archival cry

5 Jul

It is striking how much a single passage in a single document can convey.  In an intimate letter penned “about 5 a.m.” on a spring day in 1975, Diane reaches out to “Del & Phyl” shortly after the death of her partner Ginny.  Diane and Ginny met in California in 1960 and, preceding the first wave of rural lesbian separatism, purchased an Arkansas farm in 1963.    Sitting at Ginny’s desk Diane writes,

Ginny’s mother is with me until this Friday.  She is wonderful & has helped so very much — she has always understood what the relationship between us was but it was never mentioned.  But now that Ginny is gone we’ve had long conversations about it and [she] is in the process reading your book [Lesbian/Woman].  She is 77.  It has been very comforting to be able to talk to her.  Ginny was buried as a veteran — the flag draped cofin [sic] — the flag removed & folded & presented with ceremony to the next of kin.  Faith (G’s mo.) asked to have the flag presented to me but regulations would not allow it — so when they made the little speech & handed the flag to her — she turned & handed it to me — in front of god & everybody.

Neighbors & friends gay & otherwise have been very supportive.

Let me know the details of when you are free for I need you, every minute I can get.*

This reflection on a relationship ended far too soon is revealing in many ways.  We see the nuanced response of a mother whose only point of reference was a time before public lesbianism.   Diane shows us her side of a close friendship with lesbian rights pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.  They offered comfort not only as friends but as activist authors; their book Lesbian/Woman is pictured here as a resource not just for lesbians but for those seeking greater understanding of them.  The funeral services indicate Ginny survived the anti-gay military purges of the Cold War era.

What is most striking though is the added burden Diane experienced as a result of 1975 homophobia.  Relationships with her partner’s family, plans for funeral services, and reactions of friends and community — in each space there is tension and concern over whether she will find support or derision in her grieving.  Her final sentence indicates a comfort to be found only in the company of her old friends, a lesbian couple who could certainly understand some of the fears she navigated in those days.

Here they are, Diane and Ginny, in 1965 (featured in an article from the newspaper Tulsa World).


*This letter is found in the Phyllis Lyon/Del Martin Papers, Box 26, Folder 10.


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