Becky Davidson (born 1948), Interviewed September 15, 1995
Becky Davidson 15 September 1995
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2021. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Becky Davidson in September 1995 at her home in Center City. This was one of a set of interviews that I conducted after finishing my 1994 Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania but before publishing my book in 2000. I do not precisely recall how I came to interview Davidson, but we both were members of Queer Action, an activist group in Philadelphia, and I think that is how we met. Before the taped part of the interview began, Davidson provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 18 June 1948
Place of Birth: Philadelphia
Place of Mother's Birth: Philadelphia
Mother's Occupation: Clerk/Typist
Place of Father's Birth: Philadelphia
Father's Occupation: Bar Owner
Religious Background: Jewish
Class Background: Lower Middle Class
1951-63: 5938 Osage Ave., Philadelphia
1963-65: 1300 block of Passmore, Northeast Philadelphia
1965-66: 2201 Chestnut St., Philadelphia
1966-69: 927 Clinton St., Philadelphia
1969-70: 415 S. 10th St., Philadelphia
1970: 10049 Verree Rd., Philadelphia
1970-73: 234 S. Camac St., Philadelphia
1973-76: 1034 Waverly St., Philadelphia
1976-77: 1215 Spruce St., Philadelphia
1977: 1128 Spruce St., Philadelphia
1977-82: 1933 Chestnut St., Philadelphia
1982-Present: 618 S. 18th St., Philadelphia
1966-74: Tracer and Designer, Jerrold Electronics
1974-81: Proofreader, Touche Ross and Company (Accounting)
1981-92: Proofreader, Alexander Grant and Grant/Thornton
1992-Present: Freelance Proofreader
In the years following our 1995 interview I have occasionally corresponded with Davidson and in 2021 I confirmed that she was still living in Philadelphia.
Marc Stein Interview with Becky Davidson, 15 September 1995
Transcribed by Lisa Williams and Marc Stein.
MS: This is Marc Stein. I'm interviewing Becky Davidson in her house in Philadelphia on September 15, 1995. And I just thought I would start by asking you to say a little something about your early years, your family life, where you grew up, what kind of family you grew up in, and all that sort of stuff.
BD: O.K. I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I have never lived anywhere else as a matter of fact. My mother also was born in Philadelphia, never been anywhere else, and never wants to be anywhere else and doesn't want her daughter to be anywhere else ever.
MS: And you were born in 1948, right?
BD: Born in 1948. Fairly poor to lower middle class, but sometimes when I talk about my experience, it seems that it was down a little bit on the poorer side for a long period of time. My stepfather was a hardware salesclerk and also would have little what we called fits. So he would have these things and lose his job and we would wind up with not a whole lot of money many times.
MS: Fits meaning seizures of some sort?
BD: No, actually emotional things. He would get upset with something and start throwing and breaking things. And they would fire him.
MS: Oh wow.
BD: And so that was a lot of why we didn’t have a lot of money. First of all, he was not an executive of any type. And the little money he did make would be wrecked by his having had emotional upsets.
MS: When did your mother remarry?
BD: My mother remarried when I was three years old and she did not work until I was about twelve. So when she started working, we started having more stability and a little bit more money and that kind of thing.
MS: Do you want to say anything about your father?
BD: Not really. I never met my father. I met my father when I was sixteen actually. And that was as a result of my having run away to New York for a week. My mother decided to let down her ego and call my father, after sixteen years of not having been in touch with each other, to ask him had I contacted him, because that was one of the threats I used to use against her all the time. Well if I can't do what I want to do, I'll call my father, when I really had no intentions at all. But as a result of my running away to New York, she called him. I met him and was not pleasantly surprised and treated him pretty poorly and he did not have the stamina enough to stand by and say, “I'm gonna' make this kid really like me.” So basically I met him twice when I was sixteen. Never met him again.
MS: And they had divorced when you were one?
BD: They divorced when I was a year old, yeah.
MS: So no real relationship, it sounds like, with him?
BD: None. So I was pretty angry when I met him.
MS: About his having not been in the picture?
BD: Yeah, yeah.
MS: And would you say it was a happy childhood or horrible childhood?
BD: I would say a lot of my childhood was not happy. And that all ran around my stepfather and his little fit things that he'd have, 'cause he wouldn't only have them at work, of course. He'd have them at home. If something happened, it could be very minor, it could be major. It could be just that he felt like he couldn't breathe or something. And all of a sudden, something would happen like he would shake the china cabinet and all the dishes would break. Or he'd take the phone and throw it out in the street. And so I was in a constant state of fear. And my mother and I would be kind of tip-toeing around, trying to make sure that he was not upset about anything. Because not only were we afraid, but it was really embarrassing. We'd wind up running to a next door neighbor's house just to be safe until it would roll over.
MS: Right. Were you both in some danger yourselves?
BD: He never hurt us and I don't think he would have. It could have been a possibility that we could have gotten hit by something that was flying, but that never happened.
MS: It wasn't directed specifically at you?
BD: It wasn't directed at us. It was always directed at things.
MS: I see. And you were growing up, remind me, in?
BD: West Philly.
MS: West Philly?
MS: What kind of neighborhood was it?
BD: It was a fairly poor neighborhood. And it felt like my block especially was poorer than even the couple of blocks before it on Osage, which I never thought about until later on, when I started going to a school that was outside of my area and making friends with people who were really working class kinds of people and had kind of the luxuries. I always thought only rich people had wall-to-wall carpeting and end tables and lamps, and they would have those things and finished basements. And I would go to parties at their houses and be driven home from the party and I'd always try to be let out on the block before, or if not the block before, maybe a couple of houses before my house.
MS: Really? Wow.
BD: 'Cause I was always ashamed of my house.
MS: And mixed-race neighborhood?
BD: It was. It did become a mixed-race neighborhood. It was predominantly Jewish when I was growing up. I don't know how old I was when it started having Black families moving in. I'd say probably I was about nine or ten years old when that started happening. And so then it became mixed. It very quickly turned over, because it was a poor neighborhood, I think. And it kept getting poorer and poorer and Blacker and Blacker. And then it started getting more like the violent kind of things with gun-shooting and things like that. But when it started changing and more Black families moving in, I liked it. And I always have stuck by my idea that integrated neighborhoods are the best. I felt kind of bad that it had turned over. All the white people left. All the Jewish people left. I think we were about the fourth family left on our block when we finally moved.
MS: And were you an only child? Did you have any brothers or sisters?
BD: No, I'm an only child.
MS: And did you have any sense of gay people, of homosexuality as an issue, when you were a child? Or of yourself as any kind of sexually different person?
BD: Yeah, I did. There was one incident that happened when I was eight years old that I just still remember pretty vividly. I was in town with my mother. We were on Walnut Street waiting for the bus and there were these two women waiting for the bus. And this one woman was butch as the day was long. I was staring at her and saying, “Is that a boy or a girl? Is that a boy or a girl?” I really wanted to know so bad. I had no sense of my sexuality at all, but it really intrigued the crap out of me. And so I kept staring at them. Now I hate kids who do that. How can they be staring at people all the time?
MS: And what did your mother say? Do you remember?
BD: She kind of brushed it off as she usually did when I'd ask her things, like what does faggot mean and things like that. It would be like, “Oh I don't know.” “I don't know,” she'd say.
MS: Do you remember asking her that question?
BD: Oh yeah. I asked her. Can we use any kind of language we want?
BD: Well the kids started writing on the walls of the school and everything, so I remember one day coming home, I'd finally memorized what the words I wanted to know were. And it was faggot and fuck. And I was like, “Mom, what's faggot and what's fuck?” And she said she didn't know, to both of them. So I looked it up in the dictionary and of course fuck wasn't there and faggot said a bundle of sticks. And I scratched my head and said, “I don't understand this.”
MS: Do you remember how old you were when those things happened?
BD: When that happened? Well I was in elementary school.
MS: O.K. Pretty young.
BD: That was up until I was ten, I guess. So it's probably around when I was nine.
MS: So did you ever find out what they meant?
BD: Well sooner or later I did. I don't know what the circumstances were of having found that out. But my mother would always be like, “I don't know what it is.” And the answer to what these women were was “I don't know.” And I don't know how she was feeling when I was carrying on, whispering to her was it a man or a woman. I just don't know. I don't know what she thought about it at all, about how she felt how I was maybe embarrassing her or what she thought of the women either.
MS: I see.
BD: And then there was really nothing until I was almost sixteen and I was coming into town for my violin lessons. And there was a store on Sansom Street that sold sheet music and I also had like a music scrap book, so I would go in there and buy little postcards of composers' pictures to put in the scrap book and music and things like that. And instead of walking back the way I came on Sansom, I walked the other way on Sansom and wound up seeing Rittenhouse Square from down the street. And I thought, “Oh, it's a park. I'm gonna' just go over there and I'll look over my cards and my music and everything.” And I sat down and I saw there were like these, I knew they were queer. I don't know how to explain it, but I knew there was something different about some of those people. And there also was a beatnik faction then in the Square and there was a gay faction. And I just found it all fascinating.
MS: So this would have been, if you were sixteen, '56 or the late '50s? Something in there?
BD: No, '65.
MS: Oh sorry. Right, right, right.
BD: I'm not that old.
MS: Yeah, yeah. I missed by a decade.
BD: And actually I skipped an important part. The reason that I was so interested in seeing the gay people there, for whom I had no name, was that when I was ten, I had a crush on a girl in school.
BD: And I used to kind of like follow behind. I was very, very shy. I would never talk to anybody who I thought was just wonderful. And she was about a year older than me and I used to walk home from school and follow her. And I looked her name up in the phone directory and tried to find out where she lived. And if my mother would say we'll take a walk after dinner, I'd say, “Mom, can we walk down this way?”
MS: Do you remember what attracted you so much to her?
BD: Oh, well I thought she was really pretty. She played the violin. What else is there? She was the concert mistress of the orchestra at the time. But I only knew her for that brief, brief period of time. From when I started playing until like a year later, or half a year later actually, when she graduated. And then I got the nerve to become friends with the girl who had been her friend. I never said anything to her about, “Well I'm being friends with you, but I really would have liked to know Judy.”
MS: So did you ever talk with her or ever become friends with her?
BD: With the girl I had the crush on? No.
MS: Right. Never.
BD: No. I don't know what happened to her. No.
MS: And were there any crushes like that afterwards?
BD: Yeah. Yeah, actually there were. How could I forget that? I jumped all the way from one thing to another.
MS: That's all right.
BD: Oh yeah, there were a few. And later there was another girl who was in orchestra. And I had a crush on her all through high school. She wasn't in my high school. She was in all-city orchestra, so I would see her like once a week.
