Before I picked up “Other Girls Like Me,” I couldn’t tell you what a “Greenham woman” was. After reading Stephanie Davies’s explosive memoir — now one of my favorite books of 2020 — I wish I could join them. In the 1980s, Davies left her abusive relationship to live at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp outside a US military base in England, protested nuclear war, and found love with an enigmatic female musician. “Other Girls Like Me” was chosen by Lambda Literary as a Most Anticipated book, endorsed by “Orange is the New Black” producer Neri Tannenbaum, and shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize. I talked to the dynamic Davies about standing up for what’s right, reading and writing while queer and the ultimate author fantasy: Who would play her in a movie?
Why the title “Other Girls Like Me”?
It’s a song that Al, my first female love interest in the book, sings to me when I meet her at the women’s peace camp. She’s a punk rock singer in a girl band. I like it as the title because of its double entendre. The book is about other girls like me and it is also about a time when I discovered that other girls liked me.
Who is the ideal reader for your book?
[It’s] young women and girls struggling to find their place in this male-dominated world, where so many expectations are placed on them to look and act a certain way. Young people in emotionally abusive relationships — I hope it helps them recognize what is going on and free themselves the way I was able to. [It’s] activists of all genders and ages, because the book is set during a moment in queer, feminist, activist history that has all but disappeared from view, and when we know about our history, it makes us stronger and more hopeful.
What was it like to dig into your past while writing “Other Girls Like Me?” What specific things did you do to bring back that time in your life?
I started writing the book in a memoir class. When the teacher said “Ho where the heat is,” it all came flooding back: the 18 months when my life was transformed when I lived in this women-only peace camp. It was such an emotionally-charged time; it was all very vivid to me. Parts of it were painful to relive, others made me laugh out loud. I was pretty lonely and lost a lot of the time during my teenage years and early twenties, and writing the book gave me the chance to be there for my younger self — to let her know she was a good person, she didn’t deserve the bad things that happened, and [that] she did deserve the good things that happened.
You live in Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley now after growing up in rural middle England. What brought you to New York? Anything you miss about your childhood home and the Greenham camp?
In 1991, I came to New York to visit my younger sister, Sarah, who was working as a nanny, and I fell in love with the energy of the city. I’d been living alone in a cottage on a remote farm and being among so many queer, exciting activists was just amazing, and I moved here as soon as I could. After a few years of city living, I began to miss nature and I moved to the Hudson Valley part-time, which soon became full-time. It reminds me of my childhood home, with the farms and rolling hills and winding rivers.
What are the best reactions you’ve gotten to “Other Girls Like Me?” What are the most surprising reactions?
It makes me very happy when people say they love the writing. Reviewers have said it is lyrical and mesmerizing, friends have said it is fast-paced — that the book reads more like a novel than a memoir. One person wrote me a handwritten letter four pages long to let me know how much it moved him and why. I love it when people are inspired to learn about the Greenham women. What surprised me is the number of men who have liked the book. Several fathers of daughters have told me how much it means to them as they try to parent well; other men have told me they had no idea what young women face growing up until they read the book.
Who are your queer literary inspirations and why?
James Baldwin, because his writing touches universal truths again and again with unsparing prose that is relentless and visionary. Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, whose radical, moving poetry kept me going in my early twenties. Reinaldo Arenas and Ocean Vuong — both for their poignant, dark, vivid writing. I am just now reading Bernadine Evaristo’s book “Girl, Woman, Other” and her writing is truly cinematic. After reading her, I feel as if I have watched a film.
Are you working on anything now?
Yes, I am writing a sequel called “Other Queers Like Me.” It’s going to focus on another mass movement I was a part of, this time to oppose Clause 28, a law that banned the “promotion of homosexuality” as a “pretended family relationship” in schools across the UK. It was the first time I became close to gay men, and it was right at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The book will start here and bring us up to my move to New York and the queer trips I organized to Cuba to meet with activists there — it was on one of these trips that I met my wife, Bea.
What advice would you have for queer women and nonbinary people who want to share their stories as you did?
I would say go for it! The more queer and nonbinary voices out there the better. I would also say: It takes time, and it takes input from others. Think about joining a writing group — that’s how “Other Girls Like Me” started. “Poets & Writers” magazine is also really helpful if you want to learn about how to get published.
Who would you cast as yourself (and the other people in your life) in a film or TV version of “Other Girls Like Me?”
Helena Bonham Carter or Emma Thompson as the older me at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC. Gillian Anderson or Mariska Hargitay as my wife, Bea. For my younger self and my Greenham friends, I have no idea — feisty, queer, out there, free women please!