courage to walk in.
  • And it was just so happy.
  • Most of the people in the room were men.
  • It's home.
  • It's me.
  • It's seeing myself in all the faces,
  • them seeing themselves in my face.
  • The first meeting-- in the beginning
  • the question was always, well tell us your story.
  • Tell us your coming out story.
  • How did you tell your parents?
  • That was always the other big question.
  • How did you tell your parents?
  • Have you told your parents?
  • Those questions had never been asked before by anybody.
  • Those were questions that you wrestled with in your own mind.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I'm going to jump back just a little bit.
  • LIZ BELL: Um-hm.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I think one thing we didn't quite
  • cover here is, what drove you and your friends to go
  • seek that meeting out?
  • What were you looking for?
  • LIZ BELL: Why did we go to the first meeting?
  • What got us in the door?
  • What got us in the door?
  • Trying to figure out--
  • wanting to belong.
  • Wanting to belong.
  • Wanting to belong somewhere.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So then, let's kind of move it forward
  • a little bit.
  • How did the GLF help you come to terms with your own identity--
  • to finally figure it all out for yourself?
  • LIZ BELL: Well, then we started going regularly.
  • I mean, we belonged.
  • And I graduated.
  • And I had a place off campus.
  • And my lover had a room on campus.
  • And was at that point in time, a head of the GLF.
  • Wait.
  • I got ahead of myself.
  • There was a dance.
  • I can't remember quite the timing of everything.
  • But, OK.
  • So you walk in the door and you belong.
  • And it's like whoa.
  • And then, after week, after week, you go
  • and it's like whoa.
  • And everybody knew everybody.
  • And we were all really tight friends.
  • We were family.
  • We were really family.
  • They were more my brothers than my brothers still.
  • They were more my sisters than my sisters still.
  • So there was this dance in the Frederick Douglass Center.
  • It was the first dance on campus.
  • And we decorated for the dance.
  • And we danced.
  • Oh, how we danced.
  • I never got to dance in high school
  • because you had to get asked to dance by one of the boys.
  • And suddenly, you could just dance with whoever
  • you wanted to dance with.
  • You could dance with a girl.
  • You could dance with a boy.
  • You could dance by yourself.
  • You could dance in a group.
  • Oh, you could dance, and dance, and dance.
  • I love to dance.
  • Eventually, I became a professional dancer.
  • I loved it so much--
  • thanks to GLF.
  • And then, there was the speaking.
  • I never raised my hand in high school.
  • I never spoke.
  • It wasn't safe.
  • I mean, speaking, when you don't belong to anybody,
  • is like standing on the end of a limb
  • and somebody's going to cut it off.
  • And so then, Karen Hagberg started this thing
  • called the Speakers Bureau.
  • And well, I mean, we spoke.
  • We went everywhere and spoke.
  • We went to churches.
  • We went to synagogues.
  • We were on television.
  • There was a whole bunch of us.
  • And sometimes, after a while, we were
  • doing speaking engagements two, even three times a day--
  • daily.
  • Anybody that would have us, we would speak.
  • And you'd go to the speaking engagement.
  • And usually, it was two men and two women.
  • And they'd ask you questions.
  • And there was oftentimes a heckler in the crowd.
  • They'd go "Rawr, rawr, rawr.
  • You're going to die.
  • Rawr, rawr, rawr."
  • And at first, that was scary, because that's
  • the way the words, if you ever heard them, were spoken.
  • And they would throw their words at you like darts.
  • But eventually, after speaking enough--
  • I mean, it was sort of like that was, I guess,
  • my therapist-- was the audience.
  • After speaking enough, we learned
  • that the heckler was really a blessing,
  • because they showed how much hate
  • was out there in the world.
  • And we didn't have to say, we're under the thumb, or oppressed,
  • or any of that.
  • We just let the heckler say it for us.
  • And that was a huge step, to be able to find
  • a blessing in the heckler.
  • That was thanks to the Speakers Bureau.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I want to talk about one specific Speakers
  • Bureau engagement that you had.
  • Because you were with the one at the Tim Mains School, right--
  • part of that?
  • He described that day for us.
  • I want you to kind of describe that day for us--
  • what is was like and the experience.
  • LIZ BELL: Oh, so the Speakers Bureau--
  • you never knew where you were going to go.
  • You never knew who was going to be there, except once.
  • One time we got invited to a high school.
  • It was the first time that we were ever
  • invited to talk to quote, unquote, "minors"--
  • kids.
  • And every single one of us had been in high school
  • and knew what it was like to be a kid in high school
  • that didn't belong.
  • So the teacher was Tim Mains.
  • And we called him Timo.
  • And he was a social studies teacher.
  • And he had this class called The Sunshine--
  • something.
  • And we were invited to come and talk to his class.
  • So we went.
  • And we became the Pied Piper.
  • I mean, everywhere we went, you'd go in
  • and there were these kids following you through the hall.
  • I mean, it was like me standing outside of the GLF.
  • You know, what do they look like if they're gay and lesbian?
  • And we just looked like people.
  • Oh.
  • They just look like people.
  • And their questions were so heartfelt.
  • They were the questions that, I guess,
  • resonated in our own lives.
  • They weren't adult questions.
  • They weren't phrased properly.
  • They weren't polite, necessarily.
  • They were just heartfelt questions
  • from kids that knew what it was like--
  • I think knew what it was like to not belong.
  • In each of their own ways they knew
  • what it was like to not belong.
  • And we came out of Tim's class.
  • And to my memory, there was somebody else
  • that wanted us to come speak.
  • And so we went to another class.
  • And we walked through the hall and there
  • are all these kids following us down the hall
  • and looking out the doors.
  • And seems like there was some kind of a--
  • we came up a staircase.
  • And somehow, we blocked the staircase.
  • It became unsafe because of fire hazards or something.
  • It was just an amazing event.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
  • Hold that thought for a second.
  • I have a door up there that flew open.
  • (unintelligible).
  • LIZ BELL: Good timing.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: (unintelligible) I
  • knew that you were going to say something really
  • profound (unintelligible).
  • Can give you give me a sense of--
  • I want to talk a little bit, just to the GLF as a whole--
  • just kind of sense of what were the things
  • that were being talked about.
  • What was it like attending one of those meetings--
  • the topics that were being discussed and eventually
  • started moving people out into the community?
  • LIZ BELL: In the early meetings in GLF,
  • we talked about coming out.
  • That was standard-- and telling our parents, or our sisters,
  • or our brothers.
  • There was always somebody that you were telling.
  • And it was a support group.
  • I remember the first time Timo came to a meeting.
  • And we all thought he was the teacher,
  • and he wasn't one of us.
  • We found out.
  • Nobody had ever come that wasn't one of us.
  • But for some reason, we assumed he wasn't one of us.
  • We spent a lot of time with each other, not in the meetings,
  • eventually.
  • I mean, it felt like you knew every gay or lesbian person
  • in the city.
  • I mean, we were just this core, this family.
  • But the meetings kept going on because you never
  • knew who was going to come.