MS: I see. So were these all crushes from afar?
BD: Oh yeah. Oh yes.
MS: Did you have close female friends as well, in addition to the crushes?
BD: I don't think so. I don't consider that I had real close friends. I think I was somebody who was not real popular, but I wasn't somebody who was shunned either. I just kind of hung around with people and felt that because I was really quiet and really small, sometimes I'd almost get shoved out of things inadvertently. And then I'd feel kind of weird about it, but then for the most part I think I kind of fit in.
MS: So you never were called any names or anything?
BD: No, I never was called names. Nobody knew what I thought. I would never say anything. Never said a word to anybody. I knew it was not a right thing.
MS: You did?
BD: I did, yeah. I would say little things, like my mother would go to all-city orchestra practice with me and sometimes the girl who I had a crush on, her mother would be there. And if my mother was sitting there talking to her mother, I'd ask her questions afterwards, like “did she say anything about Sylvia?” I'd find out background information that way, but I could never bring myself to...
MS: And do you remember, if you can maybe bring yourself back to that time, what your sense was of why this was wrong?
BD: I cannot figure that out at all.
BD: I don't remember having anything said. Nothing derogatory was ever said in my family or anywhere else that I remember. On the other hand, I do know that at a point in my life, I was ashamed of being Jewish. So I know that things were said around me. But specific things, I really can't remember.
MS: O.K. So maybe let's go back to Rittenhouse Square?
BD: O.K. Rittenhouse Square. And I saw all these people and I said, “Oh my god. I know they're like me. That's what, that's how I am.”
MS: And can you describe to me what you saw, what types of people?
BD: Probably some kind of effeminate men. That's probably what I noticed at first. Yes, it was men, because I remember saying to myself, “There's men like that, there's got to be women like that.”
BD: And then I just started hanging around Rittenhouse Square.
MS: And so were there women there as well? Were there lesbians?
BD: There were.
MS: Predominantly men, but some women? Is that how you would describe it?
BD: There were a lot of women.
MS: A lot of them?
BD: Maybe not on that particular day, but I thought, “If I hang out, I'm gonna' bump into it.”
MS: And mixed race, would you say?
BD: Mostly white.
MS: Mostly white?
BD: Mostly white, yeah.
BD: There were some other people, but mostly white.
MS: And was your sense that they were mostly from the neighborhood or from all parts of the city coming into Rittenhouse Square?
BD: That I couldn't figure out.
BD: I became friends with some people and those people, I kind of have a sense that that was where they lived or I had a sense of where they lived.
MS: So it sounds like you started going there on your own.
BD: I started going there, like it became my hangout. And I started getting to know the people both from like the beatnik faction and from the gay faction.
MS: And there was real separation, it sounds like, from what you're saying?
BD: There was separation, except for me and a few other people who would go back and forth.
MS: I see.
BD: And I found, and I still find this to be so in my life, that I don't really feel like I fit in with the gay culture a lot of times. And I get really frustrated. I try hanging out with them and it's like they're uninterested in the things I'm interested in. So then I figure, screw them, I'll just go and do my thing with people who like to do the things that I like to do. And then I get really bored with that and I want some gay culture. So that was what Rittenhouse Square was like exactly. I'd hang out over here and then I'd be like, “Oh I don't like the way they look at women or something they said,” and I went, “Oh I'm gonna' go over and hang out with the gay people.”
MS: O.K. so if that's what alienated you about the beatnik types, what was it that alienated you from the gay types?
BD: I'd get really tired because they weren't really counterculture. They were counterculture only because they were queer. But they weren't interested in the kinds of things that I was interested in. And when I think about it, probably neither were the beatnik types either.
MS: What kinds of things?
BD: I mean I would go folk dancing. Folk dancing a big factor in my life. I started that when I was about fifteen, fourteen or fifteen years old. And none of those people went, but it seemed that the gay people would really look down on it. “Oh you're going folk-dancing?” It was like, “Oh, you're doing this. It's like a straight thing to do.” Whereas the beatnik types, they might not go, but it wouldn't be something that would be totally looked down on, like you're not being true to your culture or something.
MS: So did your mother know that you were going down to Rittenhouse Square?
BD: She knew I was going down and I'm not sure exactly when the trouble with her started.
MS: So remind me, you were living in Northeast Philadelphia by this point, right?
MS: You had moved out there?
BD: Yeah. And I was going folk-dancing. I became really, really good friends with a gay black guy who folk danced.
MS: Do you want to say his name?
BD: His name was Eddie Cook. And he was a ballet dancer and he also did folk-dancing. And we just became really tight.
MS: Did you meet him in the Square?
BD: No, I met him at folk-dancing.
MS: Oh I see.
BD: And he didn't actually hang out in Rittenhouse Square. This story's gonna' get all tangled up. It's so confusing. But I guess I liked him so much because he was gay and he folk-danced and we would clown. We would talk about who we had crushes on if there was somebody at folk-dancing. And then a lot of times, I started getting angry with my mother. And god knows why. I think it was just a teenage kind of thing to do. Although I did have some reasons, but a lot of it I think I have since reconciled myself to. But I was always doing things to irritate her, like staying out past the curfew time. She would always say to me, “Well I don't mind if you go, but please come home by 10:30 because it’s curfew.” And I would show up at a quarter to 11:00, just to be aggravating.
MS: Is this her curfew or the city curfew?
BD: The city curfew. So I would do that and sometimes Eddie and I would be walking down the street and we'd get stopped by cops.
MS: And was that because you were queer or because you were a mixed-race couple?
BD: I think it was because we were mixed. In those days it was just not cool at all. And it was getting towards curfew time. And they would stop us and say, “Well what are you doing?” And we'd say, “Oh you know we didn't realize it had gotten so late. We're on our way home. Thank you, officer.”
MS: Do you remember what neighborhoods? Would this happen all over?
BD: That happened in town.
MS: In Center City.
BD: In town, yeah.
MS: Were there other places you were going to then, through your teenage years?
BD: Hanging out.
MS: Aside from hanging out in Rittenhouse Square.
BD: Yeah, the coffeehouses. I hung out at the Gilded Cage most of the time.
MS: Is that right?
MS: What was that scene like?
BD: That was like Rittenhouse Square. I mean it was mostly in the wintertime that people would go there, but it was the same.
MS: So also predominantly white, mixed gay and beatnik?
BD: Not as many gay as in Rittenhouse Square. Like I said, the ones who were like me who would go from one to the other and hang out with both, they were the ones who would also go to the coffeehouses. The other ones in the wintertime would start going into the bars.
MS: I see.
BD: And number one, I was too young for the bars. Number two, I was really afraid of things that would, I felt, leave me not in control of myself, like drinking, like drugs. I hung out with a lot of people who were druggies. And I hung out with people who went to the bars. But when I was offered, “You come over, we're gonna' do this and that,” I never did. And I don't know whether I put on a good show or what, but it felt like they always thought that I was kind of one of the crowd. Like I was O.K. I just didn't feel like it. “I don't feel like doing one of those things right now. You know what I mean? I'm just gonna' hang out. I don’t feel like it.”
MS: So anyplace else other than the Gilded Cage that you remember?
BD: That were hangouts?
BD: When I first started going to the coffeehouses it was the Artist's Hut. And when I discovered the Gilded Cage, I just hung out there.
MS: Was there one called the Proscenium also?
BD: Never heard of that.
MS: O.K. And the Humoresque, I think, had closed by that point.
BD: I never heard of that one at all.
BD: There was one on Sansom Street called the Second Fret, but nobody who was anybody ever went there.
MS: Oh really?
BD: That was more for, we called them weekend hippies, who came from upper middle class families and had the money to spend on their cover charge and their minimum and stuff like that.
MS: Because the Second Fret had that?
BD: It had entertainment all the time.
MS: Oh I see.
BD: And you had to pay a cover charge and you had to buy a minimum.
MS: I see.
BD: So we would hang out more in those places. Sometimes we would go over to the library, Rittenhouse Square or the main library, and hang out there, maybe listen to records or something.
MS: And you mentioned Eddie Cook. Any other people who stand out in your memory who became your friends at that time?
BD: Really just Eddie and I had this friend Gene. We had been friends since we had been in elementary school. And the funny thing about him was that he came to me one day and said, “Let's go for a drive.” And I said, “Well O.K.”And he came out to me. While we were driving around, he said, “You know I think I'm gay.” And I said, “You're kidding me! You're putting me on! Because you know I am, right?” And he said, “No, I think I am. I think I am.”
MS: And was gay the word he used?
BD: Yeah, I think so. Maybe that wasn't the word then. I can't remember when gay became…
MS: It's O.K. if you don't remember.
BD: I can't remember when gay became a term. I remember reading about it, but I can't remember what year it was.
MS: People were definitely using it. Some people were definitely using it then.
BD: This was in the '60s, though. I kind of doubt it.
BD: It probably wasn't gay. He probably said he was a faggot or something. I went, “Uh! You're kidding me! You're just saying that because you know that I am.” And I don't even remember what I called myself, because at that time you were a dyke or a femme. And I wasn't into being either one. 'Cause I was not out sexually at all. Everybody thought I was, 'cause I lied.
MS: Is that right?
BD: You had to lie. If you weren't out sexually, you weren't accepted.
MS: So what would you say?
BD: “Well how long have you been out?” “Oh well about a year.”
MS: I see.
BD: And at one time it came up, 'cause one of my friends said this woman who we hung out with one night, she was interested in me. Was I butch or femme. And I said, “Well if she's so interested, let her guess.” And it was like, “Oh, what am I gonna do now?” I don't know. So anyway, my friend Gene came out to me and he also was not sexually out either. He had just decided that he was really attracted to men and would I take him with me to Rittenhouse Square and introduce him around and everything, which I did. And he wound up going this whole totally other route, going with the people who used to go to this bar called the Hideaway on 13th and Locust and hanging out at the Dewey's on 13th Street.
MS: And did you ever go to those places?
BD: I went to the Dewey's. I never went to the bar. I never went to a bar until I was over twenty-one.
MS: I see.
BD: And then I went with the woman I was involved with.
MS: I see.
BD: And I never liked it.
MS: What do you remember about the Dewey's?
BD: The Dewey's on 13th Street was pretty much a gay hangout. And I guess it had an offshoot from the Hideaway and the bars that were around there, which I think were predominantly gay. Having never been in there, I don't know. But they were gay. Not only gay--there were druggies, there were hustlers in there. And a lot of times there were violent things going on. Like you'd pass by, somebody would be standing on a corner with a bloody nose, things like that. So the same people who hung out at those bars would come into the 13th Street Dewey's.
