Many years ago on North Spring Street in Los Angeles there was a three story red brick industrial building. It was near chinatwon and not far from today’s Artist’s Lofts in the former Brewery.
It was the Women’s Building and in the 1970s I took some classes there, workshops really. I was already doing photography and I aspired to write.
One of those workshops discussed the coming out memoir. She quipped that all coming out stories be they lesbian or gay are the same story. This was during the transwars and I was stealth (ah the term I hate but occasionally use).
I had noticed this tendency as I had lesbian and gay coming out stories in my library along with the WBT memoirs/autobiographies. A class I was concurrently taking at UCLA used Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” as one of the texts.
With WBTs there are two basic narrative paths that were established early. They both share common childhood elements including an early awareness of difference (something one also find in L/G life stories). They diverge as we enter adulthood.
The life paths of Jan Morris and Renee Richards represent the life arc of those who come out in mid-life. Both had their stories published in the mid-1970s and were seen as examples of people who were privileged even as males by having positions of relatively high status. Their education and status prior to coming out gave them a far greater platform than those of us who had come out just upon entry into adulthood.
Our stories were more reflected in Canary Conn’s book.
In the early 1980s April Ashley’s book came out. She had been a personal hero of mine. I had discovered a serialized version of her story in one of the tabloid newspapers in 1962 and it had confirmed who and what I was. While the details of our stories were different the elements were the same.
Aleshia and I were among those interviewed by Susan Stryker for the film “Screaming Queens” about the 1966 riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. Aleshia pre-dated the riots and I post-dated them.
I had put off picking up a copy of her book for a number of years. Recently a good friend of mine from the days of way back when suggested I would enjoy it saying the language and situations Aleshia describes aren’t far off from our own experiences some 10 years later.
The thing I am enjoying most is that unlike many of our biographies her SRS is not the climax but really only the beginning.
I think we fool ourselves wih thinking SRS is the end of our unique stories. I think a lot of what comes after is far more interesting.
Her experiencing of Dr. Belt’s surgery is closer to my experiencing of Dr. Laub’s surgery with the packing and stents as well as the poor levels of pain management than what I heard from sisters who have gone through their surgeries in the last 15-20 years.
It’s a good book. Some of us are interested in the topic and stories of others. I’m not going to argue that one should or shouldn’t be. We need at least a few to keep our stories alive because when we don’t speak up the pathologizers hegmonically dominate the discourse.