"Baby, You Are My Religion is written with passion and seeks to add a more spiritual dimension to the genre of cultural histories written about the place of lesbians in the gay bar scene. The accessible prose, supplemented with a sizable list of theoretical and theological definitions, in addition to the entertaining and provocative interviews, makes for an undemanding, yet fun, read." — Marcie Bianco, Lambda Literary Review
Read our interview with author Marie Cartier, in which she reveals some interesting facts and background to her groundbreaking work.
Tell us a little about yourself. What has been the biggest highlight in your career?
As this is my first academic book—this has to be a highlight. I have to say one of the biggest highlights of my career thus far however, has been an ongoing and poignant one, connected to the publication of the book but also stretching off from it. The hardcover version of this book was published last January and we had the book launch for the book at the Long Beach (CA) Gay and Lesbian Center. It was a “standing room” only crowd and several people were turned away because there were no seats left. Before the event, I had asked several of the “informants” or women I interviewed for the book to help me “sign” books after the reading. I wanted them to share in the pride of having their stories published. At my first reading six of the 102 people interviewed were on hand to help me sign book. The ongoing highlight of this story is that I have had one to two events every month since last January and at every one of these events I have had at least one person from the book show up there to sign books with me—and also often to relay personally parts of their story that are in the book, and sometimes to add to that story.
What was your vision upon starting Baby, You are My Religion and do you believe you have achieved your goals?
My vision on starting Baby, You Are My Religion was that I wanted to capture the uniqueness, “sacredness” and community that filled the gay bars pre-Stonewall for the people who went there. I felt, prior to starting this book that the gay bar culture pre –Stonewall (pre 1975 or so) had been lost with the people who lived through it. The people who lived through that time knew that the gay bars were important—as community centers, as public spaces, as conduits of information and friendship—that existed nowhere else in their culture at that time. We as a gay culture however following this period wanted a different history to be proud of—not a “gay bar” history. But, gay bars were the “only place” for gay women and men prior to 1970—there was literally no other public space. So, I thought, we needed to think about the gay bar in a different way than we had thought about a bar before. One of the things I emphasize in the book and in my performances is that we need to be proud of the history we have—not search for a history to be proud of.
Yes—I do believe I have achieved that goal. One of the reasons I believe I have achieved the goal is the amazing gratitude I have received from the women (and men) who lived through this period—who have come forward as participants, and have come to sign books with me, brought people to readings, and have been so proud to have their stories told. For many of them, this was such a positive, yet dangerous and conflicted time. It was their “coming out” into gay and lesbian culture—coming into themselves. I believe this book –with its emphasis on religious language—is able to place this culture in a lens through which it has never before been seen. As we look at this culture through the lens of a possible sacrality—we begin to see how important it was to the women and men who created it, kept it alive and lived it as they shaped their identity and the culture from which the identity of “gay pride” and the contemporary gay and lesbian civil rights movement would blossom.
Who are the intended audience?
Seriously—everyone should be interested in the beginnings of gay and lesbian civil rights. I believe with this book I establish the ground for the gay bars pre-Stonewall as the claiming of public space for gay and lesbian people. This claiming of public space allowed the fermentation of community and civil rights organizing and community connection that would become the movements that would establish social change such as gay marriage rights in future decades. Everyone should be interested in that.
What do you hope resonates with the reader?
The hope that the folks who lived through this period had—the dreams and wishes and fears and courage they had to live “the life,” the gay life pre-Stonewall—when police raids, beatings, rape, unlawful arrest, and detention were not uncommon. I hope that contemporary people, and certainly contemporary LGBT people, understand what this earlier generation did in order to carve out these essential breathing spaces between a rock and a hard place that allowed our LGBT culture to birth a future. If not for this courage and fortitude to persevere in creating community, we do not have the culture that we enjoy today as LGBT people. That’s a fact—it’s history. I want this additional way to look at the history/herstory of LGBT people to become part of the canon—part of how we view our history—that the gay bar culture was essential—and it is something we have the right to be proud of.
Can you summarize the book’s key message?
Gay bars were an alternative church space to gay and lesbian people pre-Stonewall. Gay people were considered mentally ill by the profession until 1973; they were considered sinners in every minor and major religion; they were considered the nation’s highest security risk (more gays and lesbians were let go from their jobs during the McCarthy era than Communists). Sinners, psychos and perverts—this was their lot. The gay bar provided the space for humanity, friendship, sometimes love, and community connection. This was the only place available for that. As such, it provided and became an alternative church space for people exiled from all other spaces.
(photo by: Kimberly Esslinger)
Baby, You Are My Religion argues that American butch-femme bar culture of the mid-20th Century should be interpreted as a sacred space for its community. Before Stonewall—when homosexuals were still deemed mentally ill—these bars were the only place where many could have any community at all. Baby,…
Paperback – 2013-11-29