MS: Drag queens as well?
BD: Drag queens, there was Harlow. I don't know if you ever heard of Harlow.
BD: People like that.
MS: Would be there. And were drags in Rittenhouse Square, too, or less so? You said effeminate men.
BD: They didn't really come in drag, but I knew they were drag queens. And occasionally we'd decide that we'd go shopping in a store and just freak everybody out looking for dresses for them or something.
MS: So Dewey's, again, lesbian and gay?
BD: Lesbian and gay, yeah. I would say mixed.
MS: And mixed racially?
BD: Probably more racially mixed.
MS: O.K. Anyplace else? You mentioned the coffeehouses and Rittenhouse Square and Dewey's.
BD: Are you talking about my particular hangouts?
BD: Or places where gay people might be also?
MS: I guess, since I've talked to so many people, I've heard about a variety of different places, but I'm more interested in the places you went to.
BD: Where I hung out, sometimes I would go to this place called the Chuckwagon. It was a restaurant that was a cafeteria-style thing. And they used to have a condiment bar with coleslaw and potato salad and pickles.
MS: That you could eat as much as you want from?
BD: And Eddie and I would go in there, buy a coffee, and at that time I smoked, too.
MS: Was that something of a gay hangout?
BD: Not really. That was something we'd go like, “Ah well, it's getting cold outside. Why don't we go to the Chuckwagon and have a coffee and some coleslaw?”
MS: Do you remember where that was?
MS: Where was it?
BD: It was on Chestnut Street, like the 1700 block of Chestnut.
MS: And you didn't go to the Dewey's at 17th and Chancellor?
BD: Yes I did.
MS: You went there as well?
BD: Oh yeah.
MS: Was that the same scene as the 13th Street one?
BD: That was a hangout. That was a hangout for people. Also people would go there if they were cold. You'd go there and get a coffee or a hot chocolate and have a cigarette. Get warmed up.
MS: Same type of people as down at the other?
BD: Yeah, same type of people.
MS: Even though it wasn't around those bars, it was still as mixed?
BD: It was mixed, yeah.
BD: And there was another place right off of Rittenhouse Square, the Claridge. Actually, the Claridge, the apartment house, still exists, but there was a Claridge drug store right in the same building and we used to go in there.
MS: And that was also a hangout for the Rittenhouse Square crowd?
BD: Yeah, yeah.
MS: Was it like a little diner in the drugstore?
BD: You could look at people. You could look out the window. There was a big window you could look out of. And mainly we would just go there for a soda or something. If it was real hot out, you'd go there to cool off for a little while and then come back out to the Square. All of these places, Rittenhouse Square was the focal point, and then the other places would be, “Well, we're cold, let's go to the library.” “We're hot, let's go get a soda.”
MS: I see.
BD: Things like that.
MS: I want to ask about your sense of sexism at this point. I know it's before the feminist movement really had taken off. Did you have any problems with gay men during these years in the '60s, around the way they talked about women or thought about lesbians or anything like that?
BD: Not a whole lot. Occasionally something really biting would be said, but for the most part, I joked around about it, too. But it was almost done the same kind of way that I started joking around about being Jewish. I used to tell Jewish jokes. And so I definitely feel like something was brewing in my mind. As soon as I heard feminist theory at all, it was like, “Ah, I thought those thoughts. I've been there.”
MS: Do you remember any of the worst things that were said that made you a little uncomfortable?
BD: Oh you know they'd be talking about tits and ass and things like that and it always would be in terms of like they were women, but it was really derogatory stuff about women in general.
MS: So it wouldn't be, as you were describing before, that some of the beatnik types would be talking about women in ways that made you want to hang out with the gay people. This wasn't talking about real women passing by, but in talking about themselves? Is that what you're saying?
BD: Yeah, in talking about themselves. They would turn themselves into a woman and then say derogatory things about women. And I thought it was the funniest thing. I can't remember any instances of exactly what might have been said.
MS: O.K. Did you ever hang out in gay people's homes at that point?
BD: No, no.
MS: And you wouldn't go to Eddie's or Gene's and hang out there?
BD: Actually I'm wrong. I did. I made friends with this woman Bobbie. I guess I had a crush on her, but it was more like she was about six or seven years older than me. I just thought she was the neatest thing. She was like a bar kind of person, but she also was one of the people who did the beatnik gay thing along with me. And I used to go and hang out at her apartment a lot.
MS: Where did she live?
BD: She lived right at 20th and Pine.
MS: Did she have a lover named Marge?
BD: She didn't have a lover.
MS: I've heard about a Bobbie. I'm sure there was more than one.
BD: She moved in a hurry out of town and back to Williamsport, where she had family.
MS: I see.
BD: She apparently owed a lot of people money or something.
MS: You met her also in the Square?
BD: Met her in the Square, yeah. Actually this belonged to her.
MS: Oh really?
BD: She willed it to me when she left town.
MS: And would it just be the two of you hanging out at her place or was this parties?
BD: No parties. I'm not really a party person at all. Yeah, I would just go over there and just hang out and talk. And god knows what we talked about. And occasionally other people might come over. The sandal maker guy, I can't remember his name anymore, he would come over. He was a straight guy. And she was also friends with this guy, a man named Bob, who would come over occasionally. But I would just go hang out and sometimes I would go over there and she'd be getting ready to go to the bar. She was really very attractive.
MS: Was she femme or butch?
BD: She was butch. And she was very into making a big scene at the bar. She'd have to walk in exactly at twelve o'clock at night. I think she'd wear these high boots and real tight pants. That kind of stuff.
MS: I'm noticing from what we talked about before that you moved back to Center City with your family in 1965.
MS: So this is around that time, right?
BD: Well I moved there with my mother because when I was fourteen, she and my stepfather split up. And that's a whole long story that you probably don't need to know about. But basically what happened on my end of it, why we moved and everything, was I had been truant in school. I hated school. I hated the kids. I felt like I was much more sophisticated than them. Here I was, hanging out with queers and dope heads and beatniks, and they were just ordinary. I didn't want to be with them.
MS: What was the high school's name? This was during high school?
BD: I went to Olney High.
MS: Olney High.
BD: Yeah. So I was being truant and then I ran away from home for that week that I told you about.
MS: When you were sixteen.
BD: And ended up meeting my father. And the school, they did everything for me, because I was a musician. They were trying to make easier classes for me, trying to get me through, and just nothing they did was satisfying to me at all. I was like, “I don't want to do this. I don't want to be here. And I'm not going to.”
MS: Maybe if I could just pause for a second on your running away. You went to New York, you said?
MS: Was there anything lesbian-related about your leaving home? Were you going to New York to find other people like you or anything like that, or was it really, would you say, unrelated to your sexuality?
BD: I think a lot was related to it in probably weird kind of ways, probably indirect ways. I think basically I don't even know if I could sort out all my feelings. I mean first of all, I was depressed. I would have a crush on somebody at the time at folk dancing and I just decided, “Well you can't let anybody know how you feel about them.” So that was part of it. Another part was getting on my mother's nerves, which I liked to do. I thought, “Well it would be fun to go and I could hang out in Washington Square and meet other people and that would be fun.” And I'm not sure whether I thought I would stay in New York or not. I just don't know.
MS: Where did you stay when you went there?
BD: I stayed in this really scuzzy hotel called the St. George. It was six dollars a night. It was so scuzzy that I didn't take a bath the entire week I was there. And that's when I decided I'd better go home.
MS: So you came home on your own?
BD: Well what happened was that I decided, “Well I'll go back to Philadelphia.” Came back to Philadelphia and went to Bobbie's. And she said, “What are you doing here? You can't stay here because your mother's been in the Square looking for you.”
MS: Is that right?
BD: Oh yeah. And it wound up that my mother was speaking to the park guards. They knew me. They knew my name. They knew who my friends were, whether they were druggies or queers or anything. They had lists of people, I mean, and everything about them that they could find out. So I said, “Well O.K. I guess I can't stay here. I guess I'll go home.” She kind of talked me into it. “You should call your mother and go home.” So I called my mother and she was really excited to hear from me and I thought, “Oh good. She'll stay off my back. I can do whatever I want.” And everything was fine for a couple of days. Of course when I got home I got the shocker of meeting my father. He was there with my mother.
MS: Oh, he was there?
BD: Yeah, yeah. And so for like a couple of days it was O.K. between me and my mother. She was so elated that I was back. And then we had a big blow out. She was really upset with me. Oh god, it's all just so jumbled. There was a drag dyke, Sonny, who had come to my mother when I ran away and said, “If you give me seventy-five dollars, I'll go to New York City. I know where Becky can be found.” She took my mother's seventy-five dollars and just blew it. She didn't go looking for me at all.
MS: When you say drag dyke, was she passing as a man?
BD: Yeah, pretty much. She got worse as she got older, but she was obnoxious.
MS: And you obviously knew her from the Square?
BD: Yeah, I knew her from the Square. Yeah. And I don't even remember. She probably looked my mother up in the directory, the phone directory or something, and said, “I know your daughter Becky. And I'm pretty sure she ran away to Greenwich Village and if you give me seventy-five dollars for fare and for going there, I'll need money to go in the bars and looking for her and everything. I'll find her for you.”
BD: She never did. She never did.
MS: But that must have raised some questions in your mother's mind.
BD: That raised a lot of questions, although there had been hints beforehand. A couple of years before that, my friends and I from Rittenhouse Square would go to the bookstores and we'd rip off all the lesbian pulp novels.
BD: And we'd figure first of all that you couldn't buy them if you're under twenty-one. And second of all, once I read them anyway, I had to get rid of them fast. So it was like read and get rid of, read and get rid of.
MS: What were the bookstores? Do you remember any, where they were?
BD: Oh yeah. The best one was on Market Street, the 1500 block of Market Street. They had like tons of stuff there.
MS: Do you remember what it was called?
BD: No. Not the faintest idea.
MS: Book-a-Rama? Or Book Bin? Or anything like that?
BD: No, no. Not a clue as to what the name was.
MS: That was the best one, but do you remember the others?
BD: That was one that had a big, big, big, big selection of lesbian pulp novels, both trash ones and good ones. I learned to differentiate.
MS: And was this just a general bookstore or what?
BD: This was a general bookstore. It just had a huge selection. And a lot of the bookstores in town had small collections of stuff, but this was the best one.
MS: Any others stand out in your memory?
BD: Robin's may have had a selection. There was another. There was another one. They're all gone now, of course. There was another one on either Walnut or Chestnut Street, also up on this end of town, like 16th or 17th, somewhere around there.
