This book is a glossy, photo-filled companion volume to a museum exhibit on lesbian and gay history in Boston, for a fairly broad definition of those terms. Due to this connection with a museum exhibit, there is a natural focus on material objects, accompanied by a relative minimum of explanatory commentary. The exhibit emphasized the importance of making a historic connection for modern visitors--a “usable history”.
Mills asks (rhetorically) why medievalists rarely discuss transgender frameworks of interpretation, given that medieval people had much clearer ideas about that topic than anything that might be called “sexuality.” Moral polemics focused less on sex acts themselves, than on disruptions of gender, in particular those that violated the strict binary contrast of “male = active, female = passive.” Androgynous (or intersex) persons were recognized as existing, but were required to choose a consistent binary gender identity (or celibacy).
Babayan examines the poetic narrative of a late 17th century Iranian widow’s pilgrimage to Mecca. While this would not appear to be a fertile ground for themes of same-sex desire, the social context of gender segretation and the structures of women’s friendships and relationships brings to light a number of relevant motifs. The article is relatively long and I will be skimming it for these most relevant aspects. Therefore my summary is likely to present a rather skewed understanding of the entirety of Babayan’s analysis.
Following the theme of “who tells your story?”, this set of selections diverges strongly between male and female authors. We have three named male authors including lesbian themes in pornography or crude sexual satires. We have five female authors writing poetry of intense romantic friendships, sometimes tinged with an erotic sensibility but never explicit. And we have two anonymous works of varied nature.
This is Brown's initial discussion of the material published two years later as:
Brown, Judith, C. 1986. Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-504225-5
The association of the name Sappho and the word Lesbian with female homoeroticism is so well entrenched that the question is rarely asked: what evidence do we have that Sappho was a lesbian (in the orientation sense, rather than the geographic one)? And how would such an orientation have been understood in her age and culture? Lardinois addresses these questions from empirical (if scanty) evidence.
Images of women-loving-women were established enough in 16th century England to appear as a character type that was not so much defined as simply assumed, and therefore was available for reference both explicitly and obliquely. Within this general type, there were clear distinctions made between the motifs of desire between women and sexual acts between women. This chapter explores evidence for this character type in non-dramatic sources that were available to early modern English playwrights and their audiences.
This chapter lays out the historic and cultural background of cross-gender behavior in mid-19th century California, and in San Francisco in particular. The demographic effects of the Gold Rush, with its sudden and overwhelming immigration of miners (primarily male) is the most obvious, but this came hard on the heels of the forcible transfer of California from Mexico to the United States, with resulting upheavals in the balance of power between various racial, economic, and religious groups.
Chapter 1 (Introduction)
A discussion of terminology, some of the cross-cultural problems of defining the topic of the book, and a statement of intent.
Chapter 2 (In the Beginning: 40,000-1200 BCE)
In the 5th century CE, Taese and Tsansno**, two women living in a monastery in Southern Egypt were chastised for "running after" other women in "friendship and physical desire". This instance--with its unusual specificity of details--is part of a general discourse on women's homoerotic activities in Late Antique Egypt that is shaped by the (mostly) male monastic writers whose records survive. While this material dates from a fairly late (and geographically peripheral) part of the Roman Empire, enough continuity can be identified to use it as a window on broader Roman thought.