IN MEMORIAM: Allena Pearcy Gabosch
December 7, 2020 | Mac Scotty McGregor
What a journey she had. She lived two-hundred lifetimes in one and squeezed ever little drop out of each year until the end. She had a life's philosophy of eradicating shame, spreading joy and making a difference in the world. Those things she accomplished everyday of her life. Giving people a safe space to be themselves, to explore their sexuality and expression was part of her gift to the world. She saw people, she truly saw people. She genuinely loved hearing people's stories and connecting them to others who they would resonate with. She was extremely generous with her time and always shared the stage. She used her incredible spotlight to help launch and promote the careers of many sex and gender educators and activists. You'd be pressed to find a more passionate advocate.
Sexual folklorist and founder of Bawdy Storytelling, Dixie De La Tour shares some thoughts about Allena's lasting impact. "While most people refer to Allena Gabosch as a 'powerhouse' or 'tour de force', I always saw her as a brilliant connector and community leader. She had such insight into what drives people. She always left you wanting more of her. People gravitated toward Allena and all of that positive energy. She embodied being worthy of pleasure in a way that gave others permission to ask for it for themselves - and good for you, because she really wanted pleasure for you, too. Allena sucked every drop out of life, and she made you realize how lucky you were - not for your good health, but that you were fortunate enough to get to revolve in her orbit. She spent her time on the planet building a loving, empathetic community that adored her like nothing I've ever seen, and she taught us how to truly care for each other. Now that's a fucking legacy! #TiarasNotTears."
I met with Allena in 2010 in her office at the Center for Sex Positive Culture also known as the CSPC or the Wet Spot, which she was the Executive Director of at the time and had been since its foundation. I had a brief encounter with her at the Seattle Erotic Art Festival a few weeks prior to our meeting. I found her fascinating, loved her energy and wanted to learn more about her work and the CSPC. She was a founder and helped build a huge fringe community over the years that gave many a home to be themselves. A few weeks later we set up a meeting so she could give me a tour and tell me her story. We hit it off right away.
A couple of weeks after that we went out on a dinner date and spent five hours eating, sharing stories, and getting to know one another. She had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and had her first chemo the same week. I learned of her amazing polyamorous world while dating her through the journey of her first bout with cancer.
The poly family, including her partners and her partners other partners, were amazing and we all worked as a team to be at her appointments with her and care for her after chemo. They accepted me in with open arms to be apart of the family. It was a beautiful thing to experience. She had built a community that was there for one another in a way the one rarely sees. During this breast cancer fight she started a tag line; "Cancer Sucks, but my life does not". She also started the tradition of tiara Tuesdays where on her chemo days she asked folks around the world to wear tiaras with her in support. Even big burley bears and yes, even straight guys sent pictures in tiaras, which made her happy. That speaks to her influence. She found that the tiaras brought joy. They made other cancer patients as well as doctors, nurses and staff smile. She even stuck to her mission of bringing joy while fighting cancer. She continued this tradition when she started treatments for mesothelioma.
One of the things that bonded Allena and I right away is that we had remarkably similar backgrounds. We were both born to 16-year-old mothers, we were from evangelical Christian backgrounds and we both had a quest to eradicate shame around sexuality and gender identity.
At 17 Allena wandered into a small early version of Portland's Pride celebration. She did not know anything about the LGBTQ community at the time. She wandered through booths and talked with folks and then saw two men on the sidewalk holding signs saying, "Homosexuality is a Sin", "you will all burn". Having a religious background, she knew her Bible, therefore she decided to strike up a conversation with the men. She calmly discussed things with them. As she was sharing a view of love and acceptance being a Christian value the men began running out of counter arguments. She said, "Suddenly, I looked around and saw that a crowd had gathered around and was watching me debate the persecutors." Then the crowd applauded her at one point. She knew that experience had a profound impact on her because it showed her that she had the power to advocate for people.
Later that same weekend she snuck into a gay bar, being underage, and sat at the bar next to a beautiful blond woman. She struck up a conversation. Anyone who knows Allena at all knows that if you are not her friend it is because you have not met her or been around her for fifteen minutes or more. She was the definition of an extrovert and loved to meet people and hear their stories. This blond woman ended up telling her that she was transgender and shared her journey with that. Allena was a little country girl from Idaho and had absolutely no exposure to LGBTQ folks. As Allena always told the story she asked stupid questions and the trans woman was so patient and kind while gently educated her. She never forgot that woman's kindness and her story changed Allena. I think that experience also helped form the way Allena educated others, with grace and kindness, never making anyone less than, for not knowing something.
An example of that generous teacher will live on in many, like our own Aleksa Manila, who says. "There are very few instances when someone incredibly special comes along and just rocks your world. That special someone is Allena. She is unique and extraordinary - she is not boring; she is not vanilla - far from it. She creates a space - a safe space for EVERYONE. She is a nurturing mama who makes sure you are OK. Her wealth of information, breadth of sex positivity and harm reduction is outpouring. She is not selfish, she is very generous - she shares knowledge, understanding and compassion. When I was a fledgling health educator, she made me feel confident. She looked at me with her kind eyes... sending me a warm energy of "You got this, kid." That is all I needed to feel good, and in turn, make others feel better. I started incorporating sensuality and sexuality into my drag performances as an homage to what I have learned from her and other leaders in her field. Sex and kink make some people uncomfortable that they have become taboo subjects. Instead, Allena reminds us that these are normal behaviors that exercise love and respect for one another. In short, Allena embodies love. And I'm glad to know her and love her dearly."
