Episode 10: Thigh Fencing and the Saffron Massage

In this episode, cohosts Gretchen and Leigh will take you on a tour of medieval Arabo-Islamic erotic literature and the many delightful descriptions of queer female experience it contains. Remember way back in episode two when ‘thigh fencing’ came up? Well, that and other martial imagery for wlw sexual experience come from medieval Arabo-Islamic poetry! Like shield banging, jousting without a lance, or our new favorite---the saffron massage. Love stories of cross dressing heroines who marry women? Then you’ll love Princess Budur and her wife Hayat. We’ve got another word of the week focused on queer female self-description, medical explanations for wlw preferences, and the music of love (moaning). We’ll also chat about the Arabic Sappho and the first lesbian couple, Hind and al-Zarqa’!

Just a warning, some of the images and poems are NSFW, so best read this at home.

Arabic Erotica and Sex Manuals

 17th century, unknown Persian miniaturist depicts of sapphic women with a creative looking dildo. (thought we didn't have a lesbian emoji? surprise, now you do.)

17th century, unknown Persian miniaturist depicts of sapphic women with a creative looking dildo. (thought we didn't have a lesbian emoji? surprise, now you do.)

The Perfumed Garden

 Cover of Richard Francis Burton's 1886 translation of Muhammad al-Nafzawi's text.

Cover of Richard Francis Burton's 1886 translation of Muhammad al-Nafzawi's text.

In chapter 9 of The Perfumed Garden, one of the best known of the medieval Arabo-Islamic sex manuals, we get a long list of 'sundry names' for the vulva. The whole thing is both delightful and humorous, but we wanted to quote you this section on dreaming about seeing a vulva:

The person who dreams of having seen the vulva, feurdj, of a woman will know that "if he is in trouble God will free him of it; if he is in a perplexity he will soon get out of it; and lastly if he is in poverty he will soon become wealthy, because feurdj, by transposing the vowels, will mean the deliverance from evil. By analogy, if he wants a thing he will get it; if he has debts, they will be paid."
It is considered more lucky to dream of the vulva as open. But if the one seen belongs to a young virgin it indicates that the door of consolation will remain closed, and the thing which is desired is not obtainable. It is a proved fact that the man who sees in his dream the vulva of a virgin that has never been touched will certainly be involved in difficulties, and will not be lucky in his affairs. But if the vulva is open so that he can look well into it, or even if it is hidden but he is free to enter it, he will bring the most difficult tasks to a successful end after having first failed in them, and this after a short delay, by the help of a person whom he never thought of.

Full text of Burton's translation of The Perfumed Garden is available here.

The Tale of Qamar al-Zaman and Princess Budur: The Story That Keeps Getting Better

 Illustration of Princess Budur, done by Edmund Dulac, for the 1907 edition of  The Arabian Nights  for Hodder & Stoughton. 

Illustration of Princess Budur, done by Edmund Dulac, for the 1907 edition of The Arabian Nights for Hodder & Stoughton. 

 We weren't able to find illustrations of Budur and Hayat, so here is one of Qamar and Budur from the 1958 Italian Young Readers book  Le Mille E Una Notte.  You can find more illustrations of this tale from this edition  here . 

We weren't able to find illustrations of Budur and Hayat, so here is one of Qamar and Budur from the 1958 Italian Young Readers book Le Mille E Una Notte. You can find more illustrations of this tale from this edition here

 Illustration of Qamar and Budur from the 1915 edition of  More Tales from the Arabian Nights . 

Illustration of Qamar and Budur from the 1915 edition of More Tales from the Arabian Nights

This tale was Gretchen's absolute favorite discovery in researching for this episode. What an utterly delightful story! After recording the podcast, she found new articles on the story that discuss the gender flipping and sexuality of Budur and Qamar on another level, namely, that of Budur taking the dominant male role in a m/m interaction when she and her husband reunite. Budur even propositions Qamar---while disguised as a man---using gay poetry:

My pintle is big and the little one said unto me,
"Tilt boldly therewith at my inwards and quit thee thy need."
Quoth I, "'Tis unlawful;" but he, "It is lawful with me;"
So to it I fell, supporting myself by his rede.'
--
The penis smooth and round was made with anus best to match it,
Had it been made for cunnus' sake it had been formed like a hatchet!

Wow. (What we want to know is, where did Budur learn this, or is she just that good at making up gay poetry?) All that to say, there are even more layers to the story that mess with cisheteronormativity! This is the best story ever, and we honestly need an adaptation of it yesterday. Full text of "The Tale of Qamar al-Zaman and Princess Budur" can be found here and here

If you want to learn more about queer women in the medieval Arabo-Islamic Literary Tradion, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Books and Print Articles:

  • Sahar Amer, Crossing Borders: Love Between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures
  • Sahar Amer, "Medieval Lesbians and Lesbian-Like Women" in Journal of the History of Sexuality (Vol 18, no 2, 2009).
  • Sahar Amer, "Cross Dressing and Female Same-Sex Marriage in Medieval French and Arabic Literature" in Islamicate Identities
  • Sahar Amer, "Lesbian Sex and the Military: From the Medieval Arabic Tradition to French Literature" in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages
  • Fedwa Malti-Douglas, "Tribadism/Lesbianism and the Sexualized Body in Medieval Arabo-Islamic Narratives" in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages
  • Samar Habib, Arabo-Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality 850-1780 A.D.
  • Samar Habib, Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations
  • Kathryn Babayan, "'In Spirit We Ate Each Other's Sorrow': Female Companionship in Seventeenth Century Safavi Iran" in Islamicate Identities
  • Stephen O. Murray "Woman-Woman Love in Islamic Society" in Islamic Homosexualities
  • As'ad AbuKhalil, "A Note on the Study of Homosexuality in the Arab/Islamic Civilization" in The Arab Studies Journal (Vol 1, no 2, 1993)

