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subfield code a C59-000032 USFLDC DOI0 245 Merry Moscato oral history interviewh [electronic resource] /c interviewed by Emily Noelle Baker.500 Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.1 600 Moscato, Merry650 Holocaust survivorsz Florida.Holocaust survivorsv Interviews.Genocide.Crimes against humanity.7 655 Oral history.localOnline audio.local700 Baker, Emily Noelle710 University of South Florida Libraries.b Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.University of South Florida.Library.Digital Scholarship Services - Digital Collections.Oral History Program.730 Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.773 t Out Down South Oral History Project4 856 u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?c59.3
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text Emily Baker (EB): So we're just going to start with a little introduction. We're going to ask each one of you to just say your name and how many years you have been together.
Merry Moscato (MM): Okay, okay. Well, Iâ€™m Merry Moscato. Merry as in Christmas, M-e-r-r-y. And I've been with Cheryl for 31 years.
Cheryl Schwartz (CS): And my Cheryl Schwartz, and I have been with her for that many years, too. So, there you go.
EB: We'll just start with a few introductory questions. How did you meet?
CS: Merry and I met in Boston. I had, actually, just recently come out, and Merry was one of four other women that ran a women's bar in Boston. It was, actually, pretty much women only at the time. And I had just come outâ€”or I think, even before I came out, I guess, I was showing some interest. So a friend of mine said, â€œHey, do you want to go to this bar?â€ And I met Merry, and I was 26 years old then. So it was way before we got together. But that's how I met Merry initially, then, just from around. And we got together. So I was 26 then, and we got together when Iâ€”whatever. I canâ€™t even remember. Well, it was 31 years ago, and Iâ€™m now 63, so there you go. Thirty-three.
MM: That's about right. So, Cheryl, I guess that there's not much more to say. I ran a bar with a collective of women. It was called the Saints, and it was open in the â€™70s, so we did a lot of political work there. And Cheryl came, and we met and became friends, and then, eventually, we fell madly in love.
CS: This is true.
EB: So this was in Boston, when you guys met?
CS: This was in Boston.
EB: Did you guys both grow up in there?
MM: I grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, and I moved up to Boston when I was 19, not quite 20, and got involved in the beginning of the womenâ€™s movement, the lesbian and gay movement, did a lot of marching and demonstrating. The women took over a building at Harvard, and we held it for ten days because we wanted a womenâ€™s center. So I was involved in the beginning of all of that. And that was really exciting, a really exciting time, demonstrating and marching for everything. And then it gets to the Vietnam War, and womenâ€™s rights, lesbian rights, and then, from there, the womenâ€™s bar opened for women only.
CS: But, Merry, you also knew that you were a lesbian at a very young age.
MM: I had girlfriends in grammar school.
CS: And she was also kicked out of high school because she was in a Catholic high school, and she was caught in the closet with her girlfriend.
MM: That was 1966, three years before Stonewall.
CS: So that's an interesting piece in your story, Mer.
MM: Yeah. I always forget about that part. It eventually comes out, but yeah.
CS: And I grew up in Ohio and just moved to Boston because I felt suffocated. I had been married to a man, and I had felt suffocated in Toledo. We got divorced, and I just had to get out. So I went to Boston. I just packed up my car, moved to Boston, went to school. And, within a year, I had come out, basically. So that's kind of my story that way. And while things weren't quite as radical, they were still pretty radical in the women's movement at the time. But, for me, I came out then. I mean, I had to tell the world that I was a lesbian. And Merry and I always talk, and weâ€™re quite aware of this nowâ€”more now, after moving to Floridaâ€”just how, though it wasn't easy then, it was still Cambridge, Boston, which is a lot different than here in many, many ways, obviously. So, while there wasâ€”and the women's movement was so exciting and all-around, it made it a little easier to just come out into that situation.
EB: So you guys kind of mentioned childhood. You felt you recognized your sexuality a little bit earlier in childhood. Maybe it took you a little bit longer to come out. If you guys just want to talk about, either childhood memories in Ohio or in Massachusetts, or did you know any gay or lesbian couples as you grew up? Or have any mentors? Or did you know anything about same-sex relationships?
CS: So my experience growing up, in terms of knowing lesbian and gay people, was basically none. I mean, not that I didnâ€™t, but there was no awareness and no talking about that, really. My family never really, sort of taught me to not like people that were different from me. I was taught to be more accepting of people's differences. But I really wasn't aware of it or talked about it much, until one of my girlfriends in high school told me from underneath a blanket that she was, uh, she was, you know, sleeping with her girlfriend. So that was my first real hands-on experience, and I said, â€œOh, get out from under the blanket! What's the big deal?â€ Something like that, you know. So that was really, only it. To my experience there, it just wasn't talked about. I knew that my great uncle was a homosexual. My parents had warned us that he was a homosexual, and thatâ€™s it. Theyâ€™d laugh or make fun when he was coming over for dinner once. And, of course, Debbie and I were like, â€œOh my God.â€ Thatâ€™s just the way it was inâ€”we're talking the late â€™50s, early â€™60s. So that was a family that was good about it, really.
MM: Right, and a lot of families were not. I know people who got disowned and thrown out. But I, on the other hand, again, I lived in the city, right across from New York. So it was it was different. I had a good friend; she was a lesbian. Mostly, everybody, you didnâ€™t talk about it. But there were bars in New York City, so you knew more about the old-time butches and femmes. And even though there were very strict rules of butch and femme, I really have a lot a lot of respect for them, for all the things they had to go through and what that meant. I did know a few growing up. So, yeah, I am still very proud to be a butch. And I know that there's been this whole thing that people go through, politically, from years. But I never forget those women, their lives, how tough it was, and they were my role models, so I always loved them. So it was different. Itâ€™s not likeâ€”my family was, well, I came from a broken home; thatâ€™s what they called [them] back then. So that was practically all I knew. So it was different. My family was Italian, and my father left when I was a baby, and I had siblings, and it was like I was the only one who had a single mother working. So youâ€™re on the street a lot, so you meet a lot of different people.
