A man in all that the name implies: Reclassification of Lucy Ann/Joseph Israel Lobdell

by Lobdell, Bambi Lyn, Ph.D., STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT BINGHAMTON, 2007, 221 pages; 3269647


Scholars have presented Lucy Ann Lobdell as a nineteenth-century Passing Woman based on feminist arguments in Lobdell’s 1855 autobiography and Lobdell’s decision to leave home in men’s clothes to gain more employment opportunities. They have also used selected quotes from an 1883 sexological article, written by P. M. Wise, as evidence that Lobdell was the first lesbian subject in American sexological study.

These classifications are erroneous for two reasons. In 1883, newly-birthed concepts of same-sex desire applied only to men. Wise considered Lobdell a “very rare” case of perversion, not “a lesbian” as a type of female person identified by same-sex desire. More importantly, Lobdell lived an openly transgender life for decades and repeatedly declared that he was a man, and such declarations were reported in Wise’s article. My research shows that Lobdell lived consistently as a man despite the hardship it brought him through poverty, social abuse, and legal trouble.

This essay begins by authorizing Lobdell’s self-identification as a (transgender) man and analyzes how the various narrative constructions of Lobdell’s identity highlight the tension between the performed and assigned meanings of the transgendered body, and how classification of Lobdell changed over 150 years. Nineteenth-century cultural narratives (newspaper articles, histories…) focused on Lobdell’s disruptive transgender and, in accordance with traditional gender constructions, classified him as deviant while twentieth- and twenty-first century scholarly narratives erase his transgender all together and focus on his anatomy and relationship with Marie Louise Perry to force him into lesbian classification as a woman. A specific focus on narrative technologies, such as characterization, moralizing as analysis, and event selection, spotlights the human act of creating identities that reinforce hegemonic, heteronormative norms and marginalize difference.

This essay includes specific discussion on Lobdell’s queer challenge to binary opposites man/woman and hetero/homosexuality which makes clear the constructedness of such categories by placing him in a third space between genders, sexes, and sexualities. Through research and analysis of Lobdell’s entire life, he and Perry are moved from lesbian to transgender history as this essay calls for development of concepts and vocabulary to discuss a queer transgendered form of heterosexuality.

AdviserLeslie Heywood
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsModern literature; Biographies; Women's studies; Gender studies
Publication Number3269647

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