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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

When last we saw our heroines, Alithea was teasing Arabella's unwanted suitors while Arabella was getting her affairs in order in preparation for hitting the road with her. Alithea plays cat and mouse with a couple of challenges to duels then heads to Lyons so that the two of them aren't observed leaving town together. While in Lyons she is on hand for a couple of spots of excitement.

When last we saw our heroines, Arabella was going to meet privately with the girl they had declined to purchase (and whose family they instead set on the path to respectability by a charitable donation) to see if she really was romantically attached to her. Meanwhile Alithea goes off to do some sightseeing and to sulk a little. They meet again over dinner with their banker's family where Arabella is once more the object of longing sighs from the banker's daughters.

This article looks at the 1744 novel The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu, concerning a cross-dressing lesbian heroine who goes about Europe having adventures. Woodward examines this text in the context at other 18th c novels with similar themes that veer off from the lesbian resolution. She also considers the problem of the work’s authorship. It purports to be a translation into English by a man of a French original, written by a woman, but there are reasons to doubt several aspects of that framing.

Current gym reading is "Adv of Mlle de Richelieu". Alas, there's a reason this is not considered a literary classic. Every character the protagonist meets delivers a multi-page lecture on philosophy, history, theology, etc. or an entertaining and edifying story (a la Chaucer or Bocaccio) unrelated to the main plot. Also much travelogue. So far the framing story is running ca. 5% of text. No lesbians yet (they come later) but 1 amusing "2 women interact both passing as men" episode.

[Our heroine Alithea -- in male disguise to go adventuring, as you may recall -- has run up a temporary Debt of Honor while gambling and is maneuvered into taking a temporary loan to pay it off from a beautiful and lovely young widow, Arabella. Arabella has withdrawn to her country house before Alithea is aware of the strategem. Arabella -- in the persona of the Chevalier de Radpont -- writes to her offering to come visit in order to settle the debt, Arabella tells the Chevalier to wait on her return as she has a rule never to allow male visitors at her country home. She notes:]

In February, Anne strikes up a new friendship with a Miss Pickford whom she begins to suspect shares her inclinations with regard to her close friend Miss Threlfall. Like Anne, the neighbors comment on Miss Pickford for being an intellectual and somewhat masculine in effect. They nickname her Frank. In conversation, Anne makes coded references to subjects and authors to sound her out on sexual topics.

The article begins by defending the use of the term "lesbian" by citing Brooten's evidence for a medieval sense of a woman who "behaves like a man" and "is oriented toward female companionship for sex" while raising several issues with that usage. But the author is examining a similar apparent contradiction in medieval texts to the one found by Brooten in early Christian texts: an acceptance (to some degree) of female same-sex unions combined with hostility toward female appropriation of male roles.

Female same-sex desire is generally presented in early modern drama in fictitious constructions: the desire is either mistaken or misdirected. Only in this last chapter do we see examples where knowing desire from one woman to another is presented positively, and may even be celebrated as an ideal over heterosexual desire. Things aren’t always straightforward, even so. Although the desiring woman may believe the object of her desire is a woman, not uncommonly the scenario is defused by involving a gender-disguised man.

Some writers object to examining cross-dressing dramas from a homoerotic viewpoint, noting that the act of changing clothes does not change orientation. But Walen emphasizes that the female homoeroticism in cross-dressing plays is situated, not necessarily within the sexual orientation of the characters, but in the dramatic tropes enabled by the cross-dressing motif. It is the audience, more than the characters, who experience the female-female desire.

This chapter focuses on the creation of homoerotic tension in a more asymmetric aggressive context, especially those involving a older experienced woman seducing a younger innocent, including those where the seduction (or assault) is triangulated around a male character that one or both women have a connection to. This motif stands in contrast to more idealized, egalitarian relationships such as those in Shakespeare’s As You Like It or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Lyly’s Gallathea.

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