Nicola Griffith on “Always”

Griffith taught self-defense for five years, but she says that her teaching methods differed from Aud's. "Aud's an innocent in a very particular way," Griffith said. "She's always cruised through life without any trouble, and she thought, well, I'll just show them how to kick things." Aud didn't understand the extent to which women have been programmed to think a certain way about the world.

"If there is a way that you could look at the world and see the way women are brought up as being programmed, being brainwashed, being immersed in a cult — the cult of the patriarchy if you like," Griffith said dryly, "and Aud's job is to deprogram these women, and that's a hard thing. Because everything that we have learnt, that we're taught, is to be afraid all the time. … and Aud basically says, 'What a load of crap. You're strong: Look how hard you can kick, look how hard you can punch. Here's how you can pop a boy's eyeball without any effort at all; what's your problem?'"

Aud's attitude is a shock to the Southern ladies of Atlanta. Griffith recalled one experience of her own in which her students had some difficulty sorting out their own feelings about defending themselves. "There was one session in my real-life teaching when I was teaching the Union of Catholic Mothers," Griffith said. "I was talking about body language and taking up space, and one of the women said, 'You don't expect me to shave my head and wear big boots and look like a man, do you?' I said, 'Well, you think I look like a man?'"

Griffith laughed at the memory. She explained to the Union of Catholic Mothers why she dressed the way she did — "because I think I look great" was one of her reasons, but another was that having no hair meant no one could grab it in a fight — and then told them that she was merely giving them options; they could make their own choices.

"And they just started hammering at each other," Griffith recalled. "They took sides, you know. 'We don't think she should teach us anymore 'cause she's a big old dyke.' And then other people saying, 'No, no, no, what she's saying is useful.' And I just sat there for half an hour while they persuaded each other that it was OK for me to teach them this stuff. It was like a huge consciousness-raising session. It was intense."

After Griffith met Eskridge and began traveling regularly to the United States to be with her, she encountered intense experiences of a different sort — struggling with immigration. "It was terrifying," Griffith said. "Every time I came through … there was always this same immigration officer in Atlanta, and she was a right old dyke, and she'd look at me, and she'd see Kelley waiting beyond the barrier … [and] she said, 'Purpose of your visit? Business or pleasure?'

"I'd say, 'pleasure'; we'd give each other a look like 'I know what you're about.' And then she'd stamp me and let me in but, you know, she could have refused me each time, because it was clear I was a dyke; it was clear that I had no gainful employment; it was clear that I was basically illegal, but she let me in." Griffith concluded with a laugh, "Thank God for the dyke funny handshake."

At the time, it was illegal for lesbians and gays to enter the United States, but Griffith and Eskridge sought the help of immigration lawyers anyway. They were told that unless Griffith was wealthy or famous, there was no way she could get a green card to stay in the U.S. Griffith remembers telling the lawyer: "'There's no way I can get rich … but give me six months and I'll bloody well get famous.'"

By 1992, she had sold Ammonite to a publisher, and it received favorable reviews and won several awards. In 1995, her second novel, Slow River, did even better, and she approached another immigration lawyer who told her that under a new immigration provision, the national interest waiver, it would be possible for her to get a green card if she could prove that she had an extraordinary talent that would be in the national interest. "The only snag is that they've never given that to a lesbian or a gay man before," the lawyer told her, and Griffith was asked if she would cover that up.

"I said, 'No, I've been out since I was 16 years old, I am bloody well not hiding now. I said, 'All my fiction is about dykes; I'm a dyke,'" Griffith recalled. "I've practically got 'dyke' stamped on my forehead," she added, laughing.

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