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Monday, November 18, 2019 - 07:00

I’ll confess that I had higher hopes of relevance to my purposes for this collection. Overall, the articles included here were more narrowly theory-oriented and of less general interest than I hoped. Also, the queer content was overwhelmingly male focused. I’d originally planned to do each article as a separate entry, but found myself skimming through many of them. In the end, it made much more sense to cover this publication as a single blog.

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Full citation: 

Lochrie, Karma, Peggy McCracken and James A. Schultz. 1997. Constructing Medieval Sexuality. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. ISBN 0-8166-2829-7


The purpose of this collection is to “think differently” about medieval sexuality without losing the benefits of modern theoretical approaches. The authors address sexuality not in the narrow sense of orientation but as the study of experiences, attitudes, customs, and institutions that are a subjetive human experience and an objective field of “knowledge”. Sexuality was embedded in other medieval systems such as race, gender, ethnicity, and religion.

Sexuality is not a single phenomenon, and is often internally contradictory, such as the simultaneous view that variant sexual practices can be both “natural” and sinful. The articles share certain approaches: sexuality in relation to gender, ideas about the body as integral to sexuality, sexuality relative to identity/otherness, recognition of the influence of the present on our understanding of the past.

If sexuality is not considered side by side with gender, it risks accepting a conservative and male-dominated understanding of the past. Neither gender nor sexuality categories are entirely stable. Gender may be treated as independent of sex. The instability may come from overlaying different stable frameworks, such as medicine and literature. In literature, gender is established via clothing/appearance, not through the body, and through gendered role relationships. Bodily functions may be viewed both as functionally male and morally feminine (as with the idea of nocturnal emissions representing both an inherently male experience and a feminine loss of bodily control).

A history of the medieval understanding of bodies challenges one to “think differently.” Bodies are not a fixed, knowable substance, nor is sexual difference always assumed to be clearly and easily distinct. Foucault is invoked with regard to the concept of “identities” via his distinction between the sodomite (“acts”) and the homosexual (“identities”). But this strict chronology has been called into question by recent work. Categorization by “acts” is still active today, not solely a feature of the past. And there is evidence--if you look for it--of “identities” in the past. Medieval people might identify “kinds” of people for whom certain acts were natural, without those “kinds” aligning with modern orientations. Furthermore, heterosexuality isn’t a stable category in the middle ages either. Sexuality categories are intertwined with other types of classification.

Can the study of medieval sexuality lead us to different understandings of modern sexuality? Can studies like this collection challenge the myth of a heteronormative past and a queer modernity?

1. Pollution, Illusion, and Masculine Disarray: Nocturnal Emissions and the Sexuality of the Clergy - Dyan Elliott

A discussion of the problem of unconscious/uncontrolled sexual events with respect to men’s sexuality, with special focus on the clergy. [Not of particular interest to me.]

2. Homosexuality, Luxuria, and Textual Abuse - Mark D. Jordan

The article starts with a bunch of wordplay then moves on to consider three related words: luxuria, vitium sodomiticum, and peccatum (vitium) contra natura. The second and third can be read transparently as “sodomitic vice” and “vice/sin against nature. But luxuria is harder to render because it doesn’t correlate directly to “luxury” in the modern sense. One might interpret it more closely as “an inappropriate excess of pleasure,” but in Aquinas (as examined here) it focuses centrally on an excess of sexual pleasure. Though this is the central sense, the concept was considered to give rise to a number of secondary effects.

Like some of the other sins covered by Aquinas in the same text, luxuria is subcategorized into various kinds with different degrees of seriousness, including fornication, adultery, incest, rape, and acts “against nature.” The article closely examines not only how these subcategories are discussed and judged, but how that discussion compares to that of other sins. For example, arguing with Augustine’s position that sins “against nature” are less serious than adultery or rape (because they don’t harm anyone else), Aquinas argues that contra naturem are more serious because they harm God.

This variable evaluation of sodomy is a feature of many medieval theological treatments. Aquinas discusses sodomy as a “vice” not as a medical condition or a habit or an identity. Nor does he bring gender identity into the question (i.e., he doesn't consider men to practice sodomy because they have a feminine identity). But in touching on why people are drawn to this vice, he stumbles into contradiction.

