This story was first published under the name of Emily George in Lesbian Short Fiction issue 5, edited by Jinx Beers, USA, 1999.
This was part of the reason she’d travelled all this way to Brisbane, Natasha was thinking, as she leaned back in the chair the better to appreciate the warm sunshine slanting on to the sun deck at the back of this large, even by Queensland standards, federation-style house. With the tall palm trees and other exotic flora she couldn’t identify virtually blocking the view down the gently sloping backyard to the creek, she could almost believe she was in another country altogether, so different was it to her own cramped-for-space courtyard in North Fitzroy.
“This is the life, eh darling?” Libby paused for a moment to breath in the warmth of the still air before joining her lover at the table, “There you go, I found a lemon grass bush growing by the back door.” She placed a pot of tea and a mug in front of Natasha.
“Give me one good reason why we suffer through a Melbourne winter every year?” Natasha inquired as she poured herself a cup of the aromatic yellow liquid.
“Who’s suffering?” rejoined Libby. “Besides, you know perfectly well that the politics here would drive us to distraction. Give me good old radical lesbian separatism every time, if what’s been happening these past few days is any indication of how the lesbian community in Brisbane conducts itself.”
“Listen to you. Anyone would think you’d never been to a mixed event in your life, to hear you talk,” Natasha had to shade her eyes with her hand to squint across at the other woman. At this rate she’d have to break out the UV protection before too much longer.
“Well, it is rather rubbing our noses in it, isn’t it, to have a transgenderist,” she stumbled over this new term, “on the organising committee. A pre-op” she emphasised, another new concept she’d learnt in the past few days, “transgenderist at that. We can hardly ignore it or pretend it’s not going to be an issue, can we?”
“Actually, knowing how much some of the Melbourne dykes I know are dead against anyone calling themselves lesbians who are not woman-born-woman, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a protest before now. I mean, it’s not as if the transgenderists are not obvious, looking for all the world, as they do, like males in drag,” Natasha blew on the tea before taking a tentative sip, “Why is it, do you suppose, that whenever males want to look like woman or dress in woman’s clothes that they do so in the most blatantly stereotypical way possible and look absolutely ridiculous?”
Libby laughed, “I have to admit it’s the first time I’ve seen a so-called lesbian wearing a dress and carrying a handbag, yet. Especially one with so much makeup covering the five o’clock shadow.”
“For me, it’s the the male voice and the slim hips that are a dead give away,” she leaned over to pat Libby’s ample backside, “Give me a big bottomed lesbian with child-bearing hips any day.”
“Not in a literal sense, I take it,” Libby smiled, secure in the forty-ninth year of her chosen childless state.
“You know me better than that,” now that the tea was lukewarm she was drinking it appreciatively, “So, where did we decide we were going this evening?” “The choice is....” Libby began reading from the program, “folk music at the Club, a theatre night at the Avalon and ‘Go Fish’ at 11pm.”
“Would it be possible to go to all three?” she hated missing out on anything.
“No,” Libby answered shortly. If Natasha had her way they’d be rushing from one venue to another all evening and be exhausted by the end of it, “We came up here to relax, remember?”
No sense arguing about it, “Wasn’t the opera excellent last night? Hearing the Duet from Lakme again reminded me of the time we heard it at the Opera House during the Lesbian Festival in Sydney. Maybe it’s already become identified as a dyke song,” mused Natasha, “What do you think?”
“That’s right,” Libby’s mind was still on their arrangements for the evening,
“We could go to see the plays and then on to the film afterwards, if you like,” by way of a concession, “The music program looks interesting but as we’ll probably end up the Club tomorrow night anyway it won’t hurt to do something else for a change.”
“Sounds good to me,” Natasha agreed and stretched, “What time did our inimitable hostess say she’d be home from work this afternoon?”
Libby glanced at her watch, “Not for another couple of hours, at least,” she’d caught Natasha’s drift and held out her hand, “Lucky we go billeted in a house with a double bed, eh?”
It was simply a matter of stepping from the sun deck, through the French doors and into the bedroom where by the time they’d reached the bed they were already undressed.
