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Vice Versa - The First "Lesbian" Magazine, 1947

Lisa Ben

Lisa Ben.[1]

Copyright (c) by Erica Davies, 2008. All rights reserved.

In June of 1947a while working as a secretarial assistant at RKO Studios in Los Angeles, a 25-year old wrote and published Vice Versa, the first lesbian magazine in North America. Under the pseudonym "Lisa Ben" (which was an anagram for lesbian), nine issues were released in which she was only able to produce ten copies of each edition because of limited resources.[2] [3] Ben's access to office supplies availed her use of the company typewriter to write her publications, and reproduce them on carbon paper.[4] Though short-lived, Vice Versa established itself as a forerunner for gay American publications, providing a more wide-ranging audience with upbeat short stories, editorials, book reviews, and a letter column to entertain and inspire readers to perpetuate the existence of gay editorials and preserve the pleasure of their lifestyle.

"Lisa Ben" was born and raised in northern California, where her overbearing parents were ranchers and insistent that she attend business school to hone secretarial skills and prepare for matrimony. Unbeknownst to them, she fell in love at the age of fourteen – with a woman – and would eventually cultivate her homosexual feelings by becoming intimately acquainted with the lesbian community when she later moved to Los Angeles. Outraged by frequent press releases that deemed homosexuals as perverts, Ben decided to retaliate with her creation and publication of Vice Versa as the mysterious "Lisa Ben." She defended the use of an obscure pen name out of concerns that she would distress elderly relatives and "because in those days [our] kind of life was considered a vice."[5]

After being transferred to another job and free time escaping her, publications of Vice Versa ceased and Ben slipped into anonymity and disappeared from lesbian media.[6] Despite being clandestinely circulated in a small community and spread by word of mouth, Vice Versa set literary precedent for The Ladder, the next lesbian magazine released nationally in 1955 by women in the Daughters of Bilitis – which was the first national lesbian organization.[7] Ben joined this organization to collectively support and pursue explicit political issues, but ultimately decided to remain in the background.

References

  1. http://andrejkoymasky.com/liv/fam/biob3/ben1.jpg
  2. Due to the expressed wishes of the creator of Vice Versa, OutHistory will use her pseudonym.
  3. Aldrich, Robert and Wotherspoon, Garry. Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day. Routledge: 2002. Pgs. 34-35.
  4. Gross, Larry P. and Woods, James D. The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics. Columbia University Press: 1999. Pgs. 443-45
  5. Gross, Larry P. and Woods, James D. The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics. Columbia University Press: 1999. Pgs. 443-45.
  6. Lo, Melinda. "Back in the Day: The Ladder, America's First National Lesbian Magazine." November 1, 2005. http://www.afterellen.com/archive/ellen/column/2005/11/backintheday.html.(Accessed December 2, 2007).
  7. Lewin, Ellen. Inventing Lesbian Cultures in America. Beacon Press: 1996. Pgs. 65-66.