More from The Psychology of Sex, vol. 2, Sexual Inversion, by Havelock Ellis, 1919, which, I have just discovered, is available online!
Ellis speaks with the tone of a scientist studying cases of abnormal specimens of humanity; he refers to them as “cases” sometimes; he studies them physically and asks for any family history of illness. There is a chapter called The Nature of Sexual Inversion in which he attempts to provide measurable differences between “inverts” and “normal people” and to suggest reasons for the inversion, but he falls short. In fact, it is clear from what he wrote that he found out absolutely nothing about the nature of “inversion.”
He studied what appears to be only a handful of people. He doesn’t give the precise number. There is no universal physical difference apparent among homosexual women or homosexual men. He does write about some observations he’s made but they don’t add up to anything, and they often contradict each other.
For example, inverted women might be unusually hairy, or they might not be:
“There seems little doubt that inverted women frequently tend to show minor anomalies of the piliferous system, and especially slight hypertrichosis and a masculine distribution of hair.” p253
“A woman physician in the United States who knows many female inverts similarly tells me that she has observed the tendency to growth of hair on the legs.” p 254
“Someone I know told me that the homosexuals she knows have hair on their legs.” Okay, yeah, that’s really good research there. “My friend told me so” is totally a conclusive proof of a scientific fact. Newsflash: straight women have hair on their legs too.
“While inverted women frequently, though not always, convey an impression of mannishness or boyishness, there are no invariable anatomical characteristics associated with this impression. There is, for instance, no uniform tendency to a masculine distribution of hair. Nor must it be supposed that the presence of a beard in a woman indicates a homosexual tendency.” p251
So we’ve established that homosexual women might be hairy, or they might not be, and they might have hair on their legs, but women with beards aren’t necessarily gay. Okay then!
He also made observations that homosexual women tend to be muscular and have lower voices. The evidence is entirely subjective.
“Apart from the complicated problem presented by the hair, there are genuine approximations to the masculine type. The muscles tend to be everywhere firm, with a comparative absence of soft connective tissue; so that an inverted woman may give an unfeminine impression to the sense of touch. A certain tonicity of the muscles has indeed often been observed in homosexual women. Hirschfield found that two-thirds of inverted women are more muscular than normal women, while, on the other hand, he found that among inverted men the musculature was often weak.
Not only is the tone of the voice often different, but there is reason to suppose that this rests on a basis of anatomical modification. At Moll’s suggestion, Flatau examined the larynx in a large number of inverted women, and found in several a very decidedly masculine type of larynx, or an approach to it, especially in cases of distinctly congenital origin. Hirschfield has confirmed Flatau’s observations on this point. It may be added that inverted women are very often good whistlers; Hirschfield even knows two who are public performers in whistling. It is scarcely necessary to remark that while the old proverb associates whistling in a woman with crowing in a hen, whistling in a woman is no evidence of any general physical or psychic inversion.” p255–256
There is no measure of what “more muscular” even means. Can inverted women lift more weights than straight women? I don’t see any numbers here. If the women he studied were indeed “more muscular” than usual, it could be because they were doing more manual labour. Didn’t he observe that these women tended to dress as men and take on men’s jobs? Their muscle development isn’t from being gay, it’s from exercising the muscles. Also, he believed that “several” of them had a masculine larynx, or an “approach to a masculine larynx.” This is very, very subjective. Did he measure somehow how low a pitch their voices could go to? Why not test them out using a piano or tuning fork and give us a pitch? Nope. Just his subjective observation that their larynxes were “masculine.” He observed earlier that female inverts liked to smoke. Couldn’t their voices be lower from smoking?
He seems to have studied the genitals of his “case studies,” which I find thoroughly disturbing. He found that inverted women’s genitals are either small or big:
“As regards the sexual organs it seems possible, so far as my observations go, to speak more definitely of inverted women than of inverted men. In all three of the cases concerning whom I have precise information, among those whose histories are recorded in the present chapter, there is more or less arrested development and infantilism. In one a somewhat small vagina and prominent nymphaea [labia minora], with local sensitiveness, are associated with oligotrichosis [less than normal amount of hair]. In another the sexual parts are in some respects rather small, while there is no trace of ovary on one side.” p256
He keeps trying to make a case that sexual inverts have arrested development or infantilism. He also talks about our youthful faces. But here, even though he claims she has a “small vagina” (I shudder to think how he measured it), he also reports “prominent” labia on the same woman. So how is he even concluding that her genitals are “small” if her labia are “prominent?” Does only the vagina count?
“An enlarged clitoris is but rarely found in inversion and plays a very small part in the gratification of feminine homosexuality. Kiernan refers to a case, occurring in America, in which an inverted woman, married and a mother, possessed a clitoris which measured 2 ½ inches when erect. Casanova described an inverted Swiss woman, otherwise feminine in development, whose clitoris in excitement was longer than his little finger, and capable of penetration. The older literature contains many similar cases.” p258
These are probably cases of intersex, and he knows this, but this disproves his point that female sexual inverts have small genitals, doesn’t it? He said the same thing about homosexual men. Their genitals are either big or small:
“The circumstances under which many of my cases were investigated often made information under this head difficult to obtain, or to verify. In at least 4 cases the penis is very large, while in at least 3 it is small and undeveloped, with small and flabby testes. It seems probably that variations in these two directions are both common, but it is doubtful whether they possess as much significance as the tendency to infantilism of the sexual organs in inverted women seems to possess. Hirschfield considers that the genital organs of inverts resemble those of normal people. He finds, however, that phimosis is rather common.” p289
This is hilariously absurd. He examined only 7 people, and observed that their genitals were either large or small, and then says that it seems probable that male homosexuals vary in their penis size. Duh! Kinda like all other males! And I loved the comment about how homosexuals resemble “normal people.” Nice.
Also, male homosexuals may or may not be able to whistle:
“The frequent inability of male inverts to whistle was first pointed out by Ulrichs, and Hirschfield has found it in 23 per cent. Many of my cases confess to this inability, while some of the women inverts can whistle admirably. Although this inability of male inverts is only found among a minority, I am quite satisfied that it is well marked among a considerable minority.” p291
He then goes on to prove that the inability to whistle doesn’t automatically make you gay. No need for non-whistling straight guys to panic.
By the end of the chapter it is evident that he is making subjective speculations based on very little actual research and that he is generally full of shit. When you’re trying to find physical differences between homosexuals and “normal people” and you’re going on about “23 per cent can’t whistle” you know you’ve lost your case. There isn’t any physical difference between gay and straight people.
When he attempts to explain how people become gay, he is hilariously clueless again. He believes the condition is “congenital,” in other words, that we are “born this way,” but he is unable to provide any evidence of a biological basis for sexual orientation. So, naturally, he starts making shit up.
