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"If I were he": Tracing a female butch lineage in American literature

Kris Gandara, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


“'If I Were He': Tracing a Female Butch Lineage in American Literature” examines the representation of the "mannish woman" in American literature. The primary goal of this project is to create a genealogy of masculine female characters that appear in American literature in order to ask: Where are the butch characters? How do they live? What can we learn by studying their portrayal in American literature? My project questions ways that feminist and queer discourses have informed and responded to female masculinity both in literature as well as in the "real" world and contribute to the production of a burgeoning transgender identity at the expense of butch womanhood. Recent cultural trends reveal an increase in the number of masculine female-bodied subjects who are choosing to modify their bodies with hormones and surgery and live and identify as men. I argue that both theoretical approaches have done a disservice to the female butch. Both theories are capable of offering her a unique and prominent place in the discourse, but instead have undermined her female identification and inadvertently reinscribed masculinity with maleness by consistently depicting her as a woman who wants to be a man. Grounded in an examination of some of the most canonical texts in lesbian and queer literature, I focus on Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928), Ann Bannon's Beebo Brinker Chronicles (1957-1962), Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues (1993), and I survey a number of twenty-first century anthologies that focus on female masculinity. As I examine the masculine female subjects in these texts, I ask: What are the conditions that prevent the female butch from flourishing and becoming visible in contemporary society? How did we get here? And then, how do we steer on in different directions? In order to understand where the female butch is going we must understand where she has been, and so I offer a first-of-its-kind-lineage that explores the female butch's story in 20th and 21st Century American Literature.

Subject Area

Womens studies|LGBTQ studies|American literature

Recommended Citation

Gandara, Kris, ""If I were he": Tracing a female butch lineage in American literature" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3618590.