Indications of Erotic Friendship in the 1860s

I took a closer look at a quote from Karen Hansen’s “‘No Kisses is Like Yours’: An Erotic Friendship Between Two African-American Women During the Mid-19th Century”.
On page 187, one of the women, Addie says to the other woman in this closely examined friendship, Rebecca in a letter,
“You are the first girl that I ever love so and you are the last one. Dear Rebecca, do not say anything against me loving you so, for I mean just what I say. O Rebecca, it seem I can see you now, casting those loving eyes at me. If you was a man, what would things come to? They would after come to something very quick. What do you think the matter? Don’t laugh at me. I not exactly crazy yet.”
Although homosexuality was not widely acknowledged or sanctioned at this time, these women feel love with the intensity and depth of any heterosexual relationship. The phrase “If you was a man” (187) indicates that the relationship is not one of friendship. This distinction in the type of relationship is from a standpoint of gender, not devotion or attraction. In addition, Addie refers to Rebecca as “the first girl that I ever love so and…the last one,” (187). Singling out Rebecca and putting her apart from all other women that she could have relationships with indicates a romantic connection. Finally, the notion that Rebecca would think of Addie as “crazy” for loving her suggests that their love would not be sanctioned by their general community. This is typical of a homosexual relationship, both then and, in some circumstances, now. However, it is important to note that the author of this chapter found that this type of relationship between two women was not looked down upon by many in their African-American community at the time.
The entirety of the chapter deals with reading notes between two African-American who had an “erotic friendship”. The author noticed that these women were far less subtle in their displays of affection and sexual attraction when compared to white women from the same time period. Addie’s note exemplifies one of the ways in which black women, presumptuously, were more transparent with their amorous feelings towards each other in comparison to white women in the same age.

2 thoughts on “Indications of Erotic Friendship in the 1860s”

  1. I cannot imagine the pure elation discovering the letters between Addie and Rebecca must have had for LGBTQ+ literary scholars, particularly because of this note you chose to analyze. Although Heather Love gives “proof” that their community didn’t mind their relationship so long as it didn’t interfere with future heterosexual marriage proposals, I think there’s an obvious sense of normalized “wrongness” that has been instilled in Addie regarding her feelings for Rebecca as proven by her language here. The fact that she expresses her fear of being crazy for feeling attraction towards another woman in three different ways – “What do you think the matter? Don’t laugh at me. I not exactly crazy yet” – showcases the effects of living in a hetero-normative/homophobic society even if some people in their community accepted them.

  2. Hi!
    I also agree that Addie and Rebecca’s relationship was just as romantic as any heterosexual couple, and I find it odd that Hansen’s conclusion is to call it an “erotic friendship”. I acknowledge that I am reading these letters as a 21st century reader, and I do find it important to suspend judgement when studying queer history. However, these letters are so clearly romantic that I disagree with the “friendship” label Hansen chose. LGBT erasure is so common in history that it is important to call romances like they are when we so clearly see one.

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