Uncertain Sexualities and the Depiction of Unusual Woman

How does contemporary society deal with uncertainty about sexualities in the past? Contributing to understandings of how cultural institutions handle such uncertainty, and, in particular, how museums depict gender and sexualities can bring together current debates in literatures on queer histories, collective memory, and sexualities and gender.
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Nature and Context

Observations at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum and the Emily Dickinson Museum reveal that both museums handle uncertainty about their subject’s sexuality by conflating ambiguous sexuality with non-normative gender performance. This conflation results in the depiction of the character of the “unusual woman.” While one museum relies on the “unusual woman” to evade discussions of non-normativity, the other uses the same device to acknowledge and politicize uncertainty. Institutional depictions of the “unusual woman” even in an era in which many cultural institutions work to frame sexual minorities as “normal” or the “same,' demonstrating that unusualness can be either obfuscatory or provocative; conflations of gender and sexuality are multifaceted and can either reproduce or disrupt normativity.

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