Defending Our Lesbian Lives and History from Male Erasure
This was originally posted at GenderTrender, but after 8 years, that site, essential in protecting all girls and women, was shut down. A friend has archived it. I’m re-posting here….
Defending Our Lesbian Lives and History from Male Erasure
March 19, 2017
This is a GUEST POST by Bev Jo.
Defending Our Lesbian Lives and History from Male Erasure
By Bev Jo
We know about the trans cult appropriating our Lesbian and feminist identity, our organizations, our communities, our lives. Whatever they can’t take over and mark as their territory, they destroy. Throughout this female-hating, Lesbian-hating vendetta, there is also a steady re-writing of Lesbian history by gay men and some women collaborators.
Some rewritings are conscious and aggressive, while others are just lazy erasure, such as the “alternative facts” in the recent gay male-produced and directed television “docu-drama” mini-series on the major US network channel, ABC. “When We Rise,” is set in San Francisco, starting in 1972 and continuing over decades. They combine bad drama with actual videos of the time, and include stories of some of the people who lived then, giving an air of authenticity to their travesty. This altering of Lesbian history is so upsetting that it would be better if they just called the show, “When Gay Men Rise.” But continuing the myth of Lesbians being part of their “LGBTQIXYZ” mess increases the power of not just gay men, but also their het brothers who identify as women. (No Lesbian I know, and I know hundreds, ever agreed to join the alphabet mess. We were added against our will.) This is too close to the trans cult’s claiming all dead Lesbians from the past as “transmen.” I worry that this series will be linked to and referred to in the far future, including in university classes, as if it IS our history.
This is personal to me. Very personal. This is my life and community they are lying about for profit and propaganda. I am daily aware that when those of us who lived then are gone, no one will be able to protest the lies. So we have to keep telling the truth now. For those who came later, please be very careful about what you say about our history and our lives, to make sure it’s not altered, and help continue the truth. (I can’t believe I have to argue with Lesbians not even born by the Seventies who insist what they read about my own history is more valid than what I lived.)
So, were the producers/director of “When We Rise” being lazy, rather than deliberately re-writing Lesbian history? It’s hard to know when it was such a sloppy, badly done show. Yes, there are tender, moving, and enraging moments, like when African-descent Ken Jones’ Euro-descent longtime lover dies and his lover’s family kicks him out of their home with only what he can carry in his arms because they had no legal protection. (This is part of what those against marriage rights forget. If marriage offends you, first remove het’s marriage rights, but please allow Lesbians and gay men to finally get the same rights for basic survival, medical control if those we love can’t communicate, immigration, etc. that hets have. No other documents are strong enough to protect us if Lesbian-hating families are powerful enough.)
So much of the show was trite and badly acted. Particularly jarring is how the later actors don’t seem remotely connected to the earlier actors playing the same characters. Ken Jones becomes a born again christian and denounces himself for a while, but the earlier version of him is strong and courageous. The Cleve Jones’ character suddenly has annoying exaggerated “faggot” mannerisms that his younger representation didn’t have. It was annoying to see so much time wasted that could have instead focused on our real history spent by showing his various contorted expressions meant to convey emotion and pathos, including the side drama about his sudden obsession with wanting to adopt a baby — perhaps to humanize him to the het audience? They do the same thing with the two main Lesbian characters whose life suddenly is all about having a baby, in spite of the young version of Roma Guy being adamantly against it. With so little time to show our community or gay men’s community histories, why place major focus on baby obsession other than that it’s about assimilating Lesbians?
Particularly infuriating is when the series just lies, appropriating well-known NYC Lesbian history by portraying it as happening in San Francisco — like when Lesbians in NOW came out with their Lavender Menace shirts to protest Betty Friedan and NOW’s Lesbian hating. Roma Guy, showcased in the series, is credited with that protest though it happened two years earlier than when the series begins and thousands of miles away. How can they just erase the real Lesbians who made that demonstration? It’s not like it’s a secret history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender_Menace
The Roma Guy character also refers to Lesbian Feminist support for Inez Garcia, who had been on trial for murder, but repeats the myth that Inez acted in self defense. Inez said that after she was raped, she got a gun and went after the men who had attacked her (one had raped her and the second man had held her down). She killed the second man. She was convicted until she got help from a feminist attorney and massive support from our Lesbian Feminist community. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inez_Garc%C3%ADa
The filmmakers also appropriate the NYC Stonewall rebellion against police brutality as if happened in San Francisco – including plagiarizing the ““God Save Us Nelly Queens” quote from documentaries about Stonewall. I wasn’t around gay men, but I do remember drag queen shows in North Beach in San Francisco in the Sixties and later that were a significant part of the tourist industry where hets paid to see drag queen performers. Were the police as violent to gay men in SF as elsewhere? Yes, Harvey Milk was killed by another city supervisor, and yes, gay men burned police cars, but it’s a different history than what happened at Stonewall.
