Review: Mirrors: Portrait of a Lesbian Transsexual by Beth Elliott

I just finished Beth Elliott’s new edition of  Mirrors: Portrait of a Lesbian Transsexual.

Published on CreateSpace and available through Amazon  currently $17.24  (http://www.amazon.com/Mirrors-Portrait-Transsexual-Geri-Nettick/dp/146360520X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316451777&sr=8-1)

Beth and my paths started crossing occasionally in the early 1970s.  I was in the radical left/feminist movements while she was involved with Daughters of Bilitis and the lesbian feminist movements.

I read the original version of this book and didn’t much care for the Roman à clef manner in which Beth told the story.  I wasn’t alone in criticizing her timidity without knowing more of the back-story behind the self protective measures she took.

While the new and improved version maintains the core Roman à clef of the original edition it offers a whole lot of analysis and self exploration as to who was involved and what their motivations were.

Beth is a person in history and was unfortunately the focus of an immense amount of focused hatred and bigotry at a young age while fighting for the right of transsexual women, both pre and post-op to have a place in the lesbian feminist movement.

She wasn’t a superhero, damn few of us were.  Most of us were making our way without any maps or guide posts up a sheer cliff sort of learning experience.  Being pioneers meant having to feel our own way, including making mistakes, getting knocked down and having to get up again.

Beth was the first sister I knew who was viciously trashed by the Lesbian Feminist Community, starting with an article she omits from this book.

One thing I have observed about women with transsexualism over the years, my self included, is no matter what our politics or our sexuality we try so freaking hard to be the absolute best we can be in that area.  There is little difference between those who make that commitment to becoming fashion models or feminists.  The goal may be totally different but the amount of commitment and effort is the same.

We often run into problems because until we have had a few years post-transsexual most of our socialization has come second hand.  We haven’t grown up learning the sexual politics of prima donas and mean girls, the vicious game of telephone and the spreading of rumors by people who would never say certain things to our faces.

We are vulnerable to being exposed because transsexualism is stigmatized, no where more so than it came to be stigmatized in certain “feminist” circles.

From everything I have heard from lesbians who knew and worked with Beth during the early 1970s, she was honest, sincere and very hard working. She was not deceitful or there to disrupt the movement or any of the myriad of vile accusations that were made towards her.  As I said our paths intersected on occasions during the 1970s.  I was staff photographer and a production artist at the Lesbian Tide several years after Beth wrote for them.

The Anti-Trans lesbian Klan intimidated them too and it can be presumed many others in the lesbian feminist movement.

I was with the Tide and active at the LA Women’s Building when the trashing of Sandy Stone began and saw the fear of defending Olivia Records and Sandy Stone.

Those post-transsexual women who were part of the feminist and lesbian feminist movements who weren’t personally trashed were scarred by the hate directed at transsexuals by the Lesbian Klan.

I’m very glad Beth chose to speak out regarding the criminal stalking and harassment she has endured for 40 some years at the hands of the clearly sociopathic BevJo Von Dohre, who is allegedly a compulsive regarding her own personal history as well as the accusations she has made regarding Beth and other post-transsexual lesbians and feminists.

For too long the Lesbian Klan bigotry has been presented as starting with Janice Raymond and her “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” type, contradictions filled smear job.

This book is worth buying and reading for Beth’s exposing of Robin Morgan’s duplicity and manipulation of anti-transsexual bigotry in service of the promotion of Robin Morgan.  The long time married to a man Robin Morgan, who has no problem exercising heterosexual privilege while claiming to be a woman identified lesbian, Robin Morgan.  The same Robin Morgan who trashed Kate Millett.  The same Robin Morgan who succored and manipulated Jane Alpert, an alleged snitch who appears to have ratted out numerous people involved in helping 1960s anti-war resisters who were underground.

It is shameful that the only voice I can really find from the feminist community, who had the courage to speak out regarding the trashing that so harmed the movement was Jo Freeman.  Many have spoken out since including Ruth Rosen and Susan Brownmiller.

Beth adds herself to those giving witness to the destructiveness of all the trashing not just the anti-trans trashing that went on.

As I said much of the body of this work was originally published a decade and a half ago and used a fictionalizing device.  The names have been changed in several cases, those of us who were there know who the people named were/are.

We need more books from this era that actually take the history into account with broad views as well as the more narrow views we have come to associate with trans-memoirs.

