elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Lisa Ben (born November 7, 1921)

Edith Eyde (born 1921), also known by her pen name Lisa Ben, is an American editor, author, and songwriter. She created the first known lesbian publication in the world, Vice Versa. Ben produced the magazine for a year and distributed it locally in Los Angeles, California in the late 1940s. She was also active in lesbian bars as a musician in the years following her involvement with Vice Versa. Eyde has been recognized as a pioneer in the LGBT movement.

Eyde was born in San Francisco in 1921 and grew up an only child on an apricot ranch. Her father was an insurance agent and her mother was a housewife. She studied violin for eight years. Eyde developed her first crush on another girl when she was in high school, although she did not identify as lesbian until several years later. When her crush broke off the relationship, a devastated Eyde spoke with her mother. Her mother's adverse reaction convinced Eyde not to discuss her personal or romantic life with her parents again. After attending college for two years, Eyde acquiesced to her parents' demands and took a secretarial course in 1942. After three years of saving her money, she defied her parents and moved, first to Palo Alto, and then to Los Angeles in 1945.

Eyde first identified as a lesbian in 1946, when she noticed that many of the other women in her apartment building did not spend time talking about boyfriends and breakups. One of the women asked Eyde if she was gay, and Eyde realized that she was. She began frequenting lesbian bars with her new friends and, while she was never directly caught up in one of the frequent police raids on such bars, was on one occasion questioned by police. Eyde began publishing Vice Versa in 1947 as a way of expanding her social circle. "I was by myself, and I wanted to be able to meet others like me. I couldn't go down the street saying 'I'm looking for lesbian friends'...[Vice Versa] gave me a way of reaching out to other gay gals—a way of getting to know other gals....when I had something to hand out and when I tried to talk girls into writing for my magazine, I no longer had any trouble going up to new people."

While working as a secretary at RKO Studios, her boss advised her that there would not be a lot of work for her to do but he wanted her to look busy, so Eyde typed each issue of the magazine twice through with five carbon copies, making a total of 12 copies of each issue. She initially mailed three copies to friends and distributed the rest by hand, encouraging her readers to pass their copies along to friends rather than throwing them away. Eyde believes that several dozen people read each copy. Although scrupulous about avoiding material that could be considered "dirty" or risqué, she stopped mailing copies after a friend advised her that she could be arrested for sending obscene material through the mail. Publications addressing homosexuality were automatically deemed obscene under the Comstock Act until 1958.

Eyde published nine issues of Vice Versa, from June 1947 through February 1948. She ceased publication after RKO was sold, forcing her to change jobs. Her new assignment left her no free time at work to type the magazine. She had also accomplished her goal of increasing her circle of friends, and she wanted to spend more time enjoying her new life rather than writing about it. Despite the short run of the magazine, Eyde is credited with "set[ting] the agenda that has dominated lesbian and gay journalism for fifty years [by] introduc[ing] many of the characteristics that would define the myriad publications that would follow".

In the 1950s, Eyde began writing for The Ladder, the first nationally-distributed lesbian magazine. The Ladder was published by early lesbian group the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), of which she was a member. It was in writing for The Ladder that she began writing under the pseudonym "Lisa Ben", an anagram of "lesbian", when her first choice, "Ima Spinster", was rejected. The Ladder also reprinted material from Vice Versa.

Eyde resumed her earlier interest in music and began writing and performing gay-themed parodies of popular songs at a local gay club called The Flamingo. For example, "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" became "I'm gonna sit right down and write my butch a letter". She was inspired to write her songs out of a determination to create gay entertainment that was neither profane nor demeaning to gay people, particularly after being discouraged by the self-deprecating jokes and songs made by performers in gay clubs. The Daughters of Bilitis released a single of Eyde, as "Lisa Ben", as a fundraiser. The record included her own composition, "Cruisin' Down the Boulevard" with a lesbian version of "Frankie and Johnny" on the flip side. DOB billed Eyde as "the first gay folk singer". Her music has appeared on the soundtracks of several documentary films.

