Elinor Zimmerman reviews Staying Power: Long Term Lesbian Couples by Susan E. Johnson

Published in 1990, this book draws from Johnson’s study of over 100 couples who have been together a decade or more. Her research included questionnaires, in depth interviews, and opportunities for those in her study to write in detail about their relationships. I picked it up because I’m interested in long-term partnership and especially because I love reading lesbian nonfiction from previous decades. I found this book more relevant than I anticipated and I recommend it not only to those interested in lesbian history but anyone who wants to be in a long term partnership.

Johnson includes extended transcripts from conversations with eight couples as well as study findings around major themes that emerged such as commitment, sexuality, and problems. Quotes pepper every section and the women’s stories are amazing. There were a lot of different attitudes and approaches to relationships and a broad range of ages. One of the couples in this book had been together for more than 50 years and reading about their life together was worth picking up the book even if you take nothing else from it.

There is practical advice in this book but more than that there are interesting stories. Some of the couples had relationships I would never want and some had relationships I thought sounded incredible. Some couples were monogamous, some were poly, and some had become celibate. Some had formalized and celebrated their relationships to the extent they were able to at the time and some were largely closeted. A handful were raising children. I found some new ways of envisioning a long term relationship and gained some insights that apply to my own marriage.

The one major shortcoming of this book is that nearly everyone in the study was white. Only 6 out of 216 women in the study were women of color and all of them were partnered with white women. Johnson admits this huge flaw in the study early on but it didn’t appear to me that she did much to try to correct it once she became aware that her outreach efforts were dramatically underrepresenting people of color. She suggests that other researchers, especially women of color, do their own studies to correct this, but I would have liked more attempts to remedy this huge imbalance in her research. Subjects in the study were also more educated and skewed wealthier than the average population. Probably due to the era it was written, trans people aren’t mentioned at all. My only note of caution for interested readers is that you’re getting a book almost exclusively about white cis women and most have a fair amount of class privilege, so the perspective is limited in this way.

Still, I found this book useful. I would recommend it to those interested in recent queer history or in long term partnerships. Whether or not you can apply the ideas in Staying Power to your own life, it’s fascinating to see how marriage equality and increasing ability to be out have shifted intimate relationships over the last few decades. Keeping in mind its limitations, it’s interesting book worth checking out.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018 and is a contributor to the anthology Unspeakably Erotic, edited by D.L. King, and out now. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com


Guest Lesbrarian: allis

Same Sex In The City (So Your Prince Charming Is Really A Cinderella) by Lauren Levin and Lauren Blizter

The book is divided in theme chapters and inside those chapters it is divided in two parts. First there is a few comments on the title name. For example in “Coming out” the authors give general ideas and advice about what it’s all about. Then there are the personal stories of the authors and what seems to be friends of the authors.

The first parts of the chapters are in my opinion useless. It felt like they were stating the obvious or telling stereotypes at best and at times trying too hard to be funny. Luckily those parts are really short and can be overlooked. It won’t change anything about the reading of the second parts and you won’t miss anything interesting.

The second parts of the chapters are much more interesting because they are personal stories. They are not especially well written or anything but it is nice to read about the experiences of other people and to be able to relate to them. Plus all the authors have a happy positive attitude about their lives. Even when you read about the sad, difficult times it doesn’t seem that bad because the authors have overcome those times and give you a happy view of their lives now. I really enjoyed that point about the book, because in a way it encourages the readers to look at their lives with a positive attitude too and it shows them that problems can be overcome and that in spite of difficulties it is possible to live happily.

My only negative comments on those parts is the lack of diversity. All the girls that wrote the texts seemed to be really wealthy, Jewish (if not all, a lot of them) and from New York. They all seemed to be coming from a similar background which made for some repetitiveness at times. I think it would have been better for the book to gather experiences from a more diverse group of people, showing that there is not just one way of living and experiencing things and that anyone can be happy. It would have balanced the book better and open it to a wider audience.

In short it is a well-intentioned book but lacking in diversity to feel more complete. It is a quick, enjoyable read. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, but if your local library have it I would recommend to check it for the personal happy stories. It’s always nice to read about happy stories when you’re feeling down.

I have this book! It’ll be interesting to compare notes once I read it. Thanks so much for this guest review, allis! Check out allis’s livejournal here.