Rachel Pollack, widely known as an author and expert in tarot, passed away on April 7th 2023. We wanted to celebrate her life and so commissioned this piece from a friend of hers in her memory. Roz Kaveney writes;
It was early in the Autumn of 1971 and I had already known for several years that I wasn’t really a boy…But I hadn’t been ready to do anything about it. Oh, except hitchhiking to Manchester to hang out with trans sex workers, but that had got me correctively raped by a cop, and that is another story.
What Manchester seemed to have taught me, was this; I could have what I most wanted, but not any of the other things. And that was already tearing my life in two – which is part of how I didn’t get the First in English which would have trapped me forever…
Rachel Pollack, Trans Activist, creator of DC Comics 1st trans superhero. Honoured SciFi writer, & Tarot expert has died age 77
A truly lovely, wise woman who contributed common sense when needed & made us laugh. She won many awards for her books. ❤️ sadly another one down pic.twitter.com/PGjOAAbtt6
— Prof. Stephen Whittle OBE, PhD, DLaws, FAcSS, (@stephenwhittle) April 14, 2023
What I did get, though, was a place to do graduate work and an excuse to spend a lot of time in London. I’d read about the brand–new Gay Liberation Front so after taking an early train and filling in a lot of forms at the British Museum, I took a 22 bus down to Chelsea and showed up at the ramshackle building somewhere on the King’s Road where GLF hung out.
How do I explain what that was like? Hard because I don’t remember the conversation or the people especially well. There was an impossibly glamourous drag queen with long platinum hair and red plastic hotpants, but we didn’t exchange two words. Otherwise, I remember strong black tea and a heady smell of dope and patchouli and someone writing down a phone number and telling me I should talk to someone called Rachel who was running a TV/TS/Drag Queen group.
I got on the phone and it rang twice before an American voice answered, what I now know was a Brooklyn accent, with a tongue possibly a little too big for her mouth, and a few minutes later I was on a series of buses before arriving at a flat a few yards from the house where I had spent my childhood.
That late afternoon and evening – at some point I went back to Oxford – was the first of many conversations I had over the following two years with Rachel Pollack and her partner Edie, conversations that were about everything. Including being trans – as we would now say – but also about science fiction and comics and Left politics.
I’d loved my Manchester friends but there were a lot of things I was interested in and they weren’t and vice versa of course, but Sylvia was surrounded by the cute dogs she went on about and Ava endlessly played the obscure show tunes she talked about so I wasn’t bored, just had nothing to contribute.
Whereas…of course Rachel Pollack had sold a story to New Worlds just before she transitioned fulltime and had ACTUALLY MET several writers I admired. The important thing about Rachel for me and for other trans people is that she demonstrated that it is possible for trans people to have it all.
Rarely have I felt so touched by the death of someone I didn't personally know. I once reached out to Rachel Pollack & will cherish her reply forever. I know there's an essay in me about how, as a motherless teen, I found myself initiated, through books, by a trans tarot teacher. pic.twitter.com/RJyg3mZgAg
— Constance Hansen (@atsignemdash) April 12, 2023
It was possible to transition and explore your sexuality and have a career as a novelist and be a famous expert on tarot and be highly political. When people give me credit or praise me, I owe so much to her example of not compromising and not accepting second best.
She brought together and held together for two or three years – an incredibly disparate group of people in the GLF trans group: she shepherded us through the politics of the big GLF meetings; she was the major mind behind our manifesto Don’t Call Me Mister, You F***ing Beast. Together we visited other groups of trans people in South London and Birmingham And in due course she and Edie tired of London and moved on to Amsterdam.
In those two years – and also later – I learned so much from them and their open–hearged kindness and hospitality, sitting on cushions in their Notting Hill flat, drinking tea and lentil soup and reading comic books. My memory of that time is golden and also a little vague because of all the joints we got through.
I never stopped knowing her though we were never quite as close later – she and Edie eventually parted and Rachel went back to the USA. She introduced me to one of my most important women lovers and one of my closest friends. She was kind when I desisted for a few years and wryly unjudgemental when I actually transitioned later. I got to read her books as they came out and announce her winning the World Fantasy Award during the Firat London Trans Film Festival.
She waited for me eventually to become the writer she always assumed I’d be – the last time I actually saw her was when she came to New York to celebrate my getting the Lambda even though she was already sick.
We last texted a few weeks ago and she let me dedicate a new book to her.
She was warm, hilarious, serious and slightly spooky.
I shall miss her always