March 30th, 2013
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
“Yes, I Am!”: 1958. It seems that much of gay history before the rise of the women’s movement in the 1960s is often centered on the experiences of gay men. It was men were being arrested and jailed, in numbers which far exceeded the experiences of lesbians, although lesbian bars were also targeted by police (see for example, Mar 8, Sep 8, Sep 21). We can all imagine what it was like to be a gay man fifty-five years ago thanks to the early homophile magazines ONE and The Mattachine Review. The latter was devoted almost exclusively to male concerns (although lesbians made an occasional appearance from time to time) while ONE, in its early days, mostly relegated women’s concerns to a segregated regular column called “The Feminine Viewpoint.”
In 1956, the Daughters of Bilitis began publishing The Ladder to provide women with a voice separate from men — and indeed, for much of the fifties, the gay men’s movement and the lesbian movement, such as they were, were mostly separate movements which only sometimes recognized the common cause between them. But thanks to The Ladder, we have, preserved like a time capsule, a collection of voices from, well, the feminine viewpoint. And so what was it like to be a lesbian in the 1950s? Well, an article that appeared in the March 1958 issue of The Ladder provides one illustration of how invisible lesbians often were — and often made themselves — in those year. The article was signed with the name of Sandra Pine, although that was probably a pen name. It was titled, simply, “Yes, I Am!”:
I wish it were possible for me to wr1te this on my letterhead, but my “world” would be too shocked if they were to learn their perfectly proper and “normal” appearing friend, business and professional member of their society were any different than she appears. And more shocked to know that she is secretly glad to be a Lesbian.
I’ve never consulted a psychiatrist (but many have with me) as I am not emotionally disturbed nor suffering from a guilt complex. I am perfectly healthy, have no need or use for drugs, cigarettes or alcohol. Although I move in a society that uses them with the rest of their problems, I’m not concerned with their use.
I’ve only had one “friend”. Fifteen years ago we “discovered” one another at a rather boring society tea and instantly we knew there was a tie that bound us. We’ve been true. There is nothing “cheap” about the deep love that we have shared. We are both very prominent women. There has never been the slightest finger of suspicion pointed at us. Our manners in public are such as not to attract any undue attention. We are both attractive, well groomed, fashionably dressed, completely feminine.
If occasionally our hands meet under the table when dining out it is with complete fulfillment and security. We have found what few individuals ever do – that is complete compatibility and understanding, without jealousy or distrust.
I am always secretly amused when some wise person says “I can tell one a mile away”. When my secretary, a clever young woman who has been with me for 10 years, said to me recently when she accidentally saw my copy of THE LADDER: “What do you want with that stuff – you’re no homosexual” I knew my mask had never slipped, and I was secretly proud of the fact. But I long f or the day when I could say “I am a Lesbian” with the same ease I say “I am a Republican”.
My friend and I do not and never have lived together. We have conventional families who never even guess we are “different”. We manage to have a day a week together. We meet at social affairs and quite often we weekend, or take a vacation somewhere, even Europe.
I would not change my way of life, even if I could. Of course, we all should come out in the open and proclaim our status, but the world is not quite ready for that. While I’m not afraid of men, mice, ‘ snakes or storms, I’m just not brave enough — yet — to say “Ye s, I am!”
As an answer to that odd, contradictory, and yet, given the times, understandable declaration of deeply closeted pride, The Ladder published another article the following July by Jule Moray, titled, “An Open Letter to Sandra Pine”:
I was touched by your article, “Yes, I Am” in the March edition of THE LADDER; touched, and a little terrified.
I see two well dressed women, perfeotly groomed, at whom the finger of suspicion has never pointed; their hats fashionably perched above m~sks that never slip. Two perfect ladies, completely feminine. Miss Pine, might I ask what are you being feminine for?Whom are you trying to deceive? Yourself, or the well dressed, well groomed, completely masculine men you meet every day? Or your conventional families, who trust you and would never guess? Is it not possible that these normal business and professional friends are as afraid of showing you that they know, as you are afraid of knowing they know? Let us by all means keep our personal lives as private as can be; but if we are lucky enough (and many are not) to have private lives why not let them be as full and satisfying as we can possibly make them? A hand touched beneath the table; one day in seven alone; the occasional week-end; even a trip to Europe in fifteen years -is that the best you can do for your love life, Miss Pine?
Would you lose your job, your mother’s love or your right to vote Republican if you let slip just a couple of small hairpins, took a flat with you friend (sic), and started to make up for all the time you two have lost? Who is going to worry? Not your secretary — you haven’t made a pass at her in ten years — we know that. Not those professional and business gentlemen — you’ve been giving them the red light all along. Who else is there? The ladies at your social gatherings — they’ll be only too thankful you’re not after their men. And at the very worst, if the whole town knows you’ve left home and are sharing with a roommate; is that going to rock anybody?
My friend and I have been together for twenty years; it took us eight years, owing to the war before we were able to live together. We’re not at all smart or well groomed, and I don’t honestly know if you’d say we are feminine or not. Probably in every plaoe we’ve ever lived everyone has known we are Lesbians. We rarely think about it, and we never worry about it. Certainly no one has ever hinted that our relationship is at all strange. Most of our friends are married and no one has ever refused to come to our house. We, in fact, think ourselves liked, sometimes well-liked, very rarely disliked.
Miss Pine, you are not afraid of men, mice, snakes or storms? All right; why don’t you take that flat? A comfortable one, serviced, you can afford it. Let yourselves go a bit over the decor, be bold, but cosy; and, before it’s too late, see to it that there’s only one bedroom with a full size double bed. You won’t, either of you be so well groomed in the future — but it will be worth it.
[Sources: Sandra Pine. “Yes, I Am!” The Ladder 2, no. 6 (March 1958): 12-13.
Jule Moray. “Open Letter to Sandra Pine.” The Ladder 2, no. 10 (July 1958): 16-17.]
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This your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?
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Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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