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Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America

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Lillian Faderman tells the compelling story of lesbian life in the 20th century, from the early 1900s to today's diverse lifestyles. Using journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, news accounts, novels, medical literature, and numerous interviews, she relates an often surprising narrative of lesbian life. "A key work...the point of reference from which all subsequent stud Lillian Faderman tells the compelling story of lesbian life in the 20th century, from the early 1900s to today's diverse lifestyles. Using journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, news accounts, novels, medical literature, and numerous interviews, she relates an often surprising narrative of lesbian life. "A key work...the point of reference from which all subsequent studies of 20th-century lesbian life in the United States will begin."—San Francisco Examiner.


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Lillian Faderman tells the compelling story of lesbian life in the 20th century, from the early 1900s to today's diverse lifestyles. Using journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, news accounts, novels, medical literature, and numerous interviews, she relates an often surprising narrative of lesbian life. "A key work...the point of reference from which all subsequent stud Lillian Faderman tells the compelling story of lesbian life in the 20th century, from the early 1900s to today's diverse lifestyles. Using journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, news accounts, novels, medical literature, and numerous interviews, she relates an often surprising narrative of lesbian life. "A key work...the point of reference from which all subsequent studies of 20th-century lesbian life in the United States will begin."—San Francisco Examiner.

30 review for Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog. A dated but engaging work of American history, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers charts the rise of lesbian subcultures across the nation over the course of the twentieth century. Lillian Faderman begins by considering the forms women’s romantic bonds took before the formation of lesbian identity at the turn of the twentieth century, but she soon shifts to tracking how robust lesbian communities were established in the My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog. A dated but engaging work of American history, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers charts the rise of lesbian subcultures across the nation over the course of the twentieth century. Lillian Faderman begins by considering the forms women’s romantic bonds took before the formation of lesbian identity at the turn of the twentieth century, but she soon shifts to tracking how robust lesbian communities were established in the decades following the end of WWI. Her research is as meticulous as her prose is clear, and she does an excellent job of consistently differentiating working-class and middle-class experiences among lesbians. Unfortunately, Faderman doesn’t much consider racial differences among lesbians in the middle chapters, and the scope of her analysis becomes limited for some time.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    for all intents and purposes, this is a good, extensively researched book on the history of lesbianism as it stands in the united states (although she does occasionally bring in a bit of history from britain, france and germany). so why three stars? well, there are a few reasons, firstly and mostly to do with personal taste, and secondly to do with tone/inclusivity. but before i delve into all of that, let’s talk about the book itself a little first. i love lillian faderman’s conclusion that “th for all intents and purposes, this is a good, extensively researched book on the history of lesbianism as it stands in the united states (although she does occasionally bring in a bit of history from britain, france and germany). so why three stars? well, there are a few reasons, firstly and mostly to do with personal taste, and secondly to do with tone/inclusivity. but before i delve into all of that, let’s talk about the book itself a little first. i love lillian faderman’s conclusion that “the only constant truth about the lesbian in america has been that she prefers women,” and i think it’s a great basis to go off of. it’s obvious that lillian faderman has put a ton of work into this book, and i greatly admire that; even though she references various novels, songs, films, researchers, and psychologists, she speaks to women who have actually lived their lives as women who love women, and who have subsequently had unique experiences because of it. that’s what’s refreshing. if we’re completely honest, a lot of the time, even researchers don’t take into account all of the varied experiences of human life. they come up with a “majority”; but faderman doesn’t fall to such conclusions. her overlying message throughout the novel is that the community of women who love women, and how we interact with the world, is constantly changing. just like heterosexuals, there is no one definition for “lesbian.” this book is by no means a massive volume, but it is a very, very extensively researched one (as i’ve said several times, i’m growing predictable). however, it doesn’t feel dry or academic, even though it does feel and sound professional. there is a lot of feminist and academic lingo, but it’s used in a way that feels accessible to those who are going into this without much prior knowledge of either history, the gay rights movement, women’s rights movement, or anything similar. i do feel that faderman has a strange tendency for repetition, however. we’ll finish a chapter, concluded and all, and then on the very next page she’ll launch into what we just discussed; it’ll only last for a page or two, but it becomes slightly grating. it’s like, yes, we’ve established that! how many times do we need to go over a particular aspect we’ve already spent a full chapter talking about? those are mainly small, nitpickish things. the bigger issues, for me, are the ones of inclusion. at first, as when faderman is writing about harlem in the ‘20s, it does feel like she is both open to and understanding of the racism that goes along with the white tourists who come to gawk at “oddities” in harlem; but over time, when we get to the more modern chapters (like those discussing lesbian-feminism and cultural-feminism in the ‘70s, or in the conservative ‘80s) her tone seems almost dismissive. there are a lot of “quotation marks” when discussing the concerns that people of color had towards feminists and gay communities, despite the fact that they’re completely valid. it’s honestly a little irritating. there is very little rumination on the organizations that popped up that catered solely to lesbians of color, latina lesbians, asian lesbians, the list goes on and on…and while there’s a small chapter on lesbianism in the black community during the ‘20s and the ‘30s, particularly concerning women like ma rainey, bessie smith, and a’leila walker, it doesn’t go into as much depth as the other chapters, and it’s left at that. next, there’s absolutely no inclusion here of transgender lesbian history. even when discussing “women who passed as men,” there is no consideration for the fact that they might have, indeed, truly identified as men. there’s a ton of conversation on the sexologists definition of lesbianism as “sexual inversion,” a man trapped in a woman’s body, but no reflection (aside from a sentence or two) on trans women and trans men. and then we get onto the stonewall rebellion, and is there any acknowledgment of the fact that trans women, marsha p. johnson and sylvia rivera, led the movement, created a space even for those who were more privileged than they were? created a movement that led to gay rights being established? no. she glosses over the stonewall rebellion without really talking about any of it, in fact. what about people like renee richards? or when we discuss daughters of bilitis, why don’t we mention that “in 1973 lesbian beth elliot was ejected from the west coast women’s conference because she was a transgender woman, despite having served as vice-president of the san francisco chapter of the lesbian organization daughters of bilitis and having edited the chapter’s newsletter sisters”? so while this is an excellent basis for academic research, it does fall short in revealing some of the history of lesbianism, and how it affected women of color, transgender women, and even sometimes anyone who wasn’t able-bodied, cis, middle-class/upper-class and white. i have a lot of respect for faderman and what she accomplishes here, but i still can’t help but feel that this volume sorely misses the inclusion of a large number of women who love women.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mo