BD: They had a good selection.
MS: So I'm sorry, to get back to your story with your mother.
BD: I can't even remember where I was.
MS: Where you were? Well let's see, you were telling me Sonny had gone to your mother.
BD: Oh yeah, oh.
MS: And so there had been these hints, you said.
BD: All these indications. My mother found two lesbian pulp novels in my closet. I had it way up on the shelf and she was snooping in my room and found these lesbian pulp novels. It was about when I was fifteen, fifteen and a half, and confronted me on them. We had a huge fight. She slapped me. I slapped her. I mean I had never done anything like that in my life. And the subject was then blocked for the next couple years until I ran away to New York. Sonny came over and I think my mother in the back of her mind knew that I was hanging out with something that was distasteful to her.
MS: I see. Right. Do you remember what she said in that confrontation?
BD: In the confrontation when she found the lesbian pulp novels?
BD: Yeah, I remember. I remember what caused the slap. She said, “Oh my god. You're a homosexual?” And I said, “Well you're a nymphomaniac?” Which wasn't true at all. And she slapped me and I slapped her.
BD: And burst into tears. And then that was the end of the confrontation.
MS: Who burst into tears?
BD: Both of us, I guess. I don't know. It was like, “Oh my god. I slapped my mother.”
MS: Wow. O.K., so then it came up again when you were...
BD: So then it came up again when I ran away to New York and I came back. And a couple of days after that she confronted me about being queer. I don't think she used that word either. She uses homosexual. I can't stand it. I can't stand the way she even pronounces it. Homosexual.
MS: And do you remember what she said then?
BD: Not really. All I remember is her pounding on my back. She was like bam, bam, bam, bam, bam with her fist. And I finally turned around and started hitting her, too. And she stopped. And so that was this other physical confrontation. The only two times that I've ever done anything like that.
MS: And was it the only two times she ever did anything like that?
BD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was pretty spoiled as a kid. I didn't get hit very much. But even if I did, I would never hit her back.
MS: I wouldn't call that spoiled. I would call that reasonable.
BD: Well yeah. So I think she knew. I mean at one time later, when I was in my twenties, she said to me, “You know, when you were an infant, I was holding you in my arms one day and I said to your father, ‘There's something strange about this baby.’”
BD: She said she remembered that, yeah.
MS: Wow. Maybe I'll go back for a second, do you mind, to the novels? Do any of the novels stand out in your memory, what your favorite ones were?
BD: Oh yeah. I had my favorite: The Evil Friendship.
MS: The Evil Friendship?
BD: Yeah. And it's so funny, 'cause I was talking to a friend of mine about lesbian pulp novels and I said The Evil Friendship and she shrieked. She said, “Oh that was my favorite one, too!”
MS: Do you remember the author?
BD: I think it was Vin Packer. Yeah. But when I was doing the lesbian pulp novel thing, I learned the names of the people who were O.K. to read. Like if you look at the cover, you could tell just by the covers whether it was just gonna' be a trashy thing or whether it was gonna' be a good story. So I'd look at the cover. I'd look at the author. I'd look at the blurb about it, both on the back cover and in the front things that they have. And then I'd always look at the ending to see what happened. And if they went straight, most of the time I wouldn't get it. So I would wind up with the ones where they'd commit suicide or it was ambiguous what happened.
MS: So what were the authors? Do you remember the authors you would like?
BD: Yeah. There was Vin Packer, Ann Bannon, Valerie Taylor. What's her name? In fact, they reprinted her thing. Oh, Paula Christian.
MS: And did you read The Well of Loneliness in these years?
BD: Yeah. I read The Well of Loneliness. I don't remember whether I read that as one of the pulp novels or whether I read it later.
BD: But I liked it a lot. I'm like one of the few people who really thought The Well of Loneliness was good. But I think it's my time. I think a lot of younger lesbians who read it are like, “Oh, what a bunch of hooey crap.”
MS: And were you reading any novels about gay men or did that have no appeal?
BD: No, I didn't read them. I never saw a male penis, or what other kind of penis is there? I never saw a penis. I was never interested in it. I didn't really want to read about it.
MS: O.K. So I guess back to the confrontation with your mother, remind me, you were sixteen or eighteen?
BD: When that confrontation, when I ran away from home? I was sixteen.
MS: Sixteen. O.K. And so what happened next? You continued living at home and you continued going to school?
BD: I continued living at home. I was on and off truant at school. They made my mother take me to a couple of therapists to evaluate me. And then eventually what happened was the school district took me to court for being truant. And I had to promise that I would, if not finish at my high school, finish my high school requirements. And at that point, I also had received a scholarship to the Philadelphia Music Academy. So I had a deal with the school district and my mother and me. I would finish my high school requirements. I would go on and do my scholarship program at music school and, in exchange for that, she would move into town. And I would not hang out at Rittenhouse Square, which I started doing, but then I must have felt guilty and didn't.
MS: And did you honor the other parts of the commitment, too? Did you finish your high school classes?
BD: In a certain way, yes. I went to this place called Lincoln Prep that was in town. And that wound up to my mind being this big hokey thing. I finished, I did their graduation, only to learn later that you had to do a GED. Their credits would not count for a damned thing. I was kind of pissed off about that and I never went for my GED. And so that part, I did honor that. I started my violin lessons, but then later on I decided I couldn't. I didn't want to do it and I quit. I did start hanging out at Rittenhouse Square, but like I said I think I felt guilty and I stopped.
MS: And your mother did move into town?
BD: That's how we would up moving into town.
MS: I see.
MS: And you moved, you said, first to 22nd and Chestnut?
BD: 22nd and Chestnut.
MS: That's where you lived with your mother.
BD: I lived there with my mom.
MS: So that was right in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.
BD: Yup. Yeah. It was like heh, heh, heh. You know I thought to myself, “Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh. I'm right down the street from Rittenhouse Square. She must be crazy! Of course I'm gonna' hang out.” And then after a little while I just stopped. I had been playing guitar. I started just playing my guitar.
MS: So should we move forward to when you moved out, in '66?
BD: Sure, sure.
MS: So you were there for a year with your mother.
BD: Yeah, yeah.
MS: And then you moved to 927 Clinton Street.
MS: And had there been an explosion with your mother or was it just time for you to leave home?
BD: Well it was an explosion, but it inadvertently happened. Basically what happened was that I met somebody like a month before that. And it was a month before my eighteenth birthday. And I got involved. And I was coming home late, and every night when I came home to 22nd and Chestnut Street, my mother had a new thing for me. Either she would have the Bible open with passages underlined or she would have a little Yiddish saying that she would do on me. Like “Becky's sick.” Well no, Becky's not sick. “Well if Becky's sick, we'll just do this to cure her.” Things like that. She'd go anywhere from staring off into space or throwing my picture and breaking it or ripping something off the wall. She just didn't know what to do with me.
BD: So over a period of a month, it just escalated. She was also kind of threatening to commit suicide. She kept looking out the side window and saying she could see the river from there. You know, maybe she should walk down to the river, things like that. So I decided that I was going to have to move out. And I could not do it while she was present. So I called up her therapist. She had been going for therapy probably since my stepfather had left, so since I was fourteen. So I called her therapist up and I asked him if I could come to her therapy, meet him at her therapy session and break the news to her that I was involved with somebody and that I was moving out. And he said that that would be O.K. So I went up to his office, told her that I was involved with somebody and I was moving out. And she came at me like she was going to strangle me. And he actually had to restrain her, like a full nelson.
MS: Really? Wow.
BD: I mean I'm laughing now, but it was pretty, pretty bad. After she calmed down a little bit, she had been hysterical the whole time, she pulled out these pictures that I had of my friend Bobbie, who she thought was the person I was involved with. And she had drawn blood, tears coming from her eyes, and she had all these curses on the back of these pictures, like “may boils be on her tongue” and “may she be teary all her life.” And may this and that and the other thing. It was awful.
MS: Oh god.
BD: So we arranged that he was going to keep her overnight. I forget what it was called then, the Philadelphia Psychiatric Center? It was like across the street from the old Convention Hall. It's gone now, too. So he was gonna' keep her overnight. I had to sign a commitment paper. And I was gonna' use that night to move out, because I didn't want her to hurt herself and I didn't want her to hurt me either. So that's why I say this was quite an evening.
BD: Quite an evening.
BD: I later found out that she was kept there for a week, because he went on vacation and didn't get her out. I was pretty upset about that.
MS: Yeah. I want to pick up the thread of meeting your girlfriend.
BD: Oh, how I met her?
MS: Yeah, how you met her, and I don't know if you want to say her name, and were you together for a long time?
BD: Oh yeah. We were together for ten years. And this is where my friend Gene comes into the picture. I told you he had gone off and gone into a whole other group of friends who used to hang out at 13th and Locust.
BD: And he wound up meeting a guy through friends that he had. And he got involved with this man, who had like a gay boarding house on 12th Street. And my first lover lived in the boarding house. And Gene met her and he said, “I'll have to introduce you to this woman. I think you'll really like her.”
MS: Tell me about the boarding house. How many people? Was it a huge, big house?
BD: How many people? It was a big, big house, yeah. It's right up the street actually from where Giovanni's is now. It was 315 South 12th and it was this big house and it had a big, big, big communal kitchen and a big, big communal living room. And then everybody had their little rooms upstairs. I don't remember how many people lived there. Probably about six.
MS: And it sounds like lesbians and gay men?
BD: Yeah, yeah.
MS: Evenly mixed, do you think?
BD: If I can remember, there were at least her and another woman and the woman she was involved with. And then there was the man who owned the house, and another man, and another man. I think that's about half a dozen, yeah. Were there other arrangements like that that you knew of in the area? Or was that pretty unusual?
BD: I didn't know of any others.
MS: And so you met through your friend Gene.
BD: Met through my friend Gene. And this part is kind of tacky, but in the meantime, I had a crush on this woman at folk dancing and I had had a crush on her for a while. And I was like writing poems and stuff. And I decided that I wasn't gonna' be the way I was anymore, that I was going to send her the poems and send her a letter telling her how I felt about her. And I sent this off and that next week at folk dancing she came over to me and she said we need to get together and talk. And it was before that next week was up when I met my first lover. And it was almost like I was running away from this. I felt in my heart like she was going to say to me, “I'm not like that.” I didn't want to hear it. I just didn't want to hear it. And I think I loved the woman I got involved with, but she wasn't somebody that I had this thing for.
MS: I see. But how did the conversation actually go?
BD: It never went.
MS: Oh, so it didn't happen?
