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Monday, July 6, 2020 - 07:00

Consider today's entry as a teaser for this month's podcast essay, entitled "Humors, Horoscopes, and Homosexuality." I'm always happy to sieze on convenient inspiration.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Armenian astrology text (British Library Ms. Or. 6471)

Today’s item is a bit outside of how I usually cover material. An image showed up in my Twitter feed posted by Dr Alex MacFarlane (@aghvesagirk) who was perusing Armenian manuscripts held in the British Library. It’s rare to find pre-modern art showing women in same-sex erotic encounters, so I asked further about it and Dr. MacFarlane was able to provide me with some additional background, as well as gracious permission to use the image and to cite them.

So this is really just a brief squib--not even a squib in the usual sense--to point to further information.

There is a long tradition, starting with the ancient Greeks, of attributing particular sexual tastes to specific astrological alignments. This wasn’t as simple as heterosexual versus homosexual, but included things like whether one preferred sex within marriage or outside of it, what type of partner one preferred in terms of class, age, etc., whether one preferred to take a sexual role that aligned with social expectations or contradicted them (in terms of active/passive participant). Within this context, some astrology texts discussed conditions that would predispose a woman to take the active role in sex with another woman.

One should be wary of interpreting this as “a woman who prefers sex with women” in the modern sense because the focus was often on the question of gender expression. If a woman’s stars aligned to give her a more masculine nature with regard to sex, then she would naturally prefer to be the active partner (by the gender models of the time) and therefore would default to engaging in sex with “normal” women who were expected to default to taking the passive role. (Such a “masculine woman” might also engage in sex with a man, but in that case he would also be acting against gender role expectations in accepting a passive role.)

You can find LHMP entries that I’ve tagged as discussion of astrological texts here. I plan to do a podcast that looks more closely at both astrology and humoral theory with regard to sexual desires/orientation, so I won’t go into the history in detail here, but suffice it to say that the astrological tradition persisted over time, including adaptations and translations into many different languages.

Thus we come to Ms. Or. 6471. It’s cataloged in A Catalogue of the Armenian Manuscripts in the British Museum, by Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare (London, 1913) starting on page 320. (The book is available through the Internet Archive here.) The basic description is: “The MS. is a treatise on Magic, Astrology, and the Calendar.” It includes something resembling a table of contents which also explains how the author collected  the contents and their sources, as well as naming the author and the man who commissioned the work and giving the date it was written (1610 CE, but recorded in a different calendar system). The catalog describes the language as follows: “Parts of it, especially the first paragraphs of the early sections, are written in a fairly correct, if vulgar, Armenian, but the greater part of the text is a jargon of popular Armenian dialects of the sixteenth century, mixed with Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.” This gives you a sense of the culture context in which the author was working.

Dr. MacFarlane  offers some additional information on the source of the 17th century text, suggesting that the name given (Sěṙi Mak't'um) can be connected with an Arabic text Al-Sirr al-Maktūm, which is discussed in Michael Sebastian Noble’s 2017 doctoral thesis (University of London) abstracted here and soon to be published by DeGruyter (see link). (It isn’t entirely clear that Noble’s book is concerned with the specific part of the manuscript in which this image appears.)

As described in the catalog, the astrology section of the manuscript includes a number of full-page illustrations of the planets and the Zodiac signs, primarily in the form of human figures with symbolic accessories.

Depiction of planets

This is followed by a series of pages with multiple smaller pictures that appear to depict the consequences of particular astrological alignments. And it’s here that our attention is caught:

Astrological images

Dr. MacFarlane provides a transcription and transliteration of the caption for the second image from the bottom:

կինմիորզկինմիկուպղծէ("a woman who defiles a woman")

This image shows two women, with their upper garments hiked up around their waists and their legs bare. One is lying on her back with the near (visible) leg elevated and the other woman is kneeling between her legs, pressing their vulvas together. Their hands are touching each other and they are gazing at each other.

Detail of women

The exact context would require identifying and translating the context of the other images, as well as looking at the the other parts of the text associated with the image.  But given the usual context of astrology manuals, we can guess that it describes the planetary alignments that would predispose a woman to behave this way.

It is tempting to connect the sexual position shown in this illustration with the 13th century description in Al-Tifashi.

Time period: 
Saturday, July 4, 2020 - 11:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 48a - On the Shelf for July 2020 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2020/07/04 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for July 2020.

How are you all holding up through the quarantimes? Are you finding enough fluffy comfort reads to get you through? Or are you surviving on unleashed rage alone...against all the shitty things going down in the world?

For me, the rhythms of my life keep turning upside down. It used to be I had no time for television and now I’m binging costume dramas on Netflix. I used to complain that my commute meant I rarely saw my house in daylight except on weekends, and now I rarely leave the property except for my daily bike ride. There have been two main beneficiaries of my day-job shifting to home: my yard and garden is in the best shape it’s been since I bought the place almost ten years ago, and I’ve made massive progress on a piece of needlepoint I started in college and left languishing for decades, barely started.

But I’m finally getting my reading brain back for the history blog, at least.

Publications on the Blog

June seems to have been the month for the blog to cover articles that I’ve already included in a different form. It started with a primary source article on John or Eleanor Rykener, a 14th century English transvestite prostitute, who raises a lot of questions about medieval categories of gender, though Rykener is tangential to the topic of female same-sex love.

Anna Klosowska’s study of same-sex encounters in medieval French literature, in Queer Love in the Middle Agesis a bit more literary criticism than history for my taste. And the two relevant articles in the collection Queering the Renaissanceare mostly rehashing material I’ve already looked at, especially Valerie Traub’s article ,which turned into a chapter in her book The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England, previously covered in the blog.

June closed with a re-visitation of a different type: Catherine Crawford’s European Sexualities 1400-1800is intended as a college textbook on the history of sexuality and lightly skims through many familiar topics.

I had a whole theoretical schedule set up for the next several months which is being messed up by my inability to go to a library. So July is going to start with a spontaneous substitution of an image from an early 17th century Armenian astrology manual which shows two women having sex. With the help of the woman who posted the image on twitter, I’ll be able to give it a little context. After that comes a very brief survey of the relevant contents of Kuefier’s History of Sexuality Sourcebook, followed buy a couple of articles on non-European material -- one on case studies of lesbian or transmasculine women in 19th century Russia, and one on female same-sex “love suicides” in early 20th century Japan.

Book Shopping!

No new hardcopy book purchases, for the blog, which is probably just as well, given how much I have stacked up. But I did pick up an e-book copy of Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa’s study of contemporary female same-sex traditions in Africa: Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men, and Ancestral Wives.

2021 Fiction Series

Since the year is half-gone, it’s time to confirm that yes, I’ll be continuing the LHMP fiction series in 2021. I’ll be continuing this year’s modification in accepting historical fiction with certain types of fantastic elements as well as regular historical stories. There’s a full explanation of the call for submissions on the website -- see the show notes for a link -- but the short version is that I’ll be buying four short stories of up to 5000 words at the benchmark rate of 8 cents per word. The story should be set in some actual specific time and place, any where in the world, before 1900. And the central character should identify as a woman who feels attraction or desire for other women, although the story itself need not be a romance. And, in fact, if the central plot is the formation of a romantic couple, the story should have some other strong non-romantic plot element as well. I accept submissions from all genders and orientations, and I especially welcome submissions by marginalized authors.

Check out the full description on the website and start brainstorming. Submissions will be open in January, as usual, and expect me to keep talking about it from now until then.

Author Guest

This month’s author guest hasn’t been recorded yet and I’m superstitious enough not to announce names until I have the recording in the can. But I put out a call for authors interested in appearing on the show and have some really great guests lined up for the next half year.

Essay

I didn’t have an essay topic picked out yet, but in writing up this script, I think I’ll be inspired by that Armenian astrology manual and talk about historic theories of how astrology and the balance of humors affected one’s sexual desires. In some ways, it’s an analog of modern ideas about innate sexual orientation.

(Sponsor break)

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

Are you ready for the recent, new and forthcoming books? We have eight titles to talk about this month. Two of them are books published in May that didn’t turn up in my search until now--both of them set around World War II.

Love, Wherever it Fallsself-published by Katherine Chandler is the sort of cross-time story that could be an entire genre by itself, in which a contemporary woman finds correspondence that reveals a historic same-sex romance.

In pre-war 1936, two women fall in love and begin a long-distance love affair between London and Paris. Seventy years later they help an overwhelmed 21st century woman make a decision. After the death of the writer Cleo Brierley her great-niece inherits a remote stone cottage nestled deep in the wilds of Dartmoor. In the attic she finds a worn cardboard box containing diaries and love letters dating from the mid 1930s. She begins reading and a story of passion, joy, heartbrea,k and resilience emerges as Cleo grows from a naive young woman inevitably towards and through the Second World War.

Do you like horse stories? This next one might be up your alley: I Love You, Nora Whisperedby Kathy L. Salt from Triplicity Publishing.

