Stephanie Gilmore. Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered History in America. Editor: Marc Stein. Volume 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004.
Broadly speaking, feminism refers to the notion that females and males are inherently equal but recognizes that structural and cultural forces damage, disadvantage, and disempower females in ways that leave them unequal to males. Feminist activism and feminist movements are collective efforts to improve the situations of women and girls. However, feminism is also built upon the idea that sex and gender intersect with other social hierarchies, including systems of sexual categorization. Ignoring intersecting hierarchies of class, race, sexuality, and other dimensions of difference in theorizing and practicing feminism serves only privileged women’s interests (including the interests of straight women) and reinforces other social inequalities that disadvantage both women and men. Thus, in their efforts to challenge women’s subordination, feminists have often addressed LGBT issues, promoting equality for LGBT people, offering queer perspectives on heterosexuality, and exploring intersections of race, class, and gender with sexuality. In many instances, feminists have challenged heterosexual dominance, but feminist activism has ranged from reproducing heteronormativity to offering a cultural and social vision fully inclusive of LGBT sexualities and genders.
In the last one hundred years, the term “feminism” has taken on varied and even contradictory meanings, and scholars have given significant attention to the question of what movements or actions count as “feminist.” The meaning, focus, and application of the term “feminist” have also changed over time. In the United States, feminism has been used as the basis for movements in support of women’s suffrage, women’s rights, and women’s emancipation, but it has also been used to argue for the destruction of the sex-gender system and the elimination of categories such as “male” and “female.” It is instructive, then, to understand feminism not only as a belief about women’s value in society and culture but also as a historical phenomenon. The word “feminism” (or féminisme) originated in late-nineteenth-century France and was imported into the United States in the 1910s, when it had very specific meanings related to women’s emancipation. In U.S. history, feminism is often understood through a wave metaphor and has been defined in multiple ways to encompass the various ways in which women and their allies have sought female empowerment. In these waves of feminist activism women who can be viewed as lesbians have played central roles and feminists have grappled with issues related to LGBT sexualities and genders.
The First Wave
The first wave of feminism began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention. Women and men, many of whom maintained intimate same-sex relationships in the context of nineteenth-century values that placed women and men in “separate spheres,” came together in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss female education, legal equality, and social opportunity. At this meeting, they issued a Declaration of Sentiments, which offered their vision for change. As the women’s movement developed, women’s suffrage was embraced, but other issues, including sexual issues, also emerged as significant. Throughout the nineteenth century, heterosexual, monogamous marriage remained the most common and accepted type of sexual relationship in the United States. However, small groups of feminists began to offer alternatives to monogamous sexual relations, challenging marital sexuality, opening social and cultural doors to more options for sexual pleasure, and embracing a variety of transgressive relationships. Other feminists offered challenges to contemporary heteronormativity through sexual purity and moral reform campaigns.
Although first-wave feminists did not openly address same-sex sexuality, many within the movement developed “romantic friendships” and intense same-sex relationships. Various women involved in first-wave feminism embraced reform and suffrage activism not only as important work on behalf of women but also as a way to live independently of men and to forge relationships with women that today might be characterized as lesbian. Correspondence between women involved in the first wave of feminism suggests that many had intimate same-sex relationships and living arrangements. Susan B. Anthony, Anna Dickinson, Emily Gross, Frances Willard, Anna Gordon, Alice Stone Blackwell, Jane Addams, and many others built close relationships with other women. Although they rarely addressed questions and issues related to same-sex sexuality and may well have disavowed the label “lesbian” when it came into existence in the late nineteenth century, many lived their lives with other feminist women and pursued feminist causes, especially suffrage and reform efforts directed against “illicit” heterosexual relationships and “illegitimate” pregnancies.
Free Love and Moral Reform
As the feminist movement developed in the nineteenth century, two divergent approaches emerged to address issues of sexual inequality and sexual freedom: free love and moral reform. The free love movement originated in nineteenth-century utopian communities, which attempted to establish perfect human societies, including perfect sexual and intimate relationships. While utopian communities varied widely in their sexual views, they commonly demonstrated concern about ways to regulate sexual impulses. For free love adherents, love and desire, rather than marriage and reproduction, should be the basis for sexual relationships, and they introduced a vital, queer critique that helped to deconstruct heteronormative dominance in U.S. society.
