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Lesbians in Early Modern Spain

Author(s): Sherry Velasco

In this first in-depth study of female homosexuality in the Spanish Empire for the period from 1500 to 1800, Velasco presents a multitude of riveting examples that reveal widespread contemporary interest in women's intimate relations with other women. Her sources include literary and historical texts featuring female homoeroticism, tracts on convent life, medical treatises, civil and Inquisitional cases, and dramas. She has also uncovered a number of revealing illustrations from the period.

The women in these accounts, stories, and cases range from internationally famous transgendered celebrities to lesbian criminals, from those suspected of "special friendships" in the convent to ordinary villagers.

Velasco argues that the diverse and recurrent representations of lesbian desire provide compelling evidence of how different groups perceived intimacy between women as more than just specific sex acts. At times these narratives describe complex personal relationships and occasionally characterize these women as being of a certain "type," suggesting an early modern precursor to what would later be recognized as divergent lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities.

Biography of Author(s)

Sherry Velasco is a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Southern California. She is the author of three other books, including Male Delivery: Reproduction, Effeminacy, and Pregnant Men in Early Modern Spain, also published by Vanderbilt.


  • "Velasco brings together all the pertinent subtopics related to the question of feminine homoerotic desire in a single, superbly readable book"
    " --Lou Charnon-Deutsch, State University of New York-Stony Brook
  • "Lesbians in Early Modern Spain brings Hispanic 'queer' studies out of the late twentieth-century realm of speculative interpretation of canonical literary texts by analyzing narratives presented in historical documents. Velasco presents a richly contextualized guide to interpretation, not only to the encodings of same-sex desire but to the ways in which this desire was understood morally, socially, and juridically. Her lucid, engaging style makes this study accessible to the widest possible range of scholars and students."
    --Emilie L. Bergmann, University of California-Berkeley