Les­bian Love Sto­ry: A Mem­oir In Archives

  • Review
By – September 18, 2023

In this engag­ing explo­ration of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, Amelia Pos­san­za braids six les­bian love sto­ries with her own mem­o­ries of com­ing out, find­ing oth­er les­bians, and join­ing the world’s largest LGBTQ swim team. Les­bian Love Sto­ry unfolds chrono­log­i­cal­ly; Pos­san­za begins with the 1892 meet­ing of Black dancer Mabel Hamp­ton and white jour­nal­ist Lil­lian Fos­ter, then pro­ceeds with oth­er sto­ries that take place through­out the next cen­tu­ry. Punc­tu­at­ing her book is a throw­back to the love sto­ry of Sap­pho and Anactoria. 

Part of the delight of this work is Possanza’s nar­ra­tion of how she uncov­ered these women’s sto­ries. They become vis­i­ble to her through research, deep archival dives, rumors and con­ver­sa­tions in queer com­mu­ni­ties, and sheer hap­pen­stance. For exam­ple, Pos­san­za relates the sto­ry of Mabel and Lil­lian by way of the oral his­to­ries record­ed by Joan Nes­tle for the Les­bian Her­sto­ry Archives. The cross-gen­er­a­tional inti­ma­cy between Nes­tle and Pos­san­za, two white Jew­ish les­bians, is thrilling to read. Lis­ten­ing to Nestle’s oral his­to­ry record­ing, Pos­san­za writes, I want to fold Mabel into my own queer com­mu­ni­ty. I sum­mon her as the dead who takes care of me, the liv­ing.” It’s like­ly that Nes­tle and read­ers of Les­bian Love Sto­ry share this sentiment.

As these les­bian love sto­ries become more con­tem­po­rary, the women’s voic­es emerge less as a result of archival records and imag­i­na­tive leaps and more through their own writ­ings. The sto­ries of cul­tur­al the­o­rist Glo­ria Anzaldúa and writer Cher­ríe Mor­a­ga exist in a larg­er world of les­bian fem­i­nism. Yet even as that world expands, the tribu­la­tions and com­plex­i­ties of les­bian life per­sist. Mor­a­ga and Anzaldúa chal­lenge sys­tems of racism and colo­nial­ism; Amy Hoff­man and Mike Riegle forge their rela­tion­ship amid the AIDS epidemic. 

Pos­san­za moves from uncov­er­ing women who were les­bians, and who nav­i­gat­ed cod­ed and repressed lives, to exam­in­ing the vibrant social words of drag kings and les­bian cho­sen fam­i­lies. Ulti­mate­ly, there are three love sto­ries here: the sto­ries of the lovers Pos­san­za doc­u­ments, the author’s own love for the les­bian sub­jects of her book, and her ever-increas­ing devo­tion to les­bian his­to­ries and communities.

Julie R. Ensz­er is the author of four poet­ry col­lec­tions, includ­ing Avowed, and the edi­tor of Out­Write: The Speech­es that Shaped LGBTQ Lit­er­ary Cul­ture, Fire-Rimmed Eden: Select­ed Poems by Lynn Loni­di­erThe Com­plete Works of Pat Park­er, and Sis­ter Love: The Let­ters of Audre Lorde and Pat Park­er 1974 – 1989. Ensz­er edits and pub­lish­es Sin­is­ter Wis­dom, a mul­ti­cul­tur­al les­bian lit­er­ary and art jour­nal. You can read more of her work at www​.JulieREn​sz​er​.com.

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