‘We don’t disappear after 30’: the Old Lesbians telling a century’s worth of raw, revealing stories

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Two women who met arsenic teenagers, fell successful love, and stayed together for 69 years – spending each but nan past decade of their narration successful nan closet. A female who, successful her 70s, yet decided to travel retired to 2 friends lesbian strangers she saw together astatine nan market store. One woman, calved successful 1918, who recovered herself successful a lesbian barroom 1 day, not knowing specified a point existed, and yet felt astatine home.

These are each stories pulled from the Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project (OLOHP), a catalogue of much than 900 interviews pinch lesbian seniors successful nan US. Arden Eversmeyer, a retired Houston schoolteacher who devoted her retired years to campaigning for visibility for older lesbians, who she felt were missing from nan taste discussion, began interviewing women successful 1998.

She grew a squad of interviewers – each of them besides aged lesbians, arsenic they telephone themselves – to recreation astir nan state speaking to women. These transcripts, audio recordings, and photos of nan subjects unrecorded successful an archive astatine Smith College successful Northampton, Massachusetts. After Eversmeyer’s decease astatine property 91 successful November 2022, a dedicated group of friends and chap activists took up nan cause. Last period Meghan McDonough, a Brooklyn-based film-maker, released a documentary called Old Lesbians telling nan communicative of OLOHP, commissioned by Guardian Documentaries.

woman holds mic
Barb Kucharczyk speaks successful a segment from nan film. Photograph: Meghan McDonough

Eversmeyer and her squad recruited question and reply subjects done a word-of-mouth network, and by placing ads astatine venues specified arsenic women’s euphony festivals aliases nan free mag Lesbian Connection. The only request was that nan female beryllium complete 70 years aged and place arsenic a lesbian – she didn’t person to beryllium retired publicly, and could stay anonymous. (The property request has since been loosened.)

“Arden’s celebrated quote is, ‘You don’t person to climb Mount Everest to person an absorbing life story, because nan the truth that you are a lesbian successful our civilization makes your life communicative interesting,’” said Barb Kucharczyk, an aerial unit seasoned and OLOHP interviewer who served much than 2 decades successful nan military, including nether nan discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Interviews are conducted loosely and conversationally. Not each mobility relates to a woman’s sexuality. There are a fewer modular questions: wherever were you born? what did your family look like? What did your folks do for a living? But nan constituent is mostly to make women consciousness comfortable and unfastened up.

“We’ve tried to make it arsenic gentle of an acquisition arsenic we tin for nan women,” said Kucharczyk, who is 76 and lives successful Sumter, South Carolina. “It becomes a chronological chat of their life story. At immoderate constituent successful time, they will talk astir being a lesbian. But we don’t locomotion into nan doorway pinch 47 questions astir really they recovered retired they were, aliases really they were treated. We want nan female to show her ain story, and if nan specifications astir her lesbian manner are slim, that’s OK.”

Still, nan task is simply a earthy and revealing look astatine what life was for illustration for lesbians successful nan 20th century. Women who came of property earlier Stonewall and nan sexual revolution picture what Kucharczyk calls “hidden lifestyles” that they kept secret, surviving successful fearfulness for their safety. There are harrowing descriptions of conversion therapy, ostracism and beingness attacks.

Old Lesbians: reclaiming aged property and queerness done storytelling

Ethyl “Ricci Cortez” Bronson, an exotic dancer and personnel of nan Burlesque Hall of Fame, who later opened nan first “gay girls’ bar” successful Houston, told Eversmeyer during an question and reply that took spot soon earlier Bronson’s decease successful 2008 that her nine was regularly raided by cops. “A batch of nan girls successful slacks and pants had been hauled disconnected to jailhouse successful nan raids,” she said. “They moreover put maine successful handcuffs and carried maine retired to nan constabulary car. In my ain bar! This is what we went done to get unfastened bars, unfastened cheery bars.”

Some of nan women interviewed for nan task asked to speak anonymously, aliases connected definite conditions, for illustration that their sanction only beryllium revealed aft they died. This did not impact their candor erstwhile speaking connected nan record. “Women were unfastened pinch america arsenic agelong arsenic they knew that this was not going to beryllium published,” said Edie Daly, an 87-year-old retired intensive attraction caregiver who splits her clip betwixt Florida and Massachusetts. “Some of these stories are still closed, because moreover though they person passed, they were successful fearfulness of outing themselves aliases personification else.”

Daly said immoderate women were capable to break done their hesitancy because they wanted to time off a grounds of what had happened to them. “We talk astir really we would emotion to cognize what nan suffragists’ individual stories were, and we don’t person that, because a batch of women’s stories are lost,” she said. “Women person been erased from history, and truthful this is our effort to rectify that successful immoderate mini way.”

woman holds t-shirt saying ‘this is what an aged lesbian looks like!’
Edie Daly holds up a garment astatine location successful Northampton, Massachusetts. Photograph: Meghan McDonough

Lillian Faderman, an award-winning clever clever of lesbian history and professor emeritus astatine Fresno State successful California, sat for her ain question and reply pinch Eversmeyer. When she came retired successful 1950s Los Angeles, she utilized clone IDs to get into what were past called “gay girls’ bars”.

“As a young lesbian, my emotion was that what happened erstwhile you scope 30 aliases older was that you astir apt died,” Faderman said. “There were simply nary domiciled models, and I don’t deliberation it’s rather arsenic bad coming because of societal media, but for nan astir part, I deliberation that young lesbians still person nary conception that we don’t vanish aft 30. I deliberation it’s important for them to understand that they person a early extracurricular of youth.”

Faderman hopes that nan interviews “send a connection to nan group successful our organization for posterity, that we are present and flourishing”.

“We’ve ever been here,” Daly added. “But now we person visibility, and a voice. And it’s not conscionable visibility of aged lesbians, it’s nan visibility of each beardown women.”

This June, different Pride period unfurls complete nan backdrop of attacks connected LGBTQ+ Americans. The FBI has warned that celebrations could beryllium targeted by terrorists, and Target rolled back its Pride merchandise aft past twelvemonth saw blimpish backlash that successful immoderate instances led to angry shoppers confronting workers. That’s partially why Kucharczyk believes it’s much important than ever to look toward nan past.

“Does history repetition itself? Absolutely,” Kucharczyk said. “You’re watching it hap correct here, correct now. I dream nan connection that young folks return distant is to beryllium alert of this history, because if you’re aware, you tin spot nan tidal activity that’s coming up.”

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Source theguardian
theguardian