A wistful and feverishly told tale of the founding and implosion of the notorious lesbian rights collective.
Cogswell chronicles the beginnings, glory days and bitter end of the short-lived activist group Lesbian Avengers. The author developed from a young woman in 1992, sitting on the perimeter of the group's first meetings at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Manhattan (and cringing at the word lesbian, "a label of no return"), to being the organizer of the direct actions that shaped the group's renegade identity. She explains it as "a direct action group focused on issues vital to lesbian survival and visibility" and says that eating fire was more than an attention-getting circus trick; it was a daring and empowering act, a ritual “changing hate and fear into a kind of resolve.” Some stories in the early chapters are presented in a nonlinear manner, but they vividly describe Cogswell's budding political awareness against the backdrop of gentrification in the East Village, the election of law-and-order Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the passage of anti-gay legislation across the country; her excitement about moving to the forefront of the group as a fire-eating activist is palpable. But when the group implodes—done in by internal squabbling, backbiting, racial rifts and personal grudges—about two-thirds of the way through the book, the accounts of her long-term relationship and subsequent work as a citizen-journalist moving among France, Cuba and New York City are not nearly as vibrant. Although the Lesbian Avengers have been defunct since 1995, Cogswell's idealistic objective in the fight for civil rights is still relevant: to make lesbians visible, change society, and most importantly, change lesbians, who will come to see the public space as theirs.
The fiery edge that burns through the first two-thirds of the book dissipates in the end.