Shannon Rhoades was one of the really cool students in the women’s studies department at the University of Michigan. I wanted to be her friend. We knew each other a bit as undergraduates, enough that when she became the editor of Between The Lines, I called her, suggested that we hang out — or perhaps she called me with a question about Affirmations LGBTQ+ community center. I do not remember exactly how our conversation started, but it did. In my mind, it is a single, intense conversation, sustained for 18 months between the spring of 1994 and October of 1995, and one of the most consequential conversations in my life.
Early on, the idea emerged that she should move the paper to Detroit (because everything was happening in Detroit) and move into my new house on Church Street in Corktown. She did. We talked about building a volunteer editorial board for BTL. We did. Then, over the course of a brief number of months (brief now to my memory in my 50s; in my 20s, the days and months felt long, consequential), we did a flurry of work together: writing, thinking, reading, discussing queer political issues, analyzing movement strategy and tactics, all while Shannon adeptly edited and published BTL. We wanted a queer, feminist revolution. We understood that a newspaper would be a fulcrum for that radical vision.
And it was. Planning cover stories was one of my favorite parts of working on BTL with Shannon. Reviewing them recently, I was reminded how powerful each was: a cover with Urvashi Vaid, who died just over a year ago; highlighting Creating Change in Detroit; a cover of Scott Amedure after he was murdered; a cover about ballot initiatives. There was something heady about producing a monthly tabloid paper. Heady and stressful. To mitigate the stress, we gathered amazing people around the paper. Writers, activists, photographers, but mostly people we thought were cool — really cool. I always was asking, “How can we bring more people into BTL?”
The June 1995 cover story from issue number 27 titled “Pride in Michigan” reflects this vision of BTL as a communal endeavor and feels like a pinnacle in the long conversation with Shannon. It is an eight-page feature with gorgeous photographs of local Michigan queers from a range of racial-ethnic backgrounds sporting amazing clothes at familiar Detroit locations: the Detroit Institute of Art, the Fox Theatre and Tres Vite, off Woodward Avenue. The photographs are sexy, intimate, defiant, real. I remember it took months to put together the full feature with Crystal Muldrow as the art director and John Sobczak as the photographer. We had stylists and assistants. And it was so much work.
A 1995 calendar published and distributed by the Lesbian Avengers with glossy black and white photographs of lesbians doing direct actions inspired us. In late 1994 and 1995, we queer people had a profound need to see ourselves in the culture at large because we were so rarely represented. In Detroit, we wanted to see ourselves as queer people outside of heterosexual milieux and outside the U.S. coastal zones of San Francisco/Los Angeles and New York. Queer publications like The Advocate, Curve (then still called Deneuve) and Out magazine rarely offered glimpses of Midwestern queer life; we wanted to remedy that. We were Detroit queers: hip, urban, young, old, out.
In the pages of BTL are the foundations of my intellectual work. Book reviews of work by Minnie Bruce Pratt, Sandra Steingraber and Marilyn Hacker; movie reviews of “The Incredible True Adventures of Two Girls in Love” and “Bar Girls;” feature articles and op-eds. I wrote a little bit of everything on deadline with Shannon. BTL offered me a space to cultivate writing and thinking in a political, communal context.
It is ironic that I selected a fashion feature as meaningful. I am not a fashionista; I never have been. The feature does not carry my byline. I was, however, a part of imagining and creating it, and this feature reflects my greatest memories of my BTL involvement: working with a community of smart, committed, out people who cared passionately about queer liberation.