This creative thesis is a collection of poems that tells the story of three queer women in the late-nineteenth century American Midwest and the various ways they withstood their dangerous position on the margins of society. The book is divided into three sections, one for each woman, Gertrude, Susanna, and Mary. Each section is organized chronologically, so that, through the course of the book, readers see three narrative strains, three distinct versions of the same story, as seen through different eyes. Gertrude and Susanna, who lived as a married couple, with Susanna passing as a man, have the most overlap in their stories. Mary offers a glimpse of what might have been, for those who were not as successful at self-preservation. She ends up imprisoned in an insane asylum, ruled by the voice of a figment, “Johnny,” her half-god, half-captor and troubled by her obsession with smashing windows.
These poems capture glimpses of what lesbian life might have been like before there was a public queer subculture with which to identify; when “homosexual” was just a label for deviant behavior, a diagnosis, not an identity. Each woman describes how she managed to live, attempt to find love and build a relationship, and documents the inevitable failures in an oppressive and hostile environment. In this way, a subtle parallel arises between this old world and contemporary queer culture, with its discourses on marriage equality; how much has changed since the nineteenth century; how very little.
Using a balance of lyric and narrative poetry to capture the fluid, impressionistic, even confused nature of this relationship and experience, these poems examine questions of identity, gender, sexuality and marriage dynamics; what we choose to record for posterity, what gets ignored.