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Foster uses the term sex variance, which she borrows from the sexologist George Henry. Henry worked with a group of researchers in New York City for several decades in the midth century. He used the term sex variance to de- scribe any characteristics or behaviors that deviate from masculine and feminine heterosexual norms. Thus, what we would now term trans- gender movement is included along with bisexual and lesbian identities and behaviors.

Foster uses this framework of Henrys to create a special reading practice in her study of the history of womens sexuality in lit- erature. It also solves obvious historical and literary difficulties. Anything strictly defined as lesbian literature could only go as far back as the early 18th century, at best, and would be confined to very spe- cific social and cultural areas. Literature that had been tremendously significant to lesbians, but was written by men like Charles Baudelaire and Pierre Lous, could not be included. The development of what would become the lesbian identity in literature evolved through texts like Sarah Scotts Millenium Hall and Emile Zolas Nana, which, in various ways, might not fit the definition of lesbian literature.

Foster focuses on representation, rather than on the identities of authors. Beginning in the s and moving into academia in the s and s with the expansion of womens studies and gay and lesbian stud- ies, a number of anthologies and critical works focused on the lesbian identity. This identity was put to a variety of ideological uses and in the process much valuable literature was recovered and republished.

Our understanding of women writers such as Aphra Behn, Sarah Scott and Emily Dickinson was expanded or radically changed by the Lesbian Studies movement. Numerous anthologies of contemporary writing sought to define ever more specific identity positions within the overall category lesbian. Castle, like Foster, chooses items for inclusion on the basis of representation of love between women, rather than on author identity.

Using a methodology based on the historical philosophy of Michel Fou- cault, she focuses on what she calls the lesbian topos in Western lit- erature. Castle traces the development of the idea of the lesbian in West- ern culture. Thus, like Foster, she looks at male and female authors, and at both positive and negative portrayals of women who desired other women.

Jeannette Foster, like many scholars of homosexual literature and culture, begins with classical Greece. The influence of classical studies on studies of sexuality in the West has been tremendous. From 19th- century sexologists to post-modern historians like Michel Foucault, the classical Greek world has functioned as a kind of originary moment for lesbian and gay identities as we have come to understand them. At the same time, orientalist studies have affected fanciful Western notions of sexual deviance and excess.

In the literature translated by orientalist scholars, Western writers have found rich expressions of male homo- eroticism. Travel accounts and political histories have also fed fantasies about the all-female environments that existed in Arab countries and their colonies. These have influenced decadent European literature for centuries.

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From the classical world Foster moves to medieval ballads, which she says are probably influenced by tales translated from the Arabic. Foster cites a ballad called Huon of Bordeaux c. In a world domi- nated, defined and segregated by ideas of gender, in which the mainte- nance of both masculinity and femininity, and the distinction between male and female bodies is one of the primary organizing principles of culture, it is natural that anxieties around gender confusion would often be expressed.

Tales in which women dress as men in order to escape danger or attain freedom are common from the Middle Ages through the early modern period in Europe and from the classical period in South Asia. In many of these tales another women falls for the woman in her male disguise.

In some cases the attraction is physically expressed and occasionally it persists even after the revelation of true identity. In any case these stories differ from modern lesbian stories in that they express a slippage and confusion regarding gender, rather than an active asser- tion of essential identity or romantic choice.

Nevertheless, they allow for the exploration of same-sex desires that must have existed at the time, and they represent a significant development in the history of ex- pressions of same-sex desire in literature. Castle uses this poem, Or- lando Furioso, as the starting point for tracing the evolution of the idea of the lesbian in modern literature. Orlando Furioso contains an inset narrative that tells a tale of cross-dressing gender confusion similar to the ones contained in earlier ballads like Huon of Bordeaux. The poem itself, however, had a widespread influence on the development of mod- ern narrative in Europe.

It is therefore significant that it contains a story of what might very broadly be called a lesbian encounter. It will be ev- ident that transgender and lesbian movement are conflated when one views Orlando Furioso as part of a lesbian tradition in literature. This is a common critical move with a long history that will be discussed fur- ther below.

The early modern period, which we might see as beginning after Ar- iosto and continuing until roughly , saw an increase in tales of cross-dressing, gender confusion and gender transgression. Anyone fa- miliar with the plays of Shakespeare will be able to think of several ex- amples of cross-dressing narratives at this period. Throughout the 17th century, these and similar stories were very common on the British stage. Questions of female masculinity, male femininity, womens sexual agency, the right to public expression for women and the sexual exploitation of women were all debated in this furious exchange of pamphlet literature in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

These concerns make the de- bate recognizably modern, though it is often framed through Christian philosophical notions of the chain of being and womens place within it, which are less common though still extant in the 21st century. These pamphlets show clear evidence of a conscious resistance to ac- cepted norms of gender and sexual behavior they often speak out against this gender deviance, thus inadvertently giving us evidence of its existence , and are thus significantly different to the accidental gen- der farces of earlier literature.

