How Lesbian Music Changed My Life and Lesbian Art Sustained It

First of all, without women’s music I might still be a married lady.1  But there I was, front row center, surrounded by 1000 lesbians, hearing Holly, Meg, Margie and Chris sing of change, of woman-love and celebration, sing some of the deepest truths and most hidden hopes of my heart.2

I was a wife and mother back home. I’d been reading Ms., was interested in “the women’s movement,” was listening for the lesbians. I had once gone to a lesbian bar and not seen much that called to me. Nor was I the baseball-playing type. For a lesbian life to truly be possible for me, there had to be more, there had to be art and music, eloquence and heart.

I had met a few local lesbians. One of those, Amy, was deep into “women’s music,” and wanted me to hear it. So I provided the car for our eight-hour drive to the city, and Amy got us to front row center. Among lesbians, not in ones or twos, but heavenly hosts of lesbians together, critical mass. That night I found what I was looking for.

Afterwards as I slept in my car on the street, ideas for songs kept coming to me, for the first time ever. The next day Amy took me to the women’s bookstore, showed me the record bin, pointed out her favorites. “Whatever will I do with these when I get home,” I worried. “They won’t fit in my underwear drawer!”

In the next few months I took some time from my family, by house­sitting. It was there, alone in other people’s houses, that I listened over and over to those records with names like “I Know You Know,” “Imagine My Surprise,” “Lavender Jane Loves Women,” and to the tape Amy had made of the concert. Listened until I knew for sure that I was a lesbian, and that I had every right to be one, and that was what was wrong with staying with my husband.

Throughout the first lonely year that followed, when I moved to another town and went looking for the lesbians, I listened to women’s music: Meg Christian’s kind company, Chris Williamson’s fey bravery, Holly Near’s sweet sense, Alix Dobkin’s funnybone saw me through. I went to every women’s music concert, to bask again in that lesbian knowing.

I had had one woman lover before my coming out, while I was married, a short, poignant, secret affair with someone who lived far away. In erotic dreams of her, always, there was no place to make love. In the dreams this was literally so; but also I think it means one needs a cultural place to make love. A conceptual space to be real in.

For just that reason, that first year out on my own, a piece of lesbian art came to be sacred to me: Tee Corinne’s famous solarized photograph of one woman cradling another as she brings her to come, the shadows where their bodies meet transformed into hidden sources of light. I’ve written:3 “…Once at Mother Kali’s I was searching for an issue on ‘Lesbian Writing and Pub­lishing’ in a new journal called Sinister Wisdom, when I pulled out the volume with Tee’s cover, saw it with such a “shock of recognition,” such a sudden, powerful remembering- of what it had all been for. All this dissolving of a family, all this leaving and starting over in a whole new culture, all this meant by those words, “I am a lesbian.” What it had all been for, something which my whole society conspired to make me forget was possible, something that had happened once with a woman, a kind of opening, a kind of learning, a kind of bonding, a kind of birthing, that had changed my life forever. It was a sudden remembering that seemed to jar the very floorboards of the bookstore as the world slipped back into place. I took the picture home, and, as I learn so many did, put it on my altar.”

…I see that in the space of these pages I have called two events “the thing that changed my life.” Did the change truly happen forever in those moments of sexual intimacy with a woman I loved, dropping me through into unexpected levels of soul? Or did the change come later, when I found a culture that made a place for celebrating that knowing? Yes. And yes.



  1. I am using “married” as it was used in 1976, to mean “married to a partner of the opposite sex;” luckily, there are beginning to be other possible meanings today.
  2. I don’t know how these four singers in the Women On Wheels concert tour (Chris Williamson, Margie Adam, Holly Near, Meg Christian) would identify themselves today: times change, people change. But on that stage that night the feeling was clearly lesbian. Also, I’m sure that in the audience that night I was not the only “non-lesbian,” but it felt like 1,000 lesbians, love of women ruled.
  3. In my 1983 memoir, The AutoBiography of Deborah Carr.