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Thursday, February 16, 2017

When We Were Outlaws Reflection

When We Were Outlaws is a powerful narrative told through the lens of Jeanne Córdova. She walks us through her struggle for lesbian feminist liberation while trying to keep up with her personal life. I really appreciated how it was told through a personal narrative which it made it much more interesting than Gay L.A. which was more fact-based. It was helpful that we got to read Gay L.A. before since it gave me an overview of the history and politics happening at the time of When We Were Outlaws. Three characters that stood out to me was Jeanne, Rachel, and Morris Kight.

Jeanne Córdova reveals a lot about her struggle with the movement for lesbian feminists as well as her personal life. I liked how throughout the book she was very proud and assertive about her identity as a lesbian, butch, and dyke. She called herself a “lifer” which was a lifelong lesbian (67). To her, this differentiated her from the other lesbians who started leaving their unhappy marriages and started coming out because of the rising feminist movement. She was first a lesbian and then came to be a radical feminist which had an influence on how she saw politics. By adopting feminism, it was interesting to learn that there were a lot of unsaid rules, actions, and way of dress that she adopted such as androgyny, non-monogamous relationships, and rejecting feminine ways of dress. This is really different from the feminism that we know today which advocates for pro-choice of self-expression and their relationships.

Rachel is one of Jeanne’s lovers. She just came out of a marriage with a man and was described by Jeanne as being new to the lesbian and feminist movement. I admired her sensibility. When she was new to working at the GCSC and suddenly got promoted to be a representative on the management team under Ken Bartley, she was obviously chosen because the Board thought they could take advantage of her inexperience (73). However, she took everyone by surprise because she learned quickly and was well read on feminist theory. Also, although she was a feminist, she was not pressured by the unsaid rules of feminism to ditch her style of clothing that is more “feminine.”

Morris Kight was described by Jeanne as her political godfather. This man helped start the revolution for gay rights and he was one of the founders of the GCSC. Jeanne very much respected Morris until they started disagreeing on issues that involved being more inclusive of lesbians and feminism. It seemed that although he realized that both gays and lesbians were oppressed for being homosexuals, he could not see how gay men were dominating the discourse for homosexual liberation over lesbians: “Intellectually he recognized that the straight world persecuted gay men because they were perceived to be men taking on a feminine role, the role of women. Yet he was too much a man of the 1950’s to make the emotional leap into accepting women as political peers” (61). This was the source of conflict between Morris and Jeanne because Jeanne was a headstrong lesbian feminist activist that organized lesbian movements, but also recognized the need to work together with gay men. On the other hand, it seemed like Morris regarded gay and lesbian rights as completely separate ideas and failed to see that he was pushing for gay liberation at the expense of lesbian women.

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