According to my notation on the article, this was published on September 12, 1973 rather than in the September 17 New Dimensions issue.
"Lesbianism" still appears to carry a deviant meaning to the majority of people. People consider it "unnatural," "disgusting," "sick" and usually believe it is for those women "who just can't get a man." However, I have met with women of the Ames Lesbian Alliance, and only know them as women strong enough to stand up for their personal preferences as well as beliefs.
Women of the Lesbian Alliance expressed a "desire to have their story told" in an Ames publication and, being a once-in-a-while reporter, I have written their story.
The group began by stating, "We're here, we're gay and we're tired of being oppressed.
We want change -- and you don't get change by hiding. Society sees lesbians as attempting to destroy the social structure. And yes, we are, if the social structure doesn't change."
After that "radical" comment, I wasn't exactly sure what to ask. The women waited for some follow-up question or remark but I didn't want to ask anything they didn't want to tell me. I didn't want to alienate the group from me, nor did I want to appear ignorant, patronizing or sympathetic. Finally, one woman asked, "If you were reading an article about lesbians, what would you want to know?" From then on, things picked up and my uneasiness and perhaps theirs, disappeared.
The Ames Lesbian Alliance began with two women who wanted to make contact with other lesbians. The women rented a post office box and put ads in the Daily. The women said, "We wanted to know if we were the only lesbian women in Ames. WE aren't. We have been in contact with 10 other women thus far."
One woman said, "Because of our daily oppression, it has made us more sensitive to each other and other oppressed groups."
"Every day in Ames we have to fear losing our jobs, being labeled as 'sick' and 'deviant,' being forced into psychiatric care, having our children taken away from us, being refused the chance to adopt children, and having our friends and relatives turn away from us.
"We can't openly show or express our love without risking hostility and harassment, so we hide. The biggest part of our oppression is feeling you have to hide the most important relationship in your life.
The group completed by saying, "At the same time we realize that only by mobilizing our resources can we affect society as a whole to break the pattern of oppression."
I reflected back on a statement they had made earlier in which they said, "Right now, we are not that politically active." I couldn't help but think their whole concept, approach and beliefs are very political.
I asked why they prefer the word "lesbian" as opposed to "gay." A woman said, "You have to have strength to say 'lesbian.' 'Gay' still leaves doubts about one's frame of reference and 'gay' can imply frivolity. Being female and homosexual is not a frivolous thing. Lesbian also implies more than pure sexuality. It encompasses a whole lifestyle and a more sensitive approach to every person's essence and personality."
"The terms heterosexual and homosexual need to be eliminated from our vocabulary," one woman said. "We are all sexual beings. Those of us who find other women more attractive than men must not be shut-off from the rest of society."
Male-female roles are not as obvious as when the butch-fem role-playing was common. The women said they are attracted to women as women and it is possible to relate to each other as women perhaps because of a greater common understanding.
Curious as to how they related to the Feminist's Movement, some of the group expressed a strong relation and some expressed no relation at all. One woman said, "The Women's Movement gave me good practice in standing up for my own rights. I had to feel good about myself as a woman, then as a lesbian."
Another woman said she has gone to a women's meeting in another city and was asked not to come to further meetings because it could stereotype their group as being "gay."
The group agreed the Women's Movement is not a prerequisite to lesbianism. They talked of the woman who has been actively involved in the Women's Movement, who may believe her next step in "feminism" is to develop a relationship with a lesbian. They continued, "This is as oppressive to lesbians as the beliefs of straight society."
They said ignorance of what lesbianism is about is no excuse for straight people's oppressive treatment of lesbians nor are patronizing attitudes appreciated by them. They added they can sometimes comprehend a man's attitude more than a woman's because, "Men have been socialized to be patronizing to women and their attitude is not necessarily associated with our sexual preference. Women throw out the superior attitude like, 'too bad you couldn't find a man'," said one of the women.
We talked of different myths straight society has about lesbianism. There is one myth that lesbians are men-haters. The women said this is not the general belief of lesbians. "We have very deep friendships with men, both straight and gay," said the group, "because these men are willing to relate to us not as sex objects, but as human beings."
Another myth was that of being considered "Mrs. American Male." Lesbians today are not taking on any assumed male roles. They are fighting their own battles, standing on their own feet and asserting their own definition of womanhood. They are not borrowing the identity of their male partner, the group said.
We also talked about some of the women's own experiences. One woman said, "Many people picked up I was gay before I did. It bothered me extremely. I realized I had to get myself emotionally and psychologically ready before I could openly admit to my choice of lifestyle, and now I'm there."
Another woman openly admitted to being a lesbian at another school. She was sent for psychological treatment and when that didn't "change" her, she was asked to leave the school.
After two hours, we had covered enough for me to attempt a story in their defense. Not that they asked me to take that position, but after two hours of conversation with these women, the realization of hundreds of years of oppression and more likely to come, the sincerity and honesty of their words, and the emotional as well as threatening position they have chosen, how can I write otherwise?