PO Box 242
Midway, Florida 32343
by Sheila Ortiz-Taylor
RISK OF CHANGE
Two older lesbians, Meg, a writer, and Joanna, an artist, have joined their lives. Now they search for ways to accommodate each other’s lifetime of established and independent habits, and their individual and complex histories. A history that intertwines with events personal and profound: marriage, children, Vietnam, loss, and lives spent in the closet. Their present lives hold fear: the two women and their trust in each other are being menaced by a homophobe who strikes during the night.
Reminiscent of Jane Rule’s great classic Memory Board, Risk of Change is a novel rich in its portrayal of older lesbian lives . At its heart it is a love story, an involving and moving depiction of a deepening relationship and the ordinary events and crises of life, and two very different women in their later years who lead active, energetic lives, and struggle to combine their working lives with their commitment to their love relationship and integration of the history that brought them together.
“…a rich account of the fascinating journey of [not only] her own life, [but] the remarkable people and places that punctuated it, and the war that raged inside her…an enthralling, instructive, and ultimately uplifting story." -Michelangelo Signorile, author of Queer in America and Life Outside.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Anais Nin, Edith Sitwell, Evelyn Hooker, Paul Monette—such luminaries are only some of the fellow trailblazers whose paths intersected with Betty Berzon in this amazing memoir of the life of one of the most vital and fascinating of our LGBT pioneers.
Surviving Madness unveils the dramatic story of an emergence from mental breakdown and suicide attempts to coming out as a lesbian at age forty, followed by the discovery of life-long love, the triumphant rise to becoming a groundbreaking therapist and a courageous, passionate, resolute activist--and the pioneering author of such classic books on lesbian and gay relationships as Permanent Partners and Positively Gay.
Surviving Madness is the transcendent story of a woman central to the reach for LGBT civil rights in the twentieth century, whose drama-charged life changed forever our own lives today.
This edition of Surviving Madness includes a very special Introduction and Afterword by life partner Terry DeCrescenzo.
First published by The University of Wisconsin Press 2002.
From the author of the legendary classic novel Faultline comes this unforgettable depiction of three generations of women in a vivid, authentic, and luminous story of their lives and times.
WHEN WE WERE OULAWS
A sweeping memoir, a raw and intimate chronicle of a young activist torn between conflicting personal longings and political goals. When We Were Outlaws offers a rare view of the life of a radical lesbian during the early cultural struggle for gay rights, Women’s Liberation, and the New Left of the 1970s.
Maggie Seaver is on the run. With Angel, the seven year old she has raised with her estranged ex-partner. Rescuing her daughter is an imperative she can no more ignore than breathing—Angel has been abused by her caretaker. Instinctively, Maggie flees toward the only help she can believe in.
As she careens down the Baja peninsula with her ex-partner, the FBI, and the American media all in pursuit, Maggie cannot afford to trust any help she finds along the way; she can rely only on her instincts and her source of spiritual strength.
Yet, when she reaches her destination, the reception she receives turns out to be far different from anything she could ever have expected.
Stealing Angel is a riveting, unforgettable journey through the spectacular landscape of the Baja, and the landscape of a woman's spirit.
THE SIDE DOOR
On her first day of high school, fifteen-year-old Melrose Bird sees Alex Weber's mother on a park bench staring at Drift High School where her teenage son died five years ago.
Alex's death has never been discussed in the town or at the school. But Mel and her best friend Frank become obsessed with Alex's grave and consumed by the why of his suicide. When Mel happens upon a pair of Alex's cargo pants, she takes them. And what she finds inside the pockets brings into focus the story of Alex's brief life and his death.
Determined to pressure the school and the town into recognizing why Alex died, Mel confronts a world of adult secrecy and deception. Even her own peers are giving her trouble. Mel's assertion of her identity—her buzz cut and the pants she wears—is met with condemnation from her classmates.
But anyone who thinks Mel Bird will retreat from disapproval or opposition is badly mistaken.
"THE SIDE DOOR is an affecting story about a couple of Superman-loving kids who discover that it's by revealing their secret identities that they come into their true super powers." - Alison Bechdel
An Interview with Jeanne Cordova, author of
When We Were Outlaws
Katherine: Jeanne, even though I lived in Los Angeles during the time you describe in When We Were Outlaws, your memoir reads like a gripping suspense novel. Also, very unusual for a memoir, it focuses on the events of one singular year in your life. Why did you choose that year, and what led you to this decision?
Jeanne: I wrote Outlaws as a novelized memoir with “gripping suspense” because I know many people like novels. We all love a story. I didn’t want my version of lesbian history to be sidelined as dry history, or self-indulgent memoir, when in fact, it’s a juicy historical drama.
In 1999, I sat down to write a love story. I’d been writing journalism and political essays for two decades, but never challenged myself to write a basic love-story type novel. I began with a certain woman, an unresolved love affair. That took me to the years 1974 to 1976. To my surprise the story began spinning its way into lesbian and gay and New Left politics—by way of the original love story, because this was how I was living my life when I met and fell in love with Rachel. A couple of years into this project I called her to say, “Hey—guess what, our story is turning into a political drama.” She just shrugged and said, “I’m not surprised, that’s who you are.”
