I’m writing a character who has everything to lose by loving a woman. The novel is Under the Pale Moon. The woman’s name is Irene Dodd. It’s 1947. The beginning of the cult of domesticity, of marriage and children and a white-picket fence. Demoted from managing a shoe department in Holman’s Department Store in Pacific Grove, California, she resents the men who came home from the war, those who took up their previous positions and asked the “girls” to step aside. She, and other women, had been a temporary necessity.
Irene is married. Doesn’t want children. Has a penchant for beautiful shoes. Wants her own shop. Wants Kath, an old flame, a secret flame.
I’m thinking of Irene, because I wish she had been able to walk into a store and buy the April 8th edition of Time Magazine emblazoned with “Gay Marriage Already Won”.
In 1947, she would have experienced headlines like this: “Inquiry by Senate on Perverts Asked” and “126 Perverts Discharged (from State Department)” and “27 Homosexuals Arrested at Carmel Beach; Must Leave County”*.
Vin Packer’s “Spring Fire”, considered the first lesbian pulp book, wouldn’t be published until 1953. There were no readily available books or movies.
Irene had no point of reference for herself, except knowing people like her were called a pervert or a deviant or an abomination. The modern words for how she would see herself would be “internalized homophobia.” As meaningless at the time as “coming out.” She would have known shame, not pride. Crave freedom, but have to hide it. She married and “passed”.
She’ll need a lot of guts to be true to herself. Women of that era – gay or straight, wanting something more to life – had a lot of guts, too.
I want her to get what she wants. But if I’m true to the period, will she?
Next blog post: In Praise of Pulp Fiction
*Sources: New York Times, Monterey Herald