tops and bottoms that would earlier have been widely rejected on liberationist

Tops and bottoms that would earlier have been widely

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‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’ that would earlier have been widely rejected on liberationist grounds became acceptable and sometimes blatant, virtually all the men in the scene were masculinised in the process. It was as if SM, while celebrating ‘difference and power’, served, in Dennis Altman’s term, as a ritual of ‘catharsis’, of both acting out and exorcising the growing violence and inequality of the broader society.60 As Gayle Rubin put it, ‘class, race, and gender neither determine nor correspond to the roles adopted for S/M play’.61 By the early 1980s, forms of sexuality that diverged from the perceived feminist norm also affected the previously hegemonic lesbian-feminist culture. Lesbian-feminist culture in a sense already struck a divergent note in the 1970s. The sense has persisted that lesbians in general play less of a rôle in commercial scenes and persevere more in trying to sustain alternative scenes. While of course some lesbians, like some gay men, are middle-class or rich, the fact that women trying to survive independently of men have lower incomes on average and are thus more likely to be working-class or poor has contributed to this sense. But while lesbian feminists had put working-class and poor women under great pressure in the 1970s to abandon butch-femme relationships that had been common among them for decades, some lesbians began in the 1980s to 56. Sears 2005, p. 103. 57. Rubin 1982, p. 219; Califia 1982, pp. 280, 244–8. 58. Altman 1982, p. 191. 59. Ira Tattleman, ‘Staging Masculinity at the Mineshaft’, cited in Moore 2004, p. 20. 60. Altman 1982, p. 195. 61. Rubin 1982, p. 222. P. Drucker / Historical Materialism 19.4 (2011) 3–32 21 defend butch-femme vigorously .62 At about the same time some lesbians took a visible part in SM culture, particularly in San Francisco. This dovetailed with a general upheaval in the lesbian world through conflict between currents that defined themselves as ‘anti- pornography’ and others that defined themselves as ‘pro-sex’.63 The most explosive issue in the ‘sex-wars’ was, briefly, the issue of intergenerational sex, which was the subject of a major confrontation during the organisation of the first US national lesbian/gay-rights march in 1979. Going beyond understandable and legitimate concerns about coercion and abuse of authority, some currents perceived power-differences between adults and youths as precluding the possibility of consent to sex.64 However, the very explosiveness of the issue quickly placed it beyond the pale of discussion. In hindsight, the ‘clone’ and SM subcultures, lipstick-lesbianism and sex-wars of the 1980s were only an initial phase in a longer-term fracturing of LGBT identity. The consolidation of Reaganism and Thatcherism by the mid-1980s coincided for LGBT people with the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, a trauma experienced as a sharp generational break. While some men who survived the epidemic followed a gay variant of the trajectory of the middle-class baby-boom generation, many younger people who came of age in the era of AIDS and neoliberalism found the road to a safer middle-class existence strewn with obstacles.
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