Autodidact: self-taught


Concussion (film)

by V. L. Craven


Abby Ableman (Robin Weigert) is in a solid but boring relationship with Kate Ableman (Julie Fain Lawrence), with whom she has two children. After receiving a mild concussion–when her son hits her with a baseball–she begins to reevaluate her life and realises her life of domestic bliss may not be as blissful as she originally thought.

Kate is happy with their life and seemingly gives Abby permission to ‘go breathe’ and Abby does so in the form of hiring a lesbian prostitute. She meets this person through her business partner, Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky), whose ex-girlfriend runs an escort ring. Said prostitute says Abby could make her own money with women ‘who want an older experience.’

And she’s off and running. In a lying down and naked sort of way.

Some experiences are good, some are…not. And then one of her appointments is with a woman from her town (she’s been meeting people in Manhattan). The woman is straight and Abby has found her attractive for some time. Complications arise and clothes come off.

The Red Band trailer which is entirely NSFW:

There are some problems with this film. More than a few, yes. The trailer isn’t accurate. Well, yes, there’s quite a bit of sexy lady time, which is really well handled. That probably had something to do with Rose Troche’s involvement, who co-wrote and directed Go Fish and was a writer and director of three seasons of The L Word.

Weigert does an outstanding job, as do all of the actresses. Janel Moloney (who played Donna on The West Wing) is a secondary character and does a great job as pseudo-therapist, but that couple needed a real therapist. And Emily Kinney did what she could with what she was given in her role as The Girl (the runner of the prostitution ring). Apropos of nothing–she looked so much like Luna Lovegood it was distracting. Or as a friend said Luna LoveREALgood.

Tchaikovsky is particularly excellent as Justin, Abby’s business partner–they buy ‘shitholes’, fix them up and flip them.

The problems are with the script. While there are some excellent moments and laugh out loud lines (that are intentionally amusing) there are plot points that don’t hang together. It’s never clear how the titular concussion affects Ableman’s decision to become a prostitute–I was extrapolating earlier–which is something of an issue.

Then there’s the ending, which will depend on how the viewer feels about unresolved endings . It’s unclear where the plot is going and it certainly doesn’t go where the average cinema-goer will expect. In a way it’s realistic, which isn’t typical of American-made films. But nothing about Concussion is typical of American-made films, so that’s par for the course.

If you’re interested in dramas about the emotional lives of women that doesn’t treat females over forty like sexless eunuchs then this one is for you. But for god sake, don’t watch it with your parents. 4/5



by V. L. Craven

I Know You're Out There I Know You’re Out There by Michael Beaumier
-01- Most of the time I’m so quiet, people don’t even realise that I’m there, which is how I prefer it.
-02- …being hated, for a journalist, is almost as good as getting paid; it means someone’s at least paying attention…
-03- Despite this, they rarely lose their patience; they are simply not paid enough to take any of it seriously.
-04- I like to think that I inspire this candor, that there’s something special about me that somehow compels otherwise reticent people to confess their bed-wetting fetishes and rape fantasies. I’d like to think I have that kind of power but, in truth, I’m just a guy who’s lost the ability to be appalled.
Everyone knows this. The blasé attitude, the quiet sighs of boredom, the eye-rolling—it’s obvious at this point.
-05- ‘Fight Club,’ I explained. ‘They made it into a movie. A chick flick for guys.’
-06- Everyday would be a veritable buffet of bodily fluids and excretions, a catalogue of sexual longings and obsessions. These were people who regarded the laws of physics and the limits of bodily contortion as merely strong suggestions.
-07- ‘You know,’ I’d tell my video-store customers, ‘real lesbians probably don’t have sex in stiletto heels. When the lesbians I know have sex, they mean business—and those heels, they’re just plain dangerous. Trust me, if a lesbian is wearing stilettos in bed, somebody’s gonna lose an eye. And why do the inmates in those card-core prison videos all have tan lines and lustrous, carefully coiffed hair? Shouldn’t they be in lock down? I’m just saying.’
-08- I’d pretty much wrung everything I was going to get out of Catholicism, and I didn’t much care for the direction the company was going.

Infernal Desire Machines of Angela Carter ‘The Infernal Desire Machines of Angela Carter’ by Jeff VanderMeer
-001- The distinction between the tale–often based on myth or legend, stylized, and featuring intentionally ‘flat’ characters–and the short story–which is often more realistic, three-dimensional, and psychologically complete–is very important.
-002- From Angela Carter’s 1978 essay ‘Alchemy of the Word’ ‘…although I thought [the surrealists] were wonderful, I had to give them up in the end. They were, with a few patronized exceptions, all men and they told me that I was the source of all mystery, beauty and otherness, because I was a woman–and I knew that was not true. I knew I wanted my fair share of the imagination, too. Not an excessive amount, mind; I wasn’t greedy. Just an equal share in the right to vision.’

Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature by Emma Donoghue
-001- It was perceived by the servants of the House that some secret bond of connection existed between Miss Aldclyffe and her companion. But they were woman and woman, not woman and man, the facts were ethereal and refined, and so they could not be worked into a taking story. –from Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy (1871)
-002- Often such critics protest that it would be anachronistic for us to find lesbian themes in a text whose writers and first readers would have seen none. … Why would playwrights construct so many homoerotic scenarios in dramatic form if they had no expectation that their audience would understand them?
-003- Endings are overrated; they are often the point where the writer bows to convention…I know that my liking for a character is shown bymy giving her a lot of page time and vivid scenes, however I may dispose of her by the end.
-004- they are more interested in the charming scenario of a pair of girls whose bond emerges naturally from their similarity and mutual familiarity. The girls are either known as growing up together or as being “kindred spirits” who fall in love at first meeting. Because of their likeness in age and background, they can act as mirrors to each other, although events will often reveal their characters as contrasting.
-005- _inseparable_ was a common term for female pairs by the late sixteenth century
-006- Mistresses of all a universe we shall be; through our alliance I feel we shall become the superiors of Nature herself. Oh, dear Durand, he crimes we are going to commit! The infamies we are going to achieve! [EPIGRAPH?| — Marquis de Sade _Juliette_
-007- A secret alliance of two beings who understand one another because they’re alike… –Edourad Boudret _La Prisonniere_
-008- It was _to love_ I yearned more than to _be loved_, and I was entirely free from sexual instincts. — Christopher St John, Hungerheart: The Story of a Soul (1896)
-009- You’re neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you’re as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else, only you’re unexplained as yet–you’ve not got your niche in creation. But some day that will come and meanwhile don’t shrink from yourself, but just face yourself calmly and bravely.


