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Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky and Madeline D. Davis. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
Kennedy and Davis look at a group of lesbians in this book that are largely under-studied. Specifically, they examine working-class lesbians from the mid-1930’s to the early 1960’s in Buffalo, New York. Boots is actually the result of a thirteen-year-long oral history research project designed to focus on the culture of survival and resistance of older, working-class lesbians. What this focus revealed was the centrality of butch-fem roles. A major assumption that Kennedy and Davis work from is that these women’s openness about their lesbianism was crucial not only to the communities they helped form in their own time, but to all lesbian communities which they have provided a model for that have emerged since. They even go so far as to posit that these older lesbians and their lives constitute a prepolitical stage of the 1970’s gay rights movement. Approaching their project from such pre-determined celebratory standpoints drives Kennedy and Davis’ research in a biased manner. While not without its limitations, this study remains groundbreaking work.
In regards to Boots’ relevance to cultural landscape studies, Kennedy and Davis discovered that in their search for working-class lesbians, they found them in public spaces, primarily bar communities. Furthermore, when seeking to uncover lesbian cultures of survival and resistance it was exactly the bar communities that proved to be sites of such politics. Particularly useful to cultural landscapes scholars are chapters 2-4, which “explain the growth and development of the lesbian community, culture, and consciousness in the bars and open house parties of the 1940’s and 1950’s” (25). More specifically, chapter 2 concentrates on the establishment of public lesbian communities; chapter 3 describes the growing public resistance to heteronormative society and the expansion of lesbians’ public presence via lesbian bars; and, chapter 4 examines with more depth how race and class affected community formations within lesbian communities as bars were desegregated and class stratification emerged. Chapter 5, which focuses on how visibility affects the formation of community, identity, and consciousness, may also prove useful to those interested in lesbians (especially butch lesbians) within traditionally defined “public” spaces such as the street. [J. Sapinoso]