Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2016-05-25
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


  WINDY CITY TIMES

CHICAGO GAY HISTORY: A woman for all generations
by John D'Emilio
2008-08-06

facebook twitter del.icio.us stumble upon digg google +1 reddit email


It's hard not to think generationally. Groups of people come of age at a particular historical moment, and it marks them forever, creating a bond. I grew up in an environment where everyone spoke of 'the immigrant generation.' We all knew what it meant: The old folks were different from the young. African Americans of a certain age speak of growing up under Jim Crow, in the segregated South; it shaped them in profound ways. Journalists write about baby boomers or Generation X. Tom Brokaw pens a best-selling book called 'The Greatest Generation.' A large group of aging Americans speak of 'the sixties' in a way that says 'it made us who we are.'

Within the LGBT world, notions of generations circulate too. People refer to the Stonewall generation or the separatist generation to describe an experience that distinguishes them from other gays or lesbians. Whatever the label, the assumption is that our generation, however defined, makes us who we are. As we move through life, the world changes, and we don't. It's as if we're trapped forever in a bygone time.

I think what draws me to Valerie Taylor, the pulp novelist I wrote about in my last column, is that she resisted this pigeonholing. Though she lived to be 84, she flat-out refused to remain stuck in the box of a particular coming-of-age experience. She always remained a woman of the moment, a woman who changed with the times.

Velma Nacella Young ( Taylor's birth name ) was born in 1913 in Aurora, Ill., when it was still a small town beyond Chicago's sprawl. Her family had little money but plenty of books and, when Velma had the chance to attend college, she seized it. Two years at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., gave her credentials to teach at country schools. They also made her a socialist. This was in the middle of the Depression, and lots of Americans were seizing socialist ideas of economic justice.

In small town America in the 1930s, there weren't many images of lesbian life. Nor was it common then for a woman to support herself. And so Velma Young, like who knows how many women-loving-women of her generation, got married. She had three sons with her husband, William Tate. But he proved to be 'an alcoholic no-good bum' and, after 14 years of marriage, Velma took her sons and left. While much of white America was entering the 'Father Knows Best' era of idealized family life, she was breaking out of the housewife box.

Writing was her way out. Velma had been composing stories and poems since childhood. In 1952, using the pseudonym of Valerie Taylor, she published, in her words, a 'raunchy heterosexual love story' titled Hired Hand. With the $500 she received for it ( a solid chunk of cash in those days ) , Taylor—as we'll now call her—'went out and bought two dresses and a pair of shoes, got a job, and consulted a divorce lawyer. ... That was a good little royalty check,' she recalled, many years later.

Despite the huge sales of pulp novels, authors did not receive a fair share of royalties, and Taylor always needed a day job to support herself and her sons. But she wrote steadily, moving decisively into the lesbian pulp genre. She published Whisper Their Love, and then The Girls in 3-B. In the 1960s, Taylor wrote a series of linked novels with unambiguous titles like Stranger on Lesbos and A World Without Men.

The increasingly overt subject matter of her books reflected the change in Taylor's life after leaving her husband. She was now romantically interested in women. But lesbians in Chicago in the 1950s, as Taylor reminisced, 'didn't have the underground network the men had ... There was a lot of loneliness.' Lesbians as well as gay men were cautious about revealing themselves: 'in those days, you'd lose your job if you ever came out,' and a single mom raising three teenagers could not risk being out of work.

Over time, Taylor developed a circle of friends. But her first sense of lesbian 'community' came through The Ladder, a magazine produced by the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian homophile organization. It began publishing in 1956, as the lesbian pulp boom was taking off. From its start, The Ladder paid attention to lesbian culture and literature, and it reviewed Taylor's work. Taylor came to know Barbara Grier, who wrote most of The Ladder's literary columns. She also corresponded with lesbian writers like May Sarton, Elsa Gidlow and Jeannette Foster.

Taylor's visibility as a writer meant that many small-town lesbians wrote to her and asked for advice in meeting other lesbians. She'd tell them to sit at a drugstore lunch counter with a copy of The Well of Loneliness or with a Beebo Brinker lesbian pulp. If a woman exhibited signs of interest, she was probably a lesbian. Such were the challenges of building community in the 1950s.

Maybe it was a yearning for community that impelled Taylor, in the mid-1960s, to do something most lesbians and gay men of her generation were unwilling to risk. She joined the small but courageous homophile movement. Since a Daughters of Bilitis chapter never sank deep roots in Chicago, she participated in Mattachine Midwest, helping to edit its newsletter. Her columns reveal a feisty personality who didn't mince words. When Time printed a particularly ugly antigay article, Taylor opined: 'The pages are too stiff to wrap garbage in and the magazine is no good for anything else.' Writing about the many syndicate-run gay bars in Chicago, she said 'they prey on gay people.'

