Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger by Kelly Cogswell

Kelly Cogswell’s memoir is a thoroughly readable and rollicking ride through her life as an activist and original Lesbian Avenger.


This is a book about fire eating lesbians out to settle a score with mainstream society determined to maintain the status quo of lesbian invisibility – it is every bit as intense as it seems! Yet Cogswell’s memoir is also eminently readable as she takes us, oftentimes at breakneck speed, through the rise and fall of the Lesbian Avengers and her subsequent lesbian activism in both the USA and France. 


Eating Fire is more than one woman’s personal story, and it’s more than a socio-political volume highlighting the struggle of the LGBTI community to not only be accepted, but simply to be seen. It falls somewhere in between. The actions of this group of New York lesbian activists could be regarded as Stonewall v2.0, and Cogswell was there from Day One. The fire-eating became the trademark of their protests, and Cogswell’s description sends shivers down the spine:


“Twenty thousand dykes in front of the White House, lit up with flame. We were disorderly, raucous, happy to be behind our own lesbian banner for a change. We were not the 1 in 10, but the majority. The 100%.”


But like so many activist groups, the Lesbian Avengers fell victim to their own fire – both consumed and ultimately burnt out by political in-fighting, and whether or not it was too representative of the ‘white majority’, despite a membership that contained many African Americans, Latinas and other women from all over the world, and by the early 2000s the Lesbian Avengers had almost ceased to exist. Cogswell and partner Ana subsequently travelled to various parts of the world including Ana’s native Cuba, and had some time spent living in France.  In both nations they attempted to raise awareness of lesbian issues and promote lesbian visibility in societies where ‘gay’ referred only to men, and ‘lesbian’ was largely regarded as a dirty word.  


Kelly Cogswell is now an independent journalist and blogger, and has won awards for her representations of the Lesbian Avengers. Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger is a book we should all read, to remind ourselves that our struggles still exist and without those willing to stand up and make a noise – or eat some fire – the current issues facing our community, such as Marriage Equality, will remain nothing but a pipe dream.  







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