BD: I didn't go. I didn't go. Meanwhile I was having all this trouble with my mother and then I was seeing Ceil, which was the person I was involved with, and I just didn't go to folk dancing.
MS: Oh I see.
BD: Because I didn't want to have a big scene with my mother at folk dancing.
MS: Because your mother went to folk dancing as well?
MS: Oh I see. Ceil sounds like a Jewish name. Was your lover Jewish?
BD: No, she's not Jewish.
MS: So did you quickly become lovers with Ceil?
BD: Yeah, pretty quickly. I mean I was not really a real sexually in tune kind of person. I was really scared. I really wanted to have the experience of how to have sex with a lesbian. Not only had I read lesbian pulp novels, I read like every piece of non-fiction I could get my hands on with descriptions of what things were and everything. And I knew all the names. But I'd be goddamn, I couldn't figure out what the hell they were talking about. And I wanted to know, but I was really scared. And I think in a way I probably used being with somebody that I didn't have a big thing for as a possibility of just learning, not realizing that I would get all involved.
MS: I see. And was she butchy or femmy or anything like that?
BD: I think she was kind of in between. But I felt like a lot of the time we were together, I kind of lost my personality. It was like I got lost out there somewhere and just did what she wanted to do.
MS: And was that equivalent on some level to you with...
BD: With butch and femme?
MS: ...butch and femme? Yeah, because you brought it up.
BD: I guess so. I guess so. I mean I have never considered myself either. If I had to grade myself, I have a scale of my own of one to ten. Like one being really femme and ten being really butch. And I would consider myself probably a six or seven. And that's the kind of women I liked, too. Somebody who's not extremely, extremely butch, but somebody's who's like confident.
MS: Let's see, what were we talking about?
BD: Losing my identity.
BD: In terms of what is butch/femme. We each had jobs in the house. She always cooked. I always cleaned. She helped me clean sometimes, but for the most part, oh my god, I was what you’d call a balabusta in Yiddish.
MS: Why don't for the tape you translate that?
BD: Yeah. It means a really good housewife. Like the floors, you could eat off the floors. They were so clean. I wish I was still like that sometimes. I mean I cleaned every week. And she cooked for us every day.
MS: And remind me, you moved in with her when you moved out from your mother’s.
BD: Yes. Right away. It was a month after we met.
MS: You told me before: 927 Clinton.
BD: We met in May, mid-May, and I moved in on my birthday, mid-June in 1966.
MS: And where is Clinton? Remind me of that.
BD: It's between Spruce and Pine. It only lasts for two blocks, the nine and ten hundred block.
MS: And we figured out this was in 1966. So I'm wondering if you can tell me about the neighborhood. What did the neighborhood feel like at that time?
BD: What did the neighborhood feel like? Right in my immediate area it was probably all white on my block, probably in that area generally. I think there's always been some level of integration in Center City in my lifetime, but I think it tended to run on blocks rather than in houses. So a block would probably be mostly all white or mostly all Black.
MS: And your block was mostly white?
BD: It was white, yeah.
MS: And would you describe it as a gay neighborhood or a lesbian and gay neighborhood?
BD: Not at that time. I didn't feel like it was at that time. We had a hangout that we used to go to, Clinton Pharmacy. It was on the corner of 10th and Spruce. And we went there for breakfast like every Saturday morning. Mrs. Fine made the best pancakes. And there were no other gay people that I knew of that hung out there. It was mostly straight people, but we just enjoyed the company. We liked Mrs. Fine, who was one of the owners. Well she was one of the owners. I was going to say the owner's wife, but that's ridiculous. She was one of the owners. And well we just gathered whoever was there. I've always been a hanging out kind of person. That's like one of my favorite things to do. And I like being able to go somewhere so that I don't have to call somebody up and say, “What's your calendar?” I can go somewhere and there'll always be somebody there who I like enough to hang out with.
MS: So where else were you hanging out besides the Clinton Pharmacy?
BD: Mrs. Fine's?
BD: Really nowhere else. A lot of people visited us, but that was like a mixed bag after a while. I think I liked it a lot at first, because people would come over. It was nice. I like people dropping by and they did. However, over a period of time, Ceil was very jealous. And she felt that both Gene and Eddie had a thing for me.
BD: And eventually I had to let go of them. And so it would up being, over a period of time, people who I felt were not really my kind of people. They were more her kind of people. She did all the talking and I sat around and listened.
MS: What were her kind of people?
BD: All I can say is not counter-culture kinds of people.
MS: O.K. And lesbians and gay men coming over?
MS: And straight people as well or were your friendships mostly....
BD: Oh they were all lesbians and gay men.
MS: And all white? Or I guess you said Eddie was not.
BD: Not all white, no. She had a white friend who had a Black woman lover. And I guess we were kind of friends with both of them actually.
MS: I see. And so tell me about this thing about her being jealous of Eddie and Gene. She thought that even though they were both gay...
BD: That they had a thing for me.
MS: That they had a thing for you?
BD: Well see both of them, Gene, had several times approached the possibility of the two of us getting married. And I avoided that like the poison. I did not want to have any possibility of a man having control over me or my body or anything. I never thought it was safe. It was kind of the same kind of thing of hanging out with druggies and having them say, “Hey, you want to come up and have a hit with us or something.” It's like, “No thanks. I think I'll just hang out here.” It was like, “Oh, but it would be great 'cause we're good friends and we're both gay and blah, blah, blah.” And then I thought, “I don't know.”
MS: So he wasn't proposing it just for show. He wanted some kind of meaningful marriage?
BD: I thought that whether he did or not, he might wind up wanting to because of his mother's expectations.
MS: Oh I see.
BD: And I would be stuck.
MS: And what about the situation with Eddie?
BD: Well Eddie, I don't know about Eddie. I don't know about either of them. Who knows the true story about anything? I started just kind of almost shunning Eddie. It wasn't like I said to him, “Look, Ceil is jealous, you can't come around. Maybe I can meet you somewhere.” Because I couldn't meet him anywhere. That was not my life. My life was I did everything with her. So she was everywhere I was. There was no separate life. So I wound up just kind of being in a shunning kind of mode.
MS: And was there anything to her suspicions about Eddie in the same way that there was something to her...?
BD: I really don't think so. I can't tell. He wrote me a letter. I mean in the letter he said he loves me, he'll always love me, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I didn't interpret it that way. She did. She said, “See. Ahah. This is what I said.” Blah, blah, blah, blah. And I didn't believe that that was so.
MS: I see.
BD: However, he did go on and become a member of the Danish Ballet and I heard that he did get married and have a kid. So who knows?
MS: Wow. You mentioned a ways back that you did go with your lover to bars, but was this in this time period, still in the '60s, or was that later on?
BD: In the '60s. Well we were together from '66 to '76. And we would go to bars occasionally. And I never liked it.
MS: Do you remember the names of some of them?
BD: Yeah. We went to Rusty's.
MS: Was that when Rusty's was the Variety Room or when it was over on Appleton Street? There were two of them.
BD: No, no. The original Rusty's, which was on Quince.
MS: Right. O.K.
BD: It was on like the third floor with the blackened windows. And you had to climb, climb up these stairs and go in, show your ID.
MS: But you didn't really like that?
BD: I've never liked the bars.
MS: Any other bar that you remember?
BD: There have been bars that I've gone into. There was another Rusty's, wasn't there? Opened up, but it didn't last very long.
MS: I think she opened it herself instead of just managing it.
BD: I remember going there once. I don't remember where it was. I just remember going there. And I've since been to the Newport. I've been inside Hepburn's.
MS: But that's all much more recently?
MS: And did you ever step foot in any of the gay male bars, where lesbians might sometimes go?
MS: Any connection during the '60s with the lesbian and gay movement? Did you know about any of the groups? The Janus Society?
MS: The D.O.B chapter? The Homophile Action League?
BD: Yeah, Homophile Action League. Mostly the Janus Society, and I wasn't a member or anything, but I do remember that they did a demonstration against the Dewey's on 17th Street and I participated in that.
BD: Even though I wasn't a member.
MS: Yeah, I have the flier from it that I found. So you participated in that.
BD: I participated in that, yeah.
MS: You remember anything about it?
BD: Not really.
MS: Were there people picketing outside?
MS: Men and women?
BD: And the funny thing was that I was really ambivalent about what was going on, because I had always hung out there and Bobbie and I had gone in there a lot and never had any problems. But they were saying that, I don't know whether there were gay people that had been kicked out or they weren't often waited on or what. I don't remember what the issue was. It was one of those things. And I thought, “Well, you know, I'm over here. I guess I'll picket along with them.”
MS: Wow. And do you remember this guy Clark Polak? He was the head of the Janus Society?
MS: No. And you remember the resolution of the sit-in?
BD: Not a damn thing.
MS: Was it a sit-in or was it a demonstration?
BD: It was a demonstration outside.
MS: Demonstration. O.K.
BD: That I remember.
MS: O.K. And other women marching with you that you recall?
BD: I think Barbara Gittings was there. I think that's probably one of the first times I'd ever seen her. But anybody else? I don't remember faces well.
MS: Any other things with the Janus Society that you remember?
BD: No. No.
MS: They used to give lectures in some of the city hotels? Did you ever go?
BD: No I didn't. I didn't go to any of that stuff.
MS: Or their office on 17th Street?
BD: No. Oh! Actually I might have gone to the office once.
MS: It was 34 South 17th.
BD: I think I might have been there once.
BD: I remember being somewhere.
MS: And then there was a DOB chapter, that started I think in 1966, that only lasted a short time before it became the Homophile Action League.
BD: I remember the name Homophile Action League and I think I probably did some stuff with them, too. I might have gone to some meetings, but I can't remember.
BD: I can't remember them.
MS: And do you remember any of the people? Ada Bello or Carole Friedman? Either of those names?
BD: Oh yeah. I remember those names, but I'm not sure if I remember them from then or at another time.
MS: O.K. I've interviewed both of them and I know they edited the newsletter. And then Byrna Aronson?
BD: Well I know her name, but I don't know if I knew her or not. She was like a big factor later on.
BD: I heard her name.
MS: Yeah, she remained active for a long time, so maybe you don't remember her from those years.
BD: I knew her name from '72, from other things that I was doing, but I've always been in and out of the political world. I know I did some stuff or went to some meetings with H. A. L.
MS: St. Mary's? Did you ever go? They had some dances.
BD: I went to their first lesbian and gay dance ever.
MS: That was I think in 1970.
BD: I don't remember when it was. I know I went there. I was there. Didn't dance, but I was there.
