“The only queer people are those who don’t love anybody.”
No one could ever accuse Rita Mae Brown, 71 years old today, of having lived a boring life. The bestselling author of 37 books is nothing but versatile: feminist activist, mystery writer, lesbian pioneer, fox hunter, screenwriter, novelist, animal rescuer. She even became a tabloid star during her three-year relationship with tennis superstar Martina Navratilova.
Rita Mae Brown (born November 28, 1944) is an American writer and feminist. She is best known for her first novel “Rubyfruit Jungle”. Published in 1973, it dealt with lesbian themes in an explicit manner unusual for the time. Brown is also a mystery writer and screenwriter.
Brown was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania to an unmarried, teenage mother and her mother’s married boyfriend. Brown’s birth mother left the newborn Brown at an orphanage. Brown’s mother’s cousin, Julia “Juts” Brown, and her husband Ralph retrieved her from the orphanage and raised her as their own in York, Pennsylvania, and later in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Brown began her writing career with poetry: “Dancing the shout to the true gospel or The song movement sisters don’t want me to sing” was included in the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women’s Liberation Movement.
Starting late 1962, Brown attended the University of Florida at Gainesville on a scholarship. In spring 1964, the administrators of the racially segregated university expelled her for participating in the civil rights movement. She subsequently enrolled at Broward Community College with the hope of transferring eventually to a more tolerant four-year institution.
Between 1964 and 1969, she lived in New York City, sometimes homeless, while attending New York University where she received a degree in Classics and English. Later, she received another degree in cinematography from the New York School of Visual Arts. Brown received a Ph.D. in literature from Union Institute & University in 1976 and holds a doctorate in political science from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
Starting 1973, Brown lived in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. In 1977, she bought a farm in Charlottesville, Virginia where she still lives. While living in Los Angeles in 1982, Brown wrote a screenplay parodying the slasher genre titled Sleepless Nights; re-titled The Slumber Party Massacre, the producers decided to play it seriously, and it was given a limited release theatrically.
During Brown’s spring semester in 1964 at the University of Florida at Gainesville, she became active in the American Civil Rights Movement. Later in the 1960s, she participated in the anti-war movement, the feminist movement and the Gay Liberation movement.
Brown took an administrative position with the fledgling National Organization for Women, but resigned in January 1970 due to Betty Friedan’s anti-gay remarks and NOW’s attempts to distance itself from lesbian organizations. She claims she played a leading role in the “Lavender Menace” zap of the Second Congress to Unite Women on May 1, 1970, which protested Friedan’s remarks and the exclusion of lesbians from the women’s movement. In her own words, her revolutionary views got her kicked out of what was supposed to be a gender equality movement: “They threw me out. I was a southern country girl, which meant that I was easy to write off, like a stupid little kid. I raised the issue of class differences between women and racial differences. At this point this was really quite an important band of women in America, but not necessarily representative of all women’s concerns. Then, of course, I raised the issue of gay women. That was all it took. They got rid of me in a hurry.”
In the early 1970s, she became a founding member of The Furies Collective, a lesbian feminist newspaper collective in Washington, DC, which held that heterosexuality was the root of all oppression.
Brown told Time magazine in 2008, “I don’t believe in straight or gay. I really don’t. I think we’re all degrees of bisexual. There may be a few people on the extreme if it’s a bell curve who really are gay or are straight. Because nobody had ever said these things and used their real name, I suddenly became the only lesbian in America.”
In the same interview for the Time Magazine, she was asked if she wishes things had been more open when she was growing up and she answered:
“No, because I wouldn’t be who I am now. I was equal to the fight. I’ll go to my grave knowing I didn’t back down.”