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 0.2: T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness: An Interview with Robert Philipson

Holy Happy Pride, everyone, you get a bonus episode this month! This week Leigh sits down with Robert Philipson, producer and director of the documentary T’Aint Nobody’s Bizness: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s, which we discussed in our episode Bulldaggers and Lady Lovers, about his process, the importance of telling queer stories and excavating lost history, his upcoming documentary project Mood Lavender which sheds light on more queers in the Harlem Renaissance, and maybe even a little sneaky surprise for you all.

 Image Courtesy of shogafilms.com

Image Courtesy of shogafilms.com

 The poster for  T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness , image courtesy of shogafilms.com

The poster for T'Ain't Nobody's Bizness, image courtesy of shogafilms.com

 The poster for  Congo Cabaret , image courtesy of shogafilms.com

The poster for Congo Cabaret, image courtesy of shogafilms.com

 

Where To Find Robert Online

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 9: Nazi Punks Fuck Off, Pt 2: Claude Cahun

Claude Cahun's name might not be well known, but their work as an artist has been hugely influential in the lives of many Western pop culture icons (David Bowie, for example). But the line between life and art wasn't always so clear for Claude Cahun and their life partner Marcel Moore. Whether it was fucking with gender norms in self portraiture or fucking with Nazis during World War II, Claude never did things in a straightforward manner. We'll say it again, "Nazi punks, fuck off!" Now with surrealism!

A Look at Claude Cahun

Much of Claude's self-portraiture work with their life partner Marcel Moore dealt with challenging gender expectations and roles, and playing with the gaze and assumptions of the viewer. Check out some of these shots:

 Marcel and Claude

Marcel and Claude

007-claude-cahun-theredlist-783x1024.jpg
  Autoportrait , 1928 (courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collection)

Autoportrait, 1928 (courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collection)

  Que Me Vuex Tu   (What Do you Want From Me),  1929

Que Me Vuex Tu (What Do you Want From Me), 1929

  Autoportrait,  1927

Autoportrait, 1927

  Self Portrait (as a dandy),  1921-1922

Self Portrait (as a dandy), 1921-1922

studies for a keepsake 1925 @musee d'arte moderne.jpeg
 Self portraits - Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, left to right respectively. 

Self portraits - Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, left to right respectively. 

 This one is Leigh's favorite. They also desperately want that coat. 

This one is Leigh's favorite. They also desperately want that coat. 

self portrait as a young girl 1914 jersey heritage.jpg
self portrait in cupboard 1932 jersey heritage.jpg
 How can you not immediately fall in love with the kooky weirdo walking their cat on a leash in the cemetery!!

How can you not immediately fall in love with the kooky weirdo walking their cat on a leash in the cemetery!!

Scan_20180529 (6).jpg
Scan_20180529 (7).jpg
  I Am In Training Don't Kiss Me , 1927 (courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collection)

I Am In Training Don't Kiss Me, 1927 (courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collection)

Symbolist and Surrealist Art

Not only did Cahun and Moore create a library of photo series, they also created other media of Symbolist and Surrealist art together-- from beautifully (and homoerotically) illustrated manuscripts and manifestos, photo-and-literary montage pieces, to surrealist sculptures and objects:

  Uranian Games  manuscript cover, 1916-1918

Uranian Games manuscript cover, 1916-1918

A spread from Views and Visions, Chapter 29, 'The Modern Night' and 'The Antique Light', 1919

  Aveux non avenus  (Disavowels) frontispiece, 1920-1930 (courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collection)

Aveux non avenus (Disavowels) frontispiece, 1920-1930 (courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collection)

 More from  Disavowels

More from Disavowels

 👀 Such vulvic imagery....

👀 Such vulvic imagery....

Nazi Fighting Badasses

Later in their lives, during the Nazi occupation of France in WWII, Cahun and Moore moved to the isle of Jersey and began a misinformation propaganda campaign aimed at tanking morale of German troopsl. Adopting the persona of Der Soldat Ohne Namen (The Soldier Without a Name), they began leaving propaganda tracts and posters, resistance poems, and defaced Nazi posters all around town. 

 A propaganda tract from Cahun and Moore, 1942

A propaganda tract from Cahun and Moore, 1942

 One of their rough designs for a tract that they ended up placing on oberleutenant w. zepernick's grave, 1943

One of their rough designs for a tract that they ended up placing on oberleutenant w. zepernick's grave, 1943

 More leaflets of awesome resistance!

More leaflets of awesome resistance!

 Signing as the soldier with no name

Signing as the soldier with no name

 Cahun in the garden of La Rocquaise, posing as der Soldat ohne Namen

Cahun in the garden of La Rocquaise, posing as der Soldat ohne Namen

Arrest and Continued Resistance

When Cahun and Moore were arrested by the Gestapo, it did not stop their resistance efforts, as they vowed to fight the Nazi horror to their very last breaths. 