England, 1948. Nora Lakes suffers from post polio syndrome and very low self-esteem. She has spent her entire life in the chaos of her huge family, always feeling less than and without any future dreams. When her sister Martha manages to get her a job at Waterhouse Acre Stables, she can hardly believe it. She had never imagined that anyone would have employed her, damaged as she is. She also never imagined she would meet anybody like Katherine. Katherine Waterhouse was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She has a mean streak and doesn't like people in general. What she does like, is horses. She wants to be a professional rider but growing up in a conservative house where her choices are limited by her sex, Katherine has always been trapped in her role as a woman. Nora and Katherine - two women with very different backgrounds, drawn to each other with an intensity neither of them are prepared for. Do they stand a chance?

There are three June books, the first two of which are very short--barely novelettes.

Budding Romanceself-published by Lara Kinsey has a Victorian setting.

A budding romance between a sweet-talking gardener and a spinster headmistress blooms to full flower in this steamy lesbian love story. On the cusp of the 20th century, France is where libertines indulge poetic desires. Dorothea has fled the structure of dreary old England for a place in the sun. She’s opening a school for elegant young ladies, but it’s an experienced lady gardener who has caught her eye. Madame Laurent works with her hands, but it’s her words that cultivate Dorothea’s fallow heart.

I somehow missed the precursor to Resurrectionist: The Diary of Doctor Du, Book Two, self-published by M.S. Linsenmayer, probably because it isn’t tagged as having queer content. This is a very tongue-in-cheek fantasy historical with a protagonist that I might guess started life as a gender-flipped version of real-life Elizabethan astrologer and alchemist John Dee.

Imprisoned for crimes she absolutely committed, Astrologer Jan Du plots her escape, determined to save the world from the Horrible Demonic Armies... oh who am I kidding, it's Jan. She mostly just wants a decent sandwich before her just and well deserved execution. So join her now as she battles drunken wyverns, vegetarian demons, and the worst threat of all: the 16th-century legal system.

Another historic fantasy that came out in June is A Matter of Blood (The Unlikely Adventures of Mortensen & Spurlock Book 2)by Lucy True (aka Jea Hawkins) from Persephone Press. The first book in the series came out just a month earlier, so this may be something in the way of a serial?

It takes little effort to save the world from power-obsessed madmen when you’ve been doing it for years. For once, however, it’s not an artifact hunt that has Alice Mortensen vexed. It’s her beloved Nora’s mother, Lady Spurlock. With their dissimilar Aetheric natures called into question, Alice and Nora undertake a journey halfway around the world for answers. Whether by railway, steamer, or airship, Alice and Nora will not rest until they can allay Lady Spurlock’s concerns about their union. Nor will they realize the unimaginable discovery or danger to which their inquiries will lead until a chance meeting leads to a long overdue reunion… All our heroines want is a happy ending, but will they encounter too much danger—and not enough cake—to save the day in the finale to their unlikely adventures?

I found three July releases, all of them from mainstream publishers.

Girl, Serpent, Thornby Melissa Bashardoust from Hodder & Stoughton is based on Persian legends. Trust me when I tell you that the cover copy gives you entirely the wrong impression of where the romantic relationships go in this book.

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story. As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison. Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (Feminine Pursuits 2)from Harper Collins is the follow-on to Olivia Waite’s immensely popular The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics.

When Agatha Griffin finds a colony of bees in her warehouse, it’s the not-so-perfect ending to a not-so-perfect week. Busy trying to keep her printing business afloat amidst rising taxes and the suppression of radical printers like her son, the last thing the widow wants is to be the victim of a thousand bees. But when a beautiful beekeeper arrives to take care of the pests, Agatha may be in danger of being stung by something far more dangerous… Penelope Flood exists between two worlds in her small seaside town, the society of rich landowners and the tradesfolk. Soon, tensions boil over when the formerly exiled Queen arrives on England’s shores—and when Penelope’s long-absent husband returns to Melliton, she once again finds herself torn, between her burgeoning love for Agatha and her loyalty to the man who once gave her refuge. As Penelope finally discovers her true place, Agatha must learn to accept the changing world in front of her. But will these longing hearts settle for a safe but stale existence or will they learn to fight for the future they most desire?

And lastly, Emma Donoghue -- who, in her academic guise, is a significant reason the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast exists -- has a new novel out: The Pull of the Starsfrom Little, Brown and Company. Some day I dream of having Emma Donoghue as a guest on the podcast.

Dublin, 1918: three days in a maternity ward at the height of the Great Flu. A small world of work, risk, death, and unlooked-for love, by the bestselling author of The Wonderand ROOMIn an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders -- Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police , and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other's lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.

What Am I Reading?

And what am I reading? I’m still having trouble concentrating on books, but I finished N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Becamein audiobook, which is a gripping fantasy of the living avatars of New York City in their struggle to be born. It’s very queer-inclusive and I highly recommend the audio version to get the real feel of the voices. I’m halfway through the audiobook of The Deepby Rivers Solomon, inspired by the song of the same name by the band Clipping, headed by Daveed Diggs. It’s an alternate fantastic history of the water-dwelling descendents of enslaved Africans thrown overboard during the Atlantic crossing.

But I may have some actual text-on-the-page books consumed by next month because I have couple of fluffy romances lined up and they feel like just my speed. What have you been reading lately?

Links

If you enjoy this podcast and others at The Lesbian Talk Show, please consider supporting the show through Patreon:

Major category: 
LHMP
Tuesday, June 30, 2020 - 21:00

I got behind a bit, which is why this is going up Tuesday evening rather than Monday morning. Strange and terrifying as it may seem, that enormous bolus of journal articles I downloaded and had all written up in advance is almost at an end. I guess that means I need to find my reading brain again. This book was not a good candidate for finding my brain again. It wasn't new material (for me) and was structurally very difficult to summarize. That doesn't mean it isn't a useful book. It just wasn't fun to blog.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Crawford, Katherine. 2007. European Sexualities, 1400-1800. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521548403

One of the problems with trying to summarize this sort of encyclopedic work is that either you take far too many notes or you simply sketch out an outline. I started out doing the former and ended up with the latter. But in typing up my notes, I’ve pared it all down to more of an outline. This isn’t a commentary on the quality of the book, only on the genre.

Overall, my assessment is that the book does what it sets out to do: provide an overview and context for understanding sexuality topics in the 15-18th centuries. As part of that context, it includes a fair amount of earlier history, and here I think it is slightly flawed in sometimes not clearly distinguishing time era being discussed at any given point. It also doesn’t necessarily to a clear job of explaining how the book’s focus period differed from what came before and after (or noting specifically when it didn’t).

That sometimes makes it hard to understand why the specific period “1400-1800” was called out. The knowledgeable reader could make their own guesses and interpretations, but for the intended audience it feels like a bit more guidance might have been helpful.

Introduction

This is intended as a survey book aimed at the college undergraduate level. It opens by discussing a specific painting and talking about the complex and subtle sexual symbolism in it that would not have the same meaning in other eras. Sexual identities are not stable--the question is how and why they change. How do they relate to marital, social, and legal status? The nature and object of one’s desire was not considered to define one’s sexual identity until the late 19th century. This book looks at how that change happened. [Note: as mentioned in my introduction, I’m not actually sure that the book does a good job of that.]

The book tries to negotiate between the concepts of social construction versus essentialism. Both individual experience and how identity is represented are taken into account. The book discusses how changes in the practice of history have made topics relating to sexuality more accessible. Foucault’s role in the field is noted but also critiqued. There are examples of categories of early modern sexuality and a discussion of how vocabulary will be used in the book, for example the definition of what constitutes “sex” (as an act).

Chapter 1: Marriage and Family

In Western culture the attitude that sex was only truly licit within marriage means that changing conceptions and practices around marriage affect sexuality in general. The understanding of marriage was built from widely differing sources: ideas about health and reproduction, legal status, and moral principles. Looking from another angle, changes in attitudes about the function of pleasure, desire, and affection drove changes in attitudes toward marriage.

Marriage as a social institution was never simple or “natural” but needed to constantly shaped and controlled. One shift during the 1400-1800 era was from a view of marriage shaped by Christian antipathy toward physical pleasure to an emphasis on spousal complementarity, i.e., the “companionate” marriage. There was also a shift from marriage as an economic contract between lineages to an affective bond between individuals. The home became privileged as a site of sensual pleasure.

The book discusses and challenges theories that pre-modern families were not “affectionate” and were sites of autocratic authority and violent conflict. Individual texts can both support and contradict this view. Further, the companionate marriage, as conceived at the time, was still highly patriarchal and did not replace earlier forms in any consistent way.

Some economic theories of marriage focus instead on the shift from land as wealth (with marriage used to control transmission) to a market economy based on moveable wealth. The market economy involved more individual risk, but this could be balanced by the mutual commitment brought to it in a companionate marriage.

Demographic studies have contributed to the analysis showing that the image of the large extended family doesn’t hold. The average household size in many parts of Europe in the 16-19th centuries was 3-5, more aligned with the idea of the “nuclear family”. (It’s unclear if this average includes household servants in the calculation.)

Europe saw two general family patterns. In one, a man and woman of roughly equal age set up an independent household, with marriage occurring in the late 20s due to the need to accumulate resources for that goal. For non-elite couples, this might mean delaying marriage until the death of a parent passed on wealth.

