chapter  2
46 Pages

Desire by Any Other Name

I begin this w ork on bisexual cartography by exploring the overlap and differences between w om en’s bisexuality and lesbianism in Northampton, Massachusetts. Since the late 1960s, Northampton, and the surrounding areas o f Amherst, South Hadley, and the valley hill

towns-together known as the “ H appy Valley,” from the Connecticut River Valley-have been home to a thriving lesbian community. Northam pton came to the eyes o f the U.S. public in a feature article “ Strange Town Where M en Aren’t W anted” of the National Enquirer in April 1992.1 The sensationalist article dubbed Northam pton “ Lesbianville, U .S .A .,” and gave the exaggerated impression that a third of N ortham pton’s population is lesbian. M ore conservative estimates are that between one tenth and one fifth of the population is lesbian or gay (whether these statistics include bisexuals is never stated).2 W hatever the actual figure, Northam pton holds a prominent place in the lesbian imaginary, serving as a focal point for notions of lesbian identity, community, and possibility within the United States and beyond, much as San Francisco does for gay m en.3 As M ichael Lowenthal notes, “ Northam pton is something of a lesbian M ecca, to which all dykes must make at least one pilgrimage during their lives,” 4 and an article in the Los Angeles Times suggests “ common wisdom holds [that] ‘All lesbians pass through here at least once.’ ” 5 A bisexual wom en’s community has never established itself in N ortham pton, however, though there are numerous bisexual women living there and the attempt has been made to forge such a community on a number of occasions.