Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Obscure Chinese lesbian stories, and also some poetry

Well, "lesbian". Insert generic explanation of the narrow cultural context surrounding the concepts of lesbianism and homosexuality in general here.

Last semester I took a history course, Women In Asia. One of our required readings was Jonathan D. Spence's The Death of Woman Wang, a charming, emotional, and very well-written portrait of China's tiny T'an-ch'eng Province during the 17th century. One of Spence's sources is P'u Sung-ling, a Chinese historian and storyteller living in the local city of Tzu-ch'uan at the time. This short story was included by Spence as an example of works satirizing virtuous women and widows.

An old widow was spinning one evening when suddenly a young girl pushed open the door and said with a laugh, "Old woman, aren't you tired?" The girl looked eighteen or nineteen; her face was beautiful, her clothes were bright and elegant. Startled, the old woman asked where she came from, and the girl replied, "I pitied your lonely life and came to keep you company." The old woman suspected that she had run away from some wealthy home, and kept on questioning her insistently. But the girl said, "Old woman, don't be afraid. I am alone in the world, just as you are. Admiring the purity of your life, I came to be with you; if we stay together, we can avoid lonliness--isn't that the best thing?" The old woman suspected that she must be a fox spirit, and stayed silent and suspicious. The girl climbed up onto the frame and started spinning in her place, saying, "You don't have to worry. I'm good at making my own living in this way, and you won't have to support me." When the old woman saw how friendly and helpful she was, and how sweet, she felt at ease.

When it grew quite dark, the girl said to the old woman, "I brought with me my covers and pillow, and they are still outside the door. When you go out to relieve yourself, please bring them in for me." The old woman went out and found a bag of clothes, and the girl laid them out on the bed; they were of some kind of brocaded fabric, incomparably fragrant and soft; the old woman laid out her own cotton quilt and lay down on the bed with the girl. Hardly had the girl slipped off her silken dress than a strange scent filled the room; and as they lay there the old woman thought to herself, What a shame to be next to such a beauty and not to have a man's body. From her pillow the girl smiled and said, "You're an old woman of seventy, how can you still have such restless thoughts?" And the old woman replied, "I wasn't." The girl said, "If you are not having reckless thoughts, why were you wishing that you were a man?" The old woman was now all the more sure that she was dealing with a fox spirit, and grew frightened. At which the girl smiled again, saying, "You are the one who wants to be a man, how can it be that you are afraid of me?"

In the same class, another reading dealt with love poetry, ostensibly heterosexual. The reading introduction introduced this poem as celebrating the historic freedom of Chinese women- but that's certainly not what I got out of it, and my judgment was verified by the poem's inclusion in the introduction of Bret Hinsch's book Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China.

How splendid he was!
Yes, he met me between the hills of Nao.
Our chariots side by side we chased two boars.
He bowed to me and said I was very nimble.

How strong he was!
Yes, he met me on the road at Nao.
Side by side we chased two stags.
He bowed to be and said "well done."

How magnificent he was!
Yes, he met me on the south slopes of Nao.
Side by side we chased two wolves.
He bowed to me and said "that was good."

This poem, obvious by itself in this context, was even more apparent next to the other selections, which emphasized the woman's loving subservience and contained feminine imagery rather than "Splendid"s egalitarian masculinity. We had an interesting in-class discussion in which my (correct) opinion was held to be equal to other arguments that this poem predated strict gender hierarchy, that the "woman" speaking was someone like the female general we had recently learned about, or that equality of spirit was more common than traditional Confucianism would have us believe, when all I could do was call bullshit. At least we agreed that the repeated "he met me" seemed to have a sexual undertone.

I didn't update for two months? Really? Well, it won't happen again. Watch this space!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Murray’s introduction to Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, page 11: “Up until that time, most European words for homosexuality were derived from mythical originators and precedents—sodomy from Sodom, catamite from Ganymede, lesbian from Lesbos. The new taxonomy—Urning, homosexual, transvestite—labeled people in terms of intrinsic psychic and physical traits they were believed to possess, which categorically distinguished them from others.”
Except “Urning” comes from Aphrodite Urania, the aspect of the Greek love goddess ruling over male love. Murray must be one of those people who thinks Ulrichs was actually a scientist or something.

“Urning” is “Uranian” in English. If your first thought was purile humor you are not alone. Oh multilingual coincidence, how I love you.

