Although earlier periods in American culture saw any hint of so-called deviant sexuality reviled when it was portrayed on stage ( The Captive by Edouard Bourdet might be one early example), post-Stonewall theatre in the United States has gradually opened to gay and lesbian content. The feminist and gay and lesbian liberation movements of the 1960s through the present in the United States have also allowed theatre critics to call attention to playwrights' gender and sexual identities in positive cultural ways. By the 1990s, the success of gay and lesbian activism in promoting a civil rights discourse around sexual identity has yielded a more open dialogue not only about the content of dramatic literature in the United States, but also about the sexuality of the playwrights.
Following on the heels of similar debates over whether a playwright's gender makes an integral impression on his or her work, issues of sexuality and authorship have more recently been noted by theatre professionals, critics, and scholars. In many ways, the relationship between sexual identity and artistry is more vexed than that of gender, since sexual practice can remain invisible in ways that the relatively clear announcement of gender precludes. As a result, definitions of "lesbian playwright," "lesbian play," or even "lesbian" are complicated to attempt.
The early second wave of U.S. feminism brought with it new definitions of lesbian identity. Adrienne Rich early article, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" ( Signs 5. 4, 1980), proposed a continuum of woman identification, which allowed some feminist women to claim lesbian identities not necessarily based on sexual practice. From 1980 to the early 1990s, a more fractious lesbian criticism developed multiple, contradictory definitions of lesbian identity, some explicitly along sexual lines. These debates of necessity haunt any discussion of lesbian playwrights and the production and reception of their work.