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Elwood, Sarah A. “Lesbian Living Spaces: Multiple Meanings of Home.” Journal of Lesbian Studies. vol. 4, no. 1, 2000. 11-27. Co-published simultaneously in From Nowhere to Everywhere: Lesbian Geographies. Ed. Gill Valentine. Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press, 2000. 11-27.
Central to Elwood’s essay is the idea of “home.” She begins by citing previous scholarship on lesbian geographies that have posited “home” as a private space, where lesbians find “refuge” from heterosexism and homophobia in society. However, Elwood seeks to complicate the equation of “home” with “private” and safety, and moreover to disrupt this equation and instead posit lesbian home as a public space by looking at the ways in which “home” is also a site where lesbians make their sexual identity publicly visible in a conscious challenge to heteronormative society, as well as a site of potential public harassment. Most generally Elwood is interested in highlighting the multiple meanings of lesbian home spaces. She argues that the lesbian home is neither solely a cite of affirmation or oppression, and more importantly that when politicized, the lesbian home blurs the boundary between “public” or “private” space. She bases her claims on data gathered through interviews with lesbians in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan areas.
In the first section of her essay, Elwood first reviews geographic literature on “home,” noting its attention to gender as a category of analysis, but critiquing its lack of attention to sexuality. It is this work specifically focusing on “the role of sexual identity in shaping the meanings of domestic spaces” that Elwood is doing (14). After establishing the justification for her work, Elwood demonstrates the heterogeneity of lesbian identities, looking specifically through the lenses of class, religion, and race. From here she posits the heterogeneity of lesbian communities, ultimately stressing heterogeneity as one of the factors contributing to the multiple meanings of lesbian living spaces.
In her next section, Elwood looks at how the lesbian home is both a site of empowerment and oppression. She uses bell hooks’ concept of “homeplace” as a site of empowerment and resistance to society’s oppression as a means of understanding a similarly politicized lesbian homeplace. In short the politicized lesbian homeplace is a home that is used to make lesbian sexuality visible, rather than invisible. Not only is mere visibility empowering, but the connections and community that are formed due to the visibility are also empowering. In terms of the politicized lesbian homeplace as oppressive, Elwood notes that visibility also makes lesbian homeplaces subject to surveillance, sanction, and violence by the society. While she does not ultimately say that lesbian spaces are most often either empowering or oppressing, Elwood does foreground that these spaces are (always already) politicized and in constant struggle with dominant culture. [J. Sapinoso]