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A sweeping memoir, a raw and intimate chronicle of a young activist torn between conflicting personal longings and political goals. When We Were Outlaws offers a rare view of the life of a radical lesbian during the early cultural struggle for gay rights, Women’s Liberation, and the New Left of the 1970s. Brash and ambitious, activist Jeanne Córdova is living with one woma A sweeping memoir, a raw and intimate chronicle of a young activist torn between conflicting personal longings and political goals. When We Were Outlaws offers a rare view of the life of a radical lesbian during the early cultural struggle for gay rights, Women’s Liberation, and the New Left of the 1970s. Brash and ambitious, activist Jeanne Córdova is living with one woman and falling in love with another, but her passionate beliefs tell her that her first duty is "to the revolution”---to change the world and end discrimination against gays and lesbians. Trying to compartmentalize her sexual life, she becomes an investigative reporter for the famous, underground L.A. Free Press and finds herself involved with covering the Weather Underground and Angela Davis, exposing neo-Nazi bomber Captain Joe Tomassi, and befriending Emily Harris of the Symbionese Liberation Army. At the same time she is creating what will be the center of her revolutionary lesbian world: her own newsmagazine, The Lesbian Tide, destined to become the voice of the national lesbian feminist movement. By turns provocative and daringly honest, Cordova renders emblematic scenes of the era---ranging from strike protests to utopian music festivals, to underground meetings with radical fugitives---with period detail and evocative characters. For those who came of age in the 70s, and for those who weren’t around but still ask, "What was it like?", Outlaws takes you back to re-live it. It also offers insights about ethics, decision making and strategy, still relevant today. With an introduction by renowned lesbian historian Lillian Faderman, When We Were Outlaws paints a vivid portrait of activism and the search for self-identity, set against the turbulent landscape of multiple struggles for social change that swept hundreds of thousands of Americans into the streets.


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A sweeping memoir, a raw and intimate chronicle of a young activist torn between conflicting personal longings and political goals. When We Were Outlaws offers a rare view of the life of a radical lesbian during the early cultural struggle for gay rights, Women’s Liberation, and the New Left of the 1970s. Brash and ambitious, activist Jeanne Córdova is living with one woma A sweeping memoir, a raw and intimate chronicle of a young activist torn between conflicting personal longings and political goals. When We Were Outlaws offers a rare view of the life of a radical lesbian during the early cultural struggle for gay rights, Women’s Liberation, and the New Left of the 1970s. Brash and ambitious, activist Jeanne Córdova is living with one woman and falling in love with another, but her passionate beliefs tell her that her first duty is "to the revolution”---to change the world and end discrimination against gays and lesbians. Trying to compartmentalize her sexual life, she becomes an investigative reporter for the famous, underground L.A. Free Press and finds herself involved with covering the Weather Underground and Angela Davis, exposing neo-Nazi bomber Captain Joe Tomassi, and befriending Emily Harris of the Symbionese Liberation Army. At the same time she is creating what will be the center of her revolutionary lesbian world: her own newsmagazine, The Lesbian Tide, destined to become the voice of the national lesbian feminist movement. By turns provocative and daringly honest, Cordova renders emblematic scenes of the era---ranging from strike protests to utopian music festivals, to underground meetings with radical fugitives---with period detail and evocative characters. For those who came of age in the 70s, and for those who weren’t around but still ask, "What was it like?", Outlaws takes you back to re-live it. It also offers insights about ethics, decision making and strategy, still relevant today. With an introduction by renowned lesbian historian Lillian Faderman, When We Were Outlaws paints a vivid portrait of activism and the search for self-identity, set against the turbulent landscape of multiple struggles for social change that swept hundreds of thousands of Americans into the streets.

