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Literary Crossdressing - Desire

This group covers works where cross-dressing in a work of literature creates a context for either the appearance or the reality of same-sex desire. This can include a woman desiring another woman who is presenting as a man, but it can also include encounters between a woman and a man who is presenting as a woman.

LHMP entry

Despite their statistical commonness, singlewomen were treated as an anomaly without a recognized role in society, especially after the Reformation removed the option of convents as a marriage-alternative in Protestant countries. The feminist historians’ goal of recovering women’s identities has leaned on two assumptions: that “single” women were rarely actually alone, and that unmarried women’s identities can be revealed in their relations to other women.

Comic drama traditionally relies on and enforces the stereotypes and norms of heterosexual marriage. Most Elizabethan comedies do not present female singlehood and independence as a viable option, even when used as a transitional motif in the plot. Comedic resolutions overwhelmingly require the pairing off of single women into heterosexual marriages. Female resistance raises the questions: Must women marry? And must women marry men? Rarely are those questions answered in the negative. John Lyly stands out in offering a negative response.

This book looked interesting at a quick glance, and was reasonably priced. I picked it up for the chapter entitled "Textile Concerns: Holy Transvestites and the Dangers of Cross-Dressing." The substance is a lot less useful for my purposes, though not necessarily as an absolute judgment. It appears to be intended as a textbook for "general survey" type history courses. The sort taken by people who aren't history majors, but are taking it as an elective.

Blud's book is focused primarily on philosophy and literary criticism, and employs a lot of theory jargon. This is not a book about historic substance and data, but an analysis that plays with ideas, using Old and Middle English texts as a unifying theme.

This article looks at four heroines in French literature of the 13-14th centuries whose stories involved either transvestite or transsexual elements or both. What the stories dance around, without treating it directly is homosexuality, both male and female. Cross-dressing motifs, either men disguised as women or women disguised as men are not rare, and create an ambiguous situation where homosexual possibilities can emerge.

When one of my summaries is basically a list of contents, either it means that the publication is really thin on relevant content, or it means that it’s so rich that you simply need to buy the book and put it in a cherished place on your shelf. This one is the latter. At least half the contents apply to women’s experiences (although it’s still true that the male-authored female-relevant content far outnumbers the female-authored male-relevant content) and the collection includes many of the oft-cited texts from the covered period. Far from all, but an excellent place to start.

Amer begins by tackling the Whorfian-tinged assertion that the lack of a specific terminology for lesbianism in medieval Europe contributed to a lack of modern scholarship about same-sex desire between women in that era, by noting that the existence of a diverse and specific vocabulary for the topic in medieval Arabic (sahq, sihaqa, musahaqat, al-nisa’, sahiqa) hasn’t resulted in a vibrant field of study. This is particularly disappointing given the significant surviving literature on the topic.

Lanser opens her article with the bold hypothesis that “in or around 1650, female desire changed.” That there was a conceptual shift in gender relations reflected in literature, politics, religion, and individual behavior in which private intimate relationships between women became part of public life, and that this shift shaped women’s emergence as political subjects claiming equal rights.

[Note: I originally picked this up thinking that it would cover literary female cross-dressing knights as well as male ones. Although the article is entirely about men cross-dressing as women, it helps to round out the picture of how medieval people viewed clothing as a gender signifier and some of the asymmetries of cross-gender behavior.]

Putter looks at the phenomenon of (male) cross-dressing knights, both in historical records and in chivalric romances and considers how the topic contributes to our understanding of gender and sex categories in the middle ages.

The article takes a critical look at the concept of “chastity” as an attribute of the mythical goddess Diana, especially as interpreted in early modern literature and art, and at the depiction of Diana as the focus and leader of a community of women who reject romantic and erotic interactions with men, but engage in those interactions with each other.

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