Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.
Although sometimes coded as romantic friendship, both gay male and lesbian attractions are reflected in nineteenth-century American poetry and fiction, including works by such major figures as Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson.
Known as the Ladies of Llangollen, an enduring emblem of female romantic friendship, Butler and Ponsonby eloped to Wales where they lived together for over fifty years and entertained several important writers.
The bisexual Lord Byron treated many of his homosexual love affairs in his poetry, encoding them by the use of classical references or by purporting that they were affairs with women.
One of America's premier literary artists in the earlier twentieth century, Willa Cather reflected her own lesbianism in the creation of strong women characters and in the exploration of male homosexuality.