The lesbian rights movement benefited significantly by some of the advancement in the fields of human psychology and social sciences. Earlier, the notion of sex was synonymous with that of gender. But as new discoveries in human microbiology and genetics revealed, these are two disparate concepts. This discovery was vital for the gay and lesbian activists, as they finally felt vindicated of their long held view that their way of life was as natural as that of heterosexuals. It also presented activists with an opportunity to tactically utilize the scientific facts to further their cause. Endorsements from eminent intellectuals of the time, including Michel Foucault, gave homosexuality authoritative support. Foucault’s seminal work The History of Sexuality was a definite step forward for homosexuality from the prejudiced and unpersuasive argumentation used by equally powerful scientists of the previous generations, including Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin (Agonito, 1977).
As science was overlapping into the domain of anthropology and psychology, the feminists of the day made use of the same medium of discourse to dispel conventional views on gender/sex roles and individual identity. One of the earliest instances of scientific knowledge being used as a tool for perpetuating lesbian rights is seen in the polemical work written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a feminist, author, lecturer, and reformed Darwinist. While she agreed with the “Gynecocentric Theory”, wherein a woman was designated the role of a worker and mother, while men were seen as warriors, she also countered many conventional myths surrounding the nature of women. In her major work Women and Economics, Gilman used “an evolutionary perspective to explore women’s status within and outside the home. Throughout her famous tract, Gilman questioned social Darwinism, noting that women’s “nature” or “essence” had been socially conditioned by Darwin’s and others’ espousal of evolution. While Gilman included the role of mother within her conception of woman, she did not limit a woman to that position, making room for homosexuality within the realm of nature” (DeLamotte, 1997).
The scientific contribution to the lesbian rights movement and its utilization as a sound tactic to counter ill-informed traditional notions of sexuality took several shapes. The burgeoning sexology both reacted and contributed to the debate since the broader nature of a woman’s sexuality was the main focus. Sexology, the study “and classification of sexual behaviors, identities, and relations,” emerged during the latter part of the nineteenth century “as part of a wider concern with the classification of bodies and populations, alongside other new sciences, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, and criminology” (DeLamotte, 1997). The term sexology did not come into use until the early twentieth century, but the material it addressed influenced the culture and science of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More importantly, it has had a crucial role in the progress of lesbian rights movement.
Another significant step forward for lesbians in America occurred during the first two decades of the twentieth century. This was a time when same-sex relationships among women were becoming more common. The intimate relationship between two women was then referred to as Boston Marriages, as this phenomenon was more common in the North Eastern states of the United States. The conservative sections of society did not make a hue and cry over it, as it was almost always transitory and these women eventually married men. They were even encouraged, for they taught women about love and prepared them for a life of marriage. Most of these relationships “occurred on women’s colleges as same-sex friendships which emulated in outward appearances and behaviors opposite-sex courting. Many women remained in these relationships after graduation because they encouraged professional and personal growth and fulfillment” (LeGates, 2001).