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Annotated Bibliography: Lesbians and Cultural Issues in the 20th Century

Copyright (c) by Emma Garrett and Rachel Silveri, 2008. All rights reserved.

Abraham, Julie. “I Have a Narrative.” Are Girls Necessary? New York: Routledge, 1996.

In this introduction to her book, Abraham examines the ideological functions of the heterosexual plot within fiction. She explores the various techniques of lesbian novels, specifically their reliance on the heterosexual plot and their attempts to resist these heterosexual narratives. However, our class was left with questions concerning the interpretive abilities of lesbian readers and the status of the public/private binary within Abraham’s article. Abraham currently has no online picutre available.

Cahn, Susan K. “From the ‘Muscle Moll’ to the ‘Butch’ Ballplayer: Mannishness, Lesbianism, and Homophobia in U.S. Women’s Sport.” In Lesbian Subjects: A Feminist Studies Reader, ed. Martha Vicinus, 41-65.Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

In this essay, Cahn examines the discourses surrounding the figure of the female athlete, specifically the historical emergence of lesbian stereotypes and the importance of sports for the development of lesbian subcultures.

Jagose, Annamarie. “Hollywood Lesbians: Annamarie Jagose Interviews Patricia White About Her Latest Book, Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability.” Genders 32, 2000.http://www.genders.org/g32/g32_jagose.html.

In this interview, Jagose questions White on her new book. White discusses issues of lesbian representability, inference, appropriation, and retrospectatorship. She examines classic Hollywood films and provides a queer reading of the ghost film, the maternal melodrama, and the presence of supporting characters within narratives. However, her analysis is missing a consideration of race within classic Hollywood films and representability – in fact she briefly (and falsely) suggests that race and sexuality are fully separable within her readings. For further information, see: White, Patricia. Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1999.

Morris, Bonnie J. Eden Built By Eves: The Culture of Women’s Music Festivals. US: Alyson Publications, 1999.

In her book examining the emergence and importance of women’s music festivals, Morris emphasizes what musical festivals offer to lesbians with regards to culture and environment. Without denying the importance of musical festivals in the development of lesbian identities and culture, her work is nonetheless extremely problematic for multiple reasons: Morris is outspoken in the fact that she attends and loves the festivals, however this hinders her ability to adequately distance herself from the subject and provide analysis. Moreover, she inappropriately dismisses the rigid identity policing and problems that are raised by the festivals in their exclusion of transgendered women and men, boy children, and S&M activists.

Muñoz, José Esteban. “Chapter 5: Sister Acts: Ela Troyano and Carmelita Tropicana,”and “Chapter 8: Latina Performance and Queer Worldmaking; or, Chusmería at the End of the Twentieth Century.”Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

In these two chapters of Disidentifications, Muñoz specifically analyzes the work of lesbian performers of color: Ela Troyano and Carmelita Tropicana (Alina Troyano) and in particular their film, Your Kunst is Your Waffen, though also other performances by Carmelita. Also, in his introduction Muñoz talks extensively of Marga Gomez. Disidentification is Muñoz’s term for the process of partially identifying with and thus reappropriating, negotiating, and utilizing forms of dominant culture as material for creative works. The process of disidentification and the work produced serve as a means of empowerment and survival for queer people of color.

Newton, Esther. “ ‘Dick(less) Tracy’ and the Homecoming Queen: Lesbian Power and Representation in Gay-Male Cherry Grove.” Margaret Mead Made Me Gay. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Following the theorization of a butch-femme aesthetic offered by Sue-Ellen Case, Newton questions whether butch and femme gender identities can be considered camp performances. In doing so, she provides a history of camp and drag within the Cherry Grove resort community and specifically discusses the controversy surrounding their 1994 election of a lesbian as the annual homecoming queen. Offering insight into a lesbian camp performance, Newton examines the form of camp offered by the Cherry Grove queen, Lyn Hutton, who was a butch lesbian dressing in hyper-feminine drag.

Schneider, Beth E. “Peril and Promise: Lesbians’ Workplace Participation.” In Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Reader, eds. Peter M. Nardi and Beth E. Schneider, 377-388. New York: Routledge, 1998.

In this article, Schneider outlines some of the problems and conditions faced by lesbians in the workforce, as well as some of the instances of lesbian sociability in employment. In particular, she researches and details four “aspects of lesbian existence at work” including making friends, finding a partner, coming out, and facing harassment (Schneider, 379). According to Schneider, “this research was an effort using quantitative data to describe the context of daily life at work for lesbians and to understand the sources of lesbian survival at work” (385).

Weaver, Lois, and Peggy Shaw, et al. “WOW Café Interview.” Unpublished: 27 November 1984.