“Pleasure,” he posits, comes from the fulfillment of a natural purpose, but the “anti-natural” vice of sodomy is attractive because it results in an overwhelming pleasure. How can that be, if pleasure only comes from the natural?

The focus on this article is entirely on male same-sex activity falling within the category of “against nature.”

3. Sciences/Silences: The Natures and Languages of “Sodomy” in Peter of Abano’s Problemata Commentary - Joan Cadden

This article looks at the language used to discuss sodomy, and especially the erasure of specific language about it “lest talking about it give people ideas.” The article is particularly concerned with a text by Peter of Abano that offers two conflicting “reasons” for men to engage in sodomy. Cadden briefly acknowledges the different ways such texts approached male and female same-sex activity. Women were considered to engage in it only as a substitute for unavailable heterosexual sex, but men needed a positive reason to explain their actions.

Abano offers two explanations. Some men, he says, have a variant physiology such that they only receive sexual pleasure through (receptive) anal sex. In this, they can be compared to the pleasure women take in being penetrated. But this raises the problem of why there are men who enjoy both “acting and being acted on.” Despite the vague language, it’s clear he’s concerned narrowly with anal sex. For these men, too, he offers a physiological explanation.

Abano’s theories draw to some extent on Avicenna, taken from Arabic sources. In this context, sodomy might be considered a “healthy” way to manage humoral balance in non-normative bodies.

But Abano then turns to those for whom sodomy is “a habit” rather than an innate impulse. Here the language is more negative and condemnatory. Cadden discusses how the two views are differentiated by the vocabulary and references Abano uses, but that the end conclusion is still that vice--whether innate or acquired--should be condemned and resisted.

4. Manuscript Illumination and the Art of Copulation - Michael Camille

An examination of medieval artistic depictions of heterosexual copulation, and how they reinforce a narrow understanding of normative sex acts based on a gendered hierarchy of power.

5. Bodies that Don’t Matter: Heterosexuality before Heterosexuality in Gottfried’s Tristan - James A. Schultz

[Note: to let the casual reader in on the joke, the article’s title is referencing Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter. I have the nagging sense that there may be a publication “Homosexuality before Homosexuality” that is also being referenced, but can’t find a clear candidate.]

Schultz examines how bodies and sexual desire are treated in medieval romances, and how gender is presented as relying on arbitrary superficial appearance, not as an inherent property of the person. Men and women are described as beautiful and desirable in nearly identical terms. Clothing and performance are what create gender. But clothing is also far more connected to class than to bodily sex. Despite all this, desire is assumed to be heterosexual in all cases, even when the bodies involved are of the same sex. There is a brief discussion of how heteronormative gender identities are assigned to couples who both have female bodies, but somewhat confusingly the author does not talk about specific romances with this motif (such as Yde or Tristan de Nanteuil).

6. Refashioning Courtly Love: Lancelot as Ladies’ Man or Lady/Man? - E. Jane Burns

Paired with the previous article, this takes another look at gender “creation” in medieval courtly romances. There are conflicting gender roles/performances in the courtly love tradition, borrowing from the lord-vassel relationship. This is further complicated in representation by the general similarity of male and female clothing and relatively gender-neutral standards of beauty. These conflicting roles and representations are relevant not only for how medieval people interpreted gender signifiers, but how modern scholars can (mis)interpret gender signs in visual representation.  (An anecdote is given of an image of a kneeling figure in armor performing homage to a standing figure in a long garment where different historians interpreted it as an image of courtly love with the standing figure as female, versus ordinary feudal homage with the standing figure interpreted as male.)

This article focuses on the representation of Lancelot, especially in relationship to Guenevere, as portraying a slippage of gender roles. There is also a discussion of how clerical rhetoric against luxurious/fashionable clothing simultaneously claims that it feminizes men and masculinizes women.