I object to the mini-series erasing gay men in other ways also. They don’t even seem to know how Lesbians and gay men looked. How hard could it have been to get accurate photos of gay men? Most of the gay men I saw in the Seventies looked like the gay men in photographs at Stonewall and many videos of the time, which was counter-culture young hippies and political activists. Later, there was the distinct “Castro Clone” look, which Freddie Mercury emulated. (An ageist reference to Harvey Milk in the series was that he looked like a hippie, but was too old — until he changed to get elected. Old hippies still can be seen in the Bay Area.)
I’m guessing the reason they altered our history was because they didn’t know and didn’t bother to try to find out. But it’s even more upsetting when they present actual famous Lesbians and caricature them, like dynamic, outspoken Phyllis Lyon, who we owe so much to and who barely speaks in the series. Her lover, Del Martin, was played by Rosie O’Donnell as a caricature, with longer hair than Del. She’s portrayed as being annoying because she was a Lesbian Feminist who cares about women, as opposed to prioritizing men. They attribute a quote to Del that I remember as being from Jackie Winnow, who wrote about the lack of support for Lesbians with cancer before she died at age 44.
“Jackie Winnow was a feminist, lesbian and progressive activist who played a major role in transforming health care activism. She was the first coordinator of the Lesbian/Gay and AIDS unit of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, where her work focused on discrimination both within and without the LGBT communities. In 1985, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she founded the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Berkeley the next year with Joanne Garrett, another friend of mine.
Winnow’s involvement in the feminist health movement inspired her cancer activism. She once said, “We have to stop being nice girls and start fighting as if our lives depend on it, because they do.” She became an outspoken cancer activist and infused the movement with energy and focus.
She also was a forceful voice for people with AIDS and once stated, “Both of these diseases are life-threatening and yet I have seen my community rally around one and overlook the other…No one takes care of women or lesbians except women or lesbians, and we have a hard enough time taking care of ourselves, of finding ourselves worthy and important enough for attention.”
The series is full of digs and asides thrown in to discredit Lesbian Feminist activists, such as when Roma Guy is at a women only meeting, and her friend Cleve Jones rushes in to talk with her, belittling and ignoring the Lesbians objecting to his invading women only space, saying he’s a “feminist.”
Even worse was the series’ scapegoating our beloved Pat Norman, who was played by a bizarrely feminized Whoopi Goldberg. I’ve seen a lot of documentaries and reports about the history of AIDS in SF, which names various male politicians in San Francisco as being the main obstructionists in education about how AIDS is spread, but never, ever saw a reference blaming Pat Norman – until this series. Why did they do this to her?
It’s as if they had a list of a few Lesbians and toss them out to make it look like they know Lesbian history. Meanwhile, the many Lesbians who were changing the world were just ignored. One segment of the series included the actual people talking about the history, and a gay man said how much more Lesbians were doing, but no details were shown in the series. A big fuss was made about the Women’s Building in SF, which does have an exquisite mural, but I never thought of it as our space. A friend said they did have some good things in the early Eighties, but now it’s available to anyone with enough money. Even soon after it began I remember hearing from a friend who did security there that businessmen would hire rooms to have strippers at their luncheon meetings. When we had our Separatist Gathering there in 1983, no one bothered to tell us that a man had called in a bomb threat.
I think there is racism and classism also in their ignoring Oakland and Berkeley, which was not separate from San Francisco. In that era, our Lesbian communities were combined. There is also ageism, as in the scene when Cleve Jones chastises younger “gay people” for not being as activist as he was. I see the charge of age divides among Lesbians being pushed by men claiming to be Lesbians, but the reality I still see is that Lesbian Feminists, and particularly Radical Lesbian Feminists, are allied across all ages.
