Q&A with Kelly Cogswell, author of 'Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger'
We asked Cogswell, an independent journalist, about the start of the Lesbian Avengers and the neighborhood today.
You came to NYC for grad school. Did you always have aspirations of moving here, or was the decision a little more random?
It was partly random. I'd applied to two or three different places and I could have ended up in Arizona instead of NYU. I did know I liked New York. I'd visited a couple times before and I really felt at home. There were just so many different kinds of people. Different attitudes. You could walk down the street in an enormous Mohawk or in pantyhose and a skirt, and either way nobody gave a crap. For somebody like me, it was a real relief.
What role did the East Village play in helping create the Lesbian Avengers?
I'd say a huge role. The neighborhood had everything you needed to build a successful lesbian direct-action group. First, there were still a ton of dykes in 1992, though there'd been even more before. The rent was relatively cheap, and five of the six founders actually lived here.
The Avengers recruited lesbians from all over the city, but at least in the beginning, the local networks of friends were really important. Particularly because the Lower East Side had a culture of activism. Local dykes were experienced in everything from the Labor movement, to AIDS activism to reproductive rights. They knew how to organize demos, plan zaps, do civil disobedience. Write a press release. All that good stuff.
It was also hugely important that the neighborhood was a center of dyke art — there were choreographers, dancers, filmmakers, writers, poets, musicians, painters. There was WOW (the Women's One World) Theater that opened up on East 11th before moving to Bleecker. Before them there'd been the groundbreaking Medusa's Revenge Theater.
At the time, it seemed like everybody was unraveling stereotypes, doing the work that would allow us to imagine the Lesbian Avengers — funny, sexy, angry, all at once. In fact, a lot of EV dyke artists brought their talents to the Avengers.