“The rational way of regarding the normal sexual instinct is as an inborn organic impulse, reaching full development about the time of puberty. During the period of development suggestion and association may come in to play a part in defining the object of the emotion; the soil is now ready, but the variety of seeds likely to thrive in it is limited. That there is a greater indefiniteness in the aim of the sexual impulse at this period we may well believe. This is shown not only by occasional tentative signs of sexual emotion directed toward the same sex in childhood, but by the frequently ideal and unlocalized character of the normal passion even at puberty. But the channel of sexual emotion is not thereby turned into an abnormal path. Whenever this happens we are bound to believe—and we have many grounds for believing—that we are dealing with an organism which from the beginning is abnormal. The same seed of suggestion is sown in various soils; in the many it dies out; in the few it flourishes. The cause can only be a difference in the soil.” p309–310
This is a lot of words that don’t say anything. Homosexuals have different “soil.” Okay. He goes on like this:
“If, then, we must postulate a congenital abnormality in order to account satisfactorily for at least a large proportion of sexual inverts, wherein does that abnormality consist? Ulrichs explained the matter by saying that in sexual inverts a male body coexists with a female soul: anima muliebris in corpore virile inclusa. Even writers of scientific eminence, like Magnan and Gley, have adopted this phrase in a modified form, considering that in inversion a female brain is combined with a male body or male glands. This is, however, not an explanation. It merely crystallizes into an epigram the superficial impression of the matter.” p310
So there it is! After trying to describe homosexuals as having “different soil,” he then rolls out the “female brain in a male body” thing. You know what I see here? I see a bunch of overhyped and inadequate researchers trying to figure out what makes people gay, and since they have absolutely no idea, they are pulling theories out of their asses. The only true thing here is that last sentence, which is a fancy way of saying “that’s just an oversimplification of what people tend to think.”
He also has a cute theory about “male germs” and “female germs” that are present around the developing fetus.
“Putting the matter in a purely speculative shape, it may be said that at conception the organism is provided with about 50 per cent of male germs and about 50 per cent of female germs, and that as development proceeds, either the male or the female germs assume the upper hand, until in the maturely developed individual only a few aborted germs of the opposite sex are left. In the homosexual, however, and in the bisexual, we may imagine that the process has not proceeded normally, on account of some peculiarity in the number or character of either the original male germs or female germs, or both, the result being that we have a person who is organically twisted into a shape that is more fitted for the exercise of the inverted than of the normal sexual impulse, or else equally fitted for both.” p311
I’m kind of amazed at how beautiful a disaster that paragraph is.
Ellis has a tendency to quote his “correspondents” in this book. His one “correspondent,” called “M.N.,” had this to say about homosexual men:
“To me it appears that the female element must, of necessity, exist in the body that desires the male, and that nature keeps her law in the spirit, though she breaks it in the form. The rest is all a matter of individual temperament and environment. The female nature of the invert, hampered though it is by its disguise of flesh, is still able to exert an extraordinary influence, and calls insistently upon the male.” p284.
This guy M.N. is a really homophobic dickface. He’s implying here that it’s a natural law that only a female can desire a male. Nope. On the same page, he argues that homosexuals are always unfulfilled:
“There is, however, one terrible reality for the invert to face, no matter how much he may wish to avoid it and seek to deceive himself. There exists for him an almost absolute lack of any genuine satisfaction either in the way of the affections or desires. His whole life is passed in vainly seeking and desiring the male, the antithesis of his nature, and in consorting with inverts he must perforce be content with the male in form only, the shadow without substance.” p284.
Read that paragraph a few times. Seriously. He’s saying that gay men are really women, and they’ll never be fulfilled because the gay men they’re with are women too, which means they’ll never be with the “real” men they really want. A gay man is apparently the shadow of a man, without the substance, due to his feminine nature.
The whole “woman’s brain in a man’s body” thing was made popular by 19th century sexologists who were trying to figured out what caused homosexuality, and this was one of the theories they pulled out of their asses because they didn’t have any concrete facts to present. We still don’t know what causes homosexuality, but I would argue that we don’t need to know what causes it. We don’t need to know what causes some people to prefer red over blue, or why some people enjoy music more than visual art, or why some people put ketchup on their fries while others don’t. We don’t scrutinize behaviors unless we think they’re a problem. Homosexuality isn’t a problem.
I wonder if it ever occurred to these homophobic windbags to ask a gay person why they are attracted to the same sex?
Here’s why I’m attracted to women:
- Because women are fucking hot
- Because women are capable of deep, fulfilling relationships (men are about as useful as lumps of clay in that regard)
- Because the sex I have with women is AMAZING
That’s why. Actually, I think what really requires an explanation is why any women are attracted to men. I don’t get it. And don’t give me the “to continue the species” thing. Homosexuals can have babies. We are fertile! And we do reproduce!
These 19th century homophobic weirdos are really entertaining, but what really puzzles me is why we are still promoting their dumb ideas like they have any merit. Homosexuals aren’t born in the wrong body and we don’t have the soul of the opposite sex. It is normal female behavior to love other females. Being attracted to women doesn’t make us men. In each generation, around 5–10% of women love other women. Sometimes we even wear trousers and drink and smoke! These are things that women do.
[Studies in the Psychology of Sex by Havelock Ellis, 1919, vol. 2 “Sexual Inversion” (p 246–250).]
Cases have been recorded of inverted women who spent the greater part of their lives in men’s clothing and been generally regarded as men. I may cite the case of Lucy Ann Slater, alias the Rev. Joseph Lobdell, recorded by Wise (Alienist and Neurologist, 1883). She was masculine in character, features and attire. In early life she married and had a child, but had no affection for her husband, who eventually left her. As usual in such cases, her masculine habits appeared in early childhood. She was expert with the rifle, lived the life of a trapper and hunter among the Indians, and was known as the “Female Hunter of Long Eddy.” She published a book regarding those experiences. I have not been able to see it, but it is said to be quaint and well written. She regarded herself as practically a man, and became attached to a young woman of good education, who had also been deserted by her husband. The affection was strong and emotional, and, of course, without deception. It was interrupted by her recognition and imprisonment as a vagabond, but on the petition of her “wife” she was released. “I may be a woman in one sense,” she said, “but I have peculiar organs which make me more a man than a woman.” She alluded to an enlarged clitoris which she could erect, she said, as a turtle protrudes its head, but there was no question of its use in coitus. She was ultimately brought to the asylum with paroxysmal attacks of exaltation and erotomania (without self-abuse apparently) and corresponding periods of depression, and she died with progressive dementia. I may also mention the case (briefly recorded in the Lancet, February 22, 1884) of a person called John Coulter, who was employed for twelve years as a laborer by the Belfast Harbor Commissioners. When death resulted from injuries caused in falling down stairs, it was found that this person was a woman. She was fifty years of age, and had apparently spent the greater part of her life as a man. When employed in early life as a man-servant on a farm, she had married her mistress’s daughter. The pair were married for twenty-nine years, but during the last six years lived apart, owing to the “husband’s” dissipated habits. No one ever suspected her sex. She was of masculine appearance and good muscular development. The “wife” took charge of the body and buried it.
A more recent case of the same kind is that of “Murray Hall,” who died in New York in 1901. Her real name was Mary Anderson, and she was born at Govan, in Scotland. Early left an orphan, on the death of her only brother she put on his clothes and went to Edinburgh, working as a man. Her secret was discovered during an illness, and she finally went to America, where she lived as a man for thirty years, making money, and becoming somewhat notorious as a Tammany politician, a rather riotous “man about town.” The secret was not discovered till her death, when it was a complete revelation, even to her adopted daughter. She married twice; the first marriage ended in separation, but the second marriage seemed to have been happy, for it lasted twenty years, when the “wife” died. She associated much with pretty girls, and was very jealous of them. She seems to have been slight and not very masculine in general build, with a squeaky voice, but her ways, attitude, and habits were all essentially masculine. She associated with politicians, drank somewhat to excess, though not heavily, swore a great deal, smoked and chewed tobacco, sang ribald songs; could run, dance, and fight like a man, and had divested herself of every trace of feminine daintiness. She wore clothes that were always rather too large in order to hide her form, baggy trousers, and an overcoat even in summer. She is said to have died of cancer of the breast. (I quote from an account, which appears to be reliable, contained in the Weekly Scotsman, February 9, 1901).
