Oral Histories

Interview of Bev Jo Von Dohre

Experiences Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Community organizer and lesbian, feminist activist.
Chemical Entanglements: Oral Histories of Environmental Illness
Social Movements
Environmental Illness
Biographical Note:
Experiences Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Community organizer and lesbian, feminist activist.
Vaughn, Rachel
Von Dohre, Bev Jo
Persons Present:
Von Dohre and Vaughn
Place Conducted:
This interview was conducted over the phone.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
This interview was conducted by Rachel Vaugh, Oral Historian in Residence at UCLA Center for the Study of Women; and Lecturer in the UCLA Institute for Society & Genetics. Vaughn’s research engages the intersections of Food Politics, Discard Studies, Feminist Environmentalism, and Science and Technology Studies. She is the author of multiple articles about food, waste, and sanitation politics; and co-editor of Edible Feminisms: On Discard, Waste & Metabolism (Food, Culture & Society).
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared for the interview by reading a pre-interview questionnaire completed by the narrator.
2.5 hrs
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
Chemical Entanglements: Oral Histories of Environmental Illness is a collection of interviews with over seventy individuals living in the U.S. and Canada whose family history, occupation, art practice, or activism have brought them into direct contact with illness experience and disability related to chronic, low-dose exposure to toxicant chemicals. The procurement of this collection (from March 2019 through September 2020) was sponsored by the UCLA Center for the Study of Women under the directorship of Rachel C. Lee, with interviews conducted by six undergraduates, five graduate students, two career staff, and two faculty members at CSW.
Growing up in Cincinnati--Moving to the Bay Area at 15--Noticing chemical sensitivity in 1980s--Awareness of scent sensitivity during childhood--Using the term chemically injured rather than chemical sensitivity--Distributing “perfume is toxic” flyers in women’s community--Scented products as poisonous--Difficulty of avoiding scent--Navigating social relationships with chemical sensitivity--The danger of scent transfers on planes--Difficulties of traveling with chemical sensitivity--Detoxing after going out into the public--Difficulties of navigating the system of denying chemical sensitivity--Growing up in Ohio--Father’s career trajectory--Mother as a smoker and her death--Moving to California at age 15 and memories of scent--Difficulties of being socially active while living with chemical sensitivity--Navigating public spaces and avoiding crowded spaces--Diagnosed with myalgia--Recalling scents experienced during childhood in Cincinnati--Recalling malathion sprayed by helicopter in California in 1981--Recalling distinct physical response and memorable exposures in 1970s- 80s--The difficulty of being diagnosed--Hunch about Lyme disease as an invention for bioweapons lab 257--Practicing jujitsu and getting sick in the 70s and then in 1981 again with Linda and other friends--First indications of illness in 1970s--Attending University of California Berkeley until 1971--Living on SSI and the difficulties of living in Berkeley--Diagnosed with mono in 1981--Finding a lesbian feminist community in 1970--Receiving death threats for opinion on the destruction of lesbian communities--Career in 1970s-- Being an activist in a vibrant lesbian community--On class politics between the gay and lesbian communities--The dynamics between gay men and lesbians shifting after the AIDs epidemic--Feeling unsafe in trans exclusionary radical feminist spaces--Memories of neighborhood and experiences of activism in the mid 70s to 80s--Lack of understanding of chemical injuries and chemical sensitivity in the medical profession--Self-advocacy and self-help--The class privilege of being diagnosed--Taking herbs and supplements for better health--Relationship with the nature and other non-human agents--Co-writing an article with Linda--Common exposures in immediate environment--Meeting others who also experience chemical sensitivity--Difficulties in navigating social relationships--Living in a one-bedroom space--Developing a community with those whom are also chemically inured--People’s lack of awareness with the toxicity of perfumes--Feelings of isolation and knowing multiple friends who have ended their own lives--Veganism as a harmful health practice--The difficulties of spreading information about the toxicity of perfumes--Lack of help from medical professionals--A gap in information regarding chemical injury--Not seeing improvement in the chemical industry--Difficulty of living in England for six months with a lover in 1997--Social views on chemical sensitivity--Needing a legislation to ban chemicals-- Strategies of implementing scent free spaces--Having a heightened sense of smell--Living on SSI being chronically ill--Noise sensitivity--Most ideal living situation as being by the ocean--Wishing to provide information and to reach others--Sharing goals of CSW chemical entanglements project--Being an activist in a coalition protecting North Bay forests