Free love’s first major American proponent, Frances Wright, was a wealthy Scottish woman who immigrated permanently to the United States in 1825, after a two-year visit in 1818–1820. A freethinker who opposed slavery, organized religion, and marriage, Wright organized a utopian community in Nashoba, Tennessee, where devotees challenged conventional fears about interracial relations by bringing black and white people together. She believed that only racial integration would resolve racial strife and conflict in the United States, and the Nashoba community encouraged the formation of interracial sexual relationships, regardless of marital ties. In 1827, Wright argued that sexual passion was the “best source of human happiness.” She was consequently vilified in the press, which suggests how deeply she threatened basic tenets of heterosexual, monogamous marriage. Other champions of free love included Mary Gove Nichols and Thomas Low Nichols, who published extensively on women’s rights and birth control and founded a short-lived free love community, Memnonia, near Yellow Springs, Ohio. Mary Gove Nichols was also an advocate of dress reform, opposing the tight-laced corsets that were fashionable at the time. In their queer critiques of marriage and heteronormative sexuality, the Nichols claimed that marriage was a form of prostitution (since it involved the exchange of sex and reproductive services for material support), a claim that was echoed later in first and second wave feminism.
Free love reached a wider audience in the second half of the nineteenth century through the flamboyant Victoria Woodhull. Merging free love and free speech advocacy, Woodhull sought to challenge middle-class taboos on public discussions of sexuality while also combating the Comstock laws against the distribution and discussion of information about contraception. In speech and print she articulated a theory of sexual choice and advocated sexual passion as liberating, a message she promoted in her run for president of the United States in 1872. She was jailed for publishing stories of sexual affairs among members of the prominent social classes, most notably one between the Boston minister Henry Beecher Ward and parishioner Elizabeth Tilton. Her writings revealed how middle- and upper-class sexual ideologies of monogamous marriage contradicted their practices, an argument also made by critics of sexual abuse within slavery (including Sojourner Truth) and critics of racial lynching (including Ida B. Wells). Woodhull represents another example of how first-wave feminist activism raised important challenges to the cultural dominance of heteronormative sexuality, even if she and many other free love advocates did not openly embrace same-sex sexuality.
Moreover, by the early twentieth century free love ideas were influencing various bohemian radicals, socialists, anarchists, and feminists (most notably Emma Goldman), many of whom embraced “mannish” dress, formed same-sex sexual partnerships, and defended LGB rights. They also influenced early twentieth-century radical, socialist, anarchist, and feminist campaigns for birth control, which helped to separate reproduction from pleasure in discourses and practices of sexuality.
Free love advocates offered radical sexual alternatives, and their ideas influenced later waves of feminist activism. However, public discussion and debate about sexuality in the nineteenth century, including discussion and debate by feminists, more commonly focused on moral reform and social purity. Male and female reformers were particularly concerned about the commercialization of sex, especially erotic literature, dance halls, and brothels. Entrepreneurs were increasingly trading in sexual fantasy and experience, especially in urban centers, and many working-class women were finding that sexual labor paid far better wages than other forms of work. While all of these “vices” raised the ire of social reformers, prostitution was the focus of attention.
In response to the “problem” of prostitution, many female reformers turned to politics, attempting to increase the regulation of sex and promote women’s control over their bodies. In moral reform and social purity crusades, women expanded public discussions of sexuality, but often did so in ways that replicated heteronormative conceptions of men as sexual beasts and women as sexually pure. For many reformers sexuality itself was dangerous, a position with potentially negative consequences for LGBT people. In New York City, for example, the Female Moral Reform Society extended its assistance beyond the poor, widowed, and orphaned to the city’s prostitutes. Rather than treat prostitutes as depraved and threatening, they sought to transform these “fallen women” into “true women” through conversion to Christianity. Although most prostitutes did not see themselves as “fallen” and did not aspire to live according to middle-class women’s values, reformers’ efforts persisted in part because such efforts permitted women to question men’s authority and conduct as well as women’s dependence on men.
