Something Personal; A Woman's Place Is In The House: A Portrait of Elaine Noble; 105
Something Personal show #105, WGBH Boston. [beeps] [music] [Reporter] Personally, what does this victory mean for you? [Noble] It means I have a job. [Reporter] What is the first thing you're going to be doing now that you are offically the sixth Suffolk district rep? [Noble] Call my mother. [Reporter] The sixth Suffolk district Elaine Noble is the winner, beating out Independent Opponent Joseph Cimino. Elaine
Noble's victory for many will probably hold significance because she is the first admitted gay person to be state representative. Her supporters feel that she's broken the ice. However according to Elaine it's not a victory for the gay community, but a victory for someone who is ready to deal with the issues in her district. At Elaine Noble's headquarters, this is Sheila Banks for Boston Seven News. [Elaine Noble] When I ran for political office it was really important to me to be open about my gayness even though I felt a lot of pressure from people telling me to either downplay it or not say anything about it at all. And it was important to me because it's part of who I am personally and it's part of my politics. And I I didn't really think that I had to play that kind of game in order to win. [Interviewer] Elaine, what made you decide to tell your parents that you were gay, and what happened when you did? [Elaine Noble] Well, I think I was about 20 or 21 years old and
I think part of the biggest motivation is so that -- was that I no longer wanted to live sort of a dual life and especially live that kind of lie with my parents. So that I went home several times to tell them and never really did, and when I finally got around to telling them I think, like any other parents, they were really concerned and upset and wanted to know what they had done wrong. So that I had to be around them to tell them that they didn't do anything wrong, it wasn't their fault, that they weren't to blame. And it was a question of really being there to sort of almost reverse roles and to let them know that I cared about them and that they should in turn care about me even though my lifestyle was different than the one that they might have preferred for me. But I really think it's important, however painful, I mean I had to face the fact that if my parents couldn't accept me for who I am, I could-- I had to to run the risk of saying that I'd never see them again, of cutting the cord.
And that's pretty hard for anybody to do with their family but I think that's an important place to start. Because if you you start with your own roots then you're able to extend yourself and help other people. But if you haven't dealt with those people around you or close to you it's very difficult for you to help anybody else. Down there is Barney Frank's district. And as you come up here in the middle of the street our district divides so that in essence technically he has people on this side of the street, and I have people on this side of the street. The people pretty much in these two blocks of Beacon and Marlborough and Commonwealth Avenue have concerns about the buildings that they own, 50 percent of them are owner-occupied buildings. There are people that really demand and should get good city services. They carry a big block of the taxes in the city and they really should get the kind of services that they're paying for. But as we move through the district I think
that you'll see the different kinds of factions but that's pretty much the makeup of the people who live in the brownstones in this part of the Back Bay. OK this is the other part of my district. It's part of the Fenway. It hasn't got the same kind of problems as the Back Bay part has. It's not as stable in terms of owner occupancy and the kinds of problems here are very very different. When they were making up new districts they made this one up because it was the backyard of three of the politicians districts. And of course they had major problems, some real crime problems, it's got some real problems with lighting, as well as housing, the housing shortage is probably the biggest major problem over in this area. The make up of the population in this district is a lot of elderly, a lot of Spanish-speaking, a lot of people from Costa Rica, from Asian countries. Some Blacks. It's a very mixed -- it's probably one of the few truly integrated communities in Boston. It's an area that hasn't been properly represented I don't think
in at least 50 years. So in essence when I'm faced with is solving you know, a 50 year old problem. You know. Her son was just recently-- one of the problems that we're having in the Fenway area is that with the ballpark and the ballpark traffic, there's a high rate of a lot of damage, not only to lives but to property going on, and a lot of people don't realize the toll that it takes on the community. And one of the people that recently got badly hurt was your boy. And.. yeah, why don't you and I sort of go over this, I know I've got these here. It's but this is this is Brian, I don't know if you can see her son or not, but I'm going to tell you what happened to him or maybe his mother can tell you. [Brian's mother] Last Friday night about nine forty, on Peterborough street, Brian was struck in the eye with a full beer can,
full can of beer. He pushed the fellow to try to get away from him. Then as he did the fellow fell and attempted to pick up a piece of glass to further do damage to Brian. This fellow was completely apparently loaded. [Elaine Noble] I know Brian well enough to know that he wouldn't be a smart mouth kid. [Brian's mother] No. [phone rings] [Brian's mother] In fact, all of the boys said nothing was said. [Noble] Hello, Fenway. The information at the art and jazz festival. Yeah I think probably why don't I put Mrs. Hurley on the other phone? Maybe she can get it to you. Jenny? Somebody wants some stuff on the art and jazz festival. I think you should go ahead and besides just the criminal charges that are against him you should go ahead and look for damages against the man. For a couple reasons, not only because there are
damages that you incurred for your kid, but also the guy should be taught a lesson, [Brian's mother] I know, I don't believe he did it in his right mind at all, he couldn't have been. [Noble] Oh my god, where was this? In Somerville? After my election I turned my campaign headquarters into the Fenway Community Center. It was something that I felt the community really needed. I have office hours there and usually I drop in during the week. Early in the mornings. [Noble] He said, your son Ronnie, he said he didn't even carry this item? I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll call first thing Monday morning. And in essence, give 'em hell. I mean it's the principle involved, after all its illegal, it's a violation of business practices, and let me see what I can do for you. I'm really glad you did this, most people would just not do anything about this, they'd say "to hell with it".
[Ronnie's mother] I shouldn't have even bought it in the first place, but it was Ronnie's, he wanted it for camp. [Ronnie's mother talking to a child] [Elaine Noble] I'll get back to you Monday on this. OK. Thank you for taking the time to do this. [Ronnie's mother] Thank you. [Noble] What do they want, they want me to come over and do something? [woman] No we're going to, they want to send. Representatives here to see you. [Noble] Sure. On the 15th I'll be here, please have them come right over. [woman] Well absolutely. Well I tried to make an arrangement for you to go in there. [Noble] Well have them come here and just you know... [woman] to see how we work [woman] because there's a possibility that they may cut down on the funding and it's really a very necessary part of the rehabilitation. So that's so naturally I'm
trying to help as much as possible just to get to continue with the money. But I was helping them to-- [Noble] Did you do the stuffing? Like you did for me. [woman] Some of that sort of thing. [Noble] Well good, tell them to come over on the 15th. Tell them I want to see them. OK. Well if you said so I'll do whatever I can. [Woman] I know you will. [Noble] OK. If you come with them too.. [Child] Can I get some money for a Coca-Cola? [Noble] I'll give you some money outta my pockets for a Coca-Cola. Will you put your coat on when you go? Here. [child] Thank you. [Noble] You're welcome. Don't go out without your coat on. OK? [child] Where's my raincoat? [Paul] So, it's, we really had some very good meetings in the last month with this whole hodge-podge of agencies which is unusual to say the least, but we you know we're hopeful that this thing is going to work out well.
[Elaine Noble] Just basically the meeting has to do with the-- I have a lot in common with with ?Anoel Paul? in that my focus is on constituent service and that's my priority, is getting out to the people of my district and responding to them and trying to do that as often and as consistently as possible. [Reporter] Is this the first time you've lived with somebody? [Noble] It's not the first time I've lived with somebody but I think it's the first time I've ever made as serious and as.. The qualitative commitment that I'm making to her. It's probably the most textured relationship I've ever had before. [Reporter] What does that mean? [Noble] That means there's a lot of wonderful joy and caring and humor involved that I really haven't found in other relationships. [Reporter] Can you tell me, Rita, how you met Elaine and how your relationship began? [Rita] One enchanted evening across a crowded room I saw this unusual looking woman, I really did, it was a big party in a New York City loft. And so I marched right over and said hello. And she said her name is Elaine Noble. And then I recognized her because she had recently
