Patricia Nell Warren

Patricia Nell Warren -- Then and Now

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | May 10, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: coming out of the closet, Earth Day, feminist history, Patricia Nell Warren, women in sports

THEN

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  1. April 22, 1970 -- the first Earth Day in history. I was running "unofficially" in the Earth Day Marathon in New York City. The 26.2-mile course was taking us several times around the carriage loop in Central Park. The issue was whether women would fall over dead if they ran 26.2 miles. AAU officials who sanctioned female sports were convinced that women would fall over dead. Our little group of "unofficial entries" in that race -- five or six women, as I remember -- were out to prove that officialdom was wrong.
  2. My growing sense of self as a woman was throwing me into growing conflict with the conservative and dominating man that I had married in 1957. He was already quite upset that I was involved in feminist organizing at the Reader's Digest, where I worked. We women were asking for outlandish things like equal pay.
  3. Stonewall had happened the year before. I had read about Stonewall in the New York Times and was committed to the idea that someday I too would do that scary thing called "coming out." Someday. My spouse wasn't going to be happy about that either.
  4. I didn't know any gay people who were (to use that new buzz-word) "out." There were a few women and men colleagues at work, and elsewhere in publishing, that I had my suspicions about. But we didn't discuss the subject, not even after several martinis. It was illegal to be gay in every state except Illinois.
  5. I also knew a few women and men in long-distance running whose sexual orientation vibed non-heterosexual. There had to be a story there. Especially about the men. Gay men weren't supposed to like sports. A new novel, maybe? But if I published that novel, I'd have to come out, and go through an ugly divorce. And lose my job.

Continued after the jump plus "NOW" photo and list.

  1. I was 34, stood 5' 6", weighed 120 pounds with my Adidas on, and loved wearing the sassy fashions of the early Seventies. Even when I was running in a race. In the photo, I was wearing purple tights and a striped mod jumpsuit. At the office, the editors rolled their eyes when I showed up for work in that shocking new garment called a pants suit.
  2. Recently I'd become national publicity director for the Road Runners Club of America, and was writing my first fiery editorials ...in magazines like Track & Field News and Runner's World. There was no such thing as the Internet. The word "blog" would not be heard for roughly 35 years yet.
  3. The couple hundred Earth Day runners had an array of political concerns -- from the Vietnam War to clean air in New York City. The National Guard massacre of protesting students at Kent State University was going to happen in two weeks. In just a week, President Nixon would announce that the U.S. was bombing Cambodia. Roe v. Wade wouldn't happen till 1973, so abortion was still illegal.
  4. Now and then, along the race course, some unfeeling spectators would yell the word "Dyke!" at me. I wondered how they could tell, since I hadn't revealed my big secret to the world.
  5. It was around 20 miles, and I was getting tired. But marathoning had already taught me that you can reach down and find more.

A year after this photo was published in Runner's World, women marathoners were officially scored by the AAU for the first time, in their own division of the New York City Marathon. The race was run over that same course in Central Park. The women's winner was Beth Bonner. I finished fourth. Nobody fell over dead.