An unrelated Urania is the Muse of astrology and astronomy. Uranus, Father Heaven, was the grandfather of most of the Olympic gods, so “of the heavens”, “heavenly love”, et cetera.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Sapphick Epistle

Oh, you wanted some lesbians? Oh, okay. Here you go. This is an excerpt from an anonymous 1778 satire entitled A Sapphick Epistle. Don't let anyone tell you people in the past didn't know what lesbians were. That person is wrong. Now, whether or not they believed they actually existed- another story for another time, I guess. On to the poetry.

Curse on my stars, that I was born,
In such an age of lust and scorn.
Oh, Sappho, had'st thou been
Alive in these rude, filthy days,
Thy verses had been all in praise
Of me and beauty's queen.
Oh! had it been my wretched fate
That Phaon had made me his hate,
What then had been my case?
Like D[amer] I had scorn'd the youth,
Kiss'd every female's lovely mouth,
And followed every face.
Look on that mountain of delight,
Where grace and beauty doth unite,
Where wreathed smiles must thrive;
While Strawberry-hill at once doth prove,
Taste, elegance, and Sapphick love,
In gentle Kitty Clive.
Ye Sapphick Saints, how ye must scorn
The dames with vulgar notions born,
Who prostitute to man:
Who toil and sweat the tedious night,
And call the male embrace delight,
The filthy marriage plan.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Happy Belated Birthday, Karl!

I can't believe I forgot Karl Heinrich Ulrich's birthday! He turned 182 last Tuesday (August 28th). Tragically, he's been dead for 112 of those years.

Other birthdays:
Susan B. Anthony- February 15, 1820
John Addington Symonds- October 5, 1840
Edward Carpenter- August 29, 1844
Jane Addams- September 6, 1860
Magnus Hirschfeld- May 14, 1868
Radclyffe Hall- August 12, 1880

Addams and Anthony were feminists first and lesbians second, I know; but the thing about lesbian rights is that there have to be women's rights first.

Also I was going to include Havelock Ellis, who wrote Sexual Inversion with Symonds (Symond's name is not on it cause his family bought up all the copies of the first edition and burnt them), but I discovered just now he thought male homosexuals were fine and dandy, they're following their nature, but that lesbians were a product of feminism and they should suck it up and be good little wives. Bastard.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Bits and Bats Part One

Several things here- first, that my internet is fixed, uh, again. Classes have started this semester (as well as other things I have foolishly volunteered for, like being Prism's office manager, or doing a certain book review- I'm rereading! hang in there!), and though my goal was to post something here every day or every couple of days, that's clearly not realistic.

I have a a couple of things for you today. The first is that I was emailed a couple weeks ago by a fellow wishing to know about homosexuality in early colonial Canada- not a subject I have researched (yet!) but an Amazon hunt turned up Homosexuality in Canada: A Bibliography, Gay Studies from the French Cultures, and The Regulation of Desire: Sexuality in Canada. Looking at France, which may also have been/be helpful in a similar search, there is Homosexuality in Early Modern France: A Documentary Collection and Homosexuality in French History and Culture.

He emailed me back with elaborations on his search (white child/Indian child trading for translating and culture purposes, Canadian berdaches), and I remembered the very first entry in Katz's Gay American History. It's a record of the story and execution of a French interpreter by the Spanish in Florida in 1566:

"Alonso Menendez [Marques], the Adelantado's nephew, and [ensign] Vasco Zabal had told him [the Adalanto] that the French interpreter who was there [at Guale] was a Lutheran and a great Sodomite; that when the Adelanto had departed thence for Santa Elena, he went to the Indians [telling them] that they should kill them [the Spaniards]; and that through Guillermo [a French Catholic working for the Spaniards] he could inform himself of what was happening in this [matter], so that he [Guillermo] could speak with 2 Indians with whom he [the interpreter] was living, one of whom they said was the caique's [chief's] eldest son.
Alonso Menendez said that he would much regret staying, but since his lordship ordered it, he would do so, on condition that the Frenchman should be killed, or the Adelantado would take him with him; for otherwise nothing would be accomplished, and the Indians would slay him [Menendez] and those who remained with himl that the son of the caique had more authority than his father, and loved that interpreter very much; that if they killed the interpreter [openly], the Indians would be angered and again break out in war.
Then Caique Guale dispatched that interpreter in a canoe, with 2 of his Indians, that they might go and return immediately. The son of the caique showed much sorrow because the interpreter was going, and prayed him, weeping, to return at once."

