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out on a limb

V o l u m e   1 5   I s s u e  1

The Night the Lights were Outed ...or Happy New Year, New Orleans

Happy New Year! The noise makers cranked, the whistles blew, the confetti fell. It was oh so festive. Couples embraced on the dance floor and Auld Lang Syne was sung off-key. We were all in the gayest of moods and the champagne was starting to flow.

Good-bye 1996, hello 1997. May old acquaintance be forgot ... Zap. We were suddenly plunged into darkness! Had I forgotten to pay the light bill? No music, no neon, no nothing.

The crowd was momentarily stunned into silence. We all stood stock-still. No, not even NOPSI would play this kind of sick joke on New Year's Eve. Then the lights flashed, machines whirred to life ... a collective sigh of relief went through the crowd ... quickly followed by disappointment as the lights flickered and died again.

Yes, it was true . . . the club would ring in the New Year without the benefit of Thomas A. Edison's genius.

At first, people remained jovial ... some even sang some of their favorite songs. No one seemed to mind the blackout. At first.

We just popped some more champagne.

But 10 minutes turned into 20, then 30, then 40. It was my worst nightmare .... New Year's Eve in the dark.

Actually, it was not my worst nightmare, although that too happened on a NewYear's Eve about 25 years ago ... on Rampart Street . . . in a bar then called Alice Brady's.

I was just starting to explore my sexuality, learning all about the joys of lesbian sex. A friend invited me to a holiday dance on Freret Street. I was curious about everything, so I accepted her invitation. But I knew I was in trouble as she pulled her tuxedo out of the closet. She looked like a stiff penguin in men's shoes and bowtie. This was an aspect of the gay experience that I had not thought too much about. It was 1973 and I was hot off the cusp of the 60's when anything was possible and nothing was chiseled in stone.

Except of course lesbian identity in the minds of a large group of New Orleanian gays.

I asked my friend, Carol, to explain the reason for her attire. She read me chapter and verse on butch/femme roles. I was somewhat chagrined but relieved too that there was a name for my adult tomboyishness. Still, I didn't have a tux and had no plan to buy one. But I had no dress either!

She assured me that my basic black denim and a sharp ever-so-thin tie that she could loan me would fill the requirement for formal attire. Thus bedecked, we arrived at the hall where I had my first view of the dichotomous world of a certain age group of lesbians. I was so ill-at-ease, despite their kindness and friendly conversation. I was the original militant 60's rebel, complete with American flag sewn on the butt of my jeans. I had vigorously protested the Viet Nam war, refused to attend classes, pasted a bumper sticker on my car that read Kent State: National Guard 3, Students 0.

Now I was back in what appeared to be the realm of my mother and father: women dressed in evening gowns of sequins and velvet; women dressed in black tuxedos and cummerbunds. I felt like I was in the Blue Room at the old Roosevelt Hotel ... favorite hang-out of my parent's generation.

I left as soon as I could. This obviously required more thought on my part. I was just a fledgling lesbian and I still had a lot to learn.

But back to Alice Brady's. Carol and I left the party and headed into town. I was very quiet and she was concerned. Had she done something wrong? Had anyone offended me? No, no I assured her. I was just feeling the end of the year blues.

Brady's was packed with women of all sizes, shapes, and dress. There were couples and single women. Some of the party-goers had obviously followed us to the bar because I saw a smattering of dark tuxes and sequins shimmering in the reflection of the jukebox. I was still a little nervous, not exactly in hog heaven, but safer because I could blend into the diverse crowd. . . and if I didn't feel comfortable, there was always The Grog down on the next corner.

It was almost midnight and I needed to find my friends. The crowd was densely packed and I couldn't pass through, so I stood near the front window gazing out on the silence of Rampart Street while the crowd behind me hooted and celebrated the end of one year, the beginning of the next. Actually, I think we were also standing on the edge of a change in consciousness. The fifties and early sixties identities of lesbians were clashing with the young upstarts of the Age of Aquarius--whatever that was.

With a sigh, I made my New Year's resolution: if the next year rolled around and I was still alone, I was "going straight!" Oh my, I had a lot to learn back then.

I went home that night, and many more, alone. But I never went home "straight"-as if anything could even remotely remove the powerful desire Ifelt and the allure women held for me.

Which brings me back to the present ... where I stood now in my own gay club feeling completely at home with the 300 women and men I hardly knew. No longer alone, even the dark couldn't send me on some downhill slide into sorrow. By age 47, I had learned a lifetime about what it meant to be a lesbian and I was proud of my choices and the decisions I had made along the way.

Neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night could keep me from the life I had chosen. And so an hour and a half after NOPSI had pulled the plug (actually, a New Year's Eve reveler had shot out a transformer in the Marigny), the lights came back on to the cheers of all the hearty souls who had braved the darkness and the dim illumination of the emergency lights to be with other people who knew how to check their prejudices at the door and have a good time.

1997 was here to stay and no ghosts from years past were with me on this night. A happy and prosperous New Year to my community and all of its diverse constituents. May we all find joy and fulfillment in the coming year - and remember to pay our light bills to NOPSI so we will never have to live in darkness. We WILL NOT go there ever again.

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