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September 1997

Bisexual Women In History

By Beverly Greene

In the June issue of Oasis, you may have read my essay on finding lesbians, bisexual women, and f2m persons throughout history. (If you have not done so, you may wish to do read it before reading this history as it makes important points about this type of history.)

So, this month I thought that I would share some of my history studies with you. It is important to know about the women who came before us, because only when we realize their suffering and sacrifices can we truly see where we are in history and where we still need to go.

Unfortunately, finding bisexual women in history books is next to impossible. Bisexual women often were married to men as society dictated and were forced to hide their female loves in the shadows of female friendship. Few people ever made note of known bisexual women. Few bisexuals felt comfortable enough to be open about their sexuality in an age where they were not understood by either the heterosexual or the homosexual communities. I encourage you to do your own research to find other bisexual women in history.

Below is a history of a few of the notable bisexual women that I have found during my search. I have made a few personal notes on their lives based on my feelings about my research on that particular woman. Also, often, I had to just guess if the women listed here were in fact bisexual as we now know them or if they were lesbians who were forced into heterosexual relationships by societal pressures. In the coming month, I hope to also bring you a history of women who may have been transgendered. (Please note that I have added the year of birth and death, if I have it in my records.)

Mabel Hampton was a dancer in Harlem, African American woman, and woman loving woman, though I am not sure if she would have classified herself as a lesbian or bisexual.

Mabel Ganson Dodge Luhan was a bisexual woman who had many lovers in her youth. She later married a man 4 separate times and had several affairs with men. She published part one (out of 4) of her autobiography titles Intimate Memories in 1932 in which she described some of her relationships with women.

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey was a famous African American blues singer and song writer who was married to a man but said that she preferred women as lovers and men's clothes. She wrote and performed the song Prove It On Me Blue where she speaks directly about her love for women and even dares those listening to 'prove it'. She also wrote (I believe) and performed the song Sissy Blues which is about her husband's homosexual affair.

Eleanor Roosevelt was, of course, a first lady of the USA. She was also recently discovered to have had a love affair with reporter, Lorena Hickok. I believe that she would have classified herself as bisexual and not lesbian as many of the reports have stated. (Of course, people do tend to classify anyone who has ever slept with another woman as lesbian. However, this ignores the fact that bisexuals have played a large role in our collective history as well as lesbians and gay men.)

Bessie Smith was a famous blues singer who had female lovers. I would guess that she was bisexual.

Dorothy Thompson was a heterosexually identified woman who was married to a man but who fell in love with another woman, Christa Winsloe. Dorothy was a writer for newspapers and magazines, a lecturer, a radio commentator, a feminist, an activist, a political analyst, and the author of two novels: The New Russia (1928) and I Saw Hitler (1932). She was expelled from Nazi Germany by Hitler because of an interview that she published that he did not like. She married and divorced Josef Bard and then later married the famous novelist Sinclair Lewis, whose image of lesbians can be seen in his novel Ann Vickers where a possessive, cruel lesbian drives another woman to suicide. Dorothy wrote about her love for Christa Winsloe and another woman in her journal, which still survives. Christa seemed to be her life's love and she was devastated when she heard of Christa's murder. See also Christa Winsloe.

Christa Winsloe was a married to the Baron of Hatvany and author of the novel and film Madchen in Uniform which was about a girl's crush on a female teacher. It was one of the first movies in the US to have a lesbian theme. She was murdered in June 10, 1944 in Europe by a criminal in the underground during the craziness that followed the end of the war. See also Dorothy Thompson.

Virginia Woolf was a famous author. She was married to a man, but had a long relationship with another woman. If I had to guess, I would think that she would have considered herself to be bisexual.

The above history is largely taken from my Women Loving Women In History pages. The following books were used during my research: Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA by Jonathan Katz and published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited, Toronto Canada in 1976. This is a wonderful, inclusive, and complete book on gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons in history. The author is also working (and may have published by now) another book containing even more US gay history. This is the book that I got most of the information contained in the previous pages.

Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian edited by Duberman, Vicinus, and Chauncey, Jr. and published by New American Library in 1985. This was a good collection of essays dealing with the roles of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons in history. If you are interested in learning more about the past and how it related to the lgbt persons who lived during those times, this is a good book. However, it may not be the best to do research on specific people.

Wild Women: Crusaders, Curmudgeons, and Completely Corsetless Ladies in the Otherwise Virtuous Victorian Era by Autumn Stephens and published in Conari Press, Berkeley, CA in 1922. This is a very cool little book made up of all kinds of radical women. I think that all women and men who are interested in the role of women in history will enjoy this easy and fun read.


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