Lesbian Feminist Killjoys, Negativity, and Living in a Sinful World

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Tonstad, Linn


This dissertation centers on lesbian feminist public cultures of the 1960s through the 1980s and intervenes in conversations around negativity, temporality, affect, and desire in gender studies, religious studies, and Christian theology. The lesbian feminist’s pessimistic views of sex have led to her dismissal as a manhating, antisex killjoy. However, I elucidate the dynamics by which the generational narratives of feminist and queer studies simultaneously demand the vilification of white lesbian feminists while erasing the work of Black lesbian feminists. Examining the work and reception of Beverly Smith, Andrea Dworkin, Pat Parker, and Jill Johnston, I constructively take up the compelling ways that lesbian feminists have theorized the gendered, racialized, and capitalist logics of sex. Their pessimistic views prompt my turn to sin’s negativity. I develop an account of the pervasive, but uneven, noninnocence of sex and sociality by drawing the archives of lesbian feminism into conversation with the nineteenth-century German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher as well as contemporary Black, womanist, and queer theology. I bring social sin in close relation to total depravity in order to articulate sin’s universality without obfuscating its contingent effects in history. My dissertation theorizes the relationship of sex to notions of negativity—noninnocence, sin, unintelligibility, and social antagonisms—in order to unsettle familiar histories and challenge contemporary scholars to grapple with the contingency and noninnocence of our desires.

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