Growing up queer in midcentury America.
In 2010, Windsor (1929-2017) sued the United States for recognition of her marriage to a woman, claiming her legal right of inheritance from her late wife’s estate. Her victory in the suit, which catapulted her to fame, marked the transformation of a deeply closeted woman into an outspoken gay rights activist. In a forthright and vivid memoir, written with the assistance of journalist Lyon (Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict, 2009), Windsor reveals her early realization of her attraction to women and her long struggle to navigate homophobia among family members and at work, to live openly as a lesbian, and to marry the woman she loved. After Windsor died, Lyon took over the unfinished project, resulting in “a memoir/biography hybrid” that complements, and often deepens, Windsor’s narrative with information and insights that Lyon uncovered from his continued research. Lyon discovered, for example, that Windsor had a fierce temper, that her skill as a card counter enabled her to win big in casinos, and that she tended to “brush past” painful memories, such as the rift within her family caused by her sexuality. Although Windsor knew she was gay, she married a man who had been a close family friend, thinking she could bury her feelings for women. Soon, however, she rebelled against the charade: “The core of my identity, my natural biological instinct, wasn’t going to change.” Divorced, she moved to Greenwich Village, where she dove energetically into gay social life and sex. “She went through so many women,” a friend told Lyon. At the same time, she embarked on a successful career as a mathematician, writing programs for the UNIVAC computer and eventually developing software at IBM. In the workplace, she deflected matchmakers by pretending to have a boyfriend. In 2007, when she married Dutch-born psychologist Thea Spyer after a relationship of more than 40 years, co-workers asked her why she had lied to them. Windsor’s world had changed dramatically.
A candid portrait of an indefatigable woman.