Another case, described in the London papers, is that of Catharine Coome, who for forty years successfully personated a man and adopted masculine habits generally. She married a lady’s maid, which whom she lived for fourteen years. Having latterly adopted a life of fraud, her case gained publicity as that of the “man-woman.”
In 1901 the death on board ship was recorded of Miss Caroline hall, of Boston, a water-color painter who had long resided in Milan. Three years previously she discarded female dress and lived as “husband” to a young Italian lady, also an artist, whom she had already known for seven years. She called herself “Mr. Hall” and appeared to be a thoroughly normal young man, able to shoot with a rifle and fond of manly sports. The officers of the ship stated that she smoked and drank heartily, joked with the other male passengers, and was hail-fellow-well-met with everyone. Death was due to advanced tuberculosis of the lungs, hastened by excessive drinking and smoking.
Ellen Glenn, alias Ellis Glenn, a notorious swindler, who came prominently before the public in Chicago during 1905, was another “man-woman,” of large and masculine type. She preferred to dress as a man and had many love escapades with women. “She can fiddle as well as anyone in the State,” said a man who knew her, “can box like a pugilist, and can dance and play cards.”
In Seville, a few years ago, an elderly policeman, who had been in attendance on successive governors of that city for thirty years, was badly injured in a street accident. He was taken to the hospital and the doctor there discovered that the “policeman” was a woman. She went by the name of Fernando Mackenzie and during the whole of her long service no suspicion whatever was aroused as to her sex. She was French by birth, born in Paris in 1836, but her father was English and her mother Spanish. She assumed her male disguise when she was a girl and served her time in the French army, then emigrated to Spain, at the age of 35, and contrived to enter the Madrid police force disguised as a man. She married there and pretended that her wife’s child was her own son. She removed to Seville, still serving as a policeman, and was engaged there as cook and orderly at the governor’s palace. She served seven successive governors. In consequence of the discovery of her sex she has been discharged from the police without the pension due to her; her wife had died two years previously, and “Fernando” spent all she possessed on the woman’s funeral. Mackenzie had a soft voice, a refined face with delicate features, and was neatly dressed in male attire. When asked how she escaped detection so long, she replied that she always lived quietly in her own house with her wife and did her duty by her employers so that no one meddled with her.
In Chicago in 1906 much attention was attracted to the case of “Nicholai de Raylan,” confidential secretary to the Russian Consul, who at death (of tuberculosis) at the age of 33 was found to be a woman. She was born in Russia and was in many respects very feminine, small and slight in build, but was regarded as a man, and even as very “manly,” by both men and women who knew her intimately. She was always very neat in dress, fastidious in regard to shirts and ties, and wore a long-waisted coat to disguise the lines of her figure. She was married twice in America, being divorced by the first wife, after a union lasting ten years, on the ground of cruelty and misconduct with chorus girls. The second wife, a chorus girl who had been previously married and had a child, was devoted to her “husband.” Both wives were firmly convinced that their husband was a man and ridiculed the idea that “he” could be a woman. I am informed that De Raylan wore a very elaborately constructed artificial penis. In her will she made careful arrangements to prevent detection of sex after death, but these were frustrated, as she died in a hospital.
In St. Louis, in 1909, the case was brought forward of a young woman of 22, who had posed as a man for nine years. Her masculine career began at the age of 13 after the Galveston flood which swept away all her family. She was saved and left Texas dressed as a boy. She worked in livery stables, in a plough factory, and as a bill-poster. At one time she was the adopted son of the family in which she lived and had no difficulty in deceiving her sisters by adoption as to her sex. On coming to St. Louis in 1902 she made chairs and baskets at the American Rattan Works, associating with fellow-workmen on a footing of masculine equality. One day a workman noticed the extreme smallness and dexterity of her hands. “Gee, Bill, you should have been a girl.” “How do you know I’m not?” she retorted. In such ways her ready wit and good humor always disarmed suspicion as to her sex. She shunned no difficulties in her work or in her sports, we are told, and never avoided the severest tests. “She drank, she swore, she courted girls, she worked as hard as her fellows, she fished and camped; she told stories with the best of them, and she did not flinch when the talk grew strong. She even chewed tobacco.” Girls began to fall in love with the good-looking boy at an early period, and she frequently boasted of her feminine conquests; with one girl who worshipped her there was a question of marriage. On account of lack of education she was restricted to manual labor, and she often chose hard work. At one time she became a boiler-maker’s apprentice, wielding a hammer and driving in hot rivets. Here she was very popular and became local secretary of the international Brotherhood of Boiler-makers. In physical development she was now somewhat of an athlete. “She could outrun any of her friends on a spring; she could kick higher, play baseball, and throw the ball overhand like a man, and she was fond of football. As a wrestler she could throw most of the club members.” The physician who examined her for an insurance policy remarked: “You are a fine specimen of physical manhood, young fellow. Take good care of yourself.” Finally, in a moment of weakness, she admitted her sex and returned to the garments of womanhood.
In London, in 1912, a servant-girl of 23 was charged in the Acton Police Court with being “disorderly and masquerading,” having assumed man’s clothes and living with another girl, taller and more handsome than herself, as husband and wife. She had had slight brain trouble as a child, and was very intelligent, with a too active brain; in her spare time she had written stories for magazines. The two girls became attached through doing Christian social work together in their spare time, and resolved to live as husband and wife to prevent any young man from coming forward. The “husband” became a plumber’s mate, and displayed some skill at fisticuffs when at length discovered by the “wife’s” brother. Hence her appearance in the Police Court. Both girls were sent back to their friends, and situations found for them as day-servants. But as they remained devoted to each other arrangements were made for them to live together.
Another case that may be mentioned is that of Cora Anderson, “the man-woman of Milwaukee,” who posed for thirteen years as a man, and during that period lived with two women as her wives without her disguise being penetrated. (Her “Confessions” were published in the Day Book of Chicago during May, 1914.)
It would be easy to bring forward other cases. A few instances of marriage between women will be found in the Alienist and Neurologist, Nov., 1902, p. 497. In all such cases more or less fraud has been exercised. I know of one case, probably unique, in which the ceremony was gone through without any deception on any side; a congenitally inverted Englishwoman of distinguished intellectual ability, now dead, was attached to the wife of a clergyman, who, in full cognizance of all the facts of the case, privately married the two ladies in his own church.
When they still retain female garments, these usually show some traits of masculine simplicity, and there is nearly always a disdain for the petty feminine artifices of the toilet. Even when this is not obvious, there are all sorts of instinctive gestures and habits which may suggest to female acquaintances the remark that such a person “ought to have been a man.” The brusque, energetic movements, the attitude of the arms, the direct speech, the inflexions of the voice, the masculine straightforwardness and sense of honor, and especially the attitude toward men, free from any suggestion either of shyness or audacity, will often suggest the underlying psychic abnormality to a keen observer.
In the habits not only is there frequently a pronounced taste for smoking cigarettes, often found in quite feminine women, but also a decided taste and toleration for cigars. There is also a dislike and sometimes incapacity for needle-work and other domestic occupations, while there is often some capacity for athletics.
[Studies in the Psychology of Sex by Havelock Ellis, 1919, vol. 2 “Sexual Inversion” (p 235–244).
Case study of a sexual invert (homosexual) named “Miss D.” The date of birth is not provided, but from details in her narrative I can tell she is at least 35 years old at the time of the interview, which was published in 1919, so she may have been born in the 1870s or 1880s.]