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NOW

  1. June 19, 2007. Back in New York City for the "Come Write History" fundraiser organized by DNC treasurer and gay author Andrew Tobias. Fellow novelists Ann Bannon and Carlos Mock hang out with me at the reception. We talk about how we've seen the civil-rights movement come and go since the 1970s.
  2. Thirty LGBT authors have gathered as special guests for this gala evening at the Waldorf Astoria. We are raising a million dollars...hoping to get Barack Obama elected President and a Dem majority elected to Congress.
  3. The feeling in the room is "you've come a long way, baby, but there's still a lot to do." Sodomy laws are gone, but there's still a lot of things to fight for. We are all nervously hopeful, but Obama's commitment to our cause is a little murky and nobody knows what the future will hold.
  4. New York City feels curiously familiar, yet curiously strange, after leaving the Digest in 1980 and many years spent living back in my native West. It would have been hard to imagine an event such as this in 1970.
  5. Earlier that year, I had just thrown my own hat in the political arena, by running for city council in West Hollywood, against incumbent Sal Guarriello. It would have been no big deal to be elected there -- LGBT people have owned WeHo since it became a city in 1984. I got 23 percent of the vote, and Guarriello got 40 percent. I'm still in shock after raising $40,000 for my campaign, only to see that Guarriello and his incumbent allies had nearly a quarter of a million bucks to beat me with.
  6. I am 71 and 5' 5", having shrunk an inch owing to a vertebra injured during a fall with a horse while show-jumping in the late 70s...after coming out in 1973 and getting more recklessly adventurous with sports. These days, running 26 miles is a distant memory. My sports are gardening and walking.
  7. The silver hair is a legacy from my mom. When I finally came out to her in 1973, she told me that she had known all along. I still like nice clothes, but these days my tastes are a bit more butch.
  8. I'm enjoying friendship with Ann Bannon, who was already writing lesbian novels when I was in Catholic college in New York in 1957. I remember her "Odd Girl Out" circulating clandestinely through the dormitory, when the Mothers of the Sacred Heart weren't looking.
  9. I get to speak Spanish with Carlos Mock, another friend, who had just published his "Papi Chulo," about gay men's struggles with Hispanic machismo. When I lived in Spain in the 1960s, you couldn't even mention Federico Garcia Lorca's name in public. Today Spain was way ahead of the U.S. now, having legalized gay marriage.
  10. Eight books and a lot of fiery editorials down the road, it seems like there is no end to the battles left to fight. People still celebrate Earth Day, but now it's about global warming and wholesale extinction of species. Young people have no idea what happened at Kent State, and they think Vietnam happened during the Roman Empire. I'm aware that I sound like my parents when I talk about "then."

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Just saying "WOW" would be too weak of a word. Thank you for all the doors you have opened for us, and for the help you give us in kicking the rest of them in. You are truly a wonderful person.

I agree with Monica. "WOW" is insufficient. Patricia, you literally are living history.

Y'know, every now and then I start to allow myself the conceit that I've been around and seen and done a lot since I first came to terms with being a transwoman in the mid-nineties. Then I hear or read about someone like Patricia and I remember that not only did I come in pretty late to this party, but even as tough as things still are in a lot of ways for LGBT Americans today, the truly heavy lifting and barrier breaking happened long before I was part of the picture.

Patricia;
Thanks for being one of the early women raising h*ll. Similiar story to yours but 20 years apart where some of it was far easier with the exception of an eight year long custody battle that ended when my youngest joined the Army.

You and the comrades and sisters of that era made so much of my life either possible or far less onerous than it would have been, and it was troublesome enough for me. My eternal gratitude for you and the combativeness and radicalism of your age of appearance in LGBT activism and visibility.

Silver hair here, too, Patricia. Still red till recently when it all began coming in silver white and I decided to let it do so.

Maura

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 11, 2009 12:07 AM

Patricia, I had two "Gay Pride" marches in Chicago under my belt when I read "The Front Runner" which successfully brought me to tears and taught me so very much about love. But, you are not "living LGBT history." Rather, you are a continuation with perspective of where we have been and how much has been done. Neither are you a dusty book on a forgotten shelf, but a vibrant and tireless advocate.

Illinois law was a magnet for migration to Chicago in the early 1970's and like many a Gay man I followed the muse not to acceptance or equality, but grudging and stubborn uphill resistance. You know those obstacles as well and thank you for leading through a sterling example.

Without you Brave Soul, so many more would still be mired in

How I've missed Patricia's posts, that are so delightfully sprinkled with our history.

jimtoevs@yahoo.com | May 11, 2009 10:34 AM

Hola, Patricia!

Thanks for sharing your personal history!

I am SOOOO grateful to know you as a friend and to share our connection to the great State of Montana.

