Was she or wasn't she? And how much research was done before queers declared Mazo de la Roche to be a great big lesbo? (And if you're just joining this thread, go to Mazo 1.)
Joan Givner certainly did mondo research, having written a 1989 biography and all, and did conclude that de la Roche was a lesbian (though apparently an, ugh, pedophilic one -- I haven't read Givner's tome, though the molestation screed has since been refuted by another academic I also haven't read). Yet a later biographer, Daniel Bratton in 1996's "Thirty-Two Short Views of Mazo de la Roche," did not make the lesbo leap at all.
"At least two basic forms of biography have emerged," reads a review
published in the University of Toronto Quarterly a few years ago. "One relies on narrative to produce as coherent a prose portrait of the subject as possible. The other chooses a much more open form and is based on the notion that no one can reach the truth about so complex and mercurial a thing as a human life.... Daniel Bratton acknowledges that a biographer cannot completely know his subject, so he has decided to make a bricolage of 'bits and pieces of whatever comes to hand.' The biography does not aspire to be more than an assembly of impressions of Mazo de la Roche, though the result is much more than that...."
"The life that emerges is shadowy and fragmented at best.... The biographers' biggest problem, apparently, was that Mazo de la Roche liked to fabricate such things as her name and date of birth, as well as exaggerate and lie about events and people. In addition, the times encouraged reticence about such things as lesbian relationships or mental illnesses. Consequently Bratton is reluctant to go out on any limbs or to form conclusions about de la Roche's relationship with Caroline Clement, her cousin once removed with whom she lived almost all her adult life, or about the two nervous breakdowns that she suffered."
Even so, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives
acquired the book, and has a few other items of de la Roche bumph in its files. And it's the queer mainstream that interests me most. (An archives staffer still hasn't returned my call from a few days ago on another issue, but I'll add to this post if and when someone does get back to me and I can ask why the decision was made to stock de la Roche memorabilia.)
But I'm sure the reasoning is just as thoughtful as that used by the folks I did reach. Yesterday I mentioned the Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
list of "Famous Lesbian and Gay Couples," which exists in part to prove that homos can have lasting relationships. The site includes a methodology: "The data for our list comes primarily from books, and occasionally from reputable Web sites. We are often sent suggestions, however, [we] do not post a couple until we have some form of published verification.
"We do not include in our list, for instance, such couples as Emily Dickinson
and Sue Gilbert. While they had a deep love for each other, there has not been enough evidence that they considered themselves actually partnered. (These women did dream of establishing a quiet life together in a little house somewhere, but, because of finances and social obligations, could not do so.)"
De la Roche did the the list. Demian from the Partners Task Force responded to my e-mail: "We do not 'decide' who is gay, lesbian or bisexual. We rely on multiple, verifiable sources, such as biographies, news articles, and interviews for such information.
"Clement and de la Roche were first placed on our list because she was on page 132 in 'Lesbian Lists' by Dell Richards." Which sent me to yet another person's definitions of lesbian.
In my copy of LL (Alyson Publications), Richards credits a series of academics for the research. And from the author's introduction: "My own bias is toward women-identified women, whether they call themselves lesbian or not, whether they had sex or not. To impose today's standards on earlier eras limits our vision and our history. To dismiss romantic friends, spinsters and sworn virgins, the women who have everything in their power to escape heterosexual dominance, does them -- and us -- a great disservice. Given that times change and the perception of reality changes with those shifts, I chose as broad a definition as possible -- one that would include a woman-oriented view of the world as the basis of lesbianism."
Yoiks -- 1970s politics (published in 1990) that leave me cold. Which is how some of those "lesbians" would be like in bed.
It would be insulting for someone to call me heterosexual, just as I see it as condescending and insulting to set someone down in history as lesbian when she was not. A straight woman who disses the established male order deserves to be acknowledged in the historical record for who she truly was when she kicked ass.
And there's nothing homophobic about that. Andrej Koymasky, of the Italy-based "famous GLBT" site
(also mentioned yesterday), brings up homophobia as a reason people deny, deny, deny. "As you for sure have seen, in the page devoted to Mazo de la Roche I don't state she was lesbian. I have no proof she was or not, I never assisted to her 'sexual activities.' And, at the end of each list, I state that 'Not all of these people were or are openly Gay / Lesbian / Transgender / Bisexual. Some of them 'came out' but others, rather, clearly denied it, and they possibly were sincere. So, this list doesn't affirm nothing more than they are presumed (for several historical evidences, or just for rumors) to be gay or, on their own admission, to have 'tried it' at least once.'
"Moreover, I cannot see why the so called 'straight' people can assume one is heterosexual, and gay people cannot assume one is gay... Being gay is not a crime... Saying that somebody might be gay is not defamation (no polemic with you is intended in these words).... [by] including Mazo in my list, I just mean that she *might have been* a lesbian."
In any case, I don't see why their assumptions are bad, but ours are good.
Homophobia loses all meaning when we use it helter skelter, when we our first thought is that anyone who questions someone's alleged homosexuality is a bigot. Sometimes, the questioning is based on a real interest in truth and accuracy.
A word can't just mean whatever the heck I want it to mean. Or it will come to mean less and less, and finally nothing. So to Dell Richards and those of similar fuzzy logic, I'm rather fond of the word "lesbian," and I'm taking it back. It's about more than just questioning a woman's role in the world. Much more. And, because of the way some of us have lived our lives, in silence and fear, it can also mean so much less.
Next: Mazo 4.