Julia Penelope (1941-2013)
by Michaela Wood
Julia Penelope was born in 1941 to her parents, William and Frances Stanley. As a young adult, Penelope was asked to leave Florida State University in 1959 and was later expelled from the University of Miami because she identified as a lesbian. Penelope graduated from City College of New York with a Bachelor’s in English and Linguistics and later received a doctoral degree in English from the University of Austin. Penelope was known for her research regarding lesbianism and her ongoing activism on LGBTQ rights; after receiving her doctorate, she taught at the University of Nebraska, researching lesbianism. She was a co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, organized a panel on Lesbian Languages and Literature, founded Lincoln Legion of Lesbians, and Lesbians for Lesbians. Her career focused on lesbian visibility in academia. While teaching at the University of Nebraska, Penelope taught the first college course on Lesbian novels, 20th-century lesbian novels (Valentine).
Penelope published twelve books in her career, her most well-known being For Lesbians Only: A Separatist Anthology, a compilation of seventy contributors, all lesbian authors, documenting lesbian activism over 20 years. Penelope was invested in Separatism; she believed that opposing patriarchy can be done only through separation from men. As the Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures states, she criticized sexual practices, specifically sadomasochism, among lesbians. Her theoretical disagreements with others led to her early retirement.
Although she did retire, Penelope’s extensive activism influenced the future of lesbian discourse. Her work on sexism in language is often found in other feminist works. Her book Speaking Freely: Unlearning the Lies of The Father’s Tongue aimed to expose the patriarchal framings in language. Other books include: The Original Coming Out Stories, Finding the Lesbians, International Feminist Fiction, Sexual Practice/Textual Theory: Lesbian Cultural Criticism.
Penelope, Julia. Call Me Lesbian: Lesbian Lives, Lesbian Theory. Crossing Press, 1992.
Penelope, Julia. Flinging Wide the Eyed Universe: Poems. Haley's, 1999.
Penelope, Julia. Speaking Freely: Unlearning the Lies of the Father's Tongues. Teachers College Press, 1990.
“In Remembrance: Julia Penelope, Lesbian Theorist.” Lambda Literary, 3 Feb. 2013, www.lambdaliterary.org/2013/02/in-remembrance-julia-penelope-lesbian-theorist/. Accessed March 4. 2021
Myers, JoAnne. Historical Dictionary of the Lesbian and Gay Liberation Movements. Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2013.
Tracy Baim, Windy City Times. “PASSAGES Author Julia Penelope Dead at 71 - Windy City Times News.” Windy City Times, Windy City Times, 24 Jan. 2013, www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/PASSAGES-Author-Julia-Penelope-dead-at-71/41298.html. Accessed March 4. 2021
Wolfe, S. J., and J. Penelope. Sexual Practice/Textual Theory: Lesbian Cultural Criticism. Blackwells, 1993.
Zimmerman, Bonnie. Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. vol. 1, New York, Garland Publishing Inc, 2000.