By the early 18th century modern pornography had recognizably emerged. John Clelands Fanny Hill, first published in but written at least a decade earlier, displays a prurient interest in lesbian sexual activity and a clear framework for imagining sexual encounters between women. The novel is structured around ideas of virtue and ro- mance, but these are used as a vehicle for the presentation of a variety of sexual scenarios. On the whole, Cleland, like other 18th century pornographers, celebrates a phallic sexuality that makes the presence of the male necessary for the ultimate satisfaction of women.

Yet the eponymous characters first real sexual encounter is with a woman, and she has this to say about it: What pleasure she had found I will not say; but this I know, that the first sparks of kindling nature, the first ideas of pollution, were caught by me that night; and that the acquaintance and communication with the bad of our sex is often as fatal to innocence as all the seductions of the other. Cleland, 28 Here, Cleland is representing womans active desire, and the idea that two womens desire for each other could be as strong as their desire for men.

Significantly, Phoebe, the character who seduces Fanny, is a hap- pily bisexual woman and lives, like her madam, in a socially indepen- dent female household. Their business, of course, depends on the pa- tronage of men. Some anatomists begin to investigate the clitoris, possibly as a response to the widely known existence of sexual rela- tionships between women and the desire to understand how sex might occur in the absence of the phallus.

Aphra Behn and Katherine Fowler Philips are good examples of this.

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This literature, created by literary circles of domestically educated, wealthy women who were widely read and often widely respected, created a space for female agency to express itself. The travel letters of Lady Wortley Mon- tague famously describe women through an active and appreciative fe- male gaze, significantly complicated by a discourse of race that exoti- cizes the women she describes.

The combination of explicit descriptions of sex between women, evolving expressions of an active female gaze and a discourse of ro- mantic friendship between women in literature created a lesbian space that might exist separately from the transgender movement. Still, the connection between active female desire and the transgres- sion of the bounds of acceptable feminine passivity remained. Fig- ures such as the English writer and actress Charlotte Charke are transgender women who are still claimed uneasily as part of a les- bian tradition.

As today, lesbians and transgender women were con- flated in the popular imaginary, whether or not the individuals in question inhabited both categories. By the late 18th century the diaries and journals of women like the famous Ladies of Llangollen show evidence of a subcultural group of wealthy women who chose to live independently of men. Sarah Scotts utopian novel Millenium Hall describes a world where redemp- tion might be achieved through such partnerships. The literature of this period makes it clear that lesbianism as we know it was not yet as fully imagined, and therefore was not as threatening as it would later become.

Though it is difficult to conceptualize, we must realize that the lesbian identity is a convergence of a number of historical, economic and social developments, and that only a few of these had been reached at this point. The combination of independent and active sexuality with finan- cial self-determination was achieved by only a very few, very privileged women in the 18th century.

Mandy Merck has argued that a male-dominated dis- course of art she is speaking of art cinema in a world where women are commonly objects of visual and imaginative consumption, will nat- urally focus on the lesbian. Denis Diderots La Religieuse The Nun, is possibly the first fully fledged example of the decadent literature of lesbianism that would proliferate in France over the next years.

It is clear that myths of the sexual repression and ignorance of the 19th century give a distorted picture of a reading public that in reality had access to a variety of images of lesbian sex and female same-sex ro- mantic partnerships. This reading public was a much smaller segment of society than it is today and was disproportionately male. Still, a growing female readership clearly had access to ideas of lesbian vice. Both Jeanette Foster, in Sex Variant Women in Literature, and Lillian Faderman, in Surpassing the Love of Men, discuss a sensational court case involving two mistresses of a girls school who were accused of lesbianism in Edinburgh in Miss Woods and Miss Pirie sued their accuser for libel.

One of the questions surrounding this case is whether and how lesbian sexual activity could be popularly imagined the women were actually accused of tribadism. A young witness at the trial, a student at the school, provided quite specific detail of fully gen- ital sexual encounters. During the case itself and in the nearly two cen- turies since, there have been persistent questions about whether this young girl might have invented such details, and about whether the two school mistresses might have had the sexual knowledge, ability and de- sire required to engage in such acts.

The popular idea that lesbian sex was not imaginable at this period is belied both by this trial and by the existence of such widely if privately circulated texts as Fanny Hill and La Religieuse. It is significant, however, that these questions about vis- ibility and the lesbian imaginary persist. A variety of theoretical argu- ments that might explain them will be discussed below. Lister describes both romance and sex in detail. She also documents her life as the transgender figure of a country squire.


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The publication of Listers writings pushed back the historical date at which scholars are willing to imagine something like a contem- porary lesbian identity. It is significant, however, that this identity ex- isted in carefully guarded, upper-class subcultural groups. Economics are a central and often overlooked factor in the possibility for lesbian expression in culture.