“I love that place where your cunt merges into your bottom,” Natasha was taking advantage of the clement weather to indulge one of her passions, cunt gazing. During wintertime in Melbourne cunnilingus was usually at a premium, involving as it did either suffocating under the doona or freezing your tits off to do it justice. Under those circumstances it was something that was done in rather more of a hurry than she preferred, “It’s so cute,” she slowly traced the plump outlines of the hairy labia with her little finger, “Especially this bit,” she squeezed it gently, “where it joins on,” the crack continued in a straight line between Libby’s buttocks.
“I’m sure it’s made in much the same way as any other woman’s cunt,” was Libby’s dry comment. Lying there with her eyes closed and her legs apart to accommodate Natasha, she was, nevertheless, savouring the sensation of being admired, while anticipating the even more intense pleasures to come.
“Not at all,” Natasha assured her, “You lesbians who have never fucked with males have cunts that are quite remarkably different to the rest of us. Especially those of us who’ve had children. Yours is perfect,” she parted the outer mounds to reveal the more delicate inner parts already glistening in their own juices.
She bent over and licked around and between the folds with the tip of her tongue, darting it in and out of her mouth to keep it sufficiently wet. The tangy taste was sharp and delightfully familiar. Then curling herself round, she positioned herself comfortably and began sampling and sucking as the trembling tension in her lover’s thighs and her moans and sighs indicated. Natasha’s mouth was full to overflowing with the pulsating vibration of Libby’s orgasm and the outpouring from her vagina when they heard a car pull into the garage under the house.
“Oh oh,” Natasha said, not moving a muscle to disturb the aftermath of their enjoyment, in proper lesbian fashion. Conscious however, that they’d left the French doors onto the sun deck wide open and that any minute their friendly hostess, Stella, would be appearing at the top of the stairs to cross to the back door and there they’d be in full view, both stark naked and cunt-in-mouth, so to speak.
She felt Libby jump as they both became aware at the same time of the murmur of voices and two sets of footsteps on the stairs. Being caught out by Stella was one thing but to be meeting a complete stranger under these delicate circumstances was quite something else again. By mutual consent, and ever so gently, they disengaged their respective orifices and with two almighty bounds were off the bed and hastily donning clothes by the time Stella hoved into view.
“Hello Stella,” Natasha had her T-shirt on and was just hitching her knickers into place, “We didn’t expect you back quite so soon.”
“I thought I told you that I was picking someone up from the airport this afternoon,” Stella said with a grin. “I forgot,” Libby admitted, shamefaced. She was hastily pulling a windcheater over her head and tucking it into her track suit pants as the other woman appeared.
“Electra, I’d like you to meet Natasha and Libby from Melbourne. Electra is from Cairns,” she explained.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Natasha.
“Hello Electra, sorry about this.”
“Not at all,” smiled Electra, “we do the same kind of thing where I come from.” “Lesbian community.” reiterated Stella, “it’s a wonderful thing. I’ll put the kettle on, shall I? And show you to your room, Electra; this way.”
As soon as the others had gone Natasha and Libby looked at each other and started giggling, “Oh dear,” sputtered Natasha, “something like that makes me feel like a gauche teenager all over again.”
“That’s all very well but I don’t know where I’d find you a gauche teenager this late in the day,” whispered Libby, which set them off again.
“Stella seemed to take it in good part and Electra didn’t look as if she was offended or anything, did she?” Natasha queried anxiously.
“I should hope not. We were only fucking, for heaven’s sake. It’s not all that unusual,” Libby raised her eyebrows.
“It’s alright. I have this impression we might have blown it as the perfect billets, that’s all.”
“If that means we don’t get to fuck, forget it, as far as I’m concerned,” Libby said firmly, “Come on. I could do with another cup of tea. And,” she put her arms around Natasha and kissed her on the lips, “don’t think I’ve forgotten. Later this evening perhaps?”
“What? After we get home at one o’clock utterly exhausted by the theatre and the film? No way. I want quality time with you, my love.”
“We could skip the film,” Libby suggested.
“Besides we have to be up early for the start of the conference first thing in the morning,” Natasha frowned, “So much for our holiday. We’ll be flat-tack for the next three days.”
“I can wait if you can,” Libby assured her lightly, “Monday’s not so far away.” “You’re right. Let’s go and see what Electra has to say for herself,” meeting lesbians from interstate was one of the reasons Natasha attended these national gatherings.
