Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Experiences in the Twentieth Century United States

Winter term 2002 (January 3-25, 2002)

Christy Regenhardt
email: christyr@wam.umd.edu
2101C Woods Hall (Women’s Studies Department)


This course explores the experiences of people who we might today define as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in the twentieth century in the United States. Students will examine how such individuals struggled with culturally dominant definitions of their sexuality in the U.S., and fought the discrimination that often faced them. In this process, students will learn how to apply historical methods to the study of sexuality, and will learn about the historicity of sexual identities.

George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1994.
John D’Emilio. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Lillian Faderman Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Sexuality in twentieth Century America. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
Neil Miller. Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
XEROXED COURSE PACKET, which will contain all of the academic articles listed below, as well as primary articles from sources other than Gay American History. Newspaper articles and other primary source documents will be available only in the course packet or at my desk during my office hours.

SNOW POLICY: If the University of Maryland College Park campus is closed for any reason, we will make up that day’s class on the following Saturday at the regular meeting time and place. If the campus is closed more than one day during the week, I will contact students by email or phone to arrange additional meeting time. As long as the University of Maryland is open, you are expected to be in class and on time.


The largest portion of your grade will be based on your class participation. While I will give brief lectures to tie together some of the material you’ve read, and we will be viewing portions of films and listening to music in class, most of our time will be spent in discussion of the material. For this to work, students must complete their assigned readings before class meets each day. Assignments are listed on the day they are due. Due to the brief and intense nature of any winterterm course, attendance is absolutely required every single day. If you have an unavoidable absence, please contact me as soon as possible. You must show written proof that your absence was unavoidable if you want the opportunity to complete a make-up assignment. Tardiness is also unacceptable. Three tardy arrivals will be treated as an unexcused absence. An unexcused absence will result in the loss of four points from your FINAL grade for the course.
There are a few, brief writing assignments for the class. You should focus on one topic for all of these assignments. Some suggested topics are listed at the end of this syllabus. If you want to research a topic not on this list, you must clear it with me no later than January 7th.
You will each turn in three 2 page papers analyzing a primary source document. These will be due on the 7th, 14th, and 22nd. Your primary source may include documents not already read for class in Katz, suggested films, or other primary sources approved by the instructor. These papers must be typed and double spaced. An example will be given to you on the first day of class. Your final paper will be a 6-8 page paper in which you compare one secondary source article on your topic area to the three primary sources you will have examined. We will spend one hour in McKeldin library on January 4th, where you will learn how to search for articles in different electronic databases. Late papers will be marked down one letter grade for each day they are late.
The final exam will be given on the final day of class, and will be one hour long. The exam will consist of a single essay question. The instructor will hand out three possible questions at least a week before the exam. One of these three questions will be drawn from a hat on the day of the exam, and all students will answer that question. Students are encouraged to work together to prepare for the examination, but the exam itself will be closed-book and individually written.

Class Participation = 35%
Document Analysis (3) = 6% each
Final Paper =22%
Final Examination = 25%


There are a few major questions you should keep in mind every day as you do the readings– some we can answer, some we can only contemplate. These include:
ü How have race, class, gender, and religion affected the experiences of people we might call lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?
ü Why have many Americans identified by categories of sexual-orientation in the 20th Century? What forms have these categories taken? When and why have they changed?
ü How have people we might call lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender fought against discrimination throughout the 20th century?
ü What were some of the different conceptions held by others of these people throughout the century? When and why have these conceptions changed?

There are also questions listed with each day’s reading to further help you think about what you are reading.

(readings are listed on the date by which you should have them read.)


January 3: Introduction
Agenda: Go over syllabus; lecture on 19th century; small group discussions about primary sources (to be handed out in class).

January 4: Gay Communities up to World War I and the Sexologists
Readings: Selections from George Chauncey’s Gay New York 1-45. Primary source articles on Sexology.
Agenda: Group discussion; trip to Library.
Questions: Where did identities of “homosexual” and “lesbian” come from? What were the experiences of early twentieth century men and women who might have defined themselves or been defined by others as homosexual or lesbian? When can we, as historians, really start talking about a “gay community” or a “lesbian community”? Do they come into existence at the same time?

Week 2:

January 7: Harry Thaw and Others — Problems with Identity FIRST PAPER DUE
Readings: Martha Umphrey, “The Trouble with Harry Thaw;” Katz 65-68, 320-323, Chauncey GNY 66-97., Paula Gunn Allen “Lesbians in American Indian Cultures.” You must clear a topic for your papers with me TODAY!!
Agenda: Group discussion; watch beginning of The Celluloid Closet.
Questions: How do we study people who have not fit easily into identity categories based on sexual preference? Why is it important that we understand such people? How did different cultures define different sexual behaviors?

January 8: Gay New York
Readings: George Chauncey GNY 207-267 (Chapter 4 recommended), Eric Garber “A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem.”
Agenda: Small group work; large group discussion.
Questions: What was the relationship between sexual preference and gender in New York in the early part of the twentieth century? How did cultural understandings of sexual preference relate to race and ethnicity?

January 9: Lesbianism in the 1920s-1930s
Readings: Chapter 3 of Lillian Faderman’s Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America (“Lesbian Chic: Experimentation and Repression in the 1920s”); Out of the Past pp. 137-158, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg “Discourses of Sexuality and Subjectivity: The New Woman, 1870-1936.”
Agenda: Songs by Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith; lecture; group discussion.
Questions: How were the experiences of lesbians different from those of gay men in the early part of the twentieth century? How were the experiences of bisexual women different from those of lesbian women? How did race affect these experiences?