 Marcel Moore's sketch of their prison cell, complete with the ventilation ducts that allowed a network of prisoners to secretly send messages to one another

Marcel Moore's sketch of their prison cell, complete with the ventilation ducts that allowed a network of prisoners to secretly send messages to one another

 And we leave you with this, badass Claude Cahun after being released from prison, flipping the Nazis the "dirty bird" one last time. ICONIC HERO!

And we leave you with this, badass Claude Cahun after being released from prison, flipping the Nazis the "dirty bird" one last time. ICONIC HERO!

 

If you want to learn more about Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books and Print Articles:

  • Exist Otherwise: The Life and Works of Claude Cahun by Jennifer L. Shaw
  • Disavowals by Claude Cahun
  • Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask by Sarah Howgate and Dawn Ades
  • Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman by Shelley Rice

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 8: Nazi Punks Fuck Off, Pt 1: Magnus Hirschfeld

In this first part of a two-part series (so far!) of episodes dedicated to badass queer nazi fighters from our history, we dove into the fascinating life of Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld, the so-called "Einstein of sex." His approach to sexuality, gender, and race was decades ahead of the likes of Alfred Kinsey and Harry Benjamin, and who knows where society would be had his research not been destroyed. So come join us as we say, "Nazi punks, fuck off!" 

A Look at Magnus Hirschfeld

 The einstein of sex, and such a snappy dresser, too!

The einstein of sex, and such a snappy dresser, too!

 Dat gay book nerd life, yo. we get it, magnus. same.

Dat gay book nerd life, yo. we get it, magnus. same.

Some clips from Hirschfeld's 1919 film "Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others)":

 Hirschfeld with two "Cross-dressers" (as they are labeled in this photo by the new yorker) outside the institute of sex

Hirschfeld with two "Cross-dressers" (as they are labeled in this photo by the new yorker) outside the institute of sex

 lili elbe and her nurse, after lili's successful srs surgery at hirschfeld's institute of sex

lili elbe and her nurse, after lili's successful srs surgery at hirschfeld's institute of sex

 A 1907 political cartoon depicting Hirschfeld as ‘Hero of the Day,’ drumming up support for the abolition of Paragraph 175 of the German penal code that criminalized homosexuality. The banner reads, ‘Away with Paragraph 175!’ The caption reads, ‘The foremost champion of the third sex!’ – US Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives

A 1907 political cartoon depicting Hirschfeld as ‘Hero of the Day,’ drumming up support for the abolition of Paragraph 175 of the German penal code that criminalized homosexuality. The banner reads, ‘Away with Paragraph 175!’ The caption reads, ‘The foremost champion of the third sex!’ –US Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives

Rise of the Third Reich and the destruction of Hirschfeld's research, personal library, and the legacy of the Institute of Sex

 Nazis ransacking hirschfeld's personal library of materials

Nazis ransacking hirschfeld's personal library of materials

One of the most absolutely frustrating things we knew going in to this, and becoming even more infuriated by as we researched, is that not only did the Nazis burn and destroy nearly all of the research, papers, libraries, and tangible knowledge and work done and discovered by the Institute of Sex, but that we've all seen evidence of it happening under our noses for many many years. 

If you have ever learned anything about the Holocaust in a class, or seen a film, featuring newsreel footage or photos of the Nazi book burnings, you have seen this scene or shot below. And we'd be willing to bet: you were never told that this footage is of Nazi stormtroopers destroying the sexology research on homosexuality, gender identity, and human behavior by Magnus Hirschfeld, were you? Even the context of theliteral act of destruction of our history has been lost, glossed over, erased. We were burned and destroyed, and never even taught about it.

1933-may-10-berlin-book-burning.JPG
 The pink triangle, a symbol which originated with hate and ostracization, marking our community in victimhood, now reclaimed. We think magnus hirschfeld would be proud. 

The pink triangle, a symbol which originated with hate and ostracization, marking our community in victimhood, now reclaimed. We think magnus hirschfeld would be proud. 

If you want to learn more about Magnus Hirschfeld, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books and Print Articles:

  • Heike Baur, The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture
  • Robert Beachy, Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity
  • Ralf Dose, Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement
  • Charlotte Wolff, Magnus Hirschfeld: A Portrait of a Pioneer in Sexology
  • Kate Fisher and Jana Funke, “Let Us Leave the Hospital; Let Us Go on a Journey around the World”: British And German Sexual Science And The Global Search For Sexual Variation in A Global History of Sexual Science, 1880–1960
  • Not Straight From Germany: Sexual Publics and Sexual Citizenship since Magnus Hirschfeld, edited by Michael Thomas Taylor, Annette F. Timm, and Rainer Herrn
  • Jane Caplan, “The Administration of Gender Identity in Nazi Germany” in History Workshop Journal vol. 72 (2011).
  • Katie Sutton, “"We Too Deserve a Place in the Sun": The Politics of Transvestite Identity in Weimar Germany” in German Studies Review vol. 35 (2012).
  • Helga Thorson, “Masking/Unmasking Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Germany: The Importance of N.O. Body” in Women in German Yearbook, vol. 25 (2009).
  • Erwin J. Haeberle, “Swastika, Pink Triangle and Yellow Star: The Destruction of Sexology and the Persecution of Homosexuals in Nazi Germany” in The Journal of Sex Research vol. 17 no. 3 (1981).
  • Erwin J. Haeberle, “The Jewish Contribution to the Development of Sexology” in The Journal of Sex Research vol. 18 no. 4 (1982).

