Policing the boundaries : issues of identity and community in New Zealand lesbian newsletters 1973-1992 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Women's Studies at Massey University
The concept of identity was taken for granted as a basis for political activity by lesbian feminist communities worldwide in the 1970s and 1980s. An examination of the history and implications of this concept, using the writings of Fuss, Cohen, Stein, Phelan and Alice, reveals that it has sometimes been deeply implicated in narrow, rigid, essentialist thinking. There is little evidence of attempts during those decades to deconstruct the notions of identity on which were based key theories such as the political implications of the personal, political correctness, and a notion of lesbian 'purity'. In New Zealand, some of the implications of understanding 'lesbian identity' as universal can be examined through the lesbian newsletters. The collectives which put together these newsletters from 1973 to 1992 wrote with an implicit faith in the notion of 'lesbian identity politics' and in the dictum 'the personal is the political'. This belief limited what they could see as in possibilities of relationships with other lesbians, with other feminists, with gay men, and with the wider community of New Zealand society at the time. A careful, detailed reading of the nationally available newsletters gives a picture of the emergence of 'political correctness', although there are also traces of evidence of other lesbians for whom the idea of political correctness is unacceptable. The presentation of the issues of the place of separatism, expressions of sexual desire, relationships with heterosexual feminists and with other 'queer' groups, reveals how the 'personal' was politicised in terms of narrow notions of identity. Political issues which the newsletters represented as especially affecting lesbians include Homosexual Law Reform and widening amendments to the Human Rights Legislation, some of the policies of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, and issues around race and racism. Examination of how these issues were dealt with in the newsletters shows how the framework of lesbian identity politics limited how these 'political' issues were made personal for readers.