„Our century has a passion for categorizing love“

Es wäre einmal interessant herauszufinden, wie die krass differierende Bewertung der Psychoanalyse bis heute in das konfliktgeladene Dreiecksverhältnis zwischen gay, lesbian und feminist studies hineinspielt. Die weit bejahendere Haltung des (Post)Feminismus zu Freud und Lacan schlägt sich jedenfalls auch darin nieder, dass es heute weit mehr Publikationen zum Thema Lesbianismus und Psychoanalyse gibt als solche zum Verhältnis von Psychoanalyse und männlicher Homosexualität. Doch es existieren natürlich auch eine Reihe lesbischer Autorinnen, die die Lehre des Wiener Arztes nicht als anzueignende Methode, sondern, in der Sprache Foucaults: als einen „Macht-Wissen-Komplex“ begreifen, dessen Wirkungen auf weibliche Subjektivitäten historisch zu untersuchen sind. Und kaum jemandem ist das so eindringlich gelungen wie Lilian Faderman in ihrem erstmals 1981 erschienenen Werk Surpassing the Love of Men, das 1992 vom Lambda Literary Review verdientermaßen in die Anthologie der „100 besten lesbisch/schwulen Bücher des 20. Jahrhunderts“ aufgenommen wurde:

The Last Breath of Innocence

In 1908 it was still possible for an American children’s magazine to carry a story in which a teenage girl writes a love poem in honor of her female schoolmate, declaring:

    My love has a forehead broad and fair,
    And the breeze-blown curls of her chestnut hair
    Fall over it softly, the gold and the red
    A Shining aureole round her head.
    Her clear eyes gleam with an amber light
    For sunbeams dance in them swift and bright!
    And over those eyes so golden brown,
    Long, shadowy lashes droop gently down. …
    Oh, pale with envy the rose doth grow
    That my lady lifts to her cheek’s warm glow! …
    But for joy its blushes would come again
    If my lady to kiss the rose should deign.

If the above poem had been written by one female character to another in magazine fiction after 1920, the poetess of the story would no doubt have been rushed off to a psychoanalyst to undergo treatment for her mental malady, or she would have ended her fictional existence broken in half by a tree, justly punished by nature (with a little help from a right-thinking heterosexual) for her transgression. Much more likely, such a poem would not have been written by a fictional female to another after the first two decades of the twentieth century, because the explicit discussion of same-sex love in most popular American magazines by that time was considered taboo. In the early twentieth century, however, popular stories often treated the subject totally without self-consciousness or awareness that such relationships were „unhealthy“ or „immoral.“ With the spread of those attitudes which originated in Europe, within the next decade or so such declarations became prohibited in America. But in the early twentieth century, not only St. Nicholas but periodicals like the Ladies‘ Home Journal and Harper’s could carry passionate tales of love between women.

America may have been slower than Europe to be impressed by the taboos against same-sex love for several reasons: (1) Without a predominant Catholic mentality the country was less fascinated with „sin“ and therefore less obsessed with the potential of sex between women; (2) by virtue of distance, America was not so influenced by the German medical establishment as other countries were, such as France and Italy and, to a lesser extent, England; (3) there was not so much clear-cut hostility, or rather there was more ambivalence to women’s freedom in a land which in principle was dedicated to tolerance of individual freedom. Therefore, romantic friendship was possible in America well into the second decade of the twentieth century, and, for those women who were born and raised Victorians and remained impervious to the new attitudes, even beyond it.


In America it took the phenomenal growth of female autonomy during and after World War I, and the American popularization of the most influential of the European sexologists, Sigmund Freud, to cast the widespread suspicions on love between women that had already been prevalent in Europe.

In her novel, We sing Diana (1928), Wanda Fraiken Neff shows that the change in attitude toward female relationships took place just around the time of World War I. In 1913 her heroine was a student at a women’s college, where everyone engaged in romantic friendships, which were considered „the great human experience,“ and a violent crush on a particular woman teacher had run to such epidemic proportions that she was called „The Freshman Disease.“ In 1920, when the heroine returns to the same college to teach, the atmosphere is entirely different. Now undergraduate speech is full of Freudian vocabulary. Everything is attributed to sex. And „intimacies between two girls were watched with keen, distrustful eyes. Among one’s classmates, one looked for the bisexual type, the masculine girl searching for a feminine counterpart, and one ridiculed their devotions.“


Our century has a passion for categorizing love, as previous centuries did not, which stems from the supposedly liberalized twentieth-century view of sex that, ironically, has created its own rigidity. In our century the sex drive was identified, perhaps for the first time in history, as being the foremost instinct — in women as well as men — inescapable and all but uncontrollable, and invariably permanently intertwined with real love. As a result, romantic friendships of other eras, which are assumed to have been asexual since women were not given the freedom of their sex drive, are manifestations of sentimentality and the superficial manners of the age. Throughout most of the twentieth century, on the other hand, the enriching romantic friendship that was common in earlier eras is thought to be impossible, since love necessarily means sex and sex between women means lesbian and lesbian means sick.