Videos:

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 0.1: Queer, There, and Everywhere

Welcome to a special first here in History is gay: our first ever minisode! As Gretchen has been busy traveling this month, she and  Leigh are filling in with a special guest interview with Sarah Prager, author of Queer, There, and Everywhere, creator of the Queer history app Quist, and queer history public speaker. If you love queer folk from history and learning fun, daily facts about queer history, then this interview should be right up your alley! Join us as we discuss Sarah's book, her love of queer history, future projects, and even a potential collaboration on a future History is Gay episode. Gay History nerds ftw!

 Image Courtesy of sarahprager.com

Image Courtesy of sarahprager.com

Where To Find Sarah Online

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 7: F is for Friend Who Did Not Have Gender

R is for Revolutionary War, which is where hosts Leigh & Gretchen are headed in this, the very first episode dedicated to a single person from history: the Publick Universal Friend. Born Jemima Wilkinson, after suffering from Typhoid fever and experiencing a visionary death, the Publick Universal Friend, also called the Friend, arose and began preaching a message of repentance. The Friend presented as something entirely new: a genderless spirit from God who eschewed gendered pronouns and dressed and spoke in ways that purposefully blurred the lines between male and female in early American society. Their preaching may not have been as innovative as others from their time, but the Friend did something even more unique by embodying genderlessness as an aspect of resurrected life and creating a religious society marked by genderless linguistic forms. So come join us as we talk about this most special of Friends; to make things even more interesting, turns out one of our hosts is related to the Friend!

A Look at The Friend

 A portrait of the friend done after moving to new york, available to see at the  Scherer Carriage House Museum .

A portrait of the friend done after moving to new york, available to see at the Scherer Carriage House Museum.

 Drawing of the Friend.

Drawing of the Friend.

 REcreation of the friend's personal seal with star, cross, and initials.

REcreation of the friend's personal seal with star, cross, and initials.

 The Friend's CarrIAge, which can also be seen at the Scherer carriage House museum along with the Friend's Bible, Side Saddle, and other items. 

The Friend's CarrIAge, which can also be seen at the Scherer carriage House museum along with the Friend's Bible, Side Saddle, and other items. 

 Photo of the friend's house in Jerusalem, New York. It still stands but is not available to the public.

Photo of the friend's house in Jerusalem, New York. It still stands but is not available to the public.

 Sketch of the Friend's house in Jerusalem.

Sketch of the Friend's house in Jerusalem.

 Another Sketch of the friend's house in Jerusalem.

Another Sketch of the friend's house in Jerusalem.

 The Friend's home still stands today! photo courtesy of  waymarking.com

The Friend's home still stands today! photo courtesy of waymarking.com

 the sign outside the friend's home in jerusalem, ny. Photo courtesy of  waymarking.com

the sign outside the friend's home in jerusalem, ny. Photo courtesy of waymarking.com

 Title Page from David Hudson's defamatory "Memoir" of the friend that sought to present them as deluded and a fraud.

Title Page from David Hudson's defamatory "Memoir" of the friend that sought to present them as deluded and a fraud.

 Drawing of the friend from Hudson's "memoir". 

Drawing of the friend from Hudson's "memoir". 

 Act of Incorporation that established the Society of universal Friends in 1791, as seen on  History Detectives  and now currently in the  Communal Societies collection at Hamilton College . 

Act of Incorporation that established the Society of universal Friends in 1791, as seen on History Detectives and now currently in the Communal Societies collection at Hamilton College

Excerpts from the Death Book of the Society of Universal Friends.

The death book was kept by Ruth Prichard, and records the death names, last words and other relevant information, and the date when the member of the society "left Time". The following are entries, as found in Wisbey's book (see resource list); note just how many times the Friend was present at the death and/or the funeral, which is not at all unusual for the rest of the death book:

Susannah Porter, left Time, 19th of the 5th Mo 1780. 22 yeas of age. She died in the Arms of the Friend.
Lucy Holmes, left Time, 11th of the 8th Mo 1790: She found the Lamb of God. Believing in the Day of her Visitation. She went away rejoicing; giving glory to God and the Lamb. This departed Saint, as the avenues of mortal life were closing, lifted up her hands in Prayer, said Glory to God in the highest, and unto the Lamb forever and ever! Saying (with an emphasis no mortal language can describe) Looking at the Friend, My dear Redeemer; I love; I love; I love
Eunice Manswer Departed this life 13th of the 9th Mo 1793: It appeared She was prepared in a short time to fulfill a long time: the Friend attended the funeral
Sara Friend, or Sarah Richards, left Time 30th, and last of the 11th Mo 1793. Seventh Day of the Week which is the Sabath (sic), at Eve 7n on the clock She Expired! And left Her weeping friends to mourn for themselves! Seventeen weeks She patiently endur’d one fever after another, till at last — These scenes of grief and Sorrows inexprest; Did waft her soul to everlasting Rest! 4th of the 12th Mo. The Friend attended Her Funeral, and Preach’d a very great Sermon. The exhortatoin began thus, It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart; And the Text was, The Righteous perisheth, and no may layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the Righteous is taken away from the evil to come; They shall enter into peace, They shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness. She was aged 36.
Armenia Potter 15th of the 2d Mo of 1794. The Friend was with her in her last moments, and had Satisfaction in her death; 18th, the Friend attended Her Funeral, held Meeting at Holmes’s, Text was in Micha VII. 18. Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgressions of the remnant of his heritage; For He retaineth not His Anger forever because He delighted in Mercy. She was aged 2[?]

