The pub was packed as Pretty and I followed the hostess to a small room in the very back of the Main Street tavern known as O’Hara’s in Lexington, SC. Sounds of busy bartenders slinging ice into cocktail glasses and pulling levers for draft beer mixed with the heavenly aromas of bbq wings drifting from the kitchen – good signs for a place we’d never visited before. The day was a Thursday, and people were hooking up after work to prepare for Friday and the weekend. No inside voices inside this bar for sure.
When the hostess indicated where we were to go, we stepped into a little room with eight smiling people waiting for us. They were the book club we had been invited to meet with that night to talk about Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home, the anthology I edited that was published by the University of South Carolina Press earlier this year. One of the members, our friend Tony, had selected the book for his club meeting during Pride Month and, judging from the warm welcome we received, the book had been much appreciated.
I always love an opportunity to talk about Committed to Home and getting to discuss it with book clubs is a bonus because book club members are more likely to actually read books. I love them for it.
Everyone had a beverage and food while I answered questions, offered extra information on the book cover, little tidbits on rejection letters from other publishers and also discussed a few of the contributors. Pretty and I sampled the delicious wings we’d sniffed on the way in. They were as good as they’d smelled.
While we ate, Pretty chatted away with Tony and a couple of other members who were close to us. I heard her talk about joining the club so I knew she was having fun. Pretty belonged to a book club many years ago that she still misses very much.
The noise from the bar outside our small room gradually reached a crescendo which made the larger group interaction more difficult so we began talking in smaller groups of twos and threes to the persons we sat next to or across from. One of the book club members, a woman about my age, leaned across the table to talk directly to me. I was completely enthralled by her story.
Connie moved to the Columbia area from Missouri in the early 1990s and discovered Traxx, the lesbian bar discussed in Committed to Home by contributor Deborah Hawkins who opened Traxx. On one of her visits to the bar, Connie picked up a magazine called In Unison in which she saw an advertisement for a group called Lesbians without Partners. Since she was single and interested in meeting other lesbians, Connie decided to give it a try. She discovered the group had been started by an African American woman named Kat who had a single lesbian daughter. She asked me if I knew Kat or the group, but I told her regretfully I’d never heard of it.
One of the other women she met in the new group was Nancy who had moved here from New York. Nancy asked at one of the meetings if anyone liked to go fishing; Connie said that she did. Nancy had a boat and a place at Lake Murray but nobody to fish with. To add to her woes, she told the group she’d been stood up several times by people who promised her they would go but then never showed. Connie assured her she wouldn’t be in that category so they agreed on a day and time for the fishing trip.
The night before Connie was to meet Nancy, a terrible thunderstorm brought tons of rain and much colder temperatures for the day afterwards. The last thing she wanted to do was go fishing, Connie thought. But she didn’t want to be one of the women who disappointed Nancy so she dressed warmly and spent the day on a fishing boat on Lake Murray talking nonstop with her “singles” group friend and found that neither had any real interest in the lines they threw in the water that day.
Connie knew that Traxx was having a Beaufort stew night at the bar that night and promised to introduce Nancy to the people she knew if she would like to come. Nancy did go and met Connie there. Apparently as the night wore along Nancy was more interested in Connie than in the other lesbians she met that night. The rest, as they say, was history…but not quite.
Both Connie and Nancy loved their singles group which had a rule prohibiting dating among the members. In order to maintain their membership, they asked Kat if they could still belong by alternating meetings. Connie would come to one meeting, Nancy to the next. Slightly unorthodox, but Kat agreed. I can imagine she was happy for her two singles to make a double.
Twenty-seven years later these two remarkable married women sat across from me in a tiny room at a pub in Lexington, SC as members of another group: a book club formed with friends from their church. I felt their story was another bonus for me that night. They lived the early days of the LGBTQ movement in our state – and tonight they could read about a few of the leaders of our movement, people who had worked to provide support to them by changing the political landscape of a conservative southern state.
Thank goodness for Deborah Hawkins’s taking a leap of faith to start what she hoped would be a community center for lesbians, thank goodness for Tige Watts and Nigel Mahaffey for publishing a community magazine called In Unison, and a special thank you to Kat wherever she is today. If anyone knows her, please tell her Connie and Nancy haven’t forgotten her or the singles group she started.
Many thanks, also, to Tony Roof for choosing Committed to Home for his book club during Pride Month and for his ongoing support of our LGBTQ community. Pretty and I had a special night with you and your friends.