This Pride Week, the New York Times published a belated obituary of a lesbian who died in 1988. It was part of a series called “Overlooked No More.” Here’s how they describe the series: Overlooked is a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times. This month, they say, they are printing stories of important LGBTQ figures.
The individual they picked to open the LGBTQ obits was Valerie Solanas. They describe her as a radical feminist, author of the SCUM Manifesto, “in which she argued for the wholesale extermination of men.” She unwittingly sold the rights to the manifesto for $500 to upscale porn publisher Maurice Girodias, who pocketed all the profits when it became a best seller. According to the article, Solanas’ writings are still read in some women’s and gender studies courses, but she is most remembered for shooting Andy Warhol.
They note that she said her father sexually abused her from a young age. She bore two children by the age of 15, and one of them was raised as her sister. In other words, she was a victim of rape and incest. After the Warhol shooting, she was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and confined to mental hospitals for some months. Upon release, she worked for a feminist publication for a year and a half. She was destitute for the rest of her life, and died in a welfare hotel in San Francisco. The Times reported, “Solanas was [found] kneeling next to the bed, covered in maggots, and had apparently been dead for five days. The cited cause was pneumonia.”
Let’s take a look at the context of this obituary. The Times has regular gay male and bisexual male columnists, but no lesbians. They do regularly publish op-ed pieces by transwomen, but in all these years I can remember only one op-ed piece by a transman.
The Solanas article reminds me of all the pre-Stonewall novels and movies in which any lesbian character must die, preferably in some sordid way, or live alone and miserable, and the woman she loves must end up in the arms of a man. I particularly remember The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox, and Frank Marcus’ The Killing of Sister George. Consciously or not, in the same way that racism can be conscious or not, the Times has chosen to open Pride Week with a story about a stereotypical “man-hating dyke” who comes to a bad end. And of course they had to include the bit about the maggots.
As one reader observed in the comments section, with friends like the Times, who needs enemies?
P.S. Chelsea Dreher, a friend from the Gay Liberation Front/Radicalesbians writes: “ few women confronted Solanas when she tried to enter a DOB dance. She had a list of women she planned to kill. Top of the list was Robin Morgan. Apparently while in jail she had built up cases against certain women. She was noticed by someone, Kate Millet maybe, and some of us, (three or four) stopped her on the narrow iron staircase to keep her from the main room and disrupting the dance. We just talked her down. Her eyes are still memorable to me after all these years. A menacing presence. She left after being talked down.”