After doctors in the American Medical Association (AMA) proposed to legalize and regulate prostitution in the late nineteenth century, the social purity movement emerged to counter this effort. By the 1890s the movement was firmly entrenched in the U.S. social and political landscape and contributed to public discussions of heterosexual sex beyond the privacy of marriage and the family. Rather than regulate prostitution, social purity activists sought to prevent women from turning to prostitution in the first place. They set up homes for girls working in cities, social clubs for young women to meet young men in “respectable” settings, and homes for single, pregnant girls and women. Social uplift campaigns, however, were tainted with condescension as reformers demanded that their clients adopt middle-class values of domesticity, temperance, and sexual propriety. Still, reformers did recognize that social inequalities of gender and class forced some women to sell their sexual services and they developed important arguments about the relationship between sexuality and inequality. In doing so they, like free love advocates, proposed a (hetero) sexual single standard for men and women.
Meanwhile, suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, feminists who embraced the cause of social purity, drew parallels between prostitution and marriage, suggesting that in both arrangements women traded sex for economic support. Marriage and divorce laws, they also argued, trapped women. Stanton called for more liberal divorce laws while Anthony advocated women’s economic self-sufficiency. Other social purity advocates promoted “voluntary motherhood,” or the right to say no to sex unless a woman wanted to become pregnant, preferring this strategy to other forms of contraception or abortion. Through rhetoric and action, feminists linked women’s sexuality to broader political change.
At bottom, the social purity crusade and its feminist advocates sought not to oppose all sexuality but to control male sexuality and liberate female sexuality, while free love advocates sought to remove external constraints on love and sexuality. Although social purity was more palatable to middle-class Americans and feminists in particular, both approaches offered ways to unshackle women’s sexuality. Still, many Americans opposed first wave feminists, in part because the pursuit of the vote was seen as potentially disruptive to a heteronormative gender order in which men supposedly represented women and children at the ballot box. Other first wave feminist campaigns were also seen as threatening because of the ways that they challenged patriarchal heterosexual dominance. Antifeminists criticized feminists by calling them unnatural mannish spinsters and intimated that they were lesbians. Sexologists, psychiatrists, and other scientific “experts” also linked feminism and lesbianism, attacking the former as a sign, symptom, and source of the latter. In this context, antilesbianism likely kept many feminists from discussing same-sex sexuality openly or from linking lesbianism with feminism.
The Second Wave
The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, which granted women the right to vote, brought about a decline of overt feminism. Liberating women’s sexuality, an important component of first-wave feminism, emerged as a key idea in the second-wave. Arguing that “the personal is political,” second wave feminists argued that such issues as rape, domestic violence, and economic dependence upon men had social causes and political solutions and were not merely personal problems confronted by individual women. While this phrase emerged during the second wave, it seems rather obvious in light of first wave feminists’ attention to personal problems and political solutions. Building upon first wave challenges to the dominant heteronormative order, second wave feminists developed these challenges while also focusing more attention on same-sex sexualities.
Although feminism remained alive in the decades after 1920, the 1960s witnessed a revival of various social movements, including feminism. The civil rights, student, and antiwar movements contributed greatly to the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. Many women worked alongside men in pursuit of racial justice, equal rights, and world peace. Borrowing tactics, adapting ideas, and building upon networks in such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Students for a Democratic Society, many women embraced the greater goals of justice, equality, and liberation for all people.
Women made gains through the political system. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, which stated that employers could not pay women and men different wages for the same work. The following year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its Title VII outlawed workplace discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” It also provided a legal avenue of address by creating the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to handle employee complaints.
Second wave feminism initially took organizational shape primarily around the work of the National Organization for Women (NOW), founded by Betty Friedan in 1966 by more than one hundred women interested in creating a feminist organization similar to the NAACP. NOW represented the interests and aspirations of liberal feminists, who were concerned with equality within existing social, political, and economic systems. Although a number of lesbians (including Pauli Murray) were active in NOW and other liberal feminist organizations, liberal feminism in the 1960s tended to downplay sexual issues (including abortion rights and lesbian rights), focusing instead on employment discrimination and lack of political representation.