CS: In conjunction with what youâ€™re saying, even when I came out in Boston, there was a pressure from the feminist movement, then, to not identify as butch-femme. And there was almost a negativity that you could feel toward what had come before. And so, even though I was young to the movement and young to being a lesbian, I really didn't like that because I have always had a respect and interest in history because it is where we get our wisdom from, about the world and about the present. So I never really liked that. So the feminists at the time, which Merry and I both were, but, the larger pressure was to just strive for androgynyâ€”is what they called it then.
MM: And I would get into a lot of arguments with feministsâ€”
CS: So if you saidâ€”not that we didnâ€™t use those words then, but that was sort of the way it was, and it was seen as an old-time, repressive, victim kind of thing, and we didnâ€™t have to be that way anymore because we were breaking down those barriers. So there was a long period in there, that there was sort of a disrespect for the times and what had come before. I just thought Iâ€™d say that.
MM: Right, and when I first went up to Boston, and we went up to the bars, which were the mafia bars, and this is 1970, so there were still a lot of older, butch-femme women in the bars. And then the young feminists came in. And it wasnâ€™tâ€”I always had fights with the women that I hung out with. A lot of the women were from the colleges because I was up in Boston, and they were middle-class or upper-middle-class; I was a working-class dyke from the time I remember. So I really had a hard time dealing with them on that issue. And class, class was a very big issue, a very big issue. I had a hard time dealing with class. So it sort of all went together.
EB: What was your opinion, during the â€™80s, on the growing attention on the topic of AIDS?
MM: Ah, thatâ€™s a good topic. Right before AIDS happened in thereâ€”okay, so, youâ€™d go to a lesbian-gay march. And most of the people that organized itâ€”most of the people that spoke, letâ€™s put it that way; not organized, but spoke, were women. And we talked politics from the stage. And I remember talking to a fewâ€”at the time, I always said faggotsâ€”a few gay boys, who were like â€œOh, we donâ€™t want to be bothered with politics. Weâ€™re here to party.â€ Okay. Then AIDS happened. And the women, who were so organized around so many things, are the ones, really, who helped the boys get organized. Now, yes, they had more power, more privilege, more money, so they got organized pretty quick, but they had a lot of help from the lesbian and straight feminist community, who was already there. Like I said, thatâ€™s how I brought up the march, to show you the differences when we were actors. They were demonstrations, and they were important.
MM: ACT UP.
CS: ACT UP. So with that, and thatâ€™s where, then, the next generation went because thatâ€™s where the younger people went because it was more radical, and itâ€™s where the activistsâ€”thatâ€™s what happened.
MM: I had a hard time because, not that I didnâ€™t think the women should help the boys out, because it was a big crisis, but they stopped doing things for women. So what happened is, then, the breast cancer marches were starting, and you wouldn't see men at the breast cancer marches. And all the women, a lot of the women, not that they didnâ€™t participate, but they were much more involved in the AIDS crisis. So I would get into arguments with women because I didnâ€™t do as much work in the AIDS crisis. My main focus has always been lesbian, women-only spaces thatâ€”
CS: Well, we started to see, really, what happened is that a lot of gay men at the time, not that that wasn't an issue to fight and to be important, but it was like a single issue. Where we came up politically, as feminists, there many issues that came together to create your feminist philosophy or perspective, not just a single issue.
MM: Right, and one of theâ€”
CS: I think thatâ€™s how we felt. Also, what happened with the womenâ€™s movement is that, the lesbian feminists sort it exitedâ€”of course, we're generalizingâ€”exited women's movement, and the activists and the organizers in the feminist movement were, largely, more heterosexual. Because they weren't jumping over to the gay community as much. For a while, thatâ€™s what it seemed.
MM: Right. Well, in the beginning, yeah, thatâ€™s true. Yeah, the AIDS crisis.
CS: Thereâ€™s the long answer to that question.
MM: Well, it could be quite a lot longer, but (phone dings) hell, thatâ€™ll cover the questions.
EB: This is really, really awesome stuff. I mean, Queer Nation, ACT UP, the differences between the movements. Thatâ€™s just really, really interesting.
MM: Yes it is a big, yeah.
EB: Thatâ€™s really relevant.
MM: Right because we have younger friends, who are younger than the generation before, and they were in Queer Nation after us.
EB: So before marriage equality was passed in 2015, how did the lack of legislative support impact your lives while living in Boston?
MM: Well, actually, it happened in 2004, you know that right? The first marriage?
CS: So, actually, Massachusetts passed legal marriage in 2004, in Massachusetts. So, prior to that, Merry and I felt that we were married and lived our lives as such.
MM: And we weren't lookingâ€”we werenâ€™t part of that, ohâ€”to get legally married. We were more concerned about, at the time, universal health care. Not that I didnâ€™t think it was a great thing. But it wasn't something I was paying as much attention to, until there was a woman judge, who, actually, was the one who passed the law that lesbians and gays should be able to get married.
CS: In Massachusetts.
MM: In Massachusetts. So that was 2004.
