Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 2000

Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, edited by Bonnie Zimmerman

reviewed by Claire Hodgson and Allison Mosley

This is a mammoth tome, part of the Encyclopaedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures, and is not a volume that one would read through at one sitting.

The book is very heavily weighted towards the United States – the vast majority of the contributors are American or live in America, and the introduction makes it clear that it is very “US centric”.

The point of an encyclopaedia is to provide easy and quick access to comprehensive information on specific topics and personalities. Whilst we have not had the time to read the entire volume, the topics appeared to be well researched and presented in significant depth, with excellent references to related writings.

We were concerned about the number of “suspect dykes” given autobiographical mention. For example, Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby both have entries – and we would not have expected either. Emily Dickinson has an entry; but the evidence has always been uncertain in relation to her sexuality and it is questionable whether this position can be stated with such certainty as to warrant an entry in the encyclopaedia. At the same time, Doris Day was not mentioned which would seem a regrettable omission given her reported closeted sexuality. During the Cold War period homosexuality was systematically hidden in Hollywood (pace Rock Hudson), and we were surprised that Doris Day was not mentioned as an example of the way the Hollywood media machine excluded lesbians/gays from the mainstream – Ellen DeGeneres is mentioned four times in connection with being in the closet and coming out of it.

Maureen Duffy has an entry as a lesbian poet, playwright and novelist and her support of GALHA is stated. However, the encyclopaedia gives no separate entry on humanism. Religion/spirituality is covered in some depth, as is “womanism”, which appears to be a black cultural phenomenon, both religious and secular : – “The secular use of ‘womanist’ is by African American women who either have left the Black Church because of its gender bias and/or homophobia, or do not come from the Black Church religious experience, and/or are not Christians. These women use the term to identify a culturally specific form of women-centred politics and theory.”

The encyclopaedia is not user-friendly. The Subject Guide (at the front) lists all the topics covered, giving, for example, a long list of biographical subjects – but no page numbering is given for even the subject heading, let alone an individual entry. If you see that there is an entry in the subject guide on something you want to know about – you have to go to the index.

It would be easier to find one’s way round on a CD-ROM with a search facility, as a key word would find what you wanted immediately – as it is, we found we were backwards and forwards to and from the index, which was fairly tedious.

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Created : Sunday, 2000-05-07 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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