In this unpublished interview, numerous members of the WOW Cafe—Lois Weaver, Maureen Angelos, Alice Forrester, Peggy Shaw, Chris Henry, Susan Young, Carmelita Tropicana, and others—narrate in dialogue with one another the origins of the WOW Café, a cultural space and creative resource for women in New York. Providing an informal history of WOW, they discuss the difficulties of finding and renting a space, maintaining the organization through volunteer work, and elaborate upon the various resources that are offered by the Café.

Weston, Kath. “Families We Choose.” In Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Reader, eds. Peter M. Nardi and Beth E. Schneider, 390-411. New York: Routledge, 1998.

In this essay, Weston explores the notion of “gay families” as chosen kinship in contrast to biological family relations. She specifically discusses the construction of gay families and its historical ties, departures from, and importance to lesbian and gay community building. Weston currently has no online picture available.

Suggested Reading:

Abelove, Henry, Michèle Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin, eds. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Containing over forty-two essays, this is a canonical collection that has the following essays relevant to lesbian cultural issues (as well as many more): “Commodity Lesbianism” (by Danae Clark, 186-201); “Secular Difference and Lesbian Representation” (by Teresa de Lauretis, 141-158); “Lesbian Identity and Autobiographical Difference[s]” (by Biddy Martin, 274-293); “Just One of the Boys: Lesbians in Cherry Grove, 1960-1988” (by Esther Newton, 528-541); “Television/Feminism: HeartBeat and Prime Time Lesbianism” (by Sasha Torres, 176-185); “De-constructing the Lesbian Body: Cherie Moraga’s Loving in the War Years” (by Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, 595-603).

Bland, Lucy and Laura Doan, eds. Sexology in Culture: Labeling Bodies and Desires. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1998.

This collection is representative of a historical narrative that claims feminists as selective readers, appropriating and transforming sexological discourse for their own ends – somehow able to take the kernel of radicalism and discard the husk of misogyny. I’m inclined to support these narratives in so far as they emphasize the power of the reader, as well as the possible failures of feminists to read against the racism and classism of sexological discourse, which was intensified by the eugenics movement.

Doan, Laura. “Acts of Female Indecency: Sexology’s Intervention in Legislating Lesbianism.” InSexology in Culture: Labeling Bodies and Desires, eds. Lucy Bland and Laura Doan. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1998.

Doan explores two incidents of the legal use of sexological texts in order to suggest the impact of sexology beyond scientific circles. In these translations and recontextualizations of sexology, she argues that uses of sexology, for progressive and reactionary causes, were always reductive and selective. Doan shows how sexology was stripped of its ambiguities and contradictions to fit into the legal and political discourses, which avoided some of the problematic nuances that sexology struggled with – the distinctions between “normal woman” and “invert,” perversity and perversion (204-206). Doan concludes that sexology was a useful weapon against feminism, but not inherently or unambiguously. If any use of sexology is a partial reading, than the opposition between sexologists’ misogyny and feminists’ usage can’t assert either one as pure science, or pure refusal.


Doan, Laura. Fashioning Sapphism: The Origins of a Modern English Lesbian Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Centers on the 1920s and changing styles of women's clothing, particularly with women's entry into the military, as reflecting on emerging lesbian subculture. Lots of great photos of women later labeled as lesbians along with an interview of the author by Jagose at http://www.genders.org/g34/g34_jagose.html.

Doty, Alexander, ed. Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.

Contains the following essays relevant to lesbian cultural issues, specifically addressing popular culture: “Lesbians and Film” (by Edith Becker, Michelle Citron, Julia Lesage, and B. Ruby Rich, 25-43); “Freud’s ‘Fetishism’ and the Lesbian Dildo Debates” (by Heather Findlay, 328-342); “All Dressed Up, But No Place to Go? Style Wars and the New Lesbianism” (by Arlene Stein, 476-483); “Crossover Dreams: Lesbianism and Popular Music since the 1970s” (by Arlene Stein, 416-426); “The Hypothetical Lesbian Heroine in Narrative Feature Film” (by Chris Straayer, 44-59); “The Ambiguities of ‘Lesbian’ Viewing Pleasure: The (Dis)articulations of Black Widow” (by Valerie Traub, 115-136).

Ferguson, Roderick. "Something Else to Be: Sula, The Moynihan Report, and the Negations of Black Lesbian Feminism." Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Highlights how women of color feminism in general, and black lesbianism in particular, challenged the notion of an inherent "black culture" based on patriarchal heterosexuality - using primarily literary sources, they trace the lesbian possibilities in black female cultural production. Strikingly, Ferguson shows how Barbara Smith deploys the term "lesbian" outside of identity to refer to a set of critiques and an epistemology.

Grier, Barbara (also known as Gene Damon). Lesbiana: Book Reviews from the Ladder, 1966-1972. [Reno]: Naiad Press: 1976.

This treasure trove of lesbian literary evaluations and bibliographies compiles the collected columns of Barbara Grier. Grier wrote her monthly reviews of lesbian’s fictional releases to be published in the lesbian periodical of the Daughters of Bilitis, “The Ladder,” but was convinced by popular demand to release them in book form. Grier reviews not only literary releases written by lesbians, but also any books that contain lesbian characters drawn somewhat sympathetically.