CS: So we neverâ€”we, actually, were not going to get married. Actually, we had owned a restaurant at the time, and we were tired, and they were going to pass the firstâ€”
MM: No, but the thing is, we were tired. And we had, that night, we had gone to bed. Iâ€™m watching the news at eleven oâ€™clock, and there was like, tons, hundreds of people. They were at city hall in Cambridge because, at 12:01â€”
CS: They were going to allow the first gay couple to get married.
MM: And the first couple that brought the suit were women. So it was women who did it, and they were going to get married. And I looked at Cheryl, and I said, â€œI canâ€™t believe weâ€™re laying in bed. Weâ€™ve been activists our whole life. Weâ€™ve got to get out of here. Get up, get dressed, letâ€™s go.â€
CS: Which we did. We both put on our leather jackets.
MM: Right, and off we went. And as we turned the corner, the wholeâ€”it was up a lot of stairs, and it was, like, grassâ€”and everything was sort of stilled you couldnâ€™t even see it. And, of course, youâ€™re straight across from all the people that [said], God hates fags, God hates queers. So it was a really big thing. So we were there.
CS: And hereâ€™s the difference between Merry and I. Everybody was going, Cheryl! Merry! Because they thoughtâ€”we were just trying to edge our way upâ€”
MM: I said, â€œHang onto my shirt, and Iâ€™ll get us through the crowd.â€
CS: And the crowd thinks weâ€™re getting married. So theyâ€™re going, Cheryl, Merry! Congratulations! And Merry goes like this. Theyâ€™re going, Cheryl, Merry! And Merryâ€™s goingâ€”(MM feigns cheering)â€”like this. And I go (CS and MM laugh). Okay. And thatâ€™s the difference between us, right? So, anyway theyâ€”
MM: But we didnâ€™t get married that night, but we were there. And we got to the top of the stairs, so we were there when they got married, and they came out and everything. But, the next day, we were back in our cafÃ©, which was in a progressive section of Cambridge, so all the straight people come in going, Did you get married? Did you get married? And then, Iâ€™d go, â€œNo.â€
CS: They were so disappointedâ€”
MM: And what did Violet tell you?
CS: Finally, I kept saying, â€œWell, no. We really feel like weâ€™ve been married.â€ Meanwhile, their eyes would glaze over. They really, really, really, which was really great; they wanted usâ€”they were so happy for gay and lesbian people. They just wanted us to get married. And I started saying, â€œWeâ€™ve lived our whole lives without that expectation.â€ So, eventually, one of the young women working for me said, â€œCheryl, just sayâ€”just lie to them. Just tell them you got married. They just want to be happy.â€ But anyway, a couple months later, there was a threat to take gay marriage away; to put it to the vote to the people and to take it away. And, at that point, Merry and I felt that we had to stand up and be in those numbers because those numbers might have been the only people in the United States that would have been ableâ€”
MM: To be legally married. Everybody else was doing those, what was it?
CS: What are they called? Those commitment ceremonies.
MM: Oh, commitment ceremonies.
CS: But to be legally married, most judgesâ€”I mean, most lawyers say itâ€™s much more difficult to take something away once you have it than it is to gain it.
MM: So we figured we had better be in the numbers.
CS: So we did get married.
MM: We just dug this up because we had to get new passports. We couldnâ€™t remember. We were like, How, when did we get married? Two thousand four, June eleventh, we got married.
CS: Yeah. So it was no big deal.
MM: But it was a big deal.
CS: But it was a big deal. The woman that was marrying usâ€”
MM: Oh, this is a great story.
CS: We were in her insurance agency, and just my sister and her little adopted daughter was there; there's a cat running around and whatever. It was no big deal. We didnâ€™t care what she said.
MM: Oh what we were making, and we had a catering job that night. So we put the catering job in the car with Lizzie, our adopted daughter, and her [Cherylâ€™s] sister and us. We dropped off the catering job, and then we went to the insurance agency to get married.
CS: Anyway, so, and I said, â€œWell, just say what you say, Denise.â€ And so, we were like, Oh, get it over with. So when she got to the part when she said, â€œI now pronounce you,â€ she just leaned forward and goes, â€œlegally married in the state of Massachusetts.â€ And then I got tears in my eyes. So that was kind of moving. So we've been, actually, legally married since 2004.
MM: But the thing is thatâ€”what was I going to say? See, this is what happens when you get older. Just for all you young people, Iâ€™m going to be 68 next month. (multiple people talking once)
CS: But it was a difference to us. I know you're going to get to that; we're going to get to that. But there is a difference of just being married in one state and worrying about the implications of that when we left. It didn't it didn't make us stay in Massachusetts. And, really, the rights that it granted you were limited. Though, in some ways, it was sort of weird at first because domestic partnership was relatively pervasive in Massachusetts, but that all was taken away because you could get married.
MM: So what it meant is, like, if you worked at the hospital, they had these laws in domestic partnership, you could get your girlfriend on. But once you could get the right to get married, domestic partnership didnâ€™t stand anymore. So you had to get married if you wanted to put your girlfriend on your insurance. It was a weirdâ€”
CS: Yeah, so there were some interesting things. And, also, every time you went to the doctorâ€”and, actually, this happens here too, which is an interesting thing, I thinkâ€”most the time in our lives together, when we went to doctors, we just up-fronted [sic] it right away: This is Cheryl; This is Merry; Sheâ€™s my partner. Thatâ€™s the way that was, and they always knew. And we did it that way: This is Merry; she's my partner. And that's the way that that was. But what started with gay marriage, and it started in Massachusetts, when you had to fill out forms, it says, Are you married? They all say that, all those forms. And Iâ€™d go, Oh, well, I guess I am! And so, then youâ€™d put down Meredith Moscatoâ€™s name. And so, what happened is it forced you to constantly, in those situations, to come out toâ€”not your doctor, necessarilyâ€”but to the secretary at the desk or to theâ€”
MM: And, for us, it was not a problem because I always told everyone I was a dyke. I went (scoffs). If my mother knows, everybody can know.
