LGBT History in the Hamptons: Nanette and Isa’s Love

Nanette Shaw and Isa Goldberg
Nanette Shaw and Isa Goldberg, Photo: Courtesy Shaw

When writer Isa Goldberg first encountered Nanette Shaw, a therapist, at a dinner party in the 1970s, a decades-spanning love story began. But they didn’t know it at the time.

“We met on New Year’s Day at an all-women’s party at this lovely brunch with beautiful music playing,” Goldberg recalls. “Nanette was consumed in conversation with a French poet…”

“An American poet who spoke French!” Shaw corrects her wife.

“And I tried to introduce myself to Nanette, but she certainly wasn’t interested,” Goldberg says. “Almost a year later, right before Christmas, we met again at a party, this time at a friend’s apartment who was a dominatrix. The apartment was [filled with] whips and chains. And we connected!”

Goldberg and Shaw have been married since 2011—New York State recognized same-sex marriage before it was federally recognized in 2015—but they’ve been together 36 years. For Shaw, meeting Goldberg was a natural progression after she came out. “Ti-Grace Atkinson, who’s a noted feminist theorist, said ‘feminism is a theory, lesbian is a practice,’” Shaw notes. “For me it turned out to be true. I was married to a man, and he said to me, ‘Don’t ever explore feminism because that leads to lesbianism!’ Obviously, I did. I had a daughter and I got involved in the movement and fell in love with a woman in the late ’70s, and the rest is history…and I met Isa!” Goldberg, meanwhile, ran into conflict with her family when she came out. “They acted like they weren’t surprised, but I think they had their own notions and expectations of what their child should be,” she says. “I’m not sure that being gay was the breaking point [in our relationship] but my not pursuing those expectations was.”

The two raised Shaw’s daughter together and now have two grandchildren. “Our life is pretty full. We travel a lot,” Shaw says. Shaw and Goldberg also have a full life in Sag Harbor. “The Hamptons is a great playground for us,” Goldberg says. “It opened doors to a community that we still appreciate and enjoy. The [former] East End Gay Organization was a meaningful part of that community.”

Shaw and Goldberg have also bucked the stereotype of lesbians and gay men not getting along. “Our closest friends are male couples who are significantly younger than we are,” Shaw says. Goldberg adds playfully, “As they say, why hold up a mirror to nature? We look at prettier people than we happen to be at this point in our lives.”

As they reflect on their lives, both Shaw and Goldberg are happy with how the world and society has progressed for LGBT people. “My daughter was embarrassed to bring friends home 30, 40 years ago, and yet she told me last week that her younger daughter might be gay,” Shaw says. “And big deal! I think it runs in the family. I have several gay people in my family. The times are changing and have changed—one of our nieces is married and pregnant with another woman.”

Goldberg, who has recently taken up acting, also sees a lot of progress. “Because of my acting pursuits, I do meet a lot of very young people, and what surprises me is how aware they are of the stigmas attached to being gay,” she says. “I would have thought it wouldn’t be the subject of stories they write. It makes me aware of the very vivid history.”

And of course, Shaw points to a certain East Ender when thinking about that change. “Things have progressed in a beautiful way and we have Edie Windsor to thank for that.”

Read more about LGBT History in the Hamptons.

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