Between Women

by V. L. Craven

Between Women: Friendship, Desire and Marriage in Victorian England by Sharon Marcus
001. The general public continues to see Victorians as terribly repressed, while specialists have by and large accepted Foucault’s assertion that our own contemporary obsession with sex originates with the Victorians.
002. Historians of kinship argued endlessly about exactly when it first became common to think of marriage as the union of soulmates, but most agree that by 1830 that ideal had become a norm.
003. Women, sexuality, and marriage began to change dramatically in the 1880s. Eugenics shifted the meaning of marriage from a spiritual union to a reproductive one that depended on heterosexual fertility and prompted racial purity.
004. In the 1890s, a discourse of lesbianism began to emerge in Edward Carpenter’s homophile writings, Havelock Ellis’s sexological studies, and women’s responses to them.
005. Awareness of sex between women also increased after two well-publicized trials raised issues of sapphism and female inversion: the Maud Allan trial of 1919 and the Radclyffe Hall trial of 1929. Women in female couples continued to use marriage as a model for their relationships—think of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas—but many female couples began to identify either with an ideal of pure, sexless love, or with a bohemian modernism that rejected marriage and monogamy as patriarchal institutions.
006. At the same time, it is also notable that four of this book’s six chapters concentrate on one decade within that broader time span—the 1860s. It is not surprising that a “fast” decade of feminist activism, avid consumerism, and obsession with the bold and showy “Girl of the Period” coincided with debates about marriage and with a rising number of publications revolving around feminine display and aggressive female fantasies. Nevertheless, the broader temporal framework still holds. Throughout the period, society encouraged women to cultivate female friendships, and a variety of people acknowledged female marriages without demonizing them.
007. French poets, novelists, painters, and social investigators were notoriously interested in sex between women. Baudelaire wrote about it, as did Zola, Gautier, and Balzac; Courbet and Toulouse-Lautrec painted it; and Parent Duchaˆtelet wrote about its prevalence among prostitutes. By contrast, the only British discourse to portray explicit sex between women was pornography, although occasional references also appeared in medical texts. In researching an essay called “Comparative Sapphism,” I found The Female Relations of Victorian England that British reviews of French literature about lesbians proved that Victorians were capable of deciphering even very coded allusions to sex between women. At the same time, however, they dismissed sapphic characters as morbid, diseased, perverse, exotic, and abnormal, and linked lesbianism to adultery, sodomy, and incest, all unnatural realities too degraded to mention .
008. Here is Jane Eyre befriending schoolmate and moral paragon Helen Burns: “Resting my head on Helen’s shoulder, I put my arms round her waist; she drew me to her, and we reposed in silence.” Dying of consumption, Helen invites Jane into bed with her: “ [Y] our little feet are bare; lie down and cover yourself with my quilt” (113). Jane “nestle [s] close to her” in bed and before Helen dies, “clasp [s] ” her “arms closer round” her as the girl sex change a last kiss (113–14). Half-sisters Marian and Laurain Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1860) offer another example of passion ate devotion when one declares of the other, “I won’t live with out her, and she can’t live without me….I…love her better than my own life.” The night before Laura weds, she creeps into Marian’s bed, announcing, “I shall lose you so soon, Marian….I must make the most of you while I can.” In Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market(1862), one character tells another, “Did you miss me?/ Come and kiss me. / Nevermind my bruises,/Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices/…/Eat me, drink me, love me;/Laura, make much of me.”
009. Portraits of women together usually focused on sisters, but friends often had themselves photographed together, and British fashion magazines portrayed women gazing at each other and touching, without identifying the relationship between them . [photos of them together in vic. style and dress? e takes this photo.]
010. It is well known that Victorian pornographers were obsessed with flagellation, but the scholarship I had read insisted that birching was a strictly masculine affair, that only men wrote or read about such things and that men were always the central figures in beating scenarios. Here, however, were women engaging in precisely the same fantasies; indeed, many of the letters published in women’s magazines resurfaced in pornography, either reprinted verbatim or cited in Victorian bibliographies of erotic literature. In a magazine directed at middle-class housewives, interspersed with recipes, household hints, and news about The Female Relations of Victorian England the latest Paris fashions, were dozens of letters like this one from an “English Mamma”: “I made her take off her trousers [underpants] in order that she might feel the chastisement properly. I then put her across my knee in ‘the old-fashioned style,’ and gave her about twenty sound strokes with the birch.” Some correspondents accused women who punished girls of prurient motives; others wrote in asking where they could buy a birch rod or recommending slippers as a more ladylike instrument for punishing disobedient daughters.
011. Fashion magazines presented mothers and daughters as objects for one another and showed women indulging with remarkable freedom in public fantasies about exposing, humiliating, and punishing girls.
012. The dynamic between women and girls found in fashion magazines turned out also to structure stories about girls and their dolls, who could represent beautiful ladies for girls to worship, or disobedient subordinates for them to punish. [e’s stories for her dolls]
013. Lady Seraphina, the doll who narrates The Doll and Her Friends (1852), declares: “I belong to a race the sole end of whose existence is to give pleasure to others [of] the female sex.” She underscores the power the female sex exercises over dolls who are “mere dependents; some might even callus slaves….forced to submit to every caprice of our possessors.” Tale after tale described dolls as the love objects of girls who were both adoring paramours and harsh, fickle mistresses. [seraphina is e’s doll—then becomes Elizabeth]
014. Interpretations of nineteenth-century fashion imagery assert that it objectified women for men, but nineteenth-century fashion imagery was all about women’s beauty being displayed for women’s enjoyment.
015. They had assumed that desire for women was exclusive to men and to lesbians, which made it impossible to see that women who were not lesbians could also eagerly consume images of desirable femininity.
016. our contemporary opposition between hetero- and homosexuality did not exist for Victorians,
017. It seemed unlikely that the middle-class female majority who wrote adoringly of their friends or enjoyed reading about adult women whipping teenage girls were actively engaged in sex with women. But what of the small but real number of Victorian women who did have sexual relationships with other women?Did Victorians who were not themselves in such relationships see them as nothing but chaste friends or recognize them as sexual, and if so, how did they characterize them? Did they treat women in same-sex couples with the fear and contempt that British reviewers directed at the sapphic characters they saw less as women and more as diseased monsters?Or did they accord them the same respect, admiration, and encouragement as female friends? Did they consider women in female couples to be masculine, hyperfeminine, or divided into male and female roles?
018. In pursuing answers to these questions, I was assisted by recent studies that have advanced lesbian history beyond endless debates about whether women in the nineteenth century ever had sex with other women. It is a ridiculous controversy, since if it were true that no women had sex with women in the nineteenth century, that era would turn out to be the only lesbian-free zone in recorded history. Preposterous as that may sound, it is a belief that people articulate all the time, either as a global proposition or on a case-by-case basis. By the time I wrote this book, however, Terry Castle, Lisa Merrill, Julia Markus, and Martha Vicinus had established that women such as Anne Lister, Charlotte Cushman, Rosa Bonheur, Harriet Hosmer, Emily Faithfull, Minnie Benson, Ethel Smyth, and Frances Power Cobbe all had sexual relationships with other women, after the eighteenth-century tribade had faded from polite discourse and before nineteenth-century sexology invented the invert. As I read about those women and their lovers, I was struck that several were married to men, and even more by how many defined their longterm relationships with women as marriages. Furthermore, often both women in a couple identified interchangeably with the roles of husband and wife. They called each other “sposa,” “hubby,” “wedded wife,” “my other and better half,” described themselves as “married,” and were recognized as couples by men and women leading far more orthodox lives. The question of whether or not women in female couples actually had sex became less important than the fact that they themselves and many in their social networks perceived them as married.
019. Women who established longterm relationships with other women, by contrast, saw themselves, and were seen by others, as placid embodiments of the middle-class ideal of marriage: a bond defined by sex that also had the power to sanctify sex. The French sapphist was an antisocial threat to family life, but women in female marriages had a place in the social order, as variations on its domestic ideal
020. The ease with which women in female marriages were assimilated to conjugality helped me to refine the place of sex in what I now saw was my central preoccupation: the different forms of socially valued relationships between Victorian women. Friendship, infatuation, marriage, and women’s objectification of women had to be differentiated, not measured in terms of a single sexual standard. Work in queer studies on same-sex families helped me to understand how, especially in the nineteenth century, marriage signified not only a private sexual bond but also a host of other relations: integration into social networks, the sharing of household labor, physical and spiritual caretaking, and the transmission of property.
021. Having developed a definition of the erotic that helped to explain how important objectifying women was to the constitution of normative femininity, I now saw the importance of understanding how marriage was legitimated by activities other than sex.
022. Between Women offers a history of sexuality and gender that does not focus on power differences or oppositions between polarized genders and antithetical sexualities. Instead it explores what remains to be seen if we proceed without Oedipus, without castration, without the male traffic in women, without homophobia and homosexual panic. Unsettling commonalities emerge. Egalitarian affection turns out to be common to female friendships and marriages between women and men. Matrons, housewives, and ladies of fashion act in ways usually identified with heterosexual masculinity. Aggression, hierarchy, objectification, and voyeurism dominate representations of mothers and daughters, girls and dolls, and images of femininity designed for female consumers. Positing the existence of more than one kind of relationship between women leads us to recognize that many of those relationships worked in tandem with heterosexual exchange and patriarchal gender norms.
023. Past theories and histories have seen the bonds between women as either the quintessence of femininity or its defiant inversion.
024. “I cannot see why [male attentions] should ever be so much the subject of envy amongst women, as to cast a shade upon their intercourse with each other.” Ellis assigned equal value to female friends and male suitors.
025. “friend” itself, which in Old English meant both “a near relation” and “a person joined by affection and intimacy to another, independently of sexual or family love.”By the time of late Middle English, “friend” could mean a beloved who was neither kin nor lover, but also a relative or “a romantic or sexual partner.
026. Only through a discreet but marked rhetoric did Victorians qualify that some “friends” were not friends, but special friends, life friends, and particular companions.
027. Victorians accepted friendship between women because they believed it cultivated the feminine virtues of sympathy and altruism that made women into good helpmates.
028. In the eighteenth century, aristocratic women viewed friendship as an alternative to marriage and justified it as the cultivation of reason, equality, and taste; in the wake of Romanticism and Evangelicalism, nineteenth-century women defined friendship as the expression of emotion, affinity, personal inclination, and religious faith.
-029- Victorians recognized women’s friendship as a social bond comparable to kinship and conjugal love, but the last several decades of scholarship on marriage and the family have defined female friendship as external to family life. Studies of family and marriage place friendship outside the purview of their analysis or define it as a social relationship at odds with the isolated nuclear family.
-030- Female friends and female lovers alike expressed affection, shared confidences, and idealized one another’s physical and spiritual qualities. But friends differed significantly from female lovers who threw themselves into obsessive passions or lived together, functioned socially as a couple, merged finances, and bequeathed property to each other.
-031- Indeed, although the lesbian continuum posits female friends and lesbian lovers as united in their opposition to patriarchal marriage, many nineteenth-century lesbian relationships resembled marriages more than friendships—and as a result shared with friendship a high degree of acceptance by respectable society.
-032- The single most influential study of female friendship, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s “The Female World of Love and Ritual” (1975), argued that before psychiatrists popularized the concept of the deviant lesbian, passionate friendship between women was not only accepted among a few female couples but was a norm for many women and an integral aspect of family life
-033- After Foucault’s History of Sexuality, scholars are less prone to characterize the Victorians as sexually repressed,
-034- Whether writing of sexual partnerships or asexual friendships, scholars assume that same-sex intimacy was socially unacceptable and severed from the family and marriage, despite mounting evidence that even lesbian relationships enjoyed an unexpected degree of knowing acceptance. No less an eminence than the archbishop of Canterbury, for example, deferred to his wife Minnie Benson’s wish that her female lover move into the home also occupied by their many children.
-035- In her youth, Anne Thackeray (later Ritchie) recorded in an 1854 journal entry how she “fell in love with Miss Geraldine Mildmay” at one party and Lady Georgina Fullerton “won [her] heart” at another. In reminiscences written for her daughter in 1881, Augusta Becher (1830–1888) recalled a deep childhood love for a cousin a few years older than she was: “From my earliest recollections I adored her, following her and content to sit at her feet like a dog.” At the other extreme of the life cycle, the seventy-one-year-old Ann Gilbert (1782–1866), who co-wrote the poem now known as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” appreciatively described “the latter years of…friendship” with her friend Mrs. Mackintosh as “the gathering of the last ripe figs, here and there, one on the top most bough!”