At age 36, Eyde entered into her first and only long-term relationship. They lived together for three years until her partner lost all of their money gambling. Since then she has dated casually but has not been interested in pursuing another serious relationship. In 1972, Eyde as "Lisa Ben" was honored by ONE, Inc. as "the father [sic] of the homophile movement" for her creation of Vice Versa. She appeared in the 1984 documentary Before Stonewall, discussing her life and work and performing several of her parody songs. Eyde continued to work in a variety of secretarial positions until retiring. Eyde was honored in 1997 as a founder of the Los Angeles LGBT community. In 2010 the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association inducted Eyde into its Hall of Fame.

Eyde lives in Burbank, California. Although her real name is known, Eyde prefers to be known under her pseudonym, saying that she fears being discovered by people who would "not understand".

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Ben

Lisa Ben, 1997, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123907)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)

Further Readings:

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (Between Men--Between Women) by Lillian Faderman
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (June 1, 1992)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0140171223
ISBN-13: 978-0140171228
Amazon: Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (Between Men--Between Women)

Traces the evolution of lesbian identity and subcultures from the early years of the century to the diversity of today's lifestyles. Faderman uses journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, new accounts, novels, medical literature and over 186 personal interviews with lesbians of all races, ages and classes to uncover and relate this often surprising narrative of lesbian life in America. Lesbian identity could emerge, Faderman maintains, only during this century with the sexual freedom of the 1920s and the 1960s, as well as the social freedom made possible by World War II, the education of women and the civil rights and women's movements. The term "lesbian" did not become current until the late 19th century, when European sexologists began to explore female same-sex loving. Sexologists stigmatized same-sex loving where once it had been accepted. This book tells how women who accepted the label "lesbian" altered the sexologists' definitions, creating identities and ideologies for themselves.

Rough News, Daring Views: 1950S' Pioneer Gay Press Journalism (Haworth Gay & Lesbian Studies) by John Dececco Phd & Jim Kepner
Paperback: 494 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (December 8, 1997)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1560238968
ISBN-13: 978-1560238966
Amazon: Rough News, Daring Views: 1950S' Pioneer Gay Press Journalism

Rough News--Daring Views: 1950s’Pioneer Gay Press Journalism is a collection of the most challenging and wide-ranging essays on gay life--its political, social, religious, and historical aspects--to appear in the pioneer gay press in America. Jim Kepner's contributions to ONE Magazine, the Mattachine Review, ONE Institute Quarterly of Homophile Studies, ONE Confidential, and other publications, at a time when to produce or possess any such material was judged illegal and subversive, are invaluable to students of gay history, homosexuality and the law, and religious and biological arguments on the subject, as well as for analysts of the progress and goals of the gay liberation movement. It is also a popular reader for gays, researchers, teachers, and journalism students interested in the almost overlooked history of the gay and lesbian movement before Stonewall.

The importance of Jim Kepner's contributions to the 1950s’gay press cannot be overstated. In the author's words, “I shed the apologetic attitudes, explored the meaning of gayness, looked at various social and legal aspects of gay life, and critically analyzed the homophobic views of many psychotherapists, theologians, and others, exploring our history and literature, and covering then-current witch-hunts against gays and discussing how we could define and advance our cause. My articles covered . . . a wide range of gay concerns, generally moving well ahead of the timid or homophobic thinking of most gays at the time (though, as shown here, my own ideas also had some evolving to do).” In Rough News--Daring Views, you'll uncover revolutionary articles and reports on:
the first detailed refutation of claims by a psychotherapist that all exclusive homosexuals were neurotic and could be cured
the first American outline for a class on Homosexual Sociology
the first exploration in the American gay press of the question of Whitman's homosexuality
accounts of the new thinking by British churchmen about homosexuality, morality, and the law, and an overview of religion and homosexuality
accounts of legal battles and a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court
anecdotal explorations of the gay beach, the single life, and gays lonely at Christmas time
explorations of the biological evidence of homosexuality
the early progress of the gay and lesbian (then referred to as “homophile”) movement
an account of the 1907-1909 trials on homosexual charges of intimate friends of Kaiser Wilhelm II that effectively removed moderates from the German Imperial government and set Germany on the disastrous road to World War and Nazism

Kepner's writings from the pioneer gay press in America will help gays today understand where they came from, how they thought about themselves five decades ago, how society treated them, and how gays began to reject the definitions put on them by authorities, and begin the process of redefining gays and their place in the world.

More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices

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Tags: musician: lisa ben, particular voices

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