Something some folks might not know about Allena was her heart to see and help those who are homeless. For a short time, she was homeless, and she came from a modest background growing up. She never forgot those experiences and in her spare time she consistently did things to help. I'll never forget the winters that she and I would ride around in her little red car with a back seat and trunk full of Ziplock baggies we had put together for homeless folks, and we would find folks and hand them out. The baggies contained a warm pair of socks, gloves, handwarmers, snacks and each had a five-dollar bill in them. Sometimes we would have bags of dog food as well to help those who had pups. In the almost eleven years I have known Allena I cannot think of a time when we have passed a homeless person without her stopping and giving them a couple of bucks, a sandwich or snack. She was one of the most generous souls I have ever had the privilege of knowing. When she owned the "Beyond The Edge" Café in Capitol Hill, where the Honey Hole is now, she had a policy that any homeless or hungry person who came in and said they were hungry was given a free bowl of Vegan Chili and a piece of homemade bread. Word got around and she fed the masses.
Years ago while dating my wife Dawn, when we began getting serious I told Dawn that I needed her to know that if Allena ever got sick again or needed a place to be she would always have a place with me and that to be serious with me she would need to agree with that. Dawn looked at me strangely and said we will have to see about that. At that point she had only met Allena casually, but not since she and I began getting serious. As polyamorous folks, Dawn knew that Allena was one of my partners, but did not really know her well. My birthday was around the corner and the plan was for the two of them to make a birthday dinner for me together and in turn begin getting to know one other. After the dinner and the fun those two had together in the kitchen Dawn came to me and said, "I'm all good with Allena being with us if or when she needs." My wife is a professional intuitive and now says that I had the intuition back then.
After Allena retired from being executive director of the CSPC she enjoyed traveling to Europe and while in Poland last year was diagnosed with Mesothelioma. She almost passed over the rainbow bridge while over there. In fact, they were calling us from the hospital telling us to say our goodbyes; they did not think that she would make it through the night. The next day she woke up, picked up her phone and looked on Facebook to over six hundred condolences. She did not have much energy, so she posted, "I'm not dead", and sat her phone back down.
She loved that later she got to quote Mark Twain by saying "the rumors of demise have been highly exaggerated." Then gained the nickname "Shesus" saying that Jesus may have taken three days to rise from the dead but since women are more efficient, she only took one day. The community raised the money to get her home after that with a traveling nurse, and oxygen. She was frail and none of us thought she had very long. She moved into our home right away and my wife set her up for care at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. My wife, Dawn, and I did everything we could to build her health, protein shakes, positive loving care, laughter and enjoying each moment we had. We were blessed to get another year and half with her. We put all our energy for that time into caring for her and trying to help her have as many little adventures and joys as possible. She was CHOSEN family and always will be. We took that very seriously and so did she. What an honor to walk this journey with someone you love. Yes, there were hard moments, many of them, yet raw real love and appreciation for one another. I cannot say thank you enough to my wife, Dawn Celeste McGregor, who was willing to put her own interests aside to walk this journey with Allena, and she did this with grace and ease. Dawn expressed, "Allena's religion was kindness and love, she was devout. She practiced forgiveness and presence with everyone she met and gave to anyone in need."
Saturday November 21st, she made her last public appearance, literally from her deathbed. Dawn and I performed our own miracle that night, making it possible for her to rally for this event. Dixie De La Tour and I along with many Sisters from four chapters of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and The Sister of the Mother House of WA canonized Allena and made her an honorary Saint! She was quadruple Sainted in front of hundreds on Zoom! Bawdy did it up with love and style. Allena floated after the community love she felt from this event and made jokes the next morning that she had to think about what she would now do with her sainthood. We conversed about it, laughing. Some community members in San Francisco community made Saint Allena candles and shipped some to us so that we could show her that night. She was very touched, and we were so glad she got to see them and have that experience.
Co-author of the The Ethical Slut and ten other books, Janet Hardy, said, "It's almost impossible to overstate Allena's contributions to the worlds of alternative sexuality and relationships - both here in the Pacific Northwest, and nationwide, arguably worldwide. Her formidable intelligence, enormous compassion and undauntable determination made her a figure that will be mourned by a huge number of perverts, sluts, kinksters, queers and plain old people."
One of our local gay leather community leaders Daniel McGlothlen reflects on his many years of working with and being a friend of Allena's. "Allena embodied the sex positivity that was her life's work and her passion. Her commitment and charisma were a community-building lightning rod. I collaborated with her many times over the 30 years of our friendship and she always inspired, always encouraged, always delighted."
Political journalist and writer Geov Parrish says "Allena was a mentor to literally thousands of people, in Seattle and across the continent, for decades. Her core philosophies - kindness, be authentic to yourself, and keep passing the open windows - live on in those of us lucky enough to have known her."
She was bisexual, kinky, queer, an adventurer, generous, wise, an extrovert, had a wicked wit and sense of humor, a lover, a loyal friend, an author, a teacher, a connector, a promoter, heart-led, a visionary, a safe space creator, an activist, an advocate for others, a foodie, an amazing cook, a glorious collaborator, a mentor, a playful soul, a lover of life. She was "Mama" to many even though she never birthed a child. Now there is a big hole in our hearts and the hearts of many and in my and Dawn's home where her larger than life personality, love, laughter, wit, and zest for adventure lived. Her love, memories and work will live on in many of us as we will continue to share pieces of her with the world.
I will leave you with her favorite quote, from her favorite movie, Auntie Mame: "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." The greatest thing we can do to carry on her legacy is to enjoy the banquet of life. Live it to the fullest, be authentic, erase shame, be generous in sharing our knowledge, spotlight, encouragement, creating safe space for others, and seeing folks with curiosity, compassion, empathy, and kindness.
Allena and George Bakan are probably already running things in the afterlife together. I can just see them helping folks forever along the journey. And we are sure that she is telling George about how she got to help vote Trump out.