Midth-century literature, at least in the middle- and high-brow are- nas, was clearly more sexually conservative than 18th-century literature. A kind of conservative backlash was fed by Europes developing idea of itself as the moral center of a Christian empire. Still, penny dreadfuls and popular ballads, as well as a thriving pornography industry, kept sexual inquiry alive, and found a willing audience. Until the end of the century, English fiction of the middle and upper classes was dominated by the 19th-century realist project, spearheaded by Jane Austen in direct response to the decadence and frivolity of Gothic literature.

Within this fiction, however, the tradition of female romantic friendship continued and developed. Charlotte Bronts Jane Eyre and Villette both describe intense romantic friendships between young women. Nineteenth-century womens poetry began a tradition of passionate expressions of love and desire between women. The two English women writing together as Michael Field embodied a lesbian identity in both life and work. Evidence suggests that they were aware of this to some degree at least, that is, that they viewed their relationship as some- thing more contentious than romantic friendship.

In the s, sensa- tion fiction in Great Britain began to anxiously explore questions of fe- male sexual identity and agency, though it rarely, if ever, suggested lesbianism directly. In France, decadent literature continued to explore female gender transgression and same-sex desire. By the s both Guy de Maupassant and Emile Zola were creating recognizably modern lesbian characters. These women lived independent lives, transgressed the boundaries of feminine passivity, loved each other physically and emotionally, and of- ten cross-dressed. The sig- nificance of this trend and its widespread influence can be guessed by the number of times in English fiction of the same period that a charac- ters dissipation and questionable morality is signified by his or her reading of French novels.

At the same time a tradition of French deca- dent poetry, exemplified by Paul Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire and imitated by the English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, focused on the lesbian figure as a symbol for sumptuous excess, decadent fascina- tion and sometimes horror. Throughout the later 19th century a powerful and highly influential feminist movement gained visibility and avenues for the expression of womens concerns and desires were opened. Jeannette Foster identifies what she calls the masculine protest in novels of the later 19th century.

She describes this as the deliberate adoption of male attire and outlook as a rebellion against the feminine role Foster, At the same time, the scientific discourse of sexology, which emerged in the s and s, began the classification of human subjects according to the degree of deviance from norms of gender and sexual desire. Sexology drew heavily on existing literature, often quoting examples from fiction and poetry. In turn the language and ideas provided by sexology facili- tated a lesbian characterization within the novel that persists into the 21st century.

The conjunction of feminist protest, the conventions es- tablished by decadent literature and the identitarian framework pro- vided by the discourse of sexology together form the tools with which a modern lesbian identity in literature was formed. At the turn of the 20th century numerous women stepped into deca- dent novelistic and poetic traditions, equipped with these tools.

The American-French poet Rene Vivien translated the poet Sappho into modern French and patterned her own life after her, thus creating a model for lesbian identity and community that would persist at least into the s. Agroup of poets and prose writers connected with Vivien and her lover Natalie Clifford Barney carried this tradition into the 20th cen- tury.

These writers were all significant fig- ures in the modernist movement of the early 20th century. Each movement contained a high proportion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender writers, visual artists and musicians among what are considered to be its most significant figures. Bonnie Kime Scott, in The Gender of Mod- ernism, argues that the traditional view of modernist literature as con- cerned with innovations in form and narration is male-centered and mis- leading. An analysis that foregrounds women writers within the movement will show that questions of gender and sexuality mark mod- ernist texts at least as much as narrative experimentation.

Thus Rad- clyffe Halls The Well of Loneliness, which makes no such innovations, can be set alongside Djuna Barnes Nightwood or Rosamund Lehmanns The Weather in the Streets, which do, because all three novels push the boundaries of what can be expressed about womens bodies and desires in fiction. The black American poet Angelina Weld Grimk, though contemporary with these figures, made very different interventions in the expression of womens desires and identities.

Grimk made highly influ- ential antiracist feminist statements with her plays, and influenced the New Negro Movement. Her large body of lesbian love poetry, however, remained unpublished. Hazel Carby and other scholars have examined expressions of dissi- dent gender and sexual identities in womens blues lyrics of the Harlem Renaissance era.

It is here, rather than in fictional works, that the ma- jority of scholars see influential lesbian interventions into American culture made by Harlem Renaissance women. Nevertheless, Nella Larsen and Alice Dunbar Nelson are significant figures in the develop- ment of the contemporary lesbian identity in literature, as the scholar- ship of Gloria T. Hull has made clear. Again, feminism is significant in this period for its assertion of womens active desire and right to free sexual expression. Rosamund Lehmanns bold descriptions of both bisexuality and an unmarried womans abortion were contentious when first published in the s and s.

Representations of both same-sex desire and the availability of birth control were enabled by a feminist movement that talked about womens sexual bodies in new and public ways. Birth control activist Marie Stopes wildly popular Married Love posited a new model of sexual desire based on the cycles experienced by womens bodies. This cannot, realistically, be historically separated from the development of lesbian expressions of active female desire. Figures such as Virginia Woolf demonstrate the connections between early 20th century feminism and the expression of gender transgression and same-sex desire in womens literature.