I've had this window open for a while now and can't remember what else I was going to talk about, but I did find a reference to Ganymede in an 18thC ditty sung by London "mollies" (this version recorded in 1728 by James Dalton):

Achilles that Hero great,
Patroclus for a mate;
Jove he would have a Lad,
beautiful Ganymede,
Beautiful Ganymede.


Oh yes! Glenn has put me in charge of GLBT History Month in October. >.> I guess I have to come up with movies or activities or something interesting to nonacademics. It just has to be better than last year, in which we played a bingo game suffering from severe Famous Dead White Guy Syndrome. I was going to hunt up Homosexuals in History on Amazon and show you guys the back cover as explanation of queer history done badly, but Amazon does not have the edition we have in the Prism office. On the other hand, see this, which has its exceptions (haha Cody! Mehmet II is on there!) and certainly a number of women, making it not quite the blatant atrocity I'm thinking of, but is mainly still- huh!- a list of famous dead white people. Thankfully, I think most people taking the time to sit down and write gay history books these days are aware of that kind of trap, but I see it a lot in people's casual speech. Alexander the Great, Oscar Wilde, occasionally James I, Frederick the Great if you're in a European history class; you'd think that there weren't any other gay people in history ever.

Play a game in the comments: name a deceased nonwhite or female gay person (besides Sappho).

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lesbian Sex=Boneless Babies

Okay, you guys. I have two stories from two totally different cultural backgrounds (Vedic and Amerindian) with the same idea: Lesbian couples can magically have their own babies, but the child won't have any bones. Just how common is the connection between erections and bone? Also, do any of you have anything to add here I don't know?

From the Ramayana (Vanita, Same-Sex Love in India, pg 101): "The two wives of Dilipa took a bath. They lived together in extreme love. After some days, one of them menstruated. Both of them knew one another’s intentions and enjoyed love play, and one of them conceived.
"Ten months passed, it was time for the birth. The child emerged as a lump of flesh. Both of them cried with the son in their lap: ‘Why did the three-eyed one bless us with such a son? He has no bones, he is a lump of flesh, he cannot move about.'"

From The Assiniboine (Katz, Gay American History, pg 320): "He saw his sister nursing the child. Approaching he asked, 'Which of you has seduced the other?' His sister answered, 'Your wife persuaded me to elope with her.' The infant was continually crying. It looked like a football; it had no bones in its body, because a woman had begotten it."

Cody says, "Thesis!"

Edit 7-29-09: I've thought about this some since then, though haven't done any extensive research or anything- possibly a true coincidence and I should look into unauthorized female sexuality, proscribed sex acts, and birth defects? Woman on top, adultery, sex while pregnant, etc. I know I've seen things along those lines too. Still interesting to pull these two examples out and compare them, though.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Obscure Elizabethan Poets

I love Richard Barnfield more than you can possibly know. Author of two books of poetry, The Affectionate Shepherd and Cynthia (available in one nifty volume from Amazon), he is sadly neglected in the shadow of such giants as Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Johnson. He is also, as far as I can tell, the only poet of his time to publish blatantly homoerotic and sometimes even sexually explicit verses. From The Affectionate Shepherd (absolutely not to be confused with Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to his Love):

Oh would to God he would but pitty mee,
That love him more than any mortall wight;
Then he and I with love would soone agree,
That now cannot abide his Sutors sight.
O would to God (so I might have my fee)
My lips were honey, and thy mouth a Bee.
Then shouldst thou sucke my sweet and my faire flower
That now is ripe, and full of honey-berries:
Then would I lead the to my pleasant Bower
Fild full of Grapes, of Mulberries, and Cherries;
Then shouldst thou be my Waspe or else my Bee,
I would thy hive, and thou my honey bee.

Barnfield: Subtle As A Frying Pan To The Face.

"Fee" refers to come, one term in an extensive collection of Elizabethan erotic puns (coin, purse, treasure (famously seen in Shakespeare's sonnet 20), spending, the last of which is still in common use). Bees and honey as references to sex with boys are at least as old of the Romans; Catullus calls his boyfriend Iuventius "mellitus", or honeylike. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, writing in the 19th century, uses "my little bee" as a reference to a boyfriend.

