A Venn Diagram of Generational Queerness: A Discussion Between Andi Marquette and Ashley Bartlett

Andi Marquette is a lot like me. Mostly because we are both hecka smart and ruggedly handsome. Or something. She agreed to chat with me about the overlap in our experiences and the ways the world has changed between our generations. Per the usual, this discussion got pontificaty (it’s a real word. As of now) so it will be posted in two parts.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: We are similar in a number of ways. Our queerness presents in ways that overlap. We are masc of center. We are lesbians. We are both heavily involved in lesfic publishing. And we have some crossover in our backgrounds. We’re white, west coast, educated, privileged. The most noticeable difference is the decade or so between us. I’d like to look at the differences in our experiences and the ways our heteronormative world treats us the same.

ANDI MARQUETTE: Cool. Briefly, I grew up in a rural mountain area of Colorado. So I ain’t got your highfalutin’ West Coast ways! lol

ASHLEY BARTLETT: But you spend a lot of time traveling. So you’re well versed in highfalutin’!

ANDI MARQUETTE: Yes. This is truth.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Let’s start with what inspired this. I posted about my gray hair, Matilda, and we discussed how our masculinity is perceived as youth. And then I posted about my students being uncomfortable with straight girls stripping in front of them. An experience that I share (and I’m fifteen years older than them) and you share (and you’re hecka older).

ANDI MARQUETTE: RIGHT? That took me right back to my uncomfortable days in high school when I played basketball and my teammates would just strip, talking away, and I always stared at the floor. Then they’d check each other out, like, look at my ass! And I’d be trying to hide under the benches.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you weren’t out?

ANDI MARQUETTE: Not in high school. But later, at my high school reunions, my classmates were all, “yeah, we know.” *eyeroll* I ended up with some cool classmates. I’m still in touch with them, and remember, I grew up in a SMALL town (about 3000 people) in the 80s. I’m way older than you thought. LOLOL

ASHLEY BARTLETT: I said hecka older. That’s like, a lot.

ANDI MARQUETTE: Oh, yeah. There it is. lol

ASHLEY BARTLETT: I was out in high school. My girlfriend and I had gym together freshman year. That was an interesting locker room.

ANDI MARQUETTE: Did you and your girlfriend exchange side eyes when the straight girls would undress?

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Most of our friends got it (or were blissfully unaware we were dating) so they weren’t dicks about undressing in front of us. Like they knew we were into each other, not them. But later, when we broke up (two weeks later, probably), all of my chick friends liked to undress in front of me to see my reaction.

ANDI MARQUETTE: Oh, no. Yikes. I mean, what’s interesting is that even after high school, my classmates never once brought that up, about being uncomfortable in the locker room with me. It never even seemed to enter their minds, even after they knew I was of the lesbian variety. They’ve been pretty cool overall about it, which is interesting because the vast majority of them are pretty conservative, from conservative families.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: But if you grew up in a town that small, they’d known you since birth, right?

ANDI MARQUETTE: Elementary school. My folks moved there when I was about 3.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: So you weren’t scary. You weren’t “one of those lesbians.” You were just you.

ANDI MARQUETTE: That’s a whole ethos that comes with being from a small town. “Oh, it’s okay. You’re OUR lesbian.” As opposed to those outside lesbians.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: My high school was about 2000 kids. Almost the size of your whole town. I was also the assistant principal’s kid. I was not popular, but I was a novelty.

ANDI MARQUETTE: I like that. A novelty. lol We can all aspire to that!

ASHLEY BARTLETT: I’m still a novelty! I work at the same high school now. And for many of the kids, I’m the first real life adult queer they have ever seen. You know when you’re out in public (not in an urban area) and you see queer people and it’s super exciting. My office is like that for the first two months of school.

ANDI MARQUETTE: I should totally come visit you. “LOOK, KIDS! LIVING HISTORY! AN OLD!”

ASHLEY BARTLETT: YOU HAVE AN OPEN INVITATION

ANDI MARQUETTE: OMG WE COULD TALK ABOUT QUEER STUFF OVER TIME

ASHLEY BARTLETT: PLEASE

ANDI MARQUETTE: show and tell with the old

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Seriously. Open invitation

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Okay, so when I went to college, I was old. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I lived off campus. We tended to hang with the older crowd (so like mid-twenties). All of my friends were in the English major, queer minor. But a lot of them were straight? They LOVED to objectify me. One of my friends would pull up the lesbians who look like Justin Bieber website and say “we should put you on this” every day. Every. Single. Day. Were you ever the straight girl pet? Fun to flirt with, a little dangerous, but safe?

ANDI MARQUETTE: Not really, but that’s cuz I didn’t really put that vibe out. There were a couple of women in college who hung out with me and then freaked when they found out I was gay—I mean, hello. Look at me. I’m masculine presenting and I don’t have a dude in my life. I ended up in college with a lot of gay friends. One in particular was this guy who I’m still in contact with. We’d go clubbing with the gay boys. That’s where I got hit on, was in gay boy clubs. Not really lesbian clubs (the two were pretty separate back in the day). I played rugby in college, which was at least 85 percent queer. So that was my gay lady crew.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Dude, I played rugby in high school! I was the only lesbian, which I thought was very unfair.