Once this space for the ex- pression of active desire was created within the culture, and the condi- tions for female economic independence had spread to the middle- classes, the conditions for the emergence of the lesbian identity we know today were met. A great deal of scholarship points to the relationship between the work done by women during the two World Wars and the attainment of greater freedoms for women. It could certainly be argued that the eco- nomic conditions of modernity were affecting rapid changes in, and anxieties about, the roles of women from at least the s.

Neverthe- less, 20th century wars were about production and thus they accelerated the economic changes already in motion. Radlyffe Halls The Well of Loneliness contains a rousing narrative digression on the way in which World War I enabled women to find a new agency and autonomy, and the irrevocable nature of this change. Many American lesbians de- scribed the same set of feelings regarding the work they did during World War II.

In addition, war propaganda that celebrated the strength of women workers on both sides of both wars, departed radically from the view of women as passively feminine. The fierce competition between men and women, Americans of color and white Americans for jobs did indeed undermine many of the gains made by people of color and other women during the war. However, womens discontent with domestic work, paid in the case of many women of color and unpaid in the case of middle-class women did not go away. A profound and powerful dissatisfaction was expressed by women in the United States throughout the s.

This was true, with a great deal of local variation, throughout Eu- rope and the Americas. Both feminist and lesbian literature continued to develop in the postwar period. De Beauvoir was the first theorist to posit the cultural construction of woman, though her lengthy section on lesbian- ism relies heavily on the categories and ideas of deviance set up by sex- ology. In the United States the most important development in postwar les- bian literature was the mass-market publication of literally hundreds of lesbian paperbacks most often referred to as lesbian pulp novels, though many of them were not novels at all.

From scientific studies to literary anthologies to accounts of the lesbian subcultural world that re- semble travel literature to romance novels, publishers of paperback original fiction found the figure of the lesbian highly profitable. This lit- erature is significant for a number of reasons. First and foremost it dis- seminated ideas of lesbian identity and subculture in unprecedented volume. Second, the best of lesbian pulp literature articulates the con- cerns of an emerging feminist movement while even the worst of it highlighted the anxieties around womens work, consumption and sex- uality that dominated the period.

The concerns raised within the work of paperback writers like Ann Bannon and Valerie Taylor form the substance of the popular feminist movement that emerged in the s. Alongside the struggle for lesbian representation, which continued within mainstream feminism after , an emerging and consciously lesbian feminism articulated a spe- cific analysis of the relation between sexism and homophobia. A num- ber of powerful manifestos, including The Woman-Identified-Woman- Manifesto and the Combahee River Collective Statement, exemplify the complex and radical understanding of class, race and gender that marked this movement.

Lesbianism is seen, in these works, as the root radical for overall social change revolution. This idea was influen- tial even among heterosexual feminists, some of whom chose to live for a time as political lesbians. Certain literary works, such as Marge Piercys Woman at the Edge of Time are documents of this era, during which gender dissidence and same-sex desire were champi- oned by otherwise heterosexual feminist writers.

Counteracting the silencing of women in these same arenasthe family, the media, the marketplacewas a major focus of lesbian fem- inist activism. Lesbian feminist literature of the s is marked by ideas of silence, voice and the power of language. The ability to express the victimization of lesbians and other women in language, spoken or written, had been historically denied and was asserted by lesbian femi- nists through independent publishing projects, literary collectives and public readings.

An understanding of how the structure of language it- self denied representation to lesbians and other women and of the rela- tionship between linguistic expression and the experience of reality it- self informed the writing and publishing efforts of lesbian feminists like Audre Lorde, Judy Grahn and Joan Nestle. This focus on the radical na- ture of expression and representation eventually formed a basis for the first organized academic interventions in lesbian literary studies. By the s in Western Europe and the Americas, certain classes of women became the subjects of a new relationship to work, media and consumption.

Capitalism proved itself flexible enough to contain ex- pressions of womens active sexual desire, mostly, as in previous decades, through consumption. A publishing industry, a sex industry and a number of professional sectors now absorbed women as active agents of various needs and desires. Sexism remained, but the popular- ity of feminism waned. Still a strong core of lesbian feminists contin- ued to write and publish, and to extend and deepen queries about the na- ture and functions of the lesbian identity.

During this period numerous anthologies reflected the engagement of the lesbian feminist movement with its former limitations. Independent publishing projects supported lesbians of color in the global north and south, working-class white lesbians, bisexual women and lesbians whose sexual desires and practices had been rejected by an earlier main- stream feminism with a less sophisticated understanding of sex and power. These anthologies not only collected a wealth of poetic and fictional works, but also theoreti- cally challenged the construction of womens sexual identities from a number of positions in terms of class, race, ethnicity and ideas of na- tionhood.

Also significant were the works of theorists and pornogra- phers like Pat now Patrick Califia, who overturned ideas of what fem- inist sexual power might be. Similar questions were reflected in the popular works of lesbian fiction writers like Ellen Galford, Jeanette Winterson and Jackie Kay, all of whom challenge the idea of fixed and stable lesbian identities through their novels.