30 review for When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Lively and cinematic, When We Were Outlaws takes a look at the waning days of political radicalism as they play out in ‘70s Los Angeles. In her memoir of the turbulent time, activist-journalist Jeanne Cordova recounts a community-splitting fight between the gay male owners of a recently opened community center and their lesbian workers over the center’s budget and board representation. Counterpointing this plot, which centers on Cordova’s feud with an ex-political mentor, is a romance she begins Lively and cinematic, When We Were Outlaws takes a look at the waning days of political radicalism as they play out in ‘70s Los Angeles. In her memoir of the turbulent time, activist-journalist Jeanne Cordova recounts a community-splitting fight between the gay male owners of a recently opened community center and their lesbian workers over the center’s budget and board representation. Counterpointing this plot, which centers on Cordova’s feud with an ex-political mentor, is a romance she begins with a fellow protester, who pleads with her to be monogamous. The memoirist writes jaunty, sometimes cartoonish, prose that’s unforgettable, and embeds useful bits of social history into both narratives. Her characterization of herself is a bit inconsistent, alternately appearing as a left-leaning pragmatist and a fiery radical on the verge of embracing armed struggle, but the memoir’s a vivid sketch of a turning point in history.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    This memoir flowed like a novel, but I felt like I learned a lot about the feminist and lesbian movements in the 1970s through personal relationships and the interviews/work Cordova does. It was strangely written for a memoir. The writing seemed overly dramatic at times, and blocked out some of the reflection parts. I felt like she sometimes jumped from scene to scene where I wanted to delve deeper. But the political and historical side of things made this book worth reading.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jean Roberta

    Remember the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst by a group of self-defined revolutionaries, the Symbionese Liberation Army? Remember the music of Joan Baez, Janis Ian and the first openly lesbian singer-songwriters of the 1970s? Jeanne Cordova was a young journalist and political activist in Los Angeles at the time, and she has written a gripping account of it. The major political and cultural events covered by the author as Human Rights Editor of “the Freep” (The L.A. Free Press) a Remember the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst by a group of self-defined revolutionaries, the Symbionese Liberation Army? Remember the music of Joan Baez, Janis Ian and the first openly lesbian singer-songwriters of the 1970s? Jeanne Cordova was a young journalist and political activist in Los Angeles at the time, and she has written a gripping account of it. The major political and cultural events covered by the author as Human Rights Editor of “the Freep” (The L.A. Free Press) and founder of The Lesbian Tide (1971-1980) form a dramatic background to the story of a lesbian love affair. Each chapter of this thick book has a “dateline” in 1974 or 1975, but the entire narrative reads like a novel. The author describes herself as a “centrist” in the context of the New Left, gay-rights and lesbian-feminist politics of the 1970s. Despite her radical lifestyle, her self-description rings true. Like many of her contemporaries, Jeanne Cordova left home in her late teens when she could no longer hide her sexual identity (lesbian and butch) from her conservative parents. As she explains, replacing her lost family with a chosen “family” of sister-dykes and compatible gay men was a practical and emotional necessity. She describes a fledgling “gay” community in the process of inventing itself, before the four flavours of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered became an acronym. Cordova (as she was called) appears in this memoir as a remarkable mixture of naivete, clear-sightedness and community spirit. She was a coalition-builder who survived to tell the tale. The story of the author’s affair with “Rachel,” a recently-divorced newbie in the urban lesbian community, is told in painful detail. From their first kiss (in public, surrounded by lesbian demonstrators), the author’s non-monogamous living arrangement and her full-time commitment to radical journalism clashes with “Rachel’s” need for security. And then “Rachel” adopts non-monogamy for herself, having learned that in her chosen community, it is regarded as a rational, liberated, feminist response to the personal “ownership” of women in heterosexual marriages. Cordova is unflinching in her descriptions of her own jealous rage when “Rachel” appears at social events with another butch. The author describes herself and others this way even though butch and femme “sex roles,” like monogamous commitment, were widely assumed by lesbian-feminists of the time to be patriarchal and outdated. Like many another activist, the author finds that political theory and emotional reality are separate and often opposed. The author’s frequent contact with outlaws in the most literal sense (self-defined revolutionaries running from the FBI) is shown forcing her to consider the uses of violence. She is invited to join “the revolution,” which takes different forms in the minds of different radicals. Could she use a gun to hasten the process of social change? For awhile, she can’t honestly answer that question. Her internal debates form part of a coming-of-age process. The author’s sense of spiritual connection with “Rachel” is movingly described. In general, Cordova seems to have been unusually attuned to the natural world and to the “vibes” of other people, both as individuals and in groups. Her apparently inborn spirituality helps account for her early desire to become a nun as well as her resulting disillusionment with organized religion. “Rachel’s” sense of connection with Cordova is convincingly expressed in dialogue. In an epilogue, the author thanks her for permission to tell their story in print. The conflicts and the cultural gap between them at the time are described with fairness and sensitivity. The style and pacing of this memoir make it much more than a historical account of a particular time and place. It resembles a haunting song in which the personal and the collective are seamlessly combined. -----------------------------

