Ti-Grace Atkinson

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 29, 2007 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

This issue of “The Newsletter” by NFWFW featured Sidney Abbott. Now a North Fork resident, in 1972 she co-authored “Sappho was a Right-On Woman: a Liberated View of Lesbianism” with Barbara Love.

Reading the article brought to mind the time Ti-Grace Atkinson, another feminist icon, visited my college to give a speech. I remember I stayed in that Saturday night-didn’t go out on a date with a guy from Georgetown-in order to hear her speak. That was the fall of 1970, and feminism and sexual liberation were in full throttle. Ti-Grace Atkinson was one of the faces, leaders, in the feminist movement. I wouldn’t have missed hearing her for anything.

While Trinity was traditional in many ways, it was very free intellectually, so students were exposed to and participated in some pretty radical ideas and politics, including the Berrigan brothers’ anti-war demonstrations. It was an anomaly probably few people outside the college knew.

Anyway, she was up on the stage, in the midst of a passionate speech to a rapt audience when all of a sudden she…starts…to…cry. I was in shock at the sight. I didn’t know what happened. She tried to explain it just hit her-where she was and what she was saying. She grew up Catholic, she explained, but the Catholic Church was the antithesis of so much of who she was and what she struggled for. Here she was, a lesbian feminist in a Catholic place, talking to other Catholic women who wanted to hear her speak and listen to what she had to say.

She finished the speech to enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation. Ti-Grace Atkinson inspired and sent forth a new group of budding feminists to work change in themselves, their families, culture, and society and for some, the Church itself.

12 years later-almost to the day of her Trinity speech-the first Conference for Catholic Lesbians was held. It was there, and at subsequent gatherings and group meetings I saw the same spontaneous eruption of emotion that happened to Ti-Grace happen to other women.

The thick crust built to separate ourselves from our religious upbringing inexplicably and uncontrollably shifts at a moment when a realization pierces us deeply. What blows through the rupture is all the hurt and hate and alienation. And sadness.

What follows, if just for a few moments, is a sense of peace and reconciliation. It is an overwhelming relief of being able to be and say who you are, and what made you, to a group who knows and understands.

That was a very powerful vision of Sisterhood.

Ti-Grace Atkinson’s “Amazon Odyssey” was published in 1974. She is now a professor at Tufts University.

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