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gender disguise f>m

Gender disguise is a major context for exploring homoerotic potential in literature and was a significant tool for establishing same-sex partnerships in real life examples. The most common version is a female-assigned person who presents as male and has access to a male role in relation to a woman. Not all such partnerships may have included sexual activity, but many demonstrably did. Literary examples generally indicate whether the disguise is meant to be situational or is meant to signal transgender identity. Real life examples are rarely clear on this point, due to the legal and social pressures and consequences, and therefore the likely distortion of self-reported motivations.

LHMP entry

Unsurprisingly, the material here is (with one possible exception?) filtered through male authors. We have literary tales of same-sex desire under the cover of gender disguise. There are medicalized case studies that--to a modern reader--sound more like intersex and transgender individuals, but those concepts were inextricably tangled with understandings of lesbianism at that time. And we have two poems, placed in the voice of a female narrator who is trying to come to terms with desiring another woman (though one is known to have been written by a man).

(blogged by Heather Rose Jones)

Krimmer’s primary focus is on the motif of cross-dressing women in 18th century German literature (novels, plays, etc.), but as part of the background, she reviews a great many historic cases. The issues of theory that are covered in these opening parts of Krimmer’s work, with the complexities of gender theory and clothing as signifiers of all manner of social classifications, are thoroughly covered in the analysis of chapters 2-5. The present summary is simply a rough catalog of the examples she cites.

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

Our heroines leave Barcelona and travel to Valencia where the find the ladies more socially forthcoming, but jealously protected by their boyfriends. There are intermittent bits of travelogue, but Spain seems not to have made much of a favorable impression on the travelers who were “much fatigued with bad entertainment and abominable beds.” Thence to Toledo an on to Madrid. Once again a letter of introduction to the local French ambassador gains them entrance to society and a brief audience with the king.

In the last session, we ended with an encounter (in London) with a couple that Alithea had met previously in Paris. The man begins telling a long history of what he’s been up to since then, at which his wife retires saying it would embarrass him for her to remain. Well, yes, and it should. Without going into the whole story, he fell in love with her and behaved very badly and unfaithfully towards her while she remained steadfast and faithful until his passion entirely burned itself out (for any woman) and what remained was friendship with her.

When last we left our heroines, they had arrived in Florence and were being entertained by the Marquis Grimoalti and his lovely and witty wife who take the two to an evening’s entertainment. Alithea dances with the Countess de Rinalto and has a playfully philosophical discussion with her about how men’s jealousy only tends to drive their ladies into a greater desire to look elsewhere for love.

This summary is assembled from a Twitter conversation

Me: Our 2 heroines having considered marriage (w Alithea in male disguise) as a way to spend their lives together, and considered the hazards of discovery daunting, Arabella is making arrangements to join Alithea on her travels also in male disguise. Alithea amuses herself by taunting Arabella's suitors. But then Alithea is persuaded to contribute to a kickstarter for some dude's treatise on moral philosophy and yields to the impulse to summarize its contents for 20 pages or so.

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