In the second model, an older man (typically in his 30s) who was economically established married a younger woman (often in her later teens), with the marriage often arranged by the parents. Dowry (a monetary payment by the woman’s family) was often part of this system, putting economic limits on a woman’s marriage options.

Based on the premise that most people have sexual desires, these models create  different social strains. In the first marriage pattern, the delay in marriage age risked sexual frustration and illicit sex for both parties. In the second marriage pattern, unmarried men were expected to seek sexual outlets outside of the marriage pool (either with prostitutes or with other men) while the sexual “purity” of unmarried women was controlled by physical seclusion. In the case of never-married women, convents were one means of seclusion.

Thus we wee that the overall pattern of marriage affected sexuality well beyond the specific couple in question.

Demographics point to other sexual practices such as family planning. But demographics can’t provide data on emotions, so this approach leads to seeking out purely functional causes rather than emotional ones. Some demographic patterns are confounding, such as an association of lower illegitimacy rates when marriage is later. Family planning techniques and lore were widespread, which might lend some explanation. Among elite populations, shifts in marriage age were more drastic and harder to explain by simple economic factors.

As noted above, late marriage meant a person could spend much of their live living without a licit sexual outlet. A certain percentage (depending on class and locale) never married. Up to 25% of the English elite in the 18th century never married, in part due to the tension between the need to ensure an heir and the desire to funnel wealth to a single heir. This tended to produce “surplus” offspring who did not have the resources to establish an independent household.

In Catholic lands, convents functioned to house “surplus” women to ensure chastity, regardless of vocation. As men were not held to the same standard of chastity, unmarried men were allowed more options. And in Protestant lands after the Reformation, religious institutions weren’t an option.

By 1800, though marriage was still the only licit context for sex, it was unavailable to many adults for extended periods of time, creating a crisis due to the Christian position that procreation was the only legitimate purpose of sex. Protestant sects sometimes held that sexual pleasure could be a benefit in creating a stronger marriage bond, but Protestant positions on sex and marriage only gradually began to diverge and allow more flexibility, e.g., with regard to divorce, and generally this was accessible only to the elite.

Protestant positions of marriage could be extremely varied, but a general consensus began to emerge that considered religious celibacy undesirable, and mutual, companionate marriage a preferred for as a guard against adultery. Within this context, control over marriage began to shift from the church to the state.

When family-arranged marriages were the default, love was separated from marriage as a concept. Not until the shift to companionate marriage did passionate love within marriage become promoted as the ideal. As women were considered to be even more sexually driven than men, the image of the “uncontrolled wife” emerged--a woman whose husband was not satisfying her and therefore sought other outlets. Entire genres of humor and satire operated on this premise. But despite this motif, in practice, men were more sexually disruptive and the tacit allowance for prostitution was intended to “protect” the chastity of respectable women as much as to allow for the satisfaction of men’s desires.

Forms of marriage contract and various rituals around the creation of a marriage are discussed. The conclusion is that gradually, between 1400-1800 , there was a shift to an expectation that marriage would be based on the mutual love and desire between the prospective spouses.

Chapter 2: Religion and Sexuality

Note: I originally took a lotof notes on this chapter, but really it’s just a recapitulation Christian attitudes toward sex and pleasure. There is significant discussion of how the rise of Protestantism shifted some of these attitudes. The chapter includes an extended history of classical attitudes toward sex and the evolution of Christian thought through the medieval period.

I don’t think the reader is served by my attempts to summarize. This is detailed stuff and any attempt to summarize boils down to: Sex bad; non-procreative sex worse; all pleasure suspect; confess and do penance unless you’re a Protestant then just hope for the grace of God. But that oversimplification isn’t really useful, so I’m tossing most of the notes I made and will simply point out that if you want to understand social attitudes toward sexuality in Western culture, you need to understand both Christianity’s official attitudes and the varied ways in which those attitudes were expressed and adopted in everyday culture.

As with the control of marriage, the control of sexuality began to shift from the church to the state during the target era of this book.

Chapter 3: The Science of Sex

This chapter recapitulates the historical understandings of the body, gender, and sexuality, as well as the medical and philosophical concepts that shaped those understandings. The text covers humoral theory, theories of anatomical difference, medical theories around sex and procreation, and treatments based on those theories. It looks at the consequences of the “one sex” model and the place of sexual pleasure in theories of health. Medical text of the 16-17th century discuss the importance of female pleasure in procreation and how to enhance it.

The impact of venereal diseases on sexual attitudes starts around 1500. From being the subject of bawdy humor in the 17th century it began to reshape sexual practice in the 18th.

Chapter 4: Sex and Crime

This is another chapter where I took entirely too many notes and am going to trim my summary way down.

In the texts quoted in the introduction to this chapter, it’s strike to what extent sexual crimes are consistently defined as crimes of women. Adultery? The woman is “stealing” her husband’s property for another man’s child. Rape? The victim has failed to be virtuous. Infanticide? Always assumed to be the mother’s act.

This book classifies sexual crimes according to what social structure they disrupt. While there was concern about sexual crimes in the abstract, especially given the community’s role in identifying and pursuing offenders, it is this disruptive potential that was often key.

Crimes against the family structure were a major focus: adultery, rape, bastardy, bigamy. In the medieval period these were treated more as property crimes, but opinions shifted to considering them more personal offenses. But crimes against the family could be viewed as responses to the failure of society to address structural problems within that family. For example, bigamy was most often a response to the inability to dissolve a marriage in the case of desertion or extended absence.

Crimes against nature was an ambiguous category, but the term generally attracted the harshest disapproval. Sodomy was the central example, but it was variously defined. Official penalties were often harsh, including death, but studies show they were rarely and unevenly enforced. By 1400-1800 “sodomy” had primarily come to mean male-male anal sex, but it was still used occasionally in other senses. Sex between women, though technically a “crime against nature,” rarely came to the attention and concern of the law unless there was also a gender offense, such as cross-dressing or the use of a penetrative instrument. Other crimes in this group include bestiality and infanticide. [Note: although the text doesn’t seem to address this specifically, the “against nature” label was because it was felt that human beings naturallydesired heterosexual relations with human beings, and that a parent naturallywould protect rather than harm a child.]

Crimes against the community covered things like incest (though the consanguinity rules meant this label could be applied broadly, not only to immediate family members), sexual slander, and prostitution.

The final category is crimes against God, where religious offences intersected with sex. This could include sex with a non-Christian or sex with those in holy orders.

Chapter 5: Deviancy and the Cultures of Sex

This chapter discusses sex as situated within culture frameworks that add meaning to particular practices.  Examples include the rise of “molly houses” (subcultures catering to sex between men), and the culture of pornography and “deviant” sexual acts. The chapter looks at sexual aspects of the revival of classical literature in the Renaissance, and from a slightly different angle, the evolution of the neo-platonic ideal of love. These inputs fueled a culture of sex for the sake of pleasure, rather than purely for procreation.

There is a brief acknowledgement of the tendency of historians to overlook the idea of cultures of female homoeroticism, followed by a discussion of parallel cultures of women’s romantic friendships and the evidence of a lively vocabulary describing sex between women. Also noted is the 17-18th century obsession with the image of macro-clitoral women. Other f/f sexual cultures include the phenomenon of “female husbands” and imagined all-female societies in literature.

The rise of pornography is also noted as a sexual culture.

Place: 
Saturday, June 27, 2020 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 47d - Lesbian-Like History and Racial Othering - transcript

(Originally aired 2020/06/27 - listen here)

I regularly both lament and apologize for the Eurocentricity of the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. As I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, it’s both a consequence of my own specific writing interests shaping the research I do, and of the ways that academic communities cluster around topics of interest. So when I follow up on sources mentioned by the books and articles I read, they tend to be about similar topics, written by people with similar backgrounds and interests.

That means that even when I happen across works on non-Western cultures, I often consider them of dubious value, if written from a Western anthropologist’s point of view, or if working from a position that Western models of gender and sexuality have some sort of universal status. Works written by historians who are cultural insiders and who can present the nuances of how variant sexualities work from within their own context are a treasure, but a rare one.

Those treasures include Samar Habib’s work on the history of female same-sex relations in the Islamicate world. Habib not only provides a detailed exploration and critique of Arabic texts that discuss female same-sex relations--dating from the 9th century up through the present--but speaks as an insider about the problem of resisting Western cultural frameworks both in a historic and modern context.

Another researcher doing fascinating insider research is Ruth Vanita, working on the interplay of many different cultural traditions within India, as well as the relationship of historic traditions to queer identities in modern India.

I have yet to find any good or reliable work on historic same-sex practices in sub-Saharan Africa, though there is some interesting contemporary ethnographic work being done on modern varieties of same-sex relations, such as Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men, and Ancestral Wives: Female Same-Sex Practices in Africaedited by Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wierenga.

But what I do have in abundance within the Western historic sources that form the majority of my bibliography, is the ways in which those sources viewed, discussed, and interpreted the intersection of women’s same-sex relations and the racial “other”. This may seem an odd topic to focus on for an episode in support of racial justice and awareness, but one of the things that I can do, as a white author, is to be aware of the long history of that othering and be able to identify tropes and motifs that can be harmful when casually included in historic fiction. To that end, here are some themes to be aware of when reading or writing about queer women of color in the past.

