Category: wlw

APRIL 20: Sawti (2016-)


Today, we’re featuring a young French organization, Sawti
(“my voice”), that was founded on December 30th, 2016. It aims to
give visibility to Mediterranean and/or Arab lesbian/bi/queer women, and is dedicated
to inclusivity, featuring cis, trans, and GNC women. Every day or so, they
showcase a new person or organization on their Instagram feed, as
well as on their Facebook page,
and they’re planning on releasing a few interviews soon, so make sure you
follow them on social media! In the meantime, here’s our interview with Eliz,
the founder of Sawti.

Can you introduce
yourselves? Who are you, how do you define yourselves?

Sawti was founded by Eliz
She was then joined by Rim,
a Moroccan journalist
, and Alicia, a visual artist.
The three of us are lesbian and bi women based in Paris; we all come from
Mediterranean and/or Arab countries.

Why found Sawti? How did
you get the idea?

Sawti was the result of a long interior thought process. I’d
been feeling frustrated and misunderstood for a long time because the feminist
groups I knew about didn’t suit me, they didn’t understand my own questions and
my personal experience that’s been marked by intolerance and incomprehension.
To have to put up with your family, all the people around you, to be unable to
emancipate yourself like you’d want to – those things can happen in France, but
they happen almost systematically when you’re of Arab/Mediterranean origin or
when you’re Muslim today. The lack of visibility, the fact that I was told one
day that homosexuality didn’t exist in the East the way it did in the West
because the West was evil… – those were the things that drove me to start Sawti.
When Rim and Alicia joined me, I didn’t even have to explain the project to
them. Goes to show how our experiences are both shared and singular.

In the imagination of
the people who live all around this sea, the Mediterranean is a space of
exchanges and sharing, but also of divisions and conflicts. What does
“Mediterranean” mean for you?

The Mediterranean sea gave us Greek and Latin, math,
science, and monotheist religions. It gave us Europeans the foundational myths
of our modern societies. It has inspired the entire world. The Roman Empire and
Alexander the Great conquered Europe and the East; they’ve inspired future
emperors and despots in this world. World peace hangs by a thread, and this
thread goes all the way back to the Mediterranean. If tolerance and peace
reigned there today, can you imagine how it would resonate around the world?

According to you,
what are the challenges that Mediterranean/Arab lesbian, bi, and queer women
are currently facing?

Being a woman is difficult enough already – to have to affirm
your rights, your name, your body, you owning yourself – and on that level, all
borders are porous. Arab and Mediterranean countries are definitely not the
most sexist in the world, but they are among some of the most unstable nations.
Human rights are violated on a daily basis there, and the first targets are the
most vulnerable, among which are women. To be a woman and something else – be
it queer or a religious minority or disabled or poor – means you’re an obvious
target for the steamroller of our patriarchal, heteronormative, white
supremacist society.

Do you have projects
in parallel of Sawti?

Sawti was conceived by artists, so we all have our artistic
jobs and careers, with Sawti on the side.

What are the queer
organizations, people, or events that you’d like our readers to know about?

In France, the
Lesbotruck organization
needs your support: these young women are doing
everything to maintain the only lesbian+ truck in the Paris Gay Pride. You’ve
also got the FièrEs organization, a
feminist and lesbian organization – it’s French, but it was founded by women
who are very open, dynamic, and educated. There’s also the SHAMS organization, that’s dedicated
to the rights of LGBT+ people from the Maghreb area. More generally, give your
support to all the organizations that give a voice and visibility to those who
have neither of these things, who are erased, made invisible or transparent.


