Jeannette Howard Foster was to lesbianism in the mid-twentieth century what out authors such as Gore Vidal and James Baldwin were to gay men. She unapologetically blew the lid off Cold War sexual repression in 1956 with her Sex Variant Women in Literature-the first-ever study of homosexual, bisexual, and cross-dressing characters appearing in more than 300 works, from ancient times to the present. Joanne Passet’s Sex Variant Woman is a fascinating portrait of Foster, who served as the first librarian at the Kinsey Institute before leaving to publish her controversial book. It is also a riveting look into the pre-Stonewall past, the intense sexual repression and persecution endured by homosexuals, the groundbreaking advances put forth by a cadre of activists, and the rise of feminism and gay and lesbian liberation decades later.
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