They Do it Over There, not Here

The conflict in Western culture between a fascination with sex between women, and the condemnation of it, manifests in a repeating motif that such practices happen over there, not here; back then, not now. Just exactly where “over there” is has varied, but tends to be whatever cultures lie on the edges of awareness that can be safely classified as “not us.”

For writers in classical Rome, “not us” was Greece, conveniently represented by the figure of Sappho, as in Ovid’s Heroides. Women interested in sex with women--or those assigned as women, such Lucian’s Megillus--are described as being Greek, or are described with Greek names as with Martial’s Philaenis. Respectable Roman women, as Juvenal has one such say, do not fuck each other.

The idea of associating sex between women with foreign locations subsides somewhat during the medieval era, where the focus was more on individual practices than social patterns. But around the later 16th century we again see references to associations with specific cultures, and as a practice that might be imported or picked up by contagion. Blame might be placed on a close-by rival, as when the French writer Brantôme--in the midst of telling all manner of stories of what French ladies got up to--claims, “the fashion was imported from Italy by a certain lady of quality.”Though he acknowledges, “by what I have heard say, there be in many regions and lands plenty of such dames and Lesbian devotees, in France, in Italy, in Spain, Turkey, Greece and other places.”

We see in Brantôme’s list a hint of the rising association of female homosexuality with the Ottoman Empire, a topic that I’ll treat separately in a moment.

Geographic othering is often a companion to other motifs associated with sex between women. The idea that an enlarged clitoris was associated with same-sex activity arose in the late 16th century and continued to be popular for quite some time. It, too, rapidly picked up associations with foreignness, and especially with Middle Eastern and North African cultures. But this, too, I’ll expand on in a moment.

A refrain that Susan Lanser picks up on in her book The Sexuality of Historyis how, during the 16th and 17th centuries, writers throughout western Europe continually claimed that female same-sex desire was something “new” and “never seen before in our land”, sometimes with explicit reference to it being prevalent elsewhere, sometimes in contrast to classical references. The underlying purpose of these claims is to isolate expressions of love between “our” women as chaste and noble, while warning of the dangers of letting outside influences corrupt them. There is something of a contagion model, in contrast to the morality model that prevailed earlier.

This desperate defense of white western European women as somehow naturally innocent of homoerotic desires still features prominently in the late 19th century court case of Pirie versus Woods, in which the argument boiled down to “nice English women would never do such a thing, it must be a false accusation made up by an Anglo-Indian student because they do unnatural things like that in India.

[Sponsor break]

They Especially Do it in Turkey

For Europeans of the 16th and 17th centuries the ultimate anxiety-provoking nearby Other was the Ottoman Empire. Even as Europeans were just beginning their own colonial enterprises overseas, the Ottomans, especially under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent, expanded into Europe throughout the Balkans and to the gates of Vienna. Although multi-cultural in many ways, the official face of the Ottoman Empire was non-Christian, non-European, and non-white. European travelers and diplomats to Constantinople were deeply fascinated by the dynamics of a severely gender-segregated society and their imaginations ran rampant around the topic of what women might be doing together in the isolation of the harem and in the sensual environment of the Turkish bath houses.

In the late 16th century, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Flemish ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, wrote of women’s homoerotic encounters in the baths, inviting the reader to imagine “young maids, exceeding beautiful, gathered from all parts of the world, exposed naked to the view of other women, who thereupon fall in love with them.” Busbecq ascribes this behavior in part to the strict gender seclusion of the women that makes them “burn in love toward one another” and in part to the stimulation of shared nudity in the bath houses.

The French diplomat Nicolas de Nicolay, a contemporary of Busbec, similarly describes the habit of using the public baths as a social escape for women from domestic seclusion. This, as well as communal nudity and mutual washing led to “feminine wantonness.” Though one does wonder how all these male diplomats had such a detailed knowledge of the activities in the women’s baths.

In the mid 17th century, the travel writer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier acknowledges this difficulty, noting that he is passing on information supplied by one of the eunuchs who served in the women’s quarters. Tavernier specifically ascribes the prevalence of homosexual activity to a lack of access to men and goes on at some length about how superior the social dynamics back home are where women with unfulfilled sexual urges can just commit adultery with men.

Mary Whortley Montagu, whose husband was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 18th century, had more direct access to the lives of the women she wrote about. In contrast to the male authors, she provides very sensuous, but non-sexual descriptions of women in the baths. “Not the least wanton smile or immodest gesture...,” she writes, knowing what her audience has been primed to expect. However she describes being entertained at the baths by female dancers and notes “...I am very positive that the coldest and most rigid prude upon Earth could not have looked upon them without thinking of something not to be spoke of...”

But it was too late for milder eye-witness accounts to undermine the motif of rampant lesbianism among Turkish women. In the mid 18th century, an English religious tract against lesbianism refers to it being “practiced frequently in Turkey”.

Masculinizing Women of Color

But if Turkish travelogues called up sensual images of bath houses full of naked women fondling each other, the same era created a new sexual stereotype: the tribade who used an enlarged clitoris to perform penetrative sex with other women. And nearly as soon as this figure had been invented, she became strongly associated with women of color.

While a number of books refer to this era as seeing “the discovery of the clitoris” it had not actually been lost but merely ignored by medical writers for many centuries. Now, as part of a shift in understanding the relationship between female and male anatomy, it was recognized as an analogue of the penis in both structure and erotic function. And as an organ that had no use other than for sexual pleasure, that recognition provoked a lot of cultural anxiety. The heteronormative imagination saw this anatomical variant as inherently masculine, and expected masculine women to sexually desire other women.

One contributing factor to the association of an enlarged clitoris with Egypt and northern Africa was an awareness of the practice of female genital mutilation, which suggested to the European imagination that the enlargement of the organs must have been one reason for it, in addition to control of female sexuality.

The Spanish writer Rodrigo de Castro remarks on this practice in Egypt, though he does not suggest that there is any greater frequency of the condition there.

However Jane Sharp, writing in 1671, claims that clitoral enlargement is rare in England but common “in the Indies and Egypt” and specifically cites stories of “Negro women” with enlarged genitals. Egypt becomes a particular focus of the othering of tribade physiology.

English writers displaced various types of female homoeroticism into different locations: as decadence it is French or Italian, as a consequence of the frustrations of female seclusion it was Turkish or Persian, cross-dressing women might occur anywhere in western Europe, but the macro-clitoris was specifically assigned to India and Africa, especially Egypt. Thomas Gibson in 1682 extends this geographic othering by assigning it to the indigenous people of Florida and Virginia, as well as to Arabia and Ethiopia.

But the English were not alone in attributing anatomical masculinity to these locations. At the end of the 17th century, Italian author Ludovico SInistrari similarly attributed clitoral enlargement to the Middle East, citing as proof the practice of clitoridectomy there. Curiously all these authors were citing examples of the feature in their own countries while simultaneously claiming it was most characteristic of women of color in foreign lands.

At least one person used this belief to their own advantage. Eleno de Cespedes, born Elena and assigned female at birth, testified at his trial for gender impersonation that he had genuinely transformed into a physiological man for a period, and cited classical sources (and relying on the beliefs of his contemporaries) that this sort of transformation was more likely for someone of African heritage as he was.

Conclusions

But I begin to stray afield from the point of this essay.

In writing historical fiction featuring women of color, and in the reception we give the same as readers, it is important to examine the myths, tropes, and prejudices that have haunted the history of women loving women in order to avoid viewing the world through biased filters.

Do we write, or expect, characters of color to have systematic differences from white characters? Do we write or expect them to be more uninhibitedly sexual? To be the sexual aggressor? The social myth that black women are inherently more masculine, more aggressive, more stoic can be subtler than early modern myths about masculinized anatomy, but they come from a similar source. Have we examined those myths in our own thinking or swallowed them whole? Do we write or expect characters of Middle Eastern or Islamic heritage to walk out of an Orientalist fantasy of harems and bath-houses? To have an inherent predisposition to same-sex love because of the historic gender dynamics of Islamicate cultures? When writing or reading an f/f historical novel, what function do geography, ethnicity, and culture play in your expectations? Who do you see as Self and who do you see as Other.

Who do you see as deserving of a happy ending?

Notes

If you enjoy this podcast and others at The Lesbian Talk Show, please consider supporting the show through Patreon:

Major category: 
LHMP
Thursday, June 25, 2020 - 13:00
Cover - The Armor of Light

The Pride StoryBundle is always packed full of wonderful authors and stories. And who knows better about that than the authors themselves? To entice you to check it out, we contributors are interviewing each other. You can find the full list of contents and purchasing information here: https://storybundle.com/blog/2020pridemonthbundle/

Today’s featured author is Melissa Scott, whose historical fantasy The Armor of Lightis included in the bonus bundle. Melissa Scott is a queer Southern writer who abandoned academia for SF/F back in the mid-1980s and never looked back. She has published more than 40 novels, and is noted both for her worldbuilding, and for her emphasis on queer themes and characters. She has won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT SF/F four times as well as four Gaylactic Spectrum Awards. She currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, among a tangle of family, friends, and cats. Her most recent novel is Finders, space opera about a team of salvage operators.

