Home' LOTL : March 14 Contents 1,600 periodicals are part of the collection,
along with other memorabilia—from but-
tons to jackets to music to leaflets to match-
books from lesbian bars.
I’m so grateful for the LHA. It is a
touchstone, a bulwark against the in-
creasing trend toward lesbian erasure, the
very thing its founders were concerned
about when they formed a consciousness-
raising group to talk about how lesbians
and women were being elided from “patriar-
Just using the word “patriarchy” now
elicits a certain smugness. It feels old-
fashioned to some, unnecessary to others.
Yet in the 40 years since the LHA was
founded, lesbian voices haven’t become
much stronger. Yes, Ellen DeGeneres and
Robin Roberts are on TV five days a week,
so everyone can see an out lesbian if they
want to. That is a significant change from
the early post-Stonewall years. But we still
feature the same celebrities over and over in
our media. And last December, The Advo-
cate (for which I also write regularly) chose
Pope Francis as its person of the year. Not
Edie Windsor—the lesbian who went all
the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to have
her 40-year partnership with her wife rec-
ognised , the lesbian whose battle wound
up overturning the law banning same-sex
marriage—but Pope Francis.
And it’s not just that startling emblem of
lesbian erasure that rankles. There is also the
word on the street. What I hear on social
media and in the streets is that lesbians—not
queers, not gays, not trans, not bis, but lesbi-
ans—feel that they are being silenced, that
their voices are growing fainter and fainter
in the LGBT din, that less and less attention
is being paid to them and their issues, that
they are lost in their own LGBT community.
One young lesbian I know, who at 23 is
classically, sexily butch, said to me recently
that she felt the pressures on her to transition
from butch lesbian to transman were intense.
Yet she didn’t feel male, she felt female, just
butch. A 35-year-old lesbian of colour told me that she was tired of
being called a token in the radical feminist movement when, for her and
her partner, women-only spaces were where they felt safest as women of
colour. A lesbian in her 70s was succinct: “There is no room to be lesbian
anymore. We’re supposed to embrace ‘queer.’ I just want to embrace women.
That’s who I love. Lesbians.”
The very issue that Joan Nestle and the other founders of the LHA
were concerned about—a patriarchal revision of women’s history—has
been realised. In academia, women’s studies departments are now called
“Queer”—a word I myself have been using for 20 years now, since my
book Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life came out in 1995—is one
that I’ve always thought of as inclusive.
Now, after I’ve been educated by young working-class lesbians in New
York who are members of the Lesbian Mafia, “queer” is a word I try not
to use, because I’ve been told repeatedly that it is like “gay” was in the
early days of the movement: masculine by preference and as such ex-
clusive of lesbians. It took the mafia to school me.
Nestle wrote early on of the LHA, “The roots of the Archives lie in the
silent voices, the love letters destroyed, the pronouns changed, the diaries
carefully edited, the pictures never taken, the euphemised distortions
that patriarchy would let pass.”
The motto of the LHA is “ In memory of the voices we have lost.”
The rules of the LHA are that the space should be open to women
and that the collection should be housed in a lesbian community space
staffed by lesbians.
Lesbians cannot be excised, ever.
In March 2012, one of the lesbians I have most admired, the poet
and essayist Adrienne Rich, died. She was the most celebrated literary
lesbian in America at the time of her death. I had studied her in col-
lege—that’s where I discovered her, in one of my women’s studies cours-
es. She had led me to think differently about my role as a lesbian in this
Rich wrote, “ It is crucial that we understand lesbian/feminism in the
deepest, most radical sense: as that love for ourselves and other women,
that commitment to the freedom of all of us, which transcends the cat-
egory of ‘sexual preference’ and the issue of civil rights, to become a
politics of asking women’s questions, demanding a world in which the
integrity of all women—not a chosen few—shall be honoured and vali-
dated in every respect of culture.”
Rich did not want the elision of lesbians from feminism, from litera-
ture, from history to continue, or to go unnoticed. She wanted lesbians
and lesbianism in the forefront of feminism and our culture.
Lesbians are at the root of our feminist and social history. It isn’t just
the nameless suffragists who were actually lesbians, or the nameless
union workers who were lesbians. It’s not just the big-name lesbians like
Addams or Hamilton, who made their mark on society but whose les-
bianism was blotted out. It’s not just the literary lions—Adrienne Rich
and Mary Daly, Audre Lorde and Alice Walker. It’s ourselves—our les-
Where is our current history? Where will our future be?
The LHA wasn’t founded to record celebrity; it was founded to
ensure that all lesbians, regardless of race or class status, would matter,
would be worthy of archiving, of memorialising. Women whose names
may never be known outside their own lesbian families would still have
a place in the LHA.
Now, 40 years later, protecting the lesbian identity of the LHA is
codified in the bylaws of the Archive.
But who will codify our identity in our own community? Who will
ensure that our voices and our lives are recorded and remembered,
heard and known, even as “queer” subsumes “lesbian” and the pressure
to conform to the male-female binary marginalises “ butch”, “femme”, and
“androgynous” in the lesbian community?
In her poem “Diving into the Wreck”, Adrienne Rich wrote, “the
words are purposes / the words are maps.”
Our words—our lesbian words—are the cartography of our lives.
They are the evidence of our existence, what we have been and done in
As we commemorate Women’s History Month this year, think about
all those bits and pieces of us in the LHA and how determined its
founders were to make sure lesbians were not excised from history.
Make your own history. State that you, a lesbian, were here. So they
know, in the future, that we existed , we loved , and we would not be
silenced, we would not be erased from history. Never again.
Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives were established in 1978.
Based in Melbourne and operating with the assistance of
members and supporters interstate.
For more info go to:
lotl.com • Lesbians On The Loose Magazine
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