    I read this when I was in my early 20's, way before Ellen and Rosie and Margaret Cho and The L Word and Will and Grace were out and about. I was glued to this...it's amazing to me that now there's an entire gay TV channel. That was unimaginable just 15 years ago. We still have a long way to go, but wow...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sara Jaye

    Lots of really interesting facts, but troublingly glides over less enfranchised lesbian communities.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Lilian Faderman's Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers examines the development of lesbian culture in 20th Century America. From the early 20th Century, where intimate friendships between women were seen as acceptable, often even encouraged, through the Puritanical backlash that developed later and forced lesbians underground; the codification of homosexuality as mental illness that led to stigma, shame and heartache; media and pop culture treating lesbians as deviants doomed to self-destruction and de Lilian Faderman's Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers examines the development of lesbian culture in 20th Century America. From the early 20th Century, where intimate friendships between women were seen as acceptable, often even encouraged, through the Puritanical backlash that developed later and forced lesbians underground; the codification of homosexuality as mental illness that led to stigma, shame and heartache; media and pop culture treating lesbians as deviants doomed to self-destruction and despair; and their awakening following the civil rights and feminist movements. Books of this nature can often seem dry and sociological, but Faderman deftly avoids that by focusing as much on individuals as broader cultural trends. Thus we see a wide and fascinating array of gay women, from feminists and suffragettes who barely hide their sexuality to Eisenhower's wartime aide who talked him out of purging his staff of lesbian secretaries, those who suffered in silence and those who embraced their identity and refused to be silent. An excellent, accessible look at queer culture.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    I found Faderman to be stuck in middle-class gender biases, which may work for explaining some histories, but left others drenched in rehashed stereotypes.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    VERY briefly at the moment, I will say this: Faderman's research is interesting, and the history of lesbianism in the 20th Century US is a good reminder of where we came from (and how far we still have to go). But I take exception to Faderman's suggestion that romantic friends (what women who likely lived as lesbians before the term came into popular usage) were sweet and romantic with each other, but asexual. Despite female socialization, I find it difficult to believe that women who lived toge VERY briefly at the moment, I will say this: Faderman's research is interesting, and the history of lesbianism in the 20th Century US is a good reminder of where we came from (and how far we still have to go). But I take exception to Faderman's suggestion that romantic friends (what women who likely lived as lesbians before the term came into popular usage) were sweet and romantic with each other, but asexual. Despite female socialization, I find it difficult to believe that women who lived together as romantic friends would rarely, if ever, engage in sex. They might not have talked about it, they might not have written about it, but sex has been very powerful throughout the ages for all genders. Speaking of genders, I also take great exception to Faderman's barely-concealed scoffing at the idea of transgenderism and transsexualism. She seems to think that it is only a gender-biased kind of socialization that makes people feel they are in the wrong body, and this kind of attitude is apparent throughout the book. I think she tries to be objective, but she does not succeed.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Becca