Sonnet 11, from Cynthia:
Sighing, and sadly sitting by my Love,
He ask'd the cause of my hears sorrowing,
Conjuring me by heavens eternall King
To tell the cause which me so much did move.
Compell'd: (quoth I) to thee will I confesse,
Love is the cause, and only love it is
That doth deprive me of my heavenly blisse.
Love is the paine that doth my heart oppresse.
And what is she (quoth he) whom thou do'st love?
Looke in this glasse (quoth I) there shalt thou see
The perfect forme of my faelicitie.
When, thinking that it would strange Magique prove,
He open'd it, and taking off the cover,
He straight perceav'd himselfe to be my Lover.

Also, I totally lied. Ganymede is mentioned in Barnfield's sonnets several times- sometimes in the same context as The Affectionate Shepherd and clearly a specific boy, sometimes in a double reference to the myth and a boy simultaneously. In at least one case, "ganymede" is used as a noun for an admired boy: "Two stars there are in one faire firmament, (Of some intitled Ganymedes sweet face)..."

The poetry itself is not the only reason Barnfield is special: his books, with these poems, were published in London in 1594 and 1595 (respectively) without fuss or outrage related to their content. There was some furor over his choice of dedication, the Lady Penelope Ritch, but in the preceding note for Cynthia he says, "...the last Terme there came forth a little toy of mine, intituled, The affectionate Shepheard: In the which, his Country Content found such friendly favor, that it hath incouraged me to publish my second fruites." More research needs to be done to decipher the common attitudes that inspired this peaceful addition to the queer canon.

In unrelated news, Erastes would like me to do reviews of gay historical fiction for his collaborative blog Speak Its Name. I plan to start off with Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two Boys. Keep a lookout, and wish me luck!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Whitman: Why He Rocks

I have internet again! Everybody cheer!

Today's post is brought to you by the discussion I had with my cousin in Borders the other day about Whitman, the greatest embarrassment to conventional democracy in American history. (Somebody else said it first, possibly Norton. He imprints on me like that.) When I got home this afternoon and went to pick a poetry book, hey! there's Leaves of Grass right on my shelf. I have the new Norton Critical Edition, Amazon does not have it listed but it's lovely. Original pronouns, differing edition notes, more footnotes than you can shake a stick at, plus essays in the back.

Anyway. Poetry. If you didn't click the link as you should have done (quick! there's still time!), Whitman believed in democracy as upheld by the "love of comrades". The section of poems entitled "Calamus" is the most blatantly homoerotic, at least with the pronouns in their proper places, and while not as well known (see: not read in school) they are still quite powerful. Sometimes you find people who are determined to read these poems as purely "platonic"; for those people and others who have never seen the plant I provide this picture.

Here are two poems I like from "Calamus". My favorite is too long (When I Heard at the Close of the Day).

I hear it was charged against me that I sought to destroy institutions,
But really I am neither for nor against institutions,
(What indeed have I in common with them? or what with the destruction of them?)
Only I will establish in the Mannahatta and in every city of these States inland and seaboard,
And in the fields and woods, and above every keel little or large that dents the water,
Without edifices of rules or trustees or any argument,
The institution of the love of comrades.


Recorders ages hence,
Come, I will take you down underneath this impassive exterior, I will tell you what to say of me,
Publish my name and hang up my picture of that of the tenderest lover,
The friend the lover's portrait, of whom his friend his lover was fondest,
Who was not proud of his songs, but of the measureless ocean of love within him, and freely poured it forth,
Who often walk'd lonesome walks thinking of his dear friends, his lovers,
Who pensive away from the one he loved often lay sleepless and dissatisfied at night,
Who knew too well the sick, sick dread lest the one he lov'd might secretly be indifferent to him,
Whose happiest days were far away through fields, in woods, on hills, he and another wandering hand in hand, they twain apart from other men,
Who oft as he saunter'd the streets curved with his arm shoulder of his friend, while the arm of his friend rested upon him also.

And one more, in case you had begun to think everything was gung-ho hunky-dory for Walt:
Earth, my likeness,
Though you look so impassive, ample and spheric there,
I now suspect that is not all;
I now suspect there is something fierce in you eligible to burst forth,
For an athlete is enamour'd of me, and I of him,
But toward him there is something fierce and terrible in me eligible to burst forth,
I dare not tell it in words, not even in these songs.

P.S. I almost titled this post "Whitman: Meter Is For Pussies" but luckily decided against it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"What's the game plan here?"

