When We Were Outlaws by Jeanne Cordova

The history of the world is defined by social struggle.

                As members of the GLBTQ community know this fact in a very poignant light. Struggle is the only method which gave spark to our freedom and showed the wider oppressed community that Queers were not to be messed with.

                The Queer liberation struggle began during the tourmotlous times of the late sixties and 70s when the anti-war movement sparked the civil rights struggle. During this time the Stonewall Rebellion broke out and initiated the beginning of the fight for gay and lesbian equality. To usher in a better age many queer warriors stepped up and organized social protests.

                The story of “When We Were Outlaws” is the precise, emotional, and inspiring tale of one such organizer.

                Chronicling her life from the time she began organizing to the present day, author Jeanne Cordova recounts her experiences in her memoir as nothing more than a candid look into the heated situations of her political and love life. Over the course of her writing she explains her love affairs, political organizations, and thoughts in regards to her time as a Lesbian-Feminist activist. Her story is packed with so much courage you may have to read it twice just to appreciate all of her exploits.

                Beginning in early 1975 Jeanne tells of how she was kicked out of her family’s house during her teenage years after her father disapproved of her lesbian “butch” lover. She intimately goes on to explain how the psychology of that event had repercussions throughout her life. Frequently she describes her father’s anger as her own and of that of her enemies and reminds the reader of his haunting presence.

                However, the prime thread of her memoire is that of the “Great Strike” against the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center; where, after illegally firing eleven employees, the workers organize in an attempt to win back their jobs and for female equality among the board management (the center was run by an all-male team which prevented the word “Lesbian” to appear on the center’s sign).

                Jeanne recalls every heated meeting, word and scenario in such a vivid manner that many times when reading I was transported back in time as if I were there myself watching in on the strikers factions as they debated the proper course of action. While in the end Jeanne’s involvement in the strike would end on a sour note she nevertheless put forth a darling plan which greatly assisted in restoring normalcy to the conflict ridden gay and lesbian southern California gay scene.

                During the course of her life Jeanne also monologues about her career as a political journalist. Covering the radicals of her day, such as Angela Davis, The Weather Underground, and The Symbionesse Liberation Front, Jeanne recalls her joy, fear, and trepidation when interviewing figureheads of the Underground revolutionary left. While her love life suffers as a result of her fierce commitment to her job as Human Rights editor at the Free Press and her own paper The Lesbian Tide, Jeanne never once misses a beat in recalling the intensity of the moment. Her hard work lands her being a historic organizer in the equality battle.

                While most of her battles are fought via words, she does not neglect the battles which formed as a result of her professional dedication, no, in fact, Jeanne paints such a fantastic picture of her chaotic love life that it would be hard for anyone to not feel a connection with her.

                During the 70s the progressive movement among radical lesbians took the form of Lesbian Separatism and Lesbian-Feminism. Both ideologies stressed the importance of non-monogamy, rejecting monogamy as heterosexist and as a constraint imposed on women by men in order to suppress their innate power; militant action, as defined by social protest, as well as, in some cases, guerrilla warfare, as the only means to realizing ones fullest potential and liberation. Jeanne tells how her love life was thrown into chaos when her political views on relationship collided with both her work and romantic partners. In the ensuring turmoil she reconciled only by a deep, soul searching journey.

                During her stirring life portrait Jeanne shows the readers her confrontation with her boss and lifelong friend, with her fellow workers, lovers, and even Nazis intent on killing off and leftwing influence. Jeanne tells all with the bravado she showed in youth. In the process she teaches history along with how to confront bullies.

                Ultimately, When We Were Outlaws, is a wonderful book for anyone to read if they wish to understand the life and times of one of America’s most affluent lesbian activist. Many young lesbians will take delight in understanding that they are not alone in this world and that through bravery freedom can be achieved.

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2 comments

  1. Great review! just one suggestion re a typo: You write “one of America’s most affluent lesbian activist”, surely you mean ‘one of America’s most influential lesbian activists’?

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