I’ve been living in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1966. As soon as I was able, I tried to find Lesbians, but it was difficult since I was underage and so not able to join the Daughters of Bilitis or go to the bars. In 1970, I found the Lesbian Feminist community, which was a dream come true. I joined Gay Women’s Liberation, which met in Berkeley at Alice Molloy and Carol Vorvolakos’ house, and also alternated in SF at Judy Grahn and Wendy Cadden’s apartment. (This was before “Lesbian” and “Dyke” became associated with proud Lesbian Feminism, while “gay woman” seemed to be used more by women afraid to say the terrifying word “Lesbian.”)
Just look around now and see how Lesbians have gone backward to where women are still terrified and so choose to name themselves “genderqueer” and “queer” or anything but “Lesbian.” Never underestimate the fear of being called a Lesbian. (Even my mother who I talked to openly about being a Lesbian since I was a teenager seemed incapable of saying the word, and so would mumble something like L..s..b..n. I’d keep asking what the hell she was trying to say, until she’d switch to “they,” as in “they can get married now,” which wasn’t even true at the time.) Continually trying to rename us into something less clear and less explicitly Lesbian feels like yet another kind of “Lesbian and gay conversion therapy.” Too reminiscent of “I don’t care what you do, but just don’t use ‘that’ word!”
It’s overwhelming to try to tell our true history since that would take a book (which I am writing). Also there was just so much that it’s hard to remember it all. I’m sure I’m leaving a lot out, but just wanted to at least protest the series, which will be considered accurate as our/my history, unless we speak out. For instance, there are a large Bay Area Lesbian of Color communities and sub-communities based on race and nationalities, like Gente. Many Euro-descent Lesbians still don’t know about the NIA Collective, created by and for Lesbians of African descent, begun in|1987.
1970 and afterward was an incredibly dynamic and exciting time. At first, our events, were usually in the large cheap rundown houses where Lesbians rented rooms and had collectives, and also in rented or donated spaces. (Few Lesbians owned houses, though that changed when there was a massive influx of ex-wives coming out who had money and property from their het marriages.
Everything was assumed to be women only, so we no longer had to deal with men perving on us or man-splaining to us. We had concerts, poetry readings, dances, parties, and then there were women’s coffee houses, like the Full Moon café and Artemis café in SF, and bookstores, like Old Wives Tales in SF, A Woman’s Place, in Oakland, and later Mama Bears in Oakland, and Bodacia’s in Kensington.
There had always been Lesbian bars in the Bay Area, but there were more after Lesbian Feminism (like Ollie’s and the Bacchanal) that had Lesbian Feminist concerts, dances and plays. Where now Lesbians go to a gym, Lesbians then often went to women’s martial arts dojos and self defense schools. (I taught self defense for ten years.) All we accomplished is gone now. Even the bars that existed before Lesbian Feminism are gone. And no, it’s not because we don’t still need a community, as some say. We need community spaces more than ever. I’ve heard Lesbians talk about how important “inclusivity” is, yet don’t see rich gay men expected to share their resources.
It was incredible to be in predominately Lesbian women only spaces. It is just not the same when men are present, even when they aren’t leering and groping as they do now. (For years, men claiming to be Lesbians have in particular targeted anything defined as “women only” or “Lesbian.”)
In 1972, some of us organized one of the first Lesbian Feminist conferences in the world in Berkeley. We had several Feminist newspapers in the Bay Area, and in 1973, I co-wrote and published Dykes and Gorgons, a Dyke Separatist newspaper. I also drew the cover. (The reference to “East Bay Queers” was about a Lesbian Feminist t-shirt that had Lesbian symbols and said “East Bay Queers,” and was not a reference to the way “queer” is used now as a trendy term meaning anyone.)
We also had publications that were appearing all over the US, including the books printed by the Women’s Press Collective, like “Lesbians Speak Out,” published in 1974, which had photos by and of our local Lesbians and friends.
In 1980, the first Black Lesbian Conference began in San Francisco with nearly 200 Lesbians. (The Black Lesbian Caucus was created as an offshoot of the Gay Liberation Front in 1971, and later took the name of the Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc. Collective, which was the first “out” organization for Lesbians and Women of Color in New York. The Sisters are now known as African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change, and is the oldest black lesbian organization in the United States.)