I'm on vacation right now, away from most of my books, but when I return to campus I shall be posting poetry and bits-and-bats, pieces of interesting documents, quotes, that sort of thing. I may, if the notion is still interesting when I get back, also do book reviews. Starting with Crompton's Homosexuality and Civilization, which has been sitting on the shelf waiting for my ecstatic glowing praise for some time now.

Drove to Cody's house. He lent me some primary source books on Byzantine history, in case they should prove useful in our search the Byzantine homosexuality he wants me to do a post on- nobody has done any studies as of yet. About the extent of it in academia is comments on how Theophanes accuses Constantine V of every vice under the sun ("effeminacy and summoning of demons pleased him, and ever since he was a boy he had partaken of every sort of soul-destroying practice"). These sort of comments are what caused me to get all excited about this book as potentially useful. Most of the things it's actually talking about in reference to homosexuality are actually references to the laws of Justinian, boo. He did lend me The Chronicle of Theophanes, Fourteen Byzantine Rulers, Women of Byzantium (in regard to which Blogger is being an ass and won't let me link), and the Annals of Niketas Choniates. I suspect these will not actually be helpful, but are rather Stage 2 of Cody's dastardly plan to get me to study his field.

On the other hand, he did buy me John Addington Symond's translation of Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography, so I guess he's off the hook for now.

No, wait, Cody, come back! You know I love you.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ganymede- Just Another Pretty Boy?

So. Ganymede. Jupiter's largest moon. Which are named after... girlfriends, right. Io, Callisto, Europa, Ganymede. Ganymede's the odd one out. He's the boyfriend. According to the myth, he was kidnapped while hunting or tending sheep by a great eagle, usually said to be Zeus in bird form but which sometimes is merely Zeus's servant. Zeus (or Jupiter, or Jove) fired Hebe, the cupbearer of the gods, and put Ganymede to work in her place. Hera was so angry and jealous that he was eventually turned into the constellation Aquarius.

Mentioned in passing in the Iliad, it makes him one of the older myths in the repertoire. He appears in a discussion of the ancestors of Hector: "In the beginning Dardanus was the son of Jove, for Ilius was not yet established on the plain for men to dwell in, and her people still abode on the spurs of many-fountained Ida. Dardanus had a son, king Erichthonius... Erichthonius begat Tros, king of the Trojans, and Tros has three noble sons, Ilus, Assaracus, and Ganymede who was comeliest of mortal men; wherefore the gods carried him off to be Jove's cupbearer, for his beauty's sake, that he might dwell among the immortals." (This makes him Zeus' great great grandson, for those of you keeping score at home.) It's been variously argued that Homer did not intend their relationship to be a sexual one. One of my sources contains this quote from another historian: "the earliest surviving testimony to Zeus' homosexual desire for Ganymede is Ibykos, where the ravishing of Ganymede was put into the same context as the rape of Tinthonus by Dawn, who did not want a wine-pourer [but a sexual partner]."

Where did he come from? Plato says in his Laws, "The Cretans are always accused of having invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus, which is designed to justify themselves in the enjoyment of such pleasures by the practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver." I wasn't sure if this had reality behind it, or was another case of Everybody-Blame-Crete. Percy, the author of Pederasty and Pedagogy linked above, says "The number of ancient writers who support, directly or indirectly, a Cretan birthplace for pederasty is impressive" but names no names. Traditionally the boy is said to have been taken from Mount Ida near the city of Troy, but the Chalcidians claimed he was abducted from Harpaigon, a myrtle grove near their city. Here's a good list of ancient references.

The boy appears in later Greek poetry as a measure of the beauty of the mortal boyfriends of poets. Sometimes the fear is expressed that Zeus will trade one for another:
If Zeus is still the god who kidnapped Ganymede
to have a boy to bear the cups of nectar,
then I will hide the fair Myiscus in my heart
before the god eludes me and swoops down on him.
--Meleager (Musa Puerilis, Greek Anthology)

And, of course, he shows up many times in Greek art.

Ganymede's Roman name is Catamitus. (Those of you with large vocabularies can sort of see where this is headed.) Roman Homosexuality has a section devoted to the Romanization of the myth, starting with his appearance in Etruscan mythos as Catamit but quickly moving onto two mentions of him in Virgil's Aeneid: once near the beginning in a list of reasons Juno is so angry at the Trojans, and again appearing decorating the cloak given to Aeneas as a prize at Anchises' funeral games. The casual noun form (catamite) of Ganymede's name was used by Cicero to insult Marc Antony. Hadrian's equally famous boyfriend Antinous and Domitian's eunuch Earinos were frequently compared to him. He had already become a type of his own: "...the figure of Ganymede appears throughout Roman literature as the archetype of the beautiful, sexually desirable male slave as prerequisite of wealth and privilege..." (Williams 56) Martial twice irreverently calls Ganymede "the Trojan cinaedus", assuming not only his sexual services but also effeminacy, which would be seen again later.

