Forty years ago, I stumbled into Santa Cruz in a haze of youthful uncertainty. Fresh out of college with a somewhat useless theater degree and no particular ambition. Just starting to acknowledge my not-so-straight-after-all sexuality. Living in my van after trekking across country to find a warmer future in the Mecca of California. I rented a room in a mountain cabin for $75/month. Got a job as a cook in a nursing home. And I picked up a free women’s newspaper called Matrix. They were looking for an editor (no pay), and I liked to write. For the next twelve years, I spent countless hours every month helping produce that paper: editing, writing, typesetting, layout, even selling ads. It was all volunteer, and it was the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.
A Little Matrix History
Matrix started in 1976 as a university grant project. I arrived just after the grant had ended and the original collective of publishers was trying to find a way to keep the paper going. We met in each other’s living rooms and used the university facilities for paste-up. Eventually, we rented office space in a loft above a kite store. When that place burned up in a fire, we moved into the Dr. Miller building, an old Victorian with lots of character.
Matrix quickly grew into a large collective of ever-changing volunteers with a strong lesbian influence. We offered training, purpose, and inclusion to any woman willing to volunteer her time, so the office became a hotbed of social and political connection. It’s where Kate and I met in 1982. And I made friendships there that will last my lifetime.
The paper was a collective, and decisions were made by consensus, with all the drama and conflict germane to a shifting team of strong, vocal feminists. But by and large, it was a wonderful place to call home. Each month we wrapped up production in the wee hours of the night, punch drunk and bleary eyed, feeling so damn accomplished. At the monthly potluck meetings, we celebrated, welcomed new members, attended to business and processed our feelings. (You don’t really know the meaning of “processing” until you’ve attended three-hour meetings for a feminist collective.) There were so many wonderful women who gave their time and energy to that paper. But Claire and I were the mainstays, each giving over 12 years of free time to the cause.
We moved from Santa Cruz to Eugene in 1990, but we’ve stayed close with many of our old friends. This was such a short trip, I only told a few people I was coming, and I stayed with different friends each night.
When I first got to town, I had lunch with my co-awardee, Claire, and her wife, Marsha, who had just flown in from Seattle. Afterwards I went to Darcy and Sharon’s house for the night. We were all young parents together, decades ago. (Their daughter, Tani, is a year older than Tobi.) Since then they’ve sprouted a second generation family with twins, Bodi and McKenzie, who are 14 now. And although they sometimes look with envy at their peers’ empty nests, they are loving, dedicated parents, grateful for their adorable kids. We enjoyed an adult dinner and evening while the kids were at their dads’ house. (The donor-dads co-parent with them.) And the next morning, after a delicious breakfast with the whole family, Bodi and I walked down to the beach with their dog, Buddy. Sometimes it’s a few years between visits with these friends, but we always reconnect quickly.
On Saturday, I went over the Angelica and Ellen’s house. Angelica was another mom friend back in the early days. Angelica also has a two-generation family, in a way. Her son, Kita, was 17 when her second son, Miles, was born. Now Miles is a sophomore in high school. It was a cold, rainy day, but we walked to the beach and went to a movie, where we ran into another old friend I hadn’t seen in ages.
On Sunday, Angelica and I rose before dawn to go on a long rainy hike (more on that in the next post). We lunched with another old friend, Jesse. And then Angelica went with me to the award ceremony. After the ceremony, I stayed with yet another friend before leaving the next morning for Texas.
I’d been telling myself this was no big deal. Santa Cruz isn’t that big of a town, and it’s not like this is the Academy Awards. But the planners of this event outdid themselves. It was in the new Museum of Art and History, and the event was sold out days before. There was live music (by some other trailblazing old-timers), drinks, catered hors d’oeuvres, and a wonderful display of material from the new Santa Cruz LGBTQ archive, including three West magazines that featured stories about Kate’s and my family. A slideshow displayed youthful photos of awardees and friends. And everybody mingled. I saw so many familiar faces, some I hadn’t seen in decades. Yet everybody, really, looks essentially the same when you look into their eyes. Extra lines, gray hairs, pounds dissolve in that moment of recognition.
There were speeches, some funny, some moving, but all of them reminding us what it was like when we were young and came out into a world that was openly hostile; the elation we experienced when we found each other and banded together in a fight for our own civil rights; the anger and sorrow we felt when the AIDS epidemic ravaged our communities; and what it is like to grow older and watch the youngers step up to the plate, because in spite of our huge strides, there is still more work to do.
It was so validating to walk up onto that stage, with my dearest, oldest friend, and be applauded for those endless efforts we thought had faded to a few shared memories. The emcees, mayor and an assembly member shook our hands and we grinned goofily at each other for a moment before shuffling back to our seats.
After the ceremony and reception, Claire, Marsha, Angelica, Marie, and I went to a nearby pub for a late dinner. I called our old Matrix comrade, Barbara Riverwomon, who had not been able to get a ticket for the event. She came down and joined us and we stayed till after 11:00, laughing and sharing old tales. I hadn’t seen Barbara in probably 30 years, and she is exactly like I remember her.
I flew back to Dallas the next day, where Kate was waiting for me, and I was still walking on air when I got off the plane.
The photo album and slideshow include both old and new photos. Thanks to Karen Borchers, Ray Gwyn Smith, Clytia Fuller, Marsha Morgan, Nadine Samuels, and anyone else I may have missed for photos I didn’t take.