-036- the Reverend Charles Fox wrote to Head in 1877, soon after the birth of her first child: “I want desperately to see you and that prodigy of a boy, and that perfection of a husband, and that well-tried and well-beloved sister-friend of yours, Emma Waithman.” Although Head and Waithman never combined households, the irregular correspondence, extended visits, and frequent travels were sufficient for Fox to assign Waithman a socially legible status as an informal family member, a “sister-friend” listed immediately after Head’s son and husband
-037- The term “lifewriting” refers to the heterogeneous array of published, privately printed, and unpublished diaries, correspondence, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, reminiscences, and recollections that Victorians and their descendants had a prodigious appetite for reading and writing.
-038- Victorian women’s diaries combined impersonality with lack of incident. Although Marian Bradley (1831–1910) wrote, “My diary is entirely a record of my inner-life—the outer life is not varied. Quiet and pleasant but nothing worth recording occurs,” [VC]
-039- Although we now expect diaries to be private outpourings of a self confronting forbidden desires and confiding scandalous secrets, only a handful of authenticated Victorian diaries recorded sexual lives in any detail, and none can be called typical. Unrevealing diaries, on the other hand, were plentiful in an era when keeping a journal was common enough for printers to sell preprinted and preformatted diaries and locked diaries were unusual. Preformatted diaries adopted features of almanacs and account books, and journals synchronized personal life with the external rhythms of the clock, the calendar, and the household, not the unpredictable pulses of the heart. Diaries were rarely meant for the diarist’s eyes alone, which explains why biographers had no compunction about publishing large portions of their subjects’ journals with no prefatory justifications. Girls and women read their diaries aloud to sisters or friends,
-040- Most diarists produced chronicles that testified to a woman’s success in developing the discipline necessary to ensure that each day was much like the rest, and even travel diaries were filled not with impressions but descriptions similar to those found in guide books. When something unusually tumultuous took place, it often interrupted a woman’s daily writing and went unrecorded.
-041- Keeping a diary was a religious discipline for many Victorians, who recorded their daily work and spiritual lives as part of a mission to develop methodical habits. M.R.D. Foot characterizes William Gladstone’s diary as “a mild penitential exercise: a daily occasion for self-criticism.”
-042- Philanthropist Louisa Montefiore (1821–1910), later Lady de Rothschild, was an observant Jew who also kept a diary as a form of “strict self examination,” in the hope that carefully documenting how she managed her time and money and regulated her mind and affections would prevent her from being vain, frivolous, and fanciful.
-043- Psychoanalytic theory popularized introspection and encouraged individuals to develop laborate individual mythologies
-044- The many letters included in the published version of Mary Gladstone Drew’s diaries and correspondence were addressed to her cousin and friend Lavinia. The editor of Lady Louise Knightley’s journals identified the central figure of the early volumes as Louise’s cousin and “inseparable companion” Edith, with whom Louise exchanged daily letters when they were separated between 1856 and 1864
-045- Writing in 1865 of the friend who came “to bless my life,” twenty-three-year-old Louisa Knightley
-046- In along passage from The Women of England on women’s duties, what begins as a discussion of friendship between women blurs almost imperceptibly into a peroration on marriage between women and men. By the last sentence of this passage, it is clear that Ellis’s subject has shifted from female friendship to male-female marriage, but where does the shift begin? Have [women] not their young friendships, for those sunny hours when the heart expands itself in the genial atmosphere of mutual love, and shrinks not from revealing its very weaknesses and errors; so that a faithful hand has but to touch its tender chords, and conscience is awakened, and then instruction may be poured in, and medicine may be administered, and the messenger of peace, with healing on his wings, may be invited to come in, and make that hearth is home? Have they not known the secrets of some faithful bosom laid bare before them in a deeper and yet more confiding attachment, when, however insignificant they might be to the world in general, they held an influence almost unbounded over one human being, and could pour in, for the bane or the blessing of that bosom, according to the fountain from whence their own was supplied?Have they not bound themselves by a sacred and enduring bond, to be to one fellow-traveller along the path of life, a companion on his journey.
-047- Anglican novelist Charlotte Yonge (1823—1901) described her life as structured by three great friendships, beginning in childhood with a favorite cousin, “My dear, dear Anne, whom I loved always with all my heart!” .Yonge’s account of her youthful love for Anne provides an unusual instance of a girlhood friendship being checked by adults: [T] he great love of all our lives was getting to be conscious. Anne and I were always together. We wanted to walk about with our arms round each other’s waists, but our mothers held this to be silly, and we were told we could be just as fond of one another without “pawing.” I still think this was hard, and that tenderness would have done no harm. But I do remember a long walk with the nurses and the little ones round Kitley Point….Wegathered [blue-bells] in the ecstasy of childhood among flowers, exchanged our finest clustering stems of blue, and felt our hearts go out to one another. At least I did, so entirely that the Kitley slope—yes, and a white blue-bell—still brings to me that dear Anne and that old love.
-048- The question “did they have sex?” is the first one on people’s lips today when confronted with a claim that women in the past were lovers—and it is almost always unanswerable. If firsthand testimony about sex is the standard for defining a relationship as sexual, then most Victorians never had sex. Scholars have yet to determine whether Thomas Carlyle was impotent; when, if ever, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor consummated their relationship; or if Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick, whose diaries recorded their experiments with fetishes, cross-dressing, and bootlicking, also had genital intercourse. Just as one can read hundreds of Victorian letters, diaries, and memoirs without finding a single mention of menstruation or excretion, one rarely finds even oblique references to sex between husband and wife. Men and women were equally reticent about sexual activity inside and outside of marriage. In a journal that described her courtship and wedding in detail, Lady Knightley dispatched the first weeks of wedded life in two lines: “Rainald and I entered on our new life in our own home. May God bless it to us” Elizabeth Butler, whose autobiography included “a little sketch of [her] rather romantic meeting” with the man who became her husband, was similarly and typically laconic about a transition defined by sexual intercourse: “June 11 of that year, 1877, was my wedding day.”
-049-The lack of reliable evidence of sexual activity becomes less problematic, however, if we realize that sex matters because of the social relationships it creates and concentrate on those relationships.
-050- Those types of affairs were in turn worlds apart from the relationships with women that Lister and Cushman called marriages, a term that did not simply mean the relationships were sexual but also connoted shared households, mingled property, and assumptions about exclusivity and durability. We can best understand what kinds of relationships women had with each other not by hunting for evidence of sex, which even if we find it will not explain much, but rather by anchoring women’s own statements about their relationships in a larger context. The context I provide here is the complex linguistic field of lifewriting, which brings into focus two types of relationships often confused with friendship, indeed often called friendship, but significantly different from it: 1 )unrequited passion and obsessive infatuation; and 2) life partnerships, which some Victorians described as marriages between women. The most famous and best-documented example of a Victorian woman’s avowed but unreciprocated passion for another woman is Edith Simcox’s lifelong love for George Eliot,
-051- Tellingly, though twentieth-century scholars often refer to Simcox euphemistically as Eliot’s devoted “friend,” Simcox rarely used the term, and modeled herself instead on a courtly lover made all the more devoted by the one-sidedness of her passion.
-052- I had told her of my ambition to be allowed to lie silently at her feet as she pursued her occupations”
-053- Like a medieval ascetic, Simcox eroticized her lack of sexual fulfillment, arguing that her love was even more powerful than friendship or marriage because, in resigning herself to living “widowed of perfect joy,” she had felt “sharp flames consuming what was left…of selfish lust”
-054- In an unsent letter to Eliot, Simcox again found herself unable to select only one category to explain her love: “Do you see darling that I can only love you three lawful ways, idolatrously as Frater theVirgin Mary, in romance wise as Petrarch, Laura, or with a child’s fondness for the mother”
-055- In the absence of the sociological and scientific shorthand provided by sexology or a codified subculture, and in the absence of a genuinely shared life that could be represented by a common history or joint possessions, women like Simcox represented their unrequited sexual desire for other women by extravagantly combining incompatible terms such as mother, lover, sister, friend, wife, and idol.
-056- By assuring Warren that she did not side with the jilted fiance´, Edith declared an autonomous interest in her: “‘I wanted you to come here because—because I like you.’ She was sitting at her easel and never looking at me as she spoke for I was standing behind her, but when she said ‘because I like you,’ she looked backwards up at me with such an honest, soft, beautiful expression that any distrust I had still left of her trueness melted up into a cinder”
-057- Just as Warren heightened her relationship with Edith by writing about it so effusively and at such length, the two women elevated it by coyly discussing what their interactions and feelings meant. Before one ofher many departures from London, Edith asked Warren: “‘ [A] re you sorry I am going?…How curious—why are you sorry?’ Then I told her a little of all she had done for me…how much life and pleasure and interest she had put into my life, and she said nothing but she just put out her hand and laid it on my hand and that from her means a great deal more than 100 things from anyone else”
-058- If Warren’s diary reports the two women’s interactions with any degree of accuracy, it is clear that both enjoyed creating an atmosphere of pent-up longing. Edith fed Warren’s infatuation with provocative questions and a skill for setting scenes: “She asked what things I cared for now? And I said with truth, for nothing— except seeing her”. Three days later, just before another of Edith’s departures, Warren paid a call: When tea was over, the dusk had begun and I…sat…at the open window. …By and bye Edith came and sat near me….The room inside was nearly dark, but outside it was brilliant May moonlight….Edith sat there ready to go, looking very pale and very sad with the light on her face….We did not talk much. She asked me to go to the party tonight and to think of her at11. …She said goodbye and she kissed me, for the first time. Warren is exquisitely sensitive to every element that connotes eroticism: a darkened room, physical proximity, complicit silence, a romantic demand that the beloved remain present in her lover’s mind even when absent, a kiss whose uniqueness—“for the first time”—suggests a beginning. Any one of these actions would have been unremarkable between female friends, but comparison with other women’s diaries shows how distinctive it was for Warren to list so many gestures within one entry, without defining and therefore restricting their meaning. Warren’s attitude also distinguishes here motions from those articulated by women who took their love for women in a more conjugal or sexual direction.Her journals combine exhaustive attention to the beloved with a pervasive indifference to interrogating what that fascination might mean. Never classified as friendship or love, Warren’s feelings for Edith had the advantages and limits of remaining in the realm of suggestion, where they could expand infinitely without ever being realized or checked
-059- Because female friendship was recognized as an autonomous social relationship with its own duties and privileges, Hird was not simply trivializing or veiling Bonheur’s relationship with Micas when he called them friends. At a time when marriage was increasingly conceived as an affective relationship as well as a legal and economic one, husbands and wives also expressed love by calling one another companions.
-060- The editor of those reminiscences fleshed out what he meant by the women’s “peculiar friendship”
-061- There are many instances of published writing acknowledging marital relationships between women by calling them friendships. Victorian women in female couples were not automatically subject to the exposure and scandal visited on opposite-sex couples who stepped outside the bounds of respectable sexual behavior. Instead, many female couples enjoyed both the right to privacy associated with marriage and the public privileges accorded to female friendship
-062- To call one woman another’s superlative friend was not to disavow their marital relationship but to proclaim it in the language of the day.
-063- The social network that embraced the two women included Fanny Kemble, John Stuart Mill, Henry Maine, Charles Darwin, and William Gladstone, many of whom recognized that Cobbe and Lloyd formed a conjugal unit who lived and traveled together and were to be jointly saluted in correspondence and invited as a pair to social gatherings.
-064- Like pet names, pets were often away for women to represent a marital bond
-065- Paralepsis, in which one talks about something by stating that one is not going to discuss it, was another aspect of the rhetoric of female marriage.
-066- Cobbe called Lloyd her “lifefriend,” and her autobiography invoked the marital privilege of privacy to explain why she wrote sparingly about Lloyd: “Of a friendship like this…I shall not be expected to say more.”
-067- Women like Bonheur and Cobbe described “friendships” that were de facto marriages by assembling elements of friendship, kinship, marriage, and romance.
-068- Their lifewritings demonstrate that terms we might have imagined were fixed for middle-class Victorians, such as “friend” or “wife,” were deployed flexibly and could have contradictory meanings. As a result, we can distinguish female friends from female lovers only by situating those words in the fullest possible context.
-069- it was so common to destroy personal papers that nothing definitive can be concluded from that fact alone. Sexual relationships between women that conformed to a marital model were not considered so illicit that open discussion of a relationship guarantees that it was not sexual. Conversely, just as it is reasonable to determine that sometimes women who called each other “friends” had sexual relationships with each other, in many cases it is equally reasonable to conclude that women were simply friends, despite writing of and to each other in the language of love. Declarations of love areas insufficient to prove a sexual relationship between Victorian women as lack of evidence of sex is to disprove it. But in iterated, cumulative, hyperbolic references to passion, exclusivity, idealization, complicity, private language, and mutual dependence, we can locate a tipping point that separated Victorian women’s ardent friendships from the sexual relationships they also formed with one another.
