The lesbian pulp fiction that saved lives


(From Atlas Obscura. Read the full article at the link below.)

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Not every first encounter with lesbian pulp fiction was so transformative. But for many women of the 1950s and 1960s, these slim paperbacks were pivotal, and sometimes even life-saving. Within their pages lay physical proof that they were not entirely alone in the world. “It was an era of just incredible isolation—a lot of us grew up thinking that we were the only ones,” says the writer Katherine V. Forrest, who compiled the 2005 anthology Lesbian Pulp Fiction. “The books were like water in the desert.”

In her introduction to the anthology, Forrest describes chancing upon Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out for sale in Detroit, Michigan. The year was 1957, and she was 18. “I did not need to look at the title for clues; the cover leaped out at me from the drugstore rack: a young woman with sensuous intent on her face seated on a bed, leaning over a prone woman, her hands on the other woman’s shoulders,” she writes. “Overwhelming need led me to walk a gauntlet of fear up to the cash register. Fear so intense that I remember nothing more, only that I stumbled out of the store in possession of what I knew I must have, a book as necessary to me as air.”

Forrest’s experience was not atypical. In a 1995 essay, Donna Allegra recounts grappling with feelings of embarrassment and shame on her way up to the front desk. But however hard she found it, she wrote, “It was absolutely necessary for me to have them. I needed them the way I needed food and shelter for survival.”

Women like Allegra and Forrest didn’t have to look far for their fix: America’s drug stores and airport bookstores sold lesbian pulp fiction quite openly. The novels were displayed cheek-to-jowl with stories of alien invasions and Nazi torture. Pulp novels had tawdry titles, conspicuous covers, and taglines that promised readers everything from “the sex traps of vacationing she-wolves” to a glimpse into “the intimate sex needs of America’s 900,000 young widows.”

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