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Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community

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This ground-breaking book traces the emergence and growth of a lesbian community in Buffalo, New York, from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s. Based on thirteen years of research and drawing upon the oral histories of forty-five women, authors Kennedy and Davis explore butch-femme roles, coming out, women who passed as men, motherhood, aging, racism, and the courage and pri This ground-breaking book traces the emergence and growth of a lesbian community in Buffalo, New York, from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s. Based on thirteen years of research and drawing upon the oral histories of forty-five women, authors Kennedy and Davis explore butch-femme roles, coming out, women who passed as men, motherhood, aging, racism, and the courage and pride of the working-class lesbians of Buffalo who, by confronting incredible oppression and violence, helped to pave the way for the gay and lesbian liberation movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold captures the full complexity of lesbian culture; it is a compassionate history of real people fighting for respect and a place to love without fear of persecution.


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This ground-breaking book traces the emergence and growth of a lesbian community in Buffalo, New York, from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s. Based on thirteen years of research and drawing upon the oral histories of forty-five women, authors Kennedy and Davis explore butch-femme roles, coming out, women who passed as men, motherhood, aging, racism, and the courage and pri This ground-breaking book traces the emergence and growth of a lesbian community in Buffalo, New York, from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s. Based on thirteen years of research and drawing upon the oral histories of forty-five women, authors Kennedy and Davis explore butch-femme roles, coming out, women who passed as men, motherhood, aging, racism, and the courage and pride of the working-class lesbians of Buffalo who, by confronting incredible oppression and violence, helped to pave the way for the gay and lesbian liberation movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold captures the full complexity of lesbian culture; it is a compassionate history of real people fighting for respect and a place to love without fear of persecution.

30 review for Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community

  1. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    Surprisingly engrossing! I planned to just skim this academic text, expecting it to be dull as dishwater, but I ended up reading it in its entirety. While some of the analysis may seem dull to non-academics, the interviews and anecdotes allow the women being studied to propel their own narrative. It's important for queer women raised in the atmosphere of 2nd wave feminism to have a better understanding of the butch-femme culture that was the dominant feature of mid-century lesbian culture. For t Surprisingly engrossing! I planned to just skim this academic text, expecting it to be dull as dishwater, but I ended up reading it in its entirety. While some of the analysis may seem dull to non-academics, the interviews and anecdotes allow the women being studied to propel their own narrative. It's important for queer women raised in the atmosphere of 2nd wave feminism to have a better understanding of the butch-femme culture that was the dominant feature of mid-century lesbian culture. For those of us who have only experienced the queer culture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, where a greater variety of gender expressions and preferences are generally seen as acceptable, it's easy to stereotype butch-femme dynamics as being sexist or aping heterosexuality. In reality, as this book explains, it was far more complex than that. Butches maintained female identities even as they adopted masculine accessories, and in a time where it was barely acceptable for women to even wear pants. Femmes chose to be with women despite the fact that it would have been far easier for them to "disappear" into straight society. And both groups, through their emphasis on women's sexual pleasure and desire, laid the groundwork for all feminists to claim women's sexual agency outside of the focus on male pleasure. My recommendation for fellow non-academics: skip the introduction, or read it last. The core chapters of the book are much more interesting, and reading about the research methodology isn't essential to learning from, and enjoying, the rest of the book. The footnotes, however, are still quite interesting and help contextualize the interviews and information.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Teri

    Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold is specifically about the history of the Lesbian community of Buffalo, NY from the 1940s-1960s. The authors interviewed a range of women identifying as both butch and femme, as well as those that just simply identify as lesbian. These women were often closeted but sometimes weren't. They spent a lot of time in bars and at house parties. Some were young and naive to the community others were older and acted as mentors to the newcomers of the community. They live Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold is specifically about the history of the Lesbian community of Buffalo, NY from the 1940s-1960s. The authors interviewed a range of women identifying as both butch and femme, as well as those that just simply identify as lesbian. These women were often closeted but sometimes weren't. They spent a lot of time in bars and at house parties. Some were young and naive to the community others were older and acted as mentors to the newcomers of the community. They lived in a society that told them they had to be dainty and subservient to men and husbands. Some were women whose husbands were gay, so each went on with their secret lives, living as the "normal" couple in the mainstream public. For the women who identified as butch, they were able to eventually feel like they could dress the part in the 1940s as women began to dress in slacks and blouses while filling in jobs that men left behind to go to war. They felt more accepted and felt like they could be themselves. Their lives were also often thrown into turmoil as friends and lovers came and went. They kept their true identities hidden from family and at times, the law. Some built lasting relationships that are still going strong today. This book is narrowly focused on one small community which may or may not have had a similar experience to other small communities across the country. The stories are very interesting and at times shocking. Many suffered double oppression of patrimony, relegated to be subservient as women and also second fiddle to the male gay community. These women had to carve out their own niche to find places where they could be out in public and be comfortable with who they were in a society that did not accept them.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ai Miller

    A really great read, and I think much more revealing about butch/fem culture than the works of Les Feinberg (as much as I love Feinberg's work, and appreciate hir work towards liberation.) Kennedy and Davis make incredible use of their interviews; they let their narrators speak for themselves in ways that I think many historians still struggle to do, and their analysis is clearly done with a deep sense of care for the community, while also being realistic about the darker aspects of lesbian comm A really great read, and I think much more revealing about butch/fem culture than the works of Les Feinberg (as much as I love Feinberg's work, and appreciate hir work towards liberation.) Kennedy and Davis make incredible use of their interviews; they let their narrators speak for themselves in ways that I think many historians still struggle to do, and their analysis is clearly done with a deep sense of care for the community, while also being realistic about the darker aspects of lesbian community. The specificity here is also just such a gift; they're so careful to pay attention to what makes this site, and the narrators within this site, important to pay attention to. Their direct engagement with feminists who have really shaped the conversation around butch/fem makes it honestly an incredible resource from that perspective, and blows open the claims made about butch-as-oppressors as well as butch-as-masculine. There are clearly aspects of butch that get dropped out in the focus on "lesbian" as a category made up of women; those who passed as men full-time, for example, are not interviewed and are generally dismissed by the narrators, but I think in combination with Feinberg's work it's totally possible to get a far more realistic understanding of working class butch/fem culture than the misrepresentation of what it is that seems to plague our current understanding. Really, I want to shove this book into the hands of so many, and if butch/fem is something you'd like to learn more about, I'm not sure you can get a more thorough examination than in this book. Just really great work, detailed and so careful while leaving room for so much analysis and moving forward.

  4. 4 out of 5

    carlageek

    Through oral histories, what must have been hundreds of hours of interviews, Kennedy and Davis chronicle the development of the working-class lesbian community in Buffalo, NY, from before the Second World War through the end of the 50s. They draw some provocative conclusions about evolving attitudes toward sexuality, identity, and gender, and in particular about the impact of post-war American society’s conformism and strongly-defined sex roles on butch-fem culture among working-class lesbians. I Through oral histories, what must have been hundreds of hours of interviews, Kennedy and Davis chronicle the development of the working-class lesbian community in Buffalo, NY, from before the Second World War through the end of the 50s. They draw some provocative conclusions about evolving attitudes toward sexuality, identity, and gender, and in particular about the impact of post-war American society’s conformism and strongly-defined sex roles on butch-fem culture among working-class lesbians. In the interest of thoroughness, the book can get a little repetitive, and yet I understand Kennedy and Davis’s desire to let these women speak for themselves. They interviewed 45 women who participated in Buffalo’s gay life in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and that seems even more a precious resource today than it must have 20 years ago when they did the research. The women talk about everything from sex and romance, to jobs and clothes and families, to the bar scene, to their own identities and how they perceived one another. Kennedy and Davis give some attention to race as well; their sample includes Black, Latina, and Native American women, and while they note some integration in the community they examine, there are some differences as well.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lexxi Kitty

