"Risky changes": A coming out story – Part 2

RCchap7twowomen2Bisexual artist Norma Furman, 80, shares the second of a series of extracts from her memoirs. In Part 2, the cracks begin to show in Norma’s relationship with her first female lover, Audrey, when they embark on an action-packed road trip in Audrey’s husband’s car…

I joined Audrey’s consciousness raising group where women from different lifestyles met weekly to discuss and share feelings and experiences most women have in common. It opened my eyes and my mind. The unmarried women and the ones without children envied those of us who had the “traditional” family, while we longed for the freedom we had given up. We knew we had it better than any other generation of women in history (except for maybe the primitive matriarchal societies) but questioned why that was supposed to be good enough. Why were our rights not equal with the men? Why would a just, fair God or a just, fair society for that matter give one group of humans fewer opportunities than another group? Especially if that other group consisted of their own mothers, sisters, daughters and lovers.

Some of the rights that were denied to us in those days were important like “equal pay for equal work” and “equal physical activity programs”. Some of the rights that were denied to us were silly, seemed arbitrary and made no sense such as: we could smoke cigarettes but we could not inhale from cigars or pipes, we had to wear short skirts and shear stockings in the dead of winter when the winds blew our skirts and often revealed our frozen “tootsies” and we were called “immodest” if we wore slacks!

This freedom and liberation did not extend down to the feet because I remember wearing high heeled 3″ platform shoes ( Like Carmen Miranda used to wear way back in the 40’s). Platform shoes were the rage! They made one inches taller and proportionately slimmer looking and in spite of all the warnings from podiatrists and orthopedic doctors and such we persisted in wearing them. If one walked not too quickly, never tried to run, or break into a sweat one could maneuver fairly well with only moderate risk of turned ankles or other such injuries. Even in those days of women’s Lib, it never occurred to me how similar those platform shoes were to ancient Chinese foot binding and African our neck stretching in that we risked permanent injury for the sake of fashion and sex appeal.

On the one hand we were put on “pedestals”… too delicate and feminine for competitive sports, the police, fire fighting, the military, big business or politics and on the other we had to clean the toilets, scrub the floors and deal with all of the “dirt” in the world while lugging a couple of chubby toddlers around. We are emotional and unstable and yet they trust us with their children. We are bubble-headed sexpots if we’re their girlfriends and Madonna if we’re their mothers and boring if we’re their wives.

Audrey was a bisexual and a very promiscuous one and I eagerly engaged in the adventures she tempted me with. I felt liberated. We dressed up in our most feminine braless halter tops and platform shoes and cruised the lesbian bars in the village. We went to gay private soirees and where after many slugs of wine they finally taught me to smoke Mary Jane, WEED from a water pipe. (So that was that strange aroma I had smelled at those college parties back in the 50s).

And with our husbands’ permission – since they were threatened by women’s lib and didn’t want to be called “male chauvinist pigs” – we took a couple of road trips using Mort’s new convertible. One, just the two of us, to California, to join Arnie and Mort at an electronics conference where we played “Stepford Wives”. The other, down south, with a group of neurotic pouting lezbees from our consciousness raising group including Tina and Blaine. After a titillating night of group sex in the motel I got the silent treatment at breakfast at the Denny’s. It looked like they couldn’t handle that this straight housewife actually enjoyed sex.

Mort and Arnie didn’t have a clue that their suburban wives were acting like a combination of the L Word and Thelma and Louise driving across the prairie top down with air conditioning blasting. Gas was cheap then.
Traveling with Audrey was torture. We were both on diet pills but she was also bulimic. She’d wolf down fattening treats and then heave. She dominated the bathroom toilet and mirror blow-drying her dark shiny hair, taking hours to dress. She relished being a guy magnet competing with me for the glances of any decent-looking male around, furious when one of them actually preferred blondes. We never got past just flirting with guys. I had never been with any man except Arnie and I wasn’t about to start. I felt that would be cheating while being with a woman was not. I suppose I was fooling myself. Audrey used sex with me as a weapon; she played tricks with my head and I actually missed traveling with my husband, a male.

Torture or not I was looking for a way out of the suburbs (Grandma Reva had run away with her lover and I guess I always cherished that fantasy, subconsciously). Audrey and I had talked about moving in together, a big shared art studio loft in the upcoming artist’s district, Soho in Manhattan. The kids would be in private school and the husbands would support us. When that didn’t seem likely, she decided that Mort’s growing income potential was too good to walk away from so she dumped me.

Previous instalments:

“Risky changes”: A coming out story – Part 1

This is an excerpt from “Risky Changes: An artist’s metamorphosis from clutz to survivor”, which you can get hold of here



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Norma Furman

Born in the Bronx, in 1935, Norma and her partner Stásh now live in an off-the-grid home in the Arizona desert wilderness. She studied art at MOMA, NYU, High School of Music & Art and the Cooper Union. After raising a family in the suburbs in the 60s, she divorced and in 1974, with new partner Stásh created Disco-Van 2000, a mobile discotheque in Manhattan. In the 1980s, moving West, she earned the name Soulcatcher with the hundreds of portraits she produced. She graduated cum laude from ASU’s Department of PE 1988. In the 1990s, she and Stásh designed programs and produced Videos which won International awards. www.Desert drawings.com www.RefitYourself.org

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