Gay Men and Feminist Women in the Fight for Equality

“What Did You Do During the Second Wave, Daddy?”

by D. Travers Scott (Author)
©2020 Textbook X, 224 Pages
Series: Cultural Media Studies, Volume 2


What did gay men do in women’s liberation—and vice-versa? This book offers the first systematic investigation of the question. Conventional wisdom has offered varied and contradictory stories: Gay men were misogynistic enemies of feminism; feminist women were homophobic or androphobic; feminist women and gay men collaborated only during the 1960s-1970s liberation moment; lesbians rushed in to work with gay men during the AIDS crisis. Examined for the first time in this book, their stories are much more complex, yesterday and today. Feminist women and gay men have had dynamic relations in popular thinking and historic practice, including commonality, opposition, and intellectual contributions. Written by a feminist-identified gay man, this book forges an examination of these two groups’ alliances and obstacles over the past 50 years, as well as their communications of, between, and about each other. What have been the received views of how these groups have or have not worked together politically? What historical evidence supports, contradicts, or complicates these views? New findings help illuminate understandings of the past and present of US women’s and LGBTQ movements, as well as broader relations between social movements in general. With a special focus on neglected areas of research, such as the US South, it also argues for how these social movements shaped ideas about what it means to be gay and/or feminist. This book is suitable in whole or excerpt for classes in LGBTQ studies, women’s studies, feminist theory, social movements, American studies, and US history.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • Dedication
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1.The Received View: Public Memory, Historiographic Discourses, and LGBTQ Media
  • 2. Networked Social Change: Feminism and LGBTQ Movements in South Carolina, USA
  • 3. Representing Each Other: Gays in The Second Wave/Lesbians in AIDS Cinema
  • 4. Talking Amongst Ourselves: Gay Men and Feminist Women (Before Trump)
  • 5. Queering Networks, Entangled Platforms: Feminist Women and Gay Men in Online Media
  • Conclusion: Creative Destruction
  • Index

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This research was supported in part by the Clemson University Humanities Advancement Board, the Department of Communication at Clemson University, and a Clemson University Support for Early Exploration and Development Grant. Portions of this book have appeared, in different forms and context, in my doctoral dissertation and Critical Studies in Media Communication. My focus group participants provided crucial candor and willingness to explore the themes in this book. The staffs of the archives where I worked could not have been more helpful and congenial. I am deeply appreciative of everyone involved with the Louise Pettus Archives & Special Collections Women’s History collections at the Winthrop University Dacus Library in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and the University of South Carolina Caroliniana LGBTQ Collection and South Carolina Pride Movement materials. I am very grateful to my research assistants in the MA in Communication, Technology, and Society program at Clemson University: Evan Lybrand, Jerrica Rowlett, Jessica Frampton Smith, and especially Sarah Arbogast, who provided perceptive insights and a great deal of trust in me that made getting this project under way possible. Many persons over the years provided suggestions, help, and feedback on this project, more than I can recall, so I thank them here collectively. The LGBTQ Studies Interest Group and the Communication History Division of the International Communication Association supported the development of this work in conference presentations, as well as provided me ongoing intellectual homes. Sarah Banet-Weiser’s teaching, mentorship, and friendship have been essential. Finally, this book offers respect to and gratitude for the gay men, feminist women, and all their entanglements and variations who paved the way, taught me, and continue to inspire me.

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“Why is it presupposed that the male feminist is a heterosexual man?”

—Craig Owens, “Outlaws: Gay Men in Feminism”

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I am a gay male feminist. Feminism is a family issue for me. My maternal aunt, Carol (Rowell) Council, helped found the first women’s studies program in the United States, at San Diego University in 1968, the year before I was born (Council, 2015; Orr, 1999). Although far away from where I grew up in Texas, she would send me feminist children’s books for Christmas and, decades later, would share with me drafts of her memoir. Her grandmother, my great-grandmother, Luverna Jones, never used the word feminist to my knowledge, but was a strong woman who moved with her husband and children from Oklahoma City to the small South Texas town of Premont. There, she wrote, edited, and published a local newspaper, The South-Press. Her other grandchild, my biological mother, was fiercely independent, divorcing my father when I was young and heading out on a lifetime journey of discovery. Kay Council earned a graduate degree in folklore, researching Tex-Mex conjunto and norteña music, and then began interviewing South Texas curanderjas, or women folk healers.1 Because of her, I grew up swing dancing in Latino honky-tonks and gazing in awe at the mysterious metal icons of desert folk shrines. My aunt remained independent as well, traveling to Italy for her graduate degree in art history. My mother roamed the United States, exploring and never setting down roots, often sharing with me her experiences as a woman dealing with sexism and gender roles, particularly in the conservative state of Texas.

