First and Last Chance: Looking for Lesbians in Fifties Bar Cases
Review of Law and Women's Studies, Vol. 5, 1995
20 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2012
Date Written: 1995
Do all of us who choose members of our own sex as objects of desire and as sexual partners share some meaningful common identity, such as “homosexual,” “gay” or perhaps “queer”? The classifications “homosexual” and “gay” claim for themselves just that kind of inclusiveness; that is, that the gay world includes people of all races, all classes and any possible gender identity. You, me, James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, J. Edgar Hoover: we are all gay together. In this way “homosexual” or “gay” is a generic term, like, for example, “human being.” But we know that the alleged inclusiveness masks just the opposite: the classification “homosexual” or “gay” highlights sexual orientation related to object choice and simultaneously submerges race, class and gender. By common understanding, the classification “lesbian” reveals gender, but race and class remain erased, hidden.
This essay explores a specific site in gay legal history, as reflected in four appellate cases from California's efforts during the fifties to shut down gay bars by revoking liquor licenses. My goal is to peel back the generic “gay” in those cases to reveal the omnipresent sexual orientation, gender, class and racial identities that determined what it meant to be “homosexual” in California during the fifties, and that intersect within each of us today.
Keywords: gay, lesbian, LGBT, California, fifties, mid-century, generic identity, inclusiveness, class, race, gender
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