When I was coming out in 1979 here in LA, there were very few places to meet other lesbians and you pretty much had to be plugged into a subculture to find anybody. There were Girl Scout dykes and bar dykes, there were softball/rugby dykes and leather dykes and the subcultures didn’t mix much. There were few places that all the different cultures mixed, once a year at Gay Pride, the West Coast Women’s Music Festival, the once a year Long Beach Dyke Picnic, women’s music concerts, and the local women’s bookstore. Yes, anyone could go into the local lesbian bar but friends usually sat with friends and didn’t mix with women they didn’t know unless someone was a member of more than one group.
The local women’s books store was neutral territory. The one I went to most was Page One in Pasadena. It was so much more than a bookstore. It was a safe place to find books that would get you strange looks in Crown Books. Remember this was way before Amazon or even Borders or even Barnes and Noble moved in. It was in this very cool old Craftsman house that was almost identical to my grandmother’s house and you felt welcome the minute you walked in. You could wander through the bedroom full of sci-fi or the kitchen full of fliers. The newsletters by the front door. New books in the dining room awaited you.
Page One is where one of my good friends worked so she always could tell me that Nancy had just gotten in some new lesbian science fiction so I worked my way through the Wanderground or Jane Rule’s books. I could pick up a new t-shirt, Uppity Women Unite, or a hand batiked shirt of women dancing under the moon, or my favourite shirt that all the Girl Scouts dykes bought about Mountain Women. It was the place to find an apt or a roommate. To find a rap group if you were just coming out. Pick up a free copy of the Lesbian News. You could get your tickets for the West Coast Women’s Music Festival. Get a copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves. It had classes on Dianic witchcraft before anyone I knew was even pagan until some of my friends started taking the classes.
It was the place I got my copy of the Spiral Dance, the first one not any of the updates. My first copy of We’moon. My copy of Z’s book when it was first in paperback and Another Mother Tongue filled my shelves. I wish I had one of the newsletter bound ones of Z’s book that first came out like my friend, Kathy had. I got my lp of Cris Williamson’s Changer and the Changed, Meg Christian’s Face the Music, Holly Near, tapes of Trish Nugent, Joanna Cazden and so many others that sustained me and carried me between women’s music concerts. It’s where I got my copy of Sagewoman when it still was a one colour ink on white or coloured paper. I still have that cherished first year of copies.
Occasionally they would have a backyard concert and I was lucky enough to get asked to sing at one. I also took a photo that they used as their Yule card the year I was getting my minor in photography. I couldn’t afford to go as often as I liked and when I first start going I was still living at home with my parents and not driving, so I either had to go with a friend or take 2 buses to get there. But some days I just had to go there to breathe in the air.
Someone coming out now has nowhere to go like that. To feel safe just poking around to see what was new or interesting. To listen to women talk when you are still feeling your way into the community. To see if there was a flier for Take Back the Night or Dyke March and wonder if you had the gut to go or if someone else I knew wanted to go. I suppose you could find the Center in We Ho but to a kid in Glendale or Monrovia that could feel like going to the ends of the earth. I miss Page One.