In the early 1990s, the Lesbian Avengers took gay politics into the sound and fury of street activism. In a new book, former member Kelly Cogswell remembers the good times and bad.
The death of arch-homophobe and foamer-at-the-mouth Fred Phelps has led to polarized feelings: do you dance on his grave, simply say “good riddance to bad rubbish,” or just think of him with pity? His Westboro Baptist Church picketed funerals with his ridiculous and vile “God Hates Fags” signs: how can we outdo that for his own? Or do we just turn away from his end-of-life spectacle, and in so doing repudiate the extreme homophobia and prejudice he represented?
These thoughts occur while reading Kelly Cogswell’s Eating Fire: My Life As a Lesbian Avenger because when the direct action group of the book’s title was hot in the early to mid 1990s, that kind of explicit, vicious homophobia was the norm. It’s why the Avengers was set up. This was a time, Cogswell reminds us, of advances and setbacks: greater visibility in the media, yes, but still anti-gay ordinances being set up in cities and states, still a depressing litany of queer-bashings and anti-gay murders.