MS: Mixed lesbian and gay crowd, as you recall?
MS: And mixed race?
BD: Mhmmm. Mhmmm. [assent]
MS: Some people actually said it was predominantly Black.
BD: No. Not that I recall.
BD: No. At the very very first one? No. And I believe they sent a reporter out, too. There was a reporter there. And I might have been around when the reporter was around. I'm not sure.
MS: Then there were some dances around the same time at Temple.
BD: I didn't go to those.
BD: I'm not a dancer, but I had to go to this thing. I mean it was like a big event. It was gonna' be like this first lesbian and gay dance.
BD: I had to go.
MS: So you really had heard about it. Had you heard about Stonewall when it happened? 'Cause that was, I guess, just before that.
BD: Did Stonewall happen before that or after? I'm not sure. When did Stonewall happen?
MS: Well the dance was in 1970, I know, and Stonewall was in '69.
BD: '69? I did hear about Stonewall and I don't remember how.
BD: I just don't remember how. I think somebody might have pointed it out in the newspaper or something like that.
MS: O.K. I guess we're moving into the '70s now, so I'm checking in again with where you moved. I guess in '69 you and Ceil moved together, is that right, to South 10th Street?
BD: Yeah. We were together for ten years.
MS: So that sounds like just around the corner, pretty close, in the same neighborhood as where you were.
BD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. A lot of that stuff, except for Buree Road, was all in the same neighborhood.
MS: So how did you end up briefly back in Northeast Philadelphia?
BD: We had moved. Well we were living on Clinton Street for three years. We loved it there. We were really close to the landlord and his family and we decided we were going on vacation for a week. And we told him. He was going to do something in the apartment for us while we were gone. And as with other things with Ceil, she would decide all of a sudden she didn't want to be doing what she was doing anymore. She got tired of whatever vacation it was we were on and we came back a day early. And we got back at like two o'clock in the morning or something, came in the door. We were sitting there and I was looking up and all of a sudden I noticed that some of our lesbian books were gone from the shelf. And I got really upset and said “what the hell is going on here?” And so we said well we'll just go to sleep and we’ll figure it out in the morning. In the morning, I don't know whether the landlord thought he would come in and put the books back. He borrowed these books and thought we weren't going to be back until the next day. And he was sneaking them back in. He opened the door and you could see clear from the door into the bedroom. And he saw us and just put the books down and left. Well I decided, I was really, I don't know what you want to call it. Not hysterical, but emotional about the issue when I was that age. And I probably still would be to a certain extent. But then, it was like, “Well goddamnit. Some straight man, I don't care who he is, he's taking lesbian books and getting off on them. I'll bet he's sitting up there jerking off to the lesbian books.” Oh I was furious. And besides, I felt betrayed, 'cause I felt like if he wanted to know about lesbianism, he could have said, “Could I borrow some of your books?” I would have lent him non-fiction or something.
BD: But it was the certain books that he took.
BD: So we decided we couldn't live there anymore. That's when we moved to 415 South 10th. We had a problem with the landlord there. He was just a bad landlord.
MS: So not around homophobia?
BD: Not around homophobia. He had scam things going. He had a clause in his lease that you had to pay extra if you were late, and many times he would call up and say your rent is late and we'd have to argue with him on the phone and say “no, we sent it out.” And then he'd shuffle through his papers and say “oh yes, here it is.” Things like that. Or sending us letters on different letterhead, like this construction company, that construction company, just things. My aunt and uncle owned this duplex on Buree Road. And they said, “Why don't you just move up here? It would be great to have you.” Blah, blah. So that's how we wound up on Buree Road.
MS: I see.
BD: And hated it. I hated the Northeast. Hate it, hate it, hate it.
MS: Why did you hate it?
BD: I just feel like it's conservative still. And I just didn't like it at all. I wanted to be back in town. I felt cut off from people. We had a car, but Ceil drove and I didn't drive. And people wouldn't come up and visit us from town. So it was kind of “well I want to be back in town.” That's how that short transition from Clinton to 10th to Buree and then back in town.
MS: And then you moved to 234 South Camac?
BD: Yeah. And we liked it there a whole lot. We would have stayed there had we not bought the house.
MS: And you had said before you didn't really feel like the neighborhood was gay when you first moved down there.
BD: On Clinton Street.
MS: Was Camac Street?
BD: Oh Camac was really gay. I mean the bars were there. Maxine's was there. Was it the Pirate Ship or something? Although the Pirate Ship was one of those ones that was like the kind that I described on 13th and Locust, where all kinds of people went there and lots of times there would be violence. But it was a great block. I mean it. You could hang out the front window on Halloween and New Year's and just have a show for the evening.
MS: What would happen on Halloween?
BD: Oh people would show up either walking down the street or coming out of the cab with all kinds of costumes. And couples with their cowboy outfits or their fairy godmother outfits. I mean all kinds of stuff. It was great.
MS: And so if you could guess now, say in the early '70s, the period we're talking about right now, what was the shape of the gay neighborhood? Can you give me the boundaries of it?
BD: Boundaries in terms of where the neighborhood began and ended?
MS: Yeah. 'Cause you said it wasn't on Clinton Street and 10th Street, but it was on Camac.
BD: Yeah. It was probably always mostly on Spruce, probably from 9th to 13th, and then it would go a little up and down from Spruce. And well see I said Camac wasn't, but I mean Pine was and Camac is in-between them. It just didn't feel like Camac was really that much of a gay area. It was kind of like off to the side a little bit, but it was mostly a gay neighborhood.
MS: Wait, Camac? I'm confused.
BD: I'm sorry. Not Camac. Clinton. I'm sorry. Clinton. So I would say from 9th to 13th and probably even up to Walnut Street for all I knew.
BD: Walnut down to Pine. Lombard always seemed like that was going to start another neighborhood.
MS: I see.
BD: More a Black neighborhood down there.
MS: And anything west of Broad?
BD: Not that I was aware of.
BD: Not as a neighborhood.
MS: And what if I ask the question differently, as gay-friendly neighborhoods?
BD: Well I always felt that Center City was.
MS: All of Center City?
MS: And any other parts of the city? You said the Northeast didn't seem very friendly. Were there any other parts of the city where it wouldn't have surprised you if someone gay or lesbian said they lived there?
BD: Well, West Philly and Germantown. A lot of people lived there. But I don't consider them gay neighborhoods.
MS: So how would you describe them then? Why do they come to mind?
BD: A lot of my friends have always lived in West Philly. And the Germantown dyke crew is very different. I consider them upwardly mobile snotty types. I always feel like they're looking down their noses. They all have kids. They all like to be near the park. They're professional lesbians. They don't like people who say fuck.
MS: And more Germantown than Mount Airy or both?
BD: Well there you've got me at a loss because I consider Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill, it's all Germantown to me.
MS: Germantown. O.K., all right, right.
BD: It's all Germantown. I don't know where they live.
MS: All right, fair enough. And was that true then or are you talking more about things now?
BD: It wasn't true then, no. I don't remember when the flight to Germantown happened. It wasn't that long ago. I would say it was like ten years ago.
BD: West Philly was before then.
BD: And I considered West Philly to be gay friendly because it had a lot of counterculture people.
MS: I see.
BD: So you had the Whole Life Center community.
MS: Was that the Movement for a New Society?
MS: I see. And what about the South Street area? Some people describe that as, at some point, becoming a little bit gay.
BD: I don't really know the South Street crowd.
BD: It probably is somewhat gay, but at this point it's much younger than I am.
MS: Right. Oh now, yeah.
BD: And I don't really know. I think there were some things down there. Like I think Giovanni's used to be down there actually.
MS: Right. Right.
BD: So it must have been something.
MS: So that's really helpful on the neighborhood stuff. What things were changing in the early '70s? A lot of people talk about things really changing in that period for lesbians.
BD: Well the women's movement was the big, big, big factor. And like I said to you before, the first time I ever heard any feminist stuff at all. it was like, “Boing, oh my god. I've thought those thoughts. That's me.”
MS: And how did you encounter feminism?
BD: On The David Susskind Show.
MS: Tell me about it. Was this a feminist show or a lesbian show?
BD: No. It was a talk show on Channel 12, The David Susskind Show. He would have a panel of people on. Kind of like a Phil Donahue kind of thing, only it wasn't as flashy. He wouldn't go out in the audience or anything. He would sit there and interview people.
MS: Right. But I mean the particular day, the show that you're remembering, was that a show featuring feminists?
BD: Yes. Yeah, it was a show featuring feminists. They had these women from, I guess they were all from New York, Redstockings and god knows who. I don't remember who the women were, but all I remember is saying, “Oh my god. That's what I am!” It was kind of like the revelation that I had when I went to the Rittenhouse Square and I said, “Oh my god. There's guys like that, there's got to be girls like that.”
MS: So were they lesbians?
BD: Not that I know of.
MS: Not that you know of?
BD: No. Rita Mae Brown may have been one of them, because I know she was one of the big factors there.
MS: But that was not the focus of the show?
BD: That was not the focus of the show at all. The focus of the show was feminism.
MS: And then did you quickly start seeing things locally?
BD: Yes. I don't remember what year that was that I saw that show. My guess is it was around '68, because I was very interested in it, but all I knew was New York. The show was from New York. They were from New York. I didn't know anything else. So I was on the lookout and I saw a flier for the first feminist meeting or conference. And it happened at Penn.
MS: Oh, at the Christian Association?
BD: It was in 1969. And I went. I was so excited. And that had a panel of feminists, which did include Rita Mae Brown, who was the only one who was an out lesbian there.
MS: Are you sure it was in '69?
BD: I'm pretty, pretty positive.
MS: O.K. And was it at the Christian Association?
BD: It was on the Penn campus. I'm not sure whether it was the Christian Association. I think it was.
BD: It could have been in Houston Hall or something. It was one of those.
MS: The reason I'm asking is 'cause I do have some stuff about a big conference. I think it was called the Women's Liberation Conference at Penn in 1970 at the Christian Association. So I'm wondering if it's that one.
BD: Maybe it is. Yeah. I remember it being '69.
MS: Maybe it’s a different event.
BD: But if you have like true literature, I mean that's better than my memory.
MS: Unless there was an earlier one that I haven't heard about yet.
BD: Yeah. Well all I remember is Rita Mae Brown, because she was the last person to speak on the panel. And of course she said the word lesbian and of course they all got upset and of course Ceil and I went right to her when they said “we're going to break up into groups.” We were like, “Oh yeah, well we'll go where the lesbian is.”
MS: Oh. And were there discussion groups then?