“I wonder where she stands on the burning issue?” muttered Libby, as she shut the French doors before following Natasha into the kitchen. Although she had no intention of bringing it up herself. Let sleeping dogs lie as long as possible was her motto.
The following day, Natasha was standing in front of one of the market stalls without really seeing the goods on display and feeling utterly wretched. Having just sat through one of the most heated arguments she’d ever witnessed at the opening plenary session of a lesbian conference before she wasn’t quite sure what to do next. According to the notice board some workshops had been postponed, while a hastily convened meeting of the lesbians protesting about the presence of the transgenderists was in progress on the lawn over by the trees. She could see Libby’s hand waving in the air as she doubtless made one of her usual hard-line comments. Although she, along with everyone else who’d been at the lesbian festival events over these past five days, had been singularly silent on the subject. Apart from the odd conversation or two where even she, Natasha, had put her two bob’s worth in.
“What do you reckon, Natasha?” Electra asked, sidling alongside, “do we join the dissenters or ignore the whole thing and find a workshop to attend?”
“Hello Electra,” she absentmindedly picked up a labrys ear-ring and put it down again, “I’m not sure I’m in the mood to do anything. How about you?”
“Well,” she paused to look across at the group under the tree, “I think I’m more inclined to see what those who spoke out against the transgenderists intend to do about it.”
“Fair enough,” as Natasha doubted she’d be able to influence the outcome one way or the other she’d opted to stay well away.
“Pretty ferocious in there just before lunch, wasn’t? This is my first lesbian conference. The others haven’t been like this at all, from what I’ve heard,” she was in no hurry to join the meeting and needed some reassurance before she did so.
Natasha let her mind recall the other lesbian conferences she’d been to where there had been any number of controversies, now that she thought about it. Like the limit on numbers at the Adelaide conference in 1989 so that a great many lesbians had been unable to register and the no alcohol policy at the 10/40 conference in Perth in 1991. Not to mention the many heated discussions over the years around what age boy children ought to be allowed into woman-only space. “I think, as the organising committee admitted, they made a mistake in not advertising their policy of inclusiveness so that lesbians then had an informed choice about whether to come or not,” answered Natasha.
“Would you have come if you’d known?” Electra asked, noting the stunned and hurt expressions on the faces of the organisers as they sat at the registration and information tables under the marquee trying to keep this conference, which they’d no doubt put a great deal of hard work into, functioning as much as possible.
Natasha shrugged, “A bit difficult to tell for sure,” then when Electra seemed to want something more, “Look, I don’t agree that transgenderists are lesbians in the same way that those of us who were born female are, that’s for sure. But I don’t feel anywhere near as threatened by their presence as some lesbians seem to be. So, I’m a bit confused by the level of anger and the seemingly irreconcilable differences more than anything, I’d say.”
“I’m not sure I’d want to discuss lesbian sexuality, for example, in a workshop with a transgenderist present though, would you?” trying to form some position for herself she’d feel comfortable with.
“Absolutely not,” but then she couldn’t see herself having a serious discussion about sex with sadomasochists either or indeed any lesbian she didn’t know on a more personal level.
Electra sighed and gauged the distance across the lawn, “Are you sure you don’t want to join the discussion?”
“I’ll hear all about it in due course anyway from Libby,” she was rather more inclined to sit in the sun and relax her shattered nerves. Watching lesbians screaming at each other was not her idea of fun.
“Catch you later,” now that she knew Libby was there she felt less intimidated.
As Natasha turned away, she smiled vaguely at the woman sitting behind the stall whom she recognised from other conferences but didn’t know well enough to stay and chat. Hoisting her backpack onto her shoulder and her green conference folder into a firmer position she headed in the opposite direction.
What a bummer, she was thinking. For the organisers, who looked as if they didn’t know what had hit them. For those who’d only just arrived after travelling vast distances to find themselves lumbered with a decision they found anathema. For those, like herself, caught in the middle with no clear position either way but wanting to just get on with the conference, regardless. Everyone had been affected by the vehemence of the anger and outrage being expressed by both sides in no uncertain terms. All these many years down the lesbian feminist track she couldn’t help wondering why it was that they hadn’t worked out a more reasonable and less stressful way of resolving conflict. Although even she could see that this particular issue had inflamed passions more than most controversies seemed to have done in the past.
