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Journal of the History of Sexuality 14.1/2 (2005) 76-106

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Feminine Masculinities:

Scientific and Literary Representations of "Female Inversion" at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

University of Indiana, Bloomington

Throughout modern European history articulations of gender and sexuality have been closely intertwined. At the turn of the twentieth century the interconnection between both categories played a crucial role in redefining cultural identities at what contemporaries perceived as a historical moment of accelerated modernization. Discourses of women's emancipation, antifeminist responses, and emphatic assertions of masculinity overlapped with the categorization of "perverse" and "normal" sexuality in science and literature. Together these themes mapped the terrain of a contemporary obsession that placed the categories of sexuality at the center of modern definitions of identity. A point of focus in this field was the trope of inversion. Developed by the emerging sciences of sexuality, it soon became the dominant, albeit not the only, paradigm for imagining "same-sex" attractions as well as "deviant" gender configurations.1 Sometimes articulated in the notion of a third sex, the category of inversion opened up a terrain for imagining both "feminine men" and "female masculinities."2 Initially, scholars focused primarily on "male" inversion, rendering "female masculinities" more or less invisible. Gradually, however, the scientific mapping of perversion did come to include "the other sex," which, at the same [End Page 76] time, figured more prominently in literary depictions of inversion than the "male" invert.3 In my article I address these scientific and literary representations of "female" inversion, which have not been sufficiently studied in historical works about European sexuality.4 In particular, I focus on the dialogue between late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century scientific texts and the 1901 novel Sind es Frauen? Roman über das dritte Geschlecht (Are These Women? Novel about the Third Sex) by Aimée Duc.5 Duc's novel has been praised as extraordinary for its early positive representation of lesbian love in modern European literature, but it has not received much scholarly attention so far.6 [End Page 77]

As my article aims to show, Duc's novel presents not only a positive representation of marginalized sexual identities but also a critical contribution to the discourse of sexology. "Critical" in this context means both "crucial" and "involving criticism." By virtue of the ways in which it engages scientific categories, the literary text reads as part of sexologist discourse itself. At the same time it reflects on the production of scientific knowledge. Reading the novel closely thus helps me to develop the major point of this article: I argue for a new reading of "female" inversion. On a theoretical level my contribution addresses the relations of the history of sexuality to gender (in particular, transgender) history and to feminist as well as queer theory. The discursive terrain of inversion, where figures of gender and sexuality are obviously constituted through one another, has been mapped quite differently by scholars with a feminist, lesbian-feminist, queer, or transgender focus. My intervention into the debate may reflect my own agenda as an attempt to negotiate these different perspectives; nonetheless, I defend my reading as historically more adequate than other recent interpretations of inversion. On a methodological level this argument includes some reflections on the politics of reading historical texts and on the relationship between literary and scientific texts. I begin by outlining recent critical perspectives on the discourse of inversion, introduce my own argument in this context, and develop its different implications in a close reading of the novel's dialogue with sexological texts.

Female Masculinity, Feminine Masculinities

"Female masculinity" has received some attention in recent cultural studies. In 1995 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick suggested the need for a closer examination of masculinities that have nothing to do with "it" (i.e., maleness), and in 1998 Judith Halberstam's Female Masculinity presented the first book-length investigation of these masculinities.7 In the study Halberstam criticizes the way in which previous scholars discussed the historical concept of inversion...


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