An attorney and former journalist tells the dramatic story of her five-year undercover lesbian relationship with former Illinois Sen. Penny Severns.
When 27-year-old AP reporter Mutchler first saw 41-year-old Penny at the Illinois state capitol in April 1993, a “jolt of electricity passed through [her].” She knew nothing about the senator, including her sexual orientation. Fully aware of the risks involved in seeking out a personal relationship with a high-profile journalistic contact, Mutchler pursued Severns, and the two began a friendship that quickly turned into a passionate relationship. From the start, both women knew that their involvement was problematic—not only due to who they were professionally, but also sexually. Living and loving in secret, they developed complex, often exhausting ruses to hide the true nature of their relationship from all but a few people. Less than a year into their involvement, their situation became even more complicated when Severns was diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually take her life in 1998. Profoundly anguished, Mutchler watched the beautiful, vibrant woman she considered her spouse decline into helplessness, all too aware that “legally, [she] was nothing.” The situation only worsened after her partner’s death, when the senator’s sister and homophobic father distanced themselves from Mutchler and claimed the bulk of the senator’s estate—part of which Severns had acquired with the young reporter—for the Severns family alone. The author dwells too frequently and unrestrainedly on the pain and rage of her loss so that the narrative sometimes reads like grief therapy. Still, her book makes a moving case for why the fight for marriage equality must continue. “Somewhere inside my own being,” she writes, “I believed that because Penny and I were lesbians, we were second-class citizens. That is the most difficult grieving I do.”
Courageous and important but emotionally overdone.