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Couples Chronicles — Interview 31
I Can’t See Myself Being Anywhere
But in this Relationship

by Demian
First published in October 1989
© January 7, 2018, Demian

Barbara Grier, 56, and Donna J. McBride, 49, have been life partners for 18 years and business partners for 17. They jointly run the highly successful Naiad Press, a lesbian book publisher. One of Naiad’s books has been turned into a film, and two more films are under development. The women invested nine years of work in the press before they could collect salaries and give up outside jobs. Barbara and Donna reside near Tallahassee, Florida.

What about your family history?

Barbara: I was born in Cincinnati and lived most of my life in the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians. After age 18, I lived in the Kansas City area. Then eight years ago, Donna and I moved to Florida.

My father, a physician, was raised in a strict Methodist family, but he was a religious in every way. My mother was raised without religion in an almost all-female family.

I have two older half-brothers and two younger sisters, one of whom is a lesbian. Everybody in the family always knew about my lesbianism; there were no secrets of any kind. Sex was treated as a healthy, natural part of human existence.

The only religious influence I had in my life came from my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. She was a Christian Scientist who taught me that I was the master of my body, rather than something out there. I also learned that you don’t have to feel pain if you don’t want to and the way you surmounted difficulty was to work twice as hard.

My mother was contemptuous of religion and thought that people who had religious beliefs were somehow mentally defective. Through my teen years, as I fell in love with one woman then another, she greatly feared that I would meet somebody who was attached to some kind of outrageous religion. Because I was a chameleon, she thought I’d immediately absorb all the properties of whatever person I was interested in and be lost forever to the human race.

Donna: I was raised in the Midwest, an only child in a family of blue-collar workers. My father was a truck driver and my mother worked in a factory. I was raised in a Catholic and Southern Baptist split, neither one of which was very strong, and have developed into an agnostic.

Barbara, when did you come out?

Barbara: I came out at 12. My mother was the first person I told. She took it extremely well. She said I was too young to make a permanent decision and should wait six months before we told the newspapers. She has continued to support me all my life.

I have the theory that if all lesbian and gay male children were raised by parents who were supportive of their lifestyle, they would in one generation obliterate all internalized homophobia forever. And probably in two or three generations lesbians and gay men would take their rightful place as world leaders.

How is that?

Barbara: Because if you go through the lists of famous people in all fields, you find an inordinate number of gay men and lesbians. They rise to the top.

Why would gay men and lesbians rise to the top?

Barbara: Because they are superior. That’s self-evident, I thought. Lesbians and gay men are born superior to other people. I don’t know why, I just know it’s true.

Donna, when did you realize you were a lesbian?

Donna: I became conscious of it when I was 14, but I was 24 before I acted on it.

My parents did not accept it in any way, shape or form. My father is now ill and when I went home a month ago for the first time in 17 years, they still didn’t accept it. It’s not the best of circumstances, because I like my family and I miss them.

They are not willing to share the life I have. Yet, except for the fact that I married a women, I have done everything — and more — that they ever hoped I would do.

How did they express dissatisfaction?

Donna: They will not allow me to bring her with me because they do not like her. They have not met her so they couldn’t possibly know if they like her or not. My father probably would let me come home with Barbara but my mother will not.

I have a theory about families accepting: Mothers accept their gay sons more easily than fathers, and fathers accept their gay daughters more easily than their gay sons. This is because if you are a woman and you marry a man, no one can ever take your mother’s place. If you are a man and you marry a woman, no one can ever take your father’s place. But if you are a woman and marry a woman, then there is a woman taking your mother’s place. I think it’s a real problem for them to accept that.

Are you saying that it’s jealousy?

Donna: Yes. I think they feel usurped.

Did you have any major relationships before this one?

Donna: I had one major love relationship which ran two years, and the woman has remained a friend.

I had another relationship that was pivotal in that it was negative and was probably responsible for my being with Barbara.

Barbara: I had a single major relationship. Between 12 and 17, I slept with as many women as would allow me to. Then, at 17, I met, married and stayed faithful for 20 years to Helen.

I have lived with Donna ever since and we will probably live the rest of our lives together.

Why did your previous relationship end?

Barbara: It’s hard to say. People want you to say, “I was miserably unhappy and could hardly wait to get out of this 20-year relationship.” But that is not true. I had a happy relationship; however, it was very, very narrow beside the one I have now.