    I might be able to get around to a more review review, but for the moment I move the notes I made from the update status part to here. One of the things I've learned is that Ann Bannon was quite good at capturing the lesbian culture. Written and set in the 1950s and 1960s, the culture displayed corresponds to the culture learned of from the oral history presented in Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold. It is somewhat unfortunate that the book pulls mostly from the bar culture. There are reasons I might be able to get around to a more review review, but for the moment I move the notes I made from the update status part to here. One of the things I've learned is that Ann Bannon was quite good at capturing the lesbian culture. Written and set in the 1950s and 1960s, the culture displayed corresponds to the culture learned of from the oral history presented in Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold. It is somewhat unfortunate that the book pulls mostly from the bar culture. There are reasons why it does so, mostly related to how, at the time, if you wished to be openly lesbian you had bars you could go to and . . . . not much else to experience the lesbian culture. At least if you were white. And working class. Blacks had house parties, and then later bars. Unfortunate as I'm not a bar person. So can't relate as well as I might otherwise.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mya Burns

    I've been reading this book for months and I loved it so much. I'm gonna be honest I didnt read the last few chapters because I felt like they were just repeating the same thing, and that's probably the only criticism I have of the book, but it was so educational and taught me a lot about lesbian culture at a time where a lot of people dont think that lesbians really did much to improve conditions for women I've been reading this book for months and I loved it so much. I'm gonna be honest I didnt read the last few chapters because I felt like they were just repeating the same thing, and that's probably the only criticism I have of the book, but it was so educational and taught me a lot about lesbian culture at a time where a lot of people dont think that lesbians really did much to improve conditions for women

  7. 4 out of 5

    E

    This was really interesting, and there's enough narrative/interview quotes to almost disguise the academic text. I admit to skimming the last two or three chapters, but I hung onto every word pertaining to the bar cultures and house parties, things of which I knew nothing about! The narration quotes were very vivid and I wish the photographs had been interspersed throughout instead of put together as a chunk in the middle. I feel like that would work better as we move away from the decades in qu This was really interesting, and there's enough narrative/interview quotes to almost disguise the academic text. I admit to skimming the last two or three chapters, but I hung onto every word pertaining to the bar cultures and house parties, things of which I knew nothing about! The narration quotes were very vivid and I wish the photographs had been interspersed throughout instead of put together as a chunk in the middle. I feel like that would work better as we move away from the decades in question so readers can see the fashion and manner of dress. For people who like ethnographic studies, NY history, LGBTQ history or want to learn something.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    This is an amazing work of sociology. It feels a bit dated at this point, and it's blind spots regarding dealing with the reality of trans and bisexual women are real. Nonetheless, there's no other book like it treating Butch/Femme identity, sexuality, and practices. This is an amazing work of sociology. It feels a bit dated at this point, and it's blind spots regarding dealing with the reality of trans and bisexual women are real. Nonetheless, there's no other book like it treating Butch/Femme identity, sexuality, and practices.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cristine

    Lots of really rich and interesting history!! 4/5 stars because it is extremely dense and repetitive. I skipped a lot of pages with repetitive information.

