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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 275 - Our F/Favorite Tropes Part 11: Employment Relationships - transcript

(Originally aired 2023/12/16 - listen here)


Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 274 - On the Shelf for December 2023 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2023/12/02 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for December 2023.

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 273 - Turkish Delights: The European Fascination with Lesbianism in the Ottoman Empire - transcript

(Originally aired 2023/11/18 - listen here)


One of the observations that inspired me to do this focused series on texts related to Ottoman Turkey was the repetitiveness of the content. When specific content (not simply the topics or motifs) is recirculated and republished in different combinations, it can give the impression of being a far more dominant narrative than it may actually have been.

The last couple of sources I'm presenting as part of the Ottoman Turkey series are not travelers' accounts, but rather texts that demonstrate that the motif of "lesbians in Ottoman Turkey" had become sufficiently established to be referenced in popular culture. In this and the next text, we get the double-whammy of Turkey and poet Sappho as touchstones for lesbian activity. These aren't the only texts that use such references--I'll be mentioning others in the upcoming podcast, including some texts that have been blogged previously.

After what has begun to feel like the formulaic repetition of male reports of women in Ottoman society, Lady Mary Whortley Montagu feels like a breath of fresh air. At the same time, we should also keep in mind that her accounts are in the form of letters written to friends and contacts back in England--both men and women. To what extent might she have felt constrained by cultural taboos on what women were supposed to express in writing? Is there any indication that she might have treated the material differently depending on whether her correspondent was male or female?

As we move towards a consideration of how certain motifs entered popular culture in western Europe, we need to start taking note of repeating anecdotes and descriptions. These anecdotes might be repeated in multiple accounts because they reflected factual observations. But they might instead represent the recycling of material by authors who wanted to add more colorful specifics to their own accounts.

Given Thomas Glover's background (born and raised in Constantinople) and his multi-lingual competence, we might expect him to have a much more thorough familiarity with Ottoman Society than some of the other authors in this series. But his accounts are more terse, high-level summaries than some of the others. Perhaps, being a "local" he didn't have the same fascination and curiosity that led some of the other authors to write more extensively.

In my opinion, Ottaviano Bon represents the last of the male-authored accounts that appear to be solidly "original" as opposed to potentially recycling the material of previous authors. He also introduces the second motif that gets repeated by other authors: the cucumber anecdote. But overall, his descriptions are vague and ambiguous with regard to whether he's describing lesbian relations among Ottoman women, as opposed to unauthorized self-stimulation.

The second item in my "Europeans talk about lesbianism in the Ottoman Empire" series introduces a topic that I'll come back to repeatedly and discuss in the upcoming podcast. For all that we have this variety of 16-17th century "travelers' tales" that make some reference to lesbian desire in women's spaces in Ottoman society, we should be skeptical about the independence of these reports.


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