-070- One of the most striking differences between Victorian and twentieth century friendship is how often Victorian friends used “love” interchangeably with weaker expressions, such as “fond of” or “like,” and how often women used the language of physical attraction to describe their feelings for women whom a larger context shows were friends, not lovers
-071- The author of The Life and Friendships of Catherine Marsh (1917) wrote of Marsh’s 1836 meeting with her friend Caroline Maitland as love at first sight: “ [F] rom the first meeting the two girls were mutually attracted”
-072- Ann Gilbert, a paragon of domesticity, wrote of reaching “blood-heat-fever-heat on the thermometer of friendship” with a neighbor girl
-073- Addressing her friend Catherine Marshin 1862, twenty years after they first met, a married woman wrote, “My Katie, you were mine in 1842, and you have been twenty times more mine every year since,” reveling in friendship as the proud possession of a beloved intimate
-074- As friends, for example, women were able to exercise a prerogative otherwise associated with men: taking an active stance towards the object of their affections.
-075- “When I was so many years younger I used to fall into the most violent friendships and the one I felt for her was nearly the strongest of my passions.
-076- Aristocratic women had exchanged gifts, miniatures, and poems for centuries, and in the Victorian era the practice became widespread among middle-class women of all ages
-077- Female friendship allowed middle-class women to enjoy another privilege that scholars have assumed only men could indulge—the opportunity to display affection and experience pleasurable physical contact outside marriage without any loss of respectability. Women who were friends, not lovers, wrote openly of exchanging kisses and caresses in documents that their spouses and relatives read without comment. Women regularly kissed each other on the lips, a gesture that could be a routine social greeting or provide intense enjoyment.
-078- Emily Shore, whose Bedfordshire Anglican family was so proper they did not allow her to read Byron, described in a diary later published by her sisters the “heartfelt pleasure” she obtained from a visit to her friend Miss Warren’s room: “She was sitting up in bed, looking so sweet and lovely that I could not take my eyes off her….She made me sit on her bed, and kissed me many times, and was kinder to me than ever [and] held my hand clasped in hers”
-079- Cobbe in turn felt “such tender affection” for Somerville “that sitting beside her on the sofa…I could hardly keep myself from caressing her.” Cobbe never wrote of caressing Mary Lloyd, for respectability required lovers and spouses to avoid public signs of a shared sexual life. Friends, by contrast, could openly exchange material tokens of their affection and exhibit themselves giving and receiving the caresses and kisses of friendship.
-080- Female amity gave married and unmarried women the opportunity to play the social field with impunity, since a woman could show devoted love, light-hearted affection, fleeting attraction, and ardent physical appreciation for multiple female friends without incurring rebuke.
-081- In an era that saw no contest between what we now call heterosexual and homosexual desire, neither men nor women saw anything disruptive about amorous badinage between women, and therefore no effort was made to contain and denigrate female homoeroticism as an immature stage to be overcome. Only in the late 1930s, after fear of female inverts had become widespread, did women’s lifewritings start to describe female friendship as a developmental phase to be effaced by marriage. Since then, erotic playfulness between women has either been over interpreted as having the same seriousness as sexual acts or under-interpreted and trivialized as a phase significant only a straining for heterosexual courtship. Victorian lifewriting demonstrates, however, that expressions of playful attraction and love were strongest precisely between women who never became lovers, and far from being practice for marriage, were as common after it as before
082. Victorian society harshly condemned adultery, castigated female heterosexual agency a sunlady like, and considered it improper for women to compete with men intellectually, professionally, or physically. But a woman could enjoy, without guilt, the pleasures of toying with another woman’s affections or vying with other women for precedence as a friend. In maturity as in youth, women delighted in attracting and securing female friends whom they often singledout for being beautiful and socially in demand
083. Female rivalry over men was discouraged because it implied that women fought for and won their husbands, but women were allowed the agency of competing for one another’s favor.
084. Women took note of other women’s attractions not only as models to emulate but as pleasurable objects to consume. Women who felt physically attracted to other women were not seen as less feminine because of the attention they lavished on other women’s bodies, but more so. Luxuriating in women’s charms and viewing women as physical objects are activities some now think of as the prerogative of men. Lesbian enjoyment of women’s bodies is considered an appropriation of masculine desire, while heterosexual women are often imagined as inspecting one another in a spirit of hostile rivalry, unable to enjoy feminine beauty unless narcissistically admiring their own
-085- Women’s lifewriting shows an acceptance of that idealized and ideological version of female friendship; few women left records of conflict or rivalry with friends, though some acknowledged engaging in jealous competition with relative strangers over prized acquaintances and intimates
-086- In an 1834 letter, Mary Lundie Duncan described longing to find “a friend to whom I could unfold all my heart.”
-087- Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has shown how the suppression of men’s homoerotic desires surfaces in Victorian novels as a Gothic strain of paranoia among male characters who must renounce homoerotic desires but cannot mourn them.
-088- Symptomatic reading is an excellent method for excavating what societies refuse to acknowledge, and the twentieth century did indeed define gay and lesbian existence through repression and the resistance to it.
-089- In the place of symptomatic readings, the interpretations I offer in this chapter are what I call “just readings.” Just reading attends to what Jameson, in his pursuit of hidden master codes, dismisses as “the inert givens and materials of a particular text”
-090- Just reading strives to be adequate to a text conceived as complex and ample rather than as diminished by, or reduced to, what it has had to repress.
-091- Friends were clearly distinct from spouses and family members in many ways: less physically intimate, more prone to be idealized as perfect than idolized despite their imperfections.
-092- Like the women in female marriages who accumulated metaphors for their relationships (supreme friend, sister, mother, wife, lover),
-093- The friend could be a surrogate mother, and many women called their friends sisters. Conversely, writers often portrayed close affection between sisters as the highest form of friendship. As Christina Rossetti put it in her poem Goblin Market, “ [T] here is no friend like a sister.” In a more circumspect vein, Sarah Ellis wrote, “ [T] here may be faithful friendships formed in after years; but when a sister is a sister’s friend, there can be none so tender, and…so true”
-094- When Margaret Warren rescinded her betrothal to her cousin Amyas in 1871, she was as distressed about upsetting his mother as she was about disappointing him. One of her diary’s most heartfelt entries recorded telling Amyas’s mother she was ending the engagement even before she informed Amyas himself: “I rose to go and asked if I might take her hand. She gave it me and kissed me—and then all my pride gave way and as I knelt by her sofa with my hands in hers as she has often held them before—we both cried together…I remember saying ‘Oh if I had but loved Amyas one quarter as much as I love you it would have been all right’ and indeed that was true. Her hand was lying on my hands—her pretty long white fingers with the old blue rings on them and I could not help it—I stopped down and kissed them before I went”
-095- Symptomatic readings of sexuality in the Victorian novel have assumed that the genre takes shape in relationship to an opposition between a dominant heterosexuality exemplified by marriage and a marginal, repressed homosexuality at odds with marriage and family life,
-096- marriage was often considered an extension of female friendship and sometimes construed as the best name for sexual bonds between women as well as between women and men
-097- Dorothea takes off her gloves; Rosamond reads Dorothea’s face attentively and sees a gentleness there that disarms her; she cannot “avoid putting her small hand into Dorothea’s” nor noticing its “firm softness”
-098- not factored in how “dangerously responsive” she feels when she sees Rosamond—“she suddenly found her heart swelling and was unable to speak”. As the two women sit on chairs that “happened…to be close together”, Dorothea talks to Rosamond about Lydgate’s troubles. As she does so, the narrator notes, “she had unconsciously laid her hand again on the little hand that she had pressed before,” and even after Rosamond has “withdrawn” hers, Dorothea’s is “still resting on Rosamond’s lap”
-099- Rosamond, taken hold of by an emotion stronger than her own—hurried along in a new movement which gave all things some new, awful, undefined aspect— could find no words, but involuntarily she put her lips to Dorothea’s forehead  which was very near her, and then for a minute the two women clasped each other as if they had been in a shipwreck. “You are thinking what is not true,” said Rosamond, in an eager half-whisper, while she was still feeling Dorothea’s arms round her—urged by a mysterious necessity to free herself from something that oppressed her as if it were blood-guiltiness….Rosamond had delivered her soul under impulses which she had not known before.
-100- The kiss Rosamond bestows on Dorothea is a version of the “earnest sacramental kisses” Janet bestows on Mrs.Pettifer in Scenes of Clerical Life—“such kisses as seal a new and closer bond between the helper and the helped” and reinforce the social fabric. The physical embrace that transports Rosamond and Dorothea to a higher plane of consciousness, connection, and “serious emotion” is inseparable from the resolution of Middlemarch’s marriage plot
-101- Rosamond and Dorothea’s connection is social, if not public, and therefore affects their connections to others.
-102- with respect to female friendship, Victorian novels succeed in making the reader actively desire that nothing will happen
-103- In this sense, female friendship defies Peter Brooks’s equation of plot with the dynamic forward movement of plotting, and circumvents the classic distinction D.A. Miller makes between the necessary instability of the narratable and the quiescent plenitude of the non-narratable.
-104- The narrator is quite clear, however, that Madame Neroni is not a woman but a predatory “spider” and diabolical “basilisk”. The novel locates the quintessence of true womanhood in sisters who are the antithesis of Madame Neroni,
-105- “Having…fixedly resolved [on] … the pre-eminence of the exalted Green, the two girls went to sleep in each other’s arms, contented with themselves and the world”
-106- One does not have to go outside the canon, however, to show the importance of female friendship in the Victorian novel. It is present in Middlemarch, in David Copperfield,
-107- The bond between female friends, in contrast, is either established before the novel begins or coalesces almost instantaneously, intensifies almost effortlessly, and can be expressed clearly and openly. The relative stability of friendship makes it the motor rather than the subject of plot; it generates enormous energy without itself moving much or melting down. The tendency of female friendship to remain constant over the course of a plot is a sign both of its narrative weakness (not much happens to the friendship) and of its narrative strength (because of its stability, friendship makes things happen)
-108- The plot of female amity is the Victorian novel’s purloined letter, hiding in plain sight in the genre’s every permutation
-109- Sensation novels, which characteristically emphasize occult powers and deceptive social ties, make female friendship an equally baroque narrative force. In Wilkie Collins’s Man and Wife (1870), for instance, the attachment between two female friends, Blanche and Anne, is all that can disentangle a marriage plot mired in complex wills, obscure legal loopholes, and vindictive relatives
-110- Blanche makes her refusal to “give…up” Anne a condition of marriage when she tells her suitor: “There’s time to say No, Arnold—if you think I ought to have no room in my heart for anybody but you.”
-111- One young woman’s “enthusiasm” for Agnes, the heroine—whom she finds so attractive “it is with difficulty that I keep my eyes away from her”
-112- When Agnes first meets the “tall, elegant-looking woman” whom she does not yet know is her male beloved’s sister, her “whole attention seemed captivated”. Once she identifies the woman as the sister of the man she loves, Agnes goes into a paroxysm, “trembling from head to foot with here yes timidly fixed on the beautiful countenance of Colonel Hubert’s sister…. [T] here was timidity certainly in the pleasure with which she listened to the voice and gazed at the features of Colonel Hubert’s sister; but still it was pleasure, and very nearly the most lively she had ever experienced”. Within pages, she and Hubert’s sister have exchanged the embraces and kisses
-113- Hubert’s sister approves her brother’s choice, exclaiming, “I too am very much in love with Agnes”. Trollope can so graphically represent the erotic delight women take and inspire in each other for the obvious reason that the “lively…pleasure” of female homoeroticism poses no phallic threat to virginal virtue. But she can also depict their attraction so floridly because a woman’s susceptibility to another woman defined rather than defied femininity—because even the most erotic bond between women could sustain opposite-sex desire.
-114- The novel’s last sentences describe Emma’s “exaltation” as she “held her beloved in her arms under the dusk of the withdrawing redness.” That “beloved” is the female friend who has just returned from her honeymoon, and the novel’s last lines focus on the women’s reunion: “They sat embraced, with hands locked, in the unlighted room, and Tony spoke of the splendid sky. ‘You watched it knowing I was on my way to you?’
-115- Deerbrook also ends at dusk, an erotic threshold that blurs light and darkness, public visibility and shaded privacy, in which day tremulously balances night and finality seems momentarily suspended
-116- “…and just put her affectionate arms round Agnes’s neck, and laid her innocent cheek against her face”
-117- Dora declares her friendship to Agnes soon after meeting her: “I am so glad…that you like me….I want, more than ever, to be liked, now Julia Mills is gone”. David’s fragmentary memories of his wedding day recall Dora actually holding Agnes’s hand when she makes her wedding vows: “Of our kneeling down together, side by side; of Dora’s trembling less and less, but always clasping Agnes by the hand”. On the verge of departing on her honeymoon, Dora finds it difficult to leave Agnes, “giving Agnes, above all the others, her last kisses and farewells”. After her wedding, Dora conjectures that a longer friendship with Agnes would have made her a better helpmate: “I wish…that I could have gone down into the country for a whole year, and lived with Agnes!
-118- Dora dies on Agnes’s “bosom, with a smile”
-119- Marian and Aurora realize Dora’s fantasy of living with Agnes before marrying David, and Romney and Aurora disclose their love only after Aurora has shared a household with Marian and her son. After Aurora glimpses Marian in Paris, she imagines proposing friendship to Marian: “Marian! I find you. Shall I let you go?…/Come with me rather where we’ll talk and live/And none shall vex us. I’ve a home for you/And me and no one else”


