Mary Coombs


The two primary articles in this Symposium each contribute significantly to the project of providing a history for same-sex sexual activities and desires. That project is politically and intellectually valuable, both in its own right and as a means toward understanding contemporary "homosexuality." It also has potential legal implications. The term "law office history" is a pejorative, not because history is irrelevant to law, but because the history put to use for legal causes is so often bad history. By contrast, both these articles appear to be good history, theoretically sophisticated and wellgrounded in the relevant source materials. They are also, however, limited history, for each focuses overwhelmingly on the history of lovemaking between men.

In the first part of this Comment, I want to consider the significance of that androcentrism - of the articles and of the historical records upon which they build - for the legal implications each author seeks to draw from the history he has uncovered. Can this history be used on behalf of the legal interests of lesbians? The second part of the Comment focuses more directly on the relative absence of a rich anthropological and historical record of female lovemaking in these cultures. What does that historical gap mean for lesbians and our interests? What can one infer about these cultures from the relative thinness of the record? If, as I suggest, erotic attachments between men and erotic attachments between women were not historically viewed as essentially similar practices, what would that mean for contemporary understandings of homosexuality, both by the law and within gay and lesbian communities? These latter questions are enormously important; I hope here at most to inscribe them in our consciousness as a topic for continued discourse.