If you liked "F is For Friend Who Did Not Have Gender", you'll probably like: 

If you want to learn more about the Friend, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books and Print Articles:

  • Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-Over District Re-Visited by John H. Martin: Chapter 5 Jemima Wilkinson Celibacy and the Communal Life The Re-Incarnation of the Divine in Female Form, 1758-1819
  • Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend by Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr. (misgenders the Friend)
  • The Public Universal Friend by Paul B. Moyer
  • History of Jemima Wilkinson by David Hudson (the smear campaign “biography,” misgenders the Friend)
  • Women Who Were Called by Joel Whitney Tibbetts (misgenders the friend)
  • “‘Indescribable Being’: Theological Performances of Genderlessness in the Society of the Publick Universal Friend” by Scott Larson, Early American Studies Vol. 12 no 3 (2014).
  • “Demogogues or Mystagogues? Gender and the Language of Prophecy in the Age of Democratic Revolutions” by Susan Juster, American Historical Review 104, no. 5 (1999).
  • “The Political Threat of a Female Christ: Ann Lee, Morality, and Religious Freedom in the United States” by Adam Jortner, Early American Studies vol 7, no 1 (2009).

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 6: 3 Genders in Ancient Egypt? It's More Likely Than you Think

In today’s episode, cohosts Leigh and Gretchen head way back in time to Ancient Egypt. That’s right, get ready to walk like an Egyptian! Take a tour through Egyptian mythology to discuss Atum as both male and female, Set’s interactions with Horus, Nephthys’ spending all her time with Isis, Hapi’s non-binary gender presentation, and what Set and Nephthys imply about Egypt having a concept of third gender. Plus, the dancing woman mummy, gender transformation in burial, the gender presentation of women pharaohs like Hatshepsut, and Gretchen’s favorite gay Egyptian tomb! You’ll see why having 3 genders in Ancient Egypt is more likely than people think!  

A Look at Our Mythological Cast of Deities

 Atum, the original deity with both male and female aspects. 

Atum, the original deity with both male and female aspects. 

 Set (Left) and Horus (Right) bind the plants of Egypt ( Source ). 

Set (Left) and Horus (Right) bind the plants of Egypt (Source). 

 Nephthys (Left) and Isis (Right) guard the body of Osiris ( Source ).

Nephthys (Left) and Isis (Right) guard the body of Osiris (Source).

 Hapi, God of the Nile, depicted as having both male and female presentation.

Hapi, God of the Nile, depicted as having both male and female presentation.

A Closer Look at Non-Cisheteronormative Gender Presentation in Ancient Egypt

Akhenaten (18th Dynasty, either 1353-1336 BCE or 1351-1334 BCE)

 Akhenaten (right) was frequently depicted similarly to Hapi as having breasts and a large belly. Compare his body with that of his wife Nefertiti (left).

Akhenaten (right) was frequently depicted similarly to Hapi as having breasts and a large belly. Compare his body with that of his wife Nefertiti (left).

Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty, 1478–1458 BC)

 Note the pharaonic headdress and naked torso, both typically masculine symbols.

Note the pharaonic headdress and naked torso, both typically masculine symbols.

 Hatshepsut with her fake beard!

Hatshepsut with her fake beard!

 In this statue, hatshepsut lacks a beard but sports the royal cobra, headdress, and the crook and flail. 

In this statue, hatshepsut lacks a beard but sports the royal cobra, headdress, and the crook and flail. 

Sobekneferu (12th Dynasty, 1806–1802 BCE)

 ONce again, the royal headdress and naked torso of the pharoahs on a woman who ruled as Pharaoh.

ONce again, the royal headdress and naked torso of the pharoahs on a woman who ruled as Pharaoh.

 Bust of Sobekneferu with loincloth and royal headdress visible.

Bust of Sobekneferu with loincloth and royal headdress visible.

The "Dancing Woman" Mummy (2nd Century CE)

 Above view of the dancing woman mummy, where you can see visible breasts and stylized costume, likely for dancing. ( Source )

Above view of the dancing woman mummy, where you can see visible breasts and stylized costume, likely for dancing. (Source)

 CLose up of the Dancing Woman's face, with visible beard. ( Source )

CLose up of the Dancing Woman's face, with visible beard. (Source)

Niankhknnum and Knhumhotep (5th Dynasty, ca 25th Century BCE)

 Image from the Tomb showing the family procession. 

Image from the Tomb showing the family procession. 

 Niankhkhnum (Left) and Khnumhotep (Right) embracing on the walls of their tomb. 

Niankhkhnum (Left) and Khnumhotep (Right) embracing on the walls of their tomb. 

 Close up of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep nose kissing, one of the most intimate positions two people could have in Egyptian iconography.

Close up of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep nose kissing, one of the most intimate positions two people could have in Egyptian iconography.

 Image of the Jackals? Hyenas? getting it on in the hunting scene from the walls of the tomb. 

Image of the Jackals? Hyenas? getting it on in the hunting scene from the walls of the tomb. 

Online Articles:

Books:

  • Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives: Sex, Gender, and Archaeology by Rosemary A. Joyce
  • Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt by Dominic Montserrat

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 5: Stars from a Bi-Gone Era

In this very special episode, hosts Leigh & Gretchen travel to the red carpet and the silver screen to hear stories about queer actors from the golden age of Hollywood. Along for the ride is a room full of queer women who came to listen to the podcast being recorded live at TGIFemslash, a convention dedicated to the queer ladies of media, the ladies who love them, and the fans who love them. Join us and a room full of big gay nerds as we discuss the early years of film and the sexploits of the rich and famous! Who was gay for pay? Who was Hollywood’s favorite lesbian? Who wore violets on the crotch of her dress to advertise her queerness? Tune in to find out, plus listen to our friends at TGIFemslash discuss their favorite queermos from history!