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lynnhb

    “The riveting first-hand telling of a dangerous creative time. The lesbian feminist ‘70s with their messy, sexy, bold social and personal visions, live again on these pages” -- Joan Nestle Reviews: "When We Were Outlaws, is such an important addition to the literary cannon of LGBT non-fiction. The book manages to be captivating, heartbreaking, and gratifying all at once.” --Diane Anderson Minshall - The Advocate "For LGBT people who care about activism, especially those young enough to have “The riveting first-hand telling of a dangerous creative time. The lesbian feminist ‘70s with their messy, sexy, bold social and personal visions, live again on these pages” -- Joan Nestle Reviews: "When We Were Outlaws, is such an important addition to the literary cannon of LGBT non-fiction. The book manages to be captivating, heartbreaking, and gratifying all at once.” --Diane Anderson Minshall - The Advocate "For LGBT people who care about activism, especially those young enough to have no memory of those iconic times, Córdova's "memoir of love and revolution" should be a must-read.” --Patricia Nell Warren - Bilerico Project "When We Were Outlaws is content-rich and driven by a compelling plot. These two things make reading When We Were Outlaws a joy." --Julie R. Enszer - Lambda Literary Review *Lambda Lit Review - Julie Enzer - http://www.lambdaliterary.org/reviews... *Advocate Review - Diane Anderson Minshall / Robin Tyler http://www.advocate.com/Arts_and_Ente... *San Diego gay & lesbian news review - http://www.sdgln.com/social/2011/11/1... *Bilerico Project review - Patricia Nell Warren http://www.bilerico.com/2011/12/book_... *Radically Queer blog review http://radicallyqueer.wordpress.com/c... *Out in Print review http://blog.outinprint.net/2011/12/19... Out in Print interview with Jerry Wheeler http://blog.outinprint.net/2012/01/23...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Danika at The Lesbrary

    It was a happy coincidence that When We Were Outlaws reached the top of my TBR stack just after it won a Lambda Literary Award. I was already looking forward to it, but the win pushed my expectations a little higher. I can definitely see when Cordova won. When We Were Outlaws is equal parts a historical look into the feminist and gay/lesbian activism of the 70s, and a personal memoir about a love affair. It took me a little while to get into, but by the end I was totally gripped... Read the rest It was a happy coincidence that When We Were Outlaws reached the top of my TBR stack just after it won a Lambda Literary Award. I was already looking forward to it, but the win pushed my expectations a little higher. I can definitely see when Cordova won. When We Were Outlaws is equal parts a historical look into the feminist and gay/lesbian activism of the 70s, and a personal memoir about a love affair. It took me a little while to get into, but by the end I was totally gripped... Read the rest of my review here: http://lesbrary.com/2012/07/03/danika...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    I almost gave this 4 stars, as I found Cordova's description of 1970s lesbian feminism in L.A., lesbian involvement in underground movements (e.g. the S.L.A.) and the battle at the gay community center really interesting. However, I quickly bored of her relationship drama. Also, the book could have used some copy editing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Lags a bit at the end, and gets a tad corny with the star-crossed lovers-subplot, but overall, a compelling memoir by one badass lesbian feminist.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kersplebedeb

