Corvallis Lesbian Avengers

Activism comes in many forms. This was made clear to me as I was working on completing the finding aid for the Corvallis Lesbian Avengers Collection, part of the Oregon State Queer Archives. The Lesbian Avengers were a direct-action lesbian activism group active throughout the 1990s, perhaps most famous for their fire-eating demonstrations. Inspired by the deaths by firebombing of Hattie Mae Cohen and Brian Mock, both members of the LGBT community, the Lesbian Avengers decided to make the fire their own, to consume it along with their fear, and be bold and brazen, despite the dangers.

Given the original, NYC Lesbian Avengers’ proclivity for metaphor, it is no surprise that our own Corvallis, OR chapter was also drawn to art and metaphor as part of their own activism. While the Corvallis Lesbian Avengers collection includes a variety of material, including photo albums, scrapbooks, t-shirts, and an annotated calendar, I would like to focus on the Necessary Friction Zine, produced by the Lesbian Avengers. These zines are an eclectic mix of material, including calls to action, recruitment material, educational campaigns, member updates, art, and creative writing. It is this creative writing that I would like to draw attention to. Often poetry, sometimes prose, sometimes erotic, and always provocative, the writing contained within the Necessary Friction zine is a window into the more affective parts of the Lesbian Avengers – their lusts, their hopes, their loves, and their rage. This outpouring of emotion and vulnerability was in and of itself, a form of activism. A refusal to be silenced or forgotten. In the spirit of that, let’s dive in.

The first piece in the first issue of Necessary Friction is Queen of Wands, by Julie. This piece is an intense personal erotic BDSM narrative, unflinching in its realness.  At a time when lesbians could be quietly killed for the crime of existence, to claim lesbian sexuality, especially kink was an incredibly powerful act. Sex and kink were a part of queerness for many members of the Avengers, and they were unafraid to claim it. This is where the Lesbian Avengers’ strength lied: a refusal to be shamed.

Bravery takes many forms. In this personal narrative, What Caught my Eye, by Amy, Amy recounts a particular encounter with a lover, in which they, joyous at being reunited after a long time apart, kiss brazenly in the street, in spite of jeers and hatred, before retreating to the safety of Amy’s home. This particular piece illustrates the complex emotions that go into activism. Where there is bravery, there is always fear. And where there is pride and openness, there is the threat of danger. The ability to share such complications and vulnerabilities is one of the strengths of the zines, and what made them a valuable tool for the Avengers to communicate, as well as a valuable tool by which we can understand them today.

~ CJ Garcia, OSUL Diversity Scholar 2021-2022

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