Determined to restore her equilibrium however, Natasha rested with her back against a tree and let the sun lull her uncertainties into a more peaceful frame of mind. So much so that she started when Libby slumped down beside her, “Sorry, I didn’t realise you were asleep,” Libby frowned, “I thought you must have gone to a workshop.”
Natasha blinked and rubbed her eyes, feeling cold all of a sudden, “Did you reach a decision?” she pulled her jumper out of her backpack.
“Yes and no,” Libby answered, “We’ve just given our ultimatum to the committee and they said they’ve have to discuss it and meet with us again at 5.30pm.”
“So the meeting was productive then? You’re all agreed the transgenderists have to go?”
“The majority of us, yes. Why?” she looked sharply at her lover, “What’s your position on this? Don’t tell me you want them to stay.”
“My position,” Natasha said slowly, making it up as she went along, “is to resolve the conflict in the most amicable way possible.”
“For some of us,” Libby stated categorically, “that means the transgenderists ought not to have been here in the first place and the sooner they piss off the better it will be for all of us.”
“I’m well aware that what you’re saying is one strongly held opinion,” she often found it difficult to argue with Libby when it came to political theory. “It’s an indisputable fact,” said Libby, “Transgenderists are just that, transgenderists, or men, if you like. They are not, and can never be, female or woman let alone lesbians and therefore are not eligible to be here at a lesbian conference. I thought we agreed on that point.”
“We do,” Natasha hastened to assure her, “It’s just that.... I don’t know.... it’s all so messy and everyone’s upset. There must be an easier way of resolving the issue.”
“You can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs, and that’s all there is to it,” snapped Libby, “We’re all justifiably angry that we weren’t informed beforehand, some lesbians are extremely upset and feel utterly betrayed, as you saw at the plenary session, and there’s nothing wrong with expressing that anger and trying to get the committee to agree to abide by the aims and objectives of previous conferences that it’s for woman-born-lesbians only.”
“I know all that,” Natasha spoke more sharply than she’d intended and was immediately contrite, “It’s just that we’ve come all this way to network and discuss lesbian business and all we seem to be doing is arguing with each other.”
“Honey,” Libby put her arm round Natasha’s shoulders, “this is lesbian business. Whether or not transgenderists ought to be in lesbian space is essentially what this is all about.”
“Yes but,” she pulled away, “it seems to me that the Brisbane dykes, or a great many of them anyway, not just the committee, are very supportive of transgenderists and want them to be here. Does that make them wrong and us right?”
“So, you want to go to workshops and discuss lesbian issues with transgenderists present, do you?”
“No, of course not,” she hated it when Libby was so forthright that she came across as self righteous with it.
“Well then?” Libby pressed.
“I don’t like all the yelling and arguing. I came up here to have a good time with the lesbian community.”
“You and me both. And once the transgenderists have been made to leave we can get on with it. We didn’t start this, remember, the committee did.”
“I’m sure they didn’t plan on such a reaction as they got today,” Natasha murmured, “I’m sure they were hoping for the same thing I was.”
“Weren’t we all? Sometimes what we hope for and what we get are two different things,” replied Libby, “You’re not saying that we ought to have ignored the whole issue and carried on as if nothing had happened, are you?”
Natasha wasn’t sure what she was saying anymore and was even finding Libby’s dogmatic attitude a bit hard to take. It often alienated her when lesbians she knew were so belligerently arrogant in expressing their political views there was no room for compromise, let alone respect for another’s opinions or belief systems. “How come no-one spoke out about this sooner? When most of us have been mingling with the transgenderists at the festival events all week.”
Libby had no clear cut answer for a change, “Some of us did talk about it amongst ourselves, if you recall,” it was true though that there hadn’t been the impetus to really confront the issue till that morning, “Maybe it’s because a few more of us had arrived especially for the conference and there was more of an opportunity to express our opinions.” And she’d been round long enough to know that there was probably a hidden agenda or two as far as some of the protesting dykes were concerned. Not that that detracted from the overall issue, as far as she was concerned.
“What happens now?”
