glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

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":

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

  <previous page   page: 1  2    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature

   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  Buddhism

Buddhism is unusual among world religions in that it generally expresses neutrality on the issue of homosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  McCarthyism

McCarthyism, which attempted in the late 1940s and early 1950s to expunge Communists and fellow travelers from American public life, made homosexuals the chief scapegoats of the Cold War.

social sciences >> Overview:  Montreal

In the last two decades, Montreal has become friendly to and supportive of its glbtq citizens and visitors.

literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Lesbian

Since the 1960s, the general trend in lesbian poetry has been collective and political rather than purely aesthetic.

social sciences >> Overview:  San Francisco

San Francisco has enjoyed a reputation as a "gay mecca" since World War II.

social sciences >> Overview:  Spirituality

Today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts.

social sciences >> Daughters of Bilitis

The first national lesbian political and social organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis was a significant part of the pre-Stonewall lesbian and gay rights movement.


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):

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

Stryker, Susan. "Elsa Gidlow." Planet Out History.

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  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.