“I am not here to entertain straight people.”
― Sarah Schulman
1. Jane Addams
A woman who was so much more than anyone expected her to be, Jane Addams spent her life fighting for the rights of women, children, and anyone who she saw was vulnerable. She was the mother of social work in America, and a fierce activist throughout her entire life. Supporting feminism, pacifism, the end of the class divide, and democracy, she was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. She founded the Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago, which became a center for research, study, and debate, as well as a place that encouraged civil relations with the surrounding neighbourhoods. Residents of Hull House researched a wide range of subjects, including but not limited to: housing, midwifery, fatigue, tuberculosis, typhoid, garbage collection, cocaine, and truancy. It included a night school for adults, clubs for older children, a public kitchen, an art gallery, a gym, a girls' club, a bathhouse, a music school, a drama group, and a theatre, apartments, a library, meeting rooms for discussion, clubs, an employment bureau, and a lunchroom. The woman who started all of this, a haven for knowledge and progressive thought, was exclusively in relationships with other women and had a long term committed relationships with two women that we know of.
2. Anne Marie Alonzo
Anne Marie Alonzo was a Canadian writer who was born in Egypt and moved to Canada when she was twelve years old. In 1966, she was in a car accident and became a quadriplegic wheelchair user. She was able to write twenty books while she was alive, and was known for supporting and promoting other authors work at the height of her fame. She had a Ph.D. in French Studies, lived most of her life in Quebec, and received a bronze medal from the Société Arts-Sciences-Lettres de Paris in 1997. She wrote works exploring feminism, lesbian politics, and migrant consciousness. She published a book of poems, Blues de mine, which won the Emile Nelligan Award in 1985. Later in her life, Alonzo founded a literary journal, Trois, which branched out to include a publishing house with the same name.
3. Sotiria Bellou
Sotiria Bellou was a famous Greek singer who was born in 1921 and died in 1997. Throughout that time, she caused significant political controversy with her strong will and outspoken nature. Living through World War Two and being a famous woman, lesbian, and a part of the Greek Resistance, Sotiria was hunted and captured by Nazis and tortured before being imprisoned. That was not the only time in her life when she was locked away; when she was younger, her father arranged for her to marry a man, as he thought marrying a man would calm her down. After six months of her husband abusing her, the marriage came to an end. In one case when her husband attacked her, Sotiria managed to throw acid into his face. Though it was self-defence, she was charged and later sentenced to over three years in jail. She managed to get the sentence down to six months, and her time in prison did not make her any less courageous. She continued to be an outspoken activist and was kept in detention again when she sided with the leftists in the Greek civil war. This act coloured her relationship with the public; people on the far right began to hate her. On one occasion, they tried to force her to sing a famous right-wing song. When she refused, she was beaten by six people and threatened with murder. No one came to help her, even though she had people she thought were her friends in the audience, and she held on to this memory. Sotiria was an activist, a famous singer, and an out lesbian at a time when that was practically unheard of, and she suffered for many years because of it. Around the end of her life, she lost most of her money on gambling and lost her fame to prejudice. She died in 1997 of throat cancer, and upon her request, she was buried next to Vassilis Tsitsanis.
4. Louise Lawrence
Louise Lawrence was a transgender lesbian who worked with Alfred Kinsey to record the number of transgender people for his records. She lived a significant portion of her life with her first wife, still in the closet, and it wasn’t until she died that Louise started exploring her gender identity. She later married another woman who was aware of the fact that Louise was transgender, but could not handle the secrecy of it all, and ended the relationship. Because Louise expressing her gender identity was still illegal at the time, she was discreet but did manage to talk to doctors in an attempt to educate them about transgender people without being arrested. Later in life, she began living with a woman named Gay, who supported her gender identity, and both of them were very involved in the queer community. Though it was still very underground, Louise invited many other transgender people to stay with her throughout her life and was known throughout the community, if not in the broader public sphere. She lived from 1912 to 1976 in America, and was an important part of the Kinsey’s record-keeping process, recording 51 transgender people throughout America.
All of these women had full rich lives, coming from a wide range of backgrounds, and achieving a wide range of accomplishments. They were all women with had rich complex histories and identities, and none of them existed for the pleasure of straight men. No woman exists for the pleasure of men, and with the extreme sexualization of queer women being discussed more often, it is important to remind people that lesbians are not inherently sexual. Though their sexuality is a part of their identity, it is only a part of their lives, and the fetishization of their relationships is not new. It has never been acceptable and never will be acceptable. Lesbians exist for themselves; they exist both beyond and within their sexuality. They deserve much better than to be narrowed down to objects to be watched, objects to get men off. There was a time when lesbians were thought not to exist because people could not comprehend women existing as sexual beings outside of men. That attitude may have changed its appearance, but is still prevalent today. Straight cisgender men see relationships between women as something that is for them, and it is long past time to end that. It is not the heterosexual cisgender community that will end this, so it will have to be us. The purpose of the queer community is to protect one another, and it is time to do that, to make it clear that lesbians do not exist for men to consume. It is our job at this time to protect the lesbian community, as they have done for other members of the queer community in the past. It is time to remind straight cisgender men that lesbians do not exist for them.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
Anne-Marie Alonzo. Athabasca University. Retrieved from http://canadian-writers.athabascau.ca/french/writers/amalonzo/amalonzo.php
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Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. Jane Addams. Retrieved from http://www.glhalloffame.org/index.pl?todo=view_item&item=311
Civitello, A. (2015, May 7). Vintage Lesbians Week: Jane Addams & Mary Rozet Smith. Creating Iris. Retrieved from http://www.creatingiris.org/features/2015/5/6/vintage-lesbians-week-jane-addams-mary-rozet-smith
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Gender Myths Exploded. (2015, October 12). The Cooper Union. Retrieved from http://cooper.edu/art/news/gender-myths-exploded
Library and Archives in Canada. Alonzo, Anne-Marie. Retrieved from https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/literaryarchives/027011-200.001-e.html
Loerzel, R. (2008, June 11). Friends - With Benefits? Chicago Mag. Retrieved from http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/June-2008/Friends-With-Benefits/
Michels, K. (2014, June 17). Heroines of History: Jane Addams, Ellen Starr and Mary Rozet Smith – Progressive Pioneers Until Death Do Them Part. Business Heroine Magazine. Retrieved from http://businessheroinemagazine.com/progressivepioneers/
Mueller, D. Sotiria Bellou. The Rebetissa.
Rude, M. V. (2015, November 15). 10 Trans Women Pioneers They Definitely Didn’t Tell You About In History Class. Autostraddle. Retrieved from https://www.autostraddle.com/10-lesser-known-trans-women-pioneers-from-history-316582/
Schoenberg, N. (2007, February 6). Outing Jane Addams. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-02-06/features/0702060273_1_hull-house-mary-rozet-smith-lesbian
Sotiria Bellou Biography. Princeton University. Retrieved from http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~bonnies/sotiria.html
The Last of the Rebetiko Singers. Ellines. Retrieved from