    A relatively succinct, yet comprehensive history of lesbian women in America, which also touches on feminism, civil rights and relations between the gay and lesbian communities. As far as I am aware this is the most comprehensive work on lesbian history available. Faderman did extensive research and the book is rife with footnotes and comprised predominately of interviews conducted for this book. Faderman is upfront about her biases, although her disbelief in "congenitalism" may make modern read A relatively succinct, yet comprehensive history of lesbian women in America, which also touches on feminism, civil rights and relations between the gay and lesbian communities. As far as I am aware this is the most comprehensive work on lesbian history available. Faderman did extensive research and the book is rife with footnotes and comprised predominately of interviews conducted for this book. Faderman is upfront about her biases, although her disbelief in "congenitalism" may make modern readers uncomfortable. She does seem to view the 80's as a terminal point in lesbian history, and it would be interesting to see her characterize the 90's and 00's.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    The only constant truth about The Lesbian in America has been that she prefers women. 3.5/5 I truly wanted to like this book. The first part was invaluably informative, especially when it came to giving me context about historical figures and works that I had already thought myself passingly familiar with. I also acquired a great deal of evidence that heterosexuality was formally invented in the late 19th c./early 20th c., which will be very useful in the arguments that are inevitably to come. H The only constant truth about The Lesbian in America has been that she prefers women. 3.5/5 I truly wanted to like this book. The first part was invaluably informative, especially when it came to giving me context about historical figures and works that I had already thought myself passingly familiar with. I also acquired a great deal of evidence that heterosexuality was formally invented in the late 19th c./early 20th c., which will be very useful in the arguments that are inevitably to come. However, I came of age in the nuclear fallout of Faderman's lack of inclusivity, and considering that one GR 'friend', who I suspected of being a radfem, voluntarily got rid of herself from my list during the course of my reading and commenting on this, one can see that I have issues. The closer Faderman gets to the present, the more she dances around but never actually rejects classism, racism, biophobia, and, above all, transphobia, minimizing queer contributions to the queer stronghold in certain places and flat out ignoring/insulting them in others. As such, this is both a great and a horrible introduction to lesbians in the USA, as the end goal of it seems to be nothing less than total succumbing to the white bourgeoisie settler/police state, regardless of those lesbians/wlw who can't or justificably won't do so for the sake of the lives of their people, whoever those people may be. I was going to bequeath my copy to a young lesbian in one of my classes, but now, I'm not sure if the valuable knowledge is worth the risk of running the gambit without the critical skills developed after long and arduous rejections of TERFs, SWERFs, and all their associated poison. One researcher has estimated through Union Army doctors' accounts that at least four hundred women transvestites fought in the Civil War. As this is a very white, middle-class look at things, you're going to get a lot of white, middle-class viws, feminism and/or lesbianism notwithstanding. If you don't mind some 19th century white women being talked about instead of a more thorough look at non white and/or other queer women communities in the 20th century, this is the book for you. Even in 1991, certain things that Faderman says when she doesn't stick to cold hard facts are wildly insulting and/or defensive and/or apologetic, and it detracts from her preivously methodical and almost scientific approach to the lesbian when she gets into pseudo objective portrayals of 'sex wars' (asexuality is broadly passed over, despite evidence of its coalescing into a paradigm since at least the 1980s, so that's another uncritical mess for someone to disentangle). In some ways, I finally have a baseline for the history I've slowly put together form various theoretical texts and/or Tumblr posts, so it was not only necessary, but inevitable that I read this. However, I've come to it amidst a new wave or puritanical radfem behavior in the form of the 'q-slur' and associated biophobic/transphobia/wh*rephobic behavior, including brad swathes of Hays Code level paranoia and desire to censor, so if more GR users leave me friends list over this review of mine, so be it. That was then, this is now, and Faderman would have been able to fit far more objective fact had she not spent so much time white guilting all over the last chunk of pages. A Columbus, Ohio woman recalls walking into a lesbian bar in the 1950s and finding that no one would speak to her. After some hours the waitress told her it was because of the way she was dressed—no one could tell what her sexual identity was, butch or femme, and they were afraid that if she did not know enough to dress right it was because she was a policewoman. I know a lot more about the effect Freud had on incipient queer identities/movements, as well as associated topics such as queer formation in the US as compared to parts of Europe and queer in the earlier, pre-21st century/US same sex marriage echelons. I do not, however, have any sense of sex work, which was without a doubt a vibrantly queer area, or trans lesbians, or even a true overview of 20th century US lesbianhood. I didn't expect an encyclopedia, but the dismissiveness Faderman took the time to express in the ideas that lesbians and heterosexuals could ever access bisexuality without being bisexuals just reminds me my second and last meeting with a so-called "queer" group, mostly wealthy white lesbians, who wanted to know how I could bear to be bisexual and thus be doomed to constantly cheat on any potential partners. Real life trumps theory, so until I acquire better experiences, I have the right to be suspicious of any and all touted names/materials that, subtly or actively, encompasses such dehumanization. As such, to any baby queers out there: read this if you must, extract what gold you can, but always, always have ready your bag of salt. Most middle-and upper-class lesbians who could pass for heterosexual could believe that policemen, whose salaries were paid by their tax money, were there to serve and protect them. But butches and their partners seldom had the luxury of that illusion.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Vasha7