APRIL 19: Regarding Susan Sontag by Nancy Kate…


Three years ago marked the premiere at the Tribeca Film
Festival of a documentary called Regarding
Susan Sontag
, which retraces the life and work of the famed writer and
thinker. Regarding Susan Sontag
blends archival footage and photographs with interviews (notably with Harriet
Sohmers Zwerling and Judith Sontag Cohen), to produce a complex depiction of
Sontag. Patricia Clarkson does voiceover for quotes from Sontag’s texts. It got
funding from major cultural organizations such as the National Endowment for
the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Foundation for Jewish
Culture and the Sundance Documentary Film Program. Regarding Susan Sontag is a wonderful and layered movie that really
sheds light on the multi-faceted life of Susan Sontag, so if you’re into wlw
documentaries, definitely check it out.

Regarding Susan Sontag trailer

Regarding Susan Sontag
was directed by Nancy Kates, an independent filmmaker, producer, writer, and
consultant from the Bay Area, who’s been working all her life on projects that
center marginalized figures. She graduated with honors in 1984 from Harvard,
and attended grad school at Stanford’s film program. Her 1995 Master’s Thesis
tells the complex stories and identities of five American women who served in
the Vietnam War (including a couple who met while serving there). This was the
start in a long list of praise and awards. Aside from Regarding Susan Sontag, Kates is also well-known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin,
a documentary about the groundbreaking gay civil rights leader, which premiered
at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. Bennett Singer co-produced this film, which
also received high praise and numerous accolades, such as the 2004 GLAAD Media
Award, best feature film at New York’s New Festival, and many audience awards
at all the major US LGBT film festivals.

Watch a Q&A with Nancy Kates about Regarding Susan Sontag right here (and you’ll find a couple more on Youtube):

Q&A with Nancy Kates at the
2014 Sheffield Doc/Fest


APRIL 18: Violette Morris (1893-1944)


Popularized by the novel Lovers
at the Chameleon Club, Paris
by Francine Prose, famous athlete turned Nazi spy, Violette Morris, was born in
France on this day in 1893.


Having made her name on the race track, Violette Morris sits behind the wheel of a deconstructed race car (x).

Little is known about Violette’s early years besides the
fact that she sent to the convent L’Assomption de Huy by her parents, where she
spent the majority of her adolescence. It was at the convent where she began
her athletic training, but it wasn’t until after World War I when she began her
athletic career in earnest. Violette won fame by competing in boxing and car
racing tournaments, but she also participated in shot put, discus, football,
water polo, and many other sports events throughout her lifetime. As there were
few women’s sports teams in the 1920s, Violette shocked the French public by
often joining and beating men’s sports teams; her slogan was “Ce qu’un homme
fait, Violette peut le faire!” which translates to, “Anything men can do
Violette can do!”

In Lovers at the
Chameleon Club, Paris
Violette is portrayed through the character Louisianne Villars, a despicable
race car driving, butch dressing lesbian who becomes infatuated with Adolf
Hitler and the Nazi regime as Germany becomes increasingly closer to invading
Paris. Although on paper, Louisianne may seem like she could only exist inside
an author’s mind, she was very much a real person who lived within the
contradiction of being a lesbian Nazi and her name was Violette Morris. Throughout
her life, Violette was known to dress in suits, wear her hair short, and smoke
heavily. She was a frequent patron of Le Monocle, a popular lesbian nightclub in
Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, where she is depicted in the infamous photograph taken

Brassaï; however, her life of fame and partying came to an end when the Fédération
française sportive féminine (FFSF – French Women’s Athletic Federation) refused
to renew her license, thus barring her from participating in the 1928 Summer Olympics.
The FFSF claimed it was Violette’s “lack of morals,” i.e. her lesbianism, that
led them to revoke her license.


Violette (right) is depicted in “Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle” by the Hungarian-French photographer Brassaï (x). It was this photograph that first inspired Francine Prose to begin work on her book about Violette’s life, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Pairs 1932, with the Chameleon Club acting as a fictional stand-in for Le Monocle. 

