“Most of the audience came every week. They came because they loved Jeff [Weiss] and they loved Hot Keys but they also came because something was happening in the room that exceeded all of us but that also depended on all of us — the us in the audience and the us on the stage. I’m not sure I can fully find language to describe the experience of that show. It has stayed with me for a very very long time. It’s not unlike other experience I had, experiences at some demonstrations or at some political actions. Moments where I am taken out of myself, where I am seized by something that moves me, not emotionally — although emotions are certainly a part of this experience — but rather something that compels me to an even more extended set of actions or commitments. It’s this very specific experience of suddenly finding yourself wanting to be a part of an event or a group or a world that you recognize that you are just then in that very moment a part of it. It’s an experience, I think, of realizing that you’ve somehow managed to bring yourself to just the right place. It’s a kind of ecstatic pleasure in belonging, not forever necessarily, but at least in that exact moment in which you realize you want to belong.”
– Sharon Hayes (2009) Keynote Lecture, The Creative Time Summit: Revolutions in Public Practice. In Coming After: Queer Time, Arriving Too Late and the Spectre of the Recent Past (2012), Ed. Jon Davies.
I’ve been revising a paper I wrote a few months ago for the CACS conference at McGill next weekend. The paper is about the political challenge that digital and online technologies pose for grassroots, lesbian-feminist archives. A lot of my reading this past summer focused on queer theories of history and time and since then I’ve been noticing how lesbian feminism is described in more general queer and feminist work, a project helped along by Clare Hemmings’s great new book Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory, recommended to me by Dylan. The best of this work captures the complexity of lesbian feminism as a politics that seems outdated at first blush, but continues to matter and get invoked in curious ways that concepts like “parody” or “nostalgia” can’t account for. Elizabeth Freeman’s idea of “temporal drag” is especially good on this:
[Temporal drag] suggests a bind for lesbians committed to feminism: the gravitational pull that “lesbian,” and even more so “lesbian feminist,” sometimes seems to exert on “queer.” This deadweight effect may be felt even more strongly twenty years after the inauguration of queer theory and politics, in the wake of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, legalized same-sex unions, and The L Word.
Humour seems to be crucial in how a lot of post-2000 queer studies work talks about lesbian feminism. One of the funniest I’ve read is Heather Love’s essay “A Gentle Angry People: The lesbian culture wars” (subscription required). As if the too-perfect “gentle angry people” weren’t enough on it’s own, the essay is full of witty in-jokes like these: