Miss S: "This divine gift of loving," 1897

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"This divine gift of loving"

by Jonathan Ned Katz. Copyright (c) by Jonathan Ned Katz. All rights reserved. Reedited by Katz from Gay American History (1976).

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The first English edition of Havelock EIlis and John Addington Symonds's Sexual Inversion (1897) contains the short history of an American Lesbian, including a statement by her concerning "inversion!'

Miss S., age 38, living in a city of the United States of America, a business woman of fine intelligence, prominent in professional and literary circles. Her genera1 health is good, but she belongs to a family in which there is a marked neuropathic element. She is of rather phlegmatic temperament, well poised, always perfectly calm and self-possessed, rather retiring in disposition, with gentle, dignified bearing.

She says she cannot care for men, but that all her life has been "glorified and made beautiful by friendship with women," whom she loves as a man loves women. Her character is, however, well disciplined, and her friends are not aware of the nature of her affections. She tries not to give all her love to one person, and endeavors (as she herself expresses it) to use this "gift of loving" as a steppingstone to high mental and spiritual attainments. She is described by one who has known her for several years as "having a high nature, and instincts unerringly toward high things."[1]

The 1901 edition of Sexual Inversion contains an additional statement, clearly by the same American Lesbian, on what is called "the moral position of inverts"; in the context of its time this statement constitutes an early Lesbian defense.

"Inverts should have the courage and independence to be themselves, and to demand an investigation. If one strives to live honorably, and considers the greatest good to the greatest number, it is not a crime nor a disgrace to be an invert. I do not need the law to defend me, neither do I desire to have any concessions made for me, nor do I ask my friends to sacrifice their ideals for me. I too have ideals which I shall always hold. All that I desire--and I claim it as my right-is the freedom to exercise this divine gift of loving, which is not a menace to society nor a disgrace to me. Let it once be understood that the average invert is not a moral degenerate nor a mental degenerate, but simply a man or a woman who is less highly specialized, less completely differentiated, than other men and women, and I believe the prejudice against them will disappear, and if they' live uprightly they will surely win the esteem and consideration of dl thoughtful people. I know what it means to an invert-who feels himself set apart from the rest of mankind

-to find one human heart who trusts him and understands him, and I know how almost impossible this is, and will be, until the world is made aware of these facts."[2]


  1. Ellis and Symonds (1897), pi 88.
  2. Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology 'of Sex; Sexual Inversion (Phila.: F. A. Davis, 1901), p. 134.


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