Clare Potter, “Lesbian Source: Rec-om-mend”, Sojourner, mars 1980
Lesbian Peoples: Material for a Dictionaty, by Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig. Avon Books, 1979, $5.95 paperback.
The spirit that emanates from Lesbian Peoples is a strong reminder of Jill Johnston’s Lesbian Nation; both are works of cultural self-affirmation and definition. Jill’s book is dedicated to her mother “… who should’ve been a lesbian” and to her daughter, “… in hopes she will be.” Monique and Sande write that those who do “not live with lesbians in the lesbian peoples” are “lost”. In other words, to be a lesbian is a choice blessing and the best hope for women’s futures. In both books it is lesbians who are the moving center of an evolving women’s consciousness, and lesbian lives are synonymous with freedom and autonomy. Monique and Sande give recognition to Jill’s earlier work by including Lesbian Nation in their list of sources along with other prime works, real and imaginated, of the movement.
Lesbian Peoples is not, however, a structured narrative, but is organized alphabetically like a conventional dictionary. Standard meanings are transformed, and words and names are invented for the history, culture and personalities of an historic lesbian peoples. One of the longest sections, on “history”, recounts the central conflict of Monique and Sande’s lesbian mythology. In the beginning the lesbian peoples were called amazons and “created harmony on earth”. They were gatherers and hunters who traveled from place to place. At a crucial juncture some of the amazons ceased to wander, formed cities and eventually developed an opposing culture based upon their function as childbearers, incorporating images of fecundity and fructification. The Great Mothers came to view the amazon as “eternal children” of “those who belong to another”. Monique and Sande are portraying the end of harmony on earth as the result of internal divisions among women. They are asking us to consider if we are not, in fact, the agents of our historical oppression. If that is the truth, then only we can be the originators of our freedom.
There is also a great deal of humor and witty playfulness in Lesbian Peoples, along with its mythologizing and symbol-making. For example, Monique and Sande define “circulation” as “the physical process of inter-mingling two bodies”, and in one of my favorites the definition of “fall” becomes: “If it is a question of falling, better to do it into the arms of one’s piles of leaves, sand, hay, snow.” Whether one appreciates most the lyric lesbian feminism of the book or the fun Monique and Sande obviously had playing with words, the pleasure of Lesbian Peoples increases with re-reading and re-thinking.