The title of my dissertation project is “Inverts, Tomboys, and Drag Kings: Female Masculinities in Modernist American Literature and Culture, 1890-1940.” This project applies the transgender studies concept of “female masculinity” to representations of female sex/gender alterity in modernist American literary culture. As such, it privileges depictions of female-identified characters and historical actors who 'transed' gender, or disrupted the naturalized connections among gender identity, sexed embodiment, and social gender roles. With chapters organized around the novels of Willa Cather, Djuna Barnes, and Carson McCullers as well as the blues recordings of Gladys Bentley, I map the meanings that accrued to cultural representations of female masculinity such as the congenital ‘sexual invert’ or the ‘polymorphous perverse’ tomboy. Crossing critical trajectories of race and gender in the modernist era, my project contextualizes female masculinity within dominant racial and sexual formations including Black queer art, the emergence of a modern taxonomy of sex and sexuality, and the rise of a global American empire. Overall, I find that cultural tropes of masculinized women and girls are central to understanding the racial, gendered and sexual complexity of American modernism.
For more information on my research, please see the video below from a recent lecture for the LGBTQIA+ Speaker Series.