I am excited to introduce our readers to amazing and caring people who live, work, play, and do business in our community and city. Learning about people of all lifestyles, talents, and personalities who I think would be interesting for our readers to enjoy. San Diego has a wonderful diversity of individuals who make our slice of paradise the greatest place to live and enjoy each other’s uniqueness.
How did you end up in San Diego and what do you love about it?
With my partner of…fifty years now, Phyllis Irwin, I’d been coming to San Diego since the 1970s, to visit her parents. We loved everything about this town–the abundance of little theater, like the Diversionary (one of the first Gay theaters in the country); the ocean and the weather and the many good friends we made here over the years. So, when I finally retired as a professor at California State University, Fresno, we knew exactly where we wanted to settle for the rest of our lives. It took a while to find the perfect house—but we found it in 2016. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t tell each other how lucky we are to have ended up here, and together.
What gets you most excited about life?
I love my work. I began researching and writing lesbian, LGBTQ, and women’s history in the 1970s and I just published my sixteenth book, WOMAN: THE AMERICAN HISTORY OF AN IDEA (Yale University Press, 2022). I still get excited about doing research, discovering stories that have been overlooked, and making meaning out of them in ways that will have impact on my readers, particularly on readers in my community. It’s meant a lot to me that I’ve been called “the mother of lesbian history” and “the mother of LGBTQ history”.
What small act of kindness were you once shown that you’ll never forget?
I think we’re most vulnerable in life when we’re kids. I was pretty lost – suffering along with my single mother, an immigrant from Latvia who was deeply impacted by the tragedies of World War II. I had a fourth-grade teacher, Miss Oshtosh, who really saw me. One day she said, “You’re nervous now, but someday you’ll be wonderful.” That reassurance stayed with me all my growing-up years and even saw me through my Ph.D. program at UCLA. I think her kindness saved my young life.
If the universe could grant you one wish, what would you wish for, and why?
I would wish that human beings stop their cruelty to one another—from petty cruelties such as meanness to social cruelties such as homophobia to major cruelties such as war. The horror and devastation of the war in Ukraine is being brought home to us painfully these days through the media; and I keep thinking with despair that it was ever thus. If only there were some force in the universe that would put an end to these destructive drives in humanity.
If you were given the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world, and were able to take one person with you, where would you go, who would you take and why?
Over the course of our fifty years together, Phyllis and I have travelled to many continents—Europe, Africa, Asia, all over North and South America. We’ve felt so blessed to be able to do that. Now what we love most is our daily life right here in San Diego.
If you had a chance to spend one million dollars on someone, or any group of people, who would it be and how would you spend that money to better them?
In my own life education has opened so many doors that were closed to my mother, who was almost illiterate in English. If I had a million dollars to spend, I would spend it to improve the education of poor immigrant children—not only to teach them the basics but also to encourage them to dream big and to help them find paths to make their dreams come true.
If you could give someone advice about your profession, what would you tell them?
As a writer, I would advise those who want to write to DO IT. I say that from personal experience. For years I had told myself that I really wanted to be a writer…but I didn’t write. I had to discover how to discipline myself—how to make myself sit down and write every day. What I wrote wasn’t always good, but that didn’t matter because, as I also discovered, revising is very much a part of the art of writing. “You can’t be a writer unless you write,” would be my advice to aspiring writers.
Loving yourself is so important to becoming the best of who you are. Please write a couple sentences to describe your loving self and how you want to live your best life?
I’ve been lucky never to feel burned out—not as a professor, not as a writer, not as a gay person, not as a citizen. I feel as engaged today, at 81, as I was at 21. (Maybe even more so.) I want to feel this way to the end—never blasé, never uninterested, always intense in my feelings about friends and work and causes and what’s going on in the world.
Gratitude is so important in each of our lives, what are you most grateful for, and how do you pay it forward?
When I was a young person all of us who were gay were presumptive outlaws, social pariahs. If anyone had told me then that someday we would be able to marry, that we could be out without worrying we’d be fired from our jobs or kicked out of our homes, that we could see ourselves as an integral part of the patchwork that is America, that we could even run for president—well, I’d have thought that that dreamer was smoking too much pot. I’m grateful for the incredible advances I’ve seen in our rights and our status. And I hope that in some small ways my work as a writer and an activist has contributed and will continue to contribute to those advances.