Nameless and destitute, Violette opened up a car parts shop
on the outskirts of Paris. It was in 1935 when she was first approached by the Sicherheitsdienst,
Hitler’s secret service, and became a member of the SS. She worked
her way up the ranks and was invited to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as a
personal guest of Adolf Hitler. She is partially credited with giving Germany
the plans of the Maginot Line, which eventually allowed Nazi Germany to seize the
whole of France. On April 26, 1944, Violette was ambushed by a group of French
resistance fighters while she was out driving and was executed on a country
road at the age of 51. For all her clamoring to hold onto her athletic fame, in the end, Violette’s evil deeds landed her in an unmarked, communal grave – her body
never claimed.


APRIL 17: the KG Club in New Zealand


On April 17, 2013, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage was
passed by the New Zealand House of Representatives; it received royal assent
two days later, and went into full effect on August 19, 2013. To celebrate
this, we’d like to tell you about the
KG Club
, a legendary lesbian social club in Auckland that was the focal
point of the lesbian scene in the 70s.

KG Club stands for either “Karangahape Road Girl’s Club” or “Kamp
Girls Club.” It was founded by Raukura Te Aroha  Hetet (nicknamed “Bubs”), in 1971. At first
the club would meet in various private homes, and then it finally moved to the
corner of Hereford
Street and Karangahape Road
(hence the name). There, it quickly acquired a
reputation for hosting loud, wild parties. The other name, “Kamp Girls Club”
comes from the word “kamp,” which was derived from an acronym (“Known As Male
Prostitute”) apparently used by Australian police to designate gay men. A bit
like the word “queer,” “kamp” was reclaimed by gay men, as well as by lesbians
in Australia and then New Zealand.

at the KG Club, by Fiona Clark

The KG Club emerged at a time when lesbian social culture
was starting to thrive in urban spaces. Since gay liberation movements were
happening worldwide, local queer communities started organizing as well,
notably through sports (like hockey or softball) – sports culture being a
perfect space where people could socialize. Late in 1971, the KG Club was thus
founded to create a kind of structure to accommodate this growing scene. At the
club, lesbians would congregate to sing, play music, dance, eat, drink in a
women-only space. It’s also worth pointing out that this club, and many along
with it, was very much steeped in native Māori and working-class cultures. The memory
of the club still survives, notably through the research of Alison J. Laurie,
who devoted her doctoral thesis on the subject, and in the works of
photographer Fiona Clark, who documented queer life and who notably took a few
photos of life at the KG Club.

at the KG Club, by Fiona Clark

If you’re interested in lesbian culture and history in New
Zealand, there’s plenty of sources and resources online, though they may not be
as visible as ones in the US or the UK. To start, give Women
(1993) a read, which’ll give you a historical perspective;
look up entries for New Zealand and Māori cultures in lesbian culture
encyclopedias; and check out these
as well as this
overview of the history of Pride
in the country. Also, lesbians actually
have their own museum too.
Scroll through the lesbian
site for wlw NZ
, which has got a complete list of everything
lesbian happening in NZ. And finally, read this testimony
written by Jenny Rankine
, a sixty-four-year old lesbian white New Zealander
who lived through all the changes in the LGBT community over the last decades. She
describes what lesbians specifically endured in terms of discrimination. The whole’s
pretty sobering, but it’s also a good reminder of why we continue to unearth
our history and demand visibility and justice.


APRIL 16: Lolly Willowes becomes the Book of t…


The U.S. Book of the Month Club is an influential company
that has singlehandedly skyrocketed novels and authors from obscurity to
historical stardom ever since its creation in 1929. The very first book of the
month, chosen on this day in 1929, was Lolly
by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Although the book title has become
iconic, the lesbian communist author behind it has been forgotten by history…for
maybe not so suspicious reasons.

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s most widely read novel, Lolly Willowes, was first published in 1926 (x). 