In the late 1960s, NOW president Betty Friedan charged that lesbians constituted a “lavender menace” that would overtake the organization and the movement and damage the legitimacy of the movement in the public sphere. In the New York City chapter of NOW, young lesbians had suggested that lesbianism was a feminist issue, which antagonized many women in the local and national organization. While some lesbians, including Rita Mae Brown, left the organization of their own accord, others were purged from the organization. The media picked up on this and started “outing” lesbians in the movement or criticizing women in the movement for being gay or bisexual. When feminist Kate Millett acknowledged her bisexuality, for example, Time magazine (31 August 1970) wrote that it was “bound to discredit her as a spokeswoman for her cause, cast further doubt on her theories, and reinforce the views of those skeptics who routinely dismiss all liberationists as lesbians.” In 1971, NOW endorsed the cause of lesbian rights, but the resolution resolved very little and tensions persisted between feminists and lesbians both in NOW and beyond.
Not based in NOW or radical feminist groups, the feminist fight for lesbian liberation in the 1960s and 1970s was also not based in the LGBT movement. Lesbians started organizing with gay men in the homophile movement during the 1950s. In 1955, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, lesbian partners, founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in San Francisco, and over the next decade, chapters were founded in large cities across the United States. The DOB was the first lesbian organization in the homophile movement and was established to address issues of political and cultural legitimacy as well as self-acceptance among lesbians. At times critical of the sexism of gay men in the homophile movement and in LGBT communities, in the late 1960s the DOB increasingly addressed feminist issues, including equal pay, on-the-job harassment, equal housing opportunities, and sexual freedom. The DOB, however, collapsed in the early 1970s. After the Stonewall Riots of 1969, some lesbians joined the radical gay liberation movement. Gay liberation borrowed heavily from the radical feminist movement that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, arguing that the oppression of homosexuals stemmed from a rigidly enforced sexist system of heterosexual supremacy that supported the primacy of the nuclear family and the reproduction of dichotomous sex roles. While many lesbians embraced gay liberation, they also felt that many men involved in the movement were antiwoman. In a landmark 1970 essay in the Advocate, Martin offered her farewell address to gay men and the gay movement, stating that gay men were more interested in sexual conquest than political advancement and legal equality. Her scathing critique drew attention to sexism in the gay movement as she charged that gay men expected lesbians to conform to heteronormative gender roles.
Radical Feminism and Lesbian Feminism
Ultimately, feminism and lesbianism were more integrated into the radical women’s liberation movement that developed in the late 1960s and 1970s than into any other movement. Many radical women who were passionate about equality, democracy, and social justice had found themselves devalued by men in the New Left, student, antiwar, and civil rights movements and had been expected to offer sexual services as evidence of their commitment to social revolution. In response, many women began to form radical women’s liberation groups. While feminists from all walks of life connected women’s personal dissatisfaction to broader social and political disadvantages, women’s liberationists offered the earliest second wave critiques of the sexual system. Many radical women turned to consciousness-raising (CR) groups as a way to critique the sexual status quo and analyze the erotic as a vehicle for domination in American society. Through CR, feminists came to understand sexuality as an issue of power and politics. While such developments as the invention of the birth control pill offered women greater control over their own sexuality, some feminists offered strident critiques of sex in the United States. For example, rejecting the idea that women were designed sexually to please men, Anne Koedt—in her 1969 essay “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm”—challenged the Freudian notion that women could only achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration. Demolishing this myth had tremendous significance because it challenged the very foundation of heterosexual unions by suggesting that sexual pleasure was obtainable from either men or women. With heterosexuality understood as an option rather than a mandate, women raised new challenges to the sexual status quo.
In addition to issues related to political equality, second wave feminists addressed many issues related to sexuality. Through such landmark publications as Our Bodies, Ourselves (1971), they reclaimed knowledge of their bodies and promoted a feminist approach to health and sexuality. Feminists also attacked the sexual objectification of women and the reduction of women to little more than beings with sex appeal and reproductive organs. They also popularized the notion that rape was not a crime of sexual passion but instead was one of violence and power. Moreover, rape was committed not only by strangers, they observed, but also by acquaintances, friends, lovers, and spouses. Feminists also advocated reproductive freedom and control of fertility. In addition to promoting safe and effective birth control, they sought to dismantle the criminalization of abortion. In 1973, feminists succeeded in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade to strike down laws banning abortions in the first six months of pregnancies.