CS: But it was a wholeâ€”
MM: But other people were not. So it was a big thing for them.
CS: But even for me, it wasnâ€™t that it wasâ€”it didnâ€™t do it or anything, but itâ€™s something that we always took control of. So it changed it somewhat, in that random people now start questioning you and reacting. And this has continued here because itâ€™s not normal in their eyes. So, recently, when I was at a doctor here in Florida, and it wasnâ€™t my primary care; it was a specialist doctor. And it said the same questions: â€œAre you married?â€ Yes. â€œSpouseâ€™s name?â€ I put Merryâ€™s. â€œSpouseâ€™s occupation?â€ I just left it blank or something, you know, because Merryâ€™s disabled. So she says, the person who comes in before, â€œSo whatâ€™s your husbandâ€™s occupation?â€ Because I left it blank. So I said, â€œWell, I donâ€™t have a husband. Itâ€™s a woman, sheâ€â€”da-da-da-da-da [sic]. And this is not unusual. This is what happens now, and it never happened before, which is interesting.
MM: Itâ€™s the difference from being in a progressive Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Florida. No Iâ€™ve run into it too. I mean, some people will.
CS: Yeah, I think it is. But it did happen a little bit in Boston, too, because even though Boston area is very liberal in that and progressive, itâ€™s still, to individuals, itâ€™s still not what they think in their head when they think, married. Itâ€™s not the picture. Itâ€™s no different, like, years ago when we were younger, when we thought of a doctor, it was him. It was a he. And that's no longer true forâ€”
MM: Thereâ€™s more women going to med school than men.
CS: Right. So now, Iâ€™m shocked when I say I went to the doctor, and someone will say, Well, whatâ€™s his name? And Iâ€™m like, Itâ€™s a her. So itâ€™s shocking to me. But the gay marriage thing, itâ€™s still not the norm in people's perspectives, I donâ€™t think.
EB: That kind of answers, like, the next three questions. That was a great.
CS: Actually, we have a good story from what happened in Fort Myers that I think is interesting. Also, it shows also something about what happens here, not intellectually necessarily, but Iâ€™ll tell the story.
EB: Yeah, so if you just want to kind of switch more to, like, maybe differences between Florida and Boston.
CS: Right. Because I sort of brought them up. So there are someâ€”thereâ€™s obviously a lot of differences, here in the South. And I think, when Merryâ€”so, Iâ€™ll start the story. When Merry and I first started driving down here to move, I said to her in the car, â€œMer, we're moving down South. We've been out our whole lives.â€ And we actually have had some troubles in hospitals in Boston, also, where we were questioned, or I wasn't allowed into an emergency room.
MM: I wasnâ€™t.
CS: Merry wasnâ€™t allowed into the emergency room. But that was early on, and after that, we lawyered up and got powers of attorneys and so forth and so on, before the gay marriage thing. But, still, it was just easier to be out there. And I said, â€œOkay, can we just move down thereâ€”? Can I just start, right away, only medically, letâ€™s just say that we're sisters right off the bat, so we don't have to worry about that?â€ And part of it was because we were questioned in Massachusetts. I had been hit by a car, and the doctor was asking me the questions, â€œAre you sexually active?â€ Yes. â€œAre you on birth control?â€ No. â€œIs there any chance that youâ€™re pregnant?â€ No. And he goes, â€œWell, how could that be?â€ And then I have to say, â€œWell, because Iâ€™m a lesbian.â€ And then I thought, Oh my God, Iâ€™m going to get killed! And itâ€™s that problem when youâ€™re sitting there, and all youâ€™re doing is wanting to be taken care of physically and know that youâ€™re safe, so you donâ€™t want to have to worry about your safety because youâ€™re queer. So that was there in Boston, also. But anyway, so back to our carâ€”
MM: So she gives me this lecture, okay, letâ€™s just say what it is, all the way there. â€œCome on, you can do it. I know you donâ€™t want to. But you donâ€™t have to blurt to everybody that youâ€™re a dyke. Just tell them that Iâ€™m your sister, for any reason, if we have to go to the doctor or whatever.â€ So I gave in. I said, â€œOkay, okay. I understand.â€
CS: So we are actuallyâ€”we get down here, and weâ€™re not here. But two months, weâ€™re down in Fort Myers now, which is much more conservative than here. I mean itâ€™s justâ€”
MM: And this is 2008 or .
CS: The people looked conservative. Everywhere went, it was just like, Oh my God. So Merry gets her finger caught in a garage door, and we have to take her to the emergencyâ€”
MM: Because the whole top came off, so Iâ€™m like, â€œOkay, we better go.â€
CS: So there we areâ€”
MM: On the way there, she says, â€œDonâ€™t forget: youâ€™re my sister.â€ And Iâ€™m, (feigns yelling) â€œYeah, okay, just get me there.â€
CS: So sheâ€™s in; they take her back, and they let me come with her. And they're in there, and we're just talking. And the woman comes back; Merry's, like, in so much pain, and the woman comes back with paperwork.
MM: And it was my right hand, so I couldn't write.
