While doing background research for my interactive narrative Mixed Greens I met Patrick Gourley. I was looking for old photographs that would help me understand lesbian life in Chicago in the 1950s and early 60s. “I have a whole houseful of photos and objects,” said Patrick. He wasn’t kidding. He had been a friend and caretaker of two elderly lesbians during the last decade of their lives. He showed me a trove of over 2000 snapshots taken by Norma and Virginia from 1939-1975. When I saw the photos I knew I had to make a film about them. Here were images of lovers and friends as they played, posed, worked, partied, drank, and aged. Norma and Virginia had left an amazing historical treasure.
Snapshots are the way we write our autobiography. Now we all take selfies, but Norma and Virginia used a Brownie camera to tell the story of their community holiday feasts in rented halls, a faithful group of friends serially switching partners, and lesbians holding hands in the crowded parks of Chicago.
The photographs haunt me. As a young lesbian I knew women like Norma and Virginia. I was self-righteous and felt contempt for their butch/femme life. They lived in the closet, I proudly didn’t. However, the way Norma and Virginia lived and documented their lives complicates my idea of the closet. Assimilation comes at a price. I live a mainstreamed life in a different world – my partner and I can marry if we choose. We have gained so much, yet I am learning some things were lost. As I came out in the early 70s this community was slipping away, changed forever by second wave Feminism and Stonewall. I won’t let it disappear forever. These lesbian lives and the history they lived are too important.