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LHMP #137p Faderman 1981 Surpassing the Love of Men II.B.2 The Contributions of the Sexologists

Full citation: 

Faderman, Lillian. 1981. Surpassing the Love of Men. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-688-00396-6

Publication summary: 

A detailed and extensive study of the phenomenon of “romantic friendship” in western culture (primarily England and the US).

II.B.2 The Contributions of the Sexologists

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In the second half of the 19th century, psychiatrists began identifying women who transgressed gender norms as “inverts” (i.e., homosexual) and as pathological. Carl von Westphal in Germany was an early example, although his work was not widely circulated. His followers Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis had more influence.

As Faderman points out, these were psychiatrists whose case studies came from individuals who had entered treatment due to serious emotional or behavioral problems. The psychiatrists blamed those problems on the women’s rejection of traditional feminine behavior and on their erotic interest in women (although the former was considered to lead to the latter, even when it wasn’t already present). What they didn’t do, of course, was to study the lives and experiences of gender non-conforming or homoerotic women who were not emotionally disturbed. Ellis paid lip service to recognizing that many people were homosexual without any sort of morbid symptoms, but as his writings only dealt in the specifics of disturbed individuals, this was not the message his work left in the reader’s mind.

The general picture presented by these writers was that homosexuality was congenital, that it manifested in taking on masculine behaviors (including clothing preferences), and that within a female couple, only the one exhibiting these symptoms was the “true invert”--the other was merely confused and responding to the masculine presentation of her partner. Sexual activity, as such, was not a requirement for a diagnosis of homosexuality, though it was an unmistakable confirmation. Therefore the effusive emotional expressions between Romantic Friends that had previously found approval, now were seen as symptoms of “inversion” if one of the pair could in any way be found to have a “masculine” presentation (which could include such things as a love of active sports or seeking a profession outside the home).

The sexologists began digging up historical cases of passing women from criminal legal records to expand and confirm their theories. They identified “crushes” between girls at gender-segregated schools as simultaneously harmless and a morbid symptom if  the girl then went on to continue close friendships with women after school. A great many logical contortions were gone through to counter the inherent contradictions in their bodies of evidence.

Ironically, this creation of the “true congenital lesbian” gave some women a basis for embracing this identity and claiming a right to live their lives openly.

Time period: 

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