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out on a limb

V o l u m e   1 5   I s s u e  2

Cleaning out the Closet . . . Evolution and Resolutions

We've all done it at one time or another . . . cleaned out our closets. But if you happen to be a gay or lesbian person, the double entendre is not lost on you . . . to clean out your closet has multiple meanings.

I had made a New Year's resolution to clean out a certain closet at the club, Rubyfruit Jungle. It was one of those storage areas where we just keep throwing stuff in and closing the door. Well, the door was "bulging" so I knew it was time. I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to dive into three and a half years of history. . . an evolution of both a business and of a self.

The top layers were easy and familiar: the decorations from Xmas, a pumpkin and a boney skeleton, unmentionable things from Southern Decadence. The next level went back further: Pride '95 cups, old flyers from the windows advertising the Croakie Talent Show, a Lingerie Night, a Boot Scootin' Boogie anniversary. There were some old T-shirts in the corner, a crumpled Mardi Gras mask, broken beads. I had to pause and think about what all these remnants of life and living meant.

The gay and lesbian community certainly has its "events": Southern Decadence when we play hard and suffer the consequences of too much good cheer, Pride Fest when we proudly march through the streets waving our rainbow flags and our triangles, Mardi Gras when we don the masks of other identities and live in high gear for 5 days of madness and mayhem, Memorial Weekend when we head for the beaches and the sand to strut our stuff. All these rituals make us a community, give us traditions and substance, make us members of our "tribe."

Another layer of the closet brought forth Grand Opening banners and signs announcing the creation of someplace called Rubyfruit Jungle. I laughed out loud remembering a passer-by's question. . . was Rubyfruit some kind of a juice bar . . . a place that sold fruit drinks. I had smiled then and had thought to myself that this was to be a place that sold fruits a drink! which led me to think about how we name ourselves and how names and labels can mean different things depending on whether they come from the inside or the outside.

I can call myself a dyke or a lesbian or even refer to myself as "fruit" and feel proud of my identity. But let someone use one of those terms as an epithet, as an insult . . . then it's a different story. That's another way you can identify a community. . . there's that internal vocabulary and use of expressions that are respectful among kin, disrespectful from outsiders.

And this closet was about insiders and about making a place for all the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, drag, leather, etc. people who wanted to hang-out together. It was also about extending boundaries. I remember the hullabaloo that transpired when we said that Rubyfruit was not a "women's" bar. on the cusp of the millennium, who could afford to be "just" anything? If we work together in all our non-profit and political organizations, why shouldn't we socialize and play together?

That's another thing about community. . . we have to espouse common causes. . . and we do. Whether it's the fight against AIDS or our struggle for civil rights, gay men and lesbians stand shoulder to shoulder in our endeavors. We know what is important to us, and we are willing to give the time and energy to those things. Members of a community recognize a call to join hands, to roll up our sleeves, to hold our ground.

Boy, this closet thing was turning into a real mirror-reflecting all the ties that bind us together as brothers and sisters. It was then that I saw the banner we had carried for three years in the NO/AIDS Walk, the signs from the Pride Parade that read BROTHERS AND SISTERS UNITED. To me, this was way more than just lip service . . . this was a way of thinking . . . a way of talking the talk while walking the walk (so to speak).

I had nearly reached the bottom of the closet when I came to something very personal . . . 3 or 4 boxes, still sealed, which had been shipped to New Orleans from Minneapolis nearly 4 years ago. These were the pieces of another life, lived in another gay community, at the other end of the Mississippi River. They contained the things that I had packed up when the decision was made to return home to the South. I wondered what these boxes held. . . these sealed capsules that had been forgotten in the labor of opening a new business, nursing it, watching it grow. odd how we seem to evolve from one life into another.

The thing that had not changed was my awareness of community membership. I had moved from one end of the Mississippi River to the other and with the move came the ongoing search for my "kind"-for my tribe-and the comfort of knowing that we are indeed everywhere and that I would most certainly find kindred spirits here. Ahh, I thought-another sure sign of community-knowing that I would find it here.

So it was that in this closet I was reminded that I had long since removed myself from any sort of secreted existence . . . that I live outside the confines of any locked doors . . . for myself and in the name of others who have not yet figured out a way to be outside the closet everyday and in every way. The closet was no longer a necessary metaphor for gay and lesbian life. . . it was a place from which escape was possible and from which many of us had already exited, never to return. The closet was a place to hang our clothes, not our heads.

Yes, this closet was clean of all the turbulence and turmoil of the last three and a half years. Now I could begin to fill it up with new memories, memories that would nest right on top of the ones that were already stored here. So I closed the door on a few chapters in the evolution of both Rubyfruit Jungle and the woman that I had grown to be along with that business. The closet shelves were all orderly and re-arranged, labeled for future reference. Everything was neatly in its place. That was one New Year's resolution signed, sealed and delivered.

But as I turned away from the closet, I noticed the latest box of things awaiting storage. The box was overflowing with tickets from Voodoo Dreams on the Cajun Queen, with plastic babies from the King Cake Queen's Carnival Countdown, with a feather boa left from last week's Forbidden Fruit Drag Show, with champagne glasses from the New Year's Eve we celebrated in the dark. Aw, what the heck. I opened the closet door and threw the box in on top of everything else.

Life, after all, wasn't meant to be catalogued . . . or lived in a closet.

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