I need to thank my good friend Debbie Mix for inspiring me to write this post. In a time when I worry that the backlash against women grows evermore severe, I would like to celebrate the late openly lesbian Gladys Bentley. My hope is that remembering Bentley will inspire all women to find their voice and not be afraid to assert their independence. We need strong bold women!
Bentley started her career as butch sexually charged lesbian chanteuse in Harlem in the 20s and 30s but later relocated to San Francisco. Bentley created a striking look with very short hair, dressed in men’s clothes (her signature white tuxedo), and openly flirted with women at the bar she performed in–brave stuff for the 20s and 30s, I like her already. Bentley enjoyed a successful career performing in lesbian bars in San Francisco, once the “Noble Experiment” (Prohibition) ended.
Sadly, toward the end of Bentley’s life, she forced herself to adopt a heterosexual personae and worked to become more “feminine” according to society’s rules. I can’t even fathom how difficult it must have been for Bentley to have lived her life honestly during this time in American history. Enduring racism alone seems hard enough, but couple that with facing homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, classism, and ageism seems to cover all of the intersections of oppression. What a strong woman she must have been.
Click here to read more about this amazing woman, Gladys Bentley.