CS: Right. So sheâ€™s filling out the paperwork. So sheâ€™s looking to me to answer the questions. And she said, â€œAnd your emergency contact?â€ she says to Merry. Merry says my name. And then she said, â€œAnd your relationship to her?â€ And I look at her, and I said, â€œWe're partners. We're partâ€â€”(laughs) Merryâ€™s likeâ€”
MM: And Iâ€™m just looking at her, thinking, What the hell happened to sisters?
CS: (laughs) Weâ€™re partners! I just couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. And theyâ€™re veryâ€”and she didnâ€™t miss a trick. She turned right to me, and she said, â€œWell, in that case, you must have power of attorney.â€ Not one second did she hesitate. And I said, â€œWell, I do.â€ And so, we signed the papers, and by the time I leftâ€”here it is. Even a difference between medical facilities is so profound. So when weâ€™re leaving, they go, Bye, Cheryl! Bye, Merry! Better than Beth Israel [Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center] in Boston. Itâ€™s just interesting in peopleâ€™sâ€”not that, generally, the things that weâ€™re saying are sort of true, but it's not always the case underneath. So we were treated very respectfully in that situation, being gay and lesbian people so. I just want to say that.
MM: Lesbian and gay.
CS: Lesbian and gay.
MM: I like to put the women first. So anyway, we couldnâ€™t take living in Fort Myers. It was just so oppressive. Just everywhere, even Home Depot. It was, like, the way people were. So we were like, We need to get out of here. And Cheryl was really, like, â€œI have to get out of here. I just have to get out of here.â€ So I said, â€œOkay, weâ€™re going to go up to Gulfport, and weâ€™re going to stay at the Peninsula Inn at Gulfport for a few days and look around.â€ We were here [for] one day, bought a house, put my name on a house. We were looking around, and we really liked this house. Just a little house, the prices were low then. And Cheryl goes, â€œOh, we donâ€™t the checkbook for them,â€ Iâ€™m like, â€œYes, we do. I brought it.â€ So weâ€™d just put a deposit down, went down in Fort Myers and talked to people. We lived in a gated community, and we told our friends there, â€œWeâ€™re moving. Thatâ€™s it. Weâ€™ve had enough.â€ And we moved here, and I just love it here. This is actually a progressive little town. They donâ€™t care if youâ€™re a lesbian or gay orâ€”
CS: Actually, weâ€™ve discussed this. Merry and I have always been out, basically. Weâ€™re out to our families, out to our friends. We had aâ€”it wasnâ€™t a lesbian cafÃ©, but we had our own cafÃ© and restaurant. But we still basically were only hung out with and really related to, except work-wise, other lesbians, primarily. And moving to Gulfport really changed that. Itâ€™s the first place that we felt was really, actually beyond tolerant in that way. I donâ€™t know. We always thought the lesbians in Gulfport were sort of conventional, in comparison to some of the heterosexual folks here. And I think thereâ€™s truth to it, in that, in Gulfport, a lot of straight folks here have led unconventional lives. I mean, our neighbor, Jim, is a captain on a ship. And he goes, and that's what he's done his whole life. So he takesâ€”people hire him; he drives boats from Boston to the Bahamas.
CS: Yachts. So thatâ€™s his life. And then thereâ€™s artists. But you donâ€™t meet as many nine-to-fivers here that have done that their whole lives. There are some, but itâ€™s just different. Itâ€™s not like the lesbians or the gay men, itâ€™s just Gulfport, Gulfportians [sic].
EB: So you mentioned living in kind of a lesbian or gay community in Fort Myers, and then Gulfport is historically known as a lesbian or gay community as well. And then, I was wondering, in Massachusetts, if you guys happened to live in that, if they have lesbian and gay communities.
CS: No. In Massachusetts, actuallyâ€”
MM: There are areas, like JP. But it was likeâ€”
CS: The whole city, I mean, the whole Boston area. There is Jamaica Plain. It shifted. Like, when we were young, Cambridge is where most of the lesbians were. The gay men always had more money; they sort of established the South End of Boston. So when you're in a big urban area like that, there's many areas, and it's just a whole different feel. So it is all over the place. We were only two hours from Provincetown in Boston, and that was that kind of community. But that was really known everywhere as a gay Mecca, like Fire Island in New York, Provincetownâ€”
MM: Oakland out in California. A lot of lesbians move to Oakland.
CS: Yeah. But all those big cities, like New York City as the same thing. Thereâ€™s some people that lived in the [Greenwich] Village, then Park Slope in Brooklyn, and Williamsburg, thereâ€™s San Francisco. Urban areas are a little different.
CS: We actually, in Fort Myers, there was a women's gated community there that was developed. And so, it was really kind of women only.
MM: It was lesbian.
CS: Yes, it was lesbian. But it was not necessarily established by political lesbians, necessarily, or feminist lesbians. So our experience was that a lot of women before us, I'm sure it has changed through the generations, but had come, not to hide, but were closeted. And going there brought in Merry and I because we had doneâ€”
MM: Oh, no! There goes the whole interview!
EB: There goes the whole interview.
MM: Itâ€™s ruined. Start over.
EB: Weâ€™re going to have to capture all of that again. (All laugh) Sorry.
CS: Thatâ€™s okay. So, in this community where we lived in Fort Myers, a lot of the womenâ€”based on their age, which a lot of them were in their 60s and 70sâ€”due to sexism, who wanted independent lives from men, felt their only options were the military or education. So Iâ€™d say that was, like, almost [the most] pervasive occupation. So we would meet women there that had been together, like, for 40 years, or too many were nurses together in Vietnam. And they were very closeted. They did not use the word â€œlesbian.â€ They did not use the wordâ€”
MM: Anything, â€œpartner,â€ nothing. They were justâ€”
CS: Werenâ€™t necessarily out.
