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Week 12 (July 13, 2020)
In this photograph, Lisa Ben (Edith Eyde) sits outside, in a bikini top, enjoying the Los Angeles sun and the pleasure of reading outdoors. She holds the May 1945 issue of Weird Tales, a pulp magazine specializing in supernatural and occult fiction, as she smiles at her photographer. By this time, Ben had long been a science fiction fan, and it was her interest in the occult that had brought her to Los Angeles, where she found community as part of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS). Even before her move to LA, she had written a letter to Voice of Imagination (VOM) in June of 1941 under her pseudonym, Tigrina the Devil Doll, saying, “I have always wished to belong to such an organization as yours, as I am deeply interested in the Occult, particularly Witchcraft and Black Magic.” Stuck in her childhood home in Fremont, California, Tigrina felt moved to express the camaraderie she felt with other science fiction fans and the community that publications like VOM created. In Los Angeles, she met VOM’s publisher Forrest J. Ackerman and Jim Kepner, who published sci-fi zines, including Toward Tomorrow and The Western Star. Science fiction was not the only interest they shared. Tigrina, adopting the name Lisa Ben (an anagram for lesbian) would publish Vice Versa in 1947, the first lesbian magazine in the United States.
Ben’s love of science fiction and its envisioning of new realities filtered into her writing for Vice Versa. Of note is her line in Issue 4 where she states: “Perhaps Vice Versa might be the forerunner of better magazines dedicated to the Third Sex which, in some future time, might take their rightful place on the news stands beside other publications, to be available openly and without restriction.” Her wish for the future, of course, would become a reality. Wishing, hoping, or imagining a world different than the one in which one currently lives does not make for a new reality, but it is an important step in working toward a new way of being that is safer, more accepting, and more equitable.
Lisa Ben next was born Edythe DeVinney Eyde in San Francisco on November 7, 1921, the only child to parents Oscar E. Eyde and Olive Colegrove Eyde. Three years later, the family moved to a fruit ranch in Los Altos, California, where Ben spent her childhood and adolescent years. Ben studied music and attended Palo Alto High School, where she graduated in 1938. Her parents urged her to go on to business school, and she soon after worked in secretarial jobs in Northern California during WWII. Her interests in writing, however, led her to move to Los Angeles in 1945 where she knew young aspiring writers in science fiction fan groups.
Soon after moving to Los Angeles, she met a group of women at her apartment complex and began a conversation with them. One of the women asked her "Are you gay?" She responded, "I try to be as happy as I can under the circumstances." The conversation led to Ben discovering the topic of lesbianism, which subsequently led to her discovering her own sexuality. She went with the group to a Los Angeles lesbian bar known as the If Club where she met others like herself, and soon found herself a part of the burgeoning post-WWII lesbian community.
Two years later, Ben began writing a magazine to discuss gay and lesbian life, which she named Vice Versa. At the time, Ben was working as a secretary for an RKO Studio executive who was often away from the office. She was instructed to "look busy" while he was away, so she decided to write a magazine as "a gesture of love-of women loving women, and the whole idea of it. It was an enthusiasm that boiled over into these pages." Vice Versa, first published in June 1947, was a modest publication that was passed from friend to friend. It was a labor of love for Ben who wrote the vast majority of the articles for nine issues, while trying to get others to contribute as well. However, with a new job and an increasingly active social life, she did not have the time to keep up her writing schedule and discontinued publication in 1948.
By the late 1950s, she joined the Daughters of Bilitis and wrote articles for The Ladder where she adopted the pen name Lisa Ben (an anagram of "lesbian"). It was during this time in the late-1950s and early-1960s when Ben began to write parodies of popular music with gay and lesbian themes (e.g. "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write My Butch a Letter.") She would occasionally perform these songs at gay and lesbian clubs in Los Angeles. By the late-1960s, Ben withdrew from gay and lesbian social life and only occasionally attended gay- and lesbian-related events when invited.
Lisa Ben did not have many romantic relationships with other women, and she chose to stay single most of her life. After working as a secretary for nearly forty years, Ben retired in the 1970s and continued to live at her home in Burbank, California.
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