  10. 4 out of 5

    I-330

    Modern lesbian culture developed in the context of late 19th century and early 20th century, when elaborate hierachical distinctions were made between the sexes and gender was a fundamental organized principle of cultural life. In order for women to achieve independence, they assumed a male role. This adoption of male image by lesbians broke through women's and lesbians' invisibility, a necessity if lesbians wanted to become a part of the public life and to give public expression to their autono Modern lesbian culture developed in the context of late 19th century and early 20th century, when elaborate hierachical distinctions were made between the sexes and gender was a fundamental organized principle of cultural life. In order for women to achieve independence, they assumed a male role. This adoption of male image by lesbians broke through women's and lesbians' invisibility, a necessity if lesbians wanted to become a part of the public life and to give public expression to their autonomy, sexual and romantic interest in women. Factors that contributed to the emergence of lesbian communities and identity: 1. the development of large industrial cities 2. the movement of women from the domestic sphere into the public realm, which allowed them to function somewhat independently of their families 3. the increasing eroticization of the public realm through the development of a consumer society which promoted sexual pleasure and created a culture that separated sex from reproduction and vaued the pursuit of sexual interests. Historians of sexuality identify the turn of the century as a period of transition from the sexual system of the 19th century, based on sexual self-control, to that of the 20th century based on sexual expression. In the 1930s, it turned out to be a challenge for lesbians to establish a public life. Bars were the only opportunity for working-class lesbians to congegrate outside of private homes. Open spaces like parks, beaches, commonly used by gay men, were too exposed adn dangerous for women to express their interest in other women without constant male surveillance and harassment. But even the use of bars was dubious, as bars were the domain of men throughout US history and women's presence in them was controversial. In the 1940s, the effect of WWII not only benefited women's independence and opportunity to work, but also made lesbians more like other women and less easy to identify. Women working in defense industries were outside at all hours, alone or in groups. The absence of 16 mill men made work and neighbourhoods safer and more congenial for women. This allowed the transition for white lesbians from private networks to bars. In addition, they also had their own money and it was no longer unusual for them to go to bars or restaurants alone. Finally, the dress codes changed, allowing lesbians to more openly express themselves through their clothes. However, this more or less applied only to white women. Black lesbians continued to interact primarily at house parties throughout the 1940s. Reasons: 1. the black community was not yet large enough to offer anonymity 2. race relations: there was little posibility for a Black lesbian bar or a fully integrated bar in the downtown area, also a primarily black gay and lesbian bar would have attracted too much unwanted attraction and hostility from the outside world, making them more vulnarable to attacks 3. the black urban culture has a strong history of house parties The ideology of the 1950s was monolithing in valuing the nuclear family as the building block for a strong society and in promoting rigid gender roles as the basis to sical harmony: the man as the breadwinner and the woman as homemaker. Those who came of age during an after the war married the most and also earlier than the generation that immediatly preceded them. Reasons: 1. difficult years of depression 2. WWII 3. the threat of nuclear war Americans of all classes were committed to creating a happy and secure domestic life. Viable alternatives to marriage did not exist and single women were subject to social disapproval or ostracism. The 1950s were also a time for strong persecution of homosexuals and lesbians. This is an undeniable testimony to the development of lesbian and gay subculture durin the 1940s. Without the increased presence of lesbians and gays in the social life, there would have been no need to target them. The virulent antihomosexuality was a way of reinstitutionalising male dominance and strict gender roles which had been disrupted by Depression and the War, but also connected as a part of cultural response to the Cold War. It promoted the idea that the best defense against the enemy abroad was controlling the enemy at home, inlcuding moral and sexual deviance. In the 1950s, the physical violence also increased in lesbian spaces in order to protect it. Factors: 1. the tough and masculine appearances of butches and the frequency with which lesbians were on the streets and in the bars, all of this increased their visibility 2. the antigay fervor (central to the McCarthy era which formented hatred and defensiveness in straights and gays) 3. the rough, tough, rebellious working-class male who did not hesitate to resort to violence and who became a central character in the 1950s mass culture, they invaded lesbian spaces out of a sense of sexual competition In the 1950s, black lesbians initiated the desegragation of white bars as part of a general struggle of African-Americans for a better life. Upwardly mobile lesbians assumed other strategies for resisting oppression that were distinct of the tough lesbians. They attempted to lead normal, acceptable, successful lives while still taking the risk of socializing publicly as lesbians on a regular/limited basis. Each subcommunity developed its own strategies of resistance, and brought a different prepolitical consciousness to the era of gay lib. politics. Butch-fem roles were the organizing principle for the community's relations with the outside world, but they have also been the subject of controversy in the (lesbian) feminist movement for the imitation of the patriarchal system of gender. Butch-fem culture unquestionably drew on elements of the patriarchal gender system, but it also transformed them. Butches were masculine, not men (they were queer) and fems were attracted to masculine womenm, not men. The masculine appearance of butches distinguished them and their fems as different, which made them identifiable among lesbians themselves and the world. To recognize the masculinity and not the queerness of butches distorts their culture and consciousness. Judy grahn: butches develop their persona by patterning themselves after other butches, rather than by imitating men. [...]

