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Friday, February 17, 2017

Week 6: When We Were Outlaws Part I

The first half of Jeanne Cordova's When We Were Outlaws carries us through the Gay/Feminist 11 strike against the Gay Community Service Center that we read about in Gay LA. While she wlaks us through the politics and the real issues of what happened, the sense of the budding queer "outlaw" culture and the queer identity of those times really comes through her voice, as most of it is told as a personal narrative, in which the political and public is intertwined with her private life and relationships. I love that she explains not just the romantic relationships, between her and BeJo and her and Rachel, but also the platonic ones including her more radically socialist friends or her mentor and "political godfather," Morris.

The intertwining of her personal and political life is introduced almost immediately, when chapter 2, in which she emphasized the importance of queer female represenatation by pushing Angela Davis to issue a statement on her orientation, then switches to a personal story about her life at home with her partner, and then in chapter 4, suddenly drops into her professional life again when she has to rush out to save the "controversial" cover of her lesbian magazine, The Lesbian Tide. It struck me, because I think her point of leading with the political arrests (representing the death of the queer liberation movement and the move into "normalcy" or respectability?) and then the story of Angela Davis was that to be queer is inherently political. Her personal life-- to live openly with a woman without the support of her parents and nonmanogamously between multiple jobs, one independently-- is as political as the protests outside the Center and down Sunset Blvd.

The story about the homophobic printer who would only run the cover after Jeanne told him how to get women like BeJo bothered me, because it was the first appearance of blatant toxic masculinity that would resurface regularly throughout the book, especially when she starts blowing BeJo off in favor of Rachel later. I think it bothered me even though she acknowledged that she was bothered as well, because I don't think she recognized it for the right reasons and because I think toxic masculinity is still present in butch culture.

Another event that stood out to me was after Jeanne was fired from the GCSC and she and the other (lesbian or lesbian-supporting gay male) employees are deciding what to do, and she realizes she is in the minority for wanting to seek her job back and work with the Center instead of walking away entirely and working against the Center, saying that gay men were no the enemy but "male values and oppression" (115). It shows how complicated the beginning of the strike was and how so many different participants on "their" side had different motives. Some, like Jeanne, wanted representation and programs for women, others wanted to break with the GCSC altogether and not work with gay men (because it inevitably meant working under gay men), and others saw it entirely as a labor issue. The decentralized power structure, where anyone who showed up to a meeting got a vote, was effectively becasue it gave a voice to everyone and truly was a protest from the ground up instead of top down, but at the same time, quickly became hard to organize and manage.

Similarly, later in chapter 15, when the Gay/Feminist 11 (now 16 plus all their supporters) learn that the GCSC rejected their wrongful firing claims and some of its members call for a strike, Jeanne realizes she's "lost" them and that they want to see the GCSC burn and cast it as a labor issue. Jeanne wants to keep the issue focused on representation and resources for queer women and points out that to seek resources for queer women is not to act as a scab but what they should be encouraging. I really respected her position, because although she otherwise seems to identify as a socialist, having no issues with the lack of a clear power structure and direct action, she stays focused on that the core of their issues with the GCSC is fundamentally not a labor issue and that if they allow it to become a labor issue, they hurt themselves in the long run by representing workers instead of queer women and by tearing down instead of reforming a valuable resources for queer folks in general, particularly as she points out, in a time when queer resources are lacking. She recognizes the value of that the GCSC is nearly the only recognizable, successful, powerful queer org that anyone can turn to, regardless of whether or not she believes its power structure has become male-dominated and misguided.

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