There is plenty of anecdotal proof that love between women cannot exist without self-consciousness in our era, and that regardless of its noble qualities it is given a label which, until lesbian-feminists reclaimed the word in recent years, meant sickness. For example, one young woman, writing in the feminist journal Ain‘t I a Woman in 1970, told of her close, affectionate and even physical relationships with other girls in high school, which she did not recognize as abnormal until she read Life and Love for Teenagers, whose authors described such feelings and „prescribed psychiatric counselling though they also stated that prognosis for cure was very low.“ While previously she had believed her romantic friendships were a strength in her life, now she felt „hopelessly dirty and sick. I became suspicious of any uncontrollable emotions and motives my strange new self might have.“ Sidney Abbot and Barbara Love in Sappho Was a Right-on Woman (1972) quote a similar experience:

    In my marvelous new feelings for her I felt I had discovered myself. I went walking, celebrating sun, sky, and trees, and myself as somehow the center of it all. Then I stopped as if I had come on the edge of a chasm there in the woods. A word came clawing up from the depths of my mind. I didn‘t want the knowledge that was coming, but my wish didn‘t stop it. The horror of the word burst upon me almost before the word itself — sick, perverted, unnatural, Lesbian.


The Spread of Medical „Knowledge“

Krafft-Ebing continued to be a major influence on sexologists well into the twentieth century. By the 1920’s, however, Sigmund Freud essentially replaced him. Their differences with regard to the „causes“ of same-sex love amounted, in the simplest terms, to the argument of nature vs. nurture. Krafft-Ebing maintained that the true invert was born with his or her condition; Freud maintained that it was childhood trauma which was primarily responsible for the condition. But both grouped male and female same-sex love together as one entity, quite ignoring the differing social conditions that would convince a man or a woman to accept a homosexual identification. Both also agreed that same-sex love was a problem with which the medical profession ought to be concerned, and whether it was a sign of congenital defect or of blocked development, it was undesirable.

Regardless of studies conducted in the first third of the century which showed that love between women was normal even statistically and that even those who indulged in a genital expression were at least as healthy as those who did not, the sexologists maintained that women afflicted with love for other women were abnormal. Freud’s disciples encouraged them to get medical help in order to be cured of their condition. What had been widely recognized as natural now became widely viewed as neurotic, a subject for medical conventions and psychiatric journals, a problem that necessitated help by a professional trained in dealing with mental diseases.

Freud captured the popular imagination especially in America as previous sexologists had not. A jingle which appeared in the February 1924 issue of Harper’s Magazine — „Our lives would not be so complex/ Without suppressed desires and sex“ — is typical of the easy usage of Freudian terms and the popularized understanding of Freudian theories which were pervasive in America in the 1920’s. Through the mass dissemination of Freud’s medical wisdom, the country became obsessed with sexual expression and its perversion. It would not have been necessary to read Freud’s essays on „The Sexual Aberrations“ or „The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman“ in order to know that love between women was now an indication of childhood trauma and arrested development. Writers of popular literature, who may or may not have gone back to the original source themselves, regurgitated the information for mass delectation.


It is not difficult to see the less-than-honest motives behind the acceptance of one set of theories over another. The practicing analysts generally championed Freud because his views held out the possibility of „cure“ for same-sex love, and „cure“ was their business. Forel, the director of the insane asylum of Zurich, argued that when sexual perversion is recognized in children and adolescents who are born with their abnormality, they should be isolated — i.e., placed in an insane asylum and treated „as a patient afflicted with a nervous affection who is thereby dangerous to himself and others.“ […]

Freudians made themselves further indispensable to the same-sex love sufferer by again selecting what was useful in their mentor’s writings and rejecting what was not. For example, while Freud observed in „The Sexual Aberrations“ that „inversion is found in people who otherwise show no marked deviation from the normal … whose mental capacities are not disturbed,“ his immediate disciples often declared, „We will never find a homosexual who has not other stigmata of a neurosis.“

However, the studies done by nonpsychiatrists of that time, who had nothing to gain from a discovery of widespread neurosis, tell a very different story. […] Katharine Bement Davis (Factors in the Sex Life of Twenty-two Hundred Women [1929]) conducted nationwide research among women assumed to be „normal“ when they were invited to participate. More than half of them, 50.4 percent, indicated that they had experienced „intense emotional relations with other women.“ About half of those experiences were accompanied by sex or were „recognized as sexual in character.“ Most of the women who had had homosexual experiences viewed themselves as healthy in spite of the psychiatric establishment of the 1920’s. Only 13.6 percent of those with lesbian experiences saw them as „a sexual problem requiring solution.“ While 77.3 percent of Davis’s entire sample claimed to be in excellent health, 78 percent of those who admitted having homosexual physical experiences regarded themselves as being in excellent health.


Studies such as those by Dickinson and Davis received little attention. Mass literature, even when it had scientific pretensions, instead of examining such scientific studies, often borrowed from fantasy fiction to describe female sexual relations (which became foremost in the public mind with regard to love between women). […] Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, the medical profession largely ignored Kinsey’s findings about the statistical frequency — i.e., „normality“ — of lesbian experiences, and his discovery that everyone is capable of responding „homosexually“ if freed from the „powerful conditioning“ of „social codes,“ since their treatment of homosexuality was dependent on creating sickness where none existed. Based on their experiences with disturbed persons, they then wrote that lesbians were „severely disturbed persons“; that lesbianism was „an illness, the symptom of a neurosis“; that lesbians wallow in self-pity, continually provoke hostility to ensure more opportunities for self-pity, and collect injustices; that they are excessively dependent and fixated on the mother-child relationship; and that they are unscrupulous vampires: „Once they get hold of a victim they do not let go until she is bled white.“ All agreed, of course, that treatment is necessary.

1 Antwort auf “„Our century has a passion for categorizing love“”

  1. 1 Montagmorgen // yeahpope Pingback am 03. September 2007 um 11:15 Uhr
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