Lesbian Potentiality

Lesbian Potentiality and Feminist Media in the 1970s advances two arguments in tandem under the rubric of lesbian potentiality. Lesbian potentiality, firstly, names a historically specific function of the lesbian sign. Roughly aligning with a period in the US and Canada previously identified as the height of cultural feminism (between radical feminism of the late 1960s/early 1970s and the dissolution of the “second wave” in the early 1980s) as well as the period in which gay liberalism overcame gay liberation as the predominate mode of gay politics, lesbian potentiality distinguishes a function of the Lesbian missed by sweeping feminist histories attendant to politics proper and scholarly feminist theory. It takes the cultural work of cultural feminism seriously. Characterizations of cultural feminism as a means to seek refuge from male supremacy miss the forms of creative thinking cultural texts and their media cultures enable. Lesbian potentiality also points to the diffusion of the work the Lesbian did across cultural spheres not always aligned or in synch with the feminist political coterie named as such. In short, lesbian potentiality allows me to argue that the creation of the meaning of lesbian existence in the 1970s was not confined to the work of activist leaders or academics but undertaken but countless people of many genders and sexualities through the production, distribution, and reception of feminist media.

As a methodology, lesbian potentiality provides queer and transgender media studies with a way of connecting potentialities past and present that neither obfuscates, nor reifies their differences. It is a method of illuminating social movement history that also attends to its privations—the what was and the what could have been. “The here and now” might be “a prison house,” as José Esteban Muñoz claims, but there are historiographical alternatives to converting the potentialities of the past into a resource of this present in the service of our imagined future. The past is not a static reserve to be mined for queer distillations in the more dynamic present. Instead, this book takes the position that the potentialities of the past are worth thinking with, understanding in the context of the quagmires of their own presents, even as we simultaneously pursue the project of seeing, hearing, and feeling beyond the challenges of our own time. Lesbian potentiality when taken up as methodology means not letting go of or losing the historical subject in favor of the contemporary. Only in doing as much might we in turn recognize ourselves as historical subjects, acknowledging that our own work in the pursuit of potentiality will look, sound, and feel totally different than that of the unknowable potentialities to come.

Lesbian Potentiality and Feminist Media in the 1970s is under contract with Duke University Press.

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