    A history of the emergence of identities and subcultures. Lillian Faderman's political argument is omnipresent, interpreting her source material: to take a random example from early on, she writes about social reformers, "Some of those women were cultural feminists, fueled by their belief that male values created the tragedies connected with industrialization, war, and mindless urbanization and that it was the responsibility of women, with their superior sensibilities, to straighten the world ou A history of the emergence of identities and subcultures. Lillian Faderman's political argument is omnipresent, interpreting her source material: to take a random example from early on, she writes about social reformers, "Some of those women were cultural feminists, fueled by their belief that male values created the tragedies connected with industrialization, war, and mindless urbanization and that it was the responsibility of women, with their superior sensibilities, to straighten the world out again. Their love of women was at least in part the result of their moral chauvinism. Others were less convinced of women’s natural superiority, but they wanted to wrest from society the opportunities and training that would give women the advantages men had and thus permit them to be more whole as human beings. Their love of women was at least in part a search for allies to help wage the battle against women’s social impoverishment." In her introduction, she writes, "in the debate between the "essentialists"... and the "social constructionists"... my own research has led me to align myself on the side of the social constructionists." Throughout the book, she looks to identify the circumstances that led women toward or away from centering their emotional and erotic lives on other women, intertwined with a search for autonomy. Faderman is not a graceful writer, but this is nonetheless an interesting pioneering work drawing on sources that are becoming increasingly available as more research is done. She interviewed nearly 200 women, too; that's the advantage of doing recent history. I found that the chapter on subcultures in the fifties and the one on the lesbian-feminist movement particularly caught my attention.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Xander

