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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

A 15th century account of a young woman attending Krakow university in male disguise. After successfully passing as a man for two years and nearly attaining her degree, she was unmasked due to the suspicions of a soldier who won a bet with his friends by forcibly undressing her and revealing her sex. She was taken before a judge but no one could find any complaint against her except the cross-dressing. After that she chose (from among unknown other options) to go into a convent where she became Abbess.

[Note: I think the first two paragraphs here actually belong with chapter 4, I lost my section marker somehow.]

In contrast to many of the “decency” laws that disproportionately targeted minorities (such as anti-prostitution laws), cross-dressing prosecutions tended to ignore members of racial minorities unless some other significant factor were involved. This falls naturally out of the framing of normative gender as an inherently “white” possession. Therefore transgression against normative gender can only be done by those who had access to it in the first place.

This chapter lays out the historic and cultural background of cross-gender behavior in mid-19th century California, and in San Francisco in particular. The demographic effects of the Gold Rush, with its sudden and overwhelming immigration of miners (primarily male) is the most obvious, but this came hard on the heels of the forcible transfer of California from Mexico to the United States, with resulting upheavals in the balance of power between various racial, economic, and religious groups.

In the chansons de geste, women might don male garb for a variety of reasons, especially for safety, but also to be able to participate in masculine activities or join male groups. There is a repeating motif of the woman who disguises herself as a knight and succeeds in winning great renown in that guise. A common twist then has her dealing with the amorous or matrimonial desires of another woman, as in the story of Yde and Olive.

Chapter 1 (Introduction)

A discussion of terminology, some of the cross-cultural problems of defining the topic of the book, and a statement of intent.

Chapter 2 (In the Beginning: 40,000-1200 BCE)

Edition and English translation of a 13th c. French Arthurian romance. Roche-Mahdi has a brief preface giving the history and context of the manuscript and a brief synopsis of the major themes.

In considering various types of transgressive cross-dressing (e.g., for theatrical purposes), Schleiner begins by looking at some literary models available within that context that focus around logistical gender disguise.

Ovid's Iphis & Ianthe (in the Metamorphoses) raises questions about Roman views of female homoerotic relationships. Iphis, born female but raised male, falls in love with Ianthe and then is transformed into a male body in order to marry her.

For sheer soap-opera fascination, the trial of Katherina Hetzeldorfer in 1477 in Speier explodes a number of potential myths about lesbian activity in medieval Europe -- whether that there was none, or that it was given no official or legal notice.

Rictor Norton has assembled an on-line sourcebook of primary documents relating to homosexuality in 18th century England. (He also has several other pages on related historic topics.) He notes: “All the documents faithfully reproduce the spelling, punctuation, capitalization and italicization of the original sources." As is typical for sites covering homosexuality in general, male-related material vastly overwhelms female-related material (which represents less than 10%).

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