January 10: World War II and the 1950s Movement
(Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitus)
Readings: Portions of John D’Emilio’s Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities (57-107). Out of the Past pp.333-354.
Agenda: Lecture on World War II and the Cold War; watch Coming Out Under Fire; small group discussions on the film and readings.
Questions: What effect did World War II have on the lives and experiences of lesbians and gay men? What did World War II have to do with subsequent gay and lesbian liberation movements, if anything? What were the goals and tactics of these movements? Were they successful?

January 11: The Cold War and Mainstream Conceptions in the 1950s-60s
Readings: Faderman, Chapter 6 (“The Love that Dares Not Speak Its Name: McCarthyism and Its Legacy“), Out of the Past pp. 247-279.
Agenda: film: Lecture on World War II and the 1950s; watch The Children’s Hour.
Questions: What were government and popular conceptions of lesbian and gay lives in the middle of the twentieth century? How did these conceptions affect gay and lesbian experiences?

Week 3:

January 14: The 1960s SECOND PAPER DUE
Readings: Chapter 7 in Lillian Faderman’s Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers (“Butches, Femmes, and Kikis: Creating Lesbian Subcultures in the 1950s and ‘60s”); Kennedy and Davis “Oral History and the Study of Sexuality in the LEsbian Community,” ;” Leila Rupp’s “’Imagine my Surprise’: Women’s Relationships in Mid-Twentieth Century America.” (suggested: Donna Penn “The Meaning of Lesbianism on Postwar America– in your coursepacket).
Agenda: : Discussion of readings; watch portion of Last Call at Maud‘s; Lecture on the 1960s.
Questions: How did the experiences of lesbians and gays vary by race, class, and gender in this period?

January 15: Christine Jorgenson, and Different Popular Conceptions of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgendered People
Readings: David Harley Serlin, “Christine Jorgensen and the Cold War Closet;” Jim Kepner “The News Hound”, Faderman, Chapter 8 (“’Not a Public Relations Movement‘: Lesbian Revolutions in the 1960s through 70s“).
Agenda: Group discussion; watch portion of The Celluloid Closet; discuss your papers (How are you doing? What questions do you have?).
Questions: Why are we discussing problems with gender identity in a class that is focused mostly on sexual-orientation-based identities?

January 16: Free Love, Stonewall, Feminism, and the Gay Liberation Front
Readings: Rey “Sylvia Lee” Rivera “The Drag Queen;” Course packet newspaper articles on the Stonewall riot; Terence Kissack “Freaking Fag Revolutionaries”, D’Emilio SPSC 223-239, Martin Duberman Stonewall pp. 167-212.
Agenda: Lecture; watch end of The Celluloid Closet; group discussions.
Questions: How were the liberation movements of the late 1960s and early 70s different from earlier movements? How were they like earlier movements? What were their goals and tactics? Were they successful?

January 17: 1970s and Early 1980s
Readings: Coursepacket articles on the Moral Majority, Martin Duberman’s Stonewall p. 213-280, Faderman Chapter 10 (“Lesbian Sex Wars in the 1980s”).
Agenda: songs by The Village People; film: The Boys in the Band; group discussion.
Questions: What forms did the backlash against the lesbian and gay liberation movements take? What were the early results of the (at this point unnamed) epidemic of AIDS?

January 18: AIDS and the Responses
Readings: Larry Kramer “The Unwanted Messenger;” course packet: newspaper articles on “gay cancer” and on AIDS; Robert Padgug “More than the Story of a Virus.”
Agenda: Lecture on history of AIDS; group discussion; Review for exam. If you want me to read a rough draft of your final paper by Monday, you need to hand it in today (this is not a requirement).
Questions: How did the AIDS epidemic affect the lives of gay men? Lesbians? How did it change the fight for lesbian and gay liberation? Did it alter gay or lesbian identities themselves?

Week 4:

January 21: Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday, Observed. No Class

January 22: Queerness and other Contemporary Issues THIRD PAPER DUE
Readings: Donna Penn, “Queer: Theorizing Politics and History; Henry Abelove, “The Queering of Lesbian/Gay History”; read part of Deirdre McCloskey’s Crossing: A Memoir (pages TBA).
Agenda: Song by Michelle Shocked, “Sleep Keeps Me Awake;” watch episode of “Will and Grace;” watch part of You Don’t Know Dick; group discussion.
Questions: What was the difference between “lesbian” or “gay” and “queer” in the 1990s, and why did it matter? What forms did liberation movements take in the late 20th century? How did race, class, and gender affect the experiences of people who identified themselves as queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc.?

January 23: Wrap-up

You are by no means limited to these topics– I can imagine hundreds more. This list is simply to get you thinking about the possibilities, and to help you if you are unsure about you historical interests. You may also want to look at a more specific area within one of these topics. You must, however, clear your topic with me by January 8.

Sexologists The Gay Liberation Movement
Early lesbian and/or gay communities Feminism and lesbianism
Gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered performers (in any period)
Harlem (or New York) in the 1920s Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness
World War II The early history of AIDs
Minority lesbian or gay cultures Loren Cameron
The homosexual scare in the 1950s Queer Nation
Transexual surgeries Same-sex marriage as an issue in the late 20th C.
The Mattachine Society ACT-UP
Racial discrimination in the Lesbian and Gay community
The Daughters of Bilitus Philadelphia
Bayard Rustin Christine Jorgensen
Gay or lesbian bars in any period Tennessee Williams
Brandon Teena Gays and lesbians in the military
Film representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered people

If you have appropriate syllabi, please contact CLGH chair Karen Krahulik at Karen_Krahulik@brown.edu.