    This book was awesome--lots of primary sources, very interesting take on the cultural/historical background surrounding 'lesbians.' However, it was stolen along with the rest of the contents in my backpack when I was mugged, and I haven't found another copy--not that I've been looking, admittedly. Want to loan me yours?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    No hesitation whatsoever when I write this: I've been waiting to read this book for years. Having read plenty of history books about LGBTQ populations I was starving for a book that provided a nuanced, and, most importantly, depthful history of lesbianism. While not trying to bash the work of other LGBTQ+ scholars, a great number of history books about the queer community tend to be broad macro-histories that cherrypick examples of same-sex desire throughout human history and the effect is that No hesitation whatsoever when I write this: I've been waiting to read this book for years. Having read plenty of history books about LGBTQ populations I was starving for a book that provided a nuanced, and, most importantly, depthful history of lesbianism. While not trying to bash the work of other LGBTQ+ scholars, a great number of history books about the queer community tend to be broad macro-histories that cherrypick examples of same-sex desire throughout human history and the effect is that the reader can become inundated with endless suggestion of homosexuality, rather than receive anything in the way of an argument or narrative. The other problem tends to be that many of these books dwell on male homosexuality leaving lesbians as a footnote or afterthought. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers is a beautiful and vital text because it does none of this. While it does cover most of the 20th, and some later periods of the 19th century, Faderman is able to actually dig into lesbian communities and behaviors giving the reader a nuanced understanding of the way queer women lived their lives, established communities, maneuvered external pressure from society, explored sexuality and sensuality with other women, and ultimately tried to construct an understanding of what being a gay woman actually meant. Faderman's book has amazing depth and the reader, by the end, is left with a wealth of knowledge about lesbians and lesbian identity. The book ends right at the start of the 1990s, so readers interested in more contemporary lesbian history will be a bit disappointed, but Faberman nevertheless leaves the reader with a curiosity to find more books and knowledge about the topic. A book like this should be cherished because rather than provide a rambling list of examples of homosexual identity, Faderman gives her reader examples from literature, poetry, politics, drama, economics, and sexual analysis to allow lesbian women to be more than just examples. These women are people, not just examples, and their lives were composed of endless complexity. Good history should be about contextualizing the lives of a human being in relation to their times and communities, while also showing us how people and communities changed over said times. Faberman does this in spades and by the end of this book, I realized this was arguably one of the most incredible gay history books that I have ever, and also one of the best histories that I've ever read. Faberman has given a tremendous gift to the LGBTQ+ community, and most importantly to lesbians themselves who have as this book demonstrates, too often been side characters in a story that always as much theirs as anyone elses.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cora

    this was really really interesting to read..... very comprehensive history in my opinion - a little annoying that the author sometimes makes some "faux pas" about trans issues but also like... i recognize that it was the 90s it would be interesting to read a more up to date history though - the last chapter went well with the nat geo issue on gender i was reading because it gives more distance to how we view sexuality today (in contrast to society's Evolving Views in this book) also big shout out this was really really interesting to read..... very comprehensive history in my opinion - a little annoying that the author sometimes makes some "faux pas" about trans issues but also like... i recognize that it was the 90s it would be interesting to read a more up to date history though - the last chapter went well with the nat geo issue on gender i was reading because it gives more distance to how we view sexuality today (in contrast to society's Evolving Views in this book) also big shout out to smith for being mentioned like 10 times lmao

  14. 4 out of 5

    Korri

    Lillian Faderman's book clearly & elegantly draws together the history of women loving women in the United States. I acquired a new reading list from perusing her endnotes and bibliography! Other readers have pointed out the problematic parts of Faderman's work--her focus on white women's experiences at the expense of marginalized communities-- but overall this book is a valuable academic & personal resource. It is lovely to be able to refer people to such a scholarly yet accessible work Lillian Faderman's book clearly & elegantly draws together the history of women loving women in the United States. I acquired a new reading list from perusing her endnotes and bibliography! Other readers have pointed out the problematic parts of Faderman's work--her focus on white women's experiences at the expense of marginalized communities-- but overall this book is a valuable academic & personal resource. It is lovely to be able to refer people to such a scholarly yet accessible work on lesbian history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