Sylvia Townsend Warner was born at Harrow on the Hill,
Middlesex on December 3, 1893. Her father was a prestigious historian and she
enjoyed a happy childhood until his death in 1916. Sylvia then moved to London
to work in a munitions factory, where she would remain throughout the first
World War. While living in London, Sylvia became close friends with the “Bright
Young Things” – a group of starving artists/gay bohemians who
bopped around London throughout the 1920s. It was during this post-WWI era when
Sylvia also met the love of her life, Valentine Ackland. Sylvia was a novelist,
Valentine was a poet, and together the two were a literary power couple. In
response to the rapidly growing popularity of fascism across Europe in the
1930s, both Sylvia and Valentine became members of the Communist Party. It wasn’t
until after Valentine’s death that Sylvia would become disenchanted with the
Party. Sylvia herself died on May 1, 1978 at the age of 84.

Sylvia is seen sporting her signature look of bobbed hair and bottle-eyed glasses; the only thing missing would be a cigarette dangling from her fingers or one of her beloved cats by her side (x). 

Although Lolly Willowes
was hardly Sylvia’s first shot at writing a book (she had been writing since
she was a little girl), it was undeniably her biggest success. The book tells
the story of an unmarried middle aged woman – known as a spinster in the early
twentieth century, probably known as a lesbian in 2017 – and how she escapes to
the countryside, stops contacting her family, and starts practicing witchcraft.
For a book that was recommended by the Book of the Month Club to the entirety
of the American people, Lolly Willowes
is quite the queer satire, openly mocking gender roles and marriage mores of
the early 1900s.


Samira Wiley – April 15



Picture Source: x

Samira Wiley was born today in 1987. Raised in Washington D.C., Wiley is the daughter of Christine and Dennis (pastors of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ) and sister to Aiyana Kai Ma’at and Joshua Wiley. A graduate of Burgundy Country Day School and The Julliard School, Wiley’s first acting role was in 2011 in The Sitter. She’s appeared on Law and Order: SVU, 37, modeled for Maniac Magazine and appeared on Out, directed indie film, Rob the Mob, and voices Michonne in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Michonne. Wiley is most famous for playing Poussey Washington in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Wiley talks here about her feelings about the most recent and controversial season and her then-girlfriend’s role in her character’s arc.    

An out (to the media) lesbian since 2014, Wiley’s parents’ church were among the few that performed same-sex marriages since 2007. Wiley married writer for Orange is the New Black, Lauren Morelli, on March 25, 2017. After Morelli discovered she was a lesbian, she left her husband, and began dating Wiley shortly after.    


You can follow Samira on Twitter and Instagram.

Sources: x

~lex lee. 

APRIL 15: Marie Høeg (1866-1949)


On this day in 1866, the influential lesbian photographer
and suffragist, Marie Høeg, was born in Langesund, Norway.

In a photo found in Marie Høeg’s private collection decades after her death, the Norwegian photographer smirks for the camera (x). 

Before the 1980s, Marie was simply remembered as one of many
women who were trying their best to eek out an independent life in the brave,
new world of the nineteenth century; she was a member of the Women’s Rights
Movement, she was a suffragist, and she owned her photography studio
is Oslo. However, in the mid-1980s, an old box marked “Private” would change Marie
Høeg’s legacy forever. Inside the box were dozens of images of Marie and her “business
partner” (read: life partner) Bolette Berg, dressing in men’s clothing, wearing
fake mustaches, and just generally being silly with each other. All 440
photographs that were found in the women’s private collection are now on display at Preus Museum, but you can find an array of them here!

Marie and Bolette mocked gender roles in their photography, which often featured their dog Tuss (can you spot him?) (x). 

Marie first studied photography in Brevik. After completing
an apprenticeship, she moved to Finland briefly where she was first introduced to
the concept of feminism and became a passionate member of the Women’s Right
Movement. The details on how Marie met her eventual partner, Bolette Berg, are
unclear, but in 1895, the two moved back to Norway together and set up shop. They
owned a photography studio called Berg & Høeg, which also functioned as a hub
for feminists and suffragists to meet and discuss their ideas. Marie and
Bolette also stated the publishing company, Berg og Høghs Kunstforlag A.S.,
later on in life. Marie passed away on February 22, 1949, but today she is
remembered as the innovative and carefree lesbian artist she truly was.


