Drastic Dykes and accidental activists
Mims, La Shonda Candace
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Lesbian histories exist somewhere between the academic disciplines of history and gender studies. Southern lesbian histories barely exist at all. Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia share an important place in New South lesbian history as sites of urban connection and identity formation. Within the social spheres of Atlanta and Charlotte, lesbians formed communities that changed over time in response to the shifting urban landscape. This historical analysis of Charlotte’s and Atlanta’s lesbian communities highlights the gaps in southern history, queer history, and women’s history. Lesbians in these two southern cities will serve as the vehicle through which I seek to understand religion, race, politics, gender, economic development, class, and urban history in Charlotte and Atlanta. The development of Charlotte and Atlanta as bastions of the southern Sun Belt ideal rested on political and economic decisions that were heavily informed by religious influences. Religious conservatives held sizeable power in both cities, and often challenged economic or political commitments to seemingly immoral causes. These challenges necessarily informed identity and community creation for lesbians. The story I aim to tell is one of twentieth century southern identity— created at the highest and lowest levels of power. This dissertation reshapes the story of southern women’s history, but also the story of the twentieth-century Sun Belt South. Placing lesbians at the center of southern history is a vital retelling of a familiar story. My goal is to sharpen the edges of southern history and complicate traditional historical narratives. To broadly question tenacious stereotypes of gender and sexuality in the South is to topple the strongholds of southern history. By taking apart the familiar concepts of southern femininity, the southern belle, and genteel sexuality, my work seeks to upend historical narratives of southern women reframing them in a feminist, sexual, activist, and social light. Women who chose to live their lives with women in the New South challenged the traditional structures of gender, and created spaces that would define urban economies and reshape the urban landscape.