Recently, at the urging of my friend, Barb, I listened to Terry Gross of NPR interview Marijane Meaker, a pioneer of lesbian pulp fiction. Listen to the interview here. I asked Barb to give me her thoughts on what pulp fiction meant to her as a young lesbian just coming out.
How I Found Myself in 50’s Pulp Fiction
"When I came out, in 1976, in Champaign, Illinois, at the age of twenty-one, I knew only two lesbians, both high school friends. Other than M. and J., I’d never known any lesbians. I came out into what I felt like a hidden world. My first foray was to a women’s dance in an upstairs room at the YWCA. There were about thirty women between the ages of 20 and 50. It was clear to me immediately that if I were to have a relationship, there would be very few choices. I met a woman that night who was my age. Robin and I were together almost five years.
After I graduated from the University of Iowa, Robin and I spent a year traveling in Europe and Israel. One day, in Athens, Robin and I were perusing a street-side book vendor’s old, beat-up paperbacks. There, on the table, was Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out! And right next to it was Ann Aldrich’s We Walk Alone: Through Lesbos’ Lonely Grove! We bought them and a couple more titles and that was the beginning of finding myself in the stories of 1950’s lesbian novels. Due to “decency” laws of the time, the books had to end with disappointment or even death, but for the first 90% of the stories, I could see myself, my longings, and my dreams.
Odd Girl Out tells the story of Laura, who falls in love with her sorority sister, Beth. They have a loving affair, confused by their feelings in the context of a suffocating heterosexual environment. I related to these college girls (it could easily have been the U of I campus) who were just realizing they loved women and that it would forever change their lives.
We Walk Alone reads like a textbook about lesbianism, breaking through stereotypes for straight readers, describing problems faced by lesbians with their families and society and offering coping strategies. For a small-town lesbian, this book would provide a glimpse into what might be possible: community, love, and self-acceptance.
We met two dykes in their 60’s in Israel (who only knew a few other lesbians) and they gave us seven more books, including The Well of Loneliness. I devoured them.
Why did I identify so strongly with these often-depressing books? Reading about the struggles of women who came before me gave me a sense of being part of a tribe of lesbians who have always bravely sought and loved other women.
I now have a diverse collection of what I call “Lezzie Lit.” Some books are even autographed. I’ve added titles by Lillian Faderman, who writes brilliantly about lesbian history and other more recent lesbian fiction, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the first books that told me I was not alone."