Williams says Ganymede was "extremely popular" in Roman art, but this is about all I can find linked on the Internet, sorry. Many of the statues may have been copies of Greek originals in any case (there was one placed in the Forum at one point).

This is an 18th century translation by Thomas Heywood of Plutarch's Dialogue concerning Zeus and Ganymede; my favorite version, but read it anyways, because it's comedy gold.

There is a column depicting the Rape in the Cathedral of St. Madeleine de Vezelay in France, built in 858.

Ganymede shows up again in a twelfth century dialogue between he and Helen: heterosex or homosex? Helen wins so the moral can be delivered properly, with the argument that sodomy is murder because of the sperm wasted. Ganymede is portrayed as haughty, selfish, mercenary, and viciously misogynistic. Helen calls him a monster, and Nature is angry that he dares enter the palace because "She considers him neither her son nor her heir". At the end, having lost the argument, Ganymede asks for Helen's hand in marriage.

Our Hero returns with a vengeance in the Renaissance. Many artists drew, painted, or sculpted Ganymede and the eagle as a matter of course: Michelangelo, Cellini, Correggio, Gabbiani, Peruzzi, and Mazza, to name a few. Cellini actually defended himself against the charge of 'sodomite' with the bold statement: "...would God I knew how to practice such a noble art, for one hears that Jove used it with Ganymede in paradise, and here on earth the greatest emperors and kings in the world use it." (Roche, Forbidden Friendships, 136)

Rembrandt did a painting of Ganymede- but his version clearly indicates his own thoughts on the subject. Rubens did two different versions of the boy and eagle.

So much for the paintings. In England, the boy we're following shows up in the literature: In Shakespeare's As You Like It Rosalind disguises herself as a boy, calls herself Ganymede, and is flirted with by Orlando. In the poem Venus and Adonis, Venus is described in active masculine terms, and at several points the comparison to Zeus's eagle and Ganymede's passivity is brought to the surface:
"Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast,
Tires with her beak on feathers, flesh, and bone,
Shaking her wings, devouring in all haste,
Till either gorge be stuff'd, or prey be gone;
Even so she kiss'd his brow, his cheek, his chin,
And where she ends, she doth anew begin.
Upon this promise did he raise his chin,
Like a dive-dapper peering through a wave,
Who being look'd on, ducks as quickly in;
So offers he to give what she did crave,
But when her lips were ready for his pay,
He winks, and turns his lips another way."

Turning to Christopher Marlowe, the boy shows up most notably in his Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage, in which he is portrayed as a prostitute trading gems for embraces in the very first scene. He is mentioned in Edward II by Isabella as she compares him to Gaveston ("Like frantic Juno will I fill the earth/ With ghastly murmur of my sighs and cries,/ For never doted Jove on Ganymede/ So much as he on cursed Gaveston.") and in the narrative poem Hero and Leander as Neptune mistakes Leander swimming across the Hellespont for Ganymede escaped from Olympus:
"Leander strived; the waves about him wound,
And pulled him to the bottom, where the ground
Was strewed with pearl, and in low coral groves
Sweet singing mermaids sported with their loves
On heaps of heavy gold, and took great pleasure
To spurn in careless sort the shipwrack treasure.
For here the stately azure palace stood
Where kingly Neptune and his train abode.
The lusty god embraced him, called him "Love,"
And swore he never should return to Jove."

The lesser known Elizabethan poet Richard Barnfield wrote the long homoerotic poem The Affectionate Shepherd (Containing the Complaint of Daphnis for the love of Ganymede.) There are no direct references to the myth itself aside from the name, but it's a potent reminder of the poet's intent by itself. A complete version is not available online, but here is an abridged version.

