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Sharon Deevey's Lesbian Jottings 1970-2010

Sharon Deevey from Westerville, Ohio, has been a lesbian activist since coming out in 1970. She retired from her varied careers in elementary school teaching, nursing, and librarianship in 2006. She currently writes and dances at a local senior center, and keeps in close touch with a lifetime of lovers and friends.

Two of her poems appeared in Dykes for an Amerikan Revolution, "for Joan" and "before Chincoteague." Dykes for an Amerikan Revoution is available on the Lesbian Poetry Archive here.

Deevey recently published a book, Lesbian Jottings 1970-2010. Copies of the book are available by emailing her at A link to the PDF of the book is available at the end of this exhibit.

The complete introduction to Deevey's Lesbian Jottings 1970-2010 is below. Deevey's papers are in two places. Her multidisciplinary lesbian health library (including 200 monographs and 600 articles) is at the Lesbian Health Research Center at UCSF, Laurel Heights Campus, Institute for Health & Aging, Suite 340, Box 0646, San Francisco, CA 94143. Documents from the Cleveland and Columbus, OH chapters of Cassandra: Radical Feminist Nurses Network, with which Deevey was active, are at the Medical History Library at Pryor Health Sciences Library at The Ohio State University. Deevey's journals and photograph albums will come to rest at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York, NY.


When I felt overwhelmed, I wrote. When I felt thrilled, I wrote. At first I wrote in the laundromat, on scraps of paper bags, or on semi-blank pages from a magazine left lying by the dryers. I started to write in 1970, the year I came out as a lesbian. My life was full of shock, and at first, of secrets.

Until then I had been the most ordinary of girls, the oldest child in a middle class, Republican, New England family. Except for the frequent moves for my father’s work-- and being the last in town to get television -- we were the most mainstream family imaginable. Mom was at home. Dad wore a gray suit and a maroon-striped tie, and rode the train to work. We three girls were dropped off on Sundays at the nearest Protestant church. My parents saw religion as culture, not faith, and chose convenience over conviction.

As a child I read constantly, including at age eight, The Diary of Anne Frank, which I found among my grandmother’s books. At age 14, I went to Northfield School for Girls, a boarding school in Massachusetts, where I reveled in daily chapel and, like every student in the school, took my turn sharing the domestic work of cooking, cleaning, and gardening. At age 17, I won a scholarship as an exchange student for a year at Malvern Girls’ College in England. At age 19, I went to Swarthmore College near Philadelphia.

At Northfield, I first saw the films of the Nazi concentration camps, and in England, I watched Jack Kennedy back the Russians out of Cuba. At Swarthmore, I painted run-down houses in nearby Chester, and marched on the mall in D.C. against the Vietnam War. The first year after college, I taught a one-room school in eastern Kentucky, and married my college sweetheart.

But nothing prepared me for 1970. That year, I volunteered in the Women’s Liberation Office, a block from our apartment, and taught part-time at Sidwell Friends School. My husband worked at the Institute for Policy Studies, and on Sundays we played softball with his colleagues, who were intellectuals and radicals all. The adults we admired had all been assassinated: Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King. In Ohio, at Kent State, the National Guard gunned down students just barely younger than we were.

On April 20, 1970, I first made love with a woman. At first that fact seemed no more life changing than anything that came before. But when I came down off the high of coming out, I no longer fit anywhere anymore.

The time of secrecy was brief. I was bubbling over with joy, amazement, and naiveté. Then so quickly, my parents were appalled, my employers eager to let me go, and the Furies Collective urgently purging those of us they labeled middle class. I wasn’t sure who I was, where I lived, or how I would support myself. Within the culture of lesbian-feminist non- monogamy, I wasn’t even sure which woman I loved most or who loved me. And so I wrote, in short lines I called poetry -- love poems, lust poems, and “who-the-hell-am-I?” poems.

By 1978, I had moved to Cleveland to go to nursing school. I took a course called “Management of Self”, which required keeping a journal. Beginning that year, I kept all my jottings: my notes from 1970, and commentaries on my jobs, learning, and lovers.

I got more organized and wrote consistently in little notebooks I carried in my purse or pocket. Then I stapled each set of small pages, jotted over tea or between home visits, into spiral bound notebooks, one per year. I wrote when I needed to cry, or cuss someone out.

In 2008, at age 63, I joined a Writing-as-Healing group led by Jeannetta Holliman at the Gillie Senior Center in Columbus, Ohio. Jeannetta recommended I read a 1999 book called Harvesting Your Journals by Deerheart and Strickland. On my bed I laid out thirty spiral-bound colored-cover notebooks, stuffed with little pages. Most of the writing was narrative, letters I wrote to myself about how to manage life in its increasing complexity: not just lovers, lost lovers, and politics; not just a job or two, but a career, and career changes; not just the roller coaster of emotion, but the insistent malfunctions of the body.

From these journals, I have reached for the words in shortest format, the poems jotted at emotional peaks or valleys: the words about desire and hatred that no proper New England girl should ever feel, much less reveal. Growing up, I learned first and foremost what was proper. I learned about courage, which my family called grace under pressure. I expected I would have five children and drive a station wagon with pseudo-wood paneling on the sides. I knew little of the variety of ways humans make love and families.

My coming out surprised me as much as it surprised those around me, as lesbian life in 1970 was usually hidden within the mainstream culture. I could find nothing in the public library to read about women who loved women. In the National Archives and the Library of Congress where I reviewed the historical papers of women who lived in pairs, I found no details, no maps, for how to live the suddenly more complex life I had jumped into with such delight.

The void of information inspired me to keep writing, to save my jottings, and eventually to make plans to donate my notebooks to the Lesbian Herstory Archives after my death. I did not until recently consider sharing such personal experiences during my lifetime. Those of us who have been lesbian activists have worked hard to persuade the world that lesbian women are not sinners, not criminals, and not mentally ill. In the process, we sometimes hide our very ordinary pain and sadness, fearing our truths will contribute to homophobia, and be used against us, or against other queer folk like us. But we too are only human, with our share of relationship problems and physical illness, as well as, if we are lucky, our portion of joy and delight. I am glad be aging now in an era of emerging LGBT pride, openness, and publication, where I have the option to tell the truth to anyone eager to listen.

The book is available to read on our website. Click the cover image here or scroll down to the Attachments part of the website to access the PDF file.

PDF icon Lesbian Jottings 06-04-10.pdf455.33 KB