APRIL 14: Rachel Carson (1907-1964)


The famous environmental activist, marine biologist, and
author of the landmark book Silent Spring,
Rachel Carson, passed away on this day in 1964.


Author and environmental activist, Rachel Carson, circa the 1950s (x). 

Rachel was born on May 27, 1907 in Springsdale,
Pennsylvania. Her parents owned a farm close to the Allegheny River where she
spent most her childhood exploring the outdoors and developing a love of
nature. She started writing short stories, mostly about animals, as a young
girl. She would eventually publish her first short story at the young age of ten! Rachel’s love
of animals and nature would follow her for the rest of her life; she graduated
from Pennsylvania College for Women with a degree in biology in 1929 and then
went on to receive her master’s degree in zoology from John Hopkins University.
After school, she became an aquatic biologist as the second woman in
American history to be employed by the Bureau of Fisheries.

In 1951, Rachel was thrust into the spotlight with the
publication of her novel The Sea Around
. Rachel’s years with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries equipped her to write both
a poetic and an education novel about the history of the sea, which would go on
to remain on the New York Times Best Seller List for 86 weeks. It was on this
career high that Rachel decided to move to Southport Island, Maine with her
mother, where she would meet the love of her life, Dorothy Freeman. Dorothy was
a local housewife who spent her summers in Southport with her husband, and in
1953, she wrote a letter to Rachel to welcome her to the small island
community. The two eventually became attached at the hip; Rachel and Dorothy would spend summers together
and continue a lively correspondence with each other for the rest of their
lives. You can read more about their relationship and even a few of their
letters over at Brain Pickings or in the book Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman.


Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman enjoying their shared love of nature together in Southport Island, Maine (x). 

The book that would earn Rachel her place in history
textbooks, Silent Spring, was
published in September of 1962. Silent
exposed the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides and
the misconduct of the chemical companies who deployed them. The ripples of environmental
conservatism caused by Silent Spring led
to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in 2012,
Silent Spring was designated as a
National Historic Chemical Landmark. Rachel passed away just two years after
the book’s publication on April 14, 1964 due to breast cancer complications. It was Dorothy who released Rachel’s ashes into the sea at Southport Island, in a place where they would often spend the days together "watching life go by, with the sky and the sea between them.”


APRIL 13: Armen Ohanian (1887-1976)


April 13 seems to be another slow day in wlw history, so we’d
like to introduce you to a highly fascinating and enigmatic figure: Armenian
dancer and writer Armen Ohanian.

Her birth name was Sophia Pirboudaghian; she was born in
Shamakha in 1887 – this is now located in Azerbaijan but at the time it was part
of the Russian empire. After an earthquake in 1902, her family moved to Baku. She
graduated from school there in 1905; that same year, her father died in the
anti-Armenian pogroms. She started out as an actress, going by the name of
Sophia Ter-Ohanian in an Armenian theater group in Baku in 1906, and then, two
years later, moved to Moscow where she performed as a dancer and studied
plastic arts. She appeared for the first time as Armen Ohanian at the Tbilisi
Opera in 1909.

Early 20th-century portrait of Armen Ohanian,
Charents Literature and Arts Museum

After this, she traveled back to Iran, where she performed as
a dancer, acted on stage, co-founded the Persian National Theater in Tehran,
and generally contributed to expanding the place of women in the public arts. In
April 1910, with the help of the Persian Women Benevolent Association, she
organized a gala featuring music, literary events, theater, and cinema. It was
during that period that she honed her skills in what are categorized as “Oriental
dances.” She toured Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, and eventually ended up in
London, where she was hired to perform in 1911. An Orientalist craze for exotic
forms of dancing was sweeping through the West at the time so basically Ohanian
decided to capitalize on the West’s fetishization of the Orient while at the
same time finding a way of self-expression in dance that combined American elements
(such as methods of “free dance” developed by Isadora Duncan) and Armenian and
Iranian music and elements. From there on, she toured extensively all
throughout Europe, the United States, and Mexico City, and was usually met with
high praise. When her own career as a dancer started declining, she nonetheless
continued being active in this milieu: she notably founded a school of dance in
Mexico City in 1936, and even made a comeback in the dance scene and on the
stage throughout the 40s and 50s.