In Giles Fletcher's 1610 poem Christ's Triumph after Death, the people watching Christ's ascension to Heaven are compared to the frightened onlookers who witnessed the taking of Ganymede. The myth was Christianized further elsewhere by stripping it of sexual aspects and making it a metaphor for innocents in Heaven: "...the rapture of Ganymede had long since been widely spiritualized as a Christian allegory of the devout soul’s ascent to God. Indeed, as Leonard Barkan notes, Claude Mignault, the commentator on Alciati, goes so far as to align Jupiter’s love for Ganymede and Christ’s invitation to "Suffer little children to come unto me." Thomas Traherne used similar metaphors in his poetry to describe his relationship with Christ. (Rambuss, Queering the Renaissance, 273)

Make no mistake, "ganymede" was still used as a derogatory noun. (Somewhere there's a quote from an Elizabethan moralist about the "ingles and ganymedes" in the theater, but I can't find it. Expect an update when I do.) The English Earl of Sunderland, held partly responsible for the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720, was portrayed in the vicious 1721 satire The Conspirators, or the Case of Cataline as immoral and vice-riddled: "'Tis certain, however odd and unnatural his Lewdness was, (yet it was a notorious Practise among some great men of that Age) and some of his Ganymedes were pampered and supported at a high Rate at his Expence." This is likely also a reference to Beau Wilson, who the Earl may have kept twenty years earlier before Wilson's untimely murder.

Samuel Drybutter (scroll down), "toyman" or merchant of books, jewelry, and other miscellaneous sundries, pilloried for selling copies of Cleland's Fanny Hill, was compared to Ganymede in several contemporary satires against him.

More miscellaneous art. One of the pictures on that page has the note that Ganymede was in fact used as a metaphor for the innocent being carried into Heaven, corroborated by my two sources above. I have not been able to find anything in depth on this subject- make of it what you will.

Ganymede used in early Budweiser commercial.

Gilbert, a character from the 1976 manga Kaze to Ki no Uta, dressed as Ganymede. Anyone who's read that series or seen the OVA knows what an apt comparison this is.

He's still alive and kicking in the collective imagination. He's used as a metaphor in Thomas Mann's novel Death in Venice. He's in works of fiction online. Keep a lookout, folks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My bookshelf

Why yes, yes my books are in the closet. That's where the shelf is. My LibraryThing

Two other books I'm reading right now are from the library- Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination by Ruth Vanita, who also wrote the completely fabulous book Same-Sex Love in India, and The Unmentionable Vice: Homosexuality in the Later Medieval Period by Michael Goodich.

Next post: Ganymede, the archtypical gay boy, through history.

Homosexuality and the Color Green

Sometimes you come across a reference that keeps popping up, here and there, in unexpected places. And even though it's being referenced, no one is actually talking about it at any length. I came across a 1974 interview with Barbara Gittings, one of the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, in Katz's Gay American History. She mentions that in her search for material on homosexuality after she first realized what she was, "there'd be pop-level material which said "the homosexual's favorite color is green." That upset me, because my favorite color was blue." (pg 421, 1992 edition)
And then elsewhere in the same book, discussing a character from Helen R. Hull's 1923 book The Labyrinth: "Hull goes so far as to emphasize Margaret's green dress, green hat, green coat, green eyes, and green identification card, a color symbolism, no doubt intended as an "in" clue to Margaret's sexual orientation-- green being one of those colors traditionally associated with homosexuality." (pg 539) The footnote here discusses Oscar Wilde's green carnations and a 1933 Broadway play called The Green Bay Tree.

Green? Why green? I kept seeing it: Chauncey's Gay New York mentioned it several times: a man wearing a green suit in NYC during the 1920's could be beaten up or killed. Drag queens wore green dresses at the city's huge drag balls of that era. Cornelius Willemse, an investigator who infiltrated Bowery resorts and set up raids on gay bars, entitled his autobiography Behind the Green Lights-- a reference, also, to the theater, which at the time still used limelights.

Strangers (Graham Robb):
pg 59: “Medical concepts like ‘contrary sexual feeling’ and ‘the intermediate sex’ were the template for tales that could make sense of life in all its details: the shape of one’s hand, the behavior of one’s parents, a predilection for the color green.”
pg 151 (on tokens): “The carnation was a traditional symbol of the anus, and the colors green and red had a long association with homosexuality. Pinkness seems to have acquired consistently homosexual connotations only in the 1900s, but green had been a gay color for centuries. Effeminate men in Ancient Rome were called galbinati because of their fondness for the color green.” (The note here directed me to Martial and two works in French. Helpful, thanks.)
pg 226:“Edward Prime-Stevenson’s character Dayneford, in ‘Out of the Sun’ (1913), has a small library in his villa on Capri, its walls ‘tinted in the significant green’…”

Gay L.A. (Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons):
pg 59: “[Rudolph] Valentino’s style—his clothes, his grooming—were iconographically queer, and they created an absolute panic among homophobes, as a Chicago Tribune column revealed in 1925 when Valentino visited Chicago wearing what the writer sardonically described as “a symphony in green.”"