In literature, armor is the ultimate creator of masculinity. To be armored/protected/covered is to be masculine, whereas to be exposed, uncovered, vulnerable is to be feminine. But the behavioral and sartorial crossing of gender lines is far more accepted for men than for women, who are rebuked if they step outside gender signifier norms. An example is given of a 13th century sermon against women who wear male-signified clothing and accessories as being both too knightly and too seductive at the same time.

7. The Love of Thy Neighbor - Louise O. Fradenburg

This article contrasts two types of love defined in Christian theology: charity, the love of God and the enjoyment of self and neighbor for the sake of God; and cupidity, the enjoyment of anything for the sake of something other than God. The article is a psychoanalytic study of the concept of “charity” in this context. [Note: I found it at the same time too dense and too diffuse to summarize easily.]

8. Conversion and Medieval Sexual, Religious, and Racial Categories - Steven F. Kruger

This article looks a tthe intertwining of gender, religion, and race to argue that identity cannot be defined for any of these axes without considering intersectionality. [Note: the article doesn’t use the term “intersectionality” but is clearly talking about the concept generally known by that name.] Anxieties about categories are especially focused on the image of category-transgression (women acting as men, the ”feminization” of Jewish men in Christian mythology, etc.). The article discussions the concept of “conversion” as a locus of anxiety for all of these categories, especially in the context of penalties for cross-religious relationships (both personal and economic) that were considered to create a risk of “pollution”, either overt or symbolic conversion from one category to another.

9. Mystical Acts, Queer Tendencies - Karma Lochrie

Lochrie considers the interpretation of mystical experiences in a sexual framework, especially within the concept of “queering” history. But is “queering” a valid study of the gaps and contradictions in the historic record, or an anachronistic projection? Lochrie looks at the often dark and violent imagery of mystical eroticism, with its themes of disease, torment, mortality, and decay. Ecstasy is depicted as a violent, violating experience. There is a discussion of the image of Christ’s wound as a vulva symbol and its relation to (feminine) suffering as a religious experience.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 40c - Book Appreciation with Heather Rose Jones - transcript

(Originally aired 2019/11/16 - listen here)

A transcript is pending.

Show Notes and Links

In this episode we talk about:

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Friday, November 15, 2019 - 10:09

It's the official book-birthday for Floodtide! I'm loving seeing all the mentions and recommendations washing through my social media. Such a difference from last time! (More thoughts on that, but not while I'm in the middle of celebrating.)

A brief reminder of logistics:

  • You can buy both the hard copy and all ebook formats direct from my publisher, Bella Books.
  • Ebooks will be available though other distributors in about a month. (This is a business strategy for Bella, nothing I have control over.) Bella has a handy instruction guide for side-loading their epub, mobi, and pdf formats into your favorite reader.
  • Paper copies of Floodtide can be ordered direct from all the usual online retailers, but if you have a local brick-and-mortar bookstore, even if they don't typically carry books from Bella, I encourage you to consider buying/ordering from your local business.
  • But from my point of view, the best way for you to buy my books is the one where you buy them. No matter what it is.

Bonus opportunity!

An even more brief reminder of the part you can play in Floodtide's success:

  • One-on-one word of mouth has been the most powerful factor in the success of the Alpennia series. And with Floodtide, there's an opportunity to recommend the book to people who might be daunted by plunging in to a whole series.
  • Sharing and retweeting any sort of positive social media about Floodtide helps extend visibility. I expect to keep up a major flurry for the next month or so, and every little bit helps.
  • Reviews help any book's visibility, especially if they are (also) on the major review sites like Goodreads and Amazon, though reviews on personal blogs can reach readers who might not hear about the book otherwise.
  • Amazon in particular is difficult to get review numbers on, ever since they began the "minimum shopping threshold to leave reviews" requirement. So if you're in a position to be able to leave Amazon reviews (you don't have to have bought the book there) and willing to, it can be a great help. I've given up on The Mystic Marriage or Mother of Souls ever reaching that "magic" fifty-review target, but I have hopes that Floodtide might crack it.
  • I appreciate any efforts that my fans and readers make to help spread the word about my books. And I never take it for granted or expect it as a right. Nothing I post here is intended to contradict that position or pressure you in any way.
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Thursday, November 14, 2019 - 09:13

