In a world where members of the LGBT community have gained access to mass media, it can be easy to forget how different life was a few decades ago. Stanford University professor, author and voice in feminist and gender studies, Susan Krieger beautifully depicts the struggles and concerns of lesbians in a not so distant past.
Krieger’s first book, “The Mirror Dance,” captures the fears of a lesbian community in a Midwestern town.
“I interviewed about 60 women and almost all feared being outed at work,” she said.
In a more recent book, “Things No Longer There,” Krieger vividly relives her experience at a camp she attended as a teenage girl that was run by two lesbians. Although she did not know about their sexuality then, in retrospect she could remember Ms. Sandy’s unused bed that was always cluttered with papers and projects.
In the first chapter, she dives deeper into the dynamics and idiosyncrasies that made up the camp organizer’s relationship,
“They never arrived together as if to insist they came from different lives,” she said. The camp had such great impact on her that Susan wishes she could have been able to see the camp owners as an adult to tell them how much she loved the place and that she was lesbian, too.
Krieger also analyzes her own fears, what she calls “lesbophobias,” in another piece called “The Family Silver.” In this narrative, Susan discusses the lesbophobias pertaining to being a lesbian teacher.
She writes, “I was aware of the consequences of touching students to say ‘great work’ or ‘nice’, and always kept my hands to my sides.” The world that existed outside the “heterosexual veneer” as Krieger refers to it, was to be protected and kept a secret in those times.
Being out of the closet was risky and Krieger experienced some taunting, yet it did yield some good as well. When she arrived at Stanford and asked if there were any other lesbian faculty members, the answer was, “just one other.”
Later, Krieger found herself knocking at professor’s Estelle Frieddman’s door. The two soon became partners. They now have been together for 30 years. When Susan began to lose her sight in the mid-90s due to a condition called birdshot retinochoroidopathy, it was Frieddman who helped Krieger through the transition. She encouraged her partner to write and served as her first editor.
This wonderful display of support resulted in “Things No Longer There,” and her latest book, “Traveling Blind,” in which their travels with Krieger’s guide dog Teela to many parts of the country.
In the LGBT community, labels come naturally and words like bottom, butch or fem are casually exchanged, yet Krieger discovered that the blind label was easier to claim. When she was sighted, hearing occasional name calling while walking down the street was not uncommon. However, once she started to carry a white cane and later to walk with a guide dog, people treated her more kindly.
“Blindness definitely has its own set of problems but it is easier for people to accept,” Krieger said.
***Belo Cipriani is a freelance writer, speaker, and the author of Blind: A Memoir. Learn more at www.blindamemoir.com.