BD: Broke up into discussion groups and then we'd talk. I don't remember what we talked about. Feminism, feminism and lesbianism, too, in that group that I was in. And our group became a pretty cohesive group, and we went out to lunch together and then came back and met some more.
MS: And did you experience there and then later the kind of homophobia in feminism that you often hear about?
BD: Sometimes. Yeah. Probably a lot of things were undertones that you wouldn't notice. It's hard. Those kind of things are so hard to say.
MS: O.K. And what was your next encounter with local feminism?
BD: There was a Women's Center on Chestnut Street. I don't remember what hundred block. I think it was the 10 or 1100 block?
MS: 928 Chestnut.
BD: 9th and Chestnut.
BD: On like the second or third floor or something.
MS: I was going to say Chester, but that's where it moved later.
BD: No, no, no. Well I think actually it wasn't Chester. It was on Baltimore. 46th and Baltimore.
BD: That's what I remember anyway.
MS: The address I had for the one that lasted for a while was 4634 Chester.
MS: But then I do have stuff on the one on 9th.
BD: Yeah. So I used to go there for meetings and stuff.
MS: Was there a particular group you were working with?
MS: The Women's Center itself?
BD: It was the Women's Center. I don't remember how I knew what was going on. They just would have meetings and I would go.
MS: Predominantly lesbian, partly lesbian?
BD: Probably partly lesbian. I don't really remember. Don't remember who all was there.
MS: White? Mixed race? Do you remember that?
BD: Mostly white.
MS: And some people talk about people who were out as lesbians before feminism feeling some kind of sense of difference from the people who came out through feminism?
BD: Yeah. Well there were, in terms of my feelings about myself and feminism, so many factors. Feminism freed me from having to figure out whether I was butch or femme. I felt great about that. I was so excited that they were doing away with role-playing. As far as the women who came out as feminists, you're talking about political lesbians versus really sexually-identified?
MS: Or people who came out sexually but only after the women’s movement.
BD: After the women's movement. I don't know that I really have any thoughts against those women. I don't think that they were any more right or wrong than other lesbians. As of right now, I know so many lesbians who have gone straight. And I don't know when they came out, but it's pretty amazing. This has always been the case in the lesbian community. We a lot of times don't say bisexual. We say, “Oh my god. Did you hear about so and so? She went straight.” And then it's, “Oh my god. Guess who's back?” But a lot of these people that I'm talking about, who have gone straight, they have not come back. They have gone straight for years now. And I don't really say, “Oh well. They were political lesbians.” Or anything like that, because I don't think that that's true in all cases.
MS: What about the Women's Center in West Philly? What do you remember about that?
BD: Well I belonged to Radicalesbians.
MS: You did?
BD: I used to go to the meetings there. That's where I heard the name Byrna Aronson. Apparently she used to go there before I did.
MS: Oh, O.K.
BD: 'Cause I caught the end of Radicalesbians and I think she was in it before.
MS: Oh I see. I'm trying to think of people I've talked with who were in that group. Arleen Olshan I think was in it. Anita Cornwell?
BD: In Radicalesbians?
MS: And then a woman named Miriam Rosenberg?
BD: They weren't in it when I was in it.
BD: When I was in it, it was Bert Hacker, who's now Roberta Louise.
MS: That's her full name now? Roberta Louise?
MS: Do you remember any of the other people?
BD: Well yeah. There was someone named Linda Byron and her friend. I'm going to blank out on her. I can't remember.
MS: Was Rosalie Davies in it where you were?
BD: Rosalie Davies was not in it when I was in it. I can't think of her name. Oh and Lacey.
BD: Isabel. Isabel Lacey was in it.
MS: And tell me about Radicalesbians. What kind of group was it when you were in it?
BD: When I was in it we would have weekly meetings and we would discuss feminist issues and we would discuss what kind of havoc we could reek, like could we go into a bar and make waves about them discriminating against Black women there. Or was there was a male bar that was discriminating against women and saying, “Well you need to wear a skirt or something,” knowing that lesbians won't necessarily wear a skirt when they go into a bar.
MS: So those would be straight bars, do you mean, or gay?
BD: Gay bars.
MS: Gay bars.
BD: Gay bars, yeah. Because a lot of male bars would keep lesbians out by saying, “Well, you have to wear a dress or a skirt when you go there.
MS: I see. But the first group you mentioned would be lesbian bars discriminating against Black women?
MS: Is that what you meant?
MS: Do you remember any of those specific bars that you did stuff at?
BD: No, no. But they were called zaps. We'd do a zap.
MS: And how big was Radicalesbians?
BD: When I was going it was probably about twelve of us.
MS: And again, white? Mixed race? Do you recall?
BD: I remember all white.
MS: There was a little newsletter called Lesbians Fight Back. Remember that?
MS: O.K. I think only three issues came out. From the newsletters, it seems like the group dissolved maybe only a year after it started. And the story that is in the last newsletter says something about some personality conflicts and conflicts over who was controlling the organization.
BD: Yeah, yeah.
MS: Does that ring a bell?
BD: Oh yeah.
MS: 'Cause no one has told me about this story.
BD: Well I have a personal interest in the story.
MS: O.K., yeah.
BD: Well I mean it wasn't my personality, but I was embroiled in it. I don't know when Radicalesbians started in Philadelphia. I was not a part of it then. As I said, I became involved a little later, because, as I told you, I'd gone to a few H. A. L. meetings. Later on I went to a G. A. A. meeting and didn't like it. I decided it was too many men and they were taking over and I wanted something woman-identified so I started with Radicalesbians. Ceil and I were going to the meetings. Now both Radicalesbians and many organizations that I know of did have factors in them, Marxists and Socialist Workers Party people. They would always come in to these organizations and try to take control of them, try to get people who were in them to join their groups, too. And that's essentially the way I perceived what was going on in Radicalesbians. There were the S. W. Ps, the Marxists, and those of us who just either wanted to do political work and/or socialize. And basically what happened was I had a crush on this woman who was a Marxist and started hanging out with her and her friend. And they started talking against Bert and this other woman, whose name escapes me right now. And they were S. W. P. people. They were accusing them behind their back of being paid by the S. W. P. to come to Radicalesbians meetings.
MS: And were these Marxists affiliated with a party?
BD: I don't know.
BD: I don't know. It was just like “oh you like these people, you trust everything they say.” They say they infiltrated an S. W. P. meeting and heard with their own ears that those people were being paid to come to Radicalesbians. And so you're going like, “Hmmm, well are they really lesbians?” That kind of stuff. So it all became entangled. In fact, some of it became entangled because of the political stuff. Some of it became entangled because of my feelings for this woman and all of the conflict that happened between Ceil and me and them and us. It was all a big confusion. And finally we just said, “That's it. We're dissolving it. Final.”
MS: And the group just ended then?
BD: It just ended.
MS: And did something replace it in your life immediately?
BD: No, no. At that point Ceil and I had broken up for a month, I guess. And then I decided I would go back to her. And at that point she became very embittered towards feminists. And still is to this day. 'Cause she feels that some people, now they hate coupledom and everything, but in the meantime they're sitting there saying, “I want that relationship.” And they're going after people who are in long-term relationships, 'cause they feel that they could have a long-term relationship. Like it's the person.
MS: I see. Right.
BD: So she felt that that woman was breaking us up. And I think she probably was. It wound up that she was interested in both of us and really couldn't decide which one, so it was kind of like playing around a little bit.
MS: I see. Wow. Maybe if I could ask a general question: in this time period, then, when you were involved with Radicalesbians, what was the feeling toward gay men? Was it changing? What was your feeling toward gay men and what was the feeling in the group? Was there more opposition happening? I'm curious also to pick up on what you said about that feeling that you had when you went to the G. A. A. meeting.
BD: Yeah. I've gone in and out of man-hating, and that has included gay men at times, too. So yeah, I would say that when I started with the feminist stuff, I was in a really man-hating kind of place and didn't hang out with gay men either. Didn't really hate gay men, but men just became not a part of my life at all. And then at times, if I would see something after having gotten this feminist consciousness, if I had gone to something like a G. A. A. meeting and I'd see gay men taking over or whatever, then I would see it in a feminist perspective and go like, “Heh! They're men. I mean they're gay, but they're still men.”
MS: Did you see any gay men in any of those groups supportive of feminism?
BD: No. No. No. Gay men as far as I could see were just very hurt. Like “Why are we being shunned? We don't understand it.”
MS: Well let me throw out a name because some people use him as a counter-example: Tommi Avicolli. I know some people also cover Kiyoshi in this regard also. Would you have thought of them as as much of a problem as the rest of the gay male community?
BD: Had I known them, you mean?
MS: Oh, you don't remember them?
BD: I didn't know them then.
MS: O.K. Do you remember any of the gay men who you encountered in G. A. A.?
BD: I didn't know them.
MS: Oh, O.K.. Because you really only went....
BD: No. The G. A. A. meeting I only went to once.
MS: Was that in Horizon House? Do you remember?
BD: No, I don't think so. I don't remember and I couldn't tell you.
BD: I couldn't tell you. I thought the H. A. L. meeting might have been around there somewhere, but the G. A. A. I thought was on the Penn campus or something.
MS: It might have met there at some point, but for several years it met at 12th and Lombard, I think. And let's see, I'm looking at my notes here and you moved around this time, too, in '73, I guess. You moved to Waverly Street.
BD: Mhmmm [assent].
MS: And was there some problem on Camac Street?
BD: There was no problem on Camac. We loved that apartment. It was a great street, a great apartment, rent was O.K. The impetus there was ever since the trouble with our landlord on Clinton Street happened, we decided that someday we were gonna' have our own house and we were never gonna' have to worry about some landlord coming in and borrowing our lesbian books. So we bought the house on Waverly. And then three years later decided we didn't want it anymore.
MS: And was it affordable for both of you given your work lives? Or was it a stretch?
BD: We barely scraped it together. It was twenty-four, five. We needed ten percent down, so we needed 2400 dollars plus the settlement costs of like 500 or something like that. And we barely scraped that together. But it wound up being really a lucrative thing. Three years later we sold it for 30,000 and wound up with a bank account of 10,000 dollars. It was pretty amazing. I don't know how we did that, but we did.
MS: That worked out.
MS: Moving into that period, '73 to '76, do you remember any big political issues in those years or where your feminist consciousness was moving you after Radicalesbians folded?
BD: Well basically we stayed away from political stuff after that. And it's also clouded by my having developed a hyperactive thyroid. And so I was really out of it, real depressed, and just gollomping along.
MS: I see.