When lesbian feminism and gay liberation exploded into life in the early 1970s, most of Taylor's generation kept a distance and remained discreetly in the closet. Not Taylor. She jumped in with both feet. In 1973, she was one of the featured speakers at the noon rally at Civic Plaza during Pride Week. Acknowledging that she was older than almost everyone else there, Taylor introduced herself as a representative of 'the gay grandmothers of America.' The next year, she helped Marie Kuda organize the first of several annual Lesbian Writers Conferences that brought together women from around the country. Taylor gave keynotes at more than one of them.

Her message to the younger generation was powerful, visionary and sometimes unsettling. 'The whole world should be our subject matter,' she told those at the conference of writers. 'All of life belongs to us.' For Taylor, feminism and gay liberation weren't for the faint hearted. 'Revolution is never a straight-line process ... a great many people get hurt.' She wanted folks to think big: 'We need not choose between the struggle for world peace and the fight for women's liberation. ... The entire world is our battlefield.'

Taylor spent the last decade and a half of her life in the warmer climate of Tucson. Sometime in the 1980s, she wrote an essay in which she asked 'Have you ever wondered what happened to old Amazons?' The question grew out of experience. In 1980, Taylor learned that Jeannette Foster, the pioneering lesbian scholar, was incapacitated and in need of financial help. Taylor established a Sisterhood Fund and raised money from lesbians around the country to support Foster in the last year of her life. In 1993, Lee Lynch, a younger lesbian writer, did the same for Taylor. 'I knew my sisters wouldn't let me down,' an 81-year-old Taylor told an interviewer. 'There really is a lesbian community all over the place.'

She might have added that she had helped build it.

Copyright 2008 John D'Emilio


facebook twitter del.icio.us stumble upon digg google +1 reddit email




Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Leather Archives & Museum turns 25 2016-05-25
Chicago History Museum OUT event looks at history of hooking up 2016-05-11
Rep. Nadler wants National Monument for Stonewall 2016-05-09
Kitty Genovese's murderer dies in prison 2016-04-27
International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association Makes History in Cape Town 2016-04-25
Archivist talks documenting leather, S&M and fetishism history 2016-04-19
Fire Department pioneer reflects on making history 2016-04-13
Holocaust museum's dinner raises $3M 2016-03-30
Northalsted Business Alliance, Legacy Project form collaboration 2016-03-30
Boystown welcomes student groups on Legacy Walk 2016-03-30
BOOK REVIEW A History of Loneliness 2016-03-29
Boystown welcomes student groups 2016-03-22
Northalsted Business Alliance, The Legacy Project form collaboration 2016-03-22
Obama names U.S. Supreme Court nominee 2016-03-16
Activist/scholar Richie keynotes International Women's Day event 2016-03-16
Leon Panetta at awards dinner March 17 2016-03-09
Darrow symposium to explore racism, poverty 2016-03-09
Transgender studies joins forces with art history in new book from Chicagoan 2016-03-02
LORDE'S LEGACY New take on notions of Audre Lorde, 'warrior poet' 2016-02-24
At ISU in Normal: Legacy Wall, speakers highlight contributions of LGBT individuals 2016-02-24
Studs Terkel: King, Angelou, Cunningham, Cage and more, from the archives 2016-02-18
President Obama releases statement for African American History Month 2016-01-30
Legacy Wall on display thru Jan. 29 2016-01-26
Hall of Fame seeks board members 2016-01-20
BOOK REVIEW Gay & Lesbian History for Kids 2016-01-20
Saturday: BYP100 to march to reclaim MLK and build Black futures 2016-01-15
Community meeting planned on Nat'l Park Service LGBTQ Heritage Initiative 2016-01-12
Local passages in 2015 2016-01-06
National Gay Media Association expands national reach 2016-01-05
Minneapolis gay publisher Tim Campbell dies 2015-12-30
BOOK REVIEW You Don't Own Me: The Life and Times of Lesley Gore 2015-12-30
Daughters of Bilitis turns 60 2015-12-23
CHICAGO 2015 IN REVIEW From elections to closures 2015-12-23
Stonewall to be National Park System Historic Site 2015-12-17
Sylvia Rivera makes history with image 2015-12-16
CSU becomes first university to host The Legacy Wall 2015-12-16
World news: Trans initiative; Venezuelan pol; gay imam; Czech adoption 2015-12-15
Legacy Wall Traveling LGBT History Exhibit part of Youth Summit 2015-11-25
Northwestern professor on the making of LGBTQ history 2015-11-25
Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame induction held 2015-11-11
 



Copyright © 2016 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Sponsor

About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.