Sex. Sleaze. Trespass. The 50's Lesbian Pulp Revival


“In love with a woman – must society reject me?” That’s the real thing, the tagline from one of Ann Bannon‘s famous “Beebo Brinker” titles, a series that followed young lesbians in the big city, all featuring the dashing Beebo:

Ann Bannon (the pen name of Ann Weldy) was, to the outside world, a conventional mid-century wife and mother whose life as the “Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction” was restricted to six pseudonymous 1950s titles. And yet these books – with titles like Women in the Shadows and Odd Girl Out were a crucial lifeline to many lesbians of those years and to this day are regarded as canonical LGBT reading.

The novels are not high-brow. They’re lurid, pulpy, slangy and the heroine Beebo Brinker is a dashing, womanizing, elevator-operating dream-butch with all the dimensions of an Edward Cullen. (Bannon said as much, telling an interviewer, “I put Beebo together just as I wanted her, in my heart and mind… She was just, quite literally, the butch of my dreams.”) But the fact that they dealt with the real issues of living lesbian life in the real world – and that her characters, however improbably, frequently embraced this destiny rather than ending in inevitable tragedy or subterfuge (the usual literary tropes of the time) – although her novels did have the occasional sacrificial lamb – made the books not just important but crucial. Says Weldy in the Stanford magazine, “It was the moral judgment of the U.S. Postal Service that ‘We cannot deliver this stuff . . . unless one of the protagonists is punished by the last page.’…It was not in my nature to do what was essential in those days-kill one of them at the end or have one of them go crazy.”

Bannon (now retired but a frequent speaker at LGBT events) is a respected elder stateswoman these days. But her work is not merely regarded as a campy footnote. In the last few years, it’s been reinterpreted and re-examined in a number of contexts, from the theatrical adaptation, the Beebo Brinker Chronicles to Monica Nolan‘s affectionate series of send-ups, the latest of which is Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher. Talking to the Washington City Paper, Nolan says that she wanted to keep the spirit while expunging the (often mandatory) “self-loathing.” She adds, “I think in the lesbian community there’s been a huge growth in our willingness to laugh at ourselves and look back at our past and be able to make fun of it.” It was less funny to Bannon herself, who, it seems from interviews, is only now fully embracing an adult sexual identity (and still resists labels). “I am proud of them,” she says.

Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher: A Q&A With Pulp Satirist Monica Nolan
Writer Ann Bannon [NPR]
Beebo’s Significant Other [Stanford Magazine]

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