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Queering the borders: Lorraine Hansberrys 1957 Letters to The Ladder
Unformatted Document Text:  Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 8 publishing The Ladder, the first national lesbian publication. 26 The circulation of the first issue in October 1956 was 100, growing to 400 by the end of the first year and 3800 by the last issue in 1972. As Klinger notes in a survey of lesbian activist writing: “The use of print by multicultural lesbian activists to establish strategic political identities and affinities and to articulate passionately their aspirations for civil rights and elemental social change has been the crux of lesbian liberation politics.” 27 The DOB statement of purpose, published in the first issue of the Ladder, indicates a mixture of both emancipatory and assimilationist aims including: “Education of the variant, with particular emphasis on the psychological and sociological aspects” by establishing a library, sponsoring public discussions, educating the public, participating in research projects, investigating the penal code, and “advocating a mode of behaviour and dress acceptable to society.” As I will discuss below, it was in relation to this last assimilationist aim in particular that Hansberry addressed her first letter to the Ladder. The early issues of the Ladder included essays, book reviews, fiction, poetry, letters from readers, calendars of meetings and events, and reports about public discussions held by DOB and other homophile organizations, which often included panels of “experts” debating psychological and legal perspectives on homosexuality. For example, the March 1957 issue contains a report of a panel of male psychologists, psychiatrists, pastors, and attorneys discussing the topic of “The Homosexual Neurosis.” The Ladder reporter writes: “The crossfire period was delightful. A highlight for the homosexuals present occurred when someone asked Dr. Doebler why he felt that all homosexuals were neurotic. He answered that he’d never known any “happy” homosexuals. The audience rocked with laughter [when] the next questioner asked Dr. Doebler if he’d ever had any “happy” heterosexual patients. Dr. Doebler squirmed but answered forthrightly that he never had.” 28 Other public discussions and articles reported in the Ladder concerned raising children 26 In 1947, however, a woman using the anagram penname Lisa Ben self-published a monthly magazine called Vice Versa which was then passed from hand to hand. The magazine ceased publication after nine issues. See The Ladder,December 1956, 5. 27 Alisa Klinger, “Writing Civil Rights: The Political Aspirations of Lesbian Activist-Writers,” in Inventing Lesbian Cultures in America, ed. Ellen Lewin (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 69. 28 Sten Russell, “The Searchers Probe ‘The Homosexual Neurosis,’” The Ladder, March 1957, 14.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 8
publishing The Ladder, the first national lesbian publication.
26
The circulation of the first issue in
October 1956 was 100, growing to 400 by the end of the first year and 3800 by the last issue in 1972. As
Klinger notes in a survey of lesbian activist writing: “The use of print by multicultural lesbian activists to
establish strategic political identities and affinities and to articulate passionately their aspirations for civil
rights and elemental social change has been the crux of lesbian liberation politics.”
27
The DOB statement of purpose, published in the first issue of the Ladder, indicates a mixture of
both emancipatory and assimilationist aims including: “Education of the variant, with particular emphasis
on the psychological and sociological aspects” by establishing a library, sponsoring public discussions,
educating the public, participating in research projects, investigating the penal code, and “advocating a
mode of behaviour and dress acceptable to society.” As I will discuss below, it was in relation to this last
assimilationist aim in particular that Hansberry addressed her first letter to the Ladder. The early issues
of the Ladder included essays, book reviews, fiction, poetry, letters from readers, calendars of meetings
and events, and reports about public discussions held by DOB and other homophile organizations, which
often included panels of “experts” debating psychological and legal perspectives on homosexuality. For
example, the March 1957 issue contains a report of a panel of male psychologists, psychiatrists, pastors,
and attorneys discussing the topic of “The Homosexual Neurosis.” The Ladder reporter writes: “The
crossfire period was delightful. A highlight for the homosexuals present occurred when someone asked
Dr. Doebler why he felt that all homosexuals were neurotic. He answered that he’d never known any
“happy” homosexuals. The audience rocked with laughter [when] the next questioner asked Dr. Doebler
if he’d ever had any “happy” heterosexual patients. Dr. Doebler squirmed but answered forthrightly that
he never had.”
28
Other public discussions and articles reported in the Ladder concerned raising children
26
In 1947, however, a woman using the anagram penname Lisa Ben self-published a monthly magazine called Vice
Versa which was then passed from hand to hand. The magazine ceased publication after nine issues. See The Ladder,
December 1956, 5.
27
Alisa Klinger, “Writing Civil Rights: The Political Aspirations of Lesbian Activist-Writers,” in Inventing Lesbian
Cultures in America, ed. Ellen Lewin (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 69.
28
Sten Russell, “The Searchers Probe ‘The Homosexual Neurosis,’” The Ladder, March 1957, 14.


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