LGBTQ* Interviews and History You Should Know
(to learn more about Barbara Gittings, click HERE for a previous KNOWhomo post)
Illustration from Sidonie G. Colette’s Claudine a l’ ecole (1905?)
Following text from:
Jonathan Ned Katz. Copyright (c) 2008 Reedited by Katz from Gay American History (1976).
In an interview taped on July 19, 1974, Barbara Gittings spoke with the present author (Jonathan Katz) about her development as a Lesbian, and about the founding and early history of the New York Daughters of Bilitis.
J.K.: Was there no one you could talk to about the subject?
B.G.: No, I didn’t know anyone to talk to. So I went looking in the bars. I didn’t have much success talking to people in the bars, especially about the literature. These were women’s bars in New York City. I had great difficulty in finding women who had read the same books I had. It was important to me to meet other Lesbians as Lesbians, but I still needed more than that. I needed to find Lesbians who shared my interests. Once when I went to a bar in New York City I had with me Colette’s very first novel, from the Philadelphia Free Library, one of the Claudine series, Claudine a l’ ecole, and it happened to have illustrations. There was an illustration of Claudine’s two female schoolteachers who were having an affair-one sitting on the lap of the other, embracing very ardently. I was fascinated by the novel, and fascinated by the picture, a line drawing. It seemed to me very bold to have a picture like that in a book published early in the twentieth century for the general public. I was in this bar and trying to talk to somebody-and I showed her this book, and this drawing, trying to make her understand why this is such a remarkable illustration, and she says, “Oh, at home I’ve got a lot sexier pictures than that.” I didn’t understand what she meant; now I do!
There weren’t people I could talk to about the kind of literature I was interested in. A few people had read The Well of Loneliness. Fewer still read any of the others, novels like those of Gale Wilhelm which I found, and which, I recall, had happy endings-for a change. The literature was very important to me. The nonfiction literature gave me a bad picture of myself, a picture I had to work against. The fiction, despite stereotypes, despite unhappiness, despite bad characters, was much more positive.