The fascinating story of the first lesbian magazine in North America, plus where to read it
Updated: March 9, 2018 at 9:23 am
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In 1947, the self-described “America’s Gayest Magazine” was unleashed upon the world, in spite of anti-LGBTQ laws making it illegal to publish such content.
Edythe Eyde was a secretary at RKO Studios in Los Angeles, where she had a lot of downtime, but was told by her boss to look busy. So, in need of something to busy herself with, and wondering if there were other women out there who felt the same as she, and hoping to meet them, an idea was born: The first lesbian magazine in North America.
Eyde, publishing under the pseudonym Lisa Ben, an anagram of “lesbian,” launched Vice Versa, describing it as “a medium through which we may express our thoughts, our emotions, our opinions- as long as material was ‘within the bounds of good taste.”
The publication has a feeling of both fatalism and hope, wondering at a future in a world of nuclear weapons and laws that made simply existing as an authentic and out LGBTQ person all but impossible and certainly dangerous.
Vice Versa published book and movie reviews, including so-called “sexploitation” films that warned parents against the evils of homosexuality, and urged them to study their children for signs that they might be falling prey to such temptations.
Copies were given out by hand for free, with recipients encouraged to pass the publication on to others who might be interested. Initially, Eyde also sent copies out by mail, but ceased doing so after her friend warned her that should could be arrested for sending “obscene” materials through the mail.
Eyde stopped publishing the magazine after she left her job at RKO Studios.
After ceasing publication of Vice Versa, she made history again by performing gay parody songs at gay clubs in Los Angeles in the 1950s. She decided to perform after growing frustrated at how the performances up until then had been made up of self-deprecating jokes and material, even at gay clubs.
— Making Gay History (@MakingGayHistry) June 3, 2017
While only nine issues were ever published, each with a run of only 10 copies a piece, it set a precedent that is still recognized today as creating a format by which other early queer publications, such as lesbian magazine The Ladder, debuting in 1955, followed.
Eyde was honored this past year as one of the icons for Equality Forum’s LGBT History Month.
Each issue of Vice Versa is available to read in full online, via Queer Music Heritage. Links to each issue follow:
- Issue #1 of Vice Versa, June 1947
- Issue #2 of Vice Versa, July 1947
- Issue #3 of Vice Versa, August 1947
- Issue #4 of Vice Versa, September 1947
- Issue #5 of Vice Versa, October 1947
- Issue #6 of Vice Versa, November 1947
- Issue #7 of Vice Versa, December 1947
- Issue #8 of Vice Versa, January 1948
- Issue #9 of Vice Versa, February 1948
Eyde died in 2015, at the age of 94. No obituaries were published.
She was also interviewed by Eric Marcus, subsequently turned into a podcast for his show “Making Gay History.”
Her story was also recently shared on the Washington Post‘s podcast “Retropod.”
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About the author: Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.@jefftaylorhuman.