    This is a FANTASTIC book for any lover of history, especially the history of lesbians in America. The Notes section alone is worth this book's weight in gold. The book chronicles the history of lesbians from the late nineteenth century into the early 90s. Some of the topics include homosexuality in the military and how it was condoned, butch-femme dynamic and how it ruled the working-class lesbian community, lesbian-sexual-radicals of the 70s, and much, much more. Very informative. Very interestin This is a FANTASTIC book for any lover of history, especially the history of lesbians in America. The Notes section alone is worth this book's weight in gold. The book chronicles the history of lesbians from the late nineteenth century into the early 90s. Some of the topics include homosexuality in the military and how it was condoned, butch-femme dynamic and how it ruled the working-class lesbian community, lesbian-sexual-radicals of the 70s, and much, much more. Very informative. Very interesting. VERY highly recommended.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maggy

    I can't really recommend this book unless you need it for an academic reason. Faderman's research is excellent, but the writing is sometimes dull and repetitive, so it's not an easy book to read cover-to-cover. More troublesome, her rhetoric is both obvious and extremely dated. The book was originally published in 1991, which should have put her into second-wave feminism, but her reasoning and politics come off as even older than that, and therefore anachronistic and occasionally irritating. In I can't really recommend this book unless you need it for an academic reason. Faderman's research is excellent, but the writing is sometimes dull and repetitive, so it's not an easy book to read cover-to-cover. More troublesome, her rhetoric is both obvious and extremely dated. The book was originally published in 1991, which should have put her into second-wave feminism, but her reasoning and politics come off as even older than that, and therefore anachronistic and occasionally irritating. In all it's not a good read, as such, but it is a useful reference book and bibliographic source.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joey D

    this book, though incredibly cerebral is super interesting. having been a natural sciences student in school, i missed all the women's studies and gender theory classes. i think this book does a good job on tracing the history of american lesbianism from the 1900s until now.

  18. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    Couldn't really get in to this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Examination of the emergence of lesbian lifestyles during the twentieth century. Interesting and incredibly helpful look at the history of American sexuality.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ladywilde

    Fantastic book and really insightful. I couldn't put it down. One of the best, if not the best book I have ever read on Lesbian history in the US. A wonderful book!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Leah Rachel von Essen