To celebrate the release of Floodtide, I've been picked as the Featured Author of the month at Bella Books. That means my entire backlist (hard copy and ebooks) is 30% off. So whether you're only just discovering Alpennia through Floodtide or if you meant to get caught up on the series before reading it, this is a great opportunity to fill in the gaps.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - 09:23

Last week finished up the teaser series, so all that’s left is waiting with breathless anticipation (no, don’t do that:…out…in…out) for Floodtide to appear in your mailboxes, e-reader screens, and maybe even on selected bookstore shelves. (Keep in mind that if you do have a local genre bookstore and want to own a hard copy of my books, ordering through the store is a win-win all around. The bookstore wins, and it becomes more likely that they’ll order additional copies to display for others to find.)

I’m feeling reasonably confident about being prepared for this book release. Publicity blogs have been showing up. Reviews are starting to be posted. Bella Books is going to make me “featured author of the month” so if you’re planning to order any of the other Alpennia books, expect them to be on sale soon. (You can check on my catalog page to see if it’s effective yet.

But of course the majority of the success will depend on word of mouth and reader enthusiasm. I really appreciate how my unofficial “fan club” keeps plugging away to let people know about Alpennia. Floodtide is a great chance to invite new readers in and get them hooked. Expect me to be doing a lot of book cheerleading this week and feel free to join in the celebration!

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Monday, November 11, 2019 - 07:00

Although I’m generally organizing this “classics of the history of gender and sexuality” series on a thematic basis, I moved this one out of order for logistical reasons (It’s the only one I have in pdf and I wanted get it done before I moved the other current 40+ article pdfs onto my iPad, so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.)

Rich’s article--written in 1980, the year I graduated college and came out as a lesbian--simultaneously feels dated and feels all too current. It is dated in some of the ways it uses terminology and concepts around the word “lesbian” in ways that are either overly broad or appropriative of other nuances of identity. I know that it’s frowned on to view either people or texts as “products of their time” but I think it is important to understand the context in which things are written and said.

In 1980 we hadn’t yet developed the current extensive palette of vocabulary to talk about nuances of identity. And in 1980 the queer struggle was for the right to be recognized as existing and valid in the face of overwhelming heteronomativity. If people seem to have taken overly absolute positions for queer identities that now feel narrow and prescriptive, it was in part because any equivocation, any sign of nuance or weakness in one’s political positions, was seized on as undermining the whole. If you’re a woman who has ever felt love or desire for a man, then you’re really just straight and confused. (It was social conservatives who established that interpretation first, before it became attributed as an official lesbian position.)

If lesbian activists and historians of that era seem overly eager to lay claim to marginal cases for the lesbian team, it was because all they seemed to have were marginal cases. The Ladies of Llangollen? Just good friends. Emily Dickinson? Neurotic and jealous. And for vast numbers of candidates “But they married/fucked men, so how could they be lesbians?”

But Rich’s article also feels very current in many ways: the exclusion of relations between women as a categorical alternative to heterosexuality when discussing social dynamics; discussing “women” in ways that silently assume “straight women” (and, of course, silently assume “straight white women”); the socio-political systems that indoctrinate women in (and enforce) heterosexuality because to recognize alternatives is to allow women an escape hatch, regardless of their innate orientations. When Rich lists those systems--including the interaction between misogynistic pornography culture and workplace gender power dynamics, social and legal structures that push women to rely on men for economic security and status, and so forth--many of the examples could be pulled from our current headlines.

So approach this article, written 40 years ago, with charity. And if parts of it seem quaintly old-fashioned, ask yourself why so many other parts haven’t changed.

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Full citation: 

Rich, Adrienne. 1980. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” in Signs 5: 631-60.