HRJ:I read The Armor of Light, your contribution to this year’s StoryBundle, back when it first came out in the ‘80s. Why don’t you tell the readers what it’s about and why authors love to play with the figure of Christopher Marlowe.

Melissa Scott: The Armor of Light is essentially an alternate history novel set in Elizabethan England — in 1595, specifically — in which Sir Philip Sidney, poet, courtier, and soldier, survived the Battle of Zutphen and saved Christopher Marlowe, poet, playwright, and quondam government agent, from being murdered by other government agents. Both are accomplished magicians, though of very different schools, and when James VI of Scotland is threatened by magical attack, Elizabeth sends the unlikely pair north to save the man she has reluctantly accepted as her heir.

As for why Marlowe… Well, he’s one of those historical figures that readers would disbelieve if if he didn't exist. He reinvented English drama with the first part of Tamburlaine, was considered Shakespeare’s superior through the 1590s, wrote six plays that are still performed today (and probably contributed to several more), and was involved with Sir Walter Raleigh’s circle of mathematicians, scholars, and magicians known as the School of Night. (It is that last, plus the evidence of both Dr. Faustus and testimony offered against him at the time of his death, that suggests considerably knowledge of hermetic science and Neo-Platonic philosophy: Marlowe the magician.) He was also almost certainly employed by Elizabeth’s secret service as an agent in France and the Netherlands, and was murdered at the age of 29 while under investigation for atheism and treason, while in the company of men who were also known government agents. He was also about as out and proud as a man could be in Elizabethan England: his play Edward II is the first sympathetic portrait of gay relationships on the English stage, and his poetry is full of homoerotic descriptions even in the middle of ostensibly heteroerotic subjects—his Hero and Leander features an interlude in which Neptune attempts to seduce Leander as he swims. Among the accusations pending against him at his death was that he had said “all those who love not tobacco and boys are fools” and that he had claimed that “St John the Evangelist was Christ’s bedfellow and leaned always in his bosom, that he used him as the sinners of Sodom.” There’s just so much to play with, and all of it can be justified by the historical sources.

HRJ: Why do you think LGBTQ/queer fiction speaks to all readers -- other than the obvious answer that we’re all human and nothing human should be uninteresting to us?

Melissa Scott: One of the things that I think queer fiction offers to all readers is a vision of identity as mutable, conditional, and as often playful as serious; it’s capable of being chosen and created rather than simply being, and one may wear more than one at a time. And, yes, some of this ability to shift identities is grounded in oppression and the need for secrecy, but the community and culture have embraced that mutability and made a virtue of it. There are thousands of roles and archetypes within the community and we treat them with great seriousness and tremendous irreverence simultaneously, but always with the awareness that they are constructs and are therefore at least somewhat under our control. I think that’s one reason that queer SF/F works so well: the imagined futures and other worlds foreground this part of the queer experience.

HRJ: You’ve written in a lot of different corners of the SFF landscape, but I suspect that people who enjoy The Armor of Light might also enjoy your Astreiant series. It has an Early Modern feel to it, although it’s set in a completely invented world. Can you give the readers a sense of the flavor of that series?

Melissa Scott: The Points novels (Point of Hopes, Point of Knives, Point of Dreams, Fairs’ Point, and Point of Sighs) do indeed have a strong Early Modern sensibility to them, though they are set in a secondary world in which astrology not only works but is the underpinning of the society. The magic is similar to that in Armor in that it’s part of the background of daily life. Nearly everyone knows their horoscope, and knows how it fits them for their profession; there’s a thriving business of legal (and illegal) broadsheet prophecy, astrologers serve as counsellors, and alchemists also investigate the transformations in dead bodies. The novels are set in the city of Astreiant, capital of Chenedolle, and are in essence fantasy police procedurals exploring the relationship between Nicolas Rathe, Adjunct Point (a sort of senior policeman; the policing system is in the process of being created in these novels) and Philip Eslingen, a mercenary lieutenant turned bodyguard turned… several other professions.

* * *

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

  • Best Game Ever by R. R. Angell
  • The Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale
  • A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney
  • Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue by Andi C. Buchanan

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular books, plus seven more more books, for a total of eleven!

  • Grilled Cheese and Goblins by Nicole Kimberling
  • The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
  • Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones
  • The Hollow History of Professor Profectus by Ginn Hale
  • Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston
  • The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater
  • Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

Storybundle covers

Major category: 
Promotion
Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 19:00
Cover - Cinrak

The Pride StoryBundle is always packed full of wonderful authors and stories. And who knows better about that than the authors themselves? To entice you to check it out, we contributors are interviewing each other. You can find the full list of contents and purchasing information here: https://storybundle.com/blog/2020pridemonthbundle/

Today’s featured author is A.J. Fitzwater, whose debut novelThe Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper is included in the bonus bundle. A.J. lives and writes in New Zealand.

HRJ: Your contribution to the StoryBundle, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, has a rather striking premise: an elegant, lesbian, capybara pirate. Why don’t you tell the readers a little about how that concept came to you?

A.J. Fitzwater: Cinrak's origin was all about fun. I wrote what I thought at the time would be a one time only story for a competition centered around rodents, mashing up my heart-eyes for capybara and the theme, and Cinrak popped out of my brain blender.  I wanted to do something different and queer with the old rat pirate trope. With their broad chests and chill nature with other species, capybara come across as cool butch house parents. And so the House of Dapper was born.

HRJ: What does centering queer characters in your fiction mean to you personally?

A.J. Fitzwater: Finding the courage to, and pride in, writing queer characters came in parallel to the discovery of courage and pride in myself. When I began writing (again, after a very long time of repressing my joy...oh the layers!), I made an effort to explore different people, to understand and educate myself about the beautiful diversity of the world. It took me a long time to realize I was exploring myidentity, untangling the internalized fear and repression I'd used as a survival technique. While I cringe at some of my early stories, and understandings, it shows growth I'm proud of, and I'm proud to be on a lifelong journey of growth and change. 

HRJ: Cinrak is a very recent release, but you have another brand new book out--I know, because I included it in the new releases segment of my podcast. I suspect fans of the StoryBundle would also be interested in No Man’s Land, though it’s a rather different flavor of story. Why don’t you tell the readers a little about it.

A.J. Fitzwater:Thank you for the signal boost! It's a strange thing to be bringing out two completely different books during a tough time, but the way I've reckoned it, we still need to envision joy, to find the light to move towards. No Man's Land is a queer fantasy novella set in New Zealand during World War 2, and is about two land girls who find each other in the chaos. It goes into the ignored history of the manpowered farming land girls and queer people during war time, and uses shape-shifting magic to explore purpose, body, and identity. It's available from paperroadpress.co.nz, or on your favourite e-retailer platform. 

* * *

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

  • Best Game Ever by R. R. Angell
  • The Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale
  • A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney
  • Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue by Andi C. Buchanan

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular books, plus seven more more books, for a total of eleven!

  • Grilled Cheese and Goblins by Nicole Kimberling
  • The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
  • Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones
  • The Hollow History of Professor Profectus by Ginn Hale
  • Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston
  • The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater
  • Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

Storybundle covers

Major category: 
Promotion
Monday, June 22, 2020 - 18:00

This collection was not particularly fruitful in terms of LHMP content, with barely two articles speaking to the topic of women's same-sex desire. This is, alas, all too common in general collections, as well as all too common under the umbrella of Queer Studies. This tendency creates what I have come to call the "Little Red Hen Problem." You know the story about the little red hen? She finds a grain of wheat and asks help to plant it, then to tend it, then to harvest the wheat, then to grind it to flour, then to make bread out of it, all along the way encountering indifference and turned backs. So at every step she says, "Well, then, I'll do it myself." And at the end of the story when she asks, "And who would like to eat the bread?" then everyone is eager to join in, but the little red hen spurns them all, saying "I'll do it myself."

So what do I mean about something being a little red hen problem in historical research? When academics interested in the place of women in history found nothing but indifference and turned backs in the academy, they created the field of Women's Studies. When academics interested in the study of female same-sex relations in history found themselves largely shut out of the history of sexuality and queer studies, they said, "Well then, I'll do it myself" and created the field of lesbian history. But if time and again you have to create a field of study that is narrowly focused on your topic of interest, simply in order for that topic to be represented at all, then the act of narrowing the focus simultaneously results in progressive exclusion within your narrowed field, as well as failing to challenge the de facto exclusion in the larger field.

It's understandable. People get tired of begging for a place at the table and go off to build their own table. Or grow their own wheat. Or run their own mill. And if it results in an increasing separation from the "default" version of the academy, well, let someone else put in that work. You're tired and you just want a place where you're able to do the work you care about. But now you're part of a separate economy of research, just as the little red hen set up her own vertically-siloed economy of bread production. It's much more fragile than an integrated economy. And yet...you didn't feel like you had a choice. No one was letting you participate in an integrated economy. You had some wheat, but nobody was offering to help you turn it into bread.

