Monday, January 24, 2011

The 80s: Sex Wars

Sex Wars
In 1975 author and activist Rita Mae Brown (pictured below) wrote an essay about the lack of casual sex within the lesbian community. Brown wrote in her essay, “I want the option of random sex with no emotional commitment when I need sheer physical relief. . . . Like men we should have choices: deep, long-term relationships, the baths, short-term affairs.” Studies supported what Brown had written; lesbians were in fact having less sex then gay or heterosexual couples. Thus, in the early 1980s lesbian women went through a sexual revolution of their own.  Lesbian sex businesses involving pornography, S&M, paraphernalia, female only strip shows, and sex magazines began to spring up in lesbian communities.

This exploration of lesbian sexuality renewed overt butch/femme roles in lesbian sexuality. However, these roles were defined loosely and open to interpretation. These new interpretations were nicknamed neo-butch or neo-femme. Phyllis Lyon, founder of Daughters of Bilitis noted, “women play at it rather than being it.” Many lesbians however were distraught by what was seen as an attempt to imitate masculinity and put women in submissive roles. Lesbian-feminist group acted against this by protesting at lesbian-feminist music festivals. This revival of lesbian sexuality was short lived-- the fear of being overtly sexual due to the AIDS epidemic and complying with the relatively conservative 80s scared many radical feminists away.

Political Gains
Despite many setbacks for the LGBTQ community, there were many instances of positive change that occurred in the 1980s. One of these developments was the formation of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in 1980 as a gay/lesbian political lobbying organization. The HRC proved incredibly successful, and by 1988 HRC had become the ninth largest political action committee in the country with a budget of $2.1 million. Similarly in 1985 the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) was founded in 1985 to counter inaccurate and sensationalized media coverage of the AIDS epidemic. 

Other milestone achievements include Wisconsin becoming the first state to pass a law prohibiting discrimination against gays (1982). The following year Deborah Johnson and Dr. Zandra Rolon sued Papa Choux restaurant for refusing to seat the pair in the "romantic dining" section. In 1987 gays and lesbians held the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The march drew 650,000 people thus making it at the time the largest civil rights march in history. The march also unveiled the world's largest artwork: the Names Project's AIDS Memorial Quilt. Unfortunately two days after the march approximately eight hundred people were arrested at the U.S. Supreme Court for protesting the Bowers v. Hardwick ruling.

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 122-127
Finding Out: An Introduction to LGBT Studies -- Meem, Gibson, Alexander, pg. 318
Lesbian Sex Wars --

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