An incurable malady
As the translator’s introduction comments, Sodom and Gomorrah, fourth volume in A la recherche du temps perdu, is not the great Gay novel. Gay men are disgusting and hideous, inverts, perverts. The narrator loves women. This is only bearable because, as with the Jews, Proust gives a patient description of how people behave under oppression; and I am certain of his sympathy because his mother was a Jew, and he was gay, and he exhibits understanding.
And yet before 1920, Proust describes androphile and lesbian trans women.
Some, if you come on them unawares in the morning, still in bed, display an admirable woman’s head, so general is the expression and symbolic of the sex as a whole; the hair itself declares it; its inflection is so feminine, when loosened, it falls so naturally on the cheek in tresses, that you marvel that the young woman, the girl, Galatea, barely awake as yet in the unconscious of this man’s body in which she is imprisoned, should have been able so ingeniously, of her own accord… to take advantage of the humblest escape route from her prison and find what was necessary to her life.
These, trans women though presenting male, do not tell others ”I am a woman” unless their mistress is a lesbian (a “citizen of Gomorrah”). They are of two kinds: androphile and gynephile. When I read that the androphile are “those whose childhoods were the most self-conscious” I feel exquisite vulnerability: this man saw Me, before Magnus Hirschfeld, before Lili Elbe. So what does he say of my kind?
[We], whose senses are no doubt more violent, give imperious location to our physical pleasures…we play the role of another woman for the women who love women, and the woman offers us more or less what we find in a man.
Such people cannot express ourselves as female.
Some young madmen in order to tease their friends or shock their parents display a sort of fury in choosing clothes that look like dresses, in reddening their lips and blacking their eyes; they too cruelly pay the penalty for their affectation, spending a whole lifetime trying vainly to make reparation, by their severe, protestant demeanour, for the wrong they did themselves…
In behaving so scandalously, we destroy our reputation, which we can never recreate, however respectable we may seek to act, hereafter- any more than a woman who has once behaved scandalously, of whom Goldsmith said,
The only art their guilt to cover… is to die!
Some of the inverts are solitary. It is so hard for them to admit that they are different from normal men, that they develop hatred for their kind and may kill themselves. They “never achieve genuine maturity”- does he mean make love, or have a real Relationship? One such solitary pines over a cousin, who marries, and finds another male lover; and a railwayman, who is posted to a different part of France. De Charlus’s own brother does not know directly that he is gay, but has heard of his reputation, so when he says “You never had the same tastes as everyone else” he is embarassed, and starts to protest about Palamede’s love of women.
We will return to these people, Proust says. I will write further on this.