I tend to feel that the lesfic publishing community is dealing with the late stage of a Little Red Hen Problem. When no one else was willing to publish fun, sympathetic genre fiction about women loving each other, the flock of little red hens came together and created the books no one else would touch. But what had originally been necessity developed into a way of life. We're going to grow wheat, not oats or barley, because that's what little red hens do. We're going plant and harvest it in specific ways because that's the little red hen tradition. And we're going to grind it to flour to make a specific type of bread. This is the bread we've always made. We're not going to make croissants or tortillas. We're not going to mix in olives or add eggs or top with caraway seeds, because that's the the little red hen way. We must respect the struggles and traditions of our fore-hens!

OK, I confess this metaphor has strayed a bit off the rails. And it no longer has much to do with why, in an entire collection of articles about queering the Renaissance, I could only find two about women loving women. But the point I'm reaching for is that sometimes even structures and systems that were about survival when first developed can turn around and become barriers. If I share my bread with you, will you share your polenta?

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Stephens, Dorothy. 1994. “Into Other Arms: Amoret’s Evasion”” in Queering the Renaissance ed. by Jonathan Goldberg. Duke University Press, Durham and London. ISBN 0-8223-1381-2

Publication summary: 

This collection of articles takes a broad view of “queering”. The articles look at the ways in whch “humanism” failed to recognize the humanity of many popuations, specifically those who were not straight white men. The research here encourages examination of the relationship of race, gender, and sexuality to notions of colonialism and imperial expansion.

Stephens "Into Other Arms: Amoret’s Evasion "

This article examines several passages in Spencer’s Faerie Queene that suggest female homoerotic encounters, either in the context of homosocial affection or primed by gender disguise. Amoret, our damsel in distress, finds herself in the allegorical “Cave of Lust” and encounters another woman bewailing her similar fate there. “Lust” should not be taken as benign pleasure here, but more aligned with sexual assault. The two women exchange stories and bond over their harrowing escapes from lustful pursuit.

This episode occurs at an interesting shifting point in the narrative. The original, shorter version of the tale has ended slightly previous to this point with Amoret reunited with her (male) lover Scudamore. But in the expanded version of the work, that reunion is sidestepped as Amoret wanders off from her rescuer (the female knight Britomart) and falls into this peril while Scudamore has his own adventures elsewhere.

In the shorter version, the reunion of Amoret and Scudamore is depicted in terms of the classical hermaphrodite: the reunion of two halves into their original whole and single being. There is a discussion of how Plato’s hermaphrodite allegory represents an equal and reciprocal love, in contrast to the hierarchical relations that Greek men participated in (regardless of the gender of their partner). Reciprocal love as a concept is associated in Plato with women, and the concept is attributed to Diotima, Socrates’ teacher. But how much can we rely on male depictions of female romantic/erotic experience? Compare Plato’s allegory with Renaissance images of the perfect Petrarchian woman who serves as an inspiring muse but whose intellectual and philosophical authority has been projected on her by men who do not recognize women as having an existence apart from that relationship with the men they inspire.

We return to considering Amoret, who has previously been brainwashed by her captor into doubting the validity of her own desire--into seeing desire as something that is done to her, not something she experiences.

This article examines the narrative changes and reframing that were necessary when Spencer expanded the poem. The knight Britomart has still been sent by Scudamore to rescue Amoret, but now some ruse must be found to allow for continued adventures before the eventual reunion.

Britomart is taken for a man, due to the disguise of armor, when she challenges and defeats Amoret’s abductor. Both women are changed by this rescue as they travel on together. Amoret and Britomart’s compaionship gives Amoret more agency to have adventures, rather than being a hapless victim of every encounter. And Britomart is shifted from a repressed, sexless state to a desiring character who will have her own romantic adventures.

When Britomart rescues Amoret, Amoret--believing her rescuer to be a man--finds herself torn between the faithfulness she owes her original lover, Scudamore, and an eroticized gratitude she owes Britomart. Britomart doesn’t reveal her sex to Amoret, thinking to better protect them both, but this allows the imperatives of the chivalric script--in which a woman is required to love and reward a virtuous rescuer--to work on Amoret’s feelings about the knight.

Britomart teasingly courts her, supposedly to reinforce her disguise, but as Britomart’s flirtation is greater than any similar behavior she engages in with her own nominal (male) suitor, could it be that she retains her disguise rather for the very purpose of this flirtation?

When the two reach a castle that can be considered a safe space, Britomart removes her helmet (thus, by the rules of the genre, unmasking her sex). Amoret is then freed to show her affection for the knight. They share a bed that night and exchange histories in an intimate scene. While the content of their tête-a-tête is heterosexual, the situation in which it occurs is not. In fact, this is the only “happy” bedfellows scene in the entire poem.

The idyll is brief, and more hazardous adventures ensue, but theirs is one of the few supportive female friendships in the work. (Most relationships between women are uneasy at best, while men are allowed true friendship.) Britomart is at once friend and knightly protector, a combination not possible for a man.

The “true love” between Britomart and Amoret continues to be emphasized even when they are  being paired off with men, and Britomart’s gender is foregrounded as calming Scudamore’s jealousy when he thinks the “strange knight” protecting Amoret may have become her lover. This revelation and partial reunion brings us back full circle to where the article began. Amoret rises from sleeping with Britomart and wanders off, finding herself lost in the Cave of Lust, where she establishes yet another supportive female bond based on shared histories and struggles.

Within the context of an otherwise overwhelmingly heterosexual plot, these disruptions of gender roles offer a different angle on the “natural” reactions of female characters to a sexualized peril based on their vulnerability to male power.

Time period: 
Place: 
Sunday, June 21, 2020 - 10:09
Cover - The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus

The Pride StoryBundle is always packed full of wonderful authors and stories. And who knows better about that than the authors themselves? To entice you to check it out, we contributors are interviewing each other. You can find the full list of contents and purchasing information here: https://storybundle.com/blog/2020pridemonthbundle/

Today’s featured author is Ginn Hale, who has two books in this year’s bundle: The Counterfeit Viscount in the basic bundle, and The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus in the bonus bundle. Ginn Hale lives with her lovely wife and two indolent cats in the Pacific Northwest.  Her fantasy and science fiction writing hasgarnered her a Rainbow Award, recognition as a Lambda Literary finalist and a Spectrum Award for best novel.

HRJ:You have two contributions to this year’s Pride StoryBundle: The Counterfeit Viscount in the basic bundle, and The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus in the bonus bundle, which of course is the level everyone will want to buy. While both books are set in a fantastic version of the historic past, they have rather different flavors. Why don’t you tell the readers a little bit about each book?

Ginn Hale: Oh sure, I’d be happy to.

Counterfeit Viscount is a mystery adventure set in the world of Wicked Gentlemen. After selling his soul to thehandsome Prodigal devil—and flashy dresser—Nimble Hobbs, Archiefinds himself in the unenviable position of joining Nimble to investigate the disappearances of several Prodigals. Archie soon realizes that they are up against much worse than absent actresses, debauched drunks, and dreadful poetry recitals. Bullets fly and top hats fall, as secrets are unearthed and a murderer decides to put an end to their inquiries.

The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus on the other hand takes place in the steampunk world of The Long Past. Warring mages have opened up a vast inland sea and released monstrous creatures from the distant past. (And by that I mean dinosaurs from the Cretaceous era!) In Chicago, at the New United Americas Exhibition, a brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton. But the secrets both women are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world. 

I had a great time doing research for both stories. I came across fascinating slang that I incorporated for Counterfeit Viscount and the women involved in the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 inspired a great deal of The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus

HRJ: Why is it so important to you to write and support queer fiction?

Ginn Hale: This is an interesting question, isn’t it? It’s so common to require marginalized creators to justify our stories and our identities that I think we often fail to recognize the query itself as an indicator of how much our erasure is normalized. That said, I know that in this case the question comes from a truly good place—one queer person asking another to share what’s powerful, moving, and important about the work we both do. 

For me, writing stories about queer characters—especially positive, empowering stories—is my way of sharing hope, strength and validation with other LGBTQ+ people. As a young person I keenly felt the absence of positive queer representation. I had no heroic tropes or flights of fantasy that I could look to and feel strong, safe, or validated. I had no assurances of happy endings or even survival. The few literary figures that reflected people like me were monsters and suicides.

So, I began making up my own stories. And, amateurish as they were, those stories really saved me on days when the rest of the world seemed degrading and desolate. 

In the decades since then, I’ve improved my craft but I still write stories about queer characters finding courage and love, having adventures, and experiencing triumph. I try to write the kind of stories I needed, so that they will be there for other people.  And I’ve learned that I’m not alone, not as a queer person and not as a queer author.

My books—and all the titles in the Pride StoryBundle—are a small part of a growing body of work that celebrates queer identities across genres and literary traditions.  As a reader and an author I love to support my fellow LGBTQ+ writers because the more we honor, applaud, and rejoice in our diversity the richer and better our lives and our literature grows.  

HRJ: You are a very prolific author! I think your Goodreads page lists over two dozen books. Maybe you can help guide readers who enjoy your StoryBundle contributions and point them to a starting place to try your other stories.

