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20th c

The strict scope of this project cuts off at the 20th century, but this tag will occasionally be used when a source spills over.

LHMP entry

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)

This article is primarily a mid-20th century case-study of one particular woman from an upper-class clan of southern Iraq who is a poet and lives as a “mustergil”, that is, a woman living as a man. The informant reports that there are perhaps fifty women in her clan alone living as mustergils.

Although this article concerns itself with evidence from 20th century ethnographic work, a number of researchers have suggested that the evidence of folklore and earlier historic references indicate that a recognized role of this type previously existed much more widely in various European cultures. (See, e.g., Clover 1995 covered previously.) The “sworn virgins” represent a trans-gender role, although one expressed with a broad range of variation in gender expression and identity.

Literary women who love women often lament being "the only one" or consider themselves outside of nature, but in the 18th century this begins being transformed into a sense of monstrousness. Versions of Ovid's myth of Sappho's late-life conversion to heterosexuality begin to presage this shift in the early modern era. Though a straightforward reading of Ovid's tragic ending would be that heterosexuality was the death of her, it began to be framed as a retroactive punishment for her previous love for women.

Lesbian sex, per se, has rarely been against the law, but in literature the forbidden nature of lesbian relationships encourages entanglement with murder (in both roles), blackmail, and other staples of crime fiction. This chapter, though, focuses more on the act of detection and the ways in which the identification of lesbians and lesbian behavior parallels the solving of mysteries or crimes. As the specific literary examples in this chapter fall after my project cut-off of 1900, I'll just summarize motifs.

The expression of a self-realized romantic and erotic preference for women significantly predates modern language about “being out". Anne Lister in her ca. 1800 diaries expressed a clear and absolute preference for loving and being loved by women. As a literary motif, this recognition of same-sex preference and the effects it has on a character begins appearing in the later 19th century. But the context of this realization can take the story in many directions.

While the Inseparable motif sometimes employs a male character to bridge the practical logistics of forming a female couple, it is more natural for a triangle of this sort to frame the man and woman as rivals for their shared object of desire. Sappho’s fragment 31 encapsulates the envy of a woman for the man who has the attention of the woman she loves. And in contrast to the common motif of-two men competing for a woman's love, when one of the rivals is a woman there is always an awareness that the playing field is badly uneven.

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