Sarah Rose Hurt, the only lesbian I have ever loved, passed away July 11. She was a “latebian,” but she was out and proud and very assertive about her sexual orientation. Or was she? The mystery of my friend Sarah Rose is On Our Radar.
There are people who drift in and out of your life and never leave an impression. There are others who plant seeds, or who deftly sculpt the people they meet with nothing but their wit or their kindness. Sarah Rose Hurt was one of the latter. Because of Sarah Rose, I have a voice as an advocate, 2500 Korean friends, and archive of 1100 sunset photos. Oh, and a broken heart.
Years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to go beyond my comfort zone once a month and try something new. Joining Twitter on the very last day of the month was resolution fulfillment for November 2008. It was a last-minute substitute. I had been planning on visiting a Starbuck’s but the weather in Michigan was snow up to the eyebrows, and Twitter is an indoor activity. So I began tweeting, and somewhere along the way @sarahrosehurt and @uncucumbered (that’s me) followed one another.
You will probably recall that the following summer Iran had an election, and a sea of green protesters took to the streets and to Twitter. I finally found a Twitter purpose, connecting with dissidents in Iran to send them Tor bridges and proxy servers and first aid instructions in Farsi. I also tweeted the Iranians’ information, everything from where they had seen Basij to the names of students who had been arrested. I began to pick up followers at CNN and MSNBC. Al Franken followed me, and then Barack Obama. Twitter was suddenly all I did. When they slept in Iran, and I had posted my last video of the Iranians singing Allah Akbar from their rooftops, I tried to convince my followers to turn their avatars green.
Sarah Rose Hurt’s avatar was, at that time, a half-filled rosy-red martini glass, and except for the news organizations, she was one of the few people I followed who wasn’t green. I lobbied her almost every day, and though she retweeted my Iran tweets, and was always one of the most well-informed people in my timeline, she would shrug me off with a joke or an excuse. Her glass remained red. Then one silly season evening I got crazy with the cause (and no small amount of wine) and tweeted that until Iran got a new election, I was unfollowing anyone whose avatar wasn’t green. The next day there was a green half-filled martini glass in my Direct Mentions column with five words: “Whatever it takes. I’m staying.”
And that was the beginning of my wonderful friendship with Sarah Rose. I changed the color of her avatar, which is still green today. In return, she changed how I spend my time. For example, if it were not for Sarah Rose, I would not be writing this to you.
One of the very first things Sarah told me about herself was that she was a lesbian. It was why I decided to follow her. I had never met any gay people before and I thought it might be interesting. (You shouldn’t read too much into that admission, I have been a para for more than twenty years and don’t know a single other person in a wheelchair. It’s on my to do list). Then one day, I tripped over a tweet by David Badash, the founder of The New Civil Rights Movement, and began to follow him. Trying to impress Sarah Rose with my coolness and comfort level about all things gay, I sent her a tweet recommending David to her. I told her she should follow @davidbadash not in a “Follow Friday” sort of way, (Follow Friday is an obnoxious Twitter custom of sending lists of endorsements around) but because I thought she’d really like him and the news he tweeted.
If you don’t tweet, using David’s account name with the @ sign meant he saw that tweet too, and he sent a surprise three word reply: “That’s so sweet.” Then he followed me. I am not really sure how over the next year David discerned by my little 140 character Twitter observations that I could write, but he invited me to do a guest piece, I think it was just a compilation of my snarky tweets on the State of the Union, but it grew into my role here today, writing my weekly On Our Radar column and helping out wherever else I can. I’ve become as focused on gay rights as I once was on the Iran election.
And then there are the sunsets. There are more than 1100 of them now, one a day since the day Sarah Rose tweeted a photo of the sunset in her own backyard. It was raining and gloomy here, and I was having a bad day, swimming as hard as I could to stay out of the clutches of what Sarah and I called the “dark sucking door”. Her sunset was so instantly mood altering it gave me the idea that our Twitter community should have a killer sunset to look forward to each night. So everyday I searched for a sunset to top the one from the day before, and often I would come across photos from lovely vacation spots, and I’d send them to Sarah Rose. We knew we were never going to visit Corfu or Bora Bora, but we pretended. Someday…. It was a game of imagination we both played without ever having to consult about the rules.
The photos led to the Koreans I mentioned earlier. My sunset from Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution caught the attention of a digital camera club called (no kidding) “dicadong”. (di = digital ca = camera and “dong” is Korean for club.) Suddenly my @uncucumbered political account began getting hundreds of Korean followers who didn’t mind wading through all my English language tweets to see the photos. I had to download a new font so we could communicate. Eventually there were so many, almost 2500 now, that I had to create a new @Cukemunga account dedicated to sending photos to Korea. I don’t speak Korean, and most of my followers don’t speak English, but we get by with Google translate. I collect all the wonderful photos I find while looking for my sunsets and send them to my Korean followers. I like the idea that somewhere on the other side of the world, someone is enjoying the same beauty I am here. Without Sarah, I would not have all those Korean friends in my life.
Sarah Rose died July 11th. I knew she was very ill. She had lost her voice after surgery for throat cancer more than two years ago. She was so thin a summer breeze could have blown her over. If I had summoned the courage to look at that place I bury such unwelcome information, there would have been sufficient evidence to have known Sarah was dying. But like Bora Bora, we pretended otherwise. And even tough I knew her time was short, her death struck like a dagger to my heart. I still cannot type “Sarah died” and not well up with tears. To mark her passing, I sent out a week of sunsets with trains, because Sarah loved trains, and I cried over every one of them.
I would not have thought to share the story of my friendship with Sarah with you, except that Sally Ride died this week. She and Sarah were, coincidentally, exactly the same age. You may have seen the articles the New Civil Rights Movement posted about how the obituaries for the first American woman in space seemed to gloss over the fact Sally was a lesbian yet she had the same beloved partner for 27 years. The same kind of thing happened to Sarah Rose.
By her request, there was no funeral service for Sarah, but there is an online memorial book her friends can sign. Though Sarah Rose was definitely out on Twitter, there was no hint of her sexuality in the obituary her family wrote, in fact they made it seem like she was the happy, straight, family woman who lived an average middle-class life. They concentrated on her illness and her suffering, which Sarah did not. I could find very little of the acerbic humored, deep-thinking, LESBIAN woman I knew in what her family had to say about her life.
She was so up-front and forthright, I have a hard time believing Sarah kept her sexual identity from her family, but maybe… More likely her family decided to ignore that part of her life. I’m just the Twitter friend, it would do no one any good for me to kick up a fuss. But I do have you. And I think of all the people in my life, you, the readers of this column, will grasp the indignity of wrestling with who you are, finally getting it right, then coming out only to have everything you struggled to become “cleaned up” after your passing, like so much spilled milk.
So I thank you for your indulgence today, and I promise we will return to discussions of politics and prejudice next week. But this morning, I want to state for the record. Sarah Rose Hurt was my friend. She was a lesbian, an out and very proud LESBIAN woman of wit and wry humor and of considerable substance. And I am the straight woman who unashamedly loved her. Today Sarah Rose Hurt, is On Our Radar.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter at @uncucumbered.
Radar image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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