The Lesbian

1997
Theatrically-based performance
Props, 32’ long painted backdrop, sound, flyers
Dimensions variable
75 mins

The Lesbian is a performance based on a three-and-a-half month research project in which I drove across the United States interviewing lesbians, documenting evidence of lesbian communities/populations and performing in lesbian living rooms. In the performance, I assume the roles of The Researcher, The Interviewer, The Choreographer, The Girlfriend and The Audience–all of whom are constructed to explain The Lesbian.

In my primary role as The Tour Guide, I lead the audience both through the scenes of the performance and through an imaginary exhibit in what I refer to as the Museum Dedicated to the Natural History of Lesbians.

A 62-minute video, documenting my actual drive across the country, plays throughout the performance. Devoid of images of any lesbian other than myself, the meaning of the video becomes significant for what one does not see. The interplay between the video, which has no images of lesbians, and the text, which refers to an exhibition that is physically absent, creates a performance situation in which the audience must construct meaning from absence rather than presence.

The relationship between absence and presence becomes a context in which to understand the construction of identity. Dislodged from a specific location, the authenticity of “The Lesbian” is challenged and she can no longer function as a subject. Unable to situate, define or locate “The Lesbian”, she becomes positioned everywhere and nowhere. Referencing Denise Riley’s notion of a “fluctuating identity,” I attempt to develop a discourse of lesbian identity which acknowledges the essentialism of identity politics but also the necessity of retaining “lesbian” as a discursive and political tool.

The Lesbian, postcard, enacts this fluctuation in a condensed visual image of the linguistic label “The Lesbian” graphically floating across a typical all-American landscape photograph.