    So this book gets four stars, but with a big caveat. It won't be of interest to everyone, and is not in any way an extensive study of anything, except several months in the life of the author, back when she was forty years younger and the meanings of things like "feminism", "lesbian", "left" and "revolution" were not completely different, but definitely not the same. That said, the book gets the four stars because it was very quick and easy to read (a big plus for me), not boring, seemed honest, So this book gets four stars, but with a big caveat. It won't be of interest to everyone, and is not in any way an extensive study of anything, except several months in the life of the author, back when she was forty years younger and the meanings of things like "feminism", "lesbian", "left" and "revolution" were not completely different, but definitely not the same. That said, the book gets the four stars because it was very quick and easy to read (a big plus for me), not boring, seemed honest, and managed to give an unusually vivid glimpse at how gay men, lesbians, and the left related at one very precise point in time, where things were in flux and changing. It is a snapshot, and a memoir, not an MA thesis. i often feel a bit of a disconnect with how the dynamic history of these movements is flattened in academic and activist accounts, and i think Cordova's telling of a few months of her life (a very particular few months) as a lesbian leader in LA could serve as a good antidote to this. That said, i also felt the book read in an almost embarrassingly naive, let-me-be-a-tourist-guide-to-the-strange-and-wacky-scene-we-had-when-we-were-kids, tone to it, especially in the first chapters, which took some getting used to. Still not sure if this is a shortcoming of the author, or of the reader (!), or maybe just an inevitable consequence of telling this kind of story now. Long and short of it, i will be recommending this book as a quick read to friends who are interested in how feminism and political lesbianism intersected with revolutionary politics for a moment during the New Left. This book captures that nicely. At the same time, i will be warning them that there is a lot of silly relationship soap opera drama in it, and that it can read in a bit of an embarrassing "we were so radical then" kinda way. (Which i guess i shouldda been prepared for, given the title)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Zein

    This book is basically a lesbian feminist Anna Karinina: 80% politics, 20% star-crossed lovers. I appreciated the behind-the-scenes insight into the fights that precluded cooperation across gay liberation and lesbian feminism in the 1970s, and Cordova is an engaging writer with a keen attention to details as well as a flair for what will be compelling. In some parts it felt a little tedious to go through the details. Enter Rachel. Condova's star-crossed affair did so much for me as a reader. I t This book is basically a lesbian feminist Anna Karinina: 80% politics, 20% star-crossed lovers. I appreciated the behind-the-scenes insight into the fights that precluded cooperation across gay liberation and lesbian feminism in the 1970s, and Cordova is an engaging writer with a keen attention to details as well as a flair for what will be compelling. In some parts it felt a little tedious to go through the details. Enter Rachel. Condova's star-crossed affair did so much for me as a reader. I thought it was a sexy depiction of an un-butch/femme (but actually butch/femme) relationship. It also reminded me of what it's like to be 26 and think that the end of your dating life coincides with the beginning of it, which is to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the drama of it and the wisdom to know it was drama. The political and personal stories, and their unexpected conclusions, stayed with me for a long time. I would recommend this to anybody interested in lesbian feminism, feminism, or politics in the 1970s.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ben Kim

    The book is subtitled "Love and Revolution" for good reason - consistently throughout the memoir Cordova relates her struggle to balance her relationship with her political activism. Sounds mundane until you realize that Cordova (and other 70s gay liberationists) were fighting the societal forces that disapproved of her having a relationship at all. As a young queer activist in the modern age I was completely fascinated by the climate of gay politics in the 70s - if you have any interest in gay The book is subtitled "Love and Revolution" for good reason - consistently throughout the memoir Cordova relates her struggle to balance her relationship with her political activism. Sounds mundane until you realize that Cordova (and other 70s gay liberationists) were fighting the societal forces that disapproved of her having a relationship at all. As a young queer activist in the modern age I was completely fascinated by the climate of gay politics in the 70s - if you have any interest in gay history this is a quick and entertaining read and will leave you with a bit more than just historical understanding.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Wendi Wasson

