There are people for whom there is no shared love- all we can taste of happiness is that simulacrum which has been granted me at one of those unique moments when a woman’s kindness, or her caprice, or chance, applies to our desires, in a perfect coincidence, the same words and the same actions as if we had been truly loved.
The Marquise de Vagoubert is married to a man, but “wears the trousers” in the relationship, her husband being the feminine type who wants a man. Perhaps she was always a man, or perhaps she acquired mannish characteristics to please her husband. The narrator despises her, “the charmless effigy of the virtues that the husband ought to be practising”. Perhaps Charlotte Elisabeth de Bavière, sister in law of King Louis XIV, was of the same type.
The narrator suspects his lover, Albertine, of lesbianism. The real person the character of Albertine is supposedly based on was a man, but whichever way it appears, the suspicion that ones lover is attracted to the sex I am not is painful. The narrator remembers the time before his suspicions were aroused, and the suspicion poisons the memories. She is not as devoted to him, nor as desperate to spend time with him, as she avers. But then he watches her waltz with her friend Andrée, and Dr Cottard comments that their breasts are touching. He shares his medical expertise: “They’re certainly at the height of arousal. It’s not sufficiently well known that it’s chiefly through the breasts that women experience it.”
The comment brings on jealousy in the narrator- could they be lovers? Albertine laughs, and suddenly this is evidence they are- but the full poison of the suspicion takes time to grow in him. The pain of it is so great that he is not conscious of all of it at first. Then Albertine protests how much she wishes to be with him, but she cannot- and lies about where she will go. He is desperate to catch her out, even to following her. Jealousy inflames his emotional slavery.
Any allusion to lesbianism is an affront to Albertine. There is nothing she finds more disgusting. “We haven’t reached the age we are without seeing women with short hair, who have mannish ways and are of the kind you say, and nothing revolts us as much.” That “We” is Albertine and Andrée: Andrée’s denials refer to the same “We”. Then there is the incident where a notorious lesbian passes, and Albertine stares at her, then denies any interest at all.
In the same way, now, in the 21st century, I do not associate with other trans women. We do not want to draw attention to ourselves.
My mother’s best friend at the hospital, before she married, was Bess, later known to me as Aunty Bess. I am unsure when she started living with her friend Marian: when I was eight we moved to Argyll, and saw Aunty Bess rarely. They got the Daily Record, a tabloid we despised, and once the subject of the “Page 3 girls” came up. “I think they look at it,” said my father- he sounded distressed rather than disgusted. That is the only allusion I can remember to them being a couple, indeed it is possible that they really were two female friends who happened to share a house because it was convenient to do so.
Now, I want a partner, specifically a woman, who will take a- what? How to describe it? A male, masculine, butch role in such a relationship- I have no idea how that might happen, and how I despise myself for it! Not a man, not a woman-
If only I wanted something else! I might have it!
“Often, when two girls felt desire for one another, there was produced something like a phenomenon of light, a sort of trail of phosphorescence leading from one to the other.”
The narrator is now entirely preoccupied with Gomorrah- or Sapphism, Lesbianism, woman’s love for woman, call it what you will- and his jealousy of Albertine. Mlle Bloch and her actress-partner live together openly, and now appear in the hotel flagrantly making out together. The decent people complain to the manager, but Mlle Bloch’s gay uncle has corrupted him, and he does nothing about the outrage. So they carry on, even more publicly.
There is a beautiful young woman with eyes like stars, whose gaze, like a lighthouse, does not leave Albertine. Albertine, however, studiously ignores her. Later this girl sees Mlle Bloch, walks over, and without a word their legs and hands intertwine. Her husband is discomposed.
Albertine eventually gets the narrator’s jealousy of other women to cease, simply by flirting with his friend Robert de Saint-Loup. He had the innocence of those people who believe that one taste necessarily excludes the other.