Ginn Hale: Oh my. That does make me seem like I’m whipping through the manuscripts, doesn’t it? In truth, I’m a very slow writer and quite prone to wandering off and poking around in the woods when I should be completing a chapter. J

The Goodreads page may be a little misleading because the Rifter series was released as a ten-volume serial. Really it’s one very big story about a young ecologist who is transported to another world along with his two best friends and how they change that world and are themselves transformed. It features marsupial weasels, magic keys, witches, talking bones, and no shortage of battles.

My other large fantasy series is the Cadeleonians books: Lord of the White Hell (book 1&2), Champion of the Scarlet Wolf (book 1&2) and Master of Restless Shadows (book 1&2.) This one is an epic fantasy that follows a group of schoolmates as they defeat a curse, are exiled, flee into the heart of a magical war, and take on ancient creatures and spells. Most of all, it’s about growing older and the struggle to remain true to youthful friendships while alliances and people change. 

Those two series aside, the majority of my works are novellas, featuring queer characters, mixed levels of technology and geeky bits of environmental fantasy. (I like to think that the two stories in this year’s Pride StoryBundle are among my best. I certainly hope that they bring smiles to the folks who read them.)

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!

* * *

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

  • Best Game Ever by R. R. Angell
  • The Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale
  • A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney
  • Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue by Andi C. Buchanan

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular books, plus seven more more books, for a total of eleven!

  • Grilled Cheese and Goblins by Nicole Kimberling
  • The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
  • Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones
  • The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus by Ginn Hale
  • Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston
  • The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater
  • Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

Book Covers - 2020 Pride Storybundle

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Promotion
Saturday, June 20, 2020 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 47c - Book Appreciation: Black Authors/Black Characters - transcript

(Originally aired 2020/06/20 - listen here)

In this month’s On the Shelf program, I went on a tiny little rant about the frustrating and heartbreaking dearth of black authors and black characters in f/f historical fiction. There are a lot of dynamics in play, of course. The financial incentives for writing in the genre are small and not everyone can afford to bypass settings and genres that offer more promise of a living wage. Authors as well as readers can be brainwashed by popular culture into thinking that black people were absent from vast swaths of the favored historical romance settings. And if a reader is actively searching out black authors and black characters in the field of f/f historical fiction, they may find that book lists and review sites aren’t designed to search on that particular combination of features.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is and curating a list for this book appreciation show. I am immensely indebted to several websites that gave me a leg up in cross-checking and expanding my list, especially sites featuring authors of color writing romance, or authors of color writing queer fiction. Here’s a shout-out to SIstahs on the Shelf, Women of Color in Romance, the Black Lesbian Literary Collective, and The Brown Bookshelf, and also to LGBTQReads who reminded me of the existence of these excellent resources. You can find links to all of these sites in the show notes. It still took some searching to track down historical fiction within those resources, and to identify f/f stories within the results.

What I’ve come up with are twelve books. I certainly hope this isn’t the full extent of what’s out there! In particular, I may be missing self-published works where the ethnicity of the main characters isn’t foregrounded in the cover copy. Twelve books. As it happens, I’ve read six of them and two more were already on my TBR list. Two of the authors have been guests on this podcast. Very few of the books fit solidly into the romance category--only two or three by my count--though most involves some sort of romantic subplot. Four of the books are historic fantasy and another two use a cross-time motif where characters in a contemporary setting are researching the past. Eight are set in the 19th century and four in the first half of the 20th. None are set earlier than that. And--touching on another point I made in my earlier rant--most of them do feature elements of the trauma of black and colonial history in their plots.

On to the books! I’ve organized them more or less in chronological order, just for fun.

Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roadshas a gloriously inventive structure, set in three different times and places--early 19th century Haiti, later Paris, and Egypt in the early Christian era--all bound together by manifestations of Ezili, the goddess of sexual desire and love. The chapters are introduced as musical motifs making me imagine how a theatrical version of the story might play out. I’ve blogged previously about how the representation of many different identities and sexualities in this story made me feel seenin a way that characters who resemble me more superficially haven’t always. The book has many dark moments--how could it not, when it covers the conditions leading to the Haitian revolution? But it circles around to end in joy.

The book that falls most solidly in the historical romance genre is also the one where I’m least certain about having a woman of color as a protagonist. The author, Gabrielle Goldsby, is black and very often features black characters, but a close reading of The Caretaker’s Daughter, a mildly-gothic Regency romance, only has hints that the title character might be biracial. (Her father is described several times in ways that suggest dark skin.) On the other hand, I may have missed more specific evidence since I’m afraid I didn’t finish the book because the writing style wasn’t working for me. You, dear listener, may well have a different reading experience--it happens quite often. Set on a classic English country estate, the unhappily married Lady Bronte finds friendship and then love with the daughter of her groundskeeper.

The most delightful and charming romance on my list is the novella “That Could Be Enough” by Alyssa Cole, who also has a very popular m/f historic romance series featuring black heroines set in the American Civil War. Alyssa Cole was a guest on this podcast to talk about her story, inspired by the setting of the musical Hamilton, in which the repressed Mercy Alston, acting as secretary in Eliza Hamilton’s interviews of those who knew her late husband, encounters the vibrant and challenging dressmaker Andromeda Stiel. I loved this story and wish that it was enough of a bestseller to tempt Cole to write more like it. “That Could Be Enough” is near the top of my list of recommendations for those who want to dip their toe in the waters of f/f historical romance.

The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghostsis by Tiya Miles who is an award-winning historian and the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant. The book uses fiction to explore a little-known part of American history: the participation of Cherokee tribes in Georgia in the slave-holding economy. The author herself is of African-American and Cherokee heritage and has focused on this intersection in her historic research. This book presents that research in fictional form, framed by three contemporary women who come together on a Georgia plantation to investigate the past. The book is tagged as LGBTQ in Goodreads, though the specific content isn’t evident in the cover copy. Perhaps I’ll be able to provide more information in the future as I’ve just added the book to my TBR list.

One way to have a book cover a wide swath of history is to make your protagonist an immortal vampire. Vampire stories are often weak on historical grounding, but Jewelle Gomez’s collection The Gilda Storiesis a solid exception, tracing the protagonist’s life from 1850s Louisiana through to the present day. I remember reading this collection back when it first came out and was a rare example of overtly lesbian characters in SFF. The writing is atmospheric and explores issues of community and isolation.

Within the last year I had Penny Mickelbury on the show to talk about her novel Two Wings to Fly Away, set in Philadelphia shortly before the onset of the Civil War. There is an inter-racial romance that shows the delicate masquerade required when different worlds collide, though it is only one subplot among thrilling escapes, mysteries, and the building of a precarious community of free black people and those fleeing slavery at a time when one’s status could change in an instant. I found the writing rich in historical detail and atmosphere in a way that can be traced to Mickelbury’s background in journalism.

Justina Ireland has created an alternate history that asks the question, what if the American Civil War ended with a zombie invasion? In Dread Nationand the sequel Deathless Dividewe follow the adventures of a young black woman trained to fight zombies to protect her upper class employers. The sapphic content enters in the second book, though not the main focus of the plot, as our heroine and her companion set out on a journey west through dangers that are not limited to the restless dead. These books are on my TBR list. It is, alas, a very long list.

Also tackling alternate history with a speculative fiction twist, Nisi Shawl’s steampunky Everfairposits the creation by British and American idealists of an independent nation carved out of the colonial hellscape of the Belgian Congo. But having established it, they must find the resources to defend it, not only against their colonial neighbors but against their own deep-set prejudices and conflicts. There are several queer relationships among the extremely large cast, and though they are not the focus of the story, they normalize a variety of identities, expressed in historically grounded ways. This is a vividly imagined alternate historic path, with the assistance of some innovative tech that gives our protagonists just barely enough of an edge to survive.

Nik Nicholson’s Descendants of Hagarfollows the life of a gender-transgressing woman in Georgia in the early 20th century. Rejecting a conventional woman’s life, Linny takes on the role of her father’s “son” until she makes a promise that brings her into conflict with her responsibilities to her family. From the description, this looks to depict a complex extended family in which one woman slips sideways through society’s expectations. I haven’t read this one but it looks intriguing.

Set very closely in time to the previous book comes Jam on the Vineby LaShonda Barnett. A scholarship enables our protagonist to pursue her childhood dream of journalism, but she returns home to the hard reality that the only jobs she’ll be offered are medial labor. Leaving the South, Ivoe and her lover set up the first female-run African American newspaper just in time to cover the outbreak of lynchings and race riots in 1919. Like many of the non-romance books in this list, the plot centers around flash-points of racial oppression and injustice.

Those books are far more likely to be published as literary fiction than genre fiction, and that’s definitely the case with Alice Walker’s classic The Color Purple, following the lives of sisters Celie and Nettie in early 20th century rural Georgia and tackling issues of domestic abuse and lives constrained by poverty as much as by race. Same-sex desire is a minor thread in the story as part of the complex relationships the women experience.

