BY EVE KUCHARSKI
It arrives in an inconspicuous, magazine-sized envelope on your front doorstep, and the word “lesbian” isn’t anywhere on the packaging. This is deliberate. Just a return address to a Lansing, Michigan P.O. Box for the Helen Diner Memorial Women’s Center. If you’ve been subscribed since the start, you’ll have been on the mailing list for 43 years.
“Currently our press run is 15,000 and a lot of the households of course have multiple women in them. It’s down some from peak years, it’s been as high as the low 20,000s but we’re hanging in there,” said Lisy Harmon, editor and Ambitious Amazon.
Hanging in there indeed. Tear open the packaging, and you’ll find the bimonthly magazine is called Lesbian Connection, with the words “free to lesbians worldwide” just underneath. Now with a glossy cover, gone are the days that 18 staples bound the publication shut. Fully funded by donations, the magazine is put out through the Elsie Publishing Institute and is perhaps the oldest existing lesbian-exclusive print forum in the world.
“We’re grassroots and reader-written and the fact that it’s all over the place and a really diverse voice, you’ll hear different sides of the issues,” Harmon said. “It’s a place for a call-in response kind of thing, where we do get various sides and that’s different than most publications. There’s no set slant to it, because it’s not based on a board that sits down and says what we’re going to print and that makes us unique.”
Unique as the setup may be, the reader-driven content is what keeps many engaged.
“I think I’ve been a reader since I was about 18 and I’m 53 now,” said contributor M.J. Stephenson. “It’s not like it’s professional writers, so you get all sorts of styles. It’s about things that people are really thinking about, it’s not like ‘oh what do I have to write for this edition? The issue is coming out and I have to come up with a topic.'”
Filled with both letters and responses to previously covered issues, the magazine also includes topic suggestions for readers to submit about, such as aging well and achieving closure in a breakup. In the spirit of network building it also has a “Contact Dyke” mailing list, filled with the names, addresses and contact information of friendly lesbians willing to aid women in their travels across the US and as far away as New Zealand.
Founded in 1974 by several women, Margy Lesher was especially involved with Lesbian Connection. While planning the first ever Midwest Lesbian Conference that year, Lesher became frustrated with the difficulty of distributing information to lesbians on a wide scale, and so called a meeting of Ambitious Amazons – taking a term from the 1932 book by Helen Diner: Mothers and Amazons: The First Feminine History of Culture.
The title stuck.
“The Ambitious Amazons who have chosen to step up and actually manage and make sure everything gets done, so we have some higher expectations for them and higher responsibility, that’s what it is to me,” Harmon said. “It’s an achievement. You have to want to be one and then you have to be accepted by whoever the current ones are it’s kind of a badge of honor.”
Diner’s actual name was also used, both in renaming the women’s center as well as in the creation of a companion publication to all Michigan subscribers of Lesbian Connection, “What Helen Heard.”
It’s a newsletter that extensively details lesbian events in the area, features classified ads and announcements and is put out by more than two dozen bookstores and distributors. LC estimates it reaches over 7,000 women.
“All of the ads are aimed toward our community,” Stephenson said. “When you look at the magazines that are out there that you can buy in the store, there’s a lot of money there in those glossy magazines, and it’s not necessarily what we want to see.”
Yet even with the tailor-made content, it’s clear that times have changed in the internet age. Print is certainly a slower form of communication and lesbian news has become easily accessible.
“Actually, one of the things that is discussed a lot in the magazine is the disappearing lesbian and women-only scene,” Ambitious Amazon Jen Richmond said. “We’ve become more mainstreamed.”
But Harmon is confident that LC is far from obsolete.
“On the one hand, we’re not as vital life-line to a certain section of the lesbian population any longer because there is more available, but then on the other hand we still have a lot of readers who are firmly in the closet for any number of reasons,” Harmon said. “I think we would continue in the same way, but we have talked about getting the content online but making the content secure.”
Harmon also feels Lesbian Connection also has a hand in stopping lesbian erasure.
“Well I believe that’s one of the things we’re trying to do. We are Lesbian Connection and then we’ll always remain that,” Harmon said. “Many readers have said that this is one of the last places that they have found to be connected to lesbians with the disappearing of spaces.”
BY EVE KUCHARSKI