April 2, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 13

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    Making connections

    Columnist sorts through complexities, confusion of ordinary life

    By Catherine Behan
    News Office

    Author Yvonne Zipter studies the connections between families, clients, neighbors, friends and lovers, puzzling over them as she would a Rubik's Cube, turning them round and round, examining the way to make them work, pondering the way they fit.

    "All of these relationships confound me on some level. I have found comfort in sharing this confusion with others," writes Zipter, a copy editor for the Journals division of the Press and a syndicated columnist, in her book, Ransacking the Closet (Spinster's Ink, 1995).

    Such relationships weave their way into much of Zipter's writing as a poet and an essayist. A reading of one of her essays was featured this week at Court Theatre in "A Sense of Belonging," a live performance of original essays, memoirs and short stories written by Chicago-area authors. The performance was part of "Chicago Matters," a series of special reports, personal essays, documentaries and public forums produced by WTTW public television, WBEZ public radio, the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Defender.

    Scheduled to air on Sunday, April 12, on WBEZ, Zipter's essay, "A Season of Unity," describes a summer when she and her partner, College Adviser Kathy Forde, pulled together with their neighbors to take a strong stand against gangs in their neighborhood.

    The neighbors had not spent much time with each other, even neglecting hellos. "Kathy and I worried that if we mixed more with the neighbors they'd figure out we were lesbians, and we wondered if we'd be accepted then in our traditionally working-class, Old World neighborhood, which teeters on the line between Irving and Portage Parks," Zipter wrote. "This was not an idle concern: just before we moved in, a black family in a nearby neighborhood had had a cross burned on their lawn and a man in another state had shot one of his neighbors simply for being a lesbian."

    But when a boy on their street became involved in a gang, the neighborhood struggled with vandalism, noise and fear. To fight back, the neighbors -- including Zipter and Forde -- banded together and succeeded in driving the gang members out of the neighborhood.

    Later, the camaraderie that developed waned, and neighbors once again exchanged just the occasional hello.

    In addition to investigating such relationships in her writing, Zipter also chronicles what she calls "the ordinariness of life as a lesbian," particularly in her column, "INSIDE/Out," which appears in Outlines and several other newspapers.

    Her columns, many of which are collected in Ransacking the Closet, take a warm and comical look at lesbians and their relationships. In the essay "The Lesbian Mystique," Zipter writes: "You can tell we have a mystique by the fact that so many people find us just so darn interesting. Well I'm here to tell you: we ain't all that mysterious."

    Zipter, 44, says that when she first came out as a lesbian, about the time she was 24, she made an effort to get involved in lesbian groups and activities, but ultimately found some aspects of it "a little too 'out-there' for me." Her writing eventually found its comfort zone in the details of daily life. After all, she said, "that's what makes us who we are."

    In addition to Ransacking the Closet, Zipter has published a collection of her poetry, The Patience of Metal, (Hutchinson House, 1990), and a nonfiction study, Diamonds Are a Dyke's Best Friend (Firebrand Books, 1988). She is also at work on a novel.