Miss D., actively engaged in the practice of her profession, aged 40. Heredity good, nervous system sound, general health on the whole satisfactory. Development feminine but manner and movements somewhat boyish. Menstruation scanty and painless. Hips normal, nates small, sexual organs showing some approximation toward infantile type with large labia minora and probably small vagina. Tendency to development of hair on body and especially lower limbs. The narrative is given in her own words:—
“Ever since I can remember anything at all I could never think of myself as a girl and I was in perpetual trouble, with this as the real reason. When I was 5 or 6 years old I began to say to myself that, whatever anyone said, if I was not a boy at any rate I was not a girl. This has been my unchanged conviction all through my life.
“When I was little, nothing ever made me doubt it, in spite of external appearance. I regarded the conformation of my body as a mysterious accident. I could not see why it should have anything to do with the matter. The things that really affected the question were my own likes and dislikes, and the fact that I was not allowed to follow them. I was to like the things which belonged to me as a girl,—frocks and toys and games which I did not like at all. I fancy I was more strongly ‘boyish’ than the ordinary little boy. When I could only crawl my absorbing interest was hammers and carpet-nails. Before I could walk I begged to be put on horses’ backs, so that I seem to have been born with the love of tools and animals which has never left me.
“I did not play with dolls, though my little sister did. I was often reproached for not playing her games. I always chose boys’ toys,—tops and guns and horses; I hated being kept indoors and was always longing to get out. By the time I was 7 it seemed to me that everything I liked was called wrong for a girl. I left off telling my elders what I did like. They confused and wearied me by their talk of boys and girls. I did not believe them and could hardly imagine that they believed themselves. By the time I was 8 or 9 I used to wonder whether they were dupes, or liars, or hypocrites, or all three. I never believed or trusted a grown person in consequence. I led my younger brothers in everything. I was not at all a happy little child and often cried and was made irritable; I was so confused by the talk about boys and girls. I was held up as an evil example to other little girls who virtuously despised me.
“When I was about 9 years old I went to a day school and began to have a better time. From 9 to 13 I practically shaped my own life. I learned very little at school, and openly hated it, but I read a great deal at home and got plenty of ideas. I lived, however, mainly out of doors whenever I could get out. I spent all my pocket money on tools, rabbits, pigeons and many other animals. I became an ardent pigeon-catcher, not to say thief, though I did not knowingly steal.
“My brothers were as devoted to the animals as I was. The men were supposed to look after them, but we alone did so. We observed, mated, separated, and bred them with considerable skill. We had no language to express ourselves, but one of our own. We were absolutely innocent, and sweetly sympathetic with every beast. I don’t think we ever connected their affairs with those of human beings, but as I do not remember the time when I did not know all about the actual facts of sex and reproduction, I presume I learned it all in that way, and life never had any surprises for me in that direction. Though I saw many sights that a child should not have seen, while running about wild, I never gave them a thought; all animals great and small from rabbits to men had the same customs, all natural and right. My initiation here was, in my eyes, as nearly perfect as a child’s should be. I never asked grown people questions. I thought all those in charge of me coarse and untruthful and I disliked all ugly things and suggestions.
“Every half-holiday I went out with the boys from my brothers’ school. They always liked me to play with them, and, though not pleasant-tongued boys, were always civil and polite to me. I organized games and fortifications that they would never have imagined for themselves, led storming parties, and instituted some rather dangerous games of a fighting kind. I taught my brothers to throw stones. Sometimes I led adventures such as breaking into empty houses. I liked being out after dark.
“In the winter I made and rigged boats and went sailing them, and I went rafting and pole-leaping. I became a very good jumper and climber, could go up a rope, bowl overhand, throw like a boy, and whistle three different ways. I collected beetles and butterflies and went shrimping and learned to fish. I had very little money to spend, but I picked things up and I made all traps, nets, cages, etc., myself. I learned from every working-man I could get hold of the use of all ordinary carpenters’ tools, and how to weld hot iron, pave, lay bricks and turf, and so on.
“When I was about 11 my parents got more mortified at my behavior and perpetually threatened me with a boarding-school. I was told for months how it would take the nonsense out of me—‘shape me,’ ‘turn me into a young lady.’ My going was finally announced to me as a punishment to me for being what I was.
“Certainly, the horror of going to this school and the cruel and unsympathetic way that I was sent there gave me a shock that I never got over. The only thing that reconciled me to going was my intense indignation with those who sent me. I appealed to be allowed to learn Latin and boys’ subjects, but was laughed at.
“I was so helpless that I knew I could not run away without being caught, or I would have run away anywhere from home and school. I never cried or fretted, but burnt with anger and went like a trapped rabbit.
“In no words can I describe the severity of the nervous shock, or the suffering of my first year at school. The school was noted for its severity and I heard that at one period the elder girls ran away so often that they wore a uniform dress. I knew two who had run away. The teachers in my time were ignorant, self-indulgent women who cared nothing for the girls or their education and made much money out of them. There was a suspicious reformatory atmosphere, and my money was taken from me and my letters read.
“I was intensely shy. I hated the other girls. There were no refinements anywhere; I had no privacy in my room, which was always overcrowded; we had no hot water, no baths, improper food, and no education. We were not allowed to wear enough clean linen, and for five years I never felt clean.
“I never had one moment to myself, was not allowed to read anything, had even not enough lesson books, was taught nothing to speak of except a little inferior music and drawing. I never got enough exercise, and was always tired and dull, and could not keep my digestion in order. My pride and self-respect were degraded in innumerable ways, I suffered agonies of disgust, and the whole thing was a dreary penal servitude.
“I did not complain. I made friends with a few of the girls. Some of the older girls were attracted to me. Some talked of men and love affairs to me, but I was not greatly interested. No one ever spoke of any other matters of sex to me or in my hearing, but most of the girls were shy with me and I with them.
“In about two years’ time the teachers got to like me and thought me one of their nicest girls. I certainly influenced them and got them to allow the girls more privileges.
“I lay great stress upon the physical privations and disgust that I felt during these years. The mental starvation was not quite so great because it was impossible for them to crush my mind as they did my body. That it all materially aided to arrest the development of my body I am certain.
It is difficult to estimate sexual influences of which as a child I was practically unaware. I certainly admired the liveliest and cleverest girls and made friends with them and disliked the common, lumpy, un-educated type that made two-thirds of my companions. The lively girls liked me, and I made several nice friends whom I have kept ever since. One girl of about 15 took a violent liking for me and figuratively speaking licked the dust from my shoes. I would never take any notice of her. When I was nearly 16 one of my teachers began to notice me and be very kind to me. She was twenty years older than I was. She seemed to pity my loneliness and took me out for walks and sketching, and encouraged me to talk and think. It was the first time in my life that anyone had every sympathized with me or tried to understand me and it was a most beautiful thing to me. I felt like an orphan child who had suddenly acquired a mother, and through her I began to feel less antagonistic to grown people and to feel the first respect I had ever felt for what they said. She petted me into a state of comparative docility and made the other teachers like and trust me. My love for her was perfectly pure, and I thought of hers as simply maternal. She never roused the least feeling in me that I can think of as sexual. I liked her to touch me and she sometimes held me in her arms or let me sit on her lap. At bedtime she used to come and say good-night and kiss me upon the mouth. I think now that what she did was injudicious to a degree, and I wish I could believe it was as purely unselfish and kind as it seemed to me then. After I had left school I wrote to her and visited her during a few years. Once she wrote to me that if I could give her employment she would come and live with me. Once when she was ill with neurasthenia her friends asked me to go to the seaside with her, which I did. Here she behaved in an extraordinary way, becoming violently jealous over me with another elderly friend of mine who was there. I could hardly believe my senses and was so astonished and disgusted that I never went near her again. She also accused me of not being ‘loyal’ to her; to this day I have no idea what she meant. She then wrote and asked me what was wrong between us, and I replied that after the words she had had with me my confidence in her was at an end. It gave me no particular pang as I had by this time outgrown the simple gratitude of my childish days and not replaced it by any stronger feeling. All my life I have had the profoundest repugnance to having any ‘words’ with other women.
