Last year when I turned half-one-hundred years old, I was in Paris. It was luscious.
This year, I am turning 51 in a tiny rundown motel room, no phone, no TV, no Gay Paree.... I'm writing chapters of my autobiography. It's not luscious, but it's fertile!
Music and photographs are indispensable as I poke my memories with a stick. I have a playlist for every major character, and when I push "play," the songs call the dear and departed into my room like a Ouija board.
Then there's the blinding recall flash of old photographs, the ones I never got around to digitizing before. I thought I'd share a few of them today as I cut the cake!
Oxnard, California, 1959
This is my Grandpa Bright, holding me up like an Easter Egg. I remember that willow tree very well. Some of its branches would touch the ground, and when the wind came up, I'd whoop and run in and out of the leaves like they were stage curtains. My grandpa was a butcher and chicken rancher. He died when I was still a kid, of Parkinson's. That smile of his— my dad and I got that, too.
Sierra Madre, 1968, St. Rita's Parish Girl Scout
Notice the lack of badges. I was completely intimidated by them. In order to get the nature badge, for example, you had to watch a spider being born, or something equally improbable in the sprawl of Los Angeles. Our troop never even went outside the parish basement.
I was shocked when Donna from our Troop told me that her mom would vouch for anything, and that's why she had a sash plastered with badges from top to bottom. My mom wouldn't budge. I eventually earned three, not cheating: reading, cooking, and housecleaning.
1974, Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
I shoulda gotten a badge in speechifying! This is me, at 16, at a "socialist youth" conference at UCLA, no doubt ranting about the thrills of democratic centralism. But you see, this all eventually taught me how to be a mesmerizing guru of sexual possibility.
Joel Levine, photo.
1989, cover of Kathy Andrew's first "Stormy Leather" catalog, the first "leather atelier" for women.
This is what happens to girl scouts, every one.
Jill Posener shot this with Lulu Belliveau's expert preparation of the models, me and Uschi. It was an outgrowth of all our work at On Our Backs; it seems not a day went by without planning a photo shoot, behind or in front of the camera— or both.
This was when latex clothing was new to the States, and Kathy was our London connection to everything new and spanky. I was fascinated by how much baby powder you had to put on to get anything over your hips.
14th and Van Ness, San Francisco, 1981
When I first went out with Honey Lee Cottrell, I knew she was a legendary photographer— she and Tee Corinne practically invented the lesbian image. I screwed up my nerve to ask her if she was into grafitti, because I was mesmerized by a billboard that had been tagged in my Mission neighborhood.
It was an advertisement for Wolfshmidt vodka, which in its original form, showed a woman's hand caressing a man's, next to a chilled glass.
The tag artist, working in orange, black, and silver, had made a crocodile out of the woman's hand, printed "S-E-X" on the vodka glass, and inscribed 6-6-6 on the man's knuckles.
Honey said she'd shoot it if I would model with it, and this was one of the outtakes.
When we looked at the photos later, she was startled by this one: "I know that man," she said. " I didn't realize it when we were there. He works at the photo lab, too."
She meant the public photo printing labs, inspired by Harvey Milk, up on Duboce Triangle. She told me, "He's missing his left hand, that's why he's hiding it in his pocket."
San Francisco, 1991
My favorite birthday by far... Aretha's number one! I was so excited to present her with a cake. When she wanted me to try it first... I was beside myself. That little girl! I am wearing earrings that are Aretha's "footprints"... her auntie Shar Rednour made them.
Want to melt a momma's heart? Here's how you make a pair: You put the baby's little feet on an ink pad, and then make prints on cardboard paper. Cut them out, and on one side is the footprint, while the other side you glue colored tissue flowers. Then just poke through an earring wire at the heel.
I still have those jewels— my treasures! Now I want to go find them and put them on right now.
You've probably already seen me jumping around in my star-spangled Charlie's Angel jumpsuit on Facebook, so I will spare you further glimpses into my 51st Costume Mania.
Thank you for all your good company the past year; it's been one hell of a spin. I couldn't have done it without your support— and I'm sure you know I'm not exaggerating!
When I publish this autobiography, I will be 52 years old. Writing this hard is going to age me, darling. Come book launch, I will go out on the road with a truck of books, my walking cane, and a pack of cards...