The identity terms “queer” and “lesbian” often overlap, as both can be used to describe women and woman-aligned people who love other women. Is the term “queer” then appropriate to use in reference to self-identified lesbians? Through qualitative interviewing, this study explores the formation of a lesbian identity for nine lesbians, and their attitude towards the term “queer.” A lesbian identity seems to be empowering in many aspects of respondents’ lives, including in the exploration of gender identity as well as empowering in the formation of a community; however, the process of accepting a lesbian identity seems to be a difficult one. Results of this study indicate that many lesbians have faced societal pressures and biases against the word “lesbian,” and thus find the lesbian identity to be hard-won. Due to the bias against the word lesbian and the ambiguity of the label queer, many lesbians find “queer” to be an unfit personal label. In this study, the label “queer” seems to generalize lesbian identities, and blur the distinct boundary of the word “lesbian,” which is one that explicitly leaves no room for men.
Bruce Loeffler received a B.S. in Chemistry from Harvey Mudd College. He did graduate work at M.I.T. and Harvard and ultimately received his Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He taught Geology at Colorado College from 1977 to 1999. He participated in the LGBT Oral History project via a written exchange with Andrew Wallace between September 20th and October 5th in 2011.
Virginia “Ginger” Morgan graduated from Colorado College in 1986. She received Masters in Theological Studies from Vanderbilt. She was Assistant Director of Admission at Colorado College from 1987-1990, Associate Chaplain (and Acting Chaplain) from 1990-2005, and Associate Dean of Students 2005-2012. She was interviewed for the LGBT Oral History project on May 17 2012.
Despite extensive scholarship exploring relationships between space, gender, and sexuality, little attention has been given to lesbian/queer subjects in everyday heterosexual spaces such as bars. Furthermore, there is an absence of work addressing the bartender as a social actor. This research confronts those gaps by examining the social power of lesbian bartenders in straight bars to facilitate lesbian networks, and to cultivate and maintain “quiet queer spaces”—structurally heterosexual and socially heteronormative spaces that temporarily and covertly double as safe spaces for queer populations. By drawing on previous scholarship, and conducting a primary investigation through interviews and observations, I examine the creation and maintenance of quiet queer spaces in Colorado Springs bars to conclude that quiet queer spaces are both present and necessary in lesbian networks. I specifically examine the position of the lesbian bartender in straight bars as one of unique social power, essential in the creation and identification of quiet queer space.