Romantic Friendships

by V. L. Craven

Romantic Friendship: So, Are You Two Together (RomanticFriendship-BostonMarriage.blogspot)
It’s an antique phrase, dating back to the 1800s. In Victorian times, women who wanted to maintain their independence and freedom opted out of marriage and often paired up to live together, acting as each other’s “wives” and “helpmeets.” Henry James’s 1886 novel about such a liaison, The Bostonians, may have been the inspiration for the term, or perhaps it was the most glamorous female couples who made their homes in Boston, including Sarah Orne Jewett, a novelist, and her “wife” Annie Adams Fields, also a writer.
Was the “Boston marriage” simply a code word for lesbian love? Historian Lillian Faderman says this is impossible to determine, because nineteenth-century women who kept diaries drew curtains over their bedroom windows. They did not bother to mention whether their ecstatic friendship spilled over into — as Faderman so romantically puts it — “genital sex.” And ladies, especially well-to-do ones who poured tea with their pinkies raised, were presumed to have no sex drive at all. Women could share a bed, nuzzle in public, and make eyes at each other, and these cooings were considered to be as innocent as schoolgirl crushes.
So, at least in theory, the Boston marriage indicated a platonic, albeit nerdy relationship. With ink-stained fingers, the Victorian roommate-friends would smear jam on thick slices of bread and then lounge across from each other in bohemian-shabby leather armchairs to discuss a novel-in-progress or a political speech they’d just drafted. Their brains beat as passionately as their hearts. The arrangement often became less a marriage than a commune of two, complete with a political agenda and lesson plan.
“We will work at [learning German] together — we will study everything,” proposes Olive, a character in The Bostonians, to her ladylove. Olive imagines them enjoying “still winter evenings under the lamp, with falling snow outside, and tea on a little table, and successful renderings . . . of Goethe, almost the only foreign author she cared about; for she hated the writing of the French, in spite of the importance they have given to women.” James poked fun at Olive’s bookworm passion. But he lavished praise on his own sister Alice’s intense and committed friendship with another woman, which he considered to be pure, a perfect devotion.
Most likely, the Boston marriage was many things to many women: business partnership, artistic collaboration, lesbian romance. And sometimes it was a friendship nurtured with all the care that we usually squander on our mates — a friendship as it could be if we made it the center of our lives.
“I am on my way through the green lane to meet you, and my heart goes scampering so, that I have much ado to bring it back again, and learn it to be patient, till that dear Susie comes,” Emily Dickinson wrote to her friend — and maybe lover — Sue Gilbert. Today I see tragedy in these words, for Sue ended up married to Emily’s brother, and the women never had a chance to build a life around their love. I find myself wishing I could teleport them to our own time, so that Emily D. and her Susie might find an apartment in San Francisco together, fly a rainbow flag out front, shop at Good Vibrations, and delight one another with dildos in shocking shades of pink. And yet, it’s not that simple. When I read the passionate letters between nineteenth-century women, I become keenly aware of what I’m missing, of how much richer Victorian friendships must have been. While our sex lives have ballooned in the last hundred years, our friendships have grown stunted. Why don’t I shower my favorite girls with kisses and “mash” notes, hold hands with them as we skip down the street, or share a sleeping bag? We don’t touch anymore. We don’t dare admit how our hearts scamper.
[Two paragraphs about a failed relationship with a man.] And then — when our Felix-Oscar dynamic seemed insurmountable — I picked up a magazine called Maxine and stumbled across an article that gripped me. Written by 27-year-old Zoe Zolbrod, it celebrated the passion that flashes up between women, even when they are both straight: “I would meet women who I would need to know with an urgency so crushing it gave the crush its name. And in knowing them I would feel a rush of power and possibility, of total self, that seemed much more real to me than heterolove,” Zolbrod wrote. When she met her friend V, “it was like finding the person you think you’ll marry.” The two moved in together. They took care of each other, became family, called each other “my love” and “my roommate” interchangeably.
I remember reading that article and thinking, “yes.” I adored my boyfriend, but he and I had never meshed in the way that Zolbrod described. We tried to make a home together, but we didn’t agree on what a home should be.
Years later, when our love fizzled into friendship and he moved out, I made a vow to myself: I would not drift into a domestic situation again. Instead, I would find someone who shared my passion for turning a house into a community center — with expansive meals, weekend guests, clean counters, flowers, art projects, activist gatherings, a backyard garden, and a pile of old bikes on the porch, available to anyone needing to borrow some wheels.
My friend Liz seemed like the right person. And so I proposed to her. Did she want to be a co-creator of the performance art piece that we would call “home”? She did.


Boston Marriages

by V. L. Craven

Boston Marriages: Romantic but Asexual Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians edited by Esther D. Rothblum & Kathleen A. Brehony

