Session 5a: Negotiating With or Navigating Through Society
Chair: Mel Kohlke
All the License They Want: Homophiles Debate the Makings of a Good Citizen
Centennial Historian, University of Redlands, Redlands, CA, USA
“‘All the License They Want’: Homophiles Debate the Makings of a Good Citizen”
The homophile movement marks the first sustained effort by homosexuals in the United States to push back against the tyranny of governmental and medical authorities who branded them undesirable deviants. The emergence of a homosexual press in the 1950s, the homophiles’ most enduring legacy, created a venue in which homosexuals across the United States could begin to express a rudimentary politics of sexuality. In examining the articles, stories, and letters published in homophile journals, however, this paper will find that readers often contested how homosexual activity and unconventional gender performance intersected citizenship. In short, few who called themselves homophiles could agree on a single vision of the movement’s purpose.
A 1958 contretemps on the pages of Los Angeles-based ONE Magazine crystallized the contours of this debate. That January the journal celebrated its fifth anniversary by publishing a reader’s withering denunciation against those members of the gay community who used the movement to seek “all the license they want” to engage in public sex or other activities that brought scorn upon the entire community.
A torrent of replies from other readers followed publication of this letter. Defenders of the writer’s view emphasized the importance of respectable comportment if homosexuals wanted to be treated equally; detractors, the importance of accepting homosexuals as they are. The contentiousness demonstrates the unsettled nature of this nascent moment in homosexual politics.
While historians profiling the history of the Mattachine Society or Daughters of Bilitis have paid some attention to the content of those organizations’ journals, The Mattachine Review and The Ladder, relatively little attention has been devoted to the content of the third homophile magazine, ONE, Incorporated’s namesake ONE Magazine. This research demonstrates that ONE adopted a more militant tone than its staid competitors, a tone that resonates with post-Stonewall activism as readily as with the homophile movement to which it belongs.
Un/Civil Partnerships: Class in Lesbian Relationships
School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, University of Newcastle, United Kingdom
The difference that class makes in same-sex relationships, where there has been a tendency to suggest that lesbians ‘do things differently’ is interrogated in this paper. Such a redress, namely the inclusion of class inequality in the framework of sexual ‘difference’, is of critical importance, given the recent and continued UK/Euro demands for ‘sexual citizenship’, as notably manifest in the Repeal of Section 28/2a and the Civil Partnership Act (UK). Both pieces of legislation promise ‘inclusion’ into the mainstream state – and the mainstream family – and sexual citizens are granted a degree of ‘tolerance’, arguably based on their middle-class consumer based ‘respectability’. In seeking to recognise the plurality of ‘families’, I problematise both the sexual
and classed aspects of constructed ‘proper families’, depicted and implicitly assumed in these ‘positive’ legislative changes. This paper draws upon ESRC funded research ‘Working-class lesbians: classed in a classless climate,’ (2001-2004) which examines the significance of class and sexuality in the lives of women who self-identify themselves as working-class and lesbian, achieved through interviews with fifty-three women living in a range of localities in the UK: the Highlands, Glasgow, Edinburgh in Scotland, and Yorkshire and Manchester, England. My purpose is not to pathologise respondents’ relationships but instead to explore the material and subjective ways that class manifests itself in intimate relationships, forcing an awareness of the ‘other’ inequalities faced by lesbians as they negotiate their increasingly ‘equal’ rights.
Gender, Sexuality, and Fashion: Girls Negotiating Discourses in School
This paper explores the relationship between gender, sexuality, age and fashion by drawing on focus groups with girls undertaken at an Essex secondary school. Drawing on Judith Butler’s notion of performativity, the paper considers girls aged 11 to 12 and explores how particular gendered, sexualised and aged identities are constituted. Also drawing on Joanne Entwistle’s model of fashion as situated bodily practice, which recognises both the discursive nature of fashion and its location on a material body, I demonstrate how girls’ everyday practices of dressing and talk are implicated in the discursive constitution of identity. This paper argues that fashion and talk about fashion are part of constructing the possibilities and limitations for who a pre-teen girl can be. Identities are fluid and girls describe the taking up and moving through various identity categories, particularly in relation to different subcultural groups. However, despite this fluidity, identities are regulated by hetero-normative discourses and schools play a large part in this regulation. I maintain that although the popular media describes young girls as flaunting their bodies in ways inappropriate for their age, school girls actually embody the struggle to constitute themselves as properly heterosexual, feminine and fashionable, yet simultaneously restrained, virginal and covered up.