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BIOGRAPHY

Helene, if she could sit with the body for a few minutes. Stunned, she stayed for fifteen minutes, after which she remarked that de Beauvoir's profile looked like what you would see on a Roman coin. Kate was invited to march behind the sister and Claude Lanzmann, de Beauvoir's intimate friend who created the nine-hour documentary Shoah. Silvie, the companion and adopted heir, marched at the head of the line. The only other American was Ti-Grace Atkinson in the back of a long throng of mourners.


The Farm was a financial and labor-intensive albatross. Kate worked like a demon to keep it going, both as a business and a literary/intellectual/artistic salon. Kate still lives there seasonally, although she sold off parts of the land and is no longer in the Christmas tree business. Her friends still gather at The Farm, as do I, on special occasions and to keep faith with her and each other.

 

Often I have been humbled by Kate's ability to imagine possibilities I could not. When I look back at our years together, I see many instances when she led the way and I lagged one beat behind.


One day I was in my car listening to the radio when the newscaster broke into the program. "Famous writer and feminist, Kate Millett was just arrested in Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeini."

 

My heart raced. This was serious! They could kill her, I remember thinking. Stone or behead her even. It was beyond scary. I remembered how excited Kate was about the trip and how much she was looking forward to meeting some of the Iranian feminists who had invited her to come. Suddenly, she found herself right in the middle of a revolution and, ultimately, in the clutches of religious fanatics! They hated her--this American feminist infidel who had come to spread her poisons. The Shah had been deposed and now they were cleaning house. Kate's timing could not have been worse. Events had moved too swiftly, overtaken her, and now she was trapped in this danger.

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But it broke my heart to watch it all unfold. It also broke hers.

 

What were her crimes? First, she wrote a book so important and controversial that it rocked the world. Then, she came out nationally (or was outed) as a bisexual woman. This caused a furor on both sides of the sexual spectrum. Lesbian purists, as well as self-righteous heterosexuals, were offended by Kate's reluctant disclosure--the former because she did not go far enough, and the latter because she went too far. In all events, both sides judged her harshly. Amplifying the noise was the wrath of Norman Mailer wielding his avenging pen. Aimed more at her sex than her sexuality, he emitted the male roar in one long screed and tantrum called, THE PRISONER OF SEX. The party, it seemed, was over.

 

I didn't have imagination enough to envision any of it. Nor did I foresee the cost to her--how expectations and pressures colluded to stain and poison her life and sometimes make her ill. Kate's sudden, unexpected celebrity had changed me, too, at least for a little while. I had become self-conscious and shy in her presence, aware also that we could not go out in public without people gawking or interrupting us to chat. Everyone seemed to know her. Eventually though, my awkwardness about her new status passed.


One evening, we were at the theatre watching a play whose female star was Arthur Miller's sister. Sure enough, at intermission I spotted him standing in the back with his daughter Rebecca. "Look, look," I said excitedly. "There's Arthur Miller! Do you want to go over and say hello?" This was a writer whose work I'd always admired, and I was eager to meet him. Kate shrugged. "Sure," she said casually and without revealing anything more. "Okay, let's do it," I said happily, and charged over to them. Kate lagged shyly behind me, but I felt shielded by her fame.

 

"Mr. Miller," I announced triumphantly and presented her with a flourish as if I was a chef in a pricey French restaurant offering up the best dish on the menu. "I've got Kate Millett here with me." I pointed to her. But she wasn't next to me or immediately within sight. I turned around to look, taking my raised finger with me. While she wasn't exactly hiding behind me, it would have been a pretty fair description to say she was. Kate managed a small smile, and I shoved her in his direction. "We just wanted to say hello," said I brightly, hoping to penetrate the density of his blank stare. "Kate Millett!" I insisted, plunging ahead. "You know--the feminist!" His expression remained impassive. I gave him a clue. "She wrote SEXUAL POLITICS," I prompted. No reaction. The blood rushed to my face.

 

His daughter, Rebecca Miller--bless her--saved me. (She was later to become a writer herself and marry Daniel Day Lewis, the actor.) Rebecca was jumping up and down with excitement. "Dad!" she cried. "Kate Millett!! You know! She helped found the women's Movement. You must have heard of her!" Rebecca kept looking at Kate and then at her father. Her eyes, dancing with pleasure and respect, finally settled on Kate while Miller only shook his head--stolid, unmoved, and unimpressed. Kate was already retreating from our little group while I was wishing that I'd done something simpler during intermission, like go to the bathroom or buy a soda. Finally, he gave us back our freedom. "How do you do," Arthur Miller said at last, with formal dignity. He was so stiff I thought he'd never be able to get back into his seat.


After we made our escape, Kate finally spoke. "He never remembers me," she said with disgust. I looked at her. Now I was really scratching my head. "So you've met him before?" I ventured. "Yes," she said, and made no further comment on the subject. We watched the rest of the play in silence.

Kate Millett Farm

Kate did so many improbable things. She bought a farm, raising and selling Christmas trees, and then turned it into an Art Colony. At first I scoffed. "You're becoming a farmer? Are you kidding?" But she wasn't, and to make her point, marched in the Gay Pride Parade with a contingent of women rounded up for the occasion and underneath a banner that read, "Farm Dykes.


Many distinguished feminists made the trek to The Farm, and in some respects it became an important historical marker, perhaps even a feminist institution. Simone de Beauvoir visited one year. When she died, Kate represented the United States at her funeral in France.   She happened to be in Paris at the time of the great woman's death and asked de Beauvoir's

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