This trend carried with it fictional and self-reflexive sometimes, as in Wintersons case, overly self-conscious narrative style that is often labelled postmodern, though it does not differ significantly from modernist experiments made by writers like Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes. These interrogations of the nature and stability of the lesbian identity reflect the development of the academic discipline of lesbian studies during the same era. The 19th-century sexologists Have- lock Ellis and Magnus Hirschfeld depended on literary examples for their elucidations of the nature of female same-sex desire.

At the same time they understood the importance of literature as an organ for human in- quiry and understanding. Thus Magnus Hirschfeld regularly published lit- erary reviews of publications dealing with same-sex desire and transgen- der movement and Ellis was persuaded to write the preface for Radclyffe Halls The Well of Loneliness in Here Henry asserts that sexual variance shows itself in so many different ways that all types of imaginative writings have to be studied if we are to under- stand human motivations and behavior Foster, 6.

Thus, a medical jus- tification was argued for a literature that might otherwise have been con- sidered obscene. This trend, conflating erotic and medical literature, is continuous from the 18th through the 20th centuries. Likewise literature that served primarily erotic functions often masked itself as medical or scientific, as in the case of many pulp paperbacks in the s and s. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, literature that describes and expresses female same-sex desire found in medical science a set of dis- courses which enable this expression.

Djuna Barnes Nightwood would not be what it is without psychoanalysis, any more than The Well of Loneliness would be what it is without sexology. The American postwar lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis stated as two of its goals both the dissemination of lesbian literature and the understanding of and co- operation with social and medical science. So, the earliest theories of the lesbian subject that inform literature and literary readings come out of medical science. It is evident from a look at literary studies and lesbian anthologies like Jeannette Fosters and Terry Castles that a conflation between female same-sex desire and female to male transgender movement has persisted for centuries.

Early examples used by both Foster and Castle focus on transgender movement first and same-sex desire only as a consequence of this. This same conflation is reflected in sexological science, which produced the first modern theories of the lesbian subject. Beginning in Germany in the s and continuing well into the 20th century in West- ern Europe and the United States, and until the present day in China, sex- ological studies find and document masculine characteristics in women who desire other women.

In some cases, as in the work of Have- lock Ellis, characterizations of lesbian and bisexual women as transgen- der rest on the idea that ideal masculine and feminine norms do exist and that these women deviate from them. Often these theories are supported by physical examinations and documentations, which, like similar psy- chological investigations, assume ideal male and female bodies. Thus in- finite variations in human morphology and behavior are compared to a mythical norm. Though it cannot possibly exist, this mythical norm re- mains the standard by which the bodies and behaviors of men and women are measured to produce ideas of deviance.

Other sexologists have questioned ideas of masculine and feminine as polar opposites. He [sic] has been thus classified, partly because of the arbitrary desig- nations male and female. As I have shown in All the Sexes, there are any number of possible gradations of human behaviorfrom that of a theoretical masculine to that of a theoretical feminine being.

Whether, like Havelock Ellis, they uphold ideas of an ideal masculinity and femininity or, like George Henry, they seek to promote a new, less dualistic understanding of human sexual biology, sexological thinkers continue to see gender and sexuality as a matter of the body. Psychoanalysis, in its early development, was more dependent on sexology than is commonly acknowledged. Sigmund Freud cites sexo- logical research in essays like Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes, and in one letter refers the mother of a young homosexual man to the work of Havelock Ellis.

From , when the first of Freuds essays were translated into Eng- lish, his work had a tremendous influence on the writing of lesbian, bi- sexual and transgendered women in English. James Strachey, Freuds patient and chosen English translator was associated with the sexually dissident writers of the Bloomsbury Group. Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge record in their journals and letters that they read Freud aloud to each other. Djuna Barnes created long stream-of-consciousness ramblings for her homosexual characters that resemble Freuds famous talking cure, and incorporate ideas of the Oedipal conflict.

Freud built upon and complicated sexological ideas of gender vari- ance and same-sex desire by developing the concepts of aim and object choice. Through his particular and universalizing myth of the childs de- velopment within the family, he articulated a number of ways in which the development of the human sense of self involves desires for and identifications with both the male and female parent. In a clearly pre- ferred scenario the child will ultimately identify with the parent of the same sex and desire the gendred other.

However these are separate ac- tions and might go wrong in any number of ways. At the same time ones object choice preferred object of desiremight be of either the same, the opposite or both sexes. Sexological ideas of masculine and feminine bodies become psychoanalytic ideas of masculine and feminine psyches. Still, same- sex desire is married in many cases to masculine and feminine identifi- cations, aim to object choice. It is famously asserted that Freud claimed that all humans are born bisexual. This is strictly true, but not in the sense in which that term is commonly used.

