Katherine V. Forrest: I was amazed to hear that you’ve actually just written a new play based on your brand new memoir, When We Were Outlaws! How and why did you do this, and when can we see it?
The play is called “Outlaws on Stage” and its showing on Nov. 6th at the Macha Theater in West Hollywood. It’s a matinee at 2 pm and people can come to the door for tickets or go to brownpapertickets.com. I wanted to have an unusual launch party for the book. So writing a play seemed like the most exciting way to show people what the book is about.
KVF: Your memoir, When We Were Outlaws, is a suggestive title. What can we expect to read about in the book, or see at the play, Jeanne?
Well, it’s a raw and intimate chronicle of my life as a young activist torn between my conflicting personal longings and political goals. I’m a brash and ambitious investigative reporter in the 1970s. I’m working for the famous, underground L.A. Free Press and I get involved with the Weather Underground, Angela Davis, and Emily Harris of the Symbionese Liberation Army. And at the same time I’m publishing my own news magazine, The Lesbian Tide, which is destined to become the voice of the national lesbian feminist movement.
The story opens and I’m living with one woman, but falling in love with another. Polyamory, or what we called, “non-monogamy” is how we all lived with our lovers. But it was a messy way to live and I had a rep for dating too many women—and getting in a lot of trouble for it. To the point where the former editor of The Advocate, Mark Thompson, calls me “the James Dean of the lesbian scene.”
The back drop of my life, the era, is the early struggle for gay rights, Women’s Liberation, and the New Left. I talk about the contradictions of feminism, the then real debate about violent overthrow of the government, and the huge divide and uneasy alliance between lesbians and gay men. It’s a portrait of activism and search for self-identity—set against the turbulent landscape of multiple struggles for social change that swept hundreds of thousands of Americans into the streets.
KVF: It sounds like a lesbian romance but with a real political twist. Where can we get it?
It’s sold at amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and your favorite queer bookstore. Yes, I wanted it to show what life was like for an activist in the 1970s. I wanted readers to feel like they were in a strike protest, or at one of our utopian music festivals. Another scene is an underground meeting with radical fugitives. It has a lot of period detail and evocative characters.
KVF. When We Were Outlaws reads like a gripping suspense novel. Also, very unusual for a memoir, it focuses on the events of one singular year in your life. Why did you choose that year, and what led you to this decision, Jeanne?
I wrote Outlaws as a novelized memoir with suspense because I know people like novels. We all love a story. I didn’t want this lesbian history to be sidelined as dry when it’s so rich with emotion.
I sat down in 1999 to write a love story. I’d been writing journalism and political essays for two decades, but never challenged myself to write a basic love-story novel. I began with a certain woman, an unresolved love affair. That took me to the years 1974 to 1976. To my surprise the story began spinning its way into lesbian and gay and New Left politics—by way of the original love story, because this is how I was living my life when I met and fell in love with Rachel. A couple of years into this project I called her to say, “Hey—guess what, our story is turning into a political drama.” She just shrugged and said, “I’m not surprised, that’s who you are.”
As I began to tell the story of Cordova and Rachel, I got into all the activist’s machinations and dramas of my life in 1975. I began to see that this was a critical year
in the rise and development of Lesbian Nation as well as the real end of sixties radicalism. And I began to see that the real love story I was writing about was about me and my life’s love—lesbian nation.
After that, the story got so big and sweeping that I just had to end it before I got to 1,000 pages. It’s still 450 pages! I tend to lead a very full life—but that year was an epoch unto itself. Looking back my first memoir, Kicking the Habit; A Lesbian Nun Story, it was also only one crucial year in my life. I like big thick slices of pie, one at time.
When We Were Outlaws, $14.95. Facebook Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 626-253-1747
Pioneering LGBT journalist and activist Jeanne Córdova is one of the foundering organizers of the West Coast LGBTQ movement. Cordova also published The Lesbian Tide, “the national voice of record for the lesbian feminist era of the 1970s.” Her writing includes books and essays in award-winning anthologies such as ‘Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence’ and ‘Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader.’ Most recently, Cordova chaired the Butch Voices LA Conference in 2010, and later co-founded Butch Nation, a feminist organization for masculine women. She and her pack of guerilla cultural activists, LEX: The Lesbian Exploratorium, create political, art and history happenings around Los Angeles.