I n t r o d u c t I o n
r e C l aiming t H e lo st s e x”
The Lesbian in Cold War Culture
In 1962, Jess Stearn, an associate editor of Newsweek, received an invitation
from the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian civil-rights organization founded
in 1955, to participate in its upcoming national convention in Los Ange-
les.1 Stearn had authored a bestselling book about male homosexuality,
The Sixth Man: A Startling Investigation of the Spread of Homosexuality in
America, and the Daughters of Bilitis, alarmed by the book’s sensation-
alistic approach, hoped that by participating in the convention the jour-
nalist would gain a more objective view of homosexuality. The invitation
described the Daughters of Bilitis as an organization of lesbians who had
made “the adjustment to the social system” and who in learning “self-
acceptance” wanted to provide “assistance” to other women who faced
similar problems.2 The invitation also assured Stearn that the organiza-
tion did not adhere “to any particular point of view” (15) but sought to
strengthen “the bond between the homosexual and society” by engaging
in outreach to sociologists, psychologists, and other experts on lesbian-
ism. Stearn suspected that lesbianism was “just as rampant as male homo-
sexuality, only far more secretive” (9), and he had been toying with the
idea of writing a book on the topic as a follow-up to The Sixth Man. While
researching The Sixth Man, he consulted several experts who believed that
the social upheavals caused by two world wars, combined with women’s
increasing demands for social and economic equality, had given lesbi-
anism “a strong forward thrust” (14). The invitation from the Daugh-
ters of Bilitis confirmed his suspicion that lesbianism was on the rise in
American society, and he embarked on an investigation of the lesbian
subculture, visiting bars and restaurants in New York and Los Angeles
that catered to lesbians, interviewing lesbian couples, as well as “bache-
lor girls,” or femmes who preferred to remain single because of their un-
happy domestic experiences with butches, and consulting psychologists,
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