This modest but important history charts the unspoken social and sexual relationships of Sydney lesbians from the 1930s to the late 1970s. It reveals a largely unacknowledged part of Sydney’s history and builds upon previous sexuality scholarship. Unnamed Desires demonstrates the culture of concealing sexual identities in Sydney throughout this period, forced upon lesbians by prevailing heterosexual social values. Unlike histories of sexuality in England and the United States, Jennings shows that the cultural change triggered by feminist, gay and lesbian politics in 1970s Sydney — while liberating in its politics and gendered messages — was much slower to impact upon the individual lives of Sydney’s lesbians, and the silences and concealment continued into the late 1970s.
As the title of the book suggests, lesbian relationships and desire frequently went unnamed and thus have been rendered almost invisible in the historical record. Jennings uses the methodology of oral history to reveal the unnamed desires of Sydney women and how they carefully and fearfully negotiated Sydney spaces to find friendship, love and support. The extensive use of quotes from interviews and autobiographical accounts brings a personal immediacy to the history, while at the same time revealing the cultural silences and awkward social values that still pervade and inhibit discussions of lesbian intimacy. The book makes an original contribution to sexuality and feminist historiography and challenges the assumed trajectory of lesbian politics in Sydney.