Lesbian Death

Desire and Danger between Feminist and Queer

2022
Author:

Mairead Sullivan

Engaging with fears of lesbian death to explore the value of lesbian beyond identity

In Lesbian Death, Mairead Sullivan probes the perception that lesbian status is in retreat, exploring the political promises—and failures—of lesbian feminism and its usefulness today. Sullivan reads how lesbian is conceptualized in relation to death from the 1970s onward, arguing that lesbian offers disruptive potential and offering a fresh perspective on her value for feminist and queer projects.

Mairead Sullivan’s refreshing book delves deeply into the decades-long dynamic in which the lesbian—as figure, identity, and political project—is somehow always already dying even as younger and older generations infuse the lesbian with new and vital promise. Analyzing fears of lesbian death registered in narratives of loss, aggression, murderousness, bed death, and so many wars (sex wars, theory wars, butch-fem border wars, intersectionality wars, and TERF wars), this engaging work trenchantly illuminates the disruptive potential and undeniable persistence of the lesbian at the heart of the often-tense relations among feminist, queer, and trans articulations of community.

Finn Enke, author of Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism

The loss of lesbian spaces, as well as ideas of the lesbian as anachronistic, has called into question the place of lesbian identity within our current culture. In Lesbian Death, Mairead Sullivan probes the perception that lesbian status is in retreat, exploring the political promises—and especially the failures—of lesbian feminism and its usefulness today.

Lesbian Death reads how lesbian is conceptualized in relation to death from the 1970s onward to argue that lesbian offers disruptive potential. Lesbian Death examines the rise of lesbian breast cancer activism in San Francisco in conversation with ACT UP, the lesbian separatist manifestos “The C.L.I.T. Papers,” the enduring specter of lesbian bed death, and the weaponization of lesbian identity against trans lives.

By situating the lesbian as a border figure between feminist and queer, Lesbian Death offers a fresh perspective on the value of lesbian for both feminist and queer projects, even if her value is her death.

Cover alt text: Background covered entirely by yellow text, quoting the reasons the author wrote this book; the main title in black follows the block of text

Mairead Sullivan is associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Loyola Marymount University.

Mairead Sullivan’s refreshing book delves deeply into the decades-long dynamic in which the lesbian—as figure, identity, and political project—is somehow always already dying even as younger and older generations infuse the lesbian with new and vital promise. Analyzing fears of lesbian death registered in narratives of loss, aggression, murderousness, bed death, and so many wars (sex wars, theory wars, butch-fem border wars, intersectionality wars, and TERF wars), this engaging work trenchantly illuminates the disruptive potential and undeniable persistence of the lesbian at the heart of the often-tense relations among feminist, queer, and trans articulations of community.

Finn Enke, author of Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism

Lesbian Death is a thoroughgoing analysis of the work of ‘the lesbian’—especially tales of her imminent demise—in discourse and culture. Neither romanticized nor maligned, here, the figure of the lesbian is vital to queer/trans/feminist world-making. A generous and generative contribution to queer and lesbian studies, Mairead Sullivan’s treatment is timely and inspired.

Angela Willey, author of Undoing Monogamy: The Politics of Science and the Possibilities of Biology

Contents

Preface

Introduction: Lesbian Disruption

1. Lesbians Killed the Lesbian Bar: Lamentations of Loss

2. Marked for Life: Breast Cancer and Lesbian Biopolitics

3. Murderous Lesbian Separatism: Killing Daddy

4. Lesbian Bed Death: Danger, Desire, and Killjoy Feminism

5. Killer Lesbians: Reading Aggression from the Lesbian Avengers to the New Jersey 4

Conclusion: We Are Not Post-Lesbian

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index