Oral histories of butch lesbian identity and lived experience
13:00 - 14:00
Dr Amy Tooth Murphy
Lectures, talks and seminars
Centre for Intimate and Sexual Citizenship
Sociology, Department of
Dr Roisin Ryan-Flood firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the Centre for Intimate and Sexual Citizenship and Dr Amy Tooth Murphy for an insightful seminar.
Dr Amy Tooth Murphy is Lecturer in Oral History at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she also specialises in Queer History. Her research interests include LGBTQ+ oral history, lesbian history of post-war Britain, oral history theory and methodology, and butch/femme identities. She is a Trustee of the Oral History Society and a Founder and Managing Editor of the peer-reviewed blog, Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality’.
Sally Munt has called butch, ‘the recognizable public form of lesbianism’, similarly identifiable within queer culture and to the outside heterocentric world. However, within the historiography of modern lesbian history, the figure of the butch lesbian has been curiously under-examined. Despite the assumed centrality of butchness and butch identity to modern lesbian subcultures, historians have been slow to devote sustained and detailed exploration into the lived experience of butches (and femmes). Following a period in which butch and femme identities came under criticism from feminist activists and academics, butchness has once again found favour within contemporary queer subcultures engaged in gender disruption and subversion. Nonetheless, the butch lesbian remains an under-theorised figure.
With its commitment to uncovering marginalised and silenced narratives, and to ‘history from below’, oral history provides an excellent framework through which to develop our understanding of butch identity and experience (and LGBTQ+ identities in general). Drawing on new and ongoing research, in this paper I will share some early insights gleaned from oral history interviews I am conducting with self-identifying butch lesbians. In the process I will consider the historical idea of the butch lesbian, interrogating the possibility of a butch genealogy but also recognising the cultural contexts within which butch identity has and continues to be constructed.