Also glad to know we share a friendship with Andy Tobias, another hero of mine.

The Front Runner, The Fancy Dancer, The Beauty Queen: all of your books played such an important role in my life in those critical months just after I came out, went through the process of divorce from my wife, being a part-time dad to my two young sons, fell in love, and became a "born again Queer".

Thanks so much for all you have done, and continue to do, to make the Planet a safer, more welcoming, place for all of us.

Love and Hugs!

Jim

Thanks to the above commenters for their feedback -- I appreciate it very much.

Patricia,

To say that you are an enigma doesn't go far enough. Saying 'WOW' hardly scratches the surface yet the expression is relateable to so many like myself.

I too am one of millions who are eternally grateful to you and your wonderful first book, the effervescent love story, The Front Runner. I share your cause to champion women and gay/LGTB rights. Yes, we have 'come a long way baby', but we have SO much more to do.

I love you for your friendship more than I can put in words and you still remain my gay icon.

Here's a funny aside (because we all know how fantabulous Patricia is!):

I'm not sure how old Don is, but I think Patricia is our oldest contributor. On Mother's Day I was talking to my mom and telling her about Patricia's post and some of her life. That's when I realized that my mom is older than Patricia by a year - because Mom was agreeing with a lot of Patricia's stories and adding her own.

Thanks for helping to facilitate a conversation with my mom, Patricia. :)

Message for Patricia from Mom: While you were growing up out west with horses and the farm, she did it in the mountains of West Virginia. She also said to tell you that during the period you worked for Readers Digest she was a subscriber. (I don't know why that's important but it was repeated like a dozen times.) :)

Bil...message to your mom from me: I know how important The Reader's Digest was to a whole lot of people. She definitely read stuff that I worked on, over the years, from 1959 to 1980 -- both articles and condensed books.

Well, now I feel like I have to relay my Reader's Digest bona fides. My dad was a very long-time subscriber, having been started by getting annual gift subscriptions from his father for many years before that. He was especially taken by the Humor in Uniform column.

When I moved away from home, I started receiving the Reader's Digest in the mail; my father having bought me a gift subscription to extend the tradition. I never really put it together in my mind to associate you with the magazine at that time.

Also, I must reiterate my appreciation for your groundbreaking work. I was in NYU in the 70's, and it was an awfully big deal to have The Front Runner available to us. Ironically, your sexual orientation was a subject of debate in our group. Someone insisted that you were straight because you were married and had a kid when you wrote the book. Most of of were in disbelief. ;-)

Rory, the Digest may have been a conservative publication, but it was a great place to work, professionally. I was there 1959-1980 and learned real editing skills that have stood me in good stead. In those days, the company was at its peak. Today it's a shadow of its former self.

As to my coming out: How many members of our "community" today were formerly in heterosexual marriages? Being heterosexually married doesn't mean that you're straight. (BTW, I didn't have a kid.)

That was sort of the point, Patricia, that the fact of a marriage wasn't a conclusive test of heterosexuality. That was the source of our amusement, that our friend took it as such.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 12, 2009 12:59 AM

Bil, I am reminded of the horror of a woman friend of mine when I introduced her as "my oldest friend in the world." which she is, (both in time known and chronological age) but did not care to have it broadcast as an introduction. :)

Some folks are "old" in attitude when very young, disciplined, focused, goal oriented. I am sure Patricia always was these things and remains a fine wine that only becomes better.

"Reader's Digest" and her condensed books were extremely important in their time. They achieved a mass audience for the many authors for poorer people could not afford as a "whole" book.

Hmmmm...in 1970 I was 12.
Student in a National School(two rooms for 8 grades) in rural Ireland.

I was spending weekends in Paris with my aunt and had met her "old lady friends" as I called them...

played soccer

didn't know what a Lesbian was and thought nothing of the fact that my aunt's friends were living with or had previously lived with other women for years.

wanted to be a teacher