Happy birthday to Lillian Faderman!! The critically
acclaimed author and historian who pioneered the study of lesbian history turns
77 years old today!
Lillian Faderman is photographed giving a talk by Donn R. Nottage (x).
Lillian was born on July 18, 1940 in New York City. Her
mother and her Aunt Rae had managed to flee their shtetl in Latvia, but tragically, the rest of their family were murdered in
the Holocaust. Her mother Mary was young,
unmarried, and working in a garment factory when she gave birth to Lillian; although Lillian’s
biological father had tried to pressure Mary into getting an abortion as she
had done with their first two pregnancies, she refused with the third one, and
so, Lillian was born. Lillian recalls having a hard childhood living in New York’s
working class, Jewish community and being greatly affected by her mother’s
grief for her murdered family back in Latvia.
When Mary eventually married when Lillian was a teenager, the
family moved to Los Angeles. In the heart of the American entertainment
industry, Lillian took up acting classes for fun and began a brief modeling
career to help bolster the family income. It was through her connections in the
performing world that Lillian discovered L.A.’s booming gay bar scene of the
1950s and found that she was a lesbian. In her senior year of high school,
Lillian married one of her friends who was a much older gay man. Although the
plan was for them to act as each other’s cover ups, the hiding put much
emotional stress on the two’s relationship and the marriage was dissolved
within a year.
Lillian with her partner Phyllis (left) and their son Avrom in 1979 (x).
Out of both high school and her unhealthy marriage, Lillian
began attending University of California, Berkeley and then later transferred
to UCLA. Her first book was published in January of 1975 and was titled Speaking for Ourselves: American Ethnic
Writing. Today, she has written over 17 novels. Her work includes her
multiple memoirs, lesbian fiction, and several tomes of crucial LGBT history. She was one of the
first authors to ever dissect lesbian history and culture as something
independent of gay men’s history and culture; her most popular novels
include Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A
History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, To Believe in Women: What
Lesbians Have Done for America – A History, and Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, And Lipstick
Lesbians. To date, Lillian has been awarded 6 Lambda Literary Awards, 2
American Library Association Awards, and her work has been translated into over
7 different languages! She currently enjoys life with her partner of over 40
years, Phyllis Irwin, and their son Avrom. Thank you for paving the way,