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June 26th, 2024

Finally Celebrated: Esther Newton’s Journey from Outlier to LBGTQ Icon

  1. Finally Celebrated: Esther Newton’s Journey from Outlier to LBGTQ Icon Crow's Feet 28:07

A fitting quest for Pride Month, Esther Newton's personal and professional struggles mirror sixty years of LGBTQ+ history. 

In the mid-1950s, catapulted out of a liberal household in New York to a rigidly-gendered southern California high school where girls were frilly and feminine, Esther was, in her own words, “a failure as a girl.” She knew she was different—a “homosexual,” as such deviants were then called.  Alone as a teenager, fearing she had no chance at a normal life, Esther found comfort in Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa. “It showed me the culture of the 50s and 60s was just one among thousands and thousands.”

Like Mead, Esther earned her PhD in cultural anthropology. She dared to observe and write her dissertation on drag queens, a culture much closer to home. She wrote scholarly papers on “stone butches,” and how they had sex. She outed herself and became more of an activist in her collection of essays, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay.  It was “career suicide,” she says of her early work in the field, but Esther seems to have the last word in her memoir, My Butch Career, and on screen, in the 2022 documentary, Esther Newton Made Me Gay.  Today, a new generation looks up to her for her courage and foresight.

You can view the trailer for Esther Newton Made Me Gay on her website as well as links to her writing:  https://www.Esther-Newton.com . Crow's Feet is grateful to Jean Carlomusto, director of Esther Newton Made Me Gay, and Women Make Movies, the distributor of the film, for allowing us to use excerpts. Access the full documentary via Kanopy, if your local library subscribes, or by contacting the distributor: orders@wmn.com 

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Nancy Peckenham Founder, Crow's Feet: Life As We Age

Nancy Peckenham is the founder and editor of Crow’s Feet: Life As We Age. She is a former cable news executive, local news reporter and documentary filmmaker with a focus on Latin America. She has published three books and has written about her life traveling the U.S. in a Sprinter van with her husband. When not on the move, she loves gardening and spending time with her two sons.

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