won that election. [Noble] We both sort of felt that we'd like to get to know each other better but neither one of us really knew how to do that. [Rita] And the more I was around her, the more I thought this is one of the most delightful human beings I ever met in my life. So I call her out and said "This is an indecent proposal" and we took off from there. [Noble] When I finally decided that I wanted to to ask Rita if she'd come to Boston and that we should share our lives together, we were out in front of Bonwit's -- uh, Saks, I guess. [Rita] She said "Do you want to come live with me?" and I.. well you know, those are funny moments in a person's life, that particularly in gay life there's no ritual. [Noble] And she said yes she would come to Boston, but one of the things that I truly had to get rid of was that I had to get rid of wearing tacky double knits. Then maybe she'd come to Boston. [Rita] Yes I said throw these double-knits out. Because they stretch out of shape, you know you get a permanent baggy knees and all this kind of stuff that-- [Noble] You just couldn't put up with me wearing a double knits anymore. [laughs]
[Rita] How could you not love Elaine? [Noble] How could you not love Rita? She's perfect. [Rita] It's great to discover someone. It's how often in your life, particularly if you're a woman, are you affirmed by anyone for just being yourself and particularly for being strong. And it's the first time in my entire life, even though I spent eight years of that life in the women's movement, that another woman has felt confident enough about herself to say to me "You are terrific and I love what's powerful in you." Instead of saying "Wouldn't you lower your voice a little, dear?" You know it's terrific. I feel like I just crossed home plate. [Reporter] What's the difference between a love affair between two women and a man and a woman? [Noble] Well I think that there's a lot more laughter and a lot more joy. Because there are no rules in our relationship, they're not dictated to us so we can make up our own. And there are no real limits drawn and we can make up our own limits. Which is a wonderful freedom. [Reporter] When you meet a man for the first time like at a party or something, do you tell them that you are a lesbian right away, or how does that -- how do you introduce yourself?
[Noble] Well usually what I do is just push my hair back and the big neon L goes off and I never really have to explain myself. Or in small groups somebody usually closes in before I have a chance to flash my dyke bracelet at them. No I don't usually make a habit of saying to anyone, I mean, you know, I think that my my lifestyle, my lesbianism has been stated by a lot of other people and it's pretty noticeable when I walk into a room as to who moves away, who is comfortable with it and who is not. I mean I don't I don't feel that threatened or that fragile that I need to say "I'm a lesbian stay away from me." If I'm if it comes up in a political sense or a certain comment is made where I feel I have to speak up, then I'll bring it up but I don't I don't feel that frail where I have to say "well I'm a lesbian and these are the boundaries." Because if it's not articulated and a man finds out and it seems to bother him, it's his problem, it's no longer my problem. [Reporter] How does it bother a man? [Noble] Well they--
I don't know, you'd have to ask a man. I think probably a lot of men, like a lot of women, see lesbians in a stereotypical fashion. And because I don't bring my doberman or my leather boots, usually, to a party or my leather jacket they assume that that I'm straight. I mean that's the heterosexual norm, they assume if you if you don't fit into a stereotype you must be. So that when they find out you're a lesbian they get really upset about it because it's one that may not possibly be for them. You know. [Rita] They do physical things though. I mean people do, they physically step back from you. And it's very embarrassing to be a homosexual and see somebody react that way. I mean I feel, I wind up pitying them. You know. And at the same time being angry that they could be so stupid. [Reporter] Now, what are you putting in your bag? [Noble] Just some correspondence that I need to answer and some books from the library that I'll want to get, and resumes of people who
somehow think I can get them a job. A bill for my answering service, let's see what it's going to cost. The price of privacy is $30. It's a good answering service though, all of my phone messages that I didn't answer from yesterday. [Reporter] How many do you get per day, about? [Elaine Noble] I'd say between 40 and 50 when there's a full moon. And must be getting close to the full moon. [Reporter] And what are some of those about? [Noble] Well, let's see. This is from an attorney. This is from the Boston Food Co-op, they're opening up a thousand-- membership to a thousand people, do I know any people to tell? Pull a thousand people together, right? Mary Ellen Smith, these are ones that I want to make, and this is about a woman, raped at gunpoint at work. What can I do about that? [Reporter] What can you do about that? [Elaine Noble] I don't know I have to talk to her and find out -- but she's outraged that nothing's
