From A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout, edited by Marilyn R. Schuster. Published by UBC Press in 2017. Jane Rule was a writer, teacher and activist. Schuster is the author of Passionate Communities: Reading Lesbian Resistance in Jane Rule’s Fiction. The “Gerald” referred to in these letters is Gerald Hannon, author of “Men Loving Boys Loving Men.”
March 31, 1992
The editor of the Mills Quarterly phoned to say they were doing a series of articles on minorities at Mills and wondered if I’d do one on lesbians. I’d just been reading a good article by Adrienne Rich in the Radcliffe Quarterly and wondering why the Mills Quarterly couldn’t manage to be half as interesting. So, contrary to my vow of retirement, I said yes I would. As I remembered what it was like to be a lesbian at Mills in the ’40s, I realized that the offense was being sexual at all, never mind what orientation. I remembered a ridiculous lecture given us by an embarrassed woman doctor who wanted us to save our virginity as a great gift to our husbands and the paper we were asked to write afterwards entitled “A Livable Sex Philosophy.” And the jam I got into for being flippant in mine.
You have never talked specifically about how you intend to be looked after when you need it. What options do you have? Are they ones you feel all right about?
Helen is finally scheduled for the removal of one of her cataracts, and she’s having enough trouble now to look forward to the operation.
Louise Hager and her friend Daphne were here last night for dinner. Louise is the one who pushed me around in a wheelchair at the literary festival connected with the gay games. She and Daphne are taking a lesbian cruise to Alaska in June, over 900 passengers on a large, luxury ship. I asked if
they had to dress for dinner. They confessed they were renting tuxedos. What a funny picture I had of 900 women all dressed like penguins every night for dinner. Sea travel was forever spoiled for me when I went back and forth to Europe in the early fifties on everything from a converted troop ship to the Queens [i.e., Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth] in steerage. The confinement in close quarters with hundreds of strangers of whatever sexual orientation is my idea of hell.
Do you realize I’ve managed to live 61 years? Helen is giving me a private dinner for ten at the Pink Geranium in May to avoid making it a birthday party.
Helen sends her love with mine. Jane
February 28, 1994
David is dead, and I feel peaceful about him, that he could die as quietly and privately as that. It’s Terrell I feel distressed about, and, though you say you’re good at the hospital stuff, I feel distressed for you, too, watching him suffer so many indignities of technology.
I don’t think much about the public these letters may eventually have. Years and years ago I figured out that the only real privacy I had was in my head. That was when Helen found our first landlady in Vancouver going through our wastebaskets and reading anything she could find. Helen was outraged. I found myself feeling sorry for the woman that her life was so narrow she was looking for it in our wastebaskets.
The trip south, on the surface of it, was very successful. Mother is more rested and calm than she’s been in years, busy seeing old friends and making new ones. Helen walked out each day, and I sat with Mother, having good talks.
The family dinner party of Saturday night was more successful than any reunion for years. It’s quite obvious that Dad’s sad silence in the last few years was more daunting than I’d realized. It made Mother talk nervously against it, driving everyone else into a passive torpor. Without his distress, she is content to sit at the head of the table resting her eyes on her happily conversing kin. In a circumstance where, in the recent past, people have kept sneaking looks at their watches and leaving as soon as was decently possible, nobody wanted to break the party up, and everyone said we must do it again soon. We talked a lot about Dad, easily, affectionately, our private sorrows kept private.
I am glad to have worked almost always at something that had meaning in itself, aside from the material rewards (or lack of them!), and I suppose a number of younger people want to talk to me because they see my life as an example of a life lived meaningfully. It would be folly to try to persuade them that a dozen books on the shelf are not meaningful. Of course they are, but it was the making of them, regardless of their value in the world, which mattered. Living a life sentence by sentence, learning that every one of them matters, is a fine rehearsal for retirement because you know so deeply that the quality of life is a matter of paying attention.
I’m glad you’ve been nominated for an award, glad to have you know that your community pays more attention than you realize. I’d be glad if you’d be willing to take part in the film. The growth of our friendship and correspondence is characteristic of how we both lead our lives, loved work