For Freud a newborn girl has the capacity to desire union with either her mother or her father, but a clearly preferred normal development scenario has her relinquish desire for the mother in favor of desire for the father. The work of Sigmund Freud affected lesbian literature in two important ways. First, the idea of the so-called talking cure popularized the notion that subconscious truths and desires lay beneath the surface of all dialogue and that an unrestricted flow of language might reveal them.

Freuds idea of conscious and subconscious selves, or layers of the psyche, and the notion of free and unfettered narrative flow informed modernist ex- periments in narrative style. Virginia Woolf, H. Hilda Doolittle , Gertrude Stein, Rosamund Lehmann and Djuna Barnes all transformed the talking-cure into their literary investigations of the sexual self.

Sec- ondly, ideas of aim and object-choice and of the fluid nature of the psy- chic sexual self have been incorporated into literary characterization of lesbians since the day they first appeared. Woolfs theoretical ideas about masculine, feminine and androgynous minds, Barnes damaged inverts scarred by loss, and pulp characterizations of lesbian survivors of rape, abuse and domineering mothers and fathers all are enabled by the ideas of psychoanalysis.

Even where writers like Woolf consciously distance themselves from Freuds narrative of sexual development, ev- idence of the influence of his method appears in their work. Medical theories, including psychoanalysis, share an idea of mas- culinity and femininity as somehow essential. Whether gender falls into two categories, or exists as a continuum along which an infinite number of human variables fall, it is psychically or biologically an attribute of the individual.

On the other hand, an important branch of lesbian femi- nist theory sees gender as socially constructed. Gender is a hierarchal social system, rather than a quality attributable to individuals. Gender, according to materialist feminists, is a system created to differentiate one class of humans from another, in order to oppress them. Materialist feminisms have their basis in the work of Fredrich En- gels, specifically his The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State Here Engels argues that women were the first op- pressed class. In order for men to consolidate private property and pass it on through privately controlled families, they must first control the sexuality of their women, in order to ensure the patrimony of their children.

Therefore, through the social contract of marriage and through an array of formal and informal social rules, a womans sexuality was made the private property of the men in her familyfirst her father, who then effectively bartered her to her husband. Heterosexuality then is a system of power, rather than a biologically preferred state. French feminists have recognized the exploitative nature of the marriage con- tract since the 18th century. In Olympe deGouges proposed an en- tirely new and radically fairer marriage contract.

Her work, focusing on the relation of female subjects to the Enlightenment idea of the social contract, engendered a French feminist tradition that continued into the late 20th century lesbian-feminist writings of Monique Wittig. A strong socialist feminism, kept alive throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, saw the oppression of women as part of the maintenance of power by European, male global elites.

In Simone de Beauvoir ar- ticulated a decidedly materialist, but more specifically single-issue, feminism in The Second Sex. This work had a tremendous influence on lesbians and other feminists after World War II. Here, de Beauvoir fa- mously claimed that one is not born, but rather is made into a woman. She therefore popularized the idea that femininity, as separate from bi- ological sex, was a socially constructed set of imperatives and prohibi- tions to which women were held in order to keep them in a subordinate social, political and economic position.

It was only a small step from here to the realization that heterosexuality, depending as it does on es- sentialist notions of masculinity and femininity, is also a social con- struct that supports gender hierarchy. Interestingly, though she was the acknowledged site of origin for many of the most important and radical ideas of postwar lesbian feminism, her own chapter on lesbianism de- pends heavily on sexology and paints a troubled portrait. Popular lesbian paper- backs of the s and early s nearly always associate the journey towards lesbianism with forays into paid labor and economic indepen- dence.

Lesbian feminist writings of the s more explicitly decry the relegation of women to unpaid and alienating labor in the family home and the culture at large. The French feminist Monique Wittig marries an interrogation of the gendered nature of language to a strongly materialist view of sex and gender. Thus Wittig radically synthesizes symbolic and materialist ap- proaches to the lesbian figure.

Femininity, for Wittig, is a position within language and a position within material culture. Gender, as it ap- pears within language, marks a position of subordination within culture. Wittig argues against the naturalization of categories of male and fe- male, masculine and feminine, whether by misogynists or radical femi- nists: By doing this, by admitting that there is a natural division between women and men, we naturalize history, we assume that men and women have always existed and will always exist.

Not only do we naturalize history, but also consequently we naturalize the social phe- nomena which express our oppression, making change impossible. Wittig, 11 At the same time she makes explicit and explains the historical confla- tion of lesbian and female transgender identities. Her materialist analy- sis allows us to see that femininity is a construct designed to keep women in a passive position as sexual objects.

Therefore any move to- ward sexual agency is also a move out of the position of femininity. Wittig then sees the lesbian as the radical category in a materi- alist feminist view of sex and gender. As a sexual agent in a womans body she obviates and thus overthrows artificial constructions of femi- ninity.