  11. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    While non-academics will find parts of this book dry, it is an essential work documenting queer history. I am very impressed by the thorough work put into this text, and how the authors went out of their way to include butches and fems, and people of color as well as white people. With its eye towards intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality, this balanced history offers great insight. The highlights of this book are the chapters about relationships. The interviews relate stories t While non-academics will find parts of this book dry, it is an essential work documenting queer history. I am very impressed by the thorough work put into this text, and how the authors went out of their way to include butches and fems, and people of color as well as white people. With its eye towards intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality, this balanced history offers great insight. The highlights of this book are the chapters about relationships. The interviews relate stories that are sad, sexy, adorable, and amusing. Some of them are just too cute! The chapter discussing serial monogamy is also exceptionally well-crafted and provides much food for thought concerning how we, as creatures of society, view and engage in relationship structures.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    If you're a women-loving woman, read. this. book. ESPECIALLY if you are a young butch (like me!) or femme. You might not always agree with the analysis, or quibble with word choice (there were a few parts where I did, but surprisingly rare, given that I'm a bit of a curmudgeon), but even if you disagreed with every conclusion drawn (and that's highly unlikely - the authors' arguments are well-crafted and backed up by the evidence), it would be worth it for the interview excerpts. If you're a women-loving woman, read. this. book. ESPECIALLY if you are a young butch (like me!) or femme. You might not always agree with the analysis, or quibble with word choice (there were a few parts where I did, but surprisingly rare, given that I'm a bit of a curmudgeon), but even if you disagreed with every conclusion drawn (and that's highly unlikely - the authors' arguments are well-crafted and backed up by the evidence), it would be worth it for the interview excerpts.

  13. 4 out of 5

    joanne

    this was really nice! - interesting insight into how lesbian communities existed and evolved throughout the 1940s and 50s which is actually a fairly long period. - also interesting to see how authors discuss feminism and gay lib in their own context of the 1990s. they seem keen to refute certain ideas that were popular at the time, especially about butch/femme dynamics being inherently restrictive. they would often refer to 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' life, with some awareness of bisexuality this was really nice! - interesting insight into how lesbian communities existed and evolved throughout the 1940s and 50s which is actually a fairly long period. - also interesting to see how authors discuss feminism and gay lib in their own context of the 1990s. they seem keen to refute certain ideas that were popular at the time, especially about butch/femme dynamics being inherently restrictive. they would often refer to 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' life, with some awareness of bisexuality but not very nuanced at all and only some regard for comphet (usually referenced as societal pressures driving women to marry men before or after being active in the gay community). which is more of an observation than a real criticism but it makes me glad that community building and discussion has continued. - more historically grounded sections (how and where they gathered, how different dynamics emerged in different groups etc) were very revealing and the anecdotes helped here but sections about individuals personal lives and relationships felt gossip-y at times and i didn't fully buy into the author's conclusions - lesbians are great. so neat

