Monday, October 12, 2009

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, by Lillian Faderman [50BPT]

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

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers was an illuminating and compelling history. Thoroughly researched through interviews and media, Faderman does an excellent job of constructing the white cis lesbian experience. Up until about 1980, she constructs a history of the circumstances and attitudes surrounding lesbianism from the perspective of insiders and outsiders - from pre-WWI "romantic friendships" to lesbian-feminists in the 1970.

Faderman tries very hard to go beyond the experiences of white feminists, and has some sensitive constructions of the experiences of lesbian women of color - particularly the chapter on 1920s Harlem and gentrification. But the chapters on the 1940s through the 1960s barely mention their experiences.

Faderman does a far worse job of any kind of trans perspective. There are only 2 mentions of transsexuals found in the index; both are dismissive and cissexist in context. I don't object to Faderman focusing on the experiences of cis lesbians. The history of trans lesbians is different from that of cis lesbians, and deserves its own narrative beyond side notes in the experiences of cis women. But it goes beyond making the dominant narrative about cis experiences into erasing trans experiences and positioning cis lesbianism as the only kind of lesbianism.

That having been said, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers was an engaging, accessible, and interesting look at a history I don't have a lot of knowledge about. I'd recommend it to fans of histories and those interested in more thoroughly understanding the history of discrimination against cis (and usually, white) lesbians.


  1. I haven't read the book, but it makes me think of what Cicero said: Victor Imperatus, or the winners write the histories.

    RMJ, your discussion of the book shows the heirarchy of race, gender and sexuality. White, male and heterosexual trump non-white, female and non-heterosexual. And members of all of these groups can lay claim to whatever status they have if they are cis-gendered.

    It makes me what a black lesbian said to me as I was starting my transition: "You're white, male and heterosexual. Why do you want to give up all that privilege?"

  2. I just found this link totally randomly and i'm excited to check out the other blog entries!

    I agree with all that you've said in this small review of Faderman's book, and i'd like to add this she is painfully dismissive, in my POV, of butch/femme as a part of lesbian history.

    BUT reading her own autobiography, Naked in the Promisedland, alongside the 20th century history in her book gives an illuminating insight to why she is so anti- butch/femme and bar culture of the 40s- 70s....


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