Skip to content Skip to navigation

sex between women

 

This tag is used for any general discussion of erotic physical activity between women or one where more specific terms are not mentioned.

LHMP entry

The paper opens with a consideration of the use of the term “queer” in modern academia, combined with a more literal meaning indicating deviance from the norm. But then it dives into a somewhat unusual use of the word in the diaries of Anne Lister (1791-1840) who appears to use “queer” as a name for female genitalia—a use that doesn’t seem to have a clear origin or parallels.

An “origin story” whereby men turned away from God and began treating women badly, at which a devil came to the women disguised as a woman and taught them grinding. (With the implication that they wouldn’t have been tempted if the men had treated them better.)

A specialized version of the encyclopedia was the catalog of unnatural or monstrous individuals, encompassing deformities, birth defects, and a great many mythical beings. Of particular relevance to sexuality was the fascination for hermaphrodites. Visual representations often portrayed a bilateral dimorphism, with the right half of the individual portrayed as one sex and the left half as the other.

The revival of interest in, and knowledge of, the works and life of Sappho as part of the general revival of classical culture in the Renaissance created a major context for discussing female homoeroticism, although the myth of Sappho’s abandonment of women for a fatal desire for Phaon was also popular.

At the beginning of the year, Anne is once more being annoyed by strangers accosting her on the road and by impertinent letters. After yet another comment about an advertisement taken out in her name seeking a “sweetheart”, she consults a lawyer about the letters, but he advises her to take no notice of them.

In February she goes off to spend time in York with the Belcombes and Marianne. In March they are joined by Isabella (Tib) Norcliffe and it’s clear having all three women in one place is a bit uncomfortable.

While staying with the Belcombes in York, Anne gives Miss Vallance a copy of her secret cypher while at the same time saying she is “getting lukewarm about her.” Anne returns to Halifax in mid-January. In February she writes a very loving letter to Marianne and refers to her as “my wife”. In May she records a sexual fantasy about a local woman Caroline Greenwood, whom she admires, and there are regular notes through the summer about her attraction to various women, though none of these seem to go beyond admiration.

Anne is depressed after Marianne leaves in January. During a visit from Tib Anne tells her that she is no longer as interested in "sleeping with" other women. (Presumably based on the explicit pledges she exchanged with Marianne.) It's unclear whether this is meant to be euphemism or literal but the context suggests the former. Tib teases her about this and continues in the mistaken belief that she will be Anne's life partner at some point. But Anne continues to be less than honest with Tib about her commitment to Marianne, of whom Tib continues to be jealous.

It turns out that Miss Browne seems to be in love with a man that she's known for several years and is unhappy that her parents are set against him. It is becoming clear (even to the oblivious Anne) that Miss Browne has never seen Anne's interest as romantic. And after much internal conflict recorded in February and March, Anne's interest in her fades significantly.

This volume covers 1817 to 1824: Anne Lister lived from 1791 to 1840 at Halifax in West Yorkshire, England. Born one of six children, to an upper class family, the deaths of her four brothers enabled her to inherit Shibden Hall where she then lived with her Uncle James and Aunt Anne (unmarried siblings) from age 24 on, leaving her parental home. Finances were difficult at first but she seems to have had a talent far careful management and eventually had sufficient funds to travel.

Female same-sex desire is generally presented in early modern drama in fictitious constructions: the desire is either mistaken or misdirected. Only in this last chapter do we see examples where knowing desire from one woman to another is presented positively, and may even be celebrated as an ideal over heterosexual desire. Things aren’t always straightforward, even so. Although the desiring woman may believe the object of her desire is a woman, not uncommonly the scenario is defused by involving a gender-disguised man.

Pages

Subscribe to sex between women