-01-There are some women in my lesbian community who lived together and shared long histories together. … sometimes they had never had sex with each other.
-02-…the women would have kept the fact of their sexuality a secret.
-03-…and might never have been sexually involved with each other.
-04-…kept knowledge of their asexuality hidden from their community.
-05-…married couples are considered married even when they are celibate or when they are having sex with other people. However, for all other couples (lesbians, gay men, and cohabitating heterosexuals), their relationships are defined by the presence of sexual activity.
-06- Because women’s sexuality is socially constructed by men, contemporary sexologists are inclined to demand genital proof of sexual orientation. … Female bisexuality and lesbianism may be more a matter of loving other women than of achieving orgasm through genital contact. … The absence of genital juxtaposition hardly drains a relationship of passion or importance.
-07- The lesbian community shares this genital view of what constitutes a couple.
-08-…not all the couples kept the knowledge of their asexuality hidden from the lesbian community. … there was some variation in whom they told and in how supportive the community was about this knowledge.
-09- Many women wondered, what is sex? … Some women have redefined what sex is, or concur that their relationship defines sex differently than does the lesbian community.
-10- But forming an early close bond with a sibling may serve as an ideal for friendships and romantic relationships that don’t need sex to create intimacy.
-11- …the willingness of lesbians to be introspective and to place high value on interpersonal growth.
-12- ‘Is there a primary relationship present, or just two good friends in denial?’
-13- Our lesbian communities need to redefine our terminology and move away from sex as the focal point of ‘legalizing’ a relationship.
-14- …lesbians have little external validation of our relationships, when we don’t have sex, our internal validation is taken away as well.
-15- …many women have experienced sexual abuse. For those women, sex has been connected with violence at an early age, and sex and violence continued to be linked in adulthood. Sex has been used as a weapon, primarily by men against women.
-16- …for all women, this attempt to annihilate the feminine through sex occurs also more indirectly, as we watch sexual violence on television, read about its occurrence in our neighbourhoods, and are warned to constrain our own behaviour in case we should ‘invite’ sexual violence.
-17- Women should not be blamed for this lack of sexuality, as if it reflects some kind of [personal] neurosis; it should not be pathologized.
-18- There is a big difference between consciously rechanneling this instinctive energy into creative acts and unconsciously allowing it to drift or, worse still, drive us to unhealthy behaviours or decisions. Celibacy, for example, can be a perfectly fine and healthy way to live if it is a conscious choice.
-19- Celibacy may be the preference for reasons of spirituality, health, or physical concerns, or it may reflect a decision to focus libido into creative pursuits.
-20- A relationship is a relationship whether it has a collectively agreed upon name or not.
-21- …in blocking her own sexual instinct is she blocking other instincts as well? … does she know herself and are her choices made with self-knowledge and awareness?
-22- …they were “a union – there is no truer word for it”
~23- Historically, young women were often permitted relationships with other females in which they might kiss, fondle each other, sleep together, utter expressions of overwhelming love and promises of eternal faithfulness.
-24- ~Although biology accounts in a general way for the potential of sexual desire, the individual’s interaction with her society and individual environment more often than not has determined the extent of its expression.
-25- ~…preserved for posterity, seeing no need to hide the expressions of their devotion and love.
-26- ~The stigmatization of female-female relationships as abnormal became a weapon of heterosexual defense.
-27- ~… it was devastating, because it meant that women who could not accept the stigmatizing label of ‘lesbian’ had to deny themselves the possibility of intense same-sex emotional involvement…
-28- ~…intense female same-sex love that was purely platonic had become as unimaginable as intense platonic heterosexual love, a contradiction in terms.
-29~…the “lesbian” who had little desire to be erotic now had to question her own “sexual repression,” a concept that did not exist earlier: Perhaps she was not sexually driven because she had suffered some “trauma” that had “inhibited” her natural “sexual drive”! Were her sexual “repressions and inhibitions” making her “neurotic”?
-30- ~In earlier eras a woman had to worry that her sexual feelings were inappropriate and abnormal, and had to hide from everyone the fact of any sexual experience she might have had. In the post-sexologist era a woman has had to worry that her lack of sexual feelings is inappropriate and abnormal, and she must hide problems such as asexuality or “inhibited sexual response,”…
-31- ~Women in more modern times have been made to feel anxious and guilty (at least toward themselves)–to feel that they have not expressed themselves fully, and that they are endangering their physical and mental health—if they do not indulge in sexual relations. In popular wisdom, sexual pleasure has become something of a medical necessity.
-32- …the pressures on lesbians to be sexual have been even stronger.
-33- ~To be a lesbian meant, and continues to mean, to feel permission, or pressure, to assert oneself sexually.
-34- ~For others, who see it less as permission than as pressure, it has been perplexing. It may be especially perplexing to those who identify themselves as being in a lesbian relationship but would prefer to have that term signify what ‘Boston marriage’ meant in the 19th century. They value their relationships because they provide nurturance, companionship, practical financial and domestic arrangements, affection, tenderness—everything except genital sexuality. But despite the success of such relationships in so many areas, the women involved may feel something lacking because popular modern wisdom (inculcation of which one cannot escape) says that sex is central to everyone’s well-being.
-35- ~That aspect is ineluctable since the label ‘lesbian’, as they learn in the subculture, denotes sexual behaviour.
-36- ~Implicit in the pattern is the assumption, often felt as a pressure, that ‘real’ lesbian relationships must continue to be sexual through the years.
-37- ~…most woman-woman relationships tend to be less sexual than relationships in which a man is involved.
-38- ~ [From Susan Johnson’s Staying Power: Long Term Lesbian Couples] Johnson found that 92.3% of her sample of couples who had been together for at least 10 years reported that the frequency of sexual contact decreased since the beginning of their relationship. Almost 60% of her sample had sex once a month or less, and almost 20% had had no sex whatsoever during the year on which they were interviewed. Perhaps one secret of the ‘staying power’ of these couples is that, despite 20th century pressures to be sexual, most of them have been able to satisfy themselves with a relationship that is as asexual as most 19th century Boston marriages appear to have been.
-39- ~…sexual desire that is less than full-blown is often not brought to a genital conclusion. After the first excitements of a sexual relationship have passed, it becomes easier to replace sexual activity with less energy-consuming cuddling.
-40- ~This ‘bed death’ has been attributed to the tendency of lesbians to fuse with their partners and thereby destroy the barriers and differences that are often the most powerful stimulants to the sexual appetite.
-41- -I suspect, that while cuddling and fondling and emotional support were essential to their relationships, sex was not.
-42- ~Most of the women involved in Boston marriages probably did not chase the elusive permanent passion. Thus they were freer than lesbians of our own age to cherish and maintain what was valuable in an emotional relationship that was not genital.
-43- ~Perhaps it is inaccurate to suggest that the sine qua non of a lesbian relationship is its genital sexuality if most long-term lesbian relationships (to which lesbians so frequently aspire) are so often barely sexual and may even be asexual. Perhaps we need to learn something from the 19th century that will help us broaden our concept of the meanings and structures of committed love between women.
-44- ~That term might give women another way to look at their relationships that transcends 20th-century pressures to seek an elusive sexual passion, which often accounts for the breakup of a couple.
-45- ~Although it may be anachronistic to apply the term ‘lesbian’ to women in 19th-century Boston marriages who had never heard that term, to call contemporary committed relationships that have ceased to be (or never were) sexual ‘neo-Boston marriages’ has better justification.
-46- ~The problem, I finally concluded, was not with relationships or desire, but with the phallocentrically based prescription of sexuality.
-47- ~…perhaps I could begin to reconfigure touching, intimacy, and fun into new female pleasure forms. In this process, genital touching, instead of the primary signifier of intimacy, would become incidental. New forms of intimacy—playfulness, for example, or special rapport—might include genital touching, but then again they might not.
-48- ~…the most dramatic shifts in my identity, my habitation, my work have been, in large part, attributable to my attempts to be close to someone I was ‘in love with’ at the time.
-49- ~…the women I interviewed, since they hadn’t viewed their affiliations as intimacies, were startled that their stories merited anyone’s interest. … ‘Since we had no expectations, the relationship developed at its own pace without disappointments about how we weren’t meeting each other’s needs.’
-50- ~Against all advice, the papers they drew up stated nothing about possible dissolution. It was understood that neither should have to move out of the house because of the other one. In case of death, the survivor would inherit the entire house.
-51- ~Italian feminists call this kind of bond affidamento, or entrustment.
-52- ~Oscar Wilde observed, that ‘we are least candid when we were being ‘ourselves.’ Give us masks, he suggests, and we will tell the truth.’
-53-~One possible outcome of couples therapy for members of a Boston marriage is that the women make the decision to continue to perceive their relationship as a functional primary commitment. It has been my experience clinically that this outcome, although rare given the social context in which such a couple functions, requires a high degree of personal integrity and acceptance of difference from community norms. Both women must be able to embrace, rather than simply tolerate, the value of a relationship defined by factors other than sexuality. They may define themselves as primary partners and decide not to use the term lesbian to describe their relationship.
-54- ~Thus fidelity in these cases becomes defined by faithfulness of emotional intensity rather than by sexual behavior, underscoring that the strength of the partnership is not sexuality, but love, affection, and feelings of deep intimacy and emotional connection. Coming out as a committed asexual couple requires more strenuous communication to friends that the relationship is real and not open to invasion simply because it lacks the element of overt sexuality.
-55- –Some researchers suggest that because women are the ’emotional glue’ that holds heterosexual relationships together, when we love each other, there is enough emotional bonding at every level that the ritual of sexual intimacy is less essential to maintaining the relationship.
-56- –We have the best cuddling ever. We touch and hug a lot. We respect each other and demonstrate that in our interactions. We are tender and affectionate. We kiss often, but not ‘seriously.’
-57- ~When I talk about it now, I don’t use the word ‘lovers.’ I usually say, ‘when we were whatever we were.’ Most of my friends know enough about it to understand. I don’t explain it to people who are new in my life. I don’t go into the short explanation. I only talk about it if I can really tell the whole story. In my mind there is no quick way to explain it without sounding like I’m making excuses. To say, ‘Well, we were, but we weren’t really, lovers’ sounds almost defensive. Still, it was important, even though we weren’t really lovers.
-58- ~We need words to say we’re committed to each other, and that we will talk about life decisions together, but that we’re not lovers. Too much of what gets recognized in our community is not who we care about but who we are attracted to and who we end up in bed with, which may be based on very dysfunctional urges.
-59- –The model is sex has to come first and then you get to know each other—I think that’s kind of backwards.
-60- I thought, as long as we didn’t acknowledge it, she probably would have been willing to go on and be committed to me.
-61- ~…when we travelled together or even slept together in the same bed, nothing would happen. It would just be very nice, some embraces, some kisses, but not really sexual.
-62- ~We are very clear that ours will not be a sexual relationship, so we can go about relating to each other in the way we always wanted to relate.
-63- ~Eve will never have, I don’t think, the same access to the total person of Marianne that I have.
-64- ~’I feel my skin become permeable, feel my atoms move aside so that her atoms can come and fit in between them.’
-65- ~I started to come up with reasons why I had to hang out with her all the time. It just developed in this way, and it wasn’t sexual.
-66- ~When I first met Hannah, I was fascinated.
-67- ~It was pretty soon after I met her that I started feeling in love—kind of obsessed with her. It was weird, because I felt she was returning it. She was talking a lot about me to her friends, I found out later. She would refer to me, saying, ‘Oh, Sarah and I had a conversation.’ Her boyfriend was very hung up on her (he still is) and was getting very jealous.