What a materialist analysis does by reasoning, a lesbian society accomplishes practically. Wittig, 9. Wittigs influential essays, collected in the straight mind, were first published in the s. At heart, Foucaults theories are also materialist. He was con- cerned with the way in which human identity was the product, or the point of intersection, of any number of interlocking social discourses of power. Much attention is paid to a particular statement of Foucaults, made in his History of Sexuality: Volume One. Here he asserts, citing the development of sexology, that it was not until the latter 19th century that the homosexual became a species.

Foucault does not mean, by this, that there were no people who lived in same-sex romantic and sex- ual relationships before this period, nor even that subcultures built around these behaviors did not exist. Rather, he argues, much like Wit- tig, that sexual identities only become highly visible and widely recog- nized throughout a culture when they are implicated in social relations of power. Throughout his works, Foucault documents an increasing concern with individual identities and bodies as constituents of the so- cial order, arising with industrial capitalism and the growth of modern cities.

In History of Sexuality: Volume One, he counts both the discipline of sexology and the medical hysterisization of womens bodies as forces that marked a change in the meanings of sexual identities and re- lations of power in the 19th century. Medical and scientific taxonomies that arose during this period inspire Foucaults use of the word species in this context. The work of Michel Foucault unleashed sexual identities from no- tions of essentialism and influenced a number of lesbian theorists, such as Sue-Ellen Case and Judith Butler, who questioned historically recog- nized categories of female sexual identities.

Both Butler and Case argue for a view of gender and sexuality as performative. Gender and sex, for these theorists, are a collection of learned behaviors and affects. Les- bian, gay and transgender practices can subvert traditional notions of gender and are thus both codes by which individuals can communicate with each other and open challenges to heterosexual structures of power. Butler and other so-called postmodern theorists after Foucault have looked again at the relationship between the psyche, the body and social institutions and discourses as they meet in the figure of the les- bian.

Butlers work builds upon both psychoanalysis, via Freud and Jacques Lacan, and the interventions in social history made by Fou- cault. She looks at the unstable and shifting relationships between psy- chic and material structures in the creation of the lesbian subjectivity. That is to say, individual women may reflect social ideas of womanhood imper- fectly, thus challenging and mutating these very ideas. These postmodern theories of lesbian subjectivity are similar in many ways to postcolonial interventions that question the stability of identity categories.

The work of Gloria Anzalda is of tremendous significance here. Anzalda refuses to view any identity category as exhaustive and uses her own position as an individual living between national borders, ethnic identities, class boundaries and ideological positions to highlight the contingent nature of each of these identity positions vis vis the oth- ers. As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.

Anzalda, pp. Often she does not provide a parallel tax- onomy for the monolingual reader. Thus her mestiza text itself can make us feel the inadequacy of monolithic identifications. Unless we embrace a blend of languages we cannot understand everything she writes. Her interventions in debates around the lesbian identity in theory, poetry, fic- tion and through a dedicated career in independent publishing of other lesbians and feminists of color have had far-reaching effect.

She is a sig- nificant figure in a longer history of lesbian feminist writers who fore- ground an understanding of the lesbian identity as existing at the inter- section of a number of positions of race, class, nation and language. Poetry and fiction writers such as Jackie Kay have created work that em- bodies the radical literary potential of such an understanding. As an identity position that both creates and embodies anxieties around sexed and gendered structures of power, the lesbian always arises at critical moments in the history of lit- erature and generates a tremendous amount of theorizing.

Likewise in a world where women are the prime objects of visual, and the prime sub- jects of material, consumption, the lesbian is a tremendously lucrative position. Lesbians are put on display for the titillation of both men and women, and they are a growing concern of target marketers seeking new opportunities for creating consumption. Therefore the lesbian con- tinues to be highly visible in culture and theory. Some lesbian writers are now finding mainstream publishing success with openly lesbian novels in a global literature industry.

The theoretical positions outlined above are more important than ever as the lesbian identity continues to operate in the global marketplace. From the earliest publications of Magnus Hirschfelds Jahrbuch fur sexuelle Zwischenstufen in , lesbians have talked about reading as an important part of their process of identification. Lesbian novels were listed in the Jahrbuch, and publicly discussed as important material by members of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which Hirschfeld founded. American lesbian pulp fiction of the postwar era has been re- ferred to by Joan Nestle as lesbian survival literature, the category under which it is housed in the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, New York.

Oral histories from Great Britain, the United States and Aus- tralia repeatedly describe a process by which young women experience same-sex desires, yet do not have a language to describe or communi- cate about them. Trips to the library or corner drugstore in search of dictionary definitions and fictional representations provided the neces- sary explications. It is in literature, as much as in bars or schools, that women describe, again and again, the process of developing a lesbian identity. These stories are often told in a way that makes the young per- son essentially lesbian but without the knowledge to understand her- self, until she finds the literature that gives her that knowledge.

That is to say, that literature is one forum where, between writers and readers, the lesbian identity was created. Narrative is a human instinct. It is the way in which we make sense of the disordered events and impressions that make up our world. In or- der to create and understand identity positions and their functions we tell stories about them and we read and listen to those stories. The nov- elistic form known to critics as the bildungsroman the novel of edu- cation, bildung in German refers both literally to building and to the process of education is a prime embodiment of this process of creat- ing identity through narrative.

