I am thrilled to introduce the newest graduate from UWaterloo English’s PhD program, Dr. Clare Bermingham. Some of you may know her as the Director of the Writing and Communication Centre at UWaterloo; you should also know her as the author of the dissertation “Feeling Queer Together: Identity, Community, and the Work of Affect in the Pre-Stonewall Lesbian Magazine, the Ladder.”
Dr. Bermingham was supervised by Dr. Victoria Lamont, with committee members Drs. Alice Kuznair and Kevin McGuirk. Her internal/external examiner was Dr. Shannon Dea, and her external examiner was Dr. Michael Cobb.
Feeling Queer Together: Identity, Community, and the Work of Affect in the Pre-Stonewall Lesbian Magazine, the Ladder
This project examines the emergence of lesbian identity and community through the work of queer feeling, specifically as it was produced in the American magazine, the Ladder (1956-1972). The Ladder was published by the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first national lesbian organization, whose politics of respectability called for lesbians to conform with and adjust to normative gender and class ideals. While such strategies of assimilation responded to the traumatic discourses of disease and deviance that framed lesbian life in the 1950s and 1960s, they further marginalized women who could not easily or legitimately occupy normative categories of gender and class. As an extension of DOB, the Ladder has been treated as a largely conformist text; however, its short fiction, poetry, and readers’ letters engaged differently with the push towards normativity by challenging ideas of value, happiness, gender, family, strangeness, and love. By examining the Ladder’s literary texts and letters for the ways in which they invoke feeling and affectively produce different ways of being and doing queerness, I explore the ways that queer feeling opens up every day spaces for lesbian possibility as good feelings of happiness, pleasure, recognition, connection, and love are bound up with feelings of trauma, erasure, and loss. In reading the Ladder as a complex affective archive of this period of early lesbian identity and community, I show how a community’s texts during critical historical moments can reveal the workings and movements of, what Raymond Williams calls a “structure of feelings,” the affective currents that constitute a community’s becomings and changes before and as they coalesce into a static history.
Please do not reproduce the images in this post without contacting Dr. Bermingham for further permission information.