Bringing us into the mid-20th century, Nigerian-American author Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Treestackles the Nigerian civil war shortly after the country gained its independence in the 1960s. Ijeoma, temporarily displaced by the war, falls in love with another girl, but her mother’s disapproval and homophobia result in a long internal struggle for Ijeoma to find a balance point between her desires, her desire for her mother’s approval, and her religious beliefs. Although the protagonist’s lesbian identity is central to the novel, this is far from a feel-good romance. The social context it depicts is still prevalent today, reminding us that acceptance is not evenly distributed. Under the Udala Treeswon a Lambda Literary Award for lesbian fiction.

It’s a short list--I’d love for listeners to suggest more books that would fit. And it’s a narrow list in many ways. No books set earlier than 1800. Very few romances with happily ever after endings. Plots that too often rely on Black suffering for their conflict. And when you talk to authors, it isn’t that these are the only books they want to write, but often it’s the ones that publishers want to see. I know I’d like to see many more, with more different plots and settings. And more happy endings. Don’t we all want to see more happy endings, in real life as well as on the page?

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LHMP
Monday, June 15, 2020 - 17:00

This is the second article that is an earlier version of one of the chapters in Valerie Traub's The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. I keep thinking I should go back and compare these summaries to what I wrote about the same material in the full book. For that matter, I think I should see if the content changed substantially between these original articles and the later work. Or I could realize that I don't have time and leave that as an exercise to the reader.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Traub, Valerie. 1994. “The (In)Significance of ‘Lesbian’ Desire in Early Modern England” in Queering the Renaissance ed. by Jonathan Goldberg. Duke University Press, Durham and London. ISBN 0-8223-1381-2

Publication summary: 

This collection of articles takes a broad view of “queering”. The articles look at the ways in whch “humanism” failed to recognize the humanity of many popuations, specifically those who were not straight white men. The research here encourages examination of the relationship of race, gender, and sexuality to notions of colonialism and imperial expansion.

Traub "The (In)Significance of ‘Lesbian’ Desire in Early Modern England"

This article is one of the components that went into Traub’s later book The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. I haven’t reviewed whether and how much it was revised for that 2002 publication (just as I didn’t for the titular chapter in GLQ covered in LHMP #275). Since my coverage of the eventual book was necessarily somewhat more cursory, I’ve gone ahead and summarized this article as if new.

* * *

Traub claims the title of this article is a “bait and switch” as she follows Halperin in treating “homosexuality” as such as only existing in the last 100 years, with “the lesbian” as an even more recent discursive invention.

[Note: I understand what the authors mean when they say this sort of thing -- that the concepts associated with the modern understanding of the category “lesbian” are only recently defined and codified -- but that leaves me wondering how they deal with the fact that the word “lesbian” was in regular use well before the last century in association with women who desired or had sex with other women. If “the lesbian” is a very recent conceptual invention, where does that leave the long history of the word and its associations? Do we just ignore that because it complicates our theoretical position?]

Traub compares the “asymmetrical representation” of three Early Modern figures: the French female sodomite, the English tribade, and the theatrical homoerotic “femme”. [Note: part of what Traub is trying to point out here is that sexualities are culturally grounded. The point isn’t that the words sodomite and tribade have different meanings, but that the specific manifestations those cultures applied those words to were different from each other.]

There is a discussion of the philosophical assumptions inherent in a 1729 book on “Ancient Laws against Immorality and Profaneness” that covers a wide variety of sex-related offences, encompassing categories of being (e.g., whores) as well as specific acts (e.g., bestiality). The author does not identify a common category for same-sex acts, grouping m/m sex with bestiality but omitting f/f sex entirely. Women may be whores (category) or may fornicate (act) but the possibility of being sodomites is excluded.

But was this an actual denial of the possibility of f/f sex or a byproduct of the author’s rigid approach to exclusive categorization? (I.e., that each person/act can only belong to one category of immorality.) After all, he also excludes the possibility of male whores, and yet those were clearly known and documented at the time. The book is a product of a period of gender instability and attempts to stabilize identities through artificial category boundaries. [Note: I feel like we’re going through a similar period currently. The early 21st century is a time of significant anxiety about shifts in older categories of gender and sexuality, and many people express that anxiety by trying to enforce rigid, artificial, and ill-fitting categories.]

It was the codification and normalization of sexual, psychological, and criminal categories in the 18-19th century that drove the legal regulation of same-gender desire. To a large extent, legal categories were seen to create fact: if no woman was prosecuted for sodomy, ipso facto, women did not practice sodomy.

It is only when one moves away from legal and theological discourse that we find texts that acknowledge f/f sexuality and attempt to regulat it, such as gynecology texts and stage plays. These genres were male-dominated, but show a distinct lackof anxiety about desire between women.

One must recognize geographic differences in attitudes toward f/f desire. Continental prosecutions for female sodomy emphasize the cultural difference from England. Montaigne’s anecdote about a cross-dressing woman (trans man) who married and had sex with a women shows contrasts between the law’s harsh response and the implication of a more accepting attitude of the couple’s neighbors, which is apparent in hints and wordings in the testimony. Within this French context, female sodomy is defined by the use of an artificial penis for sex. The focus is no on desire or non-penetrative sex, but only on the imitation of m/f sex.

Gynecological texts, both French and English, share this focus, being concerned specifically with the possibility of an enlarged clitoris that both caused and enabled women to have penetrative sex with women. See, e.g., Helkiah Crooke.

Despite the distinction in nomenclature and consequence for female sodomites (using dildos) and tribades (using a macro-clitoris), there is a unifying logic of supplementing female anatomy with male features. There is no consideration of distinction made in how these supplements may be used, only vague references to acting “like a man”. In masculinizing such women’s acts, authors failed to address what the acts may have meant to the women involved. Women’s agency in f/f sex is co-opted back into heterosexual forms.

Traub now turns to the question of finding evidence of f/f desire in other contexts. The nature and interpretation of this evidence is positioned within the framework of Judith Butler’s theories of gender as performance, and Derrida’s ideas of “difference”.

Early Modern women’s employment of anatomical “supplements” becomes not an imitation of man, but a replacement that emphasizes the artificiality of the gender binary, and indeed of men as a concept. The image of the enlarged clitoris becomes a cultural fantasy, apart from any possible biological reality, almost a fetish, in the same way that the image of the dildo became (apart from the concrete reality) and “object of desire” -- not necessarily for the women who were supposedly using them, but for the authorities who fixated on the phallus precisely in the context of its absence and displacement.

The focus of these texts is not on sexuality, but on gender; not on the pleasure the women experience, but on the usurpation of male prerogatives. So where do we see evidence of women’s erotic practices that do notinvolve a supplement for male anatomy? One place such practices are present is in Early Modern stage plays that feature what might be called “femme-femme love” as a viable, if unstable, state.

As with other literary genres, stage plays can’t be taken as representing real life experiences, but rather a discourse around how that possible experience was imagined, perceived, and regulated. Upon the stage, the popular motif of female cross-dressing can be viewed as representing similar cultural anxieties about gender identity as the fantasies of dildos and clitorises did.

The cross-dressing heroine becomes privileged as a representation of female homoeroticism because of her visibility. But -- aligned with Sedgwick’s “epistemology of the closet” -- are we as historians overlooking representations of female homoeroticism that did not generate the same obvious anxieties as cross-dressing? Are we focused too much on Viola (in Twelfth Night) the unwilling object of female desire due to her male disguise, and too little on Helena and Hermia, Celia and Rosalind, who express erotic sentiments for each other but whose destinies don’t challenge the marriage plot?

Shakespeare’s “femme-femme” couples always appear at the point of separation, simultaneously expressing homoerotic desire and placing the enjoyment of that desire safely in the past at the point of its betrayal. Female bonds become a point of anxiety when they threaten the patriarchal imperative (e.g., Titania and her handmaiden in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) or the prospect of marriage.

Shakespeare’s successors shifted female homoeroticism into the present, and depict it as explicitly erotic. (e.g., Heywood: The Golden Age; Shirley The Bird in a Cage) At the same time, they displace f/f love, not in time, but into a mythic, separatist female realm, such as Diana’s band. The Golden Ageis a reworking of the myth of Callisto and Diana. The Bird in a Cagealso uses classical myth as the setting for its f/f eroticism, and again uses the motif of Jupiter disguised as a woman to gain sexual access to an otherwise forbidden female object.

The use of f/f themes on the stage suggest an acceptability of f/f desire as long as male signifiers such as cross-dressing and dildos are not present. Though f/f love in he plays is replaced by heterosexual marriage, this is a resolution that must be forcibly imposed, rather than emerging as the “natural state”. May we posit that the gender of a woman’s object of desire need not be significant so long as the woman retains a “feminine” role?

Traub suggests the existence of (at least) two modes for female homoeroticism at this time: the omnisexual femme who did not challenge norms, and the tribade who usurped the masculine role and did not participate in the expected economy of female availability to men. Tribades were, to some extent, defined by their use of a phallic supplement. So what sexual practices might femmes have enjoyed? Stage plays make reference to kissing and caressing. Given that (heterosexual) marriage manuals of the time encouraged men to arouse their wives by caressing the breasts and genitals, surely these techniques were available between women as well?

Precisely because “femme” homoeroticism failed to challenge gender roles, it is rarely documented outside of drama. [Note: but see also a few rare examples of female-authored poetry of the time that express it.]

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