SM Politics, SM Communities in the United States

Authored by: Rostom Mesli , Gayle Rubin

The Ashgate Research Companion to Lesbian and Gay Activism

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409457091
eBook ISBN: 9781315613147
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042914


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In the title of his 1983 Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, historian John D’Emilio articulates an insight that certain kinds of political mobilization require the achievement of certain levels of community formation. Commenting on the emergence of the gay liberation movement, he noted (1983: 2) that “isolated men and women do not create, almost overnight, a mass movement premised upon a shared group identity.” Starting in the second half of the nineteenth century, various factors made it possible for homosexual desire to slowly “congeal into a personal identity,” to reuse D’Emilio’s striking expression (1983: 22). A new medical discourse combined with urban growth, industrialization, and the spread of capitalism to create conditions that facilitated the formation of homosexual subcultures and “the articulation of a gay identity” (D’Emilio 1983: 21). In addition, some of these “inverts” were conscious of what would later be called homosexual oppression. They began to express not just personal identities but also a political critique of legal persecution and social stigma, and a program to ameliorate what they already saw as systematic sexual injustice. These critiques sharpened over the course of the twentieth century, as homosexual men and women increasingly became “a self-conscious, cohesive minority” (D’Emilio 1983: 4). By the late 1960s, that minority was firmly established.

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