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Sex and Sensibility Stories of a Lesbian Generation

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Sex and Sensibility: Stories of a Lesbian Generation examines shifts in lesbian identity and culture from the 1970s to the present. It explores the complex issues of identity that lesbians have confronted as they have defined themselves in relation to their communities and to society at large. Contributing an essential chapter to the emerging history of the contemporary feminist movement, Sex and Sensibility traces the evolution of the lesbian feminist movement from the bar scene to the flowering of alternative families, showing how a generation of women--baby boomers--transformed the ideals of feminism into a culture and lifestyle. Based largely on in-depth interviews with forty women, the book begins with a look at the cultural context in which lesbians of the baby boom cohort came of age, the 1950s and 60s. It then highlights the stories of three women who formed sexual identities in the context of lesbian feminism. The book documents how a tension between two identity projects--a "minoritizing" project which sought to fix lesbians as a stable minority group, and a "universalizing" project which tried to liberate the "lesbian" in every woman--colored the interactions among women of this cohort. By the late 1970s, a combination of structural and ideological factors conspired to "decenter" lesbian feminism. The baby boom generation was aging and settling into families and careers of various forms. A series of ideological clashes over sexual, racial and other differences exploded. Baby boomers grappled with these and other changes by acknowledging the limits of lesbian identifications and the "multiplicity" of identity. Some found that a lesbian identity no longer suited their needs. An examination of the lives of "ex lesbians" reveals the limitations of the dominant binary conception of sexuality. In the conclusion, the stories of ten women of the "postfeminist generation" are introduced to explain cultural shifts signified by "queer" theory and politics. The book ends with a discussion of the implications of these findings for contemporary sexual politics. The notion that one category of experience, such as sexual identity, could ever completely describe one's relationship to the world is a fiction. But as long as people are categorized and stigmatized according to sexuality, sexual identities are "necessary fictions."