“I was much less interested in sex matters than other children of my age. I was altogether less precocious, though I knew more, I imagine, than other girls. Nevertheless, by the time I was 15 social matters had begun to interest me greatly. It is difficult to say how this happened, as I was forbidden all books and newspapers (except in my holidays when I had generally a reading orgy, though not the books I needed or wanted.) I had abundant opportunities for speculation, but no materials for any profitable thinking.
“Dreaming was forced upon me. I dreamed fairy-tales by night and social dreams by day. In the nightdreams, sometimes in the daydreams, I was always the prince or the pirate, rescuing beauty in distress, or killing the unworthy. I had one dream which I dreamed over and over again and enjoyed and still sometimes dream. In this I was always hunting and fighting, often in the dark; there was usually a woman or a princess, whom I admired, somewhere in the background, but I have never really seen her. Sometimes I was a stowaway on board ship or an Indian hunter or a backwoodsman making a logcabin for my wife or rather some companion. My daythoughts were not about the women round about me, or even about the one who was so kind to me; they were almost impersonal. I went on, at any rate, from myself to what I thought the really ideal and build up a very beautiful vision of solid human friendship in which there was everything that was strong and wholesome on either side, but very little of sex. To imagine this in its fullness I had to imagine all social, family and educational conditions vastly different from anything I had come across. From this my thoughts ran largely on social matters. In whatever direction my thoughts ran I always surveyed them from the point of view of a boy. I was trying to wait patiently till I could escape from slavery and starvation, and trying to keep the open mind I have spoken of, though I never opened a book of poetry, or a novel, or a history, but I slipped naturally back into my non-girl’s attitude and read it through my own eyes. All my surface-life was a sham, and only through books, which were few, did I ever see the world naturally. A consideration of social matters led me to feel very sorry for women, whom I regarded as made by a deliberate process of manufacture into the fools I thought they were, and by the same process that I myself was being made one. I felt more and more that men were to be envied and women pitied. I lay stress on this for it started in me a deliberate interest in women as women. I began to feel protective and kindly toward women and children and to excuse women their responsibility for calamities such as my school-career. I never imagined that men required, or would have thanked me for, any sort of sympathy. But it came about in these ways, and without the least help that I can trace, that by the time I was 19 years of age I was keenly interested in all kinds of questions: pity for downtrodden women, suffrage questions, marriage laws, questions of liberty, freedom of thought, care of the poor, views of Nature and Man and God. All these things filled my mind to the exclusion of individual men and women. A soon as I left school I made a headlong plunge into books where these things were treated; I had the answers to everything to find after a long period of enforced starvation. I had to work for my knowledge. No books or ideas came near me but what I went in search of. Another thing that helped me to take an expansive view of life at this time was my intense love of Nature. All birds and animals affected me by their beauty and grace, and I have always kept a profound sympathy with them as well as some subtle understanding which enables me to tame them, at times remarkably. I not only loved all other creatures, but I believed that men and women were the most beautiful things in the universe and I would rather look at them (unclothed) than on any other thing, as my greatest pleasure. I was prepared to like them because they were beautiful. When the time came for me to leave school I rather dreaded it, chiefly because I dreaded my life at home. I had a great longing at this time to run away and try my fortune anywhere; possibly if I had been stronger I might have done so. But I was in very poor health through the physical crushing I had had, and in very poor spirits through this and my mental repression. I still knew myself a prisoner and I was bitterly disappointed and ashamed at having no education. I afterward had myself taught arithmetic and other things.
“The next period of my life which covered about six years was not less important to my development, and was a time of extreme misery to me. It found me, on leaving school, almost a child. This time between 18 and 24 should, I think, count as my proper period of puberty, which probably in most children occupies the end years of their school-life.
“It was at this time that I began to make a good many friends of my own and to become aware of psychical and sexual attractions. I had never come across any theories on the subject, but I decided that I must belong to a third sex of some kind. I used to wonder if I was like the neuter bees! I knew physical and psychical sex feeling and yet I seemed to know it quite otherwise from other men and women. I asked myself if I could endure living a woman’s life, bearing children and doing my duty to them. I asked myself what hiatus there could be between my bodily structure and my feelings, and also what was the meaning of the strong physical feelings which had me in their grip without choice of my own. [Experiences of physical sex sensations first began about 16 in sleep; masturbation was accidentally discovered at the age of 19, abandoned at 28, and then at 34 deliberately resumed as a method of purely physical relief.] These three things simply would not be reconciled and I said to myself that I must find a way of living in which there was as little sex of any kind as possible. There was something that I simply lacked; that I never doubted. Curiously enough, I thought that the ultimate explanation might be that there were men’s minds in women’s bodies, but I was more concerned in finding a way of life than in asking riddles without answers.
“I thought that one day when I had money and opportunity I would dress in men’s clothes and go to another country, in order that I might be unhampered by sex considerations and conventions. I determined to live an honorable, upright, but simple life.
“I had no idea at first that homosexual attractions in women existed; afterward observations on the lower animals put the idea into my head. I made no preparation in my mind for any sexual life, though I thought it would be a dreary business repressing my body all my days.
“My relations with other women were entirely pure. My attitude toward my sexual physical feelings was one of reserve and repression, and I think the growing conviction of my radical deficiency somewhere, would have made intimate affection for anyone with any demonstration in it, a kind of impropriety for which I had no taste.
“However, between 21 and 24 other things happened to me.
“During these few years I saw plenty of men and plenty of women. As regards the men I liked them very well, but I never thought the man would turn up with whom I should care to live. Several men were very friendly with me and three in particular used to write me letters and give me much of their confidence. I invited two of them to visit at my house. All these men talked to me with freedom and even told me about their sexual ideas and doings. One asked me to believe that he was leading a good life; the other two owned that they were not. One discussed the question of homosexuality with me; he has never married. I liked one of them a good deal, being attracted by his softness and gentleness and almost feminine voice. It was hoped that I would take to him and he very cautiously made love to me. I allowed him to kiss me a few times and wrote him a few responsive letters, wondering what I liked in him. Someone then commented on the acquaintance and said ‘marriage,’ and I woke up to the fact that I did not really want him at all. I think he found the friendship too insipid and was glad to be out of it. All these men were a trifle feminine in characteristics, and two played no games. I thought it odd that they should all express admiration for the very boyish qualities in me that other people disliked. A fourth man, something of the same type, told another friend that he always felt surprised at how freely he was able to talk to me, but that he never could feel that I was a woman. Two of these were brilliantly clever men; two were artists.