 Your totally gay and totally nerdy hosts wearing their matching Sappho "Our Lady of Lesbos & Poetry" gear that they totally didn't just buy for the express purpose of showing them off in their panel nope

Your totally gay and totally nerdy hosts wearing their matching Sappho "Our Lady of Lesbos & Poetry" gear that they totally didn't just buy for the express purpose of showing them off in their panel nope

 

Special Shoutout

Special thanks are due to Beth Hommel, our friend and fellow attendee of TGIFemslash. Beth generously offered to help us out by designing and ordering T-shirt samples that we both wore and sold at TGIFemslash. She's an amazing and gifted designer of nerdy queer swag, so check out her store on Etsy: Glorious Wierdo

 Beth did such a great job with our shirts! Our tagline is on the back and everything!

Beth did such a great job with our shirts! Our tagline is on the back and everything!

And that means...we're going to have merch soon! Stay tuned for details about pins, magnets, shirts and more from your local big gay nerds at History is Gay podcast!

Our Cast of Stars for Silver Screen Sexploits

As people were coming into the room for our panel at TGIFemslash we had them play a game called "Silver Screen Sexploits." We had images of ten silver screen actors up on the wall; people were each given the same set of ten facts about these actors and asked to guess which fact went with which actor. Below are the actors, the facts, and some fun stats about the guesses people made!

Clark Gable

Clark Gable.jpg

The Fact:

"Was allegedly “gay for pay” and for career advancement. Had a string of older clients who paid their bills and helped them get jobs, but cheated on them constantly. Had close, personal, possibly sexual relationships with several openly queer actors."

Number of correct guesses: 2

Fact most frequently assigned to them:

"A quintessential sex symbol, this actor had strong preferences for partners of the same gender and is rumored to have had affairs with two of the actors on this list. Claimed one of their partners “had a gigantic orgasm and shrieked like a maniac” but then turned spiteful when the actor turned them down after being asked for another round."---6 guesses

Cary Grant

Cary Grant.jpg

The Fact: 

“Married 5 times and had 1 daughter. Lived with a fellow actor for 12 years and then with a different actor later in life. Prior to becoming famous, dated a fashion designer on and off for 9 years.”

Number of correct guesses: 1

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

“One lover described sex with them as ‘pleasant, unhurried, gentle. There was what I can only refer to as a kind of refinement about it. It was erotic, tantalizing, fulfilling. High class stuff all the way.’”---5 guesses

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich 2.jpg

The Fact:

“Came of age in post-war Berlin where the LGBT culture thrived and came to the US with a more open view of sexuality. At the premiere of a film, this actor walked on stage with a bunch of violets pinned to their crotch, a symbol of homosexuality in Germany. Was married but had several passionate gay affairs, one with another actor on this list!”

Number of correct guesses: 17

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!  In fact, everyone who played got her right!

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo.jpg

The Fact: 

“For a time in the 1920s, they lived openly with a partner of a different gender; later, they conducted their relationship with a playwright and poet of the same gender with similar directness and lack of pretense. The poet was a ‘best friend’ and lived with this actor for 30 years. Called their love affairs with same gender partners ‘exciting secrets.’”

Number of correct guesses: 6

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn.jpg

The Fact: 

“25 year relationship with differently gendered acting co-star was more about friendship than romance or sex, and their public relationship was likely a publicity stunt by studios as both of them were gay. Was allegedly set up by known Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers with 150 sexual partners of the same gender. Had a particular attraction for one partner, whom they saw off and on for 49 years.”

Number of correct guesses: 8

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe.jpeg

The Fact:

“A quintessential sex symbol, this actor had strong preferences for partners of the same gender and is rumored to have had affairs with two of the actors on this list. Claimed one of their partners “had a gigantic orgasm and shrieked like a maniac” but then turned spiteful when the actor turned them down after being asked for another round.”

Number of correct guesses: 7

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!

Marlon Brando

marlon-brando.jpg

The Fact: 

“Had multiple affairs with famous actors in Hollywood and once told a French journalist, ‘Homosexuality is so much in fashion, it no longer makes news. Like a large number of [actors], I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me.”

Number of correct guesses: 3

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

"Was allegedly “gay for pay” and for career advancement. Had a string of older clients who paid their bills and helped them get jobs, but cheated on them constantly. Had close, personal, possibly sexual relationships with several openly queer actors."---8 guesses

Vincent Price

Vincent Price.jpg

The Fact: 

“One lover described sex with them as ‘pleasant, unhurried, gentle. There was what I can only refer to as a kind of refinement about it. It was erotic, tantalizing, fulfilling. High class stuff all the way.’”

Number of correct guesses: 0

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

"Was allegedly “gay for pay” and for career advancement. Had a string of older clients who paid their bills and helped them get jobs, but cheated on them constantly. Had close, personal, possibly sexual relationships with several openly queer actors."---5 guesses

Raymond Burr

Raymond Burr.jpg

The Fact:

“Was married to an opposite gender partner once but it only lasted a couple months. Met a same gender actor on the set of an iconic TV show in 1960 and they remained together until 1993, when our famous queer actor died. The fellow actor is often named as a “business partner” and still owns and operates the joint vineyard they founded together in Sonoma.”