These are only some of the women in my family whose strength and independence inspired and taught me. Independence, however, sometimes came with a price. Not all of their lives came to happy endings. But that is a different story, or set of stories. However, their examples helped give me the confidence to come out as a gay man, to be involved in gay activism and art, and to write popular articles and books exploring sexuality and gender (Scott, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2009).

Academics often speak of their training in familial terms, with advisors as parents and graduate students as children. My academic “mother,” Sarah Banet-Weiser, is a feminist scholar and researcher with whom I studied at the University of Southern California. We went on to become great friends and colleagues in higher education.

Near the end of my time in graduate school, I asked her, “What gay men were involved with the women’s movement?” Naively, I assumed that this was a well-documented history, the subject of several books or authoritative articles to which she could refer me. Sarah was never at a loss for readings to recommend.

“That’s a good question,” she said, quizzically. Now, in my tenth year as a college professor, I know all too well that “That’s a good question” means “You should research that yourself.”

A few years later, after I had graduated with my Ph.D. in Communication and secured a tenure-track job, a young graduate student in another department emailed me, asking if we could meet. She wanted to talk to me about “the relationship between queer theory and feminism.” I welcomed the conversation, but still did not know of any authoritative sources to which I could now refer her. As a gay male scholar of identity and sexuality, as well as a published author of fiction and popular nonfiction on these topics, and participant in various forms of LGBTQ activism, I had encountered several views on how gay men and feminist women have related to one another. Some of these had been contradictory: gay men are naturally feminists; sexism is endemic among gay men. Others had been episodic: they worked together during the liberationist phase of second-wave feminism and early gay rights; they worked together to fight AIDS; feminism spawned gay civil rights; third-wave feminism incorporated LGBTQ issues. None of these scenarios satisfied me and, so, I set out to research it myself.

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This book, the result of eight years researching the subject, does not claim by any means to be authoritative or comprehensive. It is, like many others’ research projects, the result of nagging curiosity and a consequence of not being able to find answers in the existing literature. I began exploring the intersection between feminist women and gay men in their social movements for equality. Along the way, I stopped looking for answers and started listening to stories. This book is not an answer or series of answers, but a collection of stories. The stories are complicated, contradictory, and incomplete. This book is not the whole story. It is also, to a degree, the story of my search for these stories, a search for my political and intellectual family.

Feminist Women and Gay Men

Marginalized groups must speak to the mainstream—but also to each other. This book examines communication networks of women’s and LGBTQ social movements, exploring how they communicated to and about each other. Given that these two groups share many obstacles, such as heteronormative gender roles and a patriarchal culture, when and under what conditions do they perceive each other as collaborative allies? Conversely, what has impeded these groups from working together? Has fluctuation in this dynamic been related to communication flows between and about the two groups? What insights can be found regarding communication and collaboration between other groups with shared goals?

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This book aims to flesh out a largely unwritten but ongoing history of these two groups within the context of each other. Given the necessity of groups working together in efforts directed at social change, this book contributes a case study in realized and unrealized coalition-building. This project looks specifically at gay men in LGBTQ activism and their connections with feminist women in women’s movements. It is motivated by the minimal popular and historic accounts of what would, ostensibly, seem to be two highly networked social movements. Furthermore, there is a lack of consistency and clarity in the material that does exist. One perspective, for example, suggests that one social movement absorbed the other: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture explains that, in the 1960s, gay liberation “merged with” feminism (Harris, 1997, p. 243). Another common story has been the idea that mostly lesbian women connected these networks of social movements. To use a term from Manuel Castells’ work, discussed below, lesbians have been thought of as the “switchers” who linked two social-change networks (e.g., during the first decade of the AIDS crisis). The concept of lesbian switchers appeared across a wide variety of my data sources. For example, New York City’s 2001 Directory of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Services and Resources (Hevesi, 2001) listed a few local chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and described its main office in Washington, DC, as a “Feminist organization with focus on women’s rights. Lesbian rights among top 4 priority issues.”

The modern LGBTQ rights movement in the US is traditionally described as originating with the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969. However, to compare the organized, recognized movement of first-wave feminist suffrage movements with what were contemporaneously only the most nascent LGBTQ rights efforts, and many outside of the US, would be too distinct of a difference in formulation. It would also present a challenge given that gay identity, as it is thought of today, was not widely diffused at that time. Therefore, I focus my research in this book as beginning with the contemporaneous periods of second-wave feminism and modern gay rights in the United States since the mid-twentieth century, continuing to the present. As research progressed, the driving questions of this project came into focus as:

What stories have these groups told describing their experiences working together politically—or not?

What stories do historical artifacts and other evidence tell?

What stories do people in and outside of each group say about them?

This book is intended to resonate (Scott, 2013) a discursive formation. That is, I have taken the conceptual unit of “feminist women with gay men” and amplified it in a supportive manner. At times, I search for pre-existing associations of these two groups. Other times, as in the focus groups chapter, I push the two groups into thinking about and discussing each other.

