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Gidlow, Elsa (1898-1986)  
 
page: 1  2  

In her autobiography, Gidlow describes how women in the 1970s and 1980s kept asking her what it was like for her and Tommy to be lesbians in the 1930s, and she answered: "Being a lesbian, for me as for Tommy, was happy. She took it for granted as the given of her nature, as I had done . . . .We were profoundly sure of our right to be as we were, to love and live in our chosen way, we were happy in it." Comfortable with her lesbianism, yet also completely at ease in the fullness of her humanity, Gidlow insisted, "I was, and am, first a human person, then a woman, then a woman whose primary identification and loyalty is with women as lovers and friends."

Gidlow perhaps expresses her insistence upon an independent life best in this stanza of her poem, "For the Goddess Too Well Known":

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I have brought her, laughing,
To my quietly dreaming garden
For what will be done there
I ask no man pardon.

Alan Watts, cultural interpreter of Eastern philosophy and Gidlow's good friend and colleague in the Society for Comparative Philosophy, once said that she was mysterious. She answered him in her book, Makings for Meditation (1973), by replying,

You say I am mysterious
Let me explain myself
In a land of oranges
I am faithful to apples.

In 1975, Gidlow published Ask No Man Pardon: The Philosophical Significance of Being Lesbian. In this work, she defends the naturalness of lesbianism, arguing that lesbians are born with different needs and desires.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Gidlow was recognized as one of the foremothers of the lesbian feminist movement, and her poetry was praised by Kenneth Rexroth and others.

After suffering a series of strokes, Gidlow died on June 8, 1986. Her papers are now part of the archives of the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California.

Arlene Istar Lev

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    Bibliography
   

Gidlow, Elsa. I Come With My Songs: The Autobiography of Elsa Gidlow. San Francisco: Druid Heights Press, 1986.

Healy, Eloise Klein. "Gidlow, Elsa (1898-1986)." Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. Bonnie Zimmerman, ed. New York: Garland, 2000. 333-34.

Martin, Marcelina. "Elsa Gidlow: Poet-Warrior." Sacred Arts (1996): www.wildheartsranch.com/index10.html.

Rexroth, Kenneth. "Elsa Gidlow's Sapphic Songs." American Poetry Review 7.1 (1978): 20.

Stryker, Susan. "Elsa Gidlow." Planet Out History. www.planetout.com/pno/news/history/archive/gidlow.html.

West, Celeste. "Farewell, Elsa Gidlow, Poet-Warrior." off our backs (August/September 1986): n.p.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Lev, Arlene Istar  
    Entry Title: Gidlow, Elsa  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated August 3, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/gidlow_e.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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