We were very isolated. I did almost all the early work by mail for which I am actually well known: bibliographer, reviewer, writer for “The Ladder.” [A landmark lesbian-oriented publication -ed.] I was publicly lesbian, but led an isolated, closeted kind of life. After Donna, I began to live in a more open way.

The difference between the relationships is like going from a glass bell buried 100 feet in the ground to standing on top of the Empire State Building all the time. Now, we have friends all over the world and we travel extensively. I do public speaking, run a publishing company, and am constantly being interviewed on radio and television.

I’ve known lesbians who live together for 40 years and never have anything to do with other lesbians. Why they do this I don’t know, but I think it’s very widespread. I do believe that this is why there appears to be fewer lesbians than gay men.

You indicated the tone of your previous relationship but not why you left it.

Donna: I’m the reason they split. She didn’t have any choice. She kept trying to go back and I wouldn’t let her.

Barbara: That’s right. She came and kidnapped me three times. She had wonderful, perfect lures too. She would kidnap me on certain afternoons to her apartment and say, “There is your orange juice,” which I insisted on drinking every morning, and “there is your cat.” She had acquired a cat, still with us today.

I’d go home a day or so later. However, when I was ready to go home the third time, she said, “O.K., I’ll take you home.” And I could tell from her tone of voice that if she took me home she’d never come and get me again. So I stayed and I’ve been here ever since.

How did you first meet?

Donna: I went to work at the public library in 1967. One of the first things they told me about was Barbara Grier, who collected “those books.” She had a reputation for requesting that we buy books with anything on lesbianism in them.

Within the first week I picked up the phone and this voice said, “You’re new, aren’t you? Get a pencil and write down these titles.” Which I did and, shortly thereafter, I was reading everything she was requesting.

When I worked in the evenings, I took Barbara’s bibliography, “The Lesbian in Literature,” pulled out all of the books on lesbianism, and read them. I used to follow her around when she came into the library.

Barbara: I didn’t know any of this.

Donna: It was 1971 before I finally got the nerve to be involved with her, when I did volunteer work for her on “The Ladder.”

What did you first think of each other?

Donna: Barbara is a very strange woman. She was even stranger then.

Barbara: That’s true.

Donna: She would come stomping into the library, run around and walk out with a great armload of 14 or 15 books every week. She was so precise. Everything about her was exact: all of her movements, speech patterns and everything.

There was not a wasted movement or word. She is so verbose now that it’s hard to remember that. She was all business.

Barbara: I thought Donna was a frightened rabbit. Knowing I terrified her, from time to time I would torment her a little, just for the sheer joy of it. But, unless you are crazy, you really can’t be mean to somebody who is basically good and kind.

And Donna is nice, her nature is extremely sweet and very patient. So I didn’t pick on her for very long. I teased her though, because I knew she was a lesbian and afraid that just talking to me was going to somehow expose her.

Where you exposed?

Donna: When living together. I either had to hide the fact that I was living with Barbara Grier from everybody I worked with — who were all of my friends — or come out. Barbara wasn’t going to let me hide even if I wanted to.

I behaved as if Barbara and I were a family and there were absolutely no negative responses. Because I no longer had to spend all my energy hiding the fact I was a lesbian, I started putting energy into my career and became the head of the department, doubling my salary in about three years.

Any harassment from neighbors?

Barbara: From the moment we started living together as an open couple, we have not had the harassment that seems to dot the gay publications’ pages. I think some of this has to do with our behavior. We are not only candid, we are respectable, responsible citizens.

Donna: We take part in community activities and organizations wherever we have lived. People have known us as their neighbors who took part and did what we were supposed to do, as well as being “those lesbians.”

Do you both work at Naiad?

Barbara: Since 1982. We were the first two employees. Now, Naiad Press provides a living for approximately nine people and averages $180,000 each month in accounts receivable.

How did Naiad begin?

Barbara: Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford, who were retired and on disability, wrote to us after “The Ladder” stopped publishing in October of 1972. They asked if we’d want to start a lesbian publishing company toward which they would put up a little money.

We call January 1, 1973, our official starting date and we published our first book a year later. That book was called “The Latecomer” by Sarah Aldridge (who is also Anyda Marchant). In effect, Naiad began as a vanity publishing company.

We had no idea when we began what enormous amount of growth would take place.

Does the business have any effect on your relationship?