MM: The houses were, they had two separate bedrooms for when people cameâ€”
CS: Yeah, this isâ€”
MM: â€”came to visit and workâ€”
CS: This isnâ€™t allâ€”but we had never met those lesbians before. So that broadened us and made us realize that, had much more respect for their lives and their choices.
MM: Yeah. Instead of just saying, You were in the military? It explained why, at that time, when they were 20, and they wanted a career; it made more sense. As opposed to, I canâ€™t believe anybody would join the war.
CS: Or, How could you not be out your whole life? Itâ€™s justâ€”
MM: It broadened us. But, in the end, they werenâ€™t political enough in the way that we needed, that we had to move. And then, once you stepped outside those gates, forget about it. Fort Myers, you wouldn't hold hands walking around in the street. You just, it was, like, we justâ€”so the combination of living in that environment. We made some good friends there, and then living out. And when you stepped outside the gate, itâ€™s like, We definitely have to get out of here. And that's why we came here. Because we knew that; we had heard that, and we knew some lesbians who lived here. And it was much more accepting. Gulfport is just very accepting. Itâ€™s really nice. And then St. Pete, I love St. Pete. Iâ€™m a city girl, so I need a littleâ€”
CS: Yeah, we loved that. We loveâ€”
MM: Love that I can just get downtown in ten minutesâ€”
CS: We like, when we first moved here then, so now itâ€™s going on five years. And St. Pete wasâ€”Central Ave and all that was just starting to happen. We were so excited when we saw all the coffee shops and all the young people. And we were like, Oh! We shouldâ€™ve moved here! We shouldâ€™ve moved down here, and not to Gulfport.
MM: And then we realized, Weâ€™re not young anymore.
CS: I said, â€œWell, we did that. Weâ€™ve done that. Weâ€™ve done that our whole lives.â€ You know, all the gluten-free places and the community cafÃ© and the ba-ba-ba-ba [sic] and everything. Now, okay, Gulfportâ€™s good. We can alwaysâ€”itâ€™s ten minutes, and we can just go down there. So weâ€™re always happy when we get out of Gulfport and hang out at Central Ave because it makes us feel like we always did in Cambridge because itâ€™sâ€”
MM: Right. Itâ€™s like Cambridge, exactlyâ€”
CS: And we knew what was going to happen as soon as we saw because we watched it happen.
MM: So then we get those feelings. You get those mixed feelings: Ugh, theyâ€™re gentrifying. Which means the people that live there are getting thrown out, and they canâ€™t afford to live there. So they have to move, but then you get these places you really want to go to. So youâ€™re always torn about the whole thing because itâ€™s good and bad.
CS: Yeah, thatâ€™s a good point, Merry.
MM: Because itâ€™s good and bad. It happens in every city. It happened in Boston. It happenedâ€”every city goes through it.
CS: But weâ€™re glad it happened in St. Pete. Yeah, weâ€™re very glad.
MM: And we should talk about the Women's March and how exciting that is.
EB: Yeah, so you were kind of mentioning, it sounds like activism is kind of what put you to Gulfport a little bit. Itâ€™s, like, more of an activist lesbian and gay community.
MM: I had been saying to Cheryl, just like a year or two ago, â€œWell, I donâ€™t understand, the youngâ€â€”I talk about women all the time, so you can (inaudible) if you need to. But, â€œthe young women, theyâ€™re not out watching.â€ We were forced out into the streets back in the â€™60s and â€™70s for womenâ€™s rights and stuff. But, anyways, â€œReally, what do they need?â€ And so, Cheryl says, â€œYou know, Merry, you are really poor at technology. So they have their own way of reaching each other in political stuff and stuff that you know nothing about, so you canâ€™t say theyâ€™re not doing anything political.â€ However, I was so happy and sad and disturbed and freaked out because of Agent Orange there.
CS: (laughs) President Agent Orange.
MM: Got that from the Emmys last night. You know, forced women out on the streets, all over this country, all over the world. Iâ€™m like, â€œOh, we have to do it again.â€ But I said to Cheryl, â€œI donâ€™t mind marching and demonstrating and being out there in the numbers, but Iâ€™m tired of organizing them. I really donâ€™t want to organize. Let the youngsters do it, and Iâ€™ll show up.â€ But, really, when it really needed to be shown, I always believe you have to show with numbers. And the fact that was shown all over this country, and the world, that women are very powerful, and we are in great numbers, and weâ€™ll stick together because things are going to get worse, obviously. So, yes, I was very excited, being an old activist. I did see this sign this woman was holding; she must been about, seriously, she must have been 85. And she had this sign that said, â€œI canâ€™t believe I have to do this shit again.â€ It was great. It was great. She was at some demonstration.
CS: So we've gone down. We went down the night after the election, after Hillary lost the election. There was an impromptu protest downtown. Of course, we were tired, and we're going to go, but we did.
MM: Oh, but then again, I can't walk very far because I have spinal stenosis on my back. So, actually, I brought a wheelchair, mostly, I thought, to be pushed; but if I donâ€™t need to be pushed, I can hold it and walk. And then, when I get tired, I can sit in it. So it was, like, the first demonstration I had to bring it. And it was, like, reallyâ€”to me, I did have a little image problem with it, butâ€”
CS: Yeah, but, so weâ€™re going along, and Iâ€™m basically just pushing the chair (both speaking at the same time; inaudible). But, of course, the media was attracted to us because of it.
MM: They marched right over because, Oh, thereâ€™s some old women! Letâ€™s interview them!
CS: (laughs) What would bring you out, tonight? So we were on Bay News andâ€”
MM: Something else.
