A true story about a closet within a closet
Last fall, I asked some women writers to be advance readers and review my memoir, Failure to Appear, Resistance, Identity and Loss, (Blue Beacon Books, release date, March 1, 2020).
I was elated, but nervous, when Lee Lynch agreed, as she is a celebrated figure in lesbian literature. What would she make of my story, its themes, and writing? I had brashly rejected the typical memoir style of utilizing the past tense and reflective voice, for a suspenseful story written like a novel in present tense. No tedious pages of contemplating my navel.
My story is unusual, like finding an albino frog in a backyard pond. I spent almost two decades as a fugitive after committing an act of civil disobedience against the Vietnam War and racism. One night in May 1969, I and seventeen other activists broke into the office of the draft boards on Chicago’s largely black Southside, dragged at least 40,000 records of draft-eligible men out to the parking lot, set them ablaze, and waited, singing “We Shall Overcome”, until the police arrived and arrested us.
In that group of eighteen resisters, I was one of two women, the only lesbian, and the only Jew. I’ve been “the other” all my life.
A central theme of this book is identity, who you are, who you pretend to be. Lesbians know all too well what it’s like to be precarious, an outsider in a straight, patriarchal country. Yet, as women on the perimeter, we have a better view of society, can recognize bullshit, and be inventive with our lives, unbound from the typical reflex, feudal existence.
Over three years ago starting at age 70, I sat down at my computer, not knowing how to write a memoir, but persisted with the encouragement and advice of two women authors. As I wrote in the Dedication of my book, “my story isn’t ancient history. Actually, it’s more like same shit, different century.” I had something to say that was evergreen: about conscience, about finding your true identity and sexual truth, in spite of the lies told to others, in my case out of necessity as a fugitive. It had something to say about finding your way back with your values intact.
I was struck by the insightful, first sentence of Lee Lynch’s review: “this is a thoroughly detailed document of a lesbian in a closet within a closet.” She’s right on!
A lesbian learns how to pretend, how to hide from childhood, our early instinct to survive. No, we haven’t left behind the USA described so well in Annie Proulx’s book, “Brokeback Mountain” — a violent, ignorant, strip-mall nation, the breeding ground of weird conspiracy theories, hate and fear, the sixty million who voted for the worst white guy possible, the Gangster-In-Chief who still occupies the Whites Only House as I write these words today.
However, hiding in a closet as a lesbian (and in my case, as a fugitive) can wear away the foundation of who you are, your name, your past, your desires, your future. It took me over nineteen years to risk returning and voluntarily surrender. Self is like a Matryoshka nesting doll, each one a different size, a different mystery nested inside the next largest one. I am a name of my own making, a lover of women, a resister, a Jew, an organic gardener, a classical piano player, a writer who wonders if Lenny Bruce might be God.
copyright Emily L Quint Freeman 2020
Failure To Appear
Resistance, Identity and Loss
FAILURE TO APPEAR is a fierce coming of age story of a political activist, a young woman and of a generation. When it becomes as clear to the reader as it does to Emily Freeman that “In a mad country, it’s sane to be insane” the urgency of being a part of progressive change is a body slam that takes your breath away. That visceral response is even stronger when we understand that this truth is as crucial today as it was in our country’s past. This book takes its place alongside the searing and sensitive memoirs of other moral dissenters who’ve helped change the course our history.
–Jewelle Gomez, Author of the Gilda Stories
In this vivid, no holds barred page turner Failure to Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss is a memoir about a lesbian of conscience who became a fugitive, on the run for over nineteen years using several identities. A gripping story about finding your true self and your sexual truth during the turbulent late sixties through the late eighties, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the Nixon and Reagan years, the women’s and gay liberation movements, and the AIDS crisis.
Emily’s story delves into family rejection based on sexuality, the price of ideals, lost love, the agony of an underground existence, and personal renewal. As a university student, she became an activist for peace and social justice. One May night in 1969, Emily and seventeen others hauled somewhere around 40,000 records of draft-eligible men from the draft board office on the South Side of Chicago and burned them, as an act of non-violent civil disobedience against the Vietnam War and racism. The group waited at the scene, singing “We Shall Overcome”, and were arrested.
This is a thoroughly detailed document of a lesbian in a closet within a closet. As compelling as a novel, it brings back the conflicts and clashes of the 1960s, the misunderstood compassion for our soldiers in Viet Nam, and the consequences of one woman’s principled and inspiring resistance. I was ever eager to return to her story each time I had to put it down.
— Lee Lynch, Award Winning Author of The Swashbuckler, An American Queer, Rainbow Gap, and more
EMILY L QUINT FREEMAN has appeared on CNN Evening News and NPR’s All Things Considered; interviewed by numerous progressive radio stations, such as KPFA; and covered/quoted in The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, National Catholic Reporter, Associated Press, InfoWeek, Wired, and The John Liner Review, among others When she isn’t writing, you might find Emily planting veggie seeds in her garden or at her piano playing Scriabin.
Paperback: ISBN: 978–1-61929-426-4, 262 pages, $20.95 USD Trim size: 6 x 9 inches
EPUB: ISBN: 978–1-61929-427-1, $9.99 USD