“Dispatches From Lesbian America” Feels Like Family

I won’t lie, my friends will tell you I’m a serial skimmer and a snob about what I read. I probably put down nine out of ten books. Who has the time? So I mean it when I say, Dispatches From Lesbian America is essential reading. Many of these 42 works of short fiction and memoir took my tiny, gay breath away.

The book’s back cover simply says, “these thoughtful stories address themes meaningful to us in the modern world.” That sounds nice, I initially thought. But boi howdy it did not do justice to the raw power contained within this humble anthology — the resounding connection, heartbreak, strength, and relatability of being a lesbian during the past sixty years.

Sure, I’ve met plenty of dykes, but I’ve never been transported through time and space to be put in their shoes quite like this. I wasn’t prepared for the warm swell of emotion that washed over me as turned the last page and put the book down like a love letter. It left me with a single thought: There are a lot of us and we’re not alone.

The contributors are extremely diverse in age and race, featuring both novice writers and those who live among giants. Each story starts with a profile pic and bio. It was exciting to see each woman’s face, ranging from second wave crew cuts to woo woo shag to this generation’s clean styling. My heart would jump every time an author had writing accolades or published works (which was often). I knew I’d be in for a treat! Believe it or not, most contributors are professional writers.

I’ve personally never been a fan of short stories. I find them tedious and vague in an unsatisfactory way, and admittedly about a third of the stories in this collection are poorly written or lack a catchy plot. Real stinkers. You can be like me a skim those babies. But the rest all range from good to stunning, a higher percentage than you’d find elsewhere. Who’s to say which stories will resonate with you?

A few stories barely mention lesbians, yet we get her point of view, a unique formula: hardly any male characters, no objectifying, spotlighting experiences we hardly see on the page. Refreshing!

Of course, most are 100% devoted to lesbian herstory or coming out tales. There were plenty of love stories, from first-grade crush to big city passion, but admittedly, many are devoid of snappy dialog and juicy details. So if you’re looking for erotica, AE has you covered: try here or here. But if you want to hear honest tales of finding your way, look no further. 

In a way, this collection of stories is like reading a history book. What was it like to accept your sexuality when there was no roadmap, no words, no community? The conditions were so different. Memoir is a great way to learn about the past without being bored to death. Each dispatch is three to thirteen pages long, perfect for those ten minutes you have in between tasks and before bed. 

In the opening remarks by Giovanna Capone and Pippa Fleming, they explain why there was an urgent need for Dispatches From Lesbian America, saying “the climate for lesbians today is dire. The L of LGBT is becoming smaller, weaker, and less visible. Some lesbians are even going back into the closet to survive,” and “lesbians are policing and attacking other lesbians! Don’t they understand how they’re internalizing systematic homophobia?” They continue:

“It’s been years since the voices of this many lesbian writers, this many female born women, have gathered into one book. […] Now more than ever, we need to speak on our own behalf, define who we are, and what our lives are about. […] Our existence as lesbians is a threat. Our strong, woman-centered culture is dangerous. The footholds that we as lesbians have diligently created from our social and political organizing over the past forty years are now under threat of dissolving. […]It’s time once again for a cultural renaissance—a lesbian revolution. We are challenged with re-birthing ourselves and our lesbian tribe.”

Finally, they conclude, “In this book we say, ‘This is who we are. This is where we stand. We draw our boundaries here.’ We invite you to pick it up and share it like a brilliant jewel wherever you go. We hope its light will re-awaken your spirit, cleanse your soul, and re-unite us in strong lesbian sisterhood.”

Some of my favorite stories included:
  • A young detransitioner who overcame family abuse, threats from the “queer community,” and the terrible side effects of HRT to finally live happily as female.
  • A middle-aged woman whose first woman relationship is with an abusive partner who transitions, and her struggle to leave.
  • A very short tale of a Southern woman who romances her max-security prison guard.
  • The boisterous utopia of DC’s monthly lesbian poetry slam that happened from the late 90’s to 2013, and the deep wellspring of love and creativity that erupted there.
  • What it was like to work as a crafts-woman in the 80s in a male-dominated field.
  • A small town opens a school for the deaf led by a cool and capable butch.
  • Why an author changed her last name to Dykewomon, and her suicide attempts as a child.
  • Coming out while married to a man you don’t hate.
  • Lesbians artists and poets rebelling, creating zines, and inventing themselves in 1970. 
  • The long painful path of leaving organized religion (the topic of many!), especially as a woman of color.
  • Complex relationships with parents (a huge focus in the book), with emphasis on immigrants, Jewish, and black families.
  • The devotion and idolization of a passionate, flamenco-singing, and woman-loving Spanish mother.
  • Being black and butch in the 70s— and a feminist! These things were less compatible within lesbian/feminist circles then. 
  • First girl crush!

I think dykes were made for short stories. We’re both direct and whimsical, elevating the medium to its best. Many contributions were snippets from larger works, and left me hungry for the whole piece. I feel fired up to track down works by some of my favorite writers in Dispatches. After getting a taste of these delicious lesbian tales I want more, affirming, page after page, that we have a wonderfully tender, diverse, and thriving culture.

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