For the past week or so i've been terribly sick with a case of the common cold. Congestion... cough... sore throat... due to this i've spent a lot of my time cooped up at home feeling sorry for myself and browsing the web. In particular i found myself down a rabbit hole browsing archived lesbian periodicals, books, essays, and what have you over a hot bowl of chicken soup and an arsenal of cough drops.
I'm not entirely sure what sparked this sudden desire to dig into the past but i figured it was about time i got my hands dirty considering i'd always been interested in historical queer stuff, but i suppose i'd never gone looking on my own. Specifically, i've spent a lot of time on this lovely site combing the publications. It's quite interesting honestly to get a taste of the past and to see what all the dykes before me were talking about. It's a bit funny too, because i feel a lot of useless lesbian infighting usually found on places like twitter are really just the same regurgitated topics found in these articles whether it's slur discourse or seperatism... something about time and a flat circle lol.
In particular, i'm fascinated by the available publications of The Lesbian Tide, with most of the archived magazines having been published throughout the 1970's-- around the same time political lesbianism was all the rage and a quickly spreading virus within the community. To many political lesbians, Butches and femmes were heteronormative and upheld gender roles, transgender women were "female impersonators", and bisexual women were traitors willingly selling their souls to the demon that is the patriarchy. Many of these same ideas are carried on today in the form of TERF's. I feel The Lesbian Tide at times is injected with elements of these sentiments, and is absolutely not without criticism because of it. I suppose i find it so interesting because of how much of a snapshot in time it is.
Within the articles found in The Lesbian Tide, there were quite a few discussions peppered throughout about butches and femmes in particular, it seemed nobody quite knew what to make of them. One periodical in specific requested feedback regarding these roles, receiving mixed opinion. It appears, to many political lesbian readers, butch/femme dynamics were much like costumes to be put on and taken off at will, an outdated symptom of heterosexual roleplay. I personally found this really interesting as a butch dyke, because i feel this view of butch/femme dynamics persists today. To many they're a sense of style or certain behaviors rather than their own expansive identities. People may have a vague idea of what it is to be butch or femme, but nobody can quite place them outside of stereotype.
Within these periodicals however, I did encounter an interesting piece written by a butch columnist. This excerpt is from a much larger article, but I found this little bit especially sweet as someone who is butch4butch and feels butch4butch dynamics and intimacy are not nearly as discussed (or as prevalant) as butch4femme. This article is of course not without its own dated views though, with specifically stone butch identity hypothesized as symptom of a butch denying her femaleness, which can be simply remedied by Just Being More Feminist.
While combing these digital archives, I also noticed a little magazine by the name of "On Our Backs" which I immediately recognized. If you don't know, "On Our Backs" was a women-run lesbian erotica magazine that ran from 1984 to 2006 and was published in the midst of anti-pornography feminism, with its own name even being a satirical reference to the ongoing feminist periodical "Off Our Backs". I'd seen pictures and clippings from "On Our Backs" posted to tumblr or twitter every now and again, but I had never taken a look at a PDF scan of one. In fact, I noticed this was the only scan of a full mag on the web I could even find. Curious.
I went searching, and at one point there actually were digitized scans of many "On Our Backs" mags, but it was unfortunately taken down due to copyright and consent issues, as many women who modeled in the magazine either did not know their pictures were included or did not want a magazine which included their likenesss that was originally intended to be circulated in a more tight-knit community to be so readily avaliable to the public. I believe publications of "On Our Backs" can be requested to be scanned at specific libraries or in-person archives, but i doubt there will be any digital scans readily avaliable anytime soon.
Outside of these archives, i've also recently dipped my toes into books such as Dagger: On Butch Women and Stone Butch Blues, neither i'm finished with quite yet but both have been stellar and fantastically insightful reads so far. Dagger is a collection of interviews, essays, comics, photography, and artwork, with all works being contributions from butches and their admirers. One of my favorite essays thus far is titled "The Myth and Tradition of the Black Bulldagger" by Sdiane A. Bogus, which dives into and breaks down the past, present, and idea of Black lesbianism. Below is one of my favorite excerpts from it.
I just love the way it's written. I especially love the insight and truth of it. The paragraph about Sappho is particularly notable to me as well, as someone who could never quite place just why the term "Sapphic" felt so off to me. The mythos of Sappho is oft accompanied with the image of a fair skinned, slight framed woman who's femininity not only accompanies but elevates her desirability. Just as Bogus wrote, she is, in essence, the idyllic and harmless lesbian men fantasize about. She is an icon of lesbianism and has acquired an almost fabled status, yet she represents such a specific, white, gender-conforming subset of women that many simply cannot relate to.
For this reason, it is hard to feel the term "Sapphic" truly embodies the essence of lesbian identity and attraction (which includes bisexuals and queer women in this case, as i feel all attraction and relationships shared between two women count as "lesbian" attraction/relationships, just as relationships between two men regardless of orientation would be considered gay). This is of course not at all to say that you, reader, can't or shouldn't use this term. I'm just some guy on the internet giving my two cents. But, for me personally, "Sapphic" has always called to mind a very neutered concept of lesbianism that I could never find myself in, and i'm sure many feel the same way.
Onto Stone Butch Blues, i'd been meaning to read it for quite a while now but never got to it (truly a sin for any so-called butch and i accept my lashings as punishment). I'd say i would read it and then continually forget, but i'm so glad i finally got the time and motivation to start it. It is a great novel so far and it deserves every ounce of praise it gets. It's such a deeply emotional, heart-wrenching book. I cried within the first two chapters. It's quite fun, though, to read a book where i do really feel seen by the main character. I love my fellow butches and i think butch stories are so incredibly important and worth telling, fictional or otherwise, which i feel is what makes Stone Butch Blues so timeless despite its 60's-70's setting. I encourage any lesbian reading this who has not given Stone Butch Blues a read to at least consider it.
That's all for today! I wish anyone reading this well and I send a lot of love from inside the computer. I'm recovering from my cold slowly but surely, and i'm excited to get back into my usual groove of things.