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    In Remembrance: Jeanne Cordova

    By Nancy Toder, Ph.D.

    (Author’s Note: Nancy Toder recently gave the following talk at a memorial gathering for Jeanne Cordova (1948–2016), who founded the influential and groundbreaking newspaper The Lesbian Tide in 1971, and was a powerful local activist and national organizer. Cordova was one of the great leaders of the early lesbian feminist movement.

    Our thanks go to Toder as well as to Margie Adam, Ph.D., for sharing the text with us. Adam was also at the memorial, and is an integrative counselor and a pioneer of the Women’s Music movement.)

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    My recollections today are going to focus on…Jeanne as a young woman coming of age.

    The first time I saw Jeanne she was leaning against a brick wall, languidly smoking a cigarette. It was 1973 and women from around the country had gathered at UCLA for the first national lesbian conference.

    My first impression was that she was breathtakingly handsome. But once we started talking, I was even more drawn to her intelligence and her intensity. Jeanne brought a natural aptitude for leadership and a surprising political acumen to The Lesbian Tide. Surprising, as in 1973 we were both just 24. We worked together as editors and became good friends. Feminist principles dictated that we work collectively as hierarchy was a structure of oppression.

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    For those of you who have never experienced the joys of collective process, let me say that no decision was too small for every woman not to have her say. Repeatedly. You know the expression, herding cats? Child ‘s play compared to getting a women’s collective in the 1970’s to agree on anything, let alone reach consensus.

    None of this seemed to affect Jeanne. She was masterful in navigating collective process. Articulate, persuasive and most of all indefatigable, she would cajole until she changed our minds or simply exhausted us.

    She was an incredibly strong woman, not known for her tact, and she was often at the center of controversy.

    We baby dykes were passionate about two things: our love for women and the central place of lesbian feminist theory in our movement. Conflict in our relationships and our politics often rocked our friendships and collectives.

    Her and my biggest political fight occurred when Jeanne wanted to remove the word “lesbian” from The Lesbian Tide. Always pragmatic, she thought it would increase circulation. I objected on principle. She won that vote—but when the circulation didn’t increase, Jeanne was unafraid to admit she’d made a mistake, once again proudly spearheading “lesbian” back into The Tide.

    Although our friendship weathered political strife, when a line was crossed in the personal realm, Jeanne and I handled it with the emotional intelligence and maturity typical of that era—we didn’t talk for years.

    That hiatus in our friendship was a great loss for both of us, and the irony was that when we accidentally ran into one another at a party, we couldn’t stop talking and kept talking until she died. To say Jeanne was intelligent is wholly inadequate: her mind was iconoclastic in vision, and that propelled her to be the leader she was.

    Of course, the downside of arguable genius is often a certainty that one’s view of the world is correct. Never mind what we believed about self-definition, Jeanne thought she knew me better than myself. Who was I kidding when I labeled myself that wishy/washy construct, androgynous? Like her, I was butch. End of discussion.

    Oddly, I was more amused than irritated by her proclamations. I knew that unwavering confidence in her perceptions was part of what made her an extraordinary activist. For to take on the patriarchy in the face of absolute negation and invisibility not only required courage and vision, but also a ferocious belief in oneself.

    Lesbians often talk about two families: family of origin and family of choice. This is particularly true of our generation who came out before there was social recognition, let alone acceptance. There are different kinds of trenches, and the bonds forged between us were like what   soldiers describe in wartime. Our lives, if not literally, depended on having each other’s back.

    Jeanne and I shared that bond. We argued and teased each other like siblings. Given my lens, I saw her as the sister I’d never had, and given her lens, she saw me as the brother she wished she’d had.

    But what’s a little discrepancy in gender labeling between old friends and comrades?

    People are always reinventing themselves. But with Jeanne, one thing never changed—her dedication to the movement. She worked tirelessly to make the world a better place for lesbians and gay men, then queers of color, then butches and transpeople. She was a woman of action. In my lexicon, she was a lesbian feminist action hero.

    The highest tribute I can pay her, and the one I think she would most value, is that she was truly a revolutionary till the day she died.

    Nancy Toder, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst specializing in therapy with lesbians. She is the author of the best-selling novel “Choices,” which explores relationships between women and the development of lesbian identity.