One of the only ongoing Lesbian only organizations that ever existed in the Bay Area was the NIA Collective, which was created by and for Lesbians of African descent in 1987, “HELPING TO EMPOWER LESBIANS OF AFRICAN DESCENT.”
And the music! We had strong political Lesbian Feminist and even Lesbian Separatist music, albums and concerts. If you ask most Lesbians about what they think of as “Women’s Music,” they will name the later bland music with lyrics that could mean anything or nothing, that many of us remember as being what was the beginning of the loss of our Lesbian-identified culture. This diluted “women’s music” was career-focused and drew more privileged Lesbians who were closeted, so they could bring their families and het friends and not have to worry they would be offended by our culture or even have to hear the word “Lesbian.” Similarly, collectives morphed into organization with Boards of Directors and hierarchies, with the goal being to get money and status rather than build community.
We had had wonderful music that proudly said “Lesbian” and talked about our real lives. The Berkeley Women’s Music Collective (Susann P Shanbaum; Debbie Lempke; Nancy Henderson; Nancy Vogl; Janet Lampert; Bonnie Lockhart) might sound dated because they didn’t have money to make more professional recordings, but in retrospect, the lyrics and politics are amazing. “Thorazine,” by Suzanne Shanbaum, described a Lesbian girl incarcerated and drugged in mental hospitals by her parents (as many in our community had experienced). “Janet’s Song” was about being discovered with her lover by her parents and disowned. “The Fury” was about being oppressed as a woman and Lesbian, and how her she uses her anger to fight back. I still haven’t heard another feminist song like Bonnie’s “Class Mobility.” (Bonnie joined for their second album.)
Mary Watkins made Something Moving, an album of her instrumental music. (The cover is from the Lesbian-owned Brick Hut Café.)
There was also the fantastic dance band, BeBe K’Roche, formed in Berkeley by Jake Lampert, Pamela “Tiik” Pollet, Peggy Mitchell, and Virginia Rubino in 1973. There were Lesbians and bands who never were able to record, which is a terrible loss. Some who did record, like S’irani Avedis, left out their most powerful and threatening Radical Lesbian Feminist songs.
Later, there were public organizations supposedly for Lesbians, like the National Center for Lesbian Rights in SF, which actually betrays Lesbians on behalf of men pretending to be Lesbians. The Lyon-Martin clinic for Lesbians in SF is now advertising as being for “HIV, Transgender Health Services, Gynecologic Care, Mental Health,” in that order. The Berkeley Women’s Health Collective became the Berkeley Women’s Health Center (for profit) and now is the Berkeley Women and Men’s Health Center.
Though our community was very separate from gay men, I do know some of their history, such as that gay men have many things Lesbians never did, like an entire neighborhood (the Castro), countless businesses, clubs, bars, cafés, restaurants, etc. around the Bay Area. As surviving here became too expensive for many Lesbians, gay men seemed to be doing fine.
I just wanted to be with Lesbians but did read the free Bay Times newspaper, which was one of the only ways to find out about upcoming Lesbian events. That meant wading through pages of gay male porn, male sado-masochism, and male prostitution ads. I also remember one gay male pool party where they advertised that Lesbians were not welcome because they said we were too “dirty.” Never once, in spite of all their privilege and resources, did I see any outreach from gay men to Lesbians – until they asked for our blood (literally) and other help, even as dying Lesbians were kicked out of the Shanti Project (previously for dying Lesbians and gay men.)
For years, there was just one Lesbian and Gay Parade, and it was possible for Lesbians to just start marching with signs, without having to pay, unlike now, where the “LBGTQI” parade is corporate and expensive. (Meanwhile, the “North American Man-Boy Love Association” marched for years with a huge banner, which is another reason we were not in a community with gay men.)
And there was no “T” anywhere on banners, signs, etc.
Every Lesbian portrayed in the series who I know or knew personally is portrayed insultingly, including Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Pat Norman, Sally Gearhart, etc. And so many Lesbians who helped create our community aren’t mentioned at all. One way to see what they really are or were like is, and is an essential antidote to the lies about our community, is to watch the video “No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon” by JEB (Joan E. Biren.) Phyllis and Del did so much to create our Bay Area Lesbian community. The video includes Del’s famous public letter published now in 1970, and almost impossible to find online, “Farewell to the Gay Men,” explaining why she can’t work with them any more due to their sexism and Lesbian-hating — and Lesbian-erasure, like the mini-series, almost fifty years later.
