Lesbians

The query for ‘lesbianism’ resulted in 100 hits, showing several relevant collocates. Lesbianism is described in three ways: as sexual deviancy connected with immoral and illegal behaviour, as a public nuisance and possible danger, and as being connected with the occult.

Most of these associations come from one particular case: a rich married couple, Herbert and Roxanne Pulitzer, received public attention during their divorce trial. In the newspapers, we see that Roxanne is being accused of a string of deeds, ‘lesbianism’ being one of them:

  • The divorce trial of millionaire couple Herbert and Roxanne Pulitzer continues today in Florida’s Palm Beach County Circuit Court where testimony is scheduled to resume on the charges of drug abuse, lesbianism, incest and group sex.[1]
  • In a trial that included charges of adultery, lesbianism, incest and drug abuse, Mrs. Pulitzer had sought custody of the children and a share of a fortune that she estimated at $25 million.[2]
  • It’s been more than a year since the sensational divorce trial of Roxanne and Joseph Pulitzer with all the allegations of adultery, cocaine use, lesbianism, incest and occult rituals.[3]
  • Judge Harper’s ruling came after an 18-day trial in which there had been testimony about cocaine abuse, extra-marital affairs, incest, lesbianism and late-night seances.[4]

Furthermore, we see ‘lesbianism’ as being constructed as something that should be invisible and private, and is viewed as dangerous when made public. See these examples:

  • Two years later, Doe and his second wife filed in Virginia for adoption, charging Jane Doe’s lesbianism had rendered her unfit to continue as Jack’s legal mother. The couple’s lawyer argued that the mother had flaunted her lesbianism by holding a “marriage ceremony” with her live-in lover and by openly expressing affection for the lover in front of the boy.[5]
  • A part-time instructor at California State University at Long Beach, suspended for promoting lesbianism in a women’s studies class, will be allowed to return in a new assignment.[6]
  • Questioned about the withholding by Attorney General Edwin Meese of a $625,000 grant to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which has been criticized by conservatives for promoting lesbianism and for being anti-Reagan, Maureen Reagan said, “That’s just patently absurd.”[7]

The data on the use of the word ‘lesbians’ is mostly inconclusive. Analysing both collocates and n-grams, I found that only the word-clusters ‘lesbian relationship’, ‘lesbian and gay’ or ‘gay and lesbian’, could be said to be of significance. The ‘lesbian relationship’ cluster can be mostly explained by a ‘scandal’: in 1981, a high number of newspaper articles were concerned with a female, professional golfer who had had a lesbian relationship with her former secretary.[8] Furthermore, ‘lesbian(s)’ co-occurs with terminology such as ‘feminism’ or ‘feminist(s)’. The data on these co-occurrences is also not very conclusive, although there might be a trend towards equating being a lesbian and being feminist or at least hinting at a connection of these two concepts that is more than mere correlation:

  • Today she [Adrienne Rich] speaks as a radical lesbian feminist about “the complex spectrum of issues surrounding women’s claim to bodily — and hence spiritual — integrity: sexual harassament on the job; women-beating; rape; genital mutilation; pornography; psychosurgery; the use of dangerous and/or pacifying drugs on women; equal pay for equal work; the rights of lesbian mothers; the erasure of women in the history of the species . . .”[9]
  • Into this maelstrom of politics, religion and history [the 1979 Iranian Revolution] marched Kate Millett, self-proclaimed international feminist, revolutionary, lesbian, pacifist and claustrophobe, “on a mission to and for my sisters in Iran.”[10]
  • She [“Ferron”] is a self-described feminist/lesbian artist, and like all artists who define themselves in terms of movements, she is more concerned with message than with auteurist conceits or self-promotion.[11]
  • A honcho in the Free Congress Foundation, an alleged think tank in Washington, complained to Meese that the coalition was “pro-lesbian, hard-core feminists.” Twenty-four members of Congress then signed a letter written by Mark Siljander (RMich.) that embellished the profile a bit. The NCADV [National Coalition Against Domestic Violence] people were now a “pro-lesbian, pro-abortion, anti-Reagan, radical feminist group.”[12]

It has to be noted that there is no discussion of the implications, meanings, scope or connotation of the word ‘lesbian’, pointing towards a clear-cut idea of ‘lesbian’ within the discourse community. Obviously, a lesbian is a woman who has a romantic and/ or sexual relationship with another woman. This term can be used as self-description or describing others, and exists in a field of tension between being used as a positive or negative marking of women.

As for the clusters of ‘gay and lesbian’ or ‘lesbian and gay’, in most instances we see these phrases in the context of group, club or institution names. Of 71 concordance hits for ‘lesbian and gay’, we have a very high number of hits where this phrase is part of the (official) name of a group, institution or event.

lesbian and gay kwic 1

lesbian and gay kwic 2

lesbian and gay kwic 3

lesbian and gay kwic 4

The hits 3, 5, 7 and 8, 11 to 29, 31, 36, 38 to 47, 51, 54, 56 to 60, 62 and 63, 65 to 67 and 71 all use ‘lesbian and gay’ as part of a group. For the 134 hits for ‘gay and lesbian’, we have a similar situation:

gay and lesbian kwic 1

gay and lesbian kwic 2

gay and lesbian kwic 3

gay and lesbian kwic 4

gay and lesbian kwic 5

gay and lesbian kwic 6

gay and lesbian kwic 7

As can be seen from these two KWIC views, there appeared to be a trend to form lobby, focus or support groups by and for homosexual people during the early HIV/ AIDS crisis.

[1] Zaharoudis, Stephanie, and Ann L. Trebbe. Washington Post 4 Oct. 1982: Style/Personalities/C2. Print.

[2] New York Times 2 Jan. 1983: 4/9. Print.

[3] Conconi, Chuck. Washington Post 15 Mar. 1984: Style/Personalities/D3. Print.

[4] “Pulitzer Heir Wins Custody of 2 Sons.” New York Times 29 Dec. 1982: A/9. Print.

[5] Frankel, Glenn. Washington Post 5 Dec. 1981: Metro/B1. Print.

[6] “California Teacher Suspended Over Sex Charge is Reinstated.” New York Times 22 Aug. 1982: 1/1/27. Print.

[7] Washington Post 10 July 1985. Print.

[8] See, amongst many others, Lindsey, Robert. “Bille Jean King is Sued for Assets over Alleged Lesbian Relationship.” New York Times 30 Apr. 1981: A/18. Print; “Mrs. King Says She Had Lesbian Affair.” New York Times 2 May 1981: 1/9. Print; and Admur, Neil. “Homosexuality Sets of Tremors.” New York Times 12 May 1981: B/11. Print.

[9] Kernan, Michael. “Rhythm and Rage.” Washington Post 8 Apr. 1981: Stlye/B3. Print.

[10] May, Clifford D. “Nonfiction in Brief.” New York Times 16 May 1982: 7/14. Print.

[11] Zeldman, Jeff. “Ferron.” Washington Post 12 Apr. 1984: Style/Performing Arts/E 13. Print.

[12] Goodman, Ellen. “Battering the Truth.” Washington Post 13 July 1985: 1/Op-Ed/A19. Print.


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