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Rather than attempting to write a single, authoritative history, I chose multiple research modes. Whereas multiple methods can be understood as an effort at triangulation, that approach is traditionally associated with a positivist approach to ascertaining and confirming truth through multiple corroboration (Biltereyst, Lotze, & Meers, 2012; De Laat, Lally, Lipponen, & Simons, 2007; Saukko, 2003). However, for more mixed-genre forms of research texts, Richardson (2000) suggests instead the concept of crystallization. Rather than the fixed geometric object of a triangle, researchers can approach validity using the concept of a crystal, which, while having structure, substance, and symmetry, is also dynamic, reflective, and refractive. This opens up validity to more than one possibility and also draws attention to additional, as yet unknown, possibilities. Ellingson (2014) extends crystallization as a research framework including multiple epistemological paradigms: postpositivist, constructivist, and creative/artistic. Crystallization leads us to greater knowing, including knowledge of what is not known, as well as different ways of knowing. Such is the goal of this project. The communicative relations between social movements of gay men and feminist women have multiple stories, only some of which are identified in this book. Others remain to be told.

I embrace such perspectives here in continuing my use of queer methodology (Scott, 2018). Queer methodology has, as perhaps expected, multiple definitions. In Female Masculinity, Halberstam (1998) used the term to describe combining interpretive and empirical qualitative methods in an attempt to “remain supple enough to respond to the various locations of information on female masculinity” (p. 10). This is, furthermore, positioned as a “disloyalty” or “form of refusal” (p. 10) to limit oneself to dominant definitions of a research topic but also dominant ways of producing and validating knowledge. Other approaches to queer methodology emphasize the research subjects over the epistemological paradigms. For example, the editors of a special issue of Lambda Nordica on queer methodology described it as “as empirically based designs of questions and methods in order to scrutinize heteronormative regimes and expose presences of queer interpretive potential” (Ambjörnsson, Laskar, & Steorn, 2010, p. 11). While this focus on queer subjects is relevant to the topics of this book, given their historic oppression by and exclusion from knowledge-making practices, the larger project of queer theory interrogates all subjects as inherently constructed and potentially unstable. In their book on queer methods and social science research, Browne and Nash (2016) make this explicit: “‘Queer research’ can be any form of research positioned within conceptual frameworks that highlight the instability of taken-for-granted meanings and resulting power relations” (p. 4). Queer research can be focused on experiences of non-normative gender, sexuality, and biological sex, but is not limited to those topics. However, “queer scholarship … is anti-normative and seeks to subvert, challenge and critique a host of taken for granted ‘stabilities’ in our social lives” (p. 7). Such stabilities include those of researcher, researched, and research method(s). Ultimately, their collection suggests—but refuses to definitively answer—that there are no inherently queer or non-queer methods, individually or in combination, just as there are no specific, defined manners in which to study queer lives.

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All of these perspectives inform my queer methodology here. Not only do I use multiple methods, with varying epistemological perspectives, to gain insight into multiple truths about my topics, but I also center the instability of those topics as well. Different types of data, using different qualitative methods, are employed to try and approach the topic from multiple perspectives and locations of knowledge. Not simply multimodal, this project presumes the instability of subjects and knowledge, and attempts to address that through a dynamic research design. The style of writing also intentionally varies with the book’s form reflecting the variety and multiplicity of its content. Finally, this project is one of anti-normative destabilization. In addition to showing how knowledge about the social movements of feminist women and gay men vis-à-vis each other are inconsistent, contradictory, and fragmentary, the research subjects themselves destabilize and multiply over the course of the book. Here, I not only attempt to intervene in dominant understandings of these two groups, but also enact an intentional failure in attempting to force them into stable research subjects and myself as a researcher.

Theoretical Perspectives

This project draws on theoretical models of power and communication (Castells, 2001; 2009; Castells, Fernández-Ard’evol, Qiu, & Sey, 2007; Foucault, 1980, 1990; Foucault & Faubion, 1994), and is also informed broadly by critical historiography and post-structural feminist and queer theory. With Michel Foucault and Manuel Castells, I focus on power, communication, and networks: I conceive of the political movements of feminist women and gay men each as networks attempting to change their power relationships with dominant culture, through combined processes of communication and network reconfigurations. Within this process, my focus is on these two networks’ communication to and about each other as their networks dynamically program and reprogram themselves with codes of cooperation or competition vis-a-vis each other.

Michel Foucault’s Modern Power


X, 224
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. X, 224 pp.

Biographical notes

D. Travers Scott (Author)

D. Travers Scott, Associate Professor of Communication at Clemson University, authored Pathology and Technology: Killer Apps and Sick Users. His work on sexuality and gender has appeared in many scholarly journals, three books of fiction, and over 100 popular articles, book chapters, and media appearances.


Title: Gay Men and Feminist Women in the Fight for Equality
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236 pages