As I began to tell the story of Cordova and Rachel, I got into all the activist machinations and dramas of my life in 1975. I began to see that this was a critical year
in the rise and development of Lesbian Nation, as well as the real end of sixties radicalism. And I began to see that the real love story I was writing about was about me and my life’s love—lesbian nation.
After that, the story got so big and sweeping that I just had to end it before I got to 1,000
pages. I tend to lead a very full life—but that year was an epoch unto itself. Looking back my first memoir, Kicking the Habit; A Lesbian Nun Story, it was also only one crucial year in my life. I like big thick slices of pie, one at time.
Katherine: What was the experience like in researching this book?
Jeanne: We might have to ask my spouse and Research Editor that question. She is an internet maven and did most of the hard research of impossible-to-find answers to questions. About 85% of this book, facts and research included, came out of my memory. But she fact checked most of it. Many writers have told me that you can’t write a good book while living with a lover, it’s too polyamorous/non-monogamous. I am very blessed to have a partner who can compartmentalize almost as well as I can. Structuring the book turned out to be the most difficult for me.
Katherine: Given the candor of the details you share, clearly it was an emotional journey of major proportions, revisiting this era of your life, especially your emotional life during this time. Can you share the experience of that writing journey with us?
This is the most painful question to answer. In the early ‘90s I went to an OutWrite Conference in Boston, Mass. I remember it clearly. It snowed. I froze. But I heard the keynoter Dorothy Allison say, “If you’re not bleeding on the page you should probably throw the page away.” So that was my guide. When I bled, jumped out of the chair, hyperventilated, and swore—“I’m not writing about this!” I kept coming back, popped a Xanax or two, and just kept going. I don’t know that I want to share this journey in too much detail. I might scare writers away from looking for answers in their deepest shadow self. Maybe that’s just the price of tea in China. If your writing bores you it sure as f--- is gonna bore others.
There are two scenes, the most vulnerable and therefore dangerous scenes, that I debated dropping out of the book. I told myself all kinds of rationalizations like, “Don’t worry, you’ll never get published and no one will ever know.” Fear has crushed many a writer. I suggest that writers go into denial and stay there as long as you can while you keep writing the truth. The other thought I had was—I’m no perfect human being. I’m well acquainted with my faults. A large part of memoir is being vulnerable.
So yes, I cried a lot. In fact, this is getting hard. I have to go watch Ab Fab now before I answer any more questions!
Katherine: Since this is one year out of a life of great significance to us in the lesbian community, do you plan another book—or books?
Jeanne: KVF, what else did you want to pry into? Oh yeah… do I plan other books?
Yes, writing Outlaws focused me on the importance of the lesbian feminist generation, how and why we built a movement, and what long term changes we wrought or informed. So, I believe my next book will begin with the story of the birth of that movement and follow its development through, say 1985. I’d also like to write a book about my biological family, my 11 siblings and parents who are wacky yet very talented. We have a University President, ex-space scientist, an economist on the FED Board, a chiropractor, a Harvard MBA realtor, two family businesses cum zany CEO’s, an attorney who keeps us all out of jail…the list goes on.
Katherine: Your work as an activist and journalist is one of the building blocks of our lesbian community. Would you tell us how you view this lesbian world of ours today that you helped bring into being?
Jeanne: Thank you. Ah, that’s a big question. Big swaths of our lesbian world, those women who
can look or act like society’s version of an acceptable woman, are today free to declare
themselves gay without losing their family, job, or apartment. Having grown up in a world in which one could lose all of these things, I’m very proud that my generation built this platform of freedom for our daughters.
But I’m not always proud that so many lesbians choose to do little in their lives besides consume the fruits of equality without regard for others whose race, class, or gender appearance makes them still at risk. Despite the single-issue focus on our questionable desire to get married, the battlefront in fact has moved from gay & lesbian equality to discrimination against the queer—the one who doesn’t fit in.
Recently I’ve gone to work as an activist and writer on the gender justice frontier. As an open butch, I see and feel the rank discrimination against all of us who were born with a cross or trans gendered identity. This sexism is what’s behind the “bullying” of young feminine boys and masculine girls. With others, I just founded an organization called Butch Nation that will address this often life-threatening identity choice. Like being gay, I don’t think being other-gendered is a choice. As I say in the author’s note of When We Were Outlaws, many of us still experience the persistent pain of not being acceptable. So I would hope that lesbian nation does not walk away from the struggle when the job is only half done.
Katherine: Finally, Jeanne, after all the time and tears and unremitting effort that have gone into writing When We Were Outlaws, what do you most want your readers to take away from your book?
Jeanne: That it’s a book about what it means to grow up deleted and dangerous in American culture. A constant beacon in my life has been the reimagining of myself, or an entire generation of teens, growing up in a queer-affirming loving world. If you are one of these youth, this book is about you and how to become an LGBTQ activist. And if you are one of the hundreds who lived through the ‘60s and ‘70s as a boomer who changed history, that you will recognize your life in Outlaws.
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