I went to other sources. They told me variously that green was associated with Venus and Aquarius (Ganymede- surprisingly telling), that a person who wore green on a Thursday during the 1960s was gay, that it was considered unlucky in various British traditions for being a faerie color or associated with the Celtic underworld, that it marks characteristics ranging from love, the "base desires" of man, witchcraft, the Devil and evil, loss of virginity or worldliness (Greensleeves), and prostitution. See this picture, or Chaucer, wherein the Devil wears green, not Prada.

I went to the library and dug up the artbooks. In medieval art, certain people wear green: witches and promiscuous women, Jews, people making fun of Christ on the cross, at least one of the Magi at any given portrayal of the Adoration, and (oddly) the apostle John in more than one portrayal of the Last Supper. The Beloved Disciple he may be, lover of Jesus in a certain distinctive medieval and Renaissance tradition, but as far as I was aware he was not usually portrayed as effeminate.

A friend I enlisted to help me dig for links turned up this version of the Hanky Code. Kelly green: hustler if worn on the left, john if worn on the right.

None of these discoveries are very surprising. Homosexuality has been associated with prostitution for quite some time, even looking at slang. "Gay" was originally attached to promiscuous women at the end of the 19th century. In the 18th century, a "quean" was a prostitute. The colorful phrases "he-strumpet" and "he-whore" were attached to gay men by people who could not imagine the sex practices involved being for fun rather than money. Going centuries earlier, sodomy tended to be lumped in with heresy and witchcraft rather than being a separate consideration-- look up the fate of the Knights Templar.

Why isn't the association with green around anymore? Gay men wear pink now, supposedly. Just watch Jeffrey. I only came close with this page, which claims that prior to WWII, pink was for boys (related to red, a strong manly color) and blue was for girls (suggestive of the Virgin Mary, and supposedly softer and daintier). I believe that part, the poster provides several magazine quotes from that time. But it does not really explain why Germany and unspecified "neighboring countries" switched and began associating pink with girls in order to label homosexuals in the Nazi concentration camps with the pink triangle.

An Introduction

Y hello thar Internets. My thots, let me show u them.

It's been slowly dawning on me for a while now that I need a place to talk about my studies. I have a Livejournal, but I use it primarily for its journal feed feature as a reading list. I talk to my friends, but honestly, the primary reaction to sudden spoutings of factoids from gay history is complete incomprehension (unless you're Cody or Ashley). I need a place I can explain things, show sources, and just possibly teach someone something.

I'm a student at a university. I study queer theory and history. There's no program for that here, which is probably a sign that I need to transfer, but whatever. I started studying this sometime in high school- not seriously, because I didn't have the resources to find the books, but online. This man was my gateway drug. He's on my list of people whose brains I have absurd and inappropriate crushes on. His books- Mother Clap's Molly House, The Myth of the Modern Homosexual, and My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries are all available used through Amazon.

As a freshman, I wrote bits and bats of gay poetry and other things on the whiteboard on my dorm room door. Classy. I wrote an essay for english on the historical identities of gay men, and another for my Women in Asia class on lesbianism in India. I have successfully become That Girl. But it's not enough. I want to become a professor of queer studies. I might as well start teaching right here, right now.

This blog will be mostly about my sharing poetry, newspaper articles, bits from trials, satires, book reviews, anything, along with the appropriate historical context. There will be no laundry lists of famous dead white guys here. I'm against that kind of history on principle. History is a tapestry, with threads running from here to there, tangling, affecting each other, stories of how people lived and what they did and where they went and why.

Let's kick off with a short quote demonstrating this principle. This is a quote from an anonymous writer to the London Journal on May 14, 1726.
If the Legislature had not taken prudent Measures to suppress such base and irregular Actions, Women would have been a Piece of useless Work in the Creation, since Man, superior Man, has found out one of his own Likeness and Nature to supply his lascivious Necessities.
Oh, wait, now we're talking about sexism. Weird. So obviously men would pick other men, since obviously men are superior, right?

There's going to be all kinds of stuff on that tack here. Have fun, and hang on, we're in for quite a ride.