“At the same period, or earlier, I made a number of women friends, and of course saw more of them. I chose out some of some chose me; I think I attracted them as much as, or even more than, they attracted me. I do not quite remember if this was so, though I can say for certain that it was so at school. There were three or four bright, clever, young women whom I got to know then with whom I was great friends. We were interested in books, social theories, politics, art. Sometimes I visited them or we went on exploring expeditions to many country places or towns. They all in the end either had love affairs or married. I know that in spite of all our free conversations they never talked to me as they did to each other; we were always a little shy with each other. But I got very fond of at least four of them. I admired them and when I was tired and worried I often thought how easily, if I had been a man, I could have married and settled down with one or the other. I used to think it would be delightful to have a woman to work for and take care of. My attraction to these women was very strong, but I don’t think they knew it. I seldom even kissed them, but I should often have cheerfully given them a good hugging and kissing if I had thought it a right or proper thing to do. I never wanted them to kiss me half so much as I wanted to kiss them. In these years I felt this with every woman I admired.
“Occasionally, I experienced slight erections when close to other women. I am sure that no deliberate thought of mine caused them, and as I had them at other times, too, when I was not expecting them, I think it may have been accidental. What I felt with my mind and what I felt with my body always at this time seemed apart. I cannot accurately describe the interest and attraction that women then were to me. I only know I never felt anything like it for men. All my feelings of desire to do kindness, to give presents, to be liked and respected and all such natural small matters, referred to women, not to men, and at this time, both openly and to myself, I said unhesitatingly that I liked women best. It must be remembered that at this time a dislike for men was being fostered in me by those who wanted me to marry, and this must have counted for more than I now remember.
“As regards my physical sexual feelings, which were well established during these few years, I don’t think I often indulged in any erotic imaginations worth estimating, but so far as I did at all, I always imagined myself as a man loving a woman. I cannot recall ever imagining the opposite, but I seldom imagined anything at all, and I suppose ultimate sex sensations know no sex.
“But as time went on and my physical and psychical feelings met, at any rate in my own mind, I became fully aware of the meaning of love and even of homosexual possibilities.
“I should probably have thought more of this side of things except that during this time I was so worried by the difficulty of living in my home under the perpetual friction of comparison with other people. My life was a sham; I was an actor never off the boards. I had to play at being a something I was not from morning till night, and I had no cessation of the long fatigue I had had at school; in addition I had sex to deal with actively and consciously.
“Looking back on these twenty-four years of my life I only look back on a round of misery. The nervous strain was enormous and so was the moral strain. Instead of a child I felt myself, whenever I desired to please anyone else, a performing monkey. My pleasures were stolen or I was snubbed for taking them. I was not taught and was called a fool. My hand was against everybody’s. How it was that with my high spirits and vivid imagination I did not grow up a moral imbecile full of perverted instincts I do not know. I describe myself as a docile child, but I was full of temptations to be otherwise. There were times when I was silent before people, but if I had had a knife in my hand I could have stuck it into them. If it had been desired to make me a thoroughly perverted being I can imagine no better way than the attempt to mould me by force into a particular pattern of girl.
“Looking at my instincts in my first childhood and my mental confusion over myself, I do not believe the most sympathetic and scientific treatment would have turned me into an average girl, but I see no reason why proper physical conditions should not have induced a better physical development and that in its turn have led to tastes more approximate to those of the normal woman. That I do not even now desire to be a normal woman is not to the point.
“Instead of any such help, I suffered during the time that should have been puberty from a profound mental and physical shock which was extended over several years, and in addition I suffered from the outrage of every fine and wholesome feeling I had. These things by checking my physical development gave, I am perfectly convinced, a traumatic impetus to my general abnormality, and this was further kept up by demanding of me (at the dawn of my real sexual activity, and when still practically a child) an interest in men and marriage which I was no more capable of feeling than any ordinary boy or girl of 15. If you had taken a boy of 13 and given him all my conditions, bound him hand and foot, when you became afraid of him petted him into docility, and then placed him in the world and, while urging normal sexuality upon him on one hand, made him disgusted with it on the other, what would have been the probable result?
“Looking back, I can only say I think the results in my own case were marvelously good, and that I was saved from worse by my own innocence and by the physical backwardness which nature, probably in mercy, bestowed upon me.
“I find it difficult to sum up the way in which I affect other women and they me. I can only record my conviction that I do affect a large number, whether abnormally or not I don’t know, but I attract them and it would be easy for some of them to become very fond of me if I gave them a chance. They are also, I am certain, more shy with me than they are with other women.
“I find it difficult also to sum up their effect on me. I only know that some women attract me and some tempt me physically, and have done ever since I was about 22 or 23. I know that psychically I have always been more interested in women than men, but have not considered them the best companions or confidants. I feel protective towards them, never feel jealous of them, and hate having differences with them. And I feel always that I am not one of them. If there had been any period in my life when health and temptation and money and opportunity had made homosexual relations easy I cannot say how I should have resisted. I think that I have never had any such relations simply because I have in a way been safeguarded from them. For a long time I thought I must do without all actual sexual relations and acted up to that. If I had thought any relations right and possible I think I should have striven for heterosexual experiences because of the respect that I had cultivated, indeed I think always had, for the normal and natural. If I had thought it right to indulge any sort of gratification which was within my reach I think I might probably have chosen the homosexual as being perhaps more satisfying and more convenient. I always wanted love and friendship first; later I should have been glad of something to satisfy my sex hunger too, but by that time I could have done without it, or I thought so.”
At a period rather later than that dealt with in this narrative, the subject of it became strongly attracted to a man who was of somewhat feminine and abnormal disposition. But on consideration she decided it would not be wise to marry him.
While reading Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers I developed a fascination for old sexology and sexual inverts. Today I had a day off and I spent it in the library looking for old sexology books. I read a very entertaining book called Studies in the Psychology of Sex by Havelock Ellis from 1919. It comes in several volumes and volume II is entirely about sexual inversion (homosexuality).
This wasn’t a reprint, it was actually from 1919, and the pages were very fragile and crumbling as I read it. It was from a special storage area where you have to ask the librarian to see it. I felt like Hermione going to the Restricted section of the library. Yes, that was a Harry Potter reference. I can’t sign this book out so I sat and read it for several hours. My idea of a good time is spending the day in the library reading about ancient homophobia! 😀 I am such a nerd.
I had so much fun with this book I can’t even tell you. Okay, but I’m going to tell you. The funniest thing in this book was the entire page written about how homosexuals like the colour green. Apparently, it is common knowledge that all normal people like the colours red or blue. The colour green is for sexual perverts only! Also, did you know that gay men can’t whistle? I swear, that’s what it said. I was laughing to myself out loud in the library.
There are tons and tons and tons of theories about how people are homosexual and all of them are absurd. At this time it was all Freudian stuff like, if certain things happened in your childhood development that would turn you gay. I was shaking my head about all the time and energy people spent trying to figure out what makes people gay. Who cares? We are, and that’s that. It’s not a problem, so it doesn’t need a solution.
There were several case histories of lesbians, and some of them were several pages long and these women were pretty badass. I really loved the stories of women who dressed as men and took female lovers and when their female lovers got married to men, they killed their husbands. I wonder if that’s why lesbians used to have a reputation for being violent and unstable—because we were probably invisible until we killed someone’s husband in a fit of jealous rage, and only then were we noticed by the establishment.
One of the causes of homosexuality is purported to be occupations where women are stuck together for long periods of time without any men around. There was a story in the book about a garment factory where girls worked in intense summer heat and would take off their clothes because it was so hot. Then there was an afternoon nap time and they all slept together on the sofa, nude, and ended up “masturbating themselves.” The language is so dramatic and over-the-top and detailed that I realized— this is actually erotica. This guy who wrote this book was totally having a wank over these garment factory girls and their supposed naked afternoon orgies (which I suspect never actually happened.)
