Clay Pots and Class Issues
For 16 years, Jane and Mary have co-owned a pottery studio.
Mary: I would describe my background as upper class. Both my mother's and father's family made a lot of money by investing early on in communications and in the railroads. I grew up in a large house in the wealthiest part of town, attended a private school, travelled on vacations, and lived in Italy for two years. My class background and the women's movement instilled me with the feeling that I could do whatever I wanted to do.
Jane: I come from an immigrant, working-class background. My parents are Holocaust survivors who worked for thirty years in a garment factory. When we first started the studio, Mary and I wanted to "equalize" our working relationship: our initial dollar investment was equal, we took the same salaries, and we put in the same hours.
Mary: It was important for me to feel like I wasn't supporting Jane and to feel like it wasn't because of my inherited money that we had the store.
Jane: And from my background, I had to prove that I didn't need Mary's help to get by, that I had been totally self-sufficient before I met her and could continue to be so. For the first few years sharing "equally" really helped the self-esteem of each of us. But after a while we realized that doing everything "equal" was denying our backgrounds and our relative access to money. I can't fully define myself as working class anymore. My income is very small, yet my sensibility is...I'd call it artist class: hot-dog salary with caviar taste.
Mary: First we started giving Jane a bigger salary than me, so she could stop waitressing and make a living from the store. Then, after having owned the business for seven years, we decided to buy the building it was in. We decided to own the building equally, with both names on the deed even though my inherited money enabled the down payment.
Jane: When Mary said, "I want for us to own this together" it blew my mind. In effect, ownership of half a building was being handed to me. My first reaction was, "No, that just isn't right." I had this kind of working class pride that's as ingrained as a certain upper-class snobbery can be, and that can work against you and isolate you. Now we've been co-owners for 8 years-it's been great to own the building together.
Mary: Deciding how to share my money has been confusing and difficult. I've worried it won't get spent right, or that my mother will get mad at me, or I won't have enough after I give it away, or my other best friend will be mad at me because she'll want it. But I've decided that the various risks are outweighed by the clear benefits of sharing with this important person in my life. I still struggle with feeling that it's my responsibility to take care of Jane, even if she's not asking me to .
Jane: Certainly I expect Mary to take care of me emotionally, on a daily basis. We are family to each other in the best sense of the word. Economically, it gets foggier. I have a perennial sense that at some moment somebody in some corner could completely destroy my life. That feeling comes from being a lesbian and from being a Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors.
Mary: And I think of myself as being in control of choices in my life.
Jane: Sometimes we joke that if the Depression comes and Mary loses all of her money, I'll show her how to survive without any money to fall back on. I keep in mind that I am as generous with Mary as she is with me-I just have different resources to offer than money.
Mary: We see our financial situations differently. We look at our store's bank account and if we have two thousand dollars, I think, "oh, that's nothing, we have to save more money!" Jane thinks, "Oh, what a big cushion! Let's spend it." In my mind, I will always be upper class. I will always have the values I grew up with, my access to inherited money that I can continue to give away, and access to my family's summer home.
Jane: If anyone wants advice on making an inter-class friendship work, I'd say be gentle with each other. That's not to say that if you're angry, squash it. Mary and I both have anger at the class system and the inequality of it. That's why most of Mary's money goes to organizations that are addressing the roots of social injustice and economic inequalities. Mary and I struggle all the time, but we always remember we're not each other's enemy. The more we nurture each other, the more we each can grow and change.
This interview was adapted from an article by Randy Albelda in Gay Community News Feb. 4-10,1990. GCN is out of business. Used with interviewees' permission.