THE BLOG
01/14/2015 10:21 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Behind the Issue: Sinister Wisdom 95

In 1976, the founders of Sinister Wisdom, Catherine Nicholson and Harriet Desmoines, wrote, "We'd become lesbian separatists because no other political position satisfied." Thirty-nine years ago, many feminists viewed lesbian separatism as a viable and important political strategy. Sinister Wisdom continues today as one expression of lesbian separatism -- a broad-ranging ideology that imagines a world where women first and foremost dedicate their time, energy, and talents to benefitting other women.

Today, however, not a lot of women identify as lesbian separatists. Some women continue to identify as lesbian separatists, of course, and the work that they do is vital, but more than idolizing the identity of lesbian separatist, I am interested in work that continues separatist ideas and traditions. For example, journals dedicated to publishing work by women only express and maintain separatist traditions, including Calyx (a wonderful feminist journal currently mourning the recent passing of its founder, Margarita Donnelly, a fierce and visionary feminist), Adrienne (edited by Valerie Wetlaufer and published by Sibling Rivalry Press), and Skin 2 Skin (edited and published by Eboni Sade'). Feminist writing retreat center Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year, demonstrating the continued need to nurture women writers. Since the early 1980s, Money for Women/The Deming Fund has been providing grants to women writers, carrying on the legacy of Barbara Deming and asserting boldly the value in supporting women. The group VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts highlights the presence and absence of published women's writing; VIDA has, at its core, a mission of doing things by, for, and about women. Looking at the contemporary landscape, while the identity of separatism may be waning, the work of separatism continues to flourish. The idea of doing things by, for, and about women continues to capture the imagination of many feminists.

While separatism continues to prove that it is not an old or backward idea, skirmishes around its boundaries continue to swirl. As I finish my fourth year as editor of Sinister Wisdom, I recognize that I have tried to sidestep potential areas of conflict in relationship to the journal. As the editor of Sinister Wisdom, my number-one priority is the continuity of Sinister Wisdom. Yet conflict always arises in relationship to projects that are important, to projects that we care about deeply and passionately. Conflict is unavoidable. Some people have left Sinister Wisdom in anger. In two cases, the conflict surrounded men, or, more specifically, the roles of men, if any, in the universe of the journal. How do we define limits and boundaries for our beloved sister Sinister Wisdom? These are ancient questions, but they're still immediate and important.

The details of implementing a separatist practice constantly evolve. Even though Sinister Wisdom only publishes work by lesbians, even though there are only lesbians on the board of directors, even though I am a lesbian, debates about boundaries emerge. They deserve our care and attention. Boundary debates swirled around lesbian separatism in the past -- and continue to do so today. We are always finding and attending to the outer limits of our lives.

I titled Sinister Wisdom 95 "Reconciliations." Many of the pieces in this issue of the journal address the different types of reconciliations in our lives: the loss of lovers, friends and partners; grief and loss experienced more broadly; reconciling ourselves to living in a world with homophobia and lesbophobia; reconciling ourselves to changes in lesbian life and lesbian identities; and reconciling ourselves to boundaries and borders that are constantly changing and constantly being policed by ourselves, by our friends, and by various communities.

For me, reconciliation means understanding and embracing community dynamics. Now entering my fifth year editing Sinister Wisdom, I am more committed than ever to the journal and to its survival. I am also more open to the conflicts and reconciliations that its survival requires. Here is one truth: I want Sinister Wisdom to exist thirty-nine years from now. That is a long time, a lot of publishing, a lot of fundraising, a lot of writers, a lot of time, a lot of editing -- and a lot of conflict and reconciliations. Sinister Wisdom 95 celebrates reconciliations. Reading it, I hope women will reconcile ourselves to the long life of lesbian feminism and lesbian separatism, to delighting in the many twists and turns it takes in our lives. Reading Sinister Wisdom 95, I hope women will find courage and power and anger and indignation to energize us for the work ahead. I am reconciled. Are you?