Marisa Lastres, “`Between Here and There`: 20th Century Queer

Marisa Lastres, “‘Between Here and There’: 20th Century Queer Butch Women’s
Mentor: Ellen Crowell
“The coming out story, which purports to describe a pre-existing sexual identity, is simultaneously
contributing to the cultural construction of this identity.” (Saxey 5)
This capstone project investigates the queer butch woman’s bildungsroman throughout the 20th
century. It focuses on the connections between historical and cultural context, narrative (in this
case, queer women’s coming of age narratives), identity (in this case, sexual identity), and
political activism. In Homoplot: the Coming-out Story and Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity,
Esther Saxey asserts that there has been a “radical rethinking of gender and sexuality as multiple,
fluid, variable, contingent, and contextual as they operate under a variety of cultural, historical,
rhetorical, and ideological conditions” (vii). Still, just how gender and sexuality operate under
these conditions remains unclear. This project adds “narrative” to the list of conditions under
which gender and sexuality operate. Throughout, I foreground the idea that identity is both
constructed by and constructing both culture and narrative. That is, “Not only do gay, lesbian,
and bisexual individuals tell coming out stories, but the coming out story ‘tells’ us” (3).
To this end, I have chosen primary texts spanning the 20th century that deal with queer
women’s coming of age: Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 lesbian classic, The Well of Loneliness; Leslie
Feinberg’s 1993 novel Stone Butch Blues; and finally Alison Bechdel’s 2006 tragicomic graphic
novel Fun Home. This broad time period allows me to trace cultural shifts through history, and to
raise and respond to an interlocked series of questions: 1. What do queer women’s coming of age
narratives look like throughout the 20th century? 2. What is the nature of the relationship between
these works and their historical/cultural contexts? Does each work have about the same
relationship with the politics of its period, or did each text play a different role (e.g., an activist
role, an educational role, a conformist role) in history? 3. What can we say about the relationship
between the earlier works and the later works—that is, do the later ones depend upon or draw
from the earlier ones? Do the later ones shed light on or change the way we view the earlier
ones? Do the later texts ever diverge from the earlier ones, and how might we explain this
Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues.
divergence? 4. How do we see identity being constructed in these narratives? Do we see identity
being brought over wholesale from previous eras, or constructed from scratch in the present, or
something in between? How do we account for changes and/or continuities in identity? What do
these changes and/or continuities imply about the way that identity is constructed, and about the
nature of sexual identity itself? 5. And what of the betweenness that Leslie Feinberg identifies
when ze writes, “I began to feel the pleasure of the weightless state between here and there”? Are
‘here’ and ‘there’ places, moments in history, genders? What does ‘between’ mean for butch
identity and representation in the 20th century?
Primary Sources
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
de Monteflores, Carmen and Stephen J. Schultz. “Coming Out: Similarities and Differences for
Lesbians and Gay Men.” Journal of Social Issues. 34.3 (1978): 59-72.
Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 1993.
Hall, Radclyffe. The Well of Loneliness. United Kingdom: Jonathan Cape, 1928.
Winterson, Jeanette. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. London: Pandora Press, 1985.
Secondary Sources
Allen, Dennis W. “Homosexuality and Narrative.” Modern Fiction Studies. 41.3-4 (1995): 609634.
Berridge, Susan. “Raised Voices: Homophobic Abuse as a Catalyst for Coming Out in US Teen
Television Drama Series.” The Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Media. Ed. Karen Ross.
Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.
Chirrey, Deborah A. “‘I hereby come out’: What sort of speech act is coming out?” Journal of
Sociolinguistics. 7.1 (2003): 24-37.
Creet, Julia. “Anxieties of Identity: Coming Out and Coming Undone.” Negotiating Lesbian and
Gay Subjects. Ed. Monica Dorenkamp and Richard Henke. New York and London:
Routledge, 1995.
Hall, Donald E. Reading Sexualities: Hermeneutic theory and the future of queer studies.”
London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Lion, Andrea. “Surprising Narrative Changes: The Heterosexuality of Narrative and Surprising
Myself as a Homosexual Coming-Out Story.” Travelling Concepts III: Memory,
Narrative, Image. Ed. Nancy Pedri. Asca Press, 2003. 189-202.
Saxey, Esther. Homoplot: The Coming-Out Story and Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Identity. New
York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2008. Print.
Shahani, Nishant. Queer Retrosexualities: The Politics of Reparative Return. Bethlehem: Lehigh
University Press, 2012. Print.
Xhonneux, Lies. “The Classic Coming Out Novel: Unacknowledged Challenged to the
Heterosexual Mainstream.” College Literature 39.1 (2012): 94-118. 1 Nov 2013.
Zimman, Lal. “‘The other kind of coming out’: Transgender people and the coming out narrative
genre.” Gender and Language. 3.1 (2009): 53-80.