Crafting Queer Identity, Building Coalitions, and Envisioning Liberation at the Intersections: A Rhetorical Analysis of 1970s Lesbian-Feminist Discourse
Samek, Alyssa A.
Parry-Giles, Shawn J.
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This study examines how lesbian-feminists navigated the competing pressures of identity politics and coalition politics and confronted compounding frustrations, divisions, and exclusionary practices throughout the 1970s. Specifically, the study attends to the ways lesbian-feminists rhetorically recalibrated their identities in and through coalitional relationships with such social movement communities as women's liberation, gay liberation, and anti-war activism. In the process, they were able to build coalitional relationships with activists from other movements while retaining a space for articulating and bolstering their lesbian-feminist identities. This study accordingly examines lesbian-feminist published writings and speeches given during conferences, marches, demonstrations, and political rallies between 1970 and 1980 to reveal how they crafted a space for lesbian-feminist politics, identity, and liberation from within coalitional relationships that also marginalized them. The project intersects the theories of public address, social movement rhetoric, intersectionality, identity politics, and coalition politics to examine the strategic interaction between coalition politics and identity politics in lesbian-feminist activism. In particular, recalibration allowed lesbian-feminists to strategically capitalize on intersectionality in order to negotiate the tension between identity creation and coalition formation. Using the rhetorical strategy of pivoting to feature certain aspects of their identities with the various coalitions in mind, lesbian-feminists increased their visibility. They did so not only for the sake of promoting shared political goals and legitimizing lesbian-feminism, but also to confront social movement members on issues of exclusion, homophobia, and sexism. As a result, lesbian-feminism came to hold a variety of meanings for women working in the second-wave women's liberation, gay liberation, and anti-war movements. At times, lesbian feminists upheld a separatist, vanguard ethic, which was defined in opposition to other identities and movements. Though empowering and celebrated by some as more ideologically pure, separatist identity formations remained highly contested at the margins of lesbian-feminist identity politics. With those margins clearly defined, lesbian-feminists strategically pivoted to enact political ideologies and preserve identity from within coalitional relationships. In the process, their discourse revealed a great deal about the relationship between identity politics and coalition politics in the context of U.S. social protest in the post-1960s era.