Review by Lee Lynch
                             Graffiti Artist of Lesbian Literature


I was introduced to the writing of Red Jordan Arobateau in the early 1980’s by Tee Corinne, who had learned of the self-publishing, working class, old gay writer while living in the San Francisco Bay area. Until recently, this type of word-of-mouth network was Arobateau’s primary marketing tool. Although I owned none, I never forgot Arobateau’s books. Last year I stumbled across an address for (her) and learned that she was still writing her powerful stories of street dykes. And I learned that, after something like twenty years of copy-shop printing, self-promotion and infrequent notice by the lesbian and gay literary worlds, Richard Kasak of Masquerade Books is connecting this decidedly lesbian writer with a larger audience.

In the Red Jordan Press catalogue I count forty-seven books which Arobateau has authored. She describes, for example, The Rich/The Poor In Spirit as “the tale of a revolutionary lesbian fry cook at the Burger Emporium and her lover, chosen, from the scuzzy habitués of the downtown district.” Where The Word Is No is “A glimpse of a bisexual hustler’s life, and his relationship with Miss La De Da, a fabulous, insightful drag queen.” Satan’s Best is from the Lesbian Biker Series, and features “some SadoMasochism.” And So I Cast Myself With Jesus Into The Sea Of Life she describes as a collection of “Religious poetry for all who love God the Mother or wish to hear about the supreme being in a New Light.”

Iconoclastic and idiosyncratic, Red Jordan Arobateau writes with an exciting and uncontrolled energy. Her work is erotic, political, violent, romantic. Her female characters are, on some level, Everydyke, decidedly femme or butch. They are street kids and poverty-stricken couples. Her mixed race butches are by turns abusive and abused. Her femmes are betrayers and devoted “wives.” occasionally both in the same character. Everyone gets high on chemicals. The world according to Arobateau is a trial and everyone is guilty, everyone sentenced to a hard time.

Arobateau appears in the documentary Before Stonewall. Her work is included in the anthology Daughters Of Africa and the periodicals Sinister Wisdom, Common Lives/Lesbian Lives and On Our Backs. Why weren’t her books published long ago? This is raw stuff, the sublime moments of a working class lesbian world--and the sordid moments disdained by a reading public. Arobateau is not edited. Even the Hard Candy edition has received minimal editing, according to Kasak. I’m not at all certain Arobateau could be edited and keep flying at the altitudes she reaches through sheer passion.

An evocative fragment from Mars: “She slapped down the street in her midnight mules.”

From Street Fighter: “Plaintive cry of seagulls at this ocean side metropolis: AREEK! AREEK! at the last dusk light.”

From Heaven: “Maybe they held twenty bags in all throughout the night from their get-down time of late afternoon, when junky shadows in purple fell.”

From Lucy: “As if doing pushups, Mickey lowered her body down between her lover’s legs; forced her swollen womanhood down on Lucy’s cunt, got hard contact and rode.”

Arobateau writes poetry, splashes it across the sprawl of the vandalized cities she uses as settings: NewYork, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia. Her imagery is primarily visual and so naively accurate--the lover doing pushups--that the reader sees with an immediacy a prettier image would not convey.

Sometimes I hate reading what she writes. I have avoided her biker series but even the rough sex in her vanilla books disturbs me. Much of the sex makes middle class me uncomfortable, but I assume it has partially been the author’s ticket to publication.

She explains the sexuality of some of her characters in Street Fighter:

“And actually Woody was as meek and mild as any woman, but that she’d had to deal with life in the street... Learned to withhold her sexuality.--To sublimate it into unconscious where it reared out as an angry snake. Amerika in its repression....had forced its restraints on her, and she had internalized it, and now, clutched onto that as a form of power.--Power in holding herself back, in denial. So when her cuts leak out, and her sex comes on--it explodes in rage, and violence... In drugs, to wipe away memorys of the past, and to rid herself of fear. In dominance.--Controlling her sexual situation. as if she could by that way control her environment too.”

This writer is a poet locked inside a reality so harsh she gasps for beauty--and finds it--using the same language and individualistic spelling and grammar as her characters. This is no paint-by-number genre dabbler, no weekend novelist out to supplement her income and self-image. She is the graffiti artist of lesbian literature, not respectable by a long shot, but chronicling for us the raw material of her world. She springs from the tradition of a Kerouac, a Thomas Wolfe, unable to reisist the intense, undeniable yearning to recreate and celebrate and tell her experience. Of course Wolfe had Maxwell Perkins and Kerouac had his mentors. Women with raw talent usually do not get published.

Would I want to sit down and read an Arobateau beginning to end? Some readers may. I have difficulty with undisciplined writing and dip into her books as I would into poetry. Her characters are too busy hustling for the basics of survival to show much development. Ursula in Mars is an exception: “She didn’t know what she felt,” writes Arobateau at the end of the book, “but that she felt something... deeper then a gold wedding ring.” In The Bars Arobateau uses the device of group therapy sessions to trace the development of heroine Flip.

The plots I read usually reported the struggles between a butch heroine and her mean little world. Sometimes Arobateau follows the course of a relationship. Lucy & Mickey opens with a “freakshow.” The two women, who have just met, perform for three men, and fall in love with each other. For 500 pages we watch them collide with poverty, love, violence, sex and drugs. The plot is real life for some, which does not always make for entertainment.

I suspect that Red Jordan Arobateau has worked harder and waited longer then many to be published. Her cascade of turbulent words, sometimes chillingly lovely, sometimes unpalatable, sometimes clumsy, often chosen so sensitively they seem torn from her existence and still raw, is part of our literature. This lesbian deserves notice.

LAMBDA BOOK REPORT ----  A Review of Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Literature
Vol. 4 No 11 July/August 1995
Lee Lynch-reviewer  ---  Lee Lynch’s most recent novel is Cactus Love.