Lewin, Ellen, ed. Inventing Lesbian Cultures in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

Contains the following essays relevant to lesbian cultural issues: “ ‘But we would never talk about it’: The Structures of Lesbian Discretion in South Dakota, 1928-1933” (by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, 15-39); “ ‘A house where queers go’: African-American Lesbian Nightlife in Detroit, 1940-1975” (by Rochella Thorpe, 40-61); “Writing Civil Rights: The Political Aspirations of Lesbian Activist-Writers” (by Alisa Klinger, 62-80); “All in the Family: Lesbian Motherhood Meets Popular Psychology in a Dysfunctional Era” (by Ellen Herman, 83-104); “ ‘Why in the world would you want to do that?’: Claiming Community in Lesbian Commitment Ceremonies” (by Ellen Lewin, 105-130); “Requiem for a Street Fighter” (by Kath Weston, 131-141); “Club Q: Dancing with (a) Difference” (by Deborah P. Amory, 145-160); “ ‘Dick(less) Tracy’ and the Homecoming Queen: Lesbian Power and Representation in Gay-Male Cherry Grove” (by Esther Newton, 161-193).

Oram, Alison, “‘Sex is an Accident’: Feminism, Science and the Radical Sexual Theory of Urania, 1915-40.” In Sexology in Culture: Labeling Bodies and Desires, eds. Lucy Bland and Laura Doan. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1998.

Oram unearths and examines the feminist journal Urania, which radically rearticulated sexological accounts of inherent bisexuality in order to challenge all distinctions of sex and gender (214-216). Urania had a circulation of about 200-250, taken from feminist circles and networks. It rejected feminism’s emphasis on motherhood, and also critiqued Weininger’s attempts at sexual categorization. Oram shows Urania’s celebration of the lack of sexual difference rather than promoting the transcendence of it through masculinization (as Weininger does in Sex and Character) (216-220). She also argues that the feminist authority and narrative forms in Urania - collage, anonymity, and indirection - formed an implied critique of the individualist scientist as authority figure (222). This essay provides an excellent example of the ways that different ideas of narrative authority could be used to reshape sexology’s politics, while still drawing from its theorizations and data.

Stein, Arlene, ed. Sisters, Sexperts, Queers: Beyond the Lesbian Nation. New York: Plume, 1993.

Contains the following essays relevant to lesbian cultural issues: “Speaking in Tongues” (by Camille Roy, 6-12); “The Year of the Lustful Lesbian” (by Arlene Stein, 13-34); “Butch-Femme and the Politics of Identity” (by Tracy Morgan, 35-46); “Identity Crises: Who is a Lesbian Anyway?” (by Vera Whisman, 47-60); “Anything But Idyllic: Lesbian Filmmaking in the 1980s and 1990s” (by Liz Kotz, 67-80); “A Freak Among Freaks: The ‘Zine Scene” (by S. Bryn Austin and Pam Gregg, 81-95); “Androgyny Goes Pop: But is it Lesbian Music?” (by Arlene Stein, 96-109); “Queen for 307 Days: Looking B[l]ack at Vanessa Williams and the Sex Wars” (by Jackie Goldsby, 110-128); “A Question of Class” (by Dorothy Allison, 133-155); “Parenting in the Age of AIDS” (by Kath Weston, 156-186); “Lesbian Marriage…[K]not!” (by Catherine Saalfield, 187-195); “Crazy Wisdom: Memories of a Cuban Queer” (by Lourdes Arguelles, 196-204); “Dykotomies: Scents and Sensibility” (by Alisa Solomon, 210-217); “Bitches in Solitude: Identity Politics and Lesbian Community” (by Lisa Kahaleole Chang Hall, 218-229); “New Alliances, Strange Bedfellows: Lesbians, Gay Men, and AIDS” (by Ruth L. Schwartz, 230-244); “Wandering Through Herland” (by Maria Maggenti, 245-256).

Weeks, Jeffrey. Sexuality and its Discontents: meanings, myths, and modern sexualities. London: Routledge Press, 1985.

In an important section titled “the social relations of sexology,” Weeks links sexology to social purity campaigns in which feminists attempted to “remoralize” the public sphere, define the nature of womanhood, and bring “perversion” (i.e., male sexual license) under legal jurisdiction (73-76). However, Weeks points out that sexologists and feminists remained strictly tied to biologically based gender ideologies, enforcing the assumption that “gender-appropriate behavior is defined in relation to [gender] appropriate sexual practices” (86). Thus sexologists were instrumental in making sense of the individual as gendered towards a particular (hetero)sexual goal (89-91). Weeks suggests that feminists and homosexuals used sexological discourse to their own ends. Unfortunately, he does not provide much flesh to this argument, or speculation on what reading/authorizing techniques were involved in such uses.