BD: I didn't feel like I really had any friends. People came over and everything, but they'd be sitting around talking and Ceil would be talking to them and everything and I'd be sitting there just listening. So I was really kind of out of it during that period.
MS: I know some of the big public issues during those years were the Susan Saxe thing.
BD: I was not involved with that.
MS: And the gay rights bill, the fight for the gay rights bill in City Council.
BD: I wasn't involved with that either. I wasn’t involved with anything political during those three years, that I can think of anyway.
MS: SisterSpace? The early SisterSpace?
BD: I was involved with something before SisterSpace. It was called Amazons, Inc.
MS: O.K. Tell me about that.
BD: And I'm trying to remember what year that was and I don't think Ceil was involved, so it must have been after we broke up, I think.
MS: Well SisterSpace, the first weekend, I just had this on my message machine, 'cause Cathy Barlowe called me about something, was twenty-one years ago. So that means, according to her, it was '74.
MS: And Amazons did precede SisterSpace.
BD: So then I must have been involved with Ceil in that time.
MS: Well why don't you tell me what you do remember about Amazons? What was it and what did it do?
BD: Amazons was a group of maybe seven to ten people. Ten people at the most. I'd consider it like six or seven. And they had meetings and I remember going to them. I'd be damned if I can tell you what they were about. Their main thing was that they wanted to have a space, a lesbian space, which they did wind up doing. I think it lasted about a year. There was a coffeehouse at 20th or 21st and Locust and I used to go there. And the reason I really don't think it was that early on is because I know that I went with my next lover there.
MS: O.K. Maybe Amazons continued after SisterSpace started.
BD: I don't think so, because as far as my memory serves me, SisterSpace was an outgrowth of the Amazons.
BD: The Amazons thing broke up and some people said, “Well we want to still have something,” and they created SisterSpace.
MS: I see. Well maybe then what Kathy was calling the first SisterSpace weekend wasn't called the SisterSpace weekend then. She said it was like a self-defense retreat.
BD: It could have been the Amazons. It could have been that Amazons, Inc., did it.
MS: O.K. Yeah, maybe people now call it the Sisterspace weekend.
BD: Could be.
MS: ‘Cause it's part of the same.
BD: That could be, yeah. But it had to be after 1976.
MS: O.K. You want to say anything about the breakup? What that was all about?
BD: The breakup with me and Ceil?
BD: Ah! Well it was weird. We had just moved out of the house a year before that and moved into the apartment on 12th and Spruce. And my take on it is that we had decided that we were going to quit our jobs, sell all our stuff. We had a down payment on a little camper and we were just going to go to some shore area and just live and maybe work little odd jobs and stuff. And we had started clearing out our house. And as I said, we had the down payment on a camper. And about a week or two after we had the down payment on the camper, Ceil said to me, “I think we should break up.” And I said, “What?” And she said she had decided that really what we were doing was running away from each other by doing this. That was her excuse to me. And that's all I formally know about it. I have my own thoughts about what it really was, but I'll never really know.
BD: We're still friends.
MS: I see.
BD: We went through a period of hard times and stuff. There was a point at which she wanted to get back together with me and I decided that I didn't want to do that. I was really scared that I was never gonna' have anybody else, but I decided that after having been without her for that month, I realized how much of myself I had lost. And it wasn't worth it to me anymore to not try to just be on my own and see where that leads.
MS: And that was in '76? I'm gonna' ask you a quirky question about that year, too. Did you do anything around the Bicentennial?
BD: Ugh! That was one of the differences between Ceil and me. I was very, very counterculture oriented. I had always gone to marches on Washington against the war in Vietnam, for civil rights, for this and that and whatever. She, on the other hand, was very conservative, had been a member of the Marine Corps for a while until she got booted for being a lesbian, but she was still gung-ho my country and wanted to go to the Bicentennial thing. I was like totally aghast, but I went. And I was there and I was totally disgusted. I was like “huh.”
MS: So you didn't participate in any of the protests there?
BD: No. I was there, very much upset with myself for being there. And later, my next lover told me that she had been involved in the protesting and everything and I was like, “Oh my god. I can't believe it.”
MS: And do you want to say her name? Your next lover?
BD: My second lover?
BD: Well it was Becky Bertha.
MS: That's interesting. I'm hoping to interview her as well.
BD: Oh I'm sure she'll have good things to say about me. Actually, I was her first woman lover.
MS: I should probably check the tape to see if it's beginning to get close to the end of this side. And it is. So I usually try to at least leave some time at the end for you to talk about anything that we haven't really talked about, whether you want that to be what's happened in your life since then, since the Bicentennial and since 1976, or if there are things that we've missed that I haven't asked about that you think are important.
BD: Well since your topic is Philadelphia lesbian and gay life, I could try to touch on a number of things about that particular issue, rather than me and my personal life. Let me see if I can think of anything that was going on. Dyketactics started and I did not get involved with that. Again I was avoiding political stuff.
MS: Yeah, I've interviewed some people who were involved with that, so I have pretty good stories about that.
BD: Yeah. The Free Women's School was started and I was involved in teaching a folk dance thing there.
MS: Where was that?
BD: Well the Free Women's School itself was kind of out of Penn. But the folk dancing that we did, was it at St. Mary? Was it at St. Mary's? I think it was. I can't even remember anymore.
MS: Was this still in the '70s?
BD: Yeah. As a matter of fact, it was exactly around the time of Three Mile Island. Because the second semester of the folk dance thing broke up when Three Mile Island came about, 'cause all those people ran off and were being political about that.
MS: I see. And I'm trying to remember. I think that was '77 maybe.
BD: I don't know, but you could find it out.
MS: Yeah, right. That's exactly the way I trace a lot of people's memories.
MS: They remember something that happened at the same time.
BD: Yeah. Well Becky and I, we were running the folk dance group together for the Free Women's School. Off the top of my head I really can't remember anything. I'm sure there's plenty of stuff.
MS: Well maybe I'll ask you this. Since that time, what's your sense about how things have evolved between gay men and lesbians? You described how things were, that at least the first half of the '70s was a period when there was more of a separation.
MS: I don't know if you want to pick up on that part.
BD: Well the AIDS thing started lesbians doing political work, I considered it for men. And I'm really ambivalent about the AIDS issue. I mean I feel bad about it and I feel bad that it's gotten to the degree it's gotten to, where thousands of people have died. And what was kind of ignored by everybody because it was a homosexual disease and stuff. On the other hand, I feel kind of resentful that so many lesbians have left women's issues in order to fight for AIDS. And I think it's brought a lot of gay men and lesbians closer together and I'm not sure what's happening now, whether it's all breaking apart or what. But I don't see gay men doing women's issues at all. I just don't. And I really resent that lesbians have dropped our issues.
MS: What would those issues be in your mind?
BD: Women's issues. More or less women's issues.
MS: And what specific issues would you put at the top of the agenda?
BD: Mostly violence against women. Also people have brought up the fact that cancer is a big killer of women and it's not considered a big deal. Wages for women. Just discrimination in general, in terms of where women can and can't go, or can do or cannot do, sexism in our society, what you see on television. I don't know. I have so many issues with things. Not only with gay men. I have issues with the up and coming lesbians who are reading these magazines like On Our Backs. I mean things that I fought against men doing. Now lesbians are doing it and saying it's O.K. 'cause we're lesbians. It's “This is O.K.. We're all women. So we can cut women's bodies apart and look at them.” It's like “ah.” Can't stand it.
MS: Well maybe if I could pick up on one little piece of what you just said: you mentioned wages. And it made me realize that I didn't really ask you much about your experiences as a worker and whether you had any experiences of either homophobia or connections with other gay people in the workplace.
BD: I've had discrimination against me for being a woman. I can't really think of any instances of discrimination about being gay. Nothing that's overt. I had a friend at Jerrold Electronics, a gay guy, and our drafting boards faced each other at one point and it was great, 'cause we would sit there and do our work and we would dish back and forth. So that was a lot of fun. And after that I felt like when I was at work, I was at work. I did not socialize with those people. I was friendly with them, but my friends were my friends. My work was my work.
MS: What's been overall the discrimination against you as a woman? Would you say something about that now? In the form of wages?
BD: Well there were several things. In the form of wages, in the form of clothing. Like when I worked at Jerrold Electronics, the reason I became a designer, well I had to work through discrimination in order to become a designer. Let me put it that way. People who had started at the same time or after I did who were men were being taught design work when I was left to still be a tracer. And when I realized that they were making a couple of more dollars extra an hour than I was, I went in and I said, “What's going on here? So and so started the same time I did and he's learning design and I'm not.” And they said, “Oh, we didn't know you wanted to learn design.” And I said, “Well yes, I would like to learn.” Then once I got over that thing, it was a matter of learning the design, because my boss was definitely not wanting me to learn. He would barely teach me something and then when I would ask questions he would just doodle and mumble to himself and then walk away. So that's how you do it.
MS: And you explained to me before what kind of design this was. I thought maybe you should say it for the tape.
BD: Well it was cable television design. It was actually using maps and mapping out where equipment would go on utility poles in order to have cable television in the city.
MS: Oh I see. And tracer?
BD: Tracer traced the maps that the designers would use.
MS: I see.
BD: To put the design up.
MS: I see.
BD: So I had to work through that discrimination of saying I want to learn. I had to work through the discrimination of a boss who didn't want me to learn. And then we always had to wear skirts. At that point I was the only woman there. It was all men. I had to wear a skirt to work. And sometimes you’d have to lay out these big maps on the floor and tape them together. And finally I said, “Look, boss.” My boss John. “Can I at least wear pants when I know I'm coming into work and I know I have to lay out a bunch of maps?” So they would reluctantly say O.K. And little by little I'd just start wearing pants more and more and more and more. And then I started getting really sloppily dressed. I mean by the time I left there I was wearing ripped jeans, a turtleneck, and like a work shirt over it. So I feel like I made a breakthrough at Jerrold Electronics for women to be able to wear pants.
MS: Well maybe we should move into final thoughts quickly, 'cause this tape really is running down.
MS: I don't know if there's anything else you want to say?
BD: I don't know.
MS: By way of summing up.
BD: I don't know what to say.
MS: Your life as a lesbian? Or what you feel about Philadelphia as a place or anything like that?
BD: I think Philadelphia is a good place. It is a big city. I don't feel that I've had lots and lots of problems. I've had some problems, but I've also been, in a lot of cases, very out as a lesbian. I've always felt like I'm in your face. If I want to hold hands with my girlfriend, I'm gonna' hold hands. And so I've run into some difficulties, but I'm a West Philly gal and I know how to answer back.
MS: That's a great way to end. Well thanks a lot for this. This was great.