    I've carried this book around for quite a while now and finally took the time to read it. As a butch in the present day, it was interesting to read some of the history of the feminist movement as well as the LGBT movement in Los Angeles. The love story was good for me to read, as well. I could relate to it really well. Very good book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    In short, an excellent synopsis of several years during the 1970s. The book highlights the tensions between socialism, feminism, and gay "liberation." Intertwined within the historical and political facts presented in "Outlaws" is the personal, in which Cordova recounts how the multiple (and sometimes contradictory) ideologies of the time affected the lives of herself, her mentors, and her friends/lovers. An incredibly important addition to the body of work that goes behind-the-scenes to share t In short, an excellent synopsis of several years during the 1970s. The book highlights the tensions between socialism, feminism, and gay "liberation." Intertwined within the historical and political facts presented in "Outlaws" is the personal, in which Cordova recounts how the multiple (and sometimes contradictory) ideologies of the time affected the lives of herself, her mentors, and her friends/lovers. An incredibly important addition to the body of work that goes behind-the-scenes to share the story of the LGBT movement in Los Angeles. Jeanne Cordova was, and continues to be, the definition of an activist. Cordova dedicates the book to "[T]he queer youth of today whose activism now gives their elders so much pride."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Esther

    When we were outlaws talks about the "Great revolution". The one that involved the feminism with the lesbianism in the 70´s. The action happens in a fizzy L.A where women meetings had their own space at the women´s building, where events, music festival were set, organized by and for women, where more than ever women were a voice, a body and a soul. At the same time the book is a journey to the Communist movement of the decade in America and Jeanne makes us witness about the lesbian´s first step When we were outlaws talks about the "Great revolution". The one that involved the feminism with the lesbianism in the 70´s. The action happens in a fizzy L.A where women meetings had their own space at the women´s building, where events, music festival were set, organized by and for women, where more than ever women were a voice, a body and a soul. At the same time the book is a journey to the Communist movement of the decade in America and Jeanne makes us witness about the lesbian´s first steps far away from the gay movement mainly influenced by the chauvinism of the times. A must read book for the Herstory.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mrs Lady Bear

    Epic and very much a book to read as soon as possible I personally fell in love with the ability Cordova has to transport you to the exact place and time and feeling in every event she shared with us. LOVE

  15. 5 out of 5

    Suzy

    Invaluable insight into the lesser known parts of lgbt activism history. We need more books like this! Cordorva writes well, although the romance side plot occasionally veers into flowery territory.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Beth Cook

    Great historical read

  17. 4 out of 5

    AM dial

    Grateful for this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Cordova speaks of this book as being a novelized memoir. That made it both very readable and somehow slightly untrustworthy. The political landscape she describes was both familiar to me and rivetingly alien. (I came out in 1986). Lesbian friends of mine who are just a decade older lived through these days and I have heard many stories from them that jive very closely with Cordova’s. I find her most interesting on the subject of non-monogamy, her Butch identity, and early lesbian publishing (she Cordova speaks of this book as being a novelized memoir. That made it both very readable and somehow slightly untrustworthy. The political landscape she describes was both familiar to me and rivetingly alien. (I came out in 1986). Lesbian friends of mine who are just a decade older lived through these days and I have heard many stories from them that jive very closely with Cordova’s. I find her most interesting on the subject of non-monogamy, her Butch identity, and early lesbian publishing (she was a founder of The Lesbian Tide newspaper). Her stories of her love life make up a majority of this memoir and I find these less interesting. It’s disappointing to me that her major love interest is disguised with a pseudonym. I understand it of course, and that’s probably just my voyeuristic tendencies at work! I ended up finding Cordova a little self involved and myopic — for example, her book is almost completely centered on West Coast lesbian culture, without any reference on what was happening on the other coast or across the country. She managed to describe women’s music culture and the San Diego Women’s music fest without ever referring to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival — the most iconic gathering in the country that topped nearly 10,000 women and went on from 1976 until just a few years ago (2015). Overall, I’m very glad to have read it and I will probably buy it for my Herstory shelf in my personal library. It’s definitely a classic — the story of early idealistic lesbian centric culture — an adventure in radical world-building worth cherishing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sian Lile-Pastore

