Changing History: Edythe Eyde
“Whether the unsympathetic majority approves or not, it looks as though the third sex is here to stay.
With the advancement of psychiatry and related subjects, the world is becoming more and more aware that there are those in our midst who feel no attraction for the opposite sex.
It is not an uncommon sight to observe mannishly attired women or even those dressed in more feminine garb strolling along the street hand-in-hand or even arm-in-arm, in an attitude which certainly would seem to indicate far more than mere friendliness.
Homosexuality is becoming a less and less taboo subject, and although still considered by the general public as contemptible, or treated with derision, I venture to predict that there will be a time in the future when gay folk will be accepted as part of regular society.
Just as certain subjects, once considered unfit for discussion now are used as themes in many of our motion pictures, I believe that the time will come when, say, Stephen Gordon, will step unrestrained from the pages of Radclyffe Hall’s admirable novel, Well of Loneliness, onto the silver screen and once precedent has been broken by one such motion picture others will be sure to follow.
Perhaps even “Vice Versa” might be the forerunner of better magazines dedicated to the third sex, which in some future time might take their rightful place on the newsstands beside other publications to be available openly and without restriction to those who wish to read them.
In these days of frozen foods, motion picture palaces, compact apartments, modern innovations and female independence, there is no reason why a woman would have to look to a man for food and shelter in return for raising his children and keeping his house in order unless she really wants to.
Never before have circumstances and conditions been so suitable for those of lesbian tendencies.”
Edythe Eyde, better known as Lisa Ben was a ballsy woman. That quote is from Volume One Number Four of Visa Versa, the first lesbian magazine. It was written in 1947.
Eyde was a good writer, she had written a few sci-fi stories before and other short stories and poems. It wasn’t her career, that was being a secretary for a war dog training camp in San Francisco. At that secretary job, while on the clock, she wrote Visa Versa.
For anyone to look at her typewriter and see, she wrote the first lesbian magazine. She said herself, that she had no other work, just had to look busy, so she typed up some of the gayest things of the time.
Those that helped Eyde publish the newspaper made about ten copies of the first volume. Those volumes were then passed to queer women that they knew who then passed it on to other queer women.
Eyde didn’t set out to make history, she just wanted to find others like her. A longing for belonging was common in those times. It was hard to find other gays because they couldn’t be open with who they were.
Visa Versa contained news about meetups as well as current events. It also contained some of Eyde’s written work, short stories and poems, as well as thoughts about the future.
Eyde’s work started something grand, more magazines popped up and were distributed much like Visa Versa was. Sending anything queer through the mail was strictly forbidden. Anything thought to be queer was opened and the sender and recipiant outed. So they were passed along from queer to queer form various sources across the country.
It was the best way to get the newest queer news. Meetups of the Mattachine Society or the Daughters of Bilitis were covered, letting people know where to find others like them. Stories of coming out, or being queer were told. Stories about how no one was entirely along when they realized they were queer. There were book lists for stories about queer people, there were reveiws of movies with queer twists to them.
These magazines helped many people realize how they felt, relating with the things that were written. They also helped the few queer societies that there were find members and motivate queers to gather and protest.
It all began with a secretary who wanted other lesbian friends. Eyde was a terrific writer and even better musician. She was well known at the gay bars for the queer reditions of popular songs. You can hear some of her singing in the links below.
Eyde’s contributions to history are spectacular. We wouldn’t have as much information about what it was like to be queer before Stone Wall without her. These magazines showed raw emotions and popular thinking. It told of when and where queer groups were meeting.
They are not without bias. Some articles in the magazines could be harsh toward transgender people and showed the divide in the community between cisgendered and transgendered individuals. Many claimed that transgender people could be traitors to their own gender or to the movement itself, spies infiltrating groups meant for only women or men.
Of course, these ideas are wrong, transgender people are their gender, but back then, the concept of being transgender was harder to grasp than it is today. It seemed almost impossible.
Other magazines that were popular after the end of Visa Versa were ONE and the Ladder. ONE being made by the Mattachine and the Ladder by the Daughters of Bilitis. At some point, closer to when Stone Wall was going to happen, some queers were fed up with the messaging of both magazines.
At the time, it was well thought that to fight back, or at least obtain rights, queer people had to present themselves as heteronormative as possible. The butch-fem style of dating was popular. At protests, queers were to wear their sunday best. However, this way of thinking wasn’t universal. Some wanted to be out, loud, and proud.
Later magazines reflect this change in perspective. They were more like the radical things Eyde wrote in Visa Versa.
In a time where being queer was punishable by either death or prison time, Eyde pushed the envelope, she changed the course of history, all with one typewriter.