ANDI MARQUETTE: THAT AIN’T RIGHT

ASHLEY BARTLETT: THANK YOU. That was why I joined the team. It was a great disappointment. Also I’m very bad at sports.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: You said these college women didn’t recognize your queerness, which okay, it was a while ago. But also have you seen you? I still get that from people. “Oh I didn’t want to assume.” I put a lot of effort into being easily readable as queer. Please assume.

ANDI MARQUETTE: It was an interesting time. The mid-late 80s was also a really tragic time, on into the early 90s. I may have been lucky in a way because a whole bunch of us came out then because of the AIDS crisis and we had to come out because people were dying and we had to bring visibility to US, dammit. To us as people, something that a lot of people didn’t really even realize.

ANDI MARQUETTE: So they assumed we were straight until we said otherwise, since being queer wasn’t something people shared up until then. And there wasn’t a “look,” really, if you will, because for all the weirdness of the 80s, there was a lot of really interesting subversive queer culture that was finding a way into pop culture. So we were visible in a lot of ways, but not as widespread as people would later come to realize.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Ah yes. That makes sense. Gender bending really hit a nice stride in the 80s.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: I always find it fascinating in a removed way to hear people who lived through the plague. I studied it in college, but I was too young to actually remember it.

ANDI MARQUETTE: Oh, God, it was horrible. So many men died. And so many lesbians stepped up to care for them. That’s the story you don’t often hear, is the lesbians who did the work, and ended up becoming more visible in LGBTQ organizations because there were no men.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Actually, that’s what we were taught. Lesbians spent the 70s organizing and fighting for women’s rights, creating their own organizations when they were kicked out of the mainstream ones. And the gay male culture was, basically, a party. Since the men were sexist af, no one wanted to intermingle. And when the plague hit, the lesbians already had the infrastructure to care for their brothers. That’s the textbook story.

ANDI MARQUETTE: Thank god. I’ve talked to so many young people who don’t know that.

ANDI MARQUETTE: Anyway, in the midst of the crisis, there was a lot of experimentation with gender and appearance and being out though it was pretty dangerous. I mean, it’s still pretty dangerous, but then, you had to be really fucking careful. I still don’t express affection in public, that’s how ingrained it is in me.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: That’s interesting. I don’t express affection in public because I had the luxury of choice. I don’t like people touching me and my wife and I are very private. So we were able to choose not to engage in PDA.

ANDI MARQUETTE: And I think that’s AWESOME. I like knowing that the work we did back in the day may have helped with that. One of the things that I do miss is bricks n’ mortar feminist bookstores. Those were community centers (this is pre-internet).

ASHLEY BARTLETT: One could easily argue that the answer to queer diaspora is the internet

That’s where we went to organize in terms of activism or whatever else, was there and the community centers that were in existence.

ANDI MARQUETTE: OH, absolutely. But I do miss having that real world space because that was where we went to be safe. And to be heard.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Seeing someone in person makes them real. And I think the internet allows for a lot of honesty, but also a lot of dishonesty.

ANDI MARQUETTE: It’s amazing, when I think back on it, how effectively we were able to organize things without the tools we have today.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: I’m impressed. You got me this far. (I assume you did all of that work so I could change next to my girlfriend in the freshman locker room).

ANDI MARQUETTE: lol absolutely!

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Thanks!

ANDI MARQUETTE: I went to Creating Change in January 2017 and people were really shaken by the elections. So I went to an intergenerational panel, and young people—early 20s and late teens, were just devastated by the elections. They didn’t know what to do, didn’t know exactly what to prepare for…so I got up and I told them that we’re all in this together, that a bunch of us in the room had gone through very dark times for queers, and we’d get through this one. We’d pool our resources, we’d teach each other different strategies, and we’d figure this out. I said, you’re first string now. I’m the bench. But I’m here with you to get us all through.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Of course. You can guide, but you’ve already done the trenches. You need reassurance that someone will take your work and continue. Fuck, I’m already tired.

ANDI MARQUETTE: omg, right? it’s so exhausting. I’ll get back in the goddamn trenches if necessary, though.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: I know you will. I’ll be there with you.

ANDI MARQUETTE: there had better be whiskey that’s all I’m saying.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: I will bring you whiskey.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: But queers are very good at distributing labor where it is most effective

ANDI MARQUETTE: We’re just really fucking good at that. I mean, we do get into arguments and stupid-ness, but that’s…family, right? We fight, we work out what we can, we keep going.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Fuck yes. And that’s how we learn and grow and evolve.

ANDI MARQUETTE: I think I probably said that to make myself feel better, too. lol But regardless, I said that we organized worldwide movements without the internet, that we can do this and we will survive, but it will be hard and we will lose some along the way. I don’t ever bullshit people. Especially not young people or kids. I think that’s a disservice.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: Honesty is a great gift. And we can’t work without it. Lying to maintain comfort is plain wrong.

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5 comments

  1. Hey there!
    Great convo. I’m even older than Andi, high school class of 1974. I didn’t acknowledge that I was a dyke, but in my heart of hearts I knew I was, just didn’t have the words for it. I was a jock who loved hanging with the p.e. teachers. I KNOW they saw my larvae state and probably chuckled behind my back. Got a boyfriend because my best girlfriends said I had to and tortured him for three years because I wasn’t ‘ready’ to ‘go all the way’. Poor guy. LOL
    The late 70’s through the 80’s were the heyday of lesbian bars in Chicago. Also the heyday of softball leagues. When I finally put the mental pieces together, I joined four different leagues to meet women and I was off to the races.

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