The main reason I was reading this book was because I wanted to look for early claims of “man trapped in a woman’s body.” In fact, I did find that, which I will talk about in a later post, and I also found a reference to what is apparently the first instance of the term “sexual inversion” being used in English and it was in a book on Greek ethics. I found that book too, and I scanned through it but there was no actual definition of sexual inversion, just a lot of discussion of ancient Greeks and their homosexuality. I found a gem of a paragraph though in the tiny little section on female homosexuality.
Some dude from the 19th century was whining about the horrors that would occur if we allowed homosexuality to happen. He wrote the following warning:
“If you concede homosexual love to males, you must in justice grant the same to females; you will have to sanction carnal intercourse between them; monstrous instruments of lust will have to be permitted, in order that their sexual congress may be carried out; that obscene vocable, tribad, which so rarely offends our ears—I blush to utter it—will become rampant, and Philaenis will spread androgynous orgies throughout our harems.”
The book does refer to another book where one can read about the “monstrous instruments of lust” in detail, (sorry, no quote—I didn’t read that one!) and it also explains that Philaenis is the author of an obscene book and also a designation for a lesbian lover, or “tribad.” I don’t even know how people come up with this over-the-top, dramatic stuff. It really is a figment of their imaginations. I’m not nearly as interesting as they think I am. Generally, what I do every day is get up, take a shower, go to work, come home, eat dinner, do some regular stuff like blogging or visiting friends, and go to bed. I can’t say I’ve ever participated in an “androgynous orgy” with “monstrous instruments of lust,” and I don’t think it would have ever occurred to me to do so.
I carefully photocopied about 30 pages from the section on female inverts and I’m going to go through it again and decide what to write about here. I think I’ll type out some of the case stories of lesbians, they’re really interesting. And of course, the “man trapped in a woman’s body” stuff. People have been saying that for over 100 years now!
Okay, I’m off to a harem to have an androgynous orgy! *cough* Okay, fine, I’m getting pizza and going to a friend’s place to watch TV.
I’ve been systematically writing about each decade of lesbian history while reading Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers by Lillian Faderman, but when I got past the section on lesbian sex wars I ran out of steam. Not because of the sex wars, but because of what came after that. In the 1980s we had a return to conservatism, followed by the AIDS crisis. The recent decades have seen a lot of depressing stuff. It’s not all bad, though. Here’s a short summary!
From chapter 11 of Odd Girls:
“While the 1970s rode on the steam of the social revolution that had been set in motion by the flower children of the ’60s, the momentum appeared to have been lost in the ’80s as mainstream America returned to more conservative times. Although the effects of the sexual revolution of the previous decade could not be totally eradicated and the sexual ethos of the 1980s was light-years away from times such as the McCarthy era, the “New Right” became vociferous in its desire to turn back the clock.”
I was born in the 1980s, and I have only known conservative times. Governments are consistently introducing more cutbacks and austerity for the working class, wages are not keeping up with the cost of living, activist movements have been subdued, the anti-feminist backlash is in full swing, and gender roles are being enshrined into law. People who are supposedly on the Left are not talking about overthrowing capitalism; instead they are drowning in identity politics.
Getting back to the book, Faderman lists some ways that the lesbian community sobered up in the 1980s. They literally sobered up—apparently Alcoholics Anonymous meetings were flooded with lesbians. I guess the several decades of bar culture took their toll, and the lesbian community was full of problem drinkers. Lesbians also became less militant—the strict rules of political correctness from the 1970s loosened, lesbians wore makeup again and started getting professional jobs instead of working on building separatist communities. They began to join mainstream society instead of being separate.
In my opinion, joining mainstream society is both positive and negative at once. The good thing about it is that we actually were accepted enough by mainstream society that we could join it. Obviously, I want us to be accepted and allowed to enter the same institutions as heterosexuals are. However, joining the mainstream also means losing lesbian community. I know lots of lesbians in real life, and we get together sometimes for a wedding or a milestone birthday party but generally we live our separate lives. This does weaken lesbians as a group, because without strong lesbian community, young women just coming out don’t have a community of support—I believe they still need that, especially since they’re now being taught that they’re not really women.
When the AIDS crisis happened, many lesbians joined gay men in activism. Separatism took a back seat as the gay and lesbian community joined together in defense against attacks from the deadly disease and the antagonistic right wing. The newly united gay and lesbian community created the largest civil rights march in American history—the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which drew 650,000 people. Gay and lesbian groups lobbied for civil rights and got more support from public officials. They also created the militant groups ACT-UP and Queer Nation.
Because the community was less rigid than it had been in the 1970s, more diversity could flourish. Pride festivals started having more stages set up at once to cater to different types of people. Lesbians from racial minority groups became more visible as women organized with their specific groups. Organizations also formed for fat lesbians, disabled lesbians, lesbian mothers, and old lesbians.
Fantastic things happened musically in this period. Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang, and Ani Difranco rose to fame. Other famous lesbians started coming out, too, such as the Ellen Degeneres and Rosie O’Donnell.
Here are the videos of Ellen’s “lebanese” sketch on Rosie O’Donnell’s show in 1996 (embedded below) in which she sort of comes out, and the episode of her TV show from 1997 where her character announces she is gay. These days it’s hard to imagine a time when Ellen wasn’t out!
Of course, we all know what happened in the 2000s, because we’re still living it now. Everybody and their uncle are now part of the LGBT alphabet soup, “queer” means everyone, exclusion is a cardinal sin, and corporate America is on board with gay rights now that they can profit from them. Lillian Faderman stops at the 1990s, but to read about the current situation for lesbians and gays, see Julie Bindel’s book Straight Expectations.
And the major issue for the 2010s: the battle of the TERFs vs. the sparklegenders. Ugh. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen next. Probably the 2020s will be the decade of lawsuits from lesbians who were transgendered as children.
This rather titillating title comes from chapter 10 of Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers by Lilian Faderman, where she documents the conflict between lesbian feminists and s/m lesbians in the 1980s.
The chapter opens with the contrast between straight, gay male, and lesbian sexualities in the 1980s. Everyone was in “the throes of sexual exploration,” as evidenced by the proliferation of adult films and books and sexually explicit personal ads, except for the lesbians. Faderman provides some reasons why lesbians are less sexual:
“Because most lesbians had been socialized first and foremost as female, they were no more able than most heterosexual women in the past to form relationships primarily on the basis of sexual lust. And unlike heterosexual women in the 1970s, lesbians generally did not have partners who would prod them on to greater sexual looseness.”(p187)
“One explanation for the relative infrequency of lesbian sex may simply be physiological. Because there is no visible erection that must be dealt with between two women, affectionate holding or petting is easily substituted for more demanding sexual performance once the first heat of passion has subsided. But the relative paucity of sex between lesbians is certainly aggravated by socialization. Since both individuals in the couple have been raised as female, there is no trained sexual initiator who will automatically make the first move over a period of time. Often each woman waits upon the other to initiate. Female sexuality has been socially constructed around reacting rather than acting, and lesbians as women have generally not been able to transcend with ease what they have been taught. Lesbian sexuality within committed relationships is further complicated because, according to various psychological studies, relationships between women are stronger when background, status, and commitment are approximately equal between them. When one partner feels that her lover holds more power, her capacity for intimacy is diminished. Yet sexual desire requires some kind of “barrier”—some taboo, tension, thrill of conquest, or disequilibrium. A difficulty is created because two women who are “well suited” to each other tend to merge in an intimate relationship; barriers that are often present between men and women break down between two women. While such fusion promotes affection, it diminishes sexual excitement. It leads to what came to be called in the 1980s “lesbian bed death”—the oft-observed phenomenon of the disappearance of sex in ongoing lesbian relationships.”(p188)
This paragraph is just full of controversial points for discussion. Is it true that there is no trained sexual initiator in a lesbian couple? I see what she means by this—men are socialized to believe that they have to be the initiator to be real men, and women are trained to be passively accepting. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to there being no sexual initiator in a lesbian couple. We are more than our socialization, and lesbians are already breaking free of the sexual mold just by being lesbians. I think lesbians are entirely capable of initiating sex.
