I came out to myself as a lesbian at the age of 9. By the time I was 12, I was actively searching for language and images–some confirmation that a like-minded, parallel world could align with my internal one. I found proof of that life, one that refused conventional heterosexual and gender expectations and appeared as a utopic universe of women free of men and the oppression of patriarchy at Sisterhood Bookstore in 1975. In a few years, I evolved from a burgeoning lesbian-feminist at 12 and 13 into a radical lesbian-feminist separatist aged 14 to 19.

Our neighborhood feminist bookstore was opened in 1972 by Simone Wallace and her former sister-in-law, Adele Wallace, and was the refuge that ratified my awakening. I found a language for my refusal and desire on the densely packed walls, shelves, and in the magazine and periodicals stacks in the rear of this peaceful store where I lurked for hours, raptly observing Sisterhood’s few daily customers. All while distractedly “reading” Sinister Wisdom perched on a small wooden stool. The two women who sat at the checkout area on different days became my patient and protective guides as I gingerly queried them about their own coming out experiences and attempted to imagine the details of their lesbian lives to foresee my own.

At Sisterhood, my sexuality was first mirrored in photographic work in posters and books by lesbian artists Tee A. Corrine, JEB (Joan E. Biren), and Cynthia MacAdams. Corinne’s visceral, solarized images of lesbian lovemaking mesmerized me. They hung high on the walls as posters over those advertising womyn’s music releases, graphic images with text and announcements. The work was powerful in its shadowy reversals of realism and explicit sexual encounters between actual lesbian couples.

Cynthia MacAdams produced polished photographic books (with forewords by Kate Millett), Emergence (1977), a series of black and white portraits of second-wave feminist women, and a paperback volume, Rising Goddess (1983), that featured the nude female body somewhat abstracted in landscapes. Emergence is an irreplaceable record of a time and captures striking images of women of note liberated by new ideas of female autonomy and solidarity. Rising Goddess pictures lesbians in mythologizing terms, with a full arsenal of formal devices that remove the body from life into the realm of classicism by way of Eros.

JEB’s slim paperback book of black and white photographs, Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians (1979), were lesbian portraits that functioned like a catalog of lesbian difference and linked experience. The images were documentary, and her photographs’ unadorned aesthetics were an aspect of their appeal. Intimate, necessary, and driven by the need to describe lives as they actually were, JEB’s photobook was a profoundly political gesture and remains a loving touchstone within my psyche, a pivotal article in imagining a future life.


Tee A. Corinne, SINISTER WISDOM magazine cover, 1977

From Tee A. Corinne’s YANTRAS OF WOMANLOVE: DIAGRAMS OF ENERGY, published by Naiad Press, 1982

From Tee A. Corinne’s YANTRAS OF WOMANLOVE: DIAGRAMS OF ENERGY, published by Naiad Press, 1982

Cynthia MacAdams, EMERGENCE, Published 1977, Chelsea House

From Cynthia MacAdams’ EMERGENCE, Kate Millett, 1977

From Cynthia MacAdams’ EMERGENCE, Lily Tomlin, 1977

From Cynthia MacAdams’ RISING GODDESS, 1983

From Cynthia MacAdams’ RISING GODDESS, 1983

JEB, EYE TO EYE: PORTRAITS OF LESBIANS, published 1979, Glad Hag Books

Flo, Flint Hill, Virginia, 1978. From JEB’s EYE TO EYE: PORTRAITS OF LESBIANS

Priscilla and Regina, Brooklyn, New-York, 1979. From JEB’s EYE TO EYE: PORTRAITS OF LESBIANS

Jane, Willits, California, 1977. From JEB’s EYE TO EYE: PORTRAITS OF LESBIANS

Monica Majoli was born in Los Angeles in September 1963. She received her BA in 1989, and her MFA in 1992 from UCLA. Her paintings, drawings and prints consistently integrate the photographic documentary sexual image into images as source material. Her practice engages queer experience and history while exploring shifts in materiality in distinct bodies of work executed over multiple years. She is a professor at UC Irvine and lives and works in Los Angeles.