“I’ll tell you what. I really do want to be at the meeting with the committee at 5.30pm,” she checked the time, “in an hour or so. After that I suggest you and I go out to dinner somewhere by ourselves before we go onto the Club. How does that sound?”
“Fine by me,” Natasha shivered.“And in the meantime, why don’t we go across to the cafeteria where it’s warmer, have a cuppa and forget all about this for awhile?” for her part she appreciated the steadfastness Natasha brought to their relationship with her more evenly considered viewpoints, as a necessary counterbalance to her own overly assertive nature on occasions.
It wasn’t till they’d seated themselves at a Malaysian restaurant with a bottle of riesling that they eventually got back to the topic. “Do you realise,” said Natasha as she poured the wine, “that we didn’t actually get to one workshop all day. I know some were either cancelled or postponed but there must have been something interesting we could have gone to.”
“Now that the issue’s been resolved there’ll be any number of workshops to go to tomorrow, my love,” she raised her glass, “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Natasha touched glasses automatically, her thoughts elsewhere, “I’m not altogether certain I know what happened at the end of that confrontation, do you?” she frowned across the table, trying to recollect the final moments of the quite intense exchange between the two spokes lesbians for either side.
“The committee backed down,” Libby explained, “They agreed to tell the transgenderists to leave. Simple as that.”
“Yes, I know what the outcome was. But somehow I missed how and why. Because up to that point the committee’s representative had been arguing a fairly strong case as to why the transgenderists ought to be allowed to stay. Then suddenly it was all over. She’d seemingly changed her mind for some reason.”
“What does it matter now? It’s all over bar the shouting, as my great aunt used to say,” she opened the menu and began reading down the long list of available dishes.
Having observed the passionate responses of everyone concerned in this she doubted that it would be over for quite some time to come, in actual fact, but didn’t think it was politic to say so, “It just seems a bit odd that after all the arguments and tears for most of the day that suddenly it was all over.”
“Maybe the committee realised how serious we were and that it they didn’t back down then there wouldn’t be a conference. I don’t know if you realise this but a lot of dykes were threatening to either not register or to withdraw there registration and hold the conference somewhere else entirely.”
She hadn’t known and it shocked her somewhat that lesbians she’d met at conferences like this over a number of years now could seriously suggest such a thing. “Maybe it will come down to holding radical lesbian feminist conferences that are separate from the inclusive gender-bending ones, as someone was suggesting this afternoon. Maybe it’s naive in this day and age of queer politics to even assume that a national lesbian gathering of this kind can embrace all political beliefs without strong disagreements between the diverse groups concerned.” It was odd, too, that the committee had backed down when they put so much work into organising the conference in the first place.
“We’ll have to wait and see which state wants to take it on for next time as to what the policies are going to be. Meanwhile,” she smiled and squeezed Natasha’s hand, “what are you having to eat?”
“Well,” said Natasha, glancing abstractly down the list, “let’s see,” on the one hand she was heartily glad she didn’t have to worry anymore about which workshops to go to in case a transgenderist might be present. On the other, her heart still felt heavy that once again lesbians had dissipated their energies, like a lot of oppressed groups, in hostile opposition towards each other rather than working together to alter the conditions in society that fostered such antagonism in the first place. “I think I’ll have.... “
“Let me guess, something starting with chicken, perhaps?” Libby took a sip of wine, admiring the way the skin on Natasha’s cheek was just beginning to show more definite signs of ageing. Anyone watching them now, she thought, would see two middle-aged woman out for dinner together. And would no doubt be shocked if they knew about the sexual passion they’d been enjoying over these past several years and the level of commitment they nurtured in their hearts for each other. Noting the strain around her lover’s mouth she hoped that by tomorrow most of today’s anguish would be over.
“Green Peppercorn Curry Chicken,” Natasha announced, and shut the menu with a flourish, “Have I told you lately how very much I love you?”
“Not in so many words,” Libby’s eyes reflected all the tenderness of their lovemaking as she slowly and deliberately ran her tongue across her lips.
Natasha chuckled, then recollecting where they were, “I’m looking forward to hearing the singers this evening, aren’t you?” she said in such a conversational tone it had them giggling like conspirators.
© Jean Taylor