Over the past few years, our community has evolved a lot and so do the people who make it up. A play focused on two key moments in San Francisco’s lesbian lives.
The first act of the play ‘The Daughters’ focuses on America’s first lesbian political and social group ‘The Daughters of Bilitis.’ Founded in the 50s, it changed the history of LGBTQ+ women.
At that time, homosexuality was still a crime so the group’s meetings were clandestine.
The play introduces us to Mal, one of the leaders, as she invites guests to take an interest in politics.
“Lesbians could run for public office. We could get married,” three of the characters burst out laughing at such a crazy idea.
Sometimes I wish I could travel back in time and tell them, “We made it!” :)
Mal is directly inspired by Del Martin who, along with Phyllis Lyon, were not only the first same-sex couple to get married in San Francisco, but were the leaders of ‘The Daughters of Bilitis’.
Through this play, playwright Patricia Cotter wanted to give these two women back their worth, because they never really received the recognition they deserved. She explains:
“I hadn’t seen a play or a history of my people. I loved thinking about a time that changed the world because women wanted to meet each other. Isn’t that wild? Also, I feel like Phyllis and Del haven’t gotten their due as civil rights leaders. And I wanted to see a bunch of women on stage having a blast.”
For the second act, we meet the same actresses, but this time in 2015 during the closing night of the Lexington Club, the last lesbian bar in San Francisco.
Two characters are opposing each other: Gina, upset to see another lesbian bar disappear, and Ani, who doesn’t care because she’s used to meeting women online.
“There’s a lot of stuff that pokes at people, which is interesting. The language is changing so quickly, and some people are put out at how things are changing. It’s like, change is change—why not get on board with all of it? The reality is if me not being assumptive about pronouns means that I’m making other people comfortable, why is that a big deal?”
Director Jessica Holt adds:
“Language has changed and there’s a host of specific identity terms whereas in the '50s it was all lesbians and gays, and butches and femmes. Now our understanding is not so binary.
“Ani represents the millennial generation with a fluid approach to identity and sexuality times.
“Language has changed and there’s a host of specific identity terms whereas in the ’50s it was all lesbians and gays, and butches and femmes. Now our understanding is not so binary.”
We were all saddened to see these lesbian bars closed. I think, however, that these places were unable to evolve and that may have precipitated their closure. The new bars were never created, those of the 2000s, but I think other places will be created so we can meet again. They’re just going to differ from what we know now.
It took a lot of research, sometimes very extensive, with lesbian historical associations such as the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn or the GLBT Historical Society to find documents on ‘The Daughter of Bilitis’.
It was also necessary to conduct many interviews with LGBTQ+ people in San Francisco to understand the evolution that our community is following to best transcribe it.
The result is a beautiful play by Patricia Cotter and Jessica Holt that you can discover at the Playhouse in San Francisco.
For more information, visit the website: sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2019-2020-season/the-daughters/
Photos by Jessica Palopoli