Reading A Short History of Queer Women by Kirsty Loehr is like being strapped on a rocket hurtling through time. From speculating on the sexual practices of prehistoric women to commenting on 2021 TV fare, Loehr offers her take on the presence of lesbians throughout history in a brief, small-format book. It’s a raucous ride, and it dispels the tired question posed by Loehr herself: Why can’t lesbians be funny? Of course, much of lesbian history isn’t funny at all, but this is not a reverent work, nor an academic one. You won’t find an index or footnote here.
A bit like a lesbian Who’s Who, all the famous names make an appearance. Sappho, the Amazons, the pirate Anne Bonny, Queen Anne, the Ladies of Llangolen, and Ellen DeGeneres are all there. Particular attention is paid to three well-known Lotharias of their day: Anne Lister, Natalie Clifford Barney, and Vita Sackville-West. These famous lovers lived unconventional lives in which they expressed their sexuality freely, leaving broken hearts behind but forever expanding the way lesbians could operate in society. They were revolutionaries, but they were also members of the privileged class, which allowed them to get away with things that scullery maids could not. Another famous lesbian lover, Tallulah Bankhead, had the best line in the book. On being introduced to someone, she said: “Hello, I’m a lesbian. What do you do?”
The book is by no means limited to the history of white women. Loehr has researched Asian, Middle Eastern, and African lesbians and gives an account of Black lesbian Americans during the era of Second Wave Feminism in the 1970s. It all combines into a quick read that is funny, informative, surprising, and entirely worth the effort.