I am an old lesbian who came out during the 2nd wave of feminism, which we called the women’s liberation movement. But my story begins three years earlier in 1969 during my senior year at a state university. I believe the lessons I learned during my involvement in the anti-war movement (Viet Nam) are pertinent today. I also wish to share my experience as a young feminist who found strength and pride within lesbian feminist culture and community.
In 1969 I became aware of the lies being told to us surrounding the government’s invasion of Viet Nam. I was also taking several electives in social philosophy which opened my mind to explore alternative socio-economic systems. And then I was arrested at a sit-in to hear Angela Davis speak.
I decided to become an activist and to accept a teaching position as a graduate assistant. I taught the first women’s liberation course that was accredited through my department. My thesis was a collection of all the early pamphlets and papers coming out of the first feminist and lesbian feminist collectives and classes. They were to be compiled within an anthology with my introduction. The department was planning to publish it as a book. This was a very exciting time for me.
I joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and began taking part in protests and sit-ins. I also wrote articles on famous feminists of the past in our movement newspaper. And I participated in a strike of factory workers near the campus.
After four students were killed at Kent State, I was chosen to give a speech to the Faculty Senate convincing them to cancel all classes in solidarity with other campus shut-downs and in honor of those who died.
So I had become a prime target of a new government counterinsurgency program, as were many other “leaders” and SDS members. This secret program initiated by President Nixon, his aides, the FBI and the military, lasted 2 years and was exposed twenty years later in a documentary presented by Walter Cronkite on CBS. It is an example of just how far the government (its corporations and military) will go to destroy movements that threaten it.
The covert operation was justified because the military wanted to explore the possibility of using hallucinogens as a weapon of war against the Vietnamese people.
Using volunteers from special forces within the various branches of the military, they infiltrated SDS and other activist organizations. The infiltrators were to gain the trust of its members, participate in all protests, and introduce LSD into the organizations. Their plan was accomplished by setting up “Movement Houses” wired with video cameras to capture the behavior of those who were “tripping”. Most of us were unaware that we were under the influence of the drug, at least in the beginning.
I was seduced by an “ex-Marine” who was trained in mind-control methods, and soon I had moved in with him along with others who also lived there or who often visited. We no longer had meetings. Instead we had group sex and bizarre encounters.
At the end of my first year as a graduate student with a promising future and an almost completed book, I dropped out and moved to New York where we formed a commune in which we were supposed to be “living the revolution”. The women worked to support it financially. The men talked strategy and made music. After work I took dance classes to keep my sanity. But my mind and body were no longer cooperating. Suffering a “nervous breakdown”, I was fortunate to have a friend who put me on a plane to my parents’ home. A progressive psychiatrist set me on the road to recovery. I did not end up in a mental institute as I’m sure other targets probably did. And I did not commit suicide or become a “bag lady” as did a few of my “comrades”.
Within a year I had returned to the university and discovered that my professors had been fired and the department eradicated. The first feminist anthology had been published by Robin Morgan. It was entitled “Sisterhood is Powerful”.
This anthology was one of the first of many more books to come, as the women’s movement was gaining strength throughout the country. In 1972, I was among a group of women who petitioned the university to establish a women’s center. We were given the parlor area of the “ladies room” at the student center. From there we wrote hundreds of letters and published articles in the student newspaper. Finally we were given the first of three unused portables which became our office, library and classroom. Soon we asked for and were given two more buildings. One was a graphics design studio where we created t-shirts and published a journal. The other became a coffee house and larger classroom as our women’s studies classes grew. There were no accredited courses at that time.
The sisterhood and exciting activities were extremely healing for me. I was finally in the right place at the right time.
Soon I joined a women’s collective and came out as a lesbian feminist. I also was hired to be a residential supervisor of a women’s halfway house and was fired for being a lesbian. So I again returned to my home town and joined the lesbian task force within NOW. It was there that I fell madly in love with my first true lesbian lover.
Although our wonderful group was composed of lesbians of all ages, classes and races, we lived separately within a city. I was most comfortable living within lesbian collectives and yearned to find others who could create a lesbian community.
After joining a lesbian theatre group in a smaller town, I helped create a lesbian residential and cultural center where I lived for almost twenty years. Lesbians from around the country and even the world vacationed there. We produced lesbian theatre, dance, women’s music concerts, art exhibits and salons. We celebrated our spirituality and worked and worked to create a safe and stimulating space within which to live according to our own values and needs. Today I live in another lesbian neighborhood in a rural area in the mountains. We have disagreements and conflicts, but we also have support when we need it. We feel safe and are embraced by the larger community. We have social activities and potlucks for those who wish to participate. And it feels good to say hello to our lesbian neighbors as we pass each other coming and going.
Today’s young activists are not as naïve as I was at their age. I applaud their efforts to be leaderless. When one person speaks everyone else echoes the words. This is very powerful. And the fact that the police forces are fully militarized leaves no doubt about what they are facing. Their courage and steadfastness is inspiring. Another strength is the support of each movement for the others. They cannot be isolated as we were. What gives me the most joy is witnessing the creativity of their protests – the theatrical expressions, the chants and songs that have found a rebirth among so many. The importance of community is also revealed as the “protectors” stand their ground, their holy ground.
These are dangerous times – but there definitely is strength in numbers. And there is no doubt what is at stake…our very lives and the life of the planet Herself.
I believe that the old order is coming to an end, and we will survive to create communities within communities – creating self sustaining systems and connecting with other communities to form a true democracy.
A key to our success is non-violence. My advice is to suspect anyone who calls for or uses violence. There will be many infiltrators who need to be exposed. And, of course, watch out for their attempt to use drugs in unsuspecting ways. It is inevitable that there will be conflict within various movements but differences need to be accepted and emphasis placed on what we have in common. We have too much to lose if we engage in bitter infighting. This advice comes out of my own experience over the past 50 years. As a disabled lesbian I will be concentrating on my home environment protecting it as best I can. But my spirit is with you young activists. CARRY ON.