-68- ~Hannah would say I was just a friend, but it was the way she was talking about me that made other people think about it.
-69- ~I called her a lot and way always coming up with reasons why we had to hang out. It was stupid, because she wanted to hang out with me anyway. But somehow I felt that I had to provide explanations.
-70- –I finally told her I was attracted to her. She got really mad at me. She didn’t believe me. She said I’d been treating her like shit. We were both thinking along the same lines but acting really strange. Not showing up. She would not show up for dates and then be very apologetic later.
-71- ~…we sort of started making love and it was really bad. She was talking in the middle, she was saying, ‘This is really interesting.’ She’s an incredible intellectualizer.
-72- –It turns out she had a relationship with a woman, Christine, that was suspiciously like our relationship. The difference was that Christine was completely in love with Hannah and very attracted to her. Christine would have sex with Hannah and Hannah would just sit there. They lived together for two years. They weren’t really lovers and they weren’t not lovers, and they were both involved with men. That ended about a year and a half ago and then Hannah got involved with Sam. So Hannah was single, she sort of was with Christine and sort of not with Christine, and then she got together with Sam.
-73- –There seem to be two characters that she has, both with women and with men: one is lots of sex and not friends and the other is close friends but no sex.
The latter characterizes our relationship. Now we’re both sure what it is. Our relationship has leveled off and it makes sense now. I feel like we’re having a primary relationship, but we’re not having sex.
-74- –My current life just feels so comfortable, but I feel my identity is in question. It’s comfortable for me to have this not-very-sexual, loving thing.
-75- ~I tell different things to different friends. A very select few of my friends completely accept this as my relationship and the fact that I’m not having sex is sort of irrelevant. My sister is in that category. She just sees me as being in a relationship with Hannah, and my not having sex is not even relevant, it’s my relationship. … And then a lot of people we know in the lesbian community that that we’re lovers.
-76- ~Those people who always knew me in relationship to Joann are beginning to see that maybe Hannah is my lover now. They’re not sure if we’re sleeping together, and I’m not saying. They’re assuming that we are, basically. A lot of people that we know assume that we’re sleeping together. It’s kind of a recent phenomenon, because we decided to test out being lovers by telling everyone that we were and seeing how it felt. Because we feel very ambivalent, we’re both in this mode of not wanting to be in a couple. We feel like we’re allies. When you’re in a relationship, on some level you’re allies but on another level you’re adversaries. And so we feel like we’re allies and we can tell each other everything. That’s why I feel that jealousy hasn’t been a big issue yet. We can talk to each other about stuff that we’re going through with other people. But it’s getting more difficult. We’ve had this 3-month period in which we tried to value our relationship and say it’s different from other people’s view of a relationship but it’s ours. That we are together and everybody will just have to accept us this way. Once we started saying that, it started looking more like a relationship.
-77- –Hannah feels she can’t have sex with me, it’s just beyond that point.
-78- –And I would just be relegated to friendship status. That’s been the big fear on both of our sides. Rather than being jealous of affairs, which is what people do in relationships, we wonder when is one of us going to get involved with someone, and fall in love, and do it the normal way, and which of us will it be?
-79- –The dynamics in our social scene are really bizarre! We’ll go out together and we’ll seem like such a couple.
-80- ~On some level, the fact that we’re not having sex isn’t even relevant. But what makes it relevant is that we can’t completely define our relationship and use the old rules. If one of us sleeps with somebody, it’s not like we’re having an affair, exactly. The actual act of having sex is not the issue. It’s the undefined relationship that is the issue, where it’s not clear what the rules are.
-81- ~Sex would make us even too intense, given our closeness.
-82- ~Our relationship brings up all the hidden things about lesbian relationships. Hidden things like, What are the rules? How do lesbians get together? Do we just follow the heterosexual model or do we do it differently? And usually lesbians try to be different or alternative, but they end up following the same rules as heterosexual relationships.
-83- ~It was intense and romantic, but the ultimate contrast was that I never had interesting conversations with Joann. And all Hannah and I do sit around and have interesting conversations.
-84- ~Even though we have no good word to describe our relationship I know that part of calling ourselves lovers is not really true, we’re not lovers.
-85- –I’m terrified of being physical with her. She has the attitude that there would be something incestuous about us sleeping together.
-86- –It’s very rare that we meet new people and say, ‘This is my lover.’ That’s never happened. But when I’m talking about her, sometimes I say, ‘my lover.’ Or I say, ‘my friend’ but the word ‘friend’ has this accent on it.
-87- –And when I have affairs with people, I describe Hannah as my primary relationship so that they know that I won’t get involved with them. I describe it briefly as, ‘I’m very close to a woman and it’s like we’re lovers,’ or I say we are lovers. The few times I’ve been in that situation I’ve basically been very honest about it. I’ll say, ‘we’re not lovers, we’re not physically close, but our relationship is primary.’ It explains for a lot of people why I refer to her constantly. She becomes the standard person that gets referred to.
-88- –I think Hannah refers to me as her girlfriend. In Israel, she was saying that she wanted to tell everyone that she has a girlfriend.
-89- ~It’s not as though Hannah and I are just these buddies who never think about having sex. We have these intensely sexual discussions and we just flirt with each other all the time. We’re always hugging, especially in public. It’s really safe and it identifies what we are. Hannah loves that, and she told me a long time ago that what she really wants in a woman is someone in her life to hold hands with as she walks across campus. And that’s exactly what we do. And my image of our relationship before we even got together is that I wanted this calm, friendly, domestic relationship in which we hung out in our apartment all the time. And that’s exactly what’s happened. It’s like a movie in which there’s a fade out, a movie about our relationship.
We do all the things that people in relationships do. We have breakfast together and we go to bed together and we sleep together pretty much every night, all wrapped around together just like people who have just had sex. And we have all these rituals.
-90- ~I guess people in long-term relationships stop having sex anyway. And I guess they’re distressed about it, and Hannah and I are not distressed about it. There is something very beautiful about our relationship.
-91- –There have been points in my life when I felt I was closer to my sister than anyone else in my life, and that I would end up spending the rest of my life with my sister. I think Hannah has kind of replaced my sister. I’m still close to my sister, but Hannah has taken on that role. And even with Hannah saying it would be incestuous if we had sex, that our relationship would be too intense if we had sex, it’s as though she’s my sister.
-92- ~Hannah and I are allies, there is something organic about our relationship as we are getting to know one another. There’s something nice about that—if you never go to bed with someone, somehow you have this ability to be allies. With a lover, all this shit immediately comes up, my ego gets completely wrapped up in having sex with someone.
-93- ~There are so few things you can talk about in a sexual relationship, you feel like you’re treading on some very shaky ground.
-94- ~I admire her and want to be like her, and every once in a while I get weirded out about that.
-95- –Our relationship is working, which is not true of other relationships I’ve had. I guess all relationships have strong points and weak points, and usually sex has been my strong point and everything has been off the scale. And now I’m having a relationship in which sex is not the strong point and everything else is good. It’s a good trade-off.
-96- ~I want sex with her. And I don’t believe that she wants sex with me. One reason that sex is even an issue is because it’s expected that people in our situation would want to have sex with one another. If we were in a value-free society, if would just never come up.
Sex is a part of our relationship. There are sexual elements, there is a sexuality between us. It doesn’t culminate in a physical act, but it’s definitely there. Like when we’re in public. She’ll take me to her office and the secretary will be there, and it’s obvious that she enjoys doing this.
-97- –Because I was Kathleen’s first relationship with a woman, the courting period was rather extensive and it was fun, it was great fun.
-98- ~Probably the neatest thing about the relationship between Kathleen and me is that we have grown together and frown individually, and by growing I mean we have outgrown some not-so-healthy behaviour patterns and we have developed and grown into some new and healthy ones.
-99- ~I decided that I didn’t really need sex and I didn’t really want it. That it was enough for me just to be close to her, to be held and to be cared for and cared about and to be hugged and kissed and caressed. But sex, the actual act of making love, was not something that I needed or wanted and I had the right to say no.
-100- ~There have been times in the past few years when we have been asexual that I have felt some kind of passion and some kind of desire to have sex. Again, it is not something that I am comfortable talking about, and it is not something that I have ever been able to ask for when I have wanted it, so I have just lived without it, which has been fine with me.
-101- – my first lesbian relationship, the entire year and a half we were together, she made love to me, I never made love to her. She would never allow that.
-102- –I just never learned or explored or attempted or even wanted to learn to do myself.
-103- ~My guess is that our friends are friends enough that whether we are sexual or asexual wouldn’t be important to them, but it is not something that I would willingly want to discuss with them. It would depend on how close the friends were.
-104- ~I fell in love with her at first, you know the first time I met her. I just thought she was wonderful.
-105- ~It took us about a month, I think it was, of kind of hemming and hawing around each other, writing each other letters and notes and this sort of thing and getting together, not saying anything for long periods of time and then finally talking.
-106- ~…I am talking about arousal to a climax, that kind of sexual relationship. We did still at this time have a second kind of a sexual relationship where we would cuddle a lot, hold each other and kiss, kind of a sexual relationship if you will. We quit having the climax type of sexual relationship about a year ago even though I wanted it.
-107- ~Do our friends know that it is an asexual relationship? No, they don’t. In fact, I have told Maria, she knows that I get upset sometimes because she’ll make jokes every once in a while that sound like we are having a sexual relationship when we are not.
-108- ~I really do believe that society should be more accepting of nonsexual relationships. I think that there are a lot of nonsexual, or at least relationships where not much sex goes on, that are happening in society and I think that television makes it seem, television and books and just people talking make it seem that there is more sex going on than there really is. … We’re kind of forced into thinking that sex is the be-all, end-all of a relationship.
-109- –We’ve both been lucky we have both grown in the same direction.
-110- ~I have been out at work. I make it just a natural part of my conversation that I talk about Maria as my partner and I feel in doing so people come to accept this as a kind of ‘normal’ state of affairs, you know, meaning that this is an everyday thing just like a heterosexual relationship and that there is nothing crazy about it.
-111- ~A lot of our friends tell us, and a lot of acquaintances tell us, that they think that we have the ideal relationship, and that is interesting.
-112- ~…people see what they want to see. They see that we have the ideal relationship. I don’t think there is such a thing as the ideal relationship. Relationships are individual and individuals have relationships according to themselves.
-113- ~Some of the concepts that are widely accepted by sex therapists include the following: sex is a natural function; when sex is not going well there is a reason, usually psychogenic in origin, pathological in nature; a primary goal of the sex therapist is to make an accurate diagnosis of the sexual dysfunction and develop a treatment plan accordingly; regular sexual activity is recommended for both physical and emotional health…
-114- –My initial assessment, confirmed through an extensive sexual history, was that Susan was ‘sexually aversive’ and her aversion was rooted in childhood sexual abuse.
-115- –I now see that what I was confronted with was a Boston marriage. And I see that I had been assuming that sexuality between Susan and Janine was absolutely primary and necessary to survival of the relationship. I now question these assumptions and imagine how I might have proceeded differently.
-116- ~Were Susan and Janine to walk into my office today, I would encourage them to explore their common ground and their individual definitions of relationship.
