Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, and Marginality

By Efrat Tseëlon | Go to book overview

3

LESBIAN MASKS

Beauty and other negotiations

Halla Beloff

This work is dedicated to Tessa Boffin, of happy memory.

In 1928 Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall published an explicitly lesbian love novel The Well of Loneliness, setting out her view that lesbianism is inborn and ought to be accepted because it cannot be helped. The ‘scandalous’ book was denounced as immoral and the author was prosecuted for obscenity (Ruehl, 1982). Its author, who called herself just ‘Radclyffe Hall’, wore well-cut masculine jackets, a stiff collar and tie, and a trilby hat. She had cropped her hair. We can see that the cultural aesthetic of such earlier lesbians was committed to a simple elegance that we at the distance of some eighty years can appreciate as ‘classic’. Its timelessness depends on its distance from the vagaries of the feminine fashionable and on its sheer luxury.

In the mid 1990s ‘lesbian chic’ has been taken up by straight young women, while lesbians themselves may now want to use clothes simply to play.

As aspects of identity-work, such use of social codes and camouflage by straight as well as lesbian women is worthy of serious attention. These are transgressions of various kinds, some exciting more animosity than others, and codes of recognition are no longer reliable. And as Reina Lewis (1997) has suggested, ‘when identity can no longer be decoded from appearances, fashion is both a newly available playground and a danger zone of irrecognisability’ (ibid., p. 109).

Such dynamic and provocative modes of creating ambiguous impressions through clothes can perhaps be best discussed through a similar elision of straight logic. A sideways glance at a set of visual arguments, forming a set of questions, may produce the self-reflexive attention that the subject deserves and this author is hoping for.

-54-

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Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, and Marginality
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates ix
  • Foreword xiii
  • Preface xvii
  • Acknowledgements xix
  • References 15
  • 1 - Reflections on Mask and Carnival 18
  • 2 - Stigma, Uncertain Identity and Skill in Disguise 38
  • 3 - Lesbian Masks 54
  • 4 - Fashion, Fetish, Fantasy 73
  • References 81
  • 5 - Is Womanliness Nothing but a Masquerade? 83
  • 6 - The Scarf and the Toothache 101
  • Note 112
  • 7 - The Metamorphosis of the Mask in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century London 114
  • References 133
  • 8 - Masked and Unmasked at the Opera Balls 135
  • References 150
  • 9 - On Women and Clothes and Carnival Fools 153
  • References 170
  • Index 175
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