CS: Somebody else.
MM: Yeah, someone saw us on Bay News. And I think some campus guy was from, whatever, I think from, umâ€”
CS: Yes. Just to go back to some of the things that Merry and I have been talking about with the recent developments, here, with the election and the marches that are happening. As most of us and our friends were very despondent for a couple of weeks after the election, and sort of tried to get out of that funk. I donâ€™t think I really got out of it until the day of the Womenâ€™s March in DC, and we couldnâ€™t even go to the one in St. Pete because we were working. And we turned, I said, â€œLet me turn on the TV to see if that march is being televised.â€
MM: And the reason she thought thatâ€”Iâ€™ll just put this in, and you can continueâ€”because when we would go down in the â€™70s and early â€™80s to the big marches in DC in front of the White House, and itâ€™d be, like, maybe 300 thousand people. And then on the news, on like the six oâ€™clock news, thereâ€™d be a little blip, like, literally, ten seconds. And in the paper, theyâ€™d be like, â€œFour hundred thousand people showed up,â€ little thing, maybe page ten. So we come home to look at the TV to see if they were showing anythingâ€”
CS: My expectations, Merry is exactly right about. My expectations were from the past. And Iâ€™m sitting here, and I turn it on, and Merry is, like, doing the dishes out there in the kitchen. And Iâ€™m like, â€œMer. Mer, youâ€™ve got to come here.â€ She goes, â€œOh, Iâ€™ll be right there.â€ I said, â€œNo, Mer, youâ€™ve got to come here.â€ Because it wasnâ€™t just the march on Washington, which was so intense, but that the globalâ€”and then you saw London, Australia. You started seeing all these cities. Iâ€™m like, â€œHoly shit.â€
MM: When you switched channels, it was on MSNBC, it was on CNN, and it was on for all day. I said to Cheryl, â€œItâ€™s like Princess Diana died.â€ They covered it all day. (both speaking at the same time; inaudible) Wow, unbelievable. It was, like, so exciting.
CS: And so many of the women that they were talking to were younger women.
MM: Which made usâ€”
CS: We were so happy, couldnâ€™t have been happier, in that weâ€™re so strong and knowledgeable and knew all this stuff. But then a lot of them were saying, Hey, I didnâ€™t think that it was that big of an issue anymore.
CS: You know, we have these rates (inaudible). There was always that kind of younger woman, now, thinking they donâ€™t want to be seen as victims. And back to the same thing in a different time that happened with our generation, not looking at what had come before. And that's how theyâ€”we believe, really, thatâ€™s how the system keeps women down because thatâ€™s what happens. You start thinking it doesnâ€™t apply to you; it canâ€™t happen here.
MM: Well, itâ€™s the same thing with the voting rights. I went back through and was looking at all the, as I like to say, herstory of things as, like, women trying to get the vote. There they are in these long dresses, but they were out there; they took the streets. Susan B. Anthony was beat up, jailed. Women went on starvation; they were raped in jail. They did so much for me to vote, and I take the vote for granted. So, of course, that's what happened, too, after we did what we did in the â€™70s. So youâ€™re supposed to sort of take some things for granted.
CS: Yeah. But, anyway, after that, I felt a change inside of me because I thought, Well, no matter what happensâ€”and I really do believe thisâ€”in the next four years, I know that it will be okay because whole new generations, theyâ€™re there. You guys are there. And so, we might lose a little bit, but it will happen, because it always does because they only let you go so far. And then, I think, this time, they couldnâ€™t take those transgender bathrooms in North Carolina. We were sent right over the fuckinâ€™ edge! (laughs) So you know, only let you go so far. And it's true of anything. If you study any kind of social movements, thatâ€™s what happens: you go so far, and then they stop you. Thatâ€™s it. No more. (MM and CS speaking at the same time) And [they] push you back, but they donâ€™t push you back all the way. I have friends saying, Oh, weâ€™re going back to the â€™50s. I said, â€œWe are not going back to the â€™50s, okay? Itâ€™s not happening. It will be pushed a little bit, and then it will go father. And thatâ€™s the wayâ€”
MM: And thatâ€™s for all movement.
CS: And I saw that, but just seeing that reminded me of that, and I saw it. Sometimes you just have to see it happening to know that it will be okay. But everybody has to play their part, and I believe that will happen. So what I do feel better.
MM: Me too.
CS: So I'm glad. So there you go.
CS: They got more than they thought they were going to get.
EB: (laughs) I think we have enough material. (all laugh) Yeah, well, our videoâ€™s going to be like five to ten minutes, so I think we justâ€”I thinkâ€”
CS: But anyway, but see (EB and CS speaking at once). Now weâ€™ve cast that onto you two, so now you two know what weâ€”and for usâ€”
MM: Well, we should be saying, Do you have any questions? (EB laughs)
CS: Wait, I just want to say this one thing, though, for us. And this doesnâ€™t have to be in. But I think our generation made a mistake in not passing things on. We were so busy living our lives and doing all that, so these kinds of things were not passed on to the generation right behind us. Because they became friends. You were just friends. You were just hanging out. You were just hanging out. And now that we're older, talking to 20-year-olds or 30-year-olds, itâ€™s different, I realize. Because we just didnâ€™t do it. We didnâ€™t do it well.
MM: We didnâ€™t get the idea across well enough, Donâ€™t take this for granted. We did this, and it can always be taken away. I donâ€™t think we ever passed that on.
CS: Well, I donâ€™t know. I find a lot of young people that we do talk to, now, about it, and are so inclined, get it.
