“In Amerika They Call Us Dykes”: The Evolution of the Lesbian Chapter in “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

The writers of the first stapled, newsprint edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” – which contained only a short section on “homosexuality” — first met in 1969. This was the same year that patrons of a New York gay bar, The Stonewall Inn, fought back against the police during a routine raid, sparking the nascent gay liberation movement. The movement, along with the burgeoning feminist awakening of the time, prompted many – including the readers and writers of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” – to question their sexuality, their relationships, and their ways of being in the world.

The 1973 edition reflected these questions and societal changes, and “homosexuality” – now referred to as lesbianism – had, for the first time, its own chapter: In Amerika They Call Us Dykes. (Read the full chapter.)

Over the next 40 years and across nine U.S. editions, the chapter continued to explore the lives and experiences of lesbians, bisexual women, and queer and trans people. The chapter’s evolution reflects changes in language as well as changes in cultural understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.

To learn more, see:

The “Dykes” Chapter: Response to “In Amerika They Call Us Dykes” as a Representation of Lesbian Participation in the 1970s US Women’s Health Movement
A wonderful paper, written by Rachel Looff, that takes an in-depth look at how the first chapter – which was written not by the founders of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective but by an anonymous gay collective – came to be. It examines the conflicts and solidarity between the groups as well as the defining role of lesbians in the women’s health movement.

In America They Call Us Empowered: Lesbianism and “Our Bodies, Ourselves”
Written by Melinda Schottenstein, this paper shows the impact of the chapter, and how, by removing the stigma of lesbianism, it united and empowered the gay and straight feminist communities.

Reexamining Gender and Sexual Orientation: Revisioning the Representation of Queer and Trans People in the 2005 Edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”
Elizabeth Sarah Lindsey, the author of the new 2005 chapter, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, talks about her goals in writing the chapter: for readers to understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender and to understand that gender isn’t always determined by sex.

GLBTQ Representation in “Our Bodies, Ourselves”
In this video presentation, OBOS founder Wendy Sanford and 2005 book contributors Shannon Berning, Elizabeth Lindsey, Gordene MacKenzie and Hawk Stone talk about how the book grew and changed to serve lesbians, bi women, and trans people.

Writing the Relationships Chapter: How a Conversation Became the Text
In 2010, in preparation for writing for the next edition, OBOS organized an online discussion forum on relationships and sexuality. The 37 participants identified as straight, lesbian, bisexual and asexual; married, partnered and single; monogamous and polyamorous; cisgender and transgender. The 2011 edition did not have a unique “lesbian” chapter, but instead featured the stories, perspectives and experiences of the participants throughout the four chapters on relationships and sexuality.