Donna: We spend more time together. (Pause) I don’t really think that it does.

Barbara: I don’t think it does either.

We usually each work eighty-four hours a week. I never think of it as working. I love what I’m doing. It’s exciting too.

Donna: Our work is fun, but it is sometimes tiring because we put in so much time. It’s nice when we take weekends and go away.

Barbara: We like knowing that we’re helping the world.

For example, we got a letter yesterday. The writer said that until she saw the movie “Dessert Hearts” and read the book by Jane Rule, the only lesbian book she’d ever read was “Patience and Sarah.” She talked about how she used our book to keep her from being discouraged and to keep her off drugs and alcohol.

We get 50-60 letters a year that say something to the effect …

Donna: You saved my life …

Barbara: So we feel like what we do is wonderful. I know that the reinforcement of words is extremely important. One of the best things you can do for people is give them visible proof — something they can hold in their hands — that they are not alone; that there are lots of people like them.

Bringing books to people will make it possible for any woman of any age anywhere who comes out to herself to find a book that says “Yes indeed, you’re a lesbian and you’re wonderful!” That’s what we do, and it’s an incredible feeling.

Do you jointly own your house?

Barbara: Yes, several of them. We own everything together.

Including the press?

Donna: The press is owned by the four founding women. Furthermore, it is a closed corporation and can only be sold back to itself.

The original investors are still part of it?

Donna: Yes, they are 78 and 75 years old. They’re a lesbian couple that have been together since the mid-forties. They did a little of the book-packing until about 1975. Now, they work only in advisory positions.

Have you had any major relationship problems?

Donna: I don’t think so.

Barbara: No.

Why not?

Donna: We put in the time and effort it takes to make a relationship work. We argue or disagree, but we don’t fight. We certainly never had any serious fights.

The main reason couples don’t last is because whenever they have a disagreement, or think they don’t want to be together anymore, they just walk away instead of trying to solve it.

It’s not easy to maintain a relationship in the beginning years. But after a while, it becomes easy. You know how each other thinks, and what your reactions are to things. So when you know what’s going to aggravate somebody, you either go ahead and do it, or reconsider and not do it.

Part of our getting along is having the same goals and liking to do the same things.

Barbara: Part of it is also because we are never without something to do. And we are learning every minute of our life. We work incredible hours and also have wide interests. We both like cats, travel, movies, shell collecting, walking, owning houses, gardening. We never stop talking, we share things. We never stop being active in living.

There was a wonderful book called “I Have More Fun With You than Anyone.” It was a delightful book by a gay man about two men who simply enjoyed each other’s company.

We really do have more fun with each other than we do with anyone else and it doesn’t stop, it seems to increase. The longer we’re together the more fun we have. It’s true, relationships ripen and get stronger.

Is your relationship sexually open or “monogamous?”

Donna: Monogamous.

Barbara: Exclusively monogamous. We’re both monogamous by nature.

What legal documents have you drawn?

Barbara: Wills, and we own everything in joint tenancy. With the contractual way Naiad Press is set up, we’re protected on all sides.

What about durable powers of attorney in case of illness?

Donna: We haven’t done that, primarily because we don’t see it as a problem. But it’s laziness for the most part that has kept us from doing it.

What is the future of your relationship?

Donna: I see us growing old together, more or less like the “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” Our relationship is stronger all the time. I can’t see myself being anywhere but in this relationship. I look forward to when we can retire and do the things we don’t have time for now.

Barbara: I feel the same.

Have your feelings changed for each other over the years?

Barbara: I haven’t changed at all how I feel about Donna, but I do see her quite differently. She went from being a shy and introverted person to being a public person. In the last several years she has begun to do stuff with media, which she couldn’t have done before.

Sounds like you’re proud of her.

Barbara: I am, incredibly. She’s a lot more talented than I am. I’m the public person. I’ve been active in the movement for 35 years, so everyone knows who I am. But Donna is the one who can do everything and is very bright.

I think the reason Donna holds my interest is that she’s an interesting person. That’s why I’m sure I’m going to live with her until I’m a very old lady.

Donna: The biggest change in the way I view Barbara is that when I was first aware of her, I was very much in awe of her. I knew who she was and what she had done. Loving her and living with her, I have lost my awe but I’ve gained a lot of respect. That comes out of love and also out of recognition for who she is. She did these things a long time before most of us.

Final thoughts?

Barbara: Being a couple is fun.

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