Rich opens with examples of academic and feminist writing that talk about women’s lives in ways that exclude homo-affective bonds or label them as deviant. If lesbianism is mentioned at all, it is treated as being born of hostility toward men or as mere “sexual preference” or as being a direct mirror image of the male homosexual experience. She follows this bias towards “compulsory heterosexuality” in four sample texts, all presenting themselves as feminist and taking the position that social relations between the sexes are disordered and problematic, but in every case ignoring or excluding the question of how “lesbian existence” (and in the context of this article, it becomes clear that this should be read as “the existence of women’s committed same-sex relationships of any type”) would change both the analysis and possible solutions to that problem. None of the texts questions whether, all other things being equal, the same proportion of women would choose the problematic state of heterosexual marriage as it exists.

The first book, For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women by Ehrenreich and English looks at professional health advice to women from a Marxist-feminist point of view with the conclusion that advice regarding sex, maternity, and child care has always echoed and reinforced the requirements that a capitalist economy requires women to fulfill. Although their analysis challenges the basis of many principles of this advice, it never deconstructs the anti-lesbian position embedded in the advice manuals, despite the clear parallels between the persecution of lesbians and more general misogyny.

The second book, Toward a New Psychology of Women (Miller) is written as if lesbians don’t exist. The third, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and the Human Malaise (Dinnerstein) argues that disordered gender relations can be addressed by more equal sharing of parenting and the erosion of gendered social roles. The current arrangements, the book argues, perpetuate social relations that are hostile, exploitive, and destructive. But the book operates on an assumption that relations between men and women are the essence of society and simply need to be made more rational. Excluded from consideration is the long history of women who either opted out of those relations or were excluded from them (singlewomen, widows, lesbians, etc.). The author considers female separatism an interesting but impractical thought experiment, ignoring the fact that the “experiment” already exists in the small scale and has done so for centuries.

The fourth book comes the closest to acknowledging lesbian existence. The Reproduction of Mothering (Chodorow) takes a psychoanalytic examination of the gendered imbalance of child-rearing and how relations with a same-gender versus other-gender primary caretaker affect a child’s psychological development. For women, she concludes, this dynamic means that men are “emotionally secondary” in their lives, that men are not as emotionally important to women as women are to men. And that women have had to learn to deny the limitations of men as lovers (compared to women) for practical and psychological reasons. But within this conclusion, she does not come to the apparently obvious attraction for women of having female lovers. Chodorow dismisses this idea with, “lesbian relationships do tend to re-create mother-daughter emotions and connections, but most women are heterosexual.” [Note: If one sometimes feels that Rich engages in bi-erasure in her rhetoric, it’s important to note that the texts she is studying also engage in bi-erasure from the straight side.] Chodorow continues, “This heterosexual preference and taboos on homosexuality, in addition to objective economic dependence on men, make the option of primary sexual bonds with other women unlikely--though more prevalent in recent years.” [Note: keep in mind that Chodorow was writing in 1978.] The presumption “most women are heterosexual” is not examined even in the face of acknowledging the potential influence of social taboos and economic inequities.

All four of the books focus on how to “fix” the existing system of compulsory heterosexuality, despite acknowledging that there are sound emotional and psychological reasons for women to enjoy bonds with other women. That women continue to disproportionately hold to heterosexual relationships because of innate preference and that engaging in homosexual relationships is the only state that requires an explanation. This is expressed sometimes as the position that all people are inherently bisexual and that in an ideal world in which gender inequities were removed, this would be expressed. But we don’t live in an ideal world and the choices women make and situations the find themselves in are shaped by the existing inequities, including unequal access to the concept of lesbian existence.

The second part of Rich’s article focuses on the question: if people’s earliest experiences of nurture and emotional caring are from women, why would women ever redirect their search for those things to men? [Note: Rich is engaging in her own essentialism and erasure here in accepting the archetype of the nurturing mother as representing an experiential truth.] Why have the dynamics of reproduction become so inseparable from the impulse toward emotional/erotic relationships that it became necessary to violently enforce women’s loyalty and subservience to men?

