Barrier ~ obstacle, obstruction, stumbling block, impediment.
Before it was called The Winter Loon my novel was titled Barriers. All I could envision for the main characters, Ruth and Gisela, two young women who fall deeply in love, were barriers of all kinds. Ruth and Gisela lived in the Midwest and met each other in 1932.
In New York in the 1920s, queer culture flourished, but by the early thirties, a Broadway play with a lesbian theme opened and closed to biased reviews. The producer, director and players were hauled off to court and charged with obscenity. Bars and clubs closed down. It was the same in Chicago and elsewhere in U.S. cities.
The Depression era squashed the gay nightlife and excesses of the twenties. The avant-garde crowd became the target for those wanting to punish and blame. What had been tolerated became immoral and illegal by the mid 1930s. The 1934 Motion Picture Production Code banned all reference and depictions of gay or lesbian lifestyle from the movies.
Ruth and Gisela’s story isn’t about coming out of the closet. In the thirties there was no closet to come out of. It’s a story about the healing power of love. It’s a story about Ruth breaking down barriers—her own and those of society. It’s a story about a naive young woman searching for a life lived in authentic truth despite the obstacles.
For a short time a couple of years ago I had a friend in her late 90s. She passed away last year. I met her because she was featured on the front page of our local newspaper with fist raised and the caption, “Gay and proud.” The story was about the Gay Pride celebration for that year. It’s a small town. I looked up her phone number and called her, hoping to get first-hand information for my book.
It turned out we both loved jazz and going out to dinner and had many fun nights. She was open about her long-time relationship with the woman she loved and still mourned her recent death. I thought I would learn more about the barriers the two of them faced, the kind you can’t find in history books. I found out more about love than about obstacles. The two of them met in New York City. They ended up living a quiet life in upstate New York, running a B&B before traveling out West.
Perhaps The Winter Loon will remind a generation now fighting to keep marriage equality about how difficult it was before gay advocacy groups formed after the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village. Before Stonewall, there was almost nowhere to turn for information unless a person was lucky enough to meet a kindred spirit.
I’ve added a link to a PBS.org film about the Stonewall Riots which is riveting and enlightening about the struggle people faced leading up to the riots:
You might have to copy and paste to view the film.
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