    ODD GIRLS AND TWILIGHT LOVERS: A HISTORY OF LESBIAN LIFE IN 20TH CENTURY AMERICA by Lillian Faderman is a useful but very, very outdated portrayal of the growth and transformation of lesbian subcultures and community from 1900 to 1990. Perhaps one of the reasons it is so outdated reading it now is that it was published in 1991, and that Faderman herself was part of the 1970s movements, which she herself admits in an antidote near the end of the book keeps her from fully realizing the ways the wo ODD GIRLS AND TWILIGHT LOVERS: A HISTORY OF LESBIAN LIFE IN 20TH CENTURY AMERICA by Lillian Faderman is a useful but very, very outdated portrayal of the growth and transformation of lesbian subcultures and community from 1900 to 1990. Perhaps one of the reasons it is so outdated reading it now is that it was published in 1991, and that Faderman herself was part of the 1970s movements, which she herself admits in an antidote near the end of the book keeps her from fully realizing the ways the world has changed for lesbians of the 1990s. It’s still a useful read for those, like me, who know little about lesbian history—particularly the discussions of the ways feminism and lesbianism grew together, the ways it was embraced in many ways in the 1900s as romantic friendship and later in the 1920s and then repressed by the condemnation of sexologists, and the Sex Wars of the 1980s, were all fascinating. I knew little of LGBTQA+ history, and this definitely filled in some gaps for me as a beginner. But that’s also part of why this work by Faderman is so dangerous: underlying this history is a set of preconceived notions that she outlines in her introduction. She erases bisexuality and trans* identity in her introduction. She also states outright that she believes that lesbianism is a social construction, and did not exist until the 20th century. She draws a sharp line between “lesbianism” and “women loving women”—except that she doesn’t. She believes that women choose to be lesbians, rather than are born loving women, and as a result, this history is ingrained with a sense that being a lesbian is a conscious choice, which obviously has the potential to significantly change the narrative of lesbian history. Rather than making the crucial distinction that the lesbian subculture or the lesbian identity was only possible in the 20th century given few freedoms for women, she believes those social freedoms led to a choice for women to become lesbians and love women, which pervades the whole book, making me feel awkward about many of her analyses. She fails to separate the ability to realize, define, and label your love of women, and the ability to come out as loving women, with a choice to love women. In addition, she holds many of the biases that she describes the lesbian community as having struggled with. She does an excellent job of separating out the working-, middle-, and upper-class lesbians, how it led to very different communities, and the prejudices that existed between them. But she fails desperately at bisexuality, transsexuality, and racial disparities. She deals with discussing non-white lesbians so little and often so briefly, that when she does, she turns to wide generalizations (she fails to engage any diverse group except black lesbians until her section on the 1980s, as if they didn’t exist before they were brought into larger lesbian communities). Perhaps because she believes lesbianism is a choice, she depicts bisexuality as a choice of lifestyle, describing them almost as lesbians who stray, often erases them in the same ways she describes lesbians as doing—as questioning or confused lesbians, as closeted lesbians, or as experimenting heterosexuals. She only engages with trans* people when discussing the misconception that lesbians were men in women’s bodies, and every time she describes those who are transgender, her narrative voice takes on a detached tone. Perhaps this is all because Faderman wrote this book in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it still grates on a 2017 reader (particularly a bisexual 2017 reader), and her constant bias that lesbians love women by choice lurks behind the way she tells the entire century of history, which often made it difficult to read, and which complicates the history she tells. I recommend reading this only if you feel confident in your ability to parse the facts out of Faderman’s biases.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I liked this more than "Surpassing the Love of Men", I think because it covered more broadly many different eras of lesbian life in America. I do wish it had dealt more with the experiences of women of color and it did feel dismissive when discussing transmasculine folks--I wonder what an updated edition would look like (my library copy was the 2012 paperback edition, but I don't believe it had been revised for content from the early '90s when it was written). A decent primer on lesbian history, I liked this more than "Surpassing the Love of Men", I think because it covered more broadly many different eras of lesbian life in America. I do wish it had dealt more with the experiences of women of color and it did feel dismissive when discussing transmasculine folks--I wonder what an updated edition would look like (my library copy was the 2012 paperback edition, but I don't believe it had been revised for content from the early '90s when it was written). A decent primer on lesbian history, and quite an enjoyable read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tris

    A decade-by-decade history of lesbian history and culture in the 20th century. I found it really refreshing (especially at the time -- about 15 years ago) that this history doesn't tell lesbians' stories in the context of the gay men that lived at the time. The oral histories offer insights that are, as far as I know, unique to this book. Only moderately dry in a few spots; generally very interesting and well paced. Great photos.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    A stellar, engrossing read. 70s lesbian-feminism and 50s bar culture are here sometimes simplified to the point of cartoonishness (and perhaps also 19th century "romantic friendships"?), though I'm not sure that was entirely avoidable in so sweeping an overview. Overall, though, Faderman has done an excellent job of enlivening the history of lesbian life in America, providing an essential backbone for pursuing more specialized areas of study.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    Lillian Faderman presents an accessible, thorough look at the development of lesbian consciousness and life during the 21st century (in the U.S.). She further informs the text with a review of romantic friendship and the cultural constraints on women during the 20th century. I couldn't put it down and recommend it to anyone with an interest in women's history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michelé

    Even though there was alot left to be desired...especially in the realm of history relating to more marginalized communities...this was a good and informative read. I realize that one book cant cover everything, and that sometimes I shouldnt judge based on if my own reality is reflected...so... Read it if you can

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    This was pretty interesting, especially the oral history interviews with women who lived as lesbians in the 1940s and 1950s. The chapter on bisexuality/lesbianism in Harlem during the 1920s was also fascinating. Except for that chapter and the chapter on the 1970s, the author focused primarily on white women, which seemed like a missed opportunity.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stephany Joy

    Sorta like that one scene in "If These Walls Could Talk 2" except longer.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    Faderman is a great historian. Her writing can be clunky at times and her biases can be grating, but it was very informative.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tony Canas

    Read it for a woman's studies class. Very interesting historical look at lesbianism in the US.

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