But she moves on to a set of dynamics laid out an essay “The Origin of the Family” (Gough) that, rather than examining the reasons for this situation, focuses on eight mechanisms by which it is maintained [my paraphrases]:

  • Deny women their own sexuality (either by psychological or physical means)
  • Force them to accept male sexuality
  • Male control/exploitation of women’s labor and production
  • Male legal/physical control of children
  • Control of women’s physical abilities or geographic movements
  • Male use of women as objects of value in social transactions
  • Suppression of women’s creativeness
  • Prevention of women’s access to or participation in knowledge/cultural attainments (including suppression of knowledge of women who succeeded) [Note: once you start diving deeply into the history of women in the arts, literature, and sciences you begin realizing how much of the absence of women from those fields is a lie, that knowledge about them has been deliberately erased and suppressed.]

These mechanisms act together with the idealization of heterosexual romance and marriage in popular culture to make same-sex alternatives not simply unattainable but unthinkable.

The next part of the article looks at the braiding together of the sexualization of women in everyday life, especially in the workplace, with the normalization of pornographic imagery, and the use of accusations of lesbianism or prudishness against women who push back against these forces. Within this multi-layered dynamic, does the notion of women’s “consent” have any meaning? [Note: this is one part of the article where I got a strong “not enough has changed vibe,” when you look at entire industries where women feel that their economic participation is contingent on going along with pervasive, casual sexualization of their existence.] Does “consent” to heterosexual marriage have any meaning if it is offered as the only viable alternative to male predation in the workplace? [Note: In 1980, one could still have the illusion that marriage enabled a woman to remove herself from the public economy.]

What if, Rich asks, men’s sexual anxieties about women are not that sexually uncontrolled women will “devour” them, but that sexually uncontrolled women will find them irrelevant? How much of the enforcement of male sexual dominance over women is because men fear not having access to sex at all? [Note: this question in Rich’s article predates but predicts the “incel” mentality.] Female sexual slavery exists not only in conditions of physical restraint, but in any situation where women trade consent and autonomy for freedom from violence and exploitation. The concept of compulsory heterosexuality enables that system by suppressing the awareness of alternatives.

At polar opposites are the questions: why do some women never turn away from that “primary emotional attachment to women,” and conversely why do some lesbians persist in identify/aligning with men in their social and political allegiances? [Note: I feel like this can be answered by “people are complex” but we’re going somewhere more theoretical in this article.] The phenomenon of the oppressed identifying with the values of the colonizer is widespread as a survival mechanism. We see it in women being co-opted into being the “enforcers” of male dominance (e.g., women as the gatekeepers for phenomena like genital mutilation or other physical “beauty” torture practices). It is also a factor in white women’s racism where allegiance to white male oppressors is valued over identification with other women.

Rich returns to Cavin’s “rich and provocative, if highly speculative” ideas about the history of the rise of patriarchy within a posited context of matrilineal female-dominated social bands. I.e., that the mother-child bond with male children was allowed to overcome the purported practice of ejecting adolescent males. [Note: I’m glad that Rich added “highly speculative” here.] Thus the idea that the primacy of heterosexual pairings evolves from male exploitation of the mother-son parental bond. Whatever its origins, Rich suggests, is the question that feminism needs to address not so much simple “gender equality” but the enforcement of heterosexuality  for the purpose of ensuring men’s unquestioned sexual, emotional, and economic access to women? And if this is the central problem of feminism, how does the erasure of lesbian possibilities undermine finding the solution?

In the third section of Rich’s article, she defines what she means by the terms “lesbian existence” and “lesbian continuum.”

[Note: this is a part of the article that I feel contemporary readers must work to enter with an open mind. The very phenomenon that Rich makes the center of this article--that a vast complex of social and historical forces combine to keep women from embracing the power of bonds with other women--continues to operate. There are ways in which use of the word “lesbian” are still being used to fracture and divide groups that by rights ought to be natural allies. I am not a disinterested bystander on this topic, as someone who identifies strongly with the label “lesbian” in a variety of its possible senses, and as someone willing to fight to the death to prevent the word from being turned into a poison pill by conservative forces who are trying to co-opt lesbian existence to weaponize it against other queer people. But that’s a rant for another time and place. For now, let me beg the reader to allow that “lesbian” can be used in an inclusive, rather than exclusive sense--in the sense used when we identify (the heterosexually-married) Sappho as a “lesbian”, when we embrace as historical antecedents the women described in 16-18th century texts as “lesbians” on the basis of erotic/romantic relationships between women, even when those same women also had erotic/romantic relationships with men.]