being done so I'll go over and see her today and talk to her. There's the name of a woman that has a thoroughbred horse that might want it exercised. [Reporter] Would you exercise it? [Elaine Noble] Sure, I'd love to exercise it. Part of my problem is that I don't get exercise the way I'd like to, and I'd like to take a couple hours a week to just go riding which is cheaper than a therapist and it's something I really enjoy. Good for me. All right? Let's go. It's very awkward, it puts me in a real Aunt Tom situation about the speaking engagement with the NOW chapter who once ostracized me, I think you can understand that politically. Yeah. Well yeah well the point is that publicly NOW has never apologized, and I want that apology and so do my lesbian sisters. Publicly and I'm sure you would like it publicly too. But it's sort of like oh I am
not going to come anywhere to speak for now until they publicly apologize to me and my sisters, it's really important to me. I think you can make that connection since-- Well I'm very glad you did make a phone call. Now you know the terms on which I I would come down and talk to you. OK OK all right very good. I'll talk to you later, bye-bye. I wasn't sure how she was going to take it, but she said "far out". [Reporter] Is this your desk, by the way? [Noble] Yeah, we all work out of this one desk, USS Enterprise, there's the three of us, people have this idea that we have a great staff and a great budget, but it's not true at all. For instance Candy was work study through a-- student through Emerson she's graduated and she's just been coming in to help out since she's graduated. For free. Yeah, and Chris is on a summer program, the intern program. My salary before taxes is twelve thousand five
hundred dollars. Of course for me it's the most money I've ever made I think I made about 10,000 before taxes when I was a college teacher. But also my-- I never had to belong to so many organizations or pay for so many ads or give money out on the street to people who, you know, really don't... are in need, the way that I do now since I'm in this position I mean it's a it costs a lot of money to be a state rep, it really does. Hello, is Terry Manigold there? Terry? Hi, it's Elaine Noble. Listen I stalked him yesterday, I guess you weren't around, to sign your notary public papers. And I was just wondering if you could leave your papers there and I'll sign them on my way into work tomorrow morning. OK. All right. Sure I'll be there. Then I'll be there for sure tomorrow between ten and ten-thirty. OK Terry. OK. My pleasure, bye-bye. I'm not his rep. [Candy] Everybody-- well you're everybody's rep.
[Noble] OK. Someone call Randy Gibson at the Charles Street meeting house and give him Corey's number. [Reporter] Candy, what do you mean by Elaine being everybody's rep? [Candy] Well we get letters like that anyway you know people saying "well I live in Schenectady, New York and you're not really my rep but I feel you're my natural rep. Could you please handle my welfare payments in New York State?" We get those all the time. [Elaine Noble] It's true I've gotten people like-- remember the guy who wrote, I mean an example would be he used to live in this state and he's gay and he moved to California and not-- he wanted me to help him with his welfare check in California. He doesn't live here anymore, because we are gay that I should help him with his problem in California. This is Stephen. The guy. Wrote on the LEAA funds. You know, the guy that was upset because he was laid off. Hello, Stephen? Hi, it's Elaine Noble, How are you? Very good, what can I do for you, Steve? I understand you were hired with LEA funds And they were-- What's the problem? Hello, Priscilla? Hi, it's Elaine Noble, how are you?
I'm sorry it took so long to return your call, but I just got your message. What can I do, what's wrong? Hi how are you, Bill? What can I do for you? Well I can only speak from my my limited perspective, I can't speak for women on a higher level but I really think that women bring a different perspective to whatever process or every profession they decide to get in. Granted a lot of people say that with-- when women get into power perhaps they'll be just as corrupt as men. That may be true at some point but we're talking about women who really have had 2,000 years worth of conditioning and have developed qualities that many of us no longer see as bad qualities. And as a matter of fact I think that there are qualities that that men would would be a little better off if they if they gave way to recognizing them within themselves. Some nurturing qualities, some caring qualities. Realizing that that whole concept of macho stiff upper lip
is not a healthy one for anyone to have and that some of the qualities as a feminist that I revere particularly in other women that serve in this house have nothing to do with maleness, they're totally female qualities and women do not have to walk around asserting their femaleness like men have to go around asserting their maleness, their masculinity. Women really can reveal some things to each other in a way that their egos aren't threatened. It's a whole different way of doing business. Women do business different, differently than men. With all the craziness and the madness and the sadness that I go through in one day it's probably my relationship with my friends are the one things that really make the pinnings, are the one stabilizing factor in my life. Stanchers missing from the district. People took it. Crazy.