Number of correct guesses: 8

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford.JPG

The Fact: 

“Known for having an “insatiable appetite for sex with men and women,” who may even have slept their way into becoming a screen legend. Also linked with another actor on this list!”

Number of correct guesses: 0

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

“Married 5 times and had 1 daughter. Lived with a fellow actor for 12 years and then with a different actor later in life. Prior to becoming famous, dated a fashion designer on and off for 9 years.”---8 times

 

How do we know about these folks?

 Bowers (center), at a party in Hollywood during the 40s. Image courtesy of Altimeter Films.

Bowers (center), at a party in Hollywood during the 40s. Image courtesy of Altimeter Films.

Most of the stories that we discussed came from one guy: Scotty Bowers, a Hollywood pimp of the queer silver screen actors of the 1940s and beyond. He was also associated with Alfred Kinsey in his famous study of human sexuality in the 1950s by providing many of the interview subjects.

A former marine, Bowers kept quiet for many years about these stories, as he did not want to adversely affect the lives of any of the actors who were still around. Many of the stories were actively hushed up using fixers paid by the studios at the time, and several of the actors were in "lavender marriages"---marriages arranged by the studio, frequently with another queer actor. At the time, studios especially would not have wanted the queer attractions of their headlining actors to be widely known, as that would have damaged the 'wholesome family image' of many of the films they wanted to market.

After all of the actors died, Bowers finally decided that his experiences and stories couldn't harm their image or beloved status---plus the world was a more open place to queer attraction---so he wrote about it. His memoir, Full Service, records many of the tidbits that we talked about. What makes his book so special is his refusal to be embarrassed by sex, meaning that he handles these stories with a distinct lack of judgment. Good job, dude! 

If you want to learn more about these folks, as well as other queer silver screen stars, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books:

  • Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Live of the Stars by Scotty Bowers
  • James Dean: Tomorrow Never Comes by Darwin Porter and Damforth Prince
  • Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood by William J. Mann
  • Clark Gable: Tormented Star by David Bret
  • Kate: The Woman Who Was Katharine Hepburn by William J. Mann
  • The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling And The MGM Publicity Machine by EJ Flemming

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 4: Bulldaggers & Lady Lovers: The Bisexual & Lesbian Blues Legends

On this week’s episode, we discussed the black lesbian and gay subculture in the Harlem Renaissance throughout the 1920s and 1930s in New York. From growing up in poverty to traveling minstrel stars and eventually into nationally renowned recording artists, blues legends like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Gladys Bentley infused their music with sexuality and reality, hinting at the queer atmosphere of Harlem nightlife that included wild parties, flowing booze, and romps on the road. Many of them were known for their explicit or otherwise 'scandalous' lyrics that were full of innuendo and subtle (or not so subtle!) allusions to queer life and love. Plus, now we have a new lady to add to our Anne Bonny/Lizzie Borden ship: Bessie Smith!

Some Looks at our Queermos

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey

 She's been described as 'ugly' but we think that's bullshit. She's gorgeous. ( source )

She's been described as 'ugly' but we think that's bullshit. She's gorgeous. (source)

 The infamous "Prove it on me BLues" ad featuring Ma Rainey flirting while a cop looks on, suspicious. ( source )

The infamous "Prove it on me BLues" ad featuring Ma Rainey flirting while a cop looks on, suspicious. (source)

 Ma Rainey and her wildcats jazz band, featuring Thomas Dorsey on Piano. ( source )

Ma Rainey and her wildcats jazz band, featuring Thomas Dorsey on Piano. (source)

 An ad for Ma Rainey and the traveling minstrel show she worked with. ( source )

An ad for Ma Rainey and the traveling minstrel show she worked with. (source)

 Vinyl of ma Rainey's "dream Blues." ( source )

Vinyl of ma Rainey's "dream Blues." (source)

Bessie Smith

 Portrait circa 1920.

Portrait circa 1920.

 Empress of the Blues and Fashion icon. ( Source )

Empress of the Blues and Fashion icon. (Source)

 YOu can tell she's extra just by the feathers. 

YOu can tell she's extra just by the feathers. 

 See? Feathers. ( Source )

See? Feathers. (Source)

 From an advertisement featuring Bessie Smith. ( Source )

From an advertisement featuring Bessie Smith. (Source)

Gladys Bentley

 Bentley and bandleader Willie Bryant, April 17, 1936, in front of posters for their Apollo show ( source )

Bentley and bandleader Willie Bryant, April 17, 1936,
in front of posters for their Apollo show (source)

 Advertisement for Glady's show at Mona's in San Francisco, featuring the descriptors "sepia piano artist" and "brown bomber of sophisticated songs" ( Source )

Advertisement for Glady's show at Mona's in San Francisco, featuring the descriptors "sepia piano artist" and "brown bomber of sophisticated songs" (Source)

 Map of clubs in Harlem featuring the Clam House where Glady's performed. ( source )

Map of clubs in Harlem featuring the Clam House where Glady's performed. (source)

 Speaking of Mona's here's an ash tray from the club and it's motto, "Where the girls will be boys." We love it already.

