'The Girls Next Door' -- a lesbian primer

June 23, 1996|By Victoria A. Brownworth | Victoria A. Brownworth,Special to the Sun

"The Girls Next Door: Into the Heart of Lesbian America" by Lindsy Van Gelder and Pamela Robin Brandt. Simon & Schuster. pages. $23.

The Spanish Inquisitors burned them as witches. Queen Victoria didn't believe they existed. But in 1990s America, lesbians have finally arrived - not via broom nor frightening the horses, but in the most benign of places. They are, as authors Lindsey Van Gelder and Pamela Robin Brandt explicate in smart, saucy and occasionally seductive detail, the eponymous girls next door.

Clear, honest and compelling, "The Girls Next Door" defines and redefines what it is to be a lesbian in America. Part pop anthropology, part hip sociology, the book examines the recent phenomenon of lesbianism chic (born out of a segment of ABC's "20/20" on Northhampton, Mass. which was dubbed "Lesbianville, USA" because of its large, openly lesbian population) and what it means.

Van Gelder and Brandt cite the watershed chic-ing of lesbians as a materialization point: Until that fateful Friday night in 1992, dykes were the invisible Americans, seen only in the pages of male porno mags ( looking not at each other, but at the drooling male viewer). The authors' thesis: once dykes (or at least the lipstick lesbians) came out of the closet onto the small screen, it was the end of the world as we knew it - for lesbians as much as for heterosexuals. From feminism to family values, the overt lesbianism of a significant segment of America has altered the political and cultural landscape forevermore.

"The Girls Next Door" is not for the terminally politically correct nor the hopelessly heterosexually hidebound. Much that the authors write will raise straight and queer eyebrows. They don't mince their words or their steps - they do go there.

Unabashed at explaining what lesbians do in bed (everything), unafraid to poke fun at sacred shibboleths (lesbian or straight), "The Girls Next Door" is a calculated romp with a hidden agenda. For though it reads with the easy directedness of a good magazine piece, this is a well-researched book filled with meaty interviews and pumped with intriguing facts.

The book is a myth-blaster that determines to explain as much about what lesbians aren't (unattractive man-haters, victims of traumatic experiences with men) as what they are (everyone from Mom to the church deacon to the UPS delivery girl). And the underlying message is succinct: Lesbians are woven into every square inch of the fabric of American life - rip the girls out and the whole damn thing will fall apart.

Chatty, breezy, personal, "The Girls Next Door" is the first true primer on American lesbianism, taking the reader from the fringe the Michigan Women's Music Festival to the frolic of the Dinah Shore golf extravaganza to the all-too-dramatic-fight for civil rights with the Lesbian Avengers.

A message book devoid of didacticism, "The Girls Next Door" is spirited and sly, unafraid to take the State to task for using lesbian invisibility to deny women their rights. No drinkers at the Well of Loneliness, Van Gelder and Brandt are two unapologetically content dykes who have penned a hip travel guide into lesbian America.

Not everyone will want to take the trip, but then there will always be the stay-at-homes who pass on Paris, too. "The Girls Next Door" introduces Everylesbian to straight and queer readers alike, all the while making a subtle but compelling case for acceptance based on knowledge.

Victoria A. Brownworth, a lesbian activist for 25 years, is a columnist for Curve magazine. Her writing appears regularly in the U.S. and abroad, including the Philadelphia Daily News, OUT, the Village Voice, Genre and Ms. She has written and edited eight books, most recently "Too Queer, Essays from a Radical Life."

Pub Date: 06/23/96

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