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Grahn, Judy (b. 1940)  
 
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Considering herself part of a generation that "began wresting poetry from the exclusive clutches of the sons and daughters of the American upperclass and returning it to the basic groups from which it seeped and sprung," Judy Grahn--lesbian feminist poet, gay cultural theorist, archaeologist, critic, autobiographer, historian, archivist, publisher, biographer, activist, editor, anthropologist, and teacher who picketed the White House in 1963 with the Mattachine Society--has been one of the most effective leaders of the gay rights movement both pre- and post-Stonewall.

In cogently and eloquently displaying ways in which sexuality is related to other economies in our culture like gender, race, and class, she is perhaps the most successful of our contemporary writers.

Sponsor Message.

Thus her Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World (1993) is dedicated "To poets." Though it argues that the female body is the origin for all knowledge, even for scientific measure, this is not an exclusionary book written exclusively for women, for inclusivity is at the heart of Judy Grahn's vision.

Born on July 28, 1940, in Chicago, Judy Grahn grew up in what she describes in Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds (1984) as "an economically poor and spiritually depressed" New Mexico town "near the hellish border of West Texas." Her father was a cook and her mother a photographer's assistant.

Grahn has said that she knew she was a poet by the time she was nine, but it wasn't until she was twenty-five that she consciously committed herself to her work. She put herself through trade school working nights as a sandwich maker and then worked as a medical secretary in the daytime while attending college at night. In 1984, after attending six different colleges, she received her B.A. from San Francisco State.

At twenty-five, she became seriously ill and went into a coma. In a public dialogue recorded in Women Writers of the West Coast (1983), Grahn remarked that when she came out of the coma, "I realized that if I was going to do what I had set out to do in my life, I would have to go all the way with it and take every single risk you could take. . . . I decided I would not do anything I didn't want to do that would keep me from my art."

In 1969, then, with artist Wendy Cadden, Grahn founded her own press, the Women's Press Collective. Inspired in part by the fact that her first work, "The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke" (1964), was considered unpublishable, this press began with only a mimeograph machine and was dedicated to publishing "work of women that we thought no one else would do."

Grahn was also part of the first lesbian feminist collective, the Gay Women's Liberation Group, and was one of the founders of "A Woman's Place," the first U.S. women's bookstore.

Grahn's identity as a lesbian and a feminist infuses all of her work. Her writing is explicitly political, asserting the presence and strength of women and lesbian culture and critiquing the patriarchal and heterosexist social biases that shape our individual perceptions.

In some of her early writings, this critique takes the form of satire, combining anger and humor. In "Edward the Dyke," for example, Grahn creates a satiric portrait of the medical profession's attempt to "cure" a lesbian of her "disease" and "depravity."

In "A Woman is Talking to Death" (1973), an angry poem articulating the sense of powerlessness and voicelessness of two women who feel they do not count in society, especially as lesbians, Grahn portrays lesbian life within the context of what she describes as "the criss-cross oppressions which people use against each other and which continually divide us."

This long poem deals with racism and class oppression as well as misogyny and , and features a segment in which Grahn recounts her own experience of having been thrown out of the Air Force with a less-than-honorable discharge because she admitted to being a lesbian.

Grahn also uses her poetry to empower and reestablish possession of words and signs of lesbian culture that are often used as derogatory by outsiders. For example, a short poem in the She Who collection (1971-1972) confidently asserts, "I am the dyke in the matter, the other / I am the wall with the womanly swagger / I am the dragon, the dangerous dagger / I am the bulldyke, the bulldagger."

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