Faderman makes a pretty bold statement when she says: “sexual desire requires some kind of “barrier”—some taboo, tension, thrill of conquest, or disequilibrium.” Like, really? I experience sexual desire without the use of taboos or disequilibrium all the time. It sounds like what she’s saying is that lesbian couples are too nice and equal and need some sort of power imbalance to bring a sexual thrill. This is essentially what the sexual radicals of the 1980s argued.
The lesbian feminists generally thought that men placed too much emphasis on sex and that it wasn’t as important as they were making it seem. They were generally against masculine/feminine roles, sexual “violence” (whether real or in play), and pornography.
“The cultural feminists were unimpressed by the argument of lesbian sexual radicals that until women are free to explore their own sexuality any way they wish, they will never be truly free. Such freedom came at too great a cost, cultural feminists said. They believed the sexual radicals’ pursuit of ways to “spice up” lesbian sexuality, such as pornography and the sexual role playing of s/m or butch/femme, validated the system of patriarchy, in which one person has power over another or objectifies her. They insisted that such pursuits were counter to the vision of the world that feminists had been striving to create and that it was the responsibility of lesbians to help build the new world upon a model of equal power such as is, anyway, the most “natural” to lesbian relationships. Cultural feminists believed that lesbian sex must be consistent with the best of lesbian ethics. They acknowledged that images of domination, control, and violence, which have been men’s sexual stimuli, have become a part of everyone’s cultural environment and thus have shaped women’s sexual fantasies and desires. But they also insisted that lesbians should permit themselves only those sexual interests that reflect superior female ideals. They wished to deconstruct harmful desires that were socially constructed, instead of giving in to them by wanting to “explore” them. . . The cultural feminists were particularly annoyed at the sexual radicals’ argument that their sexual pursuits were feminist because they encouraged women to fight repression by examining sexual feelings that had been taboo for women. Feminism must be about more than exploration of feelings, they declared: feminist thought stresses analysis of the political significance of feelings, which the sexual radicals had failed to do in their enthusiasm for “improving” lesbian sex lives. They accused the sexual radicals of refusing to consider where those feelings originated and the ways in which they perpetuated the values of the patriarchal ruling class. (p190)”
I generally agree with the lesbian feminists here (Big surprise!). Twisty Faster once called BDSM “patriarchy-reenactment boinking.” (I wish I were as hilarious as she is!) When you act out a power play where one person is in charge and the other has to obey, you are acting out the relationship between men and women in a patriarchy, and the chances are pretty good you’re acting out a rape scene. I totally understand that this is arousing for people—we are all taught to eroticize dominance and submission and it’s no surprise that people learn what they’ve been taught—but that doesn’t make it okay. I get annoyed, too, when people want to simply indulge in this without examining where it’s coming from or what the implications are. I get especially annoyed when people call it feminist. How can you liberate the female sex class from oppression by getting off while acting out oppression? (Spoiler alert: you can’t!) I do think that sex needs to be subject to a standard of ethics, and I don’t think that anything at all is permissible just because someone enjoys it.
The sexual radicals saw the feminist ethics as another form of repression and wanted to free lesbians from it.
“In response to what they considered the antisexual censoriousness of the cultural feminists, the lesbian sexual radicals were happy to create a public debate around the issue of lesbian sex. They criticized the cultural feminists for reinforcing traditional concepts of gender instead of encouraging women to try to gain access to what has historically been a main bastion of male privilege—freewheeling sexuality. . . The lesbian sexual radicals of the 1980s believed that too many women who loved women had been deluded by the movement into suffering boring, “politically correct” sex. They sought to create an alternative to the tame sexuality of lesbian-feminism, which denied lesbians those experiences that heterosexuals and homosexual men had claimed as their right. Politically correct sex they characterized as being obsessively concerned with not “objectifying” women and with promoting humdrum “equal time” touching and cunnilingus; they found absurd the “politically correct” notion that any kind of penetration was heterosexist. Such dogmas produced “vanilla sex,” the sexual radicals said. They insisted that there neither is nor should be any automatic correspondence between lesbian-feminist political beliefs and lesbian sexual practices and that it was time that lesbians freed themselves to enjoy sexuality without any of the restraints inculcated in them as women or imposed on them by the movement.” (p191)
Of course, feminists are vanilla prudes—I’ve heard that one before! You know, I consider myself positive toward sex, but I’ve never understood the claims of the sex-pozzies. For example, how can sex ever be boring? The only time I’ve ever had boring sex is when I did it with men. I’ve been having vanilla, politically correct sex with women for years and enjoying it very much. I don’t know how it could possibly bore anyone to be lovingly touched by a lover that they’re attracted to—I can think of almost nothing more exciting than that. I love the sentence in that last quote about “humdrum “equal time” touching and cunnilingus.” How can equal touching and cunnilingus be humdrum? That sounds great to me! The entire point of the sex-pozzies is to make normal sex sound boring even though it’s not, and to make abusive sex more accepted. This strategy sounds downright anti-sex to me, which is why I refuse to call them sex-positive.
The lesbian sexual radicals of the 1980s created sexually explicit materials, held workshops on lesbian s/m and opened shops that sold leather and toys. These were popular for a few years and then their popularity dwindled.
“Typically, in a 1987 survey among lesbians in Boulder, Colorado—a liberal, trendy university community—fewer than 10 percent had ever experimented with sexual activities such as s/m or bondage, 75 percent said they had never been involved in sexual role playing, and only 1 percent thought casual sex was ideal for them.”(p192)
The lesbian feminists were quite angry with the sexual radicals, but perhaps they didn’t need to worry about it so much—most of the sexual practices they were promoting didn’t catch on with many women. Lesbians still have a tendency to be serial monogamists, and lots of us are still having that “boring” egalitarian sex.
Faderman describes some of the work of the sexual radicals, for example, some of their films, their burlesque shows, lesbian bath houses, etc. I found that I wasn’t against most of the things they created, but I disagree with their general attitude that more sex and more orgasms are part of the revolution. Orgasms are great, but they won’t liberate us from oppression.
She also talks about the influence that feminism had on the sexual radicals. Lots of them did have a sense of ethics in the work they created that resembled the ethics of the feminists. For example, burlesque shows had a variety of women of different races, ages, and body types, in order for all women to be represented. One of the films she mentions was so adorable that I’m going to quote the description here:
“Generally the lesbian film companies emphasized the erotic rather than the pornographic. Lavender Blue Productions, for example, produced Where There’s Smoke in 1986, in which the sex is even politically correct: two women drink tea and have gentle conversation before they make love orally, with soft guitar music in the background.”(p195)
This made me laugh so hard! Of course when lesbians make porn movies, they start out with women drinking tea and having gentle conversation! When I read this, I thought that sounded lovely, and then I laughed at myself for thinking that it sounded lovely.
Both of these groups, feminists and sexual radicals, have had an influence on the culture that persists today. I carry the best of both worlds in my beliefs. I do think women should be free to explore their sexuality and act on their lust, but I think sexual practices need to have a sense of ethics that are rooted in an understanding of female oppression.