Review of A Place of Our Own: Six Spaces that Shaped Queer Women’s Culture by June Thomas

A Place of Our Own cover
A Place of Our Own: Six Spaces that Shaped Queer Women’s Culture
June Thomas
Seal Press, 2024, 304 pages

Reviewed by Judith Barrington

June Thomas is a terrific journalist whose Slate Working podcast is beloved by a wide audience. This well-researched piece of lesbian history is a great contribution to the story of our times.

For those of us older queer women, June Thomas’s detailed and engaging trip into the 1970s and 1980s is something of a nostalgia trip. Where are those women’s bookstores that spread generously across the United States? Where are the bars? Where are the lesbians growing themselves and their food on lesbian land? Of the six categories described in this book, I imagine that softball and sex-toy stores might have endured the longest, although I haven’t looked for either in quite a while. The most obvious surviving category is lesbian “vacation destinations,” which have long been promoted in the mainstream by the travel industry, making big bucks from our itchy gay feet.

The loss of places that were vital in connecting us to our community and the social movement that grew from it can be seen as a loss. At the same time, we must weigh up the gains we made as a result of those networks. Much of the social change envisaged by second-wave feminists, often with lesbians in the forefront, has been successful.

Younger lesbians who grew up in a queer culture friendlier than its predecessor may not realize the struggles that took place before gay marriage was won; they may not know that some of us were threatened with violence, institutionalized for “treatment,” or separated from our lovers through deportation. In those days, the spaces so clearly described in Thomas’s book were places of refuge, places of friendship, and places in which to foment revolution. Even now, we cannot take for granted that our hard-won progress is securely embedded; the attacks on abortion rights and access surely speak to that. I hope that young lesbians will find our history exciting and inspiring. Lesbian spaces may be different now, but we must not forget how much we need each other in order to keep progressing.

Judith Barrington is a poet and memoirist. Her book, Virginia’s Apple: Collected Memoirs, will be published by Oregon State University Press in September 2024. Her previous memoir, Lifesaving, won the Lambda Literary Award. She is the author of five poetry collections and lives with her partner, Ruth, in Portland.

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