Did she tell you? The letter she got from the guy who said he was hypnotized and raped by women and he wrote a letter to Governor Dukakis telling him to come into his bedroom and save him from these hypnotic women who are defiling his pure young body? Really? Did I tell you about the man who came up with the rape law he wanted me to file? Some man, he had this funny look, whenever I see this look in people's eyes I always know something weird's going on. So he starts talking really loud. So I said to him, whenever this happens, "would you walk with me?" and I walk him the hell out of there, because he started saying that he has this rape law. I'm looking at this rape law, its crazy. He wants me to ... all these words. I said where did you get these words? He said I looked him up, he said he has this -- what was the word? It sounds like um -- what's the dead body thing? Necrophilia. Necro-something. Some type of disease, where he falls into a deep trance. And women and men take advantage of his body. And I said "I don't mean to be rude, but I don't know why anybody would want to rape your body. I don't want you to get upset, but I can't
imagine." He got really...he started getting really upset. [friend] What was his solution? [Noble] To keep him from being raped when he was under a trance. It was his rape bill. Honest to God, I'm not making this up. I looked at him and got so furious and said "no woman in her right mind would want to rape your body." He said "I'm a constituent of yours." I said "I don't care if you're a constituent of mine, you're soft as a grape." I said "I promise you, you have my word. I give my word. I said "I will not let anybody know where you live, so that they can come and rape your body." I really, "you have my word". He was crazy. I couldn't believe it. Wait til you see this bill. I walk in and say "from now on the next time I'm running I'm telling people I'm a straight heterosexual against the ERA." All these fruits. It was incredible. He started yelling at me about .. run against the ERA, you'll start to get petitions from the Ku Klux Klan, and from the We Want Guns for Our Children Society.
[Reporter] What's the most difficult thing for you, in terms of the job? [Noble] I think probably the most difficult will be like after doing something like this, agreeing to do this film that I can assure you that I'll get five days of harassing phone calls. And of crazy people writing me letters and Jesus people wanting to save me. And I have... I answer all the letters if they sign them. The phone calls blow me away. I mean I really get freaked out by the phone calls and one of my aides is very good. Candy is very good with the telephone and responds in a really great way. I was telling you when she says "yes sir, I'll tell representative Noble her day of doom is coming, now can I talk to you sir?" and she's great. But at two or three in the morning, when somebody well, I mean, when you get a long distance hate call. It gets to you after a while when the operator says Elaine Noble and I say yes and they say long distance and then this whispering male voice comes on and encourages me to do the physical impossible act.
It freaks me out at 3 o'clock the morning, I get a little upset about that. I think that's probably what gets to me more than anything, is dealing with the fact that there are so many irrational and just damaged, damaged people out there and we have no idea. And we call them crazy people, we call them nuts, but it's a combination of people that were made by our society. Of lonely, twisted, sick, abandoned people who decide that I should become a focal point for all of their misfortunes. That gets to me, that really that really gets to me... it's those... it always happens on an emotional thing, it's never a logical, rational one. And I think just on a gut basis. Those sort of twisted minds are the ones that just make me really say "hey do I really want to continue doing this?" [Reporter] And how do you answer that question to yourself? [Noble] And then I get a phone call from Betty Mahoney who's having problems with her SSI benefits
or from somebody who's having a problem with the prostitutes down the street and they need some help. So I have to ask the pimp to keep it down or something. And I sort of figured that I'm really fulfilling a task and I just go on. [walking on street] Good morning, how are you? [Host] The presentation of this program has been made possible by a grant from the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting.
- Something Personal
- Episode Number
- Producing Organization
- WGBH Educational Foundation
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
- Program Description
- Documentary about Elaine Noble, the first openly gay person elected to a state legislature, who began serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1975.
- Asset type
- Copyright 1975
- Media type
- Moving Image
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 99841 (WGBH Barcode)
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- Chicago: “Something Personal; A Woman's Place Is In The House: A Portrait of Elaine Noble; 105,” 1977-00-00, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 11, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-33rv1gdz.
- MLA: “Something Personal; A Woman's Place Is In The House: A Portrait of Elaine Noble; 105.” 1977-00-00. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 11, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-33rv1gdz>.
- APA: Something Personal; A Woman's Place Is In The House: A Portrait of Elaine Noble; 105. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-33rv1gdz