Lesbian Potentiality

My book manuscript, Lesbian Potentiality and Feminist Media in the 1970s, provides a history of 1970s lesbian feminist media cultures. Through archival research and interviews I conducted with lesbian feminist media workers, I show that lesbian feminism far exceeded the boundaries of an ideology or political program, its media cultures engendering the critical examination and creative reimagination of the organization of social life. While women’s movement histories have recognized prominent feminist organizers and theorists, such as Shulamith Firestone, Ti-Grace Atkinson, and Audre Lorde, and media studies scholars have analyzed the individual contributions of experimental and documentary filmmakers like Barbara Hammer and Jan Oxenberg, my research establishes that the work of analysis and imagination was also undertaken by countless others, usually unknown outside their local feminist communities. The book describes how fanzines, conventions, distribution companies, and exhibition systems emerged in the mid-1970s to facilitate the discussion of media between feminists located in the movement’s metropolitan hubs and those in suburban, rural, and imprisoned women’s communities throughout the United States and Canada. The thousands of women who contributed to these efforts discussed new work by feminist authors and filmmakers, in person after screenings and at conventions as well as through the letters of comment sections of fanzines. In these spaces, they came together across generational, sexual, racial, and class differences to theorize how eliminating compulsory heterosexuality might change romance and reproduction and with them kinship, labor, and even our understandings of ourselves as human.

In attending to these reception contexts, Lesbian Potentiality and Feminist Media in the 1970s provides an unprecedentedly populist historiography of media in the North American women’s movement. My interdisciplinary approach bridges film, video, and science fiction literature and grants readers across disciplines the opportunity to think with this generation in their own divergent envisioning of feminist, queer, and anti-racist futures. Younger generations are often resistant to 1970s feminists’ attempts at connection due to the period’s legacy of racism, essentialism, and transphobia. Across my chapters, I offer a series of models for approaching this history that neither excuse its transgressions, nor set up the decade as a past where the present can simply shelve all such intramovement violences. I foreground the contributions of lesbians and women of color, showing how difficult discussions around race and the idea of “woman,” sometimes missed during the production of lesbian feminist media, nonetheless emerged in its reception. The genealogical model that results has little to do with descent, inheritance or survival but is instead characterized by transfeminist sisterhood and mutation, as what was and what is think together what could be.

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