Kate Clinton: An Interview with ‘Lady HAHA’

| September 20, 2011 | 0 Comments


Miller: So what have you been up to these days?
Clinton: Well, last night I attended a dinner for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. They do such great work, and since it was the night the world supposed to end [I interviewed Kate the morning following “the rapture”], I figured I couldn’t be in a better place. It’s literally full with crazed younger women. I am also busy on tour, as I just released my new CD, Lady HAHA.

Miller: Thank you for your column about “Chief”, a lesbian in the Coast Guard. Could you talk a little more about how you met and how you kept correspondence with her over the years?
Clinton: In 1984, I was signing albums after a performance in DC, and a woman came up to me and said, “If I’m seen here, I could be court martialed.” Then I looked at her, and we talked more, and she explained being in the military as a gay woman. I jokingly responded, “well, I’ll see you in court.” That was the start of a 26 year friendship. The first ten years of our correspondence, she was involved in Haitian refugee rescues, getting blankets, food, and taking them to Guantanamo. She had written stories to me regularly. Keep in mind, this was before Internet, so her letters were written on a typewriter, single-space, and she would go on for pages and pages. I saved every one of them, and I always had the sense
that the kind of writing she was doing was keeping her alive, keeping her sane. It was like getting dispatches from the belly of the beast. I wrote back, but I never knew where the letters went or how they got to her. She was stationed in Portsmith, and then she became a chief warrant officer, and she retired 5 or 6 years ago. I had all her letters, so I compiled them and gave them to her as a retirement gift, and said, “this is your book.”

Miller: So when people talk about gays and lesbians in the military, they‘re usually talking about those who were forced out or kicked out by the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But a vast majority – like me, who voluntarily resigned from West Point – either decided to stay in or to leave on their own accord. Did Chief ever talk about her decision to stay in, despite DADT?
Clinton: Chief always wanted to be in the Coast Guard. She was raised on the Finger Lakes, and she always said, “I just love the water.” I knew she was torn between being able to be herself and her love of the water. But she really loved the Coast Guard and loved to serve, and that’s why she stayed in as long as she did. Me being an LGBT activist, I’m sure she felt pressured by me to come out, like it was her responsibility or something as a lesbian. But she was the kind who believed she could make a difference just by being there and being a good leader. And that was something I really admired about her.

Miller: Every lesbian in the world is a fan of The L Word, where you guest starred as a therapist who wore a clown nose. What was is like being on the set? Who was your favorite character?
Clinton: I liked to tell people that Shane was based on me [Laughter].

Miller: Don’t we all? [Shane is the untamable heartthrob.]
Clinton: Really? I would have pegged you for a Tasha [a lesbian character in the Army]. I knew Ilene Chaiken, the creator of the L Word. I told her that if she needed someone to fill a part, let me know. I get this call, “Ilene has this great part for you. Can you come in tomorrow?” So I flew across the country the next day and played a clown-nosed therapist.

Miller: What did you think of The L Word’s DADT story line?
Clinton: I thought it was wonderful and honest. They didn’t ever shy away from the real issue. And it showed the range of effects of DADT, especially on relationships. One of the characters, Alice, always pushed her partner, Tasha [a captain in the Army] to come out. She would say things like, “How can you not stand up against this?” It dramatized the tension of LGBT relationships in the military. Often times, one person is the activist and the other one is just trying to do her job in the military.

Miller: You’re known as a comedienne, but you’re also an activist for LGBT rights. How did that come about?
Clinton: When it was 1981, I just knew I wanted to be a stand-up comedienne. I didn’t really do political material, I just found the lives of lesbians both fascinating and funny, especially the whole softball thing. The fact that I was also an activist wasn’t immediately aware to me. But then I realized that, by nature, being an out and open woman in the 1980s was a political statement in itself.

Miller: Your partner is a well-known political activist. What’s home life like for a comedienne and an activist. Or, since you’re also an activist, is she also a comedienne?
Clinton: She tells me, “the show is too long, and you need to do more politics.”

Miller: What is the most encouraging thing about the current LGBT movement?
Clinton: What we’re seeing, is that we have so many allies. So many straight allies. That, to me, is very, very exciting. We also have to support them. Feminists fight for women’s right to choose. That’s their fight, but that’s our fight too. Immigration is our issue too. And having an understanding of what trans means. It’s a lovely change. That’s huge. On its best day, LGBT movement represents a really broad range of issues. I worry that we’ll get federal marriage equality, and we’ll kick it. But the peoples who try to prevent equality, they’re like zombies, keep risin’ up. We’ve seen it in the black civil rights movement, women’s movement, and I worry we’ll see it in the LGBT movement too.

Miller: Anything else you’d like to say to our LGBT troops?
Clinton: I think we’re all in this together, thank you for your service, and come to my shows — that’s an order.


Join Kate for her 2011 Glee Party Tour! A celebration of her 30-year career. A rolling Restore-to-Sanity rally.
For more Kate Clinton, visit her website at www.kateclinton.com.

Katie Miller is a former West Point cadet who resigned in 2010 under DADT and is currently a Political Science major at Yale University. Miller also serves on the OutServe Board of Directors.

Category: Culture

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