‘What a World’ celebrates its silver anniversary.
by Nancy Ford
Long before OutSmart and the Internet, there was Dimensions, a proud little 24-page fold-over monthly publication based out of Lubbock for lesbians throughout the Gulf Coast region.
Dimensions was an early source of information for us—not a particularly financially rewarding enterprise for its publishers. Again, Lubbock. Book reviews, an advice column, and the occasional press release from Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby (which would later morph into Equality Texas) filled its pages. It was distributed via subscription and throughout Texas’s lesbian-friendly gay bars and businesses—places like Austin’s Nexxus, Dallas’s Buddies and Sue Ellen’s, San Antonio’s Bonham Exchange, and Houston’s Kindred Spirits and The Ranch. Eventually, Dimensions would also be found in Inklings, a bookstore for lesbians that would later be fondly remembered when, years later, one of its co-owners went on to become mayor of the City of Houston.
Stacked amid copies of other free publications, Dimensions was our region’s sole “fag rag” that wasn’t anchored by an ever-expanding obituary department, relaying news of that week’s mounting losses to AIDS; it was a feminine oasis amid the unrelenting masculine aura of death of that era.
While perusing a copy of Dimensions late one night after a show, circa late 1988, it occurred to me that the magazine might be a good platform to scratch out material for my burgeoning stand-up routine. An inquiry to its publishers Tasha and Roxanne landed me the assignment of providing 800ish words of lesbian-centric, quippy copy each month in exchange for $40—not a bad freelance rate for post-oil-bust Texas.
I hadn’t expected them to accept my offer. I would have done it for free. Shhhh.
Seeking the optimal environment for inspiration, I grabbed a towel, a six-pack of cheap beer, a yellow legal pad, a Bic pen, and headed for Galveston. Okay, now I’m a writer! I mused as I sat down in the sand to tackle my first column.
But what do I write about?
The answer came booming back to me in an alarmingly forceful, unfamiliar voice: Write about what you know.
Okay, fine, no need to shout, I internally replied. But what do I know?
Well, I knew that just a few short years earlier, I had been on the fast track to long-term matrimony and motherhood in rural Ohio. I knew, as a newly out lesbian, I was just beginning to find my true voice. I knew there had to be a lot of women out there who felt just like I felt—like I had an exciting and dangerous secret that I couldn’t wait to share with the world. I knew, as I peered out into the Gulf of Mexico that day, that I had burned a lot of bridges to get to that sandy beach. Mostly, I knew everything about my entire existence had changed almost beyond recognition, in a very brief period of time.
Overwhelmed, I felt like a post-tornado Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, plunked down into a new, different place—a place with vastly more colorful surroundings.
“What a world,” I exhaled aloud in amazement, recalling the final line uttered by the Wicked Witch of the West before she melted into the floor.
Oh. That could work, I again whispered in my inner monologue, scrawling the title across the top of the yellow page.
And the rest, as they say, is herstory.
Every month, the columns continued. Sometimes I was additionally assigned interviews with lesbian celebrities who might be touring Texas. Just twenty-four hours after the horrific San Francisco earthquake in 1989, I interviewed a very funny but then-grieving woman named Kate Clinton. I learned while talking to her that night that a comic doesn’t always have to be funny to be effective.
As time passed, you responded—sometimes with fan letters, sometimes with admonishment that I, living high on the gay hog in the big, anonymous city of Houston, could not possibly understand the complexities of coming out in more rural locations where most Dimensions readers lived. But come out, some of you did, anyway. That was worth way more than the forty bucks.
After appearing in Dimensions ’til its mid-nineties closure, “What a World” has been published month in and month out, without interruption, by nearly all of Texas’s gay press: Montrose (and Houston) Voice, TWT, Texas Triangle, TXT, a handful of out-of-state publications, and of course, here in OutSmart. Thanks for reading. Again, I hope it’s been as good for you as it’s been for me. And yes, a book is in the works.
And if you ever travel to Lubbock, tell Roxanne and Tasha that Nancy says thanks. Every month.