Cover image for A desired past : a short history of same-sex love in America
A desired past : a short history of same-sex love in America
Rupp, Leila J., 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xii, 232 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ76.3.U5 R86 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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With this book, Leila J. Rupp accomplishes what few scholars have even attempted: she combines a vast array of scholarship on supposedly discrete episodes in American history into an entertaining and entirely readable story of same-sex desire across the country and the centuries.

"Most extraordinary about Leila J. Rupp's indeed short, two-hundred-page history of 'same-sex love and sexuality' is not that it manages to account for such a variety of individuals, races, and classes or take in such a broad chronological and thematic range, but rather that it does all this with such verve, lucidity, and analytical rigor. . . . [A]n elegant, inspiring survey." --John Howard, Journal of American History

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Rupp organizes her brief history chronologically and spans some 400 years. If scholars will applaud her meticulousness, general readers will enjoy her well-paced readability. Concepts of friendship and sexuality have changed with the times, she demonstrates, and so have levels of social understanding and acceptance. Formerly, sex incidental to the camaraderie among cowboys in their single-gender communities and the heavily romanticized friendships of women were tolerated; indeed, the latter were, until the end of the nineteenth century, approved under the prevailing assumption of women's asexuality. Young men's romantic friendships, accepted before the Civil War, especially, were expected to change with adulthood and marriage, not because of religious or overtly moral reasons but because of the notion that middle-class success in the professions and business demanded a competitiveness at odds with such youthful devotion. Rupp makes a worthwhile contribution to women's studies, gender studies, and sexuality studies alike. --Whitney Scott

Publisher's Weekly Review

While most books on gay and lesbian history tend to be scholarly, at times informed by postmodern analysis that can make them challenging for the general reader, Rupp's survey of four centuries of "same-sex love in America" is, by contrast, extremely accessible. By way of introducing her material, this professor of history at Ohio State University writes very personally about her lesbian aunt, Leila; her own coming out; and her work in the lesbian and gay community, as well as a range of contemporary issues such as antigay political initiatives and gay male urban sexual cultures. The bulk of the book, however, is an engaging but cursory look at such highlights of same-sex desire in U.S. culture as Walt Whitman's life and poetry, Emily Dickinson's "romantic friendship" with her sister-in-law, gender variations among Native American berdaches, the importance of WW II in helping gay men and lesbians come out and the growth of national gay communities. While Rupp invokes the standard sources for gay and lesbian history, including the work of Allan B‚rube, Esther Newton, George Chauncey, Jonathan Katz and Lillian Faderman, she tends to summarize them rather than build new or larger arguments; there is little new research here. A highly regarded scholar of women's history, Rupp has produced a version of gay American history that's suitable even for young adult readers (the promotional material refers to it as "breezy"). As much as it might be needed, it's an odd offering from a university press. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Rupp (history and women's studies, Ohio State Univ.) presents a synthesis of the work of many historians who have investigated same-sex sexuality. She provides brief accounts of the lives of people throughout American history who in some way demonstrated same-sex desire, from early Native Americans to Walt Whitman and through the aftermath of the Stonewall riot. She offers explanation and analysis of how these people and their experiences reveal prevailing attitudes toward homosexuality in the times and places they lived. Rupp acknowledges her debt to other writers, especially Jonathan Katz (whose Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A., Plume, 1992, includes many more profiles and primary sources, though less analysis). This work is very brief considering its broad scope, but it is engaging and readable. Recommended for all libraries.ÄDebra Moore, Loyola Marymount Univ. Lib., Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Drawing together work from disparate sources and providing cogent and articulate bridges, Rupp introduces the major themes (and major arguments) in a 400-year history of same sex love in the US. Written in an eminently readable style that manages to entertain as well as educate, A Desired Past touches on all the well-known "icons" of lesbian and gay history. Rupp delves into scholarship on "sodomiticall boyes and lewd maids" of early America, 19th-century romantic friendships, and butch-femme role playing of the postwar era. She is especially effective in her efforts to navigate the treacherous waters of theory, explaining clearly and succinctly the problems that historians and others have encountered when attempting to universalize same-sex attraction and eroticism across time. She is also extremely conscientious in her explicit acknowledgment of differences in experience, expression, and often punishments that are both historically and racially/ethnically bound. Rupp's selection of material, clear presentation, and careful weaving of the story of same-sex love make the book a fine place for any researcher, whether novice or seasoned scholar, to begin to understand the complexities of the topic. All levels. E. Broidy; University of California, Irvine

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Thinking about Aunt Leila
2 In the Beginning: Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America
3 Worlds of Men, Worlds of Women: Sex and Romantic Friendship in an Industrializing and Expanding Nation
4 Definitions and Deviance: Sexual Transformations at the Turn of the Century
5 Coming Together: Contested Identities and the Emergence of Communities
6 Becoming a People: Lesbian and Gay Worlds and the Organization of Resistance
7 Conclusion: Something Old, Something New