Many lesbians flocked to the cause of women’s emancipation, but they were not always accepted in feminist organizations. Even among self-identified radical women’s groups, which sought to overthrow the oppressive patriarchal structures within which liberal feminists pursued equality, lesbians did not always find a happy home. While radical feminists offered thorough analyses of the ways in which U.S. society and culture oppressed women and while they focused attention on sexual matters, they typically did not advocate lesbianism as an alternative or as a solution and lesbians frequently felt alienated within radical feminist groups.
In this context, lesbians who had been involved in liberal feminism, radical feminism, and the LGBT movement and straight women who came out as lesbians in the context of feminist activism began to establish lesbian feminist groups in the early 1970s. Such groups as the Furies in Washington, D.C., and Radicalesbians in New York City were the first to articulate a radical feminist politics of lesbianism, arguing that mere acknowledgement of lesbian rights as women’s rights denied the real oppression that lesbians faced and the politics of power that same-sex sexuality introduced into the women’s movement. In 1970, Radicalesbians invented a new, political definition of what it meant to be a lesbian: “What is a lesbian? A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.” Different from male homosexuality and certainly different from female heterosexuality, lesbianism, according to the Radicalesbians’ manifesto, “The Woman-Identified Woman,” was a source of political and cultural power. In separatist cells, groups, and communities, lesbian feminists suggested that lesbianism was the logical outcome of feminism, the ultimate expression of “the personal is political.” In effect and sometimes in practice, they challenged all feminists to come out as lesbians. Over time, a dynamic lesbian feminist movement developed across the United States, having profound influence on LGBT politics and communities.
In time, lesbian feminism and the larger feminist movement developed competing and conflicting politics of sexuality. In the 1970s and 1980s, second wave feminists fought against sexual danger while also embracing sexual pleasure. Feminist analyses of rape, battering, and other forms of violence were central to the movement, but feminist sex radicals rejected the notion that some kinds of sexuality were more feminist than others. Resonant of the cultural conflict between free love advocates and moral reformists, a conflict emerged between “anti-sex” and “pro-sex” feminists, that is, women who emphasized the dangers of sex and those who focused on the pleasures of it. Lesbians were represented prominently on both sides of this conflict. In 1982 the feminist sex wars exploded at a Barnard College conference entitled “Toward a Politics of Sexuality.” Some conveners and participants analyzed sexual pleasure as a source of female empowerment and embraced pornography, lesbian sadomasochism, and femme-butch lesbian identity as a way to “move toward pleasure, agency, and self-definition.” Others, however, encouraged lesbianism in theory and practice because they saw heterosexuality as a vehicle for the continued oppression of women.
The most strident battle over sex emerged over the issue of pornography. Legal theorist Catharine MacKinnon conceptualized sexuality in pornography within a Marxist labor framework—that which is “most one’s own, yet most taken away.” Andrea Dworkin took this idea further, arguing that it is impossible to separate heterosexual intercourse from the social reality of male power. Essentially, the argument was that heterosexual intercourse constituted rape. Together, they developed a strategy to make pornography illegal as an infringement of women’s civil rights. However, many feminists criticized this stance, suggesting that when feminists (including many who identified as lesbian feminists) attacked sex as the primary reason for women’s second-class status, they were being prudish and refusing to acknowledge that sex could be empowering for women.
Other second wave feminists charged the movement with privileging white and middle-class women in defining and representing feminism. Women of color, including lesbians of color, played major roles in each branch of second wave feminism, but they were often alienated by the racism they encountered within the movement. Black lesbian feminist Anita Cornwell, who joined the women’s movement in the late 1960s and wrote about her experiences in articles that were later anthologized in Black Lesbian in White America (1983), was among the first to offer a sustained criticism of racism in the women’s movement. Audre Lorde and Barbara Smith soon offered even more influential antiracist arguments from the perspective of black lesbian feminists. From such critiques, a variety of feminisms emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. Socialist women argued that women’s oppression was rooted in capitalism, which perpetuated a sex-based structure that disadvantaged women; they founded such organizations as Bread and Roses and Cell 16. Women of color developed a variety of distinct and influential feminisms. For example, the Combahee River Collective, which formed in 1977, was a group of black feminist lesbians who sought to combat racism, sexism, heterosexism, and class oppression as interlocking forces in U.S. society. Many women of color felt conflicted about feminism—they wanted to dismantle sexism in society, culture, and law, but they would not overlook white racism that disadvantaged people of color or abandoned men of their races for what they perceived to be white feminism. African American, Latina, Asian-Pacific, and Native American women developed feminisms based upon their inseparable experiences and identities as women and people of color.
