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 Lonidier, The 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.JulieREnszer.com.