Karen Snider: Creating Culture
"I'm totally on the side that being a lesbian is a gift. Not everyone gets to be a lesbian. Remember that. This is not your pain. Those poor heterosexual people don't get some of what we get in life. Even though it's a struggle to deal with the oppression of bigotry and ignorance, the gift of seeing beyond heterosexism and being free in your mind to love your own gender and through your own gender to love humanity and to love yourself and to go beyond being stuck in gender politics is one of the greatest gifts of being a lesbian or gay person." Karen Snider's life raises the important, related questions about the purpose of LGBT activism, and about the relationship between culture and politics.
For Snider, lesbian issues and feminist issues are always intertwined, but not always comfortably. She remembers having a lesbian ask her if she would prefer to be locked in a room with all types of lesbians, or with all types of feminists. She chose feminists immediately at the time, although she says now she might well choose lesbians.
This might seem odd for a former lesbian separatist. Snider may never have locked herself into a room with lesbians, but she did help create lesbian cooperatives in rural Wisconsin. But Snider was unusual in being a woman with a full beard. Because of this prominent masculine characteristic, she found that some lesbians wanted nothing to do with her.
Still, Snider had known from childhood that she was a lesbian. She visited Milwaukee, found an active group of lesbian feminists, and thought she was in heaven. She quit college to move to Milwaukee.
Snider participated in the Amazon Collective, writing for and editing Amazon: A Midwest Journal for Women, the Feminist Writers' Guild, the Women's Art Salon, and the Wisconsin Women's Land Cooperative, which bought rural land for lesbian separatists to live on. She won various grants for her writing projects, including a series of poems based on the lives of elderly rural women, and The Dorothy Poems (which is in UWM's Rare Books Collection).
For Snider, culture is crucial for the creation of community. She implicitly asks us to consider: what is the point of having equal rights if we do not also have cultural creativity? This question, in turn, implies another: how do we use our cultural creativity in order to achieve equal rights?
Snider reminds us that politics is not just about elections and laws. With her poetry and her beard, Snider has dedicated her life to the creation of cultural space in which LGBT persons can think and act with fewer constraints of gender and sexuality than before.