It’s worth quoting Rich extensively here. “Lesbian existence suggests both the fact of the historical presence of lesbians and our continuing creation of the meaning of that existence. I mean the term lesbian continuum to include a range--through each woman’s life and throughout history--of woman-identified experience; not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman. If we expand it to embrace many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support; if we can also hear in it such associations as marriage resistance and the “haggard” behavior identified by Mary Daly ... we begin to grasp breadths of female history and psychology which have lain out of reach as a consequence of limited, mostly clinical, definitions of ‘lesbianism.’”

The denial of lesbian existence is made possible by the lack of automatic access to a shared community and history (unlike the existence of identities that are based on ethnic, religious, or national identifies). Lesbian existence in history can be erased not only by prevention of the creation of a historic record, but by prevention of the transmission of that record [Note: see the reason we don’t have the majority of Sappho’s poetry, or more recently the deliberate omission of vocabulary relating to lesbianism from the Oxford English Dictionary], or by the direct destruction of that record (e.g., the burning of letters and diaries). Lesbian existence can also be erased by a false equivalence of the lesbian experience as identical to that of men in homosexual relationships. [Note: in this section, we can see some unsettling hints of Rich’s woman-centered philosophy swallowing divide-and-conquer tactics when she notes that she wants to dissociate the lesbian experience from “male homosexual values and allegiances” and to consider it as “a profoundly female experience.”] Accepting “lesbian” as having only a clinical, medicalized definition divorces it from the experience of female friendship and comradeship, focusing only on the erotic and thus limiting the understanding of the erotic. [Note: She refers to the type of distinction seen in Faderman’s Surpassing the Love of Men where a qualitative line is drawn between romantic relationships between women based solely on whether those relationships had an erotic component. One angle that Rich doesn't---if I recall correctly--bring up explicitly, is that an insistence on a strict narrow clinical definition of "lesbian" as "a woman whose erotic desire and sexual activity not only is expressed overtly, but is solely directed toward women throughout her entire life." A big problem with such a narrow definition is that it essentially negates the possibility of finding lesbians in history.]

Rich works through a detailed catalog of the types of interactions between women that she wants to include under her concept of a “lesbian continuum” with the assertion that if all of those relationships can be dismissed as “deviant” in support of the proposition that heterosexuality is the only “natural” orientation for women, then women’s natural alliances with each other (and the resistance generated by those alliances) can be suppressed and dismissed. Similarly the “double-life” of women who would have preferred to devote themselves entirely to their relationships with women, but who married men for economic security, can be reclassified as “women’s natural preference for heterosexuality.”

The fourth section of Rich’s article is largely a summing up of her conclusions. Here are a few highlights. The denial of the reality and visibility of women’s passions for each other is a loss to the power of all women to change relationships between the sexes. It is based on a series of lies: that women are inevitably and tragically drawn to men even in destructive relationships, that women turn to women only out of hatred for men. So are all heterosexual relationships to be condemned? That’s the wrong question, she suggests, paralyzing us into a fixation on identifying “good” versus “bad” heterosexual relationships. It is the absence of choice--the refusal to acknowledge other categorical options--that must be addressed.

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Saturday, November 9, 2019 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 40b - Interview with Heather Rose Jones - transcript pending

(Originally aired 2019/11/09 - listen here)

Transcript pending.

