Permissible transgressions: Feminized same-sex practice as middle-class fantasy

Document Type

Book Chapter


McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers

Place of Publication

Jefferson, North Carolina


Phillips, K.


School of Arts and Humanities




Elund, J. (2015). Permissible transgressions: Feminized same-sex practice as middle-class fantasy. In Phillips, K. (Ed.), Women and erotic fiction: Critical essays on genres, markets and readers (pp. 150-168). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers.

Book Available here.


This essay discusses the positioning of erotic and romantic fiction in relation to female sexuality, particularly same-sex practices and desires. Focusing on the representation of lesbianism in mainstream erotic fiction, the essay principally investigates the idea of experimenting with one’s sexual orientation as an aspect of the cultural shift towards embracing sex practices that depart from the norm. In mainstream erotic fiction, I will suggest, female-female sexuality is primarily represented in the context of, indeed, as an element of, heterosexual, white, middle-class fantasy. The sudden popularity and visibility of the Fifty Shades trilogy in 2012 heralded a proliferation of popular fiction texts featuring erotically ‘subversive’ subject matter, including same-sex practices, in the neo-liberal marketplace. One particular novel, Till Human Voices Wake Us by Patti Davis, serves as a key text for analysis. A self-published novel about an upper-class American woman who falls in love with her sister-in-law after the death of her child, Till Human Voices Wake Us appears to have little claim to either ‘literary’ or ‘erotic’ merit and would probably be completely unknown except for the fact that Davis happens to be the daughter of Ronald Reagan. However, an analysis of this novel and its discursive context will provide some insight into the uncertain position of same-sex desire in relation to mainstream women’s erotic fiction.