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This article examines the scholarly preoccupation with the hypothesis that Nietzsche was gay by offering a reading of Nietzsche's texts as autobiographical that puts them in conversation with Euripides's drama The Bacchae. Drawing a number of parallels between Nietzsche, self-avowed disciple of Dionysus, and Pentheus, the main character of The Bacchae and demonstrated antidisciple of Dionysus, I argue that both men experience their sexual attraction to women as somehow intolerable, and they negotiate this discomfort—which is simultaneously an unjustified paranoia and fear of the feminine—through the appropriation of feminine capacities and qualities for themselves. This appropriation ultimately expresses these men's fear of the erosion of male power and the coherence of distinct gender categories that I call a “queer fear of the feminine.” However, this is neither a sign of incipient homosexuality nor a feminist move; rather, it is good old-fashioned patriarchy dressed up in drag. I conclude by offering a symptomatic reading of the popularity of the thesis that Nietzsche was gay, arguing that this reflects our own twenty-first-century tendency to read gender deviance as only ever a sign of sexual “orientation,” which is always already presumed to be homosexuality.


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