Show Notes and Links

In this episode we talk about:

  • What are the advantages to setting stories in an invented country like Alpennia?
  • The roots of Heather’s love for language and history
  • Themes and tropes in the Alpennia books
  • Why weren’t the books written as romances?
  • Complex intersections of gender and sexuality in the books
  • Queer coming of age in the 19th century
  • What books inspired the Alpennia series?
  • Why a laundry maid as a protagonist? Writing precarious lives.
  • Touch-points for writing historic disasters and sowing seeds of revolution
  • Why write a stand-alone book in the middle of a series?
  • Why write in first versus third person?
  • Finding the people of color in Alpennia
  • Planting story-seeds to harvest in later books
  • What’s next for the Alpennia series?
  • Giving characters failure modes
  • What else does Heather want to write?
  • Books mentioned
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Friday, November 8, 2019 - 06:00

As has become the custom in SFF circles, this blog is to place on record those items I will have created in 2019 that might be of interest to those nominating and voting on SFF awards. (Or any other genre of awards, for that matter, but there really isn't any equivalent culture within the lesbian literary community.) At the actual end of the calendar year, I'll do my usual "What Hath She Wrote" post that summarizes all my activities, but this one is just for the plausibly SFF items.


Floodtide (November 2019, Bella Books) - Not actually out in the world yet at the time I'm posting this, but them's the breaks.


I'm going to the a bit daring and suggest that there's enough historic fantasy content in The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast to consider it eligible for consideration for SFF podcast awards. Specific episodes offered as evidence: a discussion of time-travel/time-slip motifs in f/f historical fiction, a discussion of and excerpts from Delariviere Manley's pseudo-utopian satire The New Atalantis, interview with author Katherine Duckett, interview with author Zen Cho, interview with author Molly Tanzer. I'd like to get people thinking of the podcast in this context even more in 2020 when the fiction series may publish historic fantasy as well as plain historical fiction.

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Writing Process
Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 06:00

I'm drafting up entries for an Alpennia FAQ based on either overt or implicit questions I get asked about the books. This time I tackle one more of the possible genres the books might fall in:

Are the Alpennia books SFF?

The Alpennia series fits very comfortably into the broad, general category of “science fiction and fantasy” or SFF for short. The magical elements place them solidly into the fantasy genre, and they also fit comfortably into the subgenres of “Regency fantasy” (more or less “settings that feel like Regency romances but have fantastic elements added to them”) and “fantasy of manners” (sometimes contrasted with genres like “high fantasy” that tends to deal with epic quests and the fate of empires, whereas a “fantasy of manners” tends to derive its conflicts and triumphs from the rules and mores of a stratified social structure).

As a reader and author, I tend to consider the SFF community to be my home town, and the SFF literary tradition to be my native tongue. As a generalization, I’d say that the Alpennia books have most easily “clicked” with people who consider themselves SFF readers. Other SFF readers may feel that the significant romance elements push them out to the margins of that genre. And for those who classify books based on publisher, the fact that Bella Books is not a SFF publisher undermines categorizing Alpennia as such. So, as for most of these questions, much depends on which factors you emphasize.

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Writing Process
Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 13:56

This is it: the final installment of the Floodtide teasers! Carefully selected to avoid any spoilers at all. As I've mentioned previously, for several of the novels I've "bookended" the stories with a pair of short passages in a different narrative style. As for Mother of Souls, the bookends for Floodtide echo each other in theme.

You can pre-order the book at the Bella Books website for release-day delivery. (Actually, I'm not certain that hard copies will arrive by release day, but e-books will.) And I'll be giving away a copy or two to my newsletter subscribers, so if you aren't signed up for my monthly newsletter you might consider it. (I mean, sure you're going to pre-order it, but you can always give the book away as a gift if you win it.) And if you happen to be geographically local to me, I'm having a very informal release day party at my house the evening of Friday the 15th. (If you aren't a fb friend, you can contact me for info.)

The promotional blogs and interviews I'm doing for the release are appearing around the web in various places. At some point I'll set up a link blog with pointers to them all. And remember that enthusiastic and vocal fans are one of the best assets a new book can have!

Sometimes life is like the scent of fresh lavender as you strip it off the stems. It crawls up your nose and spikes into your head until it pounds and throbs in pain. Sometimes it’s like the close work in the still room, turning the flowers into sweetness. Sometimes it’s like the soft scent of lavender water sprinkled on the sheets in a faint reminder of sunlight giving you good dreams through the night.

They say any work can be a mystery if you do it with care and a prayer in your heart.

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