Below is the video and other links and photos and some of the work of Bay Area Lesbians who transformed our lives and helped create our community. They must never be forgotten. It’s a travesty that such a heavily-funded, mainstream “history” just erases or lies about them. Keep spreading the word. Know that there are so many more Lesbians and stories I didn’t include. We need more books that tell the truth.
We have lost our women only and rare Lesbian-only spaces, but continue to meet as Lesbians always have, gathering in public places, but as a community still. They cannot stop us.
Our Lesbian Feminist movement and culture in the Bay Area was influenced by and still influences Lesbian Feminists and communities across the world. We continue, with far less resources than before, but with far greater numbers, in so many countries, and in spite of other lies, all ages.
More of my personal and local RLF history is at my blog: https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/
Some of Del’s history:
— 1921 – Born on May 5 in San Francisco
— 1950 – Met the love of her life, Phyllis Lyon
— 1955 – Co-founded groundbreaking lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis
— 1960 – Took over as editor of the Ladder, a monthly lesbian magazine
— 1964 – Helped found the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, formed to overturn laws that criminalized homosexual behavior
— 1972 – Co-wrote with Lyon the book “Lesbian/Woman”
— 1972 – Co-founded with Lyon the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the first gay political club in the United States
— 1976 – Published the book “Battered Wives,” which focused on domestic violence
— 1976 – Appointed chairwoman of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women
— 1995 – Served as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging
— 2004 – Wed Lyon in the first of about 4,000 same-sex weddings sanctioned by San Francisco but later ruled invalid by the California Supreme Court
— 2008 – On June 16, married Lyon again, this time with the blessing of the state Supreme Court, which found the state ban on same-sex marriage illegal.
For further information about Lesbian history, there is Myriam Fougère’s film, LESBIANA—A PARALLEL REVOLUTION/LESBIANA—UNE RÉVOLUTION PARALLÈLLE, which shows many Lesbian Separatists, including at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. (Though it doesn’t include our West Coast communities, it’s still a wonderful history and conveys the spirit of what we had, which is even more important, now that after forty years, MichFest is gone.)
There also are books that are autobiographies about our community, like Judy Grahn’s “A Simple Revolution.” http://judygrahn.org/book/a-simple-revolution/
And Patricia Lee Jackson’s “It Takes an Uprising.” http://takesanuprising.com/
The video of Pat Parker and Judy Grahn’s record of their poetry:
THREE POEMS BY PAT PARKER
WORK BY A RENOWNED AND REVERED LESBIAN-FEMINIST POET
In her writing, Pat Parker developed a fully authentic and revolutionary voice grounded in her experiences growing up Black and female in south Texas of the 1940s, and coming out as a lesbian in California of the late 1960s. The power of her poetry was profoundly fueled by three murders that directly impacted her life. Of course, all the usual harassments, injuries, insults, deprivations, exotifications and objectifications—heaped on Black women especially—came her way. The terror of being publicly gay, of losing community support as a person of color, of being misunderstood by her parents, also came her way. But I would say the murders pushed her over some edge of motivation to either withdraw completely or go to the front of the line with a big bad sword in hand and lead a revolution. This latter is what she did.
In English Lit., they told me
Kafka was good because he created
the best nightmares ever –
I think I should go find that professor
& ask why we didn’t study the S.F. Police Dept.
For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.
You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven – don’t tell me
his life story. They made us take music appreciation too.
Eat soul food if you like it,
but don’t expect me to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.
And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ass –
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.
And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than
whites – don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.
In other words – if you really want to be my friend – don’t
make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.
The documentary, Last Call at Maud’s, shows one of our favorite bars. The owner, Ricky Streicher, had another very popular bar called Amelia’s. Every year, during the time of the Dyke March, the current bar owners, though it’s now called Finnegan’s Wake, commemorate Maud’s, and the owners of the bar where Amelia’s was, put up a the “Amelia’s” sign so Lesbians marching past can see it.
B.J. Maillette, who was the Butch who created our women-only self defense and JuJitsu Dojo: