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- 1 media/RMB Book Signing 2.JPG 2018-10-12T20:16:48+00:00 Jennifer Wellnitz 99f5ac8e472f322e05ae14c226666851f815b607 LGBTQ+ Literature 8 image_header 2019-04-27T16:38:29+00:00 Mary A Armstrong 41061fcf0da5c46170ab7fce619c80dcde461b93
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What I Found
A description of the results from a search of the Lafayette College Library
The above video is a visual representation of the books related to LGBTQ+ behaviors and experiences that were purchased by the library during the time period that I selected. The narration of the video is drawn from Riley Temple’s ‘71 oral history interview, and the music is Slow Motion from bensound.com. In creating this video, I wanted to show snapshots of what the library might have looked like, from the perspective of an LGBTQ+ or questioning student in search of some sort of representation or resource. This video shows the 59 books that I found which were purchased around or before 1975. All the selected books, as well as some information gathered about them, can be seen in detail in the spreadsheet below.
Of these 59 books, the first was published in 1908 and purchased by Lafayette in 1915, much earlier than I expected. The book is titled A Problem in Greek Ethics: An Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Sexual Inversion by noted Victorian historian and critic John Addington Symonds.This book explores. “masculine love” in various aspects of Greek life, and some credit this book with coining the word homosexual. However, the book also had a large focus on Paiderastia, or sexual relations between adult men and young boys. It is hard to know how this book might have impacted those who interacted with it, either positively (as a form representation) or negatively (through its association between homosexual relationships and pedophilia), but we can see that it was the only book, that I could locate, which explicitly pertained to any LGBTQ+ experience in the Lafayette Library for over a decade, from 1915 to 1927.
Many of the books on this list include negative and potentially damaging perspectives on LGBTQ+ identities. For example, the book Frigidity Among Women includes sections discussing “roots of female homosexuality” and “fragmentary analysis of a transvestite.” This book frames non-normative and queer behaviors in people assigned female at birth as being a psychological problem that needs to be understood and potentially solved. In order to get a better idea of a general range of ways these books were conceptually framed, I looked at the most common subjects that these 59 books fell under, grouped these subjects together in broader categories, with many of the books being included in multiple categories. One of these categories was “homosexuality”; books were only included in this category if this word was explicitly mentioned in the title of the book or the subject as listed by the library. Books were also included in a category if their title explicitly related to it. These categories can be seen in the graph below.
As the above graph shows, the main categories of subjects explored are as follows: Homosexuality (36), Paraphilias (11), Law/Crime/Deviance (9), Psychology and Disease (9), Lesbian/Women (6), Ethics (4), and Sex Change (2). This breakdown shows a couple of interesting things. For example, although some books not in the Lesbian/Women category pertained to queer women, most of them focused exclusively on men. So, if you were a woman who was searching for these books during this time period (Lafayette admitted female students beginning in 1970, and therefore during this time-frame) you would likely see fewer books relevant to yourself than a gay man would. In addition, the subject “sex change” was the only subject that potentially directly linked to trans experiences, and there were only two books in this category. So students at Lafayette during this time period who were looking for resources or representations about trans experiences may have had even fewer resources than those interested in books about sexuality. In addition, with the three most common categories other than “homosexuality” being related to paraphilias, deviance, and mental illness, it is clear that many of these books framed LGBTQ+ identities and experiences in ways that many people today would consider pathologizing and harmful.
At the same time, it is clear from interviews like Temple’s that these books also met the needs of many LGBTQ+ and questioning students, even if their framing of these very people might often be considered negative. Clearly, the story behind these books is more complex than either extreme -- wonderful representation or horrendous and damaging depiction -- would suggest.