Happy Valentine’s Day: Victorian Etiquette Manuals Reinforced Performative Gender Roles

heteronormative

Roses are red/Gender is performative/Mass Market Romance/Is heteronormative

This little gem started circulating throughout my social network last night and I couldn’t be happier.

“Roses are red” gives it a fun Valentine’s Day theme.

The nineteenth century illustrates how performative gender is even if they didn’t know it yet. The Victorian’s obsession with etiquette famously fuelled manuals on how to properly be a lady, or a gentleman.

Look up “homosexual in the OED Historical Thesaurus and the words begin in 1892 with Richard von Kraft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. Though they didn’t have the language to express it clearly, Victorian England periodically had homophobic heart attacks, as is evidenced in the case of Fanny and Stella, a pair of flamboyant trans-women.

Cross-dressing was popular in the nineteenth century and naturally part of the LGBT community. Yes, although they didn’t use that term for it, nineteenth-century England had an LGBT community. Women, like Fanny and Stella, were called “Mollies,” by people in the know, and could meet kindred spirits by frequenting “Molly Houses.”

Other words that emerged for homosexuals in the 1890s included: “Uranian” and “invert.” It was more polite to call your gay friend a “confirmed bachelor.” My other blog has more on the sexual orientation of men in the 1890s.

Lesbians were female “companions,” as in the case of the best-selling novelist, Marie Corelli, and her female companian, Bertha Vyver. People didn’t generally start worrying much about what lesbians were doing until the 1920s. Though, “Sapphism” became a thing in the eighteenth century. This term originated with the Greek poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos Island. All the terms related to Sappho can be traced through the Victorian Era and Wonder Woman comics.

Mass-market romance is still heteronormative even if gender-neutral terms of endearment have permeated our language throughout history. I’m happy to say that the digital era is making everything more democratic and entertaining. This Valentine depicts love between the Hulk and the Beast (of Beauty and the Beast). I love this one with Catwoman and Wonder Woman, but who doesn’t love Wonder Woman?

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