Transgender people (and especially male to female transsexuals) also criticized feminism, some for failing to recognize them as women and some for reifying the male-female dichotomy in U.S. culture, politics, and society. For example, at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1994, trans persons were not allowed on the land because festival organizers enforced a policy of admitting only “womyn-born womyn.” In response, trans people and allies formed Camp Trans across the street to draw attention to the anti-trans philosophy of the festival, and by extension, of feminism itself.
Second wave feminism thus can be criticized for failing to deal adequately with sexual difference, sexual pleasure, race, and transgenderism. But it can also be celebrated for opening up discussion of these issues and for inspiring the development of multiple feminisms that focus on precisely these matters.
The Third Wave
In the early 1980s feminism was declared “dead” by the media and the United States moved into an era of anti-feminist backlash, when feminists were routinely accused of being man-hating lesbians. Antifeminists caricatured and misrepresented feminism while also accusing feminists of going too far, alienating men, and causing a variety of social problems. In response, and insisting that feminism had never died, some women (most of them under thirty years of age) began articulating what they called third wave feminism. The term “third wave” stemmed from Rebecca Walker’s founding in 1992 of the Third Wave Foundation, which launched a voter registration campaign that evolved into an organization inspiring feminist activism by women aged fifteen to thirty. While there is no clear split in terms of time between the second and third waves of feminism, third wave feminism is most often articulated by a younger generation of women and men reacting to critiques of second wave feminism leveled by women of color and pro-sex feminists.
Third wave feminists build upon various second wave critiques of feminism as white, straight, and middle class. They strive to come to terms with multiple bases of oppression in relation to multiple axes of identity, recognizing themselves (and people in general) as products of the contradictory definitions of and differences within feminism. Concerned with political issues and conservative, antifeminist political backlash, third wave feminists also address cultural issues of beauty, power, and pleasure—often reclaiming derogatory images, names, and acts (including dyke, girl, and bitch) and redefining them as empowering. They also build upon community-based institutions and cultural resources such as music to express themselves. For example, the early 1990s saw the rise of the Riot Grrl movement, comprised of women’s bands and female singers who coupled images and accoutrements of girlhood, such as miniskirts and baby T-shirts, with images of masculinity, including combat boots and aggressive lyrics and song styles.
By emphasizing multiplicity and a lack of fixity in identities, proponents of third wave feminism embrace “queer” identities, encompassing lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities but also reflecting the reality that sex, gender, and sexuality are fluid and evolving, which means that they can be changed and crossed. Many third wave feminists identify as “pro-sex” and often write positively about lust, sex, and sexuality. With their emphasis on personal narrative in writing and speaking, they see their feminism as one of everyday practice. Lesbian Avengers is an important example of this tradition. Founded in New York City in 1992, six experienced activists offered creative and dramatic tactics to draw attention to queer and feminist issues. As chapters were established across the United States, the Avengers confronted heteronormativity through such tactics as staging kiss-ins at local malls, conducting impromptu parades without permits, and passing out balloons with the slogan “ask about lesbian lives” to schoolchildren. Some third wave feminists have also embraced drag and gender performance as means of self-expression. Drag king troupes across the country reinterpret music and lyrics to reflect feminist awareness and critique of sex, sexuality, and the social construction of gender, and even convene yearly, beginning in 1999, at the International Drag King Conference hosted by Ohio State University in Columbus.
Whether challenging heteronormative practices and laws or openly debating same-sex sexuality, feminists in the United States have always grappled with issues of sex, gender, and sexuality. Feminists have not always agreed upon goals, strategies, and tactics, and the meanings of feminism have changed over time and been affected by race, class, and sexuality as well as by time period, political climate, and culture. In the United States, feminists—self-identified lesbians, women who can be viewed as lesbians, heterosexual women, transsexual persons, and others—have raised challenges to systems of sexual categorization and continue to build social movements to foment feminist change.