Thursday, September 28, 2006

Photo by Alan Light

Aleta and Jean: Sisters for Change

A message to be remembered

President Woodrow Wilson once said: "If you want to make enemies, try to change something." I think it works in the opposite direction as well. If you want to make friends, try to change something.

I first met Aleta in Sioux Falls. Or was it Pierre. Or was it in Washington. Did I buy a button from her somewhere? Vermillion? I don't remember. The physical meeting means less now than the meeting of the minds though I was pleased to know the physical person.

I'm now just a 54 year old kid from South Dakota who 12 years ago got angry at a couple of state legislators who were trying to stop people from loving each other by creating a law to stop marriage of same-sex couples. A ban on same-sex marriage. Really what they wanted to do was to stop love. Fat chance. Some things you can't change. Love is one of them.

When I first got up on my high horse and thought I could change these idiots I thought information was the most important thing in the world. Computer. Internet. Really, Internet in fairly early days. There was a guy in Iowa City who was gathering up the gay news, something easily done now by Googling the words gay, lesbian, homosexual, faggot, AIDS, etc. People were sending him articles from all over the country. Every day articles would enter my email box at AOL and I'd read them. It was news the Rapid City Journal didn't print. It was news being gathered by gay people all over the country and in turn being sent back to them. And it became a huge list of people. I'm certain that everyone who was anyone in the gay movement was getting these mailings. After a while, Bill Stosine, not his real name, said he'd had enough and was turning his news article gathering over to a couple of women. Oh oh, change. Was it going to be the same? Was it going to last? I hated change.

Soon the news appeared to be coming from News. Lots of news. Too much news. Too much opinion. Information overload. Day and day after day. And it continued and continued and continued and I finally realized that somewhere along the line, I had changed. I had changed. I had changed to become a person who like change. I was someone who liked news and liked to know. And I had changed inside which was more important.

For the longest time I felt like a second class citizen, like someone unworthy of being alive and breathing. Oh, I was out of the closet as a gay man, sure. And I was standing up for my rights, sure. But inside, something was still tickling my pain buttons....I still felt unworthy of being. And from all over the nation and the world, news and opinion arrived from these two women. Sometimes I contributed a letter to the editor that was printed locally. Or sometimes an article. And I'd see my name in print from fenceberry...and maybe a small comment about how I'd written a good letter to the editor or how I was doing something in South Dakota. And pretty soon it wasn't fenceberry anymore. It was FENCEBERRY. These two wonderful women meant something bigger than themselves. They represented something irrepressible. They represented a spirit of change and a spirit of growth. It was growth for the whole of the gay movement. No longer were we just in Rapid City, or Iowa City, or New York or San Francisco. We were in little towns in Alabama and Louisiana and Montana and Wyoming. We were everywhere there was information and news.

I confess ego. Yes, I can remember writing letters to newspapers all over the nation just to get my name mentioned in the Fenceberry news. Then gradually, I grew up. It no longer mattered that thousands of gay activists knew my name or my opinion. And I learned from all of them, yes, and they, perhaps, learned from me. Language. We learned the language of our lives from each other.

We not only learned how to speak for ourselves and our movement but we learned a common language from each other via the Fenceberry daily reports. It was bigger than all of us. It was a power greater than ourselves. For the first time in my life, I felt that power and understood what it meant to be a part of a greater movement. My ego went away....sorta. I call it back when I need it and it can be useful at times...but I finally understood that I was not alone and that we had a common language we needed to share...everyday. And from the writings of other activists across the nation, I learned how to write.

Here's a letter I just sent today to the Rapid City Journal:

"There isn't a gay man anywhere who could stop another man from falling in love with a woman. Nor is there a lesbian who could stop another woman from falling in love with a man. No woman could stop a man falling in love with another man. No man could stop a woman from falling in love with another woman. Love happens without the interference of others. Yet, there are those in our society who would do just that: stop love from occurring.

These are the people who resist change, make laws to resist change and make laws and rules to restrict others. They bury their heads in the present and think it will always be the way they think it is never realizing the world is different from what they perceive it to be.

They have gathered their forces to pressure society to adopt strictures on love in the form of Amendment C on this fall's ballot. They think that by stopping people from getting married that the love they oppose will cease. Those who support Amendment C think they are changing the world. They might as well stop the wind by turning off the sun. No on C."

Gay writers and activists will recognize themes in my letter, just as I would now recognize themes in their thoughts and writings. I learned it through the world of Aleta Fenceroy and Jean Mayberry...Fenceberry.

How does someone thank another person for opening their eyes? How does another person thank a guru who suffered through the student's insufferable adolescent rambling? The words "thank you" apply by themselves, surely, but something more is needed. Something else must exist beyond those two words. It is change. Change yes. Demonstrated change.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Life is a progress, and not a station." The Alcoholic Anonymous program states that alcoholics should seek progress and not perfection. So that is what we should always be seeking: progress and not perfection. We move forward constantly knowing that we are creating change in ourselves. Let others stay comfortably inside the stiff pages of their old books. We are a part of progress and we are growing together exponentially. We force no one to believe what we believe. If they are attracted to our thoughts, we welcome them. And our thoughts are not about our sexuality nor are they about the love and the experience of that love we share. We have grown beyond those thoughts and into a world of progress in all areas. Progress towards peace. Progress toward inclusion. Progress towards understanding All are welcome to share in the progress.

So in conclusion, this is what I learned through Aleta and through Jean. There is nothing more worthy in life than to know someone has joined the parade towards progress through one's own works. That's is from where the gratitude springs. It isn't the gratitude of the student towards the teacher. It is the gratitude we express to ourselves for having accomplished this task of enlightening another into the ways of progress. In that self-congratulatory moment when we thank ourselves for our own works there is no ego, no puffery, no high-blown pats on the back. In that moment we recognize that we succeeded. And all we ever wanted to do on this earth was succeed at the highest level.

So as the curtain closes we are reminded of the great poem by Dylan Thomas:


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This poem written to Thomas' father is written to us all. It reminds us that we must fight with every breath, every day, in health and in sickness. And I can truthfully state at the end of this message that I have known Aleta Fenceroy and I have known her to have raged against the dying of the light. And it was she who created light when there was nothing but darkness all around. And she brought light to all who heard her behind the thousands of articles sent from Sioux City and later, Omaha. I heard them and I heard her voice. And because of her, I, too, shall rage against the dying of the light. And it is my promise to her that I shall never drop the torch and shall hand the flame on to others. The way will be lit. We and I... shall make progress for all those who love and live and for all those who loved and lived. We shall remember and never forget our duty to the cause of progress. This I pledge.

Barry G. Wick
13121 South Creek View Road
Rapid City, South Dakota
United States of America 57702-8503
skype: barrygwick2004


Anonymous Anonymous said...

call i internet phone

Hi, great blog by the way - didn't think you'd mind me posting this anonymously - as you do allow anonymous posts ;-).

Anyone tried this Skype program yet for free telephone calls over the internet? A guy at work uses it all the time and because he signed all his friends and relatives up he saves a fortune on his calls. Might be worth a go.

Good luck with the blog


2:11 AM  

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