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Exceptional queerness: defining the boundaries of normative U.S. citizenship, 1876-1936

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Title: Exceptional queerness: defining the boundaries of normative U.S. citizenship, 1876-1936
Author(s): Skidmore, Emily E.
Director of Research: Roediger, David R.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Burton, Antoinette
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Roediger, David R.; Ngo, Fiona; Somerville, Siobhan; Hoganson, Kristin
Department / Program: History
Discipline: History
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Citizenship Transgender Studies Queer Studies U.S. History
Abstract: “Exceptional Queerness” tracks the cultural, legal, and medical narratives produced around moments of “discovery” wherein the female body of an individual whom a community knew to be male was revealed. This study investigates nineteen such cases, and tracks the ways in which the stories changed as they circulated from local newspapers and trial courtrooms to the pages of sensational national newspapers and medical journals in the period between 1876 and 1936. Such careful attention to the circulation of narratives is important because it was in this period that sexologists first identified homosexuality, thereby creating a new lens through which “normal” sexuality was defined. Homosexuality in women was defined by “sexual inversion,” a pathology physically signified by a predilection toward masculinity and cross-dressing. Previous scholarship has argued that sexological texts were immensely influential in shaping popular understandings of gender and sexual normativity, and that the mass circulation press had embraced the sexological figure of the “female invert” as the symbol for lesbianism by the late nineteenth century. However, this dissertation is motivated by the conviction that the mere construction of new identity categories did not mean that all bodies would automatically be legible through them, and thus seeks to understand how shifts in national discourse impacted the ways in which local communities categorized the queer bodies in their midst. Because of the purported connection between public notions of lesbianism and cross-gender identification, stories of “revelation” wherein the female body of an individual whom a community knew to be male was revealed provide a unique window into the ways in which local communities negotiated with national discourses of normative gender and sexuality. Whereas previous studies on the formation of gender and sexuality in the United States have generally utilized only one genre of sources—focusing exclusively on representations of gender and sexual deviance in novels, the sensational press, or sexology literature—“Exceptional Queerness” highlights the dissonance between the genres, and in so doing, illustrates that sexological theories of gender and sexual deviance did not dictate community responses to queer bodies at the turn of the twentieth century, and furthermore, that the geography of queer identity formations is much more complicated (and much more interesting) than previously thought.
Issue Date: 2011-08-26
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/26334
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Emily E. Skidmore
Date Available in IDEALS: 2013-08-27
Date Deposited: 2011-08
 

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