In the bildungsroman a typically young hero leaves a closed, often provincial setting, and proceeds through the world overcoming obstacles to eventually find a place in the social structure and a personal identity. The so-called coming out novel is the specifically homosexual form of the bildungsroman. As such, it highlights the way in which narrativizing in literature has been a ma- jor vehicle for the production of what we know as lesbian identity.

For women who love each other, literature has been both a revolutionary and an oppressive tool. For a literature formed by ideas of romance and sensual revelation, the lesbian figure has been a rich mine of ideas and sensations for centuries. NOTES 1. See Joanne Myers, Historical Dictionary of the Lesbian Liberation Move- ment: Still the Rage for a detailed discussion of the history of lesbian feminist debate in the s.

Books by Alumnae Authors

For a specific in-depth study of a government sponsored program of eu- genic extermination practiced on Native Americans see Nancy Gallagher, Breeding Better Vermonters. This Bridge Called My Back. Watertown, Mass. Balzac, Honor de. The Girl with the Golden Eyes. New York: Caroll and Graf, Barnes, Djuna. London: Faber and Faber, De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. London: Vintage, Bront, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: W. Norton, London: Wordsworth, Brooten, Bernadette. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Carby, Hazel. In Sue Fisher and Alexandra Todd eds.

Norwood, N. Castle, Terry. New York: Columbia University Press, Cleland, John. Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. London: Pen- guin, Combahee River Collective. A Black Feminist Statement. In Patrica Bell, Gloria T. Hull and Barbara Smith eds. Old Westbury, N. Diderot, Denis. The Nun. Harmondsworth: Penguin, Oxford: Clarendon, Engels, Friedrich. London: Penguin, Faderman, Lillian. London: The Womens Press, Foster, Jeannette. Sex Variant Women in Literature. Tallahassee, Fla. Foucault, Michel.

Robert Hurley, trans. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Freud, Sigmund. London: Hogarth Press, essay originally published in German in Gallagher, Nancy. Breeding Better Vermonters. Hanover, N. Gautier, Thophile. Mademoiselle de Maupin. Joanna Richardson, trans. Har- mondsworth, England: Penguin, Hall, Radclyffe. The Well of Loneliness. London: Virago, Henry, George. New York: Rinehart and Company, New York: Paul B. Hoeber, Hirschfeld, Magnus ed.

Omnium Gatherum: Alumni & Teaching Staff News

Jahrbuch fr sexuelle Zwischenstufen. Berlin, Some originals and facsimiles are held in the British Library, Euston, London. Honey, Maureen. Amherst, Mass. James, Henry. The Bostonians. Kinsey, Alfred, et al.


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Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: W. Saunders, Lehmann, Rosamund. The Weather in the Streets. Merck, Mandy. Myers, JoAnne. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, Piercy, Marge. Woman at the Edge of Time. The Woman-Identified-Woman Manifesto. Pittsburgh, Pa.

Hollywoods Wartime Women: Representation and Ideology. Ann Arbor, Mich. Research Press, Scott, Bonnie Kime. The Gender of Modernism. Bloomington: Indiana Univer- sity Press, Scott, Sarah. Stopes, Marie. Married Love.

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London: Victor Golancz, Trollope, Anthony. He Knew He Was Right. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Trombley, Stephen. London: Wiedenfield and Nicolson, Wittig, Monique. The Straight Mind and Other Essays. Boston: Beacon Press, Zola, Emile. The concept of abjection is derived from psychoanaly- sis. The most influential developments in the theory of abjection have been made by the psychoanalyst and philosopher Julia Kristeva, in her Powers of Horror Abjection refers to the idea that in or- der to remain psychically whole each human subject must reject that which would engulf or destroy it.

Death, decay, feces and menstrual blood are all material components of the abject. We can never en- tirely separate ourselves from the abject. We all reject and continu- ally produce these things. We are all moving toward death and decay, yet the definition of being is the rejection of death. Kristeva draws on both Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan in arguing that the first thing a child abjects is its mothers body.

Therefore the maternal, the feminine and the material in general are all linked in the theory of ab- jection. The lesbian theorist Judith Butler has developed Kristevas the- ory of abjection in relation to gender in her Bodies That Matter She argues that opposite poles of gendered masculinity and femininity can be maintained only through the abjection of gender- less, transgender or intersex individuals.

The construction of gen- der, she says, operates by exclusionary means. This name was sometimes given to a group of wealthy lesbian, bisexual and transgender women writers, artists and intellectuals who congregated in Paris from to the late s. This group was also sometimes referred to as The Amazons.

This salon was first focused on the poet Rene Vivien and, after Viviens illness and death, around the writer Natalie Clifford Barney. In both versions of anthropological anxiety, the efforts to fix an external boundary are bound to revert to the rift within the self. Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF. Skip to main content. Advertisement Hide. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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