I should add this is a memoir of a lesbian feminist who happened to have been born with transsexualism and she expresses the same skepticism of the Transgender Borg one commonly sees in most post-transsexual women.

Now go to Amazon and buy the freaking book.  Beth deserves the support and so many of you need to really know the history of that period so you can contradict the historical revisionism.

7 Responses to “Review: Mirrors: Portrait of a Lesbian Transsexual by Beth Elliott”

  1. Sharon Sinéad Gaughan Says:

    Suzan, I have a question. Do you recall a point at which enmity toward lesbian women of history reached a nexus point where it just took off? I mean, was there a watershed moment? And who was involved?

    • Suzan Says:

      I would say it came in waves. First Beth, then Sandy Stone and Janice Raymond. then it was fairly quiet for a dozen or so years and reared its ugly head again in the 1990s with MWMF, only to fade into the back ground re-emerging recently with BevJo and things like GenderTrender.

      But I’m a hippie dyke and less inclined to be focused in the “lesbian feminist” community. There could be a war raging there and I’m off in the Earth First sort of scene or the arts scene. It also tends to be city/region specific. LA was pretty mellow regarding the whole thing. SF was pretty extreme.

      Beth reads this blog and I gave her a heads up on the review. Perhaps she will lend something.

      In the mean time go buy her book, it’s well worth it to read her story.

  2. Circé Says:

    I just ordered my copy through Amazon.com can’t wait to read it.

  3. Beth Elliott Says:

    My own personal kudos to Suzan for writing the best kind of book review: an essay that not only says something insightful about its subject but makes larger points as well. Of course I’m thrilled by the recommendation, and I’m also warmly thrilled by a fine essay.

    L.A. *was* more mellow than the Bay Area. Berkeley, of course, was always heated; S.F. had both mellow and intensely political. As I mention in the “Fear and Loathing in Westwood” appendix, the L.A./Orange County lesbian feminists were taken completely by surprise by the disruption of the UCLA Conference in ’73; they’d been shocked by my getting tossed out of SFDOB but thought it an isolated incident. That something similar could happen when they opened up their community was inconceivable. Even L.A. separatists, like the late Yolanda Retter, were mellow … and my friends.

    One of the privacy/roman a clef things: In the mid ’90s, when I was writing for TransSisters, I was thrilled by a new wave of trans activism that included trans-feminism, but was wary of a new set of PCisms emerging. That they did. I think I saw some of the early postmodernist gender theory stuff, and I know I saw some trans politics that took an antagonistic approach to the lesbian community.

    Neither appealed to me, but the threat from the latter was the potential appropriation of my personal history, especially the iconic (rolling my own eyes here) trashings, for an attack on the lesbian movement and community in general. I was not down with anything like that. To some extent, it may have been a precursor of the militant lack of empathy for/ alignment with the sensibilities and concerns of women in general that marks the more clueless umbrella/borg types.

    Mostly, though, because Beverly “Bev Jo” von Dohre continued to harass me militantly, and it wasn’t really till I experienced weathering being written about in Marcia Gallo’s “Different Daughters” that I regained any kind of confidence in any amount of casual acknowledgment of my history. It’s a very odd phenomenon, this vendetta, and it’s really f.ed up.

    • Suzan Says:

      BTW I was friends with Yolanda Retter from my time at the Women’s Building. Years later she told me she always trusted me to “have her back” and then made me a parade monitor for one of the Dyke Marches.

  4. Andrea B. Says:

    @ Beth Elliott,

    A suggestion if you ever have time.

    It might be an idea to put an article up on the net outlying what happened back then regarding the seperatism of transsexualism from feminism by some lesbian activists and when the sexist trangender borg took over in the 90’s.

    Everyone has snippets, but there is no overall clear picture for the entire situation. It could be interesting to put together several sisters experiences into one article so as to give a wider picture of the entire situation and maybe through some light on all of it.

    • Suzan Says:

      Start by ending the practice of calling them lesbian activists.

      Start calling them the Lesbian Klan. There is absolutely nothing about feminism or real lesbian activism, even separatism that requires the form of bigotry exhibited by these women.

      Remember I have actually heard one of them say that Phyllis Schlafly was more her sister than any post-transsexual lesbian feminist, no matter how dedicated to the cause could ever be.

      This is more akin to a virulant form of racism than it is to feminism.

      Time to start calling it for what it is.


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