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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Eating Fire, My Life as a Lesbian Avenger

Kelly Cogswell
University of Minnesota Press


 In 1992, when the Lesbian Avengers started, I was living in a loft on Avenue B with my ex-girlfriend Amy, and her roommate, Rennes, who would pick up closeted fags and have noisy, slurpy sex. I shouldn't complain. He'd agreed to let me live there for cheap, the broke poet with some weird disease that had me cry­ing out with feverish dreams, disrupting his postcoital sleep. Drag queens had been there first, and it took days for me and Amy to clean the eye shadow ground into the bathroom grout. Above us was our tequila-soaked landlady whose overflowing Jacuzzi sometimes came through our ceiling. Below us were a pit bull, a large iguana, and two tattooed musician dykes. And on the ground floor, the Tu Casa recording studio and rehearsal space that gave all our lives the same irregular 4/4 beat.

Every Saturday night, the pioneering Korean deli owners across the street would shout, "Call the police, call the police!" And every Saturday night, one of us would call 911 and wait for the blue and white to turn up, siren blaring, cops laconic as a crackhead ran down the street with the till. Every block had two or three gaps where buildings had burnt to the ground. In between, in grimy graffltied buildings lived poor Latino fami­lies sprinkled with an assortment of artists and queers. Once, Rennes organized a brunch and I ended up making pancakes for some elderly British neighbor in a broad-brimmed hat and purple cloak that he introduced as Quentin Crisp.

A couple blocks north, in the rapidly gentrifying East Vil­lage, was Tompkins Square Park with its dealers and drummers. In the summer, it hosted the likes of Wigstock, Lady Bunny, and every wannabe beatnik in the world. At all times, it held the homeless, along with a full complement of squirrels, other rodents, and dogs. My friend Kathryn lived up at the north­eastern edge in a basement apartment. I'd visit at night, scur­rying past the rats when she didn't have a late shift waitressing or a gig with her band. I saw her once at CBGB's, thin and ener­getic on her traps, but she played guitar, too, and wrote her own stuff. She'd give me a couple puffs off her weed, and we'd talk about all our failures with girls, then sometimes mess around with her instruments. For a while we called ourselves The Sex­tets, randomly picking poems from a volume of Anne Sexton with me wailing the lyrics and thunking away on the bass, and Kathryn playing guitar. We never tried to get any shows, and only had one witness that whole time, but it made us happy. We weren't afraid yet of squandering our lives and dying poor, alone, in the crappiest hospitals reserved for the uninsured.

I think we met at an action for ILGO, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, though she's about as Irish as I am, meaning hardly at all. She went because of an Irish ex. I went because of Marie Honan, an Irish girl I met when I was temping at Philip Morris. She had leopard-print glasses and a handbag big as a kitchen sink. Marie lived in Brooklyn then, with Anne Maguire, her girlfriend, and for a couple of years I followed them around like a barely housebroken pup. They were the first lesbian cou­ple I ever knew, cool, smart, pretty, and composed, even under a fire of beer cans and garbage that we'd caught along with Mayor Dinkins when we walked for the first and only time as out Irish queers in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. I adored them both, tried to be them, really, the way I'd tried to be my oldest sister trailing around in her T-shirts that dropped to my knees. I bummed cigarettes, borrowed clothes and accents, learned to warm a teapot and drink tea, listened to their stories of girls on the rampage in Dublin and heroes in Belfast, slept often in their spare room, slept with Marie a few times until Anne found out. I only understood the betrayal when I saw it on her..