Pain and the Lesbian Body

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Over the past decade, we have each had pronounced experiences with pain which have punctuated our ongoing conversations about literature, queer theory, feminism, and daily life. While we have casually mused about the relationship between our experiences of pain and our sexual identity, this conversation is an attempt to explore such issues more fully.

 

Ruthann Robson: When I was enduring lots of physical pain and trying to cope with it, I looked to writings by other lesbians. But one of the things I’ve noticed is that in lesbian and feminist theorizing, there seems to be more depth in the work on erotica and S/M than in health issues. Even in health crisis narratives, the experience of pain is noted, but essentially unexplored.

Sima Rabinowitz: There does seem to be a tendency in writing by (maybe even about) lesbians to link most subjects to our sexuality in its narrower sense—the sex in sexuality. Not that this is a simple or uninteresting or uncomplicated subject, of course. And clearly it has a lot to do with the larger complex of issues we might call “identity.” But it does seem to exclude as much as it includes, excluding, in fact, many ideas and experiences that are essentially physical in nature, such as pain.

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Ruthann Robson is professor of law at the City University of New York School of Law and the author of the novel a/k/a (1997), as well as other collections of fiction. Sima Rabinowitz is a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Witness, The Brooklyn Review, Elixir, and other publications.

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