Nel's New Day

May 22, 2011

Lesbian Columnists

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 2:15 PM

The Stonewall Riots of 1969, a three-day protest at a New York gay bar fighting police oppression, have been given credit for changing the gay culture of this nation. They were an important milestone, but I give credit to communication that came from the LGBTQ newsletters that have spread across the country and the LGBTQ columnists who are syndicated in mainstream media for the changes in the last half of the twentieth century. With that communication LGBTQ people really learned that there were lots of other people like them, that they were not alone.

Love this next story! The first identified lesbian newsletter came from a Los Angeles secretary who used the pseudonym “Lisa Ben.” (Sounds like?!) Her movie studio boss told her to “look busy” to make him appear important. Starting in June 1947, she “looked busy” by twice-monthly typing out five carbons and one original of Vice Versa. I saw one of the original carbon copies at the Lesbian Herstory Archive in Brooklyn. The nine-month “publication,” with its mix of lesbian fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, set the pattern for the multitude of lesbian/gay newsletters to come.

Vice Versa was followed in 1956 by The Ladder, a creation of the newly formed Daughters of Bilitis. Published monthly until 1970 except for 1971 and 1972 when it came out every two months, it used the same lesbian mix as Vice Versa, adding a cover and simple line drawings.

Three years before The Ladder, One, a spinoff group from the advocate Mattachine Society for gays, came out with the first edition of One Magazine. Instead of the literary bent of the lesbian magazines, One’s intent was to be educational and activist about gay issues. Then the first copy of The Advocate rolled off the presses in 1967, two years before Stonewall, and the world of LGBTQ publishing opened up.

Now the Internet allows millions of LGBTQ people to express their ideas to a vast audience. Sifting through these blogs can be time-consuming, but a start is one person’s  list of 30 “best” lesbian blogs running the gamut from political/activist to humor/advice.

Yet  few lesbian columnists publish openly about  LGBTQ issues in the mainstream press or collect their columns in books. I confess ignorance in this area so information will be very helpful.

An openly lesbian feminist freelance journalist in the UK, Julie Bindel, regularly publishes in The Guardian. Her acid tongue can infuriate readers, for example when she ridicules transgenders and their experiences.

A contrast to Bindel’s acerbic style comes from Dana Rudolph, known for mombian.com and her prolific columns with the Huffington Post, Washington Post, change.org, 365gay.com, a variety of LGBTQ newsletters including Bay Windows (Boston), etc.

Much as I love to read these columns, however, I like collections of columns even more. I was reminded of this when I picked up Fay Jacobs’ newest book, For Frying Out Loud: Rehoboth Beach Diaries. This is one of those books that not only warm our hearts about the gay community but also educate people unfamiliar with the “gay agenda” (translate every day mundane experiences). It is in these columns that we read about the joys of a quiet day, the fun of getting together with friends, the frustrations of owning pets, the adventures of travel—and I could go on and on.

Although I make her book sound dull, Jacobs’ columns make me laugh, even when she talks about subjects that can madden me, such as the current state of politics during the past decade. Her perspective personalizes issues that affect all of us from the beginning entry about her move from the glamorous Big Apple to the finishing acknowledgements that include a tribute to her father: “he . . .taught me that even the worst event is not so bad if you can eventually tell a compelling story about it.”

I finished the book and pondered the publisher, A&M Books. With hundreds of small publishers going in and out of business and thousands of people publishing their own books, it’s hard to keep track of all these “houses.” Back to the Internet. A&M Books was founded in 1995 by Anyda Marchant and her partner Muriel Crawford. (Get it? A&M? Anyda and Muriel?) Before you yawn, I need to explain that Marchant’s pseudonym was Sarah Aldridge, who is considered one of the best American lesbian storytellers in the twentieth century. And that she originated the Naiad Press, the most famous lesbian publishing house of its time. Sadly Marchant, 94, and Crawford, 91, died in 2006. Jacobs now has the press.

Reading For Frying Out Loud took me back to when I found And Say Hi to Joyce. This 1995 collection is from Deb Price’s long-running column which began in 1992 in the conservative Detroit News—the first gay column to regularly run in a daily newspaper. Like Jacobs, Price writes in her column about her long-time partner, Joyce Murdoch, as she addresses gay and straight issues, but a delightful addition to And Say Hi to Joyce is Murdoch’s response to Price.

Once described as a blend of Erma Bombeck, Armistead Maupin, and Anna Quindlen, Price’s columns humanize gay issues, again providing a very gentle education for straight readers. It’s a continuing saga of a long-term, same-sex relationship despite the way that some of society tries to negate its legality.

In 2010 when Price and Murdoch moved to Massachuetts, Price talks about her dilemma when she started writing a nationally syndicated, weekly column in mainstream newspapers about life from a gay perspective”: “So tell me,America, how do I introduce Joyce?”

“Over the next 18 years — and about 900 columns — I introduced my readers, mostly heterosexuals, to a gay couple — Joyce and me — and countless other wonderful people we met along our journalistic adventure. Others were angry to find a lesbian columnist in their hometown paper: ‘How dare you make your life seem interesting and worthwhile.” (Just think back over the changes during the past two decades!’)

The longest-running syndicated gay column, “The Amazon Trail,” started in the mid-1980s. In addition to still writing this column, the author, Lee Lynch, continues to come out with new fiction. Most of her first four years of columns compiled in The Amazon Trail Naiad Press, 1988) which begins, “Thirty years of being gay.” Let’s see. That was 33 years ago.

Lynch reminiscences about the girlfriends of her youth, the state of gayness during that time in Oregon, people in her life  (including a couple of partners), pets, food—all the minutia that put together a complete life. It’s a great history of the 1960s-1980s. Maybe she’ll cover the next 33 years one of these days. [Although Lynch’s book is out of publication, you might be able to snag it on at a used bookstore or buy one from her.]

Sorry I’ve skipped all the guys. Maybe another day!

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