We’re Looking for a Few Good Women

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 16 No. 3, "Mint Juleps, Wisteria, and Queers." Find more from that issue here.

Helen and Leslie have been together for more than 14 years. They met each other in the United States Marine Corps while they were both stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1974. 

Helen was born in 1948 and spent most of her childhood in Texas. She never heard the terms “lesbian” or “gay" as a child, but looking back now, she realizes that she has always loved other women. 

“I fell in love with a girl," she remembered. “It was circumstance. She was fighting my brother, so I went over to fight this villainous little child. I knew I loved her but I couldn’t put a name to it. We were together for many years.” 

Helen left home while a junior in high school and spent years trying to get an education before joining the Marines in 1973. The military was doing its best to turn lesbians against one another, but Helen and Leslie became lovers in the midst of this modern-day witch hunt. 

Leslie came from a military family. She was born in 1953. Her family followed her father’s Navy career from post to post. 

“I didn’t hear the word ‘lesbian’ until I was a junior or senior in high school," Leslie recalled. “Just the way it was said! I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t want to know what it is!’ I knew it was the object of derision.” 

Leslie joined the Marines when she was 19. Helen was her first female lover. 



It was hard being a lesbian in the military. Very, very hard. I was under investigation for being a lesbian. 

First I was accused of helping a woman to leave the Marine Corps. Then they accused me of taking drugs. I don’t take any drugs. 

Another time, there was a woman who was having a lot of problems. We were all drinking and I helped her to her bed. She was crying and carrying on. I told her the best thing to do was cry and let it out. Now, when you’re helping someone who’s upset, you don’t think of turning on the lights. I was holding her and some women walked in. They thought I was taking advantage of her. 

I’m not sure if they were part of the group of women who were informing on me or not. But that woman never denied what they were saying. That’s what fascinates me. I guess it was all the attention she was getting. 

These sons of bitches came in and decided, well, let’s make her a stooge. I was called in and I said, “Look, y’all got a lot of information and it’s a lot of crap. Get it off my record.” I couldn’t afford to have this on my record because I wanted to go into teaching. So I hear this nonsense: “Well now, Helen, if you scratch my back I’ll scratch your back.” And I said, “What do you mean, scratch your back?” That’s when they said if I gave them a little bit of information about my friends they’d take care of me. 

I said, “I’ll tell you what. Maybe you can come up with people who will do this nonsense, but I could never live with myself for pulling that kind of nonsense.” 

When I refused them, they started harassing me. They did things like have the dogs brought in to sniff for drugs in my room. 

There were spies. People would follow you around. They’d check out your friends. I cut off seeing a couple of friends who did smoke because I was a danger to them. I was a fish being used for bait. 

I knew a lot of women who were under investigation. A lot were excluded because either they were giving information, or they were high rank. They were kicking people out with dishonorable discharges. There were five or six kicked out in one year when I was there. 



A person we knew when we were in the military has turned informant now. They were paying $100 for a name. She’s turned in 300 names. There’s another big witch hunt going on now. It’s quite perverted. They want anatomical details about what you did in bed. 

As long as you don’t say anything, even if they know you were at a certain party or something, they can’t do anything. They need that detail. And they try to get it through information. 

It’s tough because it’s such a closed environment and you think they have total control over you. They follow you around. We used to think they had a radar so they could tell if you were holding hands in your car. You really start thinking some outlandish things. 

I hate the fact that it’s some people we knew who are informants, but in some ways you can kind of understand it. It’s survival. The woman who is informing now has a child. What is she going to do if she gets kicked out? They’re making an example of her. They play psychological games. 

When I first met Helen, I was assigned to her area. She didn’t want any roommates. She had gone out and gotten drunk. When I first got to the base I immediately knew I had made a mistake. I thought, “My God, I’ve signed my life away for two years!” 

Helen asked me questions and reassured me. She was totally drunk, but I took her kindness to heart. So after that, she could do no wrong. I started cancelling dates to be around her. The next thing you knew, I was trying to get her to cancel dates to be around me. We got into this very intense friendship. 

We moved to Columbia, South Carolina from Beaufort because of the military. We were out of the Marines, but you don’t put that paranoia aside for a long time. When we moved to Columbia, we started meeting other lesbians and some gay men. It was a very gradual process. 

I started going to the bars pretty much. I had felt very isolated before that. Even going to the bars, I felt isolated. So many people had drinking problems. It was difficult to find friends with common interests. It was very disillusioning. 

I dug my heels in and found out about some other groups by meeting people. I stopped going to the bars and started getting involved with more political organizations and found women who shared more interests with me. I went to a lesbian support group as well. 

Most of my friends from the bar were pretty closeted. When I went to the support group my friends weren’t closeted. I was pretty much ready to turn away from the paranoia. It helped having other people around who were at peace with themselves. 

I consider lesbianism a truly alternative lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle of choice. I like this lifestyle because it is a freer environment. People can be themselves.