Her talent for dance should not eclipse her literary talents:
she started writing poetry and autobiographical material when she moved to
Paris in 1912. She published several memoirs and accounts of her travels, which
were widely translated. Well-versed in many languages, she translated books from
Russian to Spanish in collaboration with her second husband. She was also
politically involved, as an active member of the Mexican Communist Party (which
has us wondering if she ever met Frida Kahlo).

She led an eventful love life: when she was young, she’d
been married off to an Armenian Iranian doctor (Haik Ter-Ohanian, whose last
name she kept) but that didn’t last even one year. As she toured the world and
became increasingly known as a dancer and writer, she entertained relationships
with various artists, writers, and intellectuals. Most of them appeared to be
men, but there are records of Ohanian having an affair with Natalie Barney –
which seems plausible enough, given the effervescent artistic context of the
time, and which would indicate she was most likely bi. Her second marriage was
to a Mexican diplomat in 1922; the couple lived in many different world cities
until 1934, when they settled down in Mexico.

Her life was explored in a performance project called Dear Armen created by lee williams
and Kamee Abrahamian. This is the summary:

Garo has been researching Armen Ohanian, an enigmatic
Armenian performer and survivor of the early 20th century anti-Armenian pogroms
in Baku. Grappling with the discrepancies between Ohanian’s biography and
memoirs, they are forced to confront memories from the past, unraveling
experiences around gender, sexuality, ethnicity, family, and the role of the
artist. An immersive theatre experience featuring a blend of monologue,
traditional Armenian dance, erotic performance and live music, Dear Armen
weaves together the voices and struggles of three generations of women and
gender nonconforming Armenians.

You can find the trailer below and read more about this installation here in this interview and in this review:


APRIL 12: the Dinah Shore weekend


April 12 seems to be another one of those days that, so far, haven’t been blessed by a lesbian’s birthday, so instead, we’re here to talk to you about the Dinah Shore weekend, or the Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend as the official title goes, or the Dinah for short.

We all know the enduring stereotype that lesbians are no fun and don’t enjoy partying, unless it’s some kind of low-key dinner party (thanks SNL). Even with the L Word, and the Real L Word, the stereotype persists. But party-loving wlw exist too, and the Dinah is the proof.


Pool Party at the Dinah, 2011

The main idea is pretty straightforward: imagine an entire five-day weekend/music festival, in Palm Springs, California, where you’re constantly surrounded by a crowd of queer women and women-aligned babes and you can attend rad events, pool parties, and concerts with top-notch celebrities – among other things – and every single thing caters to wlw. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for heaven (and heightened social anxiety), I don’t know what does. Participants number in the high thousands, and come from all over the world. This year,

The very first Dinah was an unofficial event in 1986 – a weekend that coincided with the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a women’s golf tournament. So many women were coming to Palm Springs for that event, and out of this the Dinah was born. Named after Dinah Shore, a singer, TV personality, and golfer (but not a lesbian, and actually, as far as we’ve gathered, she was someone who wasn’t too keen on seeing a posh golf tournament being turned into a lesbian extravaganza), the event was first officially produced in 1991 by Mariah Hanson, and every year, it gets a little bit bigger and wilder, but also has always had a strong socially involved character, promoting and showcasing many activist and humanitarian organizations.


Pool Party at the Dinah, 2011

We don’t know about you, but we’re definitely saving up.