-117- –I would want to know much more about what Susan might do that could be fun and sensual and sexual for her, without entering into distasteful or unacceptable territory. Might they masturbate in each other’s company, for instance? Might touching of breasts be stimulating and fun, as long as it didn’t lead to genital involvement? I would encourage this couple to consider a range of valid options.
-118- –By traditional sex therapy standards, this would probably be considered a treatment success because the couple, at therapy’s end, was engaging in weekly sex, without fear or pressure. However, through Boston Marriages’ lens, what I did not do with this couple was challenge their assumptions early on. And of course I couldn’t, because I had not yet challenged my own.
-119- –Each student read a prepublication copy of Boston Marriages and wrote a brief reaction paper
I was surprised by their positive responses. I had expected that asexuality would seem foreign and weird to these college students and that they might be starting out with homophobic attitudes about all lesbian relationships.
-120- –…the overwhelming majority loved the book and strongly identified with it.
-121- — [Woman who hates all labels] She sees the term “Boston marriage” as yet another label that classifies and separates.
-122- –Many students noted with dismay that it is more acceptable in our society to be lesbian or gay than nonsexual.
-123- –Many people have asked if we’re ‘involved,’ and I haven’t known what to say. Now I know there are more ways to define committed relationships than just sexual activity.
-124- ~Rather than sexual desire, I think I have a soulful desire for women. My two closest friends and I are talking about a lifelong commitment to each other and are trying to figure out how to actualize it.
-125- –…sexuality and relationships need to be redefined.
-126- –I want the freedom to define for myself how to manifest my devotion to the company of women. … I honour these women’s relationships as attempts to create their own lives as they want them, with few models and little support, validation, or community.
-127 –Instead of focusing on sexlessness in a negative way, let’s rejoice in the love and honesty these women, in Boston marriages, are finding.
-128-~My students have reminded me that freedom of choice is the highest order of societal organization, and that loving and committed relationships are grounded in more than mutual stimulation of breasts and genitals.
-129- –Periods of celibacy, or even indefinite celibacy, may be perfectly appropriate for an individual or a couple. It may be appropriate for a sex therapist to validate a consensual Boston marriage.
-130- ~The goal of sex therapy should always be to accommodate the couple, and in some cases this may mean accepting asexuality.
-131- ~In fact, it has occurred to me, since reading Boston Marriages, that there may even be advantages for some women, for some couples, who do not have sex. In other words, asexuality is not necessarily pathological; it also may represent something more positive than merely avoidance of an unpleasant or undesirable activity. It may represent a higher state for some. I think, for instance, of the unparalleled intensity of early teenage romance. For me, at least, this was a time of strong, pure positive feelings of lust and love without sex.
-132- ~Just as there is enormous variety in eating and sleeping patterns, there is also, and especially, enormous variety in sexual preferences.
-133- ~…clearly Boston Marriages tells us there are, times when the ‘natural function’ is asexuality.
-134- ~Perhaps cultural control over what kinds of intimacy or commitment were sanctioned was more necessary at times when one’s survival was predicated on belonging to a particular group. Then, ways of determining whether an individual belonged—to a clan, to a religion—were paramount.
-135- ~We have found ourselves with fewer cultural expectations for commitment, but the expectations we retain are just as rigid. And those expectations are even less articulated, less overt, than they have been historically.
Members of oppressed groups, of course, have also had to retain or create group identity as a way of surviving in a culture that does not automatically confer belonging on them.
-136- ~…all look to group identity as a buffer to oppression and a source of pride. Yet, on the interpersonal level within each group, there are sets of rules and expectations about what constitutes a ‘real’ relationship, what is considered a legitimate arena for commitment.
-137- ~Perhaps we are coming to a time when we can afford to change the paradigm of how we understand relationships. This would entail a change not just in the ways we have of grouping relationships, but in the fact of using groupings at all. To group and define relationships based on commitment rather than sexual intimacy, for example, changes only the basis for our differential valuing of relationships, not the fact of that valuing.
-138- ~A real paradigm change would entail using an individual or internal way of defining relationships, rather than a group or external definition.
-139- ~If there is not a way to group relationships and classify them as more or less worthy of endorsement based on external standards, then there is not a way for any person or couple to claim status based on the nature of that relationship.
-140- ~What is all this obsession about sex anyway, about naming our sexual relationships and behaviors and deciding how legitimate each one is? It even seems that the English language describes relationships primarily on the basis of sexuality. We have ‘mate,’ ‘spouse,’ ‘consort,’ and the like (usually with an implied meaning of heterosexual), and then a collection or words for nonsexual relationships: ‘friend,’ ‘comrade,’ ‘chum,’ and so forth. A few of the latter imply a relationship within a work setting (‘colleague,’ ‘partner’). Aside from the work/nonwork distinction, however, the words for nonsexual relationships generally give almost no information about intimacy or commitment. It would seem that what matters in a relationship is whether there is sexual intimacy. In the context of sexual intimacy, we note commitment. But if there is not sexual intimacy, we don’t seem to be interested in commitment or even any kind on depth of intimacy.
-141-~We hear the women who are telling their stories groping toward some way of describing a relationship that is central in their lives, and yet is minimized or distorted. Is this relationship real? Am I normal?
-142- ~Laura later considers one way that kind of commitment might be enacted: ‘I’d like to say, “I’m moving to this city. Who would like to move with me?”’ This is, in fact, a radical proposal in a cultural context that considers sexual relationships the only relationships committed enough to move for.
-143- ~The term “Boston marriage” is revolutionary in that is gives us language for one more form of relationship. As Ruth puts it, ‘It would be good to have a name for this for only one reason, and that would be to expand people’s consciousness.’ A name gives this particular relationship legitimacy, makes it ‘real.’ To have a name for these relationships expands the boundaries of what a relationship is. Further, it is particular act of courage to define a relationship that challenges the given order by not falling neatly into our usual pattern.
-144- ~But the use of the term “Boston marriage” is also, ultimately, self-defeating. If we want to move toward, as Marny Hall puts it, demoting genital access as the index of relational significance, then we find ourselves with one more term that defines relationships in terms of genital access. In a society obsessed with sexual definition and with hierarchy, we might create a way to describe our reality, only to have it inevitably ranked in the patriarchal list of relational importance. I imagine “Boston marriage” finding itself somewhere between ‘lover’ or ‘life partner’ and ‘friend’ or ‘roommate.’
-145- ~If we lack language, we are lost in our oppression, not even having a way to talk to one another about what we experience. Yet if we create new language, it cannot be used other than in the context in which we live and shape its meaning.
-146- ~Perhaps the degree of mutuality in the relationship is the best indicator of the relationship’s well-being.
-147- ~The risk of using a single descriptive term—’Boston marriage’—to include this range of experiences is that the richness and reality of each particular relationship is lost.
-148- ~It seems to me that the term ‘Boston marriages’ is one of those in-between steps on the road to radical change. Perhaps ultimately we need either language that refuses to make assumptions about any relationships, or language to describe relationship in all their richness, with no more focus on sex than on any other aspect of intimacy. But we will not get there without challenging the limitations of our language for describing relationships as it exists now. And that means finding ways to talk about what is really going on in our relationships.
-149- ~…how else might we describe relationships outside of a context that is focused on sex and possession? A relationship implies some level of intimacy, from the simple recognition of the other that marks acquaintanceship, to the deepest levels of mutual knowing. We need ways to describe depth of intimacy. It is shocking that the aspect of our connection with others that accept us most forcefully, that counters our isolation and mirrors for us who we are, is one that we cannot describe very accurately. Further, there is the matter of kinds of intimacy.
–Commitment is another major factor in a relationship.
-150- ~The language available to describe reality, particularly such a fundamental aspect of reality as relationships, serves as a method of social control. If we can’t say it, it’s hard to think it, and even harder to enact it.
-151- ~Let the reality of each relationship, rather than its name, speak to you.
-152- ~I want to be able to say something about the body comfort, the familiarity, that develops in some friendships…
-153- ~What would you want to say about your relationships if you had the language to do so?
-154- ~Imagine what you might say about your relationships if your language was generated from your own experience. Then make a relational commitment that is not socially endorsed. Tell someone else the truth about your experience of intimacy.
-155- ~I think the ideas and stories contained in this book will provide relief and peace of mind to some couples who may be wondering why they are so happy with each other when supposedly their lack of sex is proof that something is wrong between them.
It is true that lesbians are presented with the need to create ‘markers’ that define ‘lesbian relationships’ as different from ‘just friendships.’ It is also true that society is so imbued with male-defined concepts of sexuality, that the importance and significance of genital/sexual contact in lesbian relationships may be inflated. On the one hand, I believe that it is perfectly possible for human beings to live happy lives without being sexually active.
-156- ~All I am trying to do is differentiate between friendships, no matter how essential for survival, and a deep life commitment or long-term partnership in which the participants recognize themselves and are recognized by others as ‘more than friends.’
-157- ~There are stories in which the narrator or narrators describe a willing partnership in which genital sex does not seem to be an essential component and in which participants describe themselves as being fairly satisfied with such an arrangement.
-158- –If both women understand the weight of the past, or the need to focus on other aspects of their relationship, I believe this is a valid and healthy alternative for a lesbian couple.
-159- ~It may be that, for some of the woman described in these narratives, it is less threatening to believe that because they are not having genital sex with a woman, they are not lesbian.
-160- ~Were not the 19th century partners in the original Boston marriages willing to acknowledge their love for each other even if not expressed genitally?
-161- ~…it is all too easy for women to believe themselves to be on high moral ground when they are not being actively sexual.
-162- ~If one of the women thinks she is in a partnership, and the other one denies it, are they? Is the one denying it a victim of her own homophobia or other personal issues? Is she refusing to acknowledge the true nature of their relationship? Or is the woman who believes she is in a partnership just living an illusion? How can we acknowledge the silencing and the concomitant pain experienced by some of the narrators who felt rejected and unacknowledged as partners by women they deeply loved? How do we accept the reality and the experience of the women who would not or could not see themselves in a relationship with another woman?
-163~…too many contradictions and pains, both individual and relational, might be glossed over by idealizing the relationship as a Boston marriage.


The Fall of the House of My Sister

by V. L. Craven

First on the list of research reading for my new novel:

“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The protags in my story would definitely read Poe, if only for his gift for atmosphere. Atmosphere is something I definitely need to work on, though my descriptions will never be as good as Poe’s.

-1- an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn–a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

-2- I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.

-3- And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom.

-4- An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm.

I particularly like his description of seemingly baseless anxiety–it does feel like something daemonic and heavy has taken up residence on one’s chest.

My Sister in This House by Wendy Kesselman

No quotes from this one, but it’s a play about the Papin sisters, two young maids who live in a house with their stifling boss and her perpetually soon-to-be-married daughter. It reads with subtley, though on stage the too-close relationship between the sisters is more obvious. It was made into a film called Sister, My Sister , a title that sounds like some sort of feminist manifesto from the 60s.

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