Elevate Difference

We Walk Alone

The 1950s saw a typhoon of publications and studies about homosexuality with a notable absence of studies on lesbian women. First published in 1955, We Walk Alone examines the state of women outside heterodoxy in the era of McCarthyism and Kinsey. A richly infused book weaving sixteen chapters of socio-psychological and historical analysis with opined commentary and stories from the rough, We Walk Alone is a legacy to the era of lesbian pulp fiction and agitation toward a more developed identity politic.

In the first chapter, titled “Who is She?”, Aldrich introduces lesbian stereotypes (many of which persist today) and returns later to explore how these stereotypes play out within lesbian subculture. Her psychoanalytic attempts to identify the root causes of lesbianism parallel a discussion of the lesbian in antiquity. However, Aldrich is at her best when she uses a combination of empirical research, personal narrative, and ethnography to discuss identity formation in lesbian women and nicely juxtaposes this to her explication of the varied legal statutes prohibiting “crimes against nature.” These crimes, she points out, are rarely inclusive of lesbian sexual acts (many of which remained in effect until 2003). Though Aldrich discusses medical attempts at “curing” homosexuality, she ends with a firm belief that “society ought not to condemn or pity the homosexual, but simply to understand her.”

We Walk Alone moves the reader quickly through its journalistic commentary and social analysis that more than forty years later still has relevancy to the space lesbian women have (not) received in public discourse. Although linguistically dated (Aldrich frequently refers to lesbianism as “inversion” and “abnormality” and references the “so-called bisexual”), the analysis of white, urban lesbian culture is a historical marker for what grew to be the Homophile Movement. Aldrich fails to nod even a little to race, but - while the text isn’t inclusive of lesbians of color - it does speak significantly to the intersections of class and gender. Though Aldrich frequently contradicts her own analysis the narrative voice is consistently solid, and the contradictions serve to enlighten readers of the differing debates around homosexuality at a time when the topic was just beginning to appear with greater frequency in the status-quo. Aldrich not only captures the urban lesbian’s life well but leaves us with an essential piece of socio-cultural history from an era that seems to have many echoes today.

Written by: Lacey Dunham, December 28th 2006