This week Francesca talks with Claudia Stallman, the project director for the Lesbian and Gay Family Building Project at Binghamton University. Claudia read her own letter she wrote to Ms. Magazine in 1976 for the project.
Francesca Enzler: I was thinking we could start off the interview with some general information about who you are.
Claudia Stallman: I am wife of Christine. daughter of Danny and Ada. “Ima” (Hebrew for mom) of son Ben, age 21, and daughter Noemi, 12. I live in upstate New York and work as project director for the Lesbian and Gay Family Building Project/Pride and Joy Families, a small non-profit housed at Binghamton University and funded by the NYS Dept. of Health. Since 2000 we have been providing programs and services to LGBTQ families in upstate NY. I love my work and I love my family.
How did you hear about Yours in Sisterhood? How did you get involved?
Irene emailed me, introduced herself, and informed me that in her research she had discovered two letters I had written to Ms. magazine back in 1976. It was a bolt out of the blue for me. She asked if I was willing to be included in the project. And of course I said “yes!”
Oh yes, your letter is one of a few where Irene got in touch with the original writer! What was it like to read your 16 year old words today, 40 years later?
Seeing my letter (and my 16 year old handwriting!) was very moving for me. Touching and emotional. A glimpse into that time in my life when I was figuring out that I was a lesbian. Essential information that explained so much about me. Reading the letter transported me back to my desk in my bedroom in Queens, NY. I remembered the favorite pen I used. I remembered that my bedspread was yellow. I remembered that it was scary and wonderful.
I love that you have such a vivid memory of the space (both physical and emotional) where you wrote the letter! Why did you choose to send this letter to Ms. magazine? What meaning did/does it hold for you?
I was learning very important information about myself. At the same time I knew it could be dangerous. I had to be very careful about who I revealed it to. Only a couple close friends. Not my parents for sure (I did not come out to my mother for another year+). Hiding was hard. Maybe I figured that the folks (women! feminists!) who read my letter at Ms. magazine would find it/me acceptable. Grownups who would read and listen and hear me. I knew for sure that Ms. was a safe audience and would respect my wanting my name withheld from publication.
So Ms. magazine felt like a safe space for you to express yourself?
Yes absolutely. a safe space. women, gay and straight I imagined, making room in the world for girls/young women like me.
In your letter you express both warmth/idealism for your prospective life and also a feeling of needing to hide/not being able to reveal yourself. Now that you’ve lived many years of that prospective life, how were things different from what you expected then? Was anything the same?
When I came out as a lesbian at the age of 16, I knew these things for sure: 1-that I could never tell my parents (or be found acceptable to them); 2- that I would never be in a long term relationship, and definitely not married; and 3- that I would certainly never become a parent myself. I was wrong on all counts. happily. I have my community and our allies to thank for that.
Looking ahead another 40 years, do you have a sense of what may change for you? and for our society? (Or what you hope will change?)
The future is definitely feminist!