MM: Right. Itâ€™s like the womenâ€™s movement. Itâ€™s like, we had womenâ€™s bars; we had womenâ€™s restaurants; we had womenâ€™s book stores. And, if you look around the country, thereâ€™s one or twoâ€”oh, womenâ€™s centers. Thereâ€™s one or two womenâ€™s bookstoresâ€”one in Ohio, People Called Womenâ€”who is still open. Otherwise, there was one right in Cambridge; they closed. Thereâ€™s no womenâ€™s bars; thereâ€™s no womenâ€™s bookstores.
CS: You know what also happenedâ€”?
MM: It goes away when people when people feel like they can just be accepted, so they donâ€™t need to go to a lesbian bar. They can go to a regular bar and dance with their girlfriend, and they feel fine.
CS: But itâ€™s sort of, like, back to the question about AIDS and its impact. What had happened is, I think, as I said, we weren't talking to younger people enough that marriage equality, the issue which was led by what we would have considered at the time a more conventional group of people, like the Human Rights Campaign.
MM: Single-issue civil rights campaign.
CS: And that we're concerned, again, about, they have a lot of white, gay menâ€”rich, white, gay menâ€”who weren't really happy that they had one oppression, which is that they were queer. And a lot of attention went from other movements and other issues to marriage equality. And so, a lot of younger women particularly, which was more of our concern, thatâ€™s who their education or political framework came from, was that thrust because thatâ€™s what was out there. And Iâ€™m glad it was out there. I really am. I think it did a good thing, and it brought us into the mainstream, and all thoseâ€”you can't barely turn on a television, now, without seeing lesbians or gay men on TV shows. And that's good thing.
MM: Most of them yeah.
CS: But it contributes to not remembering that you are oppressed in the United States. You just are.
MM: The other thing that's important, now, thatâ€™s going on is that it isn't a single issue matter. Even though women took to the streets, and there was a Womenâ€™s March, you saw Black Lives Matter signs; you saw the Dakota Pipeline signs; you saw other [sic]. So itâ€™s not just focusing on one thing. Yes, women are going to be attacked because of the Planned Parenthood that does so much good, not just abortions. Abortion rights, thatâ€™s why itâ€™s focused on women, but theyâ€™re not excluding. We never exclude; theyâ€™re just focused on one issue, and thatâ€™s not happening.
CS: Yeah. But marriage equality was just marriage equality. It didn't really care about people that don't have healthcare; like Merry said, whatâ€™s happening with Native Americans; whatâ€™s happening with Black Lives Matter; all of those things. That was just never included, so thatâ€™s just never who we were.
MM: Right because even in the â€™70s, when you went to a demonstration, there were always women handing out flyers, and it always listed oppressions of other people. It wasnâ€™t just what this demonstration was about. It wasnâ€™t just, Weâ€™re demonstrating for abortion rights. There were always flyers handed out, and it would list other oppressions that wereâ€”
CS: Even theoretic feminism always said, If one group of people is oppressed, (MM and CS continue in unison) everybody is still oppressed.
EB: So you feel like the lesbian and women's movement were really focused on multiple issues at a time, while, whenever the gay AIDS crisis was happening, that kind of just led it into more a single issue.
EB: And now, today, you saw, again, in a march that you feel like they were representing multiple issues again.
CS: Yes, yes.
CS: So weâ€™re really happy about that. And just that young women are out there, and theyâ€™re pissed.
EB: And even mentorism, you mentioned the mentor thing. I lived mostly in the South, and I didnâ€™t even know lesbian or gay people until I got to high school, I think, or I saw marches in San Francisco, the Pride marches, and Iâ€™d be like, Who am I? And it just started toâ€”itâ€™s interesting what you say about the older generation transmitting their information and what theyâ€™ve already learned, and how you keep taking two steps forward and one step back because we forget those issues that you already had to fight for. I think thatâ€™s, really, an interesting comment.
CS: But theyâ€™re all still right there. Because you can see it; theyâ€™re just the same issues, though. No ERA passed, trying to take away Roe. Theyâ€™re all right there still. But itâ€™s so done a different way because, of course, itâ€™s not going to be done the same way as it was, that we did it in. And it shouldnâ€™t be. Thatâ€™s what is exciting to me, so itâ€™s like, Oh my god, look at them! Itâ€™s so much strongerâ€”itâ€™s so different. Itâ€™s so different, and itâ€™s so the same. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s great about it.
MM: And women that always, and will always, be oppressed. I really feel like men are afraid that if we really get equal power, what would happen? So the fact that things stillâ€”
CS: Well, hence Donald Trump.
MM: Oh, please, must you mention his name?
CS: No, but seriously, theyâ€™re afraid. These white, richâ€”theyâ€™re afraid. Heâ€™s afraid thereâ€™s too many people of color, thereâ€™s too many women, they know thereâ€™s too many gay peopleâ€”
MM: Well, there was one sign I saw, and Iâ€™m not sure of the figures, but it said there were 62 laws against womenâ€™s bodies, zero for men. And men are the ones who are, still, unfortunately, in control. Women are getting into some positions of power. They can help change. But not enough to override the men. And the person who crossed over from the Republicans that had the vote was a woman. (background noise) Was that any accident? No.
EB: We were so close. We almost had a woman president. Almost.
MM: Yeah, but the thing is, we need more women in positions of powerâ€”
EB: Of power.
MM: Like the Senate, the House [of Representatives].
EB: Itâ€™s still mostly male-dominated.
CS: I know.
EB: And white.
CS: I know, itâ€™s so weird. I know. Itâ€™s justâ€”
MM: Itâ€™s just horrible.