  14. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

    This is one of the most formative and important books of queer history that I've read. It is very academic, but worth reading slowly to savor every element. There are not enough books that focus solely on queer women out there, and that this book is absolutely full of oral histories and intimate anecdotes makes it invaluable. I learned so much about historical communities, and, in reading in their own words how these women formed their own communities, learned a lot about myself too. I learned, This is one of the most formative and important books of queer history that I've read. It is very academic, but worth reading slowly to savor every element. There are not enough books that focus solely on queer women out there, and that this book is absolutely full of oral histories and intimate anecdotes makes it invaluable. I learned so much about historical communities, and, in reading in their own words how these women formed their own communities, learned a lot about myself too. I learned, I cried, I was inspired. This book is definitely worth tracking down, could not recommend it more highly.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    A classic that still has things to say. Most striking new things I learned were that there was a cultural imperative for butches to be stone and for sex life to be fully focused on fems in this period, and that some women moved their girlfriends in to their family homes with their husbands for periods of years (!).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kye Flannery

    Human, rich, funny, grief-riddled, sustenance.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Signe Olesen

    Real rating: 3.5.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    also for my sex class. Why wasn't I a women studies major? I read this for a paper on butch/femme roles, and I found that David and Kennedy did an excellent job of giving working-class lesbians agency, as oppose to other writers, who tend to explain b/f as a mere replication of heterosexuality and the result of sexology. Truly a great work. also for my sex class. Why wasn't I a women studies major? I read this for a paper on butch/femme roles, and I found that David and Kennedy did an excellent job of giving working-class lesbians agency, as oppose to other writers, who tend to explain b/f as a mere replication of heterosexuality and the result of sexology. Truly a great work.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Oliver

    An amazing journey through the struggles of being a lesbian in the 1930s-1960s. Fascinating stories about butch-fem relationships, as well as the intersection of sexual orientation, race, and class. And, my absolute favorite thing about the book: I found out why so many lesbians, particularly older lesbians, wear pinky rings!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Angel

    one of the best history books. historians/authors collected unbelievable oral histories from over 40 women - recounts 1930s-1940s lesbian culture in buffalo, ny. amazing collection of photographs too.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Korri

    This is a key text (and a rather difficult one to find) in lesbian history, marking one of first and most lengthy (14 years in the making) oral history projects dealing with community life. Although the authors can be repetitive, the use of extensive quotations from the interviewees makes it a gem.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Givens

    It can be repetitive, and it grates on me that the authors insist on making up terms and/or applying existing terms to people who wouldn't have recognized or wanted those terms. But this was a foundational work in lesbian history, and full of information. It can be repetitive, and it grates on me that the authors insist on making up terms and/or applying existing terms to people who wouldn't have recognized or wanted those terms. But this was a foundational work in lesbian history, and full of information.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jasmin

    interesting history of butch femme culture.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tina.

    Another one of those books that I do want to finish, but just don't have time right now. Will definitely return to it at one point, though. Hopefully really soon. Another one of those books that I do want to finish, but just don't have time right now. Will definitely return to it at one point, though. Hopefully really soon.

  25. 4 out of 5

    mr. kate

    I was interested enough to finish the book, but it's very repetitive. I was interested enough to finish the book, but it's very repetitive.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anne Sanow

    Limited in scope because of its academic genesis, it's still a fascinating study of daily life in a particular community. Limited in scope because of its academic genesis, it's still a fascinating study of daily life in a particular community.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Georgia Taylor

    My professor wrote this, she is amazing!!! Woo Women's Studies at U of Arizona!!! WOO! My professor wrote this, she is amazing!!! Woo Women's Studies at U of Arizona!!! WOO!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    I only read the third chapter of this book, "A Weekend Wasn't a Weekend if There Wasn't a Fight: The Tough Bar Lesbians of the 1950s." I only read the third chapter of this book, "A Weekend Wasn't a Weekend if There Wasn't a Fight: The Tough Bar Lesbians of the 1950s."

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    Incredibly detailed and incredibly interesting. A completely honest book and great for understanding butch/femme in the history of our community.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Angela Brinskele

    Unique and interesting look at working class Lesbian history in Buffalo, New York. Without this book this history would have likely been lost.

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