Calling All Lesbians

By Vaid, Urvashi | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), September 16, 1997 | Go to article overview

Calling All Lesbians


Vaid, Urvashi, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


The 1970s Revival In pop culture contains a curious omission: any mention of lesbian-feminist culture, even though it invented so much of what is quintessentially '70s. Grunge? That was lesbian feminist clothing and fashion in the 1970s. The Lilith Fair tour? Olivia Records and Roadwork began that in 1978 with the Varied Voices of Black Women tour. The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival has averaged 9,000 lesbians a year for 22 years. PC? That was the self-deprecating joke that radical dykes coined in the 1970s. Ani DiFranco and artist self-distribution? Alix Dobkin did that in 1975 with Lavender Jane Loves Women, and Ladyslipper distribution still does it today.

Lesbians confront the paradox of enormous visibility accompanied by total silence about lesbian ideas, history, politics, and culture. Lesbians are on prime-time TV, in major news stories, running some of our national organizations. But not only do the details of this visibility reveal familiar absences, they suggest a new cultural erasure in which many of us are complicit.

Women of color, radicals, the poor, and the working class are still invisible in the new lesbian chic. And the exciting legacy of a thriving, passionate lesbian-feminist culture remains unknown to younger generations of dykes and bisexual women, except as the subject of derisive jokes. The public discourse on what it means to be queer in America is conducted largely by gay male writers and thinkers. Long articles by gay men dot the covers of magazines like New York, The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, and The Nation. The articles are often about only men: gay male survival during HIV and after protease inhibitors; gay men's sexual freedom; or gay men's views of marriage, culture, or the origin of homosexuality.

Meanwhile, a vast underground of lesbian ideas, thinking, music, comedy, poetry, art, literature, and activism exists outside the mainstream spotlight. Lesbian political analysis occurs only in radical papers like Gay Community News, in academic books, in feminist and independent presses.

The cultural erasure is everywhere When lesbian writer Adrienne Rich refused President Clinton's and the National Endowment for the Arts' hypocritical designation of her for a National Medal of Honor, she generated a small story here and there.

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