Promiscuous Interdisciplinarity, Part 1: Queer Intimacies and the Remaking of Late Twentieth-Century American Politics

AHA Session 29
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 1
Friday, January 2, 2015: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Gramercy Suite B (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Vicki Eaklor, Alfred University
Marcia M. Gallo, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Session Abstract

Questions of intimacy have served as profound political matters for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer-identified (LGBTQ) people in twentieth-century America. With the construction of a “straight state” and a media and medical culture hostile to same-sex eroticism and socialization, LGBTQ people found their everyday lives circumscribed by ostracism, alienation, shame, and secrecy. Simultaneously, the period witnessed the increased availability of new, more accessible media forms. Chief among them were periodicals and radio. These venues provided LGBTQ and other marginalized people crucial mediums to speak to one another and adopt new forms of private and public life in the process.

Each of the papers on this panel explores how ideas about erotic and non-erotic intimacy in lesbian and gay print and radio enabled for critical contemplation and sustained engagement with the political status quo in 1970s and 1980s America. Julie Enszer’s paper explores how lesbian separatists linked the erotic and the economic to generate powerful feminist institutions that transformed what women imagined for their own lives. David Palmer presents on how discussions of same-sex female intimacy (both sexual and platonic) in early 1970s lesbian and radical feminist print provided a critique and alternative to a nascent form of neoliberalism that treated culture and politics as separate from one another. Tim Retzloff reveals how a Detroit-based gay radio program provided listeners with a sense of belonging even if they were unable to express their sexuality publicly, aurally uniting those who were closeted with those who were not. Katherine Schweighofer uses literature and other written sources from a women’s land community to show how the liberatory powers of LGBTQ intimacies were also subject to anti-democratic, normalizing forces. 

Collectively, the papers transcend dualisms that have dominated LGBTQ historiography. By invoking methodologies housed in feminist, queer, rural, urban, and media studies, their work highlights the fluidity of privacy and publicity, separatism and political engagement, individualism and community, radicalism and liberalism as features to describe LGBTQ media production and late twentieth-century American cultural politics, more generally.

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