Retroactivism in Textual Assemblages

As archives, textual assemblages can be delivered or communicated to individuals and communities who otherwise lack access to spaces where they could learn about suppressed topics. In her first chapter, “The Daughters of Bilitis Archive: Clearing Historical Space for Clustered Anecdotes,” Bessette examined how grassroots newsletters and the anecdotes they collect amplify an “unruly potential to disrupt cohesive accounts of lesbian stigma” (p. 26) in a space that also legitimizes and circulates these new accounts.

  • • Grassroots newsletters can create and foster a polyvocal space that reveals existing communities, legitimizing members’ experiences and “diffusing disidentification” (p. 34) with lesbian identity.
  • • Reading about and learning from others became critical means of dispelling pathologies that readers encountered from society at large around them.
  • • These newsletters, and the Lesbian/Woman collection eventually assembled from them, provide a means of preserving queer pasts that often were “legible only as desire, as love and intimacy, as performance, as activism” (p. 39) that could only be told from readers’ own perspectives, which official archives did not account for.
  • • Retroactivist rhetorics come into play as editors and readers legitimate and situate themselves within their particular moment and society.