    Really, really interesting and then sometimes just a bit too detailed and too long - tho I think if you were a part of the lesbian politics and protest in LA in 1975 then this would be the best thing ever. I really loved how she blended the personal with the political - her passionate relationship with Rachel while she was in a non-monogomous relationship with BeJo and meeting up with Rachel on her 'space nights'. Loved the discussions on being a butch or a femme and the lesbian politics of the Really, really interesting and then sometimes just a bit too detailed and too long - tho I think if you were a part of the lesbian politics and protest in LA in 1975 then this would be the best thing ever. I really loved how she blended the personal with the political - her passionate relationship with Rachel while she was in a non-monogomous relationship with BeJo and meeting up with Rachel on her 'space nights'. Loved the discussions on being a butch or a femme and the lesbian politics of the day. I fancy it just needed a bit of an edit, but definitely worth a read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Luna

    What a roller coaster ride, I could not put this book down! What a brilliant window into our past and the foundations of queer revolutionary culture in the States. Cordova breaks down all the different ideologies competing for dominance in the 1970's in a manner that is anything but dry.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Susana

    Good read for me because it brought back a few memories of Los Angeles circa 1975; The Lesbian Tide, The Women's Saloon, The Woman's Building, San Diego Women's Music Festival and mention of some women I knew. A very important year for me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cami

    The author's voice and imagery are both very strong in this book, which makes learning about LGBTQ+ history effortless and entertaining. It's great to read a first-hand account of events I've previously only learned about through textbooks. The events and people really come alive this way!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Brown

    Very well written snapshot of a specific moment in time. Great read

  24. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    weirdly, reads as if Robert Heinlein decided to write a story with a radical lesbian feminist reporter as the hero with passages like, "I reached into my jeans and pulled out my silver Zippo lighter. “Listen,” I said, as I flicked it open and spun the wheel with my thumb. “Did you hear the grate of the wheel against the flint? Metal on metal, immutable force against un-giving force equals a spark, a flame, a fire. That’s the principle of dialectic materialism.” “Run that by me again?” “It’s a po weirdly, reads as if Robert Heinlein decided to write a story with a radical lesbian feminist reporter as the hero with passages like, "I reached into my jeans and pulled out my silver Zippo lighter. “Listen,” I said, as I flicked it open and spun the wheel with my thumb. “Did you hear the grate of the wheel against the flint? Metal on metal, immutable force against un-giving force equals a spark, a flame, a fire. That’s the principle of dialectic materialism.” “Run that by me again?” “It’s a political theory, Pody. A process of social change spelled out by the German philosopher, Karl Marx.” I took a long drag off my cigarette." which are either amazing or horrifying or both

  25. 4 out of 5

    Julia Allen

    Detailed picture of one part of the early women's movement in LA. A good reminder of how young & volatile we were then. Cordova was a highly skilled organizer who devoted herself to bringing lesbians visibly into the movement. Although she passed away too soon (at age 67), her work lives on in a changed world. Detailed picture of one part of the early women's movement in LA. A good reminder of how young & volatile we were then. Cordova was a highly skilled organizer who devoted herself to bringing lesbians visibly into the movement. Although she passed away too soon (at age 67), her work lives on in a changed world.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gabby Rivera

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stacia

  28. 4 out of 5

    Abbie

  29. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  30. 4 out of 5

    Doni Bayne

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