Speaking of Mona's here's an ash tray from the club and it's motto, "Where the girls will be boys." We love it already.

 photgraph of the infamous  Ebony  article from 1952 where Bentley claimed to have turned straight due to hormone treatments. this and the rest of the article can be read  here .

photgraph of the infamous Ebony article from 1952 where Bentley claimed to have turned straight due to hormone treatments. this and the rest of the article can be read here.

Ethel Waters and Ethel Williams

 Ethel Waters in "On with the Show," 1929.

Ethel Waters in "On with the Show," 1929.

 Ethel Waters and Fredi Washington in the 1949 play "Mamba's Daughter." IN the play, Washington plays Waters' daughter (though this still looks pretty gay).

Ethel Waters and Fredi Washington in the 1949 play "Mamba's Daughter." IN the play, Washington plays Waters' daughter (though this still looks pretty gay).

 Waters circa 1930s. 

Waters circa 1930s. 

 Portrait of Ethel Waters from 1943.

Portrait of Ethel Waters from 1943.

 Waters in  Pinky , the 1949 film she was nominated for an academy award for.

Waters in Pinky, the 1949 film she was nominated for an academy award for.

 The only image we could find of both Ethel Williams (left) and Ethel Waters (Right). ( source )

The only image we could find of both Ethel Williams (left) and Ethel Waters (Right). (source)

Alberta Hunter

 Alberta Hunter, Jazz singer (we'll come back to the Jazz age, we promise!).

Alberta Hunter, Jazz singer (we'll come back to the Jazz age, we promise!).

 Alberta Hunter (right) performs Vaudeville. ( Source )

Alberta Hunter (right) performs Vaudeville. (Source)

Lucille Bogan/Bessie Jackson

Lucille Bogan.jpg

Listen to the Dirty and/or Queer Harlem Renaissance Blues

Ma Rainey's "Prove it On Me Blues"

Ma Rainey's "Sissy Blues"

Bessie Smith's "Empty Bed Blues"

Bessie Smith's "Foolish Man Blues"

Gladys Bentley's "Worried Blues"

Lucille Bogan's "BD Woman's Blues"

Lucille Bogan's "Shave 'Em Dry"

Lucille Bogan's "Groceries on the Shelf"

Check out these mini documentaries about Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, courtesy of Biography.com for black history month.

And also check out the trailer for HBO's Bessie, available to stream via an HBO subscription.

If you want to learn more about these folks, as well as the history of queerness in the Harlem Renaissance, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books:

  • Mother of the Blues by Sandra Lieb
  • Blues Legacies and Black Feminism by Angela Y. Davis
  • Bessie Smith by Jackie Kay
  • Bessie by Chris Albertson (excerpt in Gay American History: Lesbians & Gay Men in the USAed by Jonathan Ned Katz)
  • His Eye on the Sparrow  and To Me, It’s Wonderful autobiographies by Ethel Waters
  • Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters by Donald Bogle
  • Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather by Stephen Bourne
  • Queer in History by Keith Stern
  • The Harlem Renaissance, by Steven Watson (free excerpt p124-144)
  • Sapphistries by Leila Rupp
  • Homosexuality in History by Colin Spencer
  • Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies by James F. Wilson

Films: 

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 3: Mei Ai Hold Your Hand? Homosexuality in Imperial China

On this week’s episode, we discussed Confucianism, Daoism, and their importance for understanding Imperial Chinese views of sex and sexuality, which contributed to the long literary tradition of male homosexuality. Like last episode, it was a context heavy episode, but we still brought plenty of tragic, romantic, and even some humorous stories of men and their lovers that shaped how Imperial Chinese men who had romantic and sexual relationships with other men understood themselves. Stories like Emperor Ai and the ‘passion of the cut sleeve,’ Mizi Xia and the ‘bitten peach’, and Long Yang and the ‘previously caught fish.’ If the shared pillow tree didn’t make you believe that these people weren’t as straight as some people might think, then maybe the shared eating of the women in harems did!

How do we know about these folks?

Despite the People’s Republic of China attempting to erase the long history of male and female homosexuality in China---dating all the way back to the Yellow Emperor of the 27th century BCE!---many, many records still survive. In the early dynasties, our knowledge of male homosexuality stems mainly from court records, many of which had separate sections for emperors and their male favorites. We also have a poetric tradition that spans almost all of Imperial Chinese history, though it isn’t always easy to suss out the gender of the person spoken about due to unique linguistic features in China. In the 16th-17th centuries, we finally start to get fiction that represents both male and female homosexuality in the form of books, short stories, and plays. Plus, lots of paintings! They’re also quite erotic so….many of the images below are NSFW. Maybe look at these when you’re in your apartment, not your cubicle!

Timeline of Chinese Dynasties

Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600-1050 BCE)
Zhou Dynasty (ca 1050-256 BCE)
Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE)
Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)
Three Kingdoms and Six Dynasties Period (220-589 CE)
Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE)
Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE)
Five Dynasties Period (907-960 CE)
Liao Dynasty (907-1125 CE)
Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE)
Yan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE)
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE)
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE)

People and Poems we Didn’t have Time to Include

Wu Zao (1799-1862 CE, Qing Dynasty)

One of the greatest female and lesbian poets of the Qing dynasty and Chinese history. The daughter of a merchant and wife of a merchant named Huang, neither her father nor her husband were bookish or inclined toward creating great works of art. No one knows how she learned to read, write, play, music, and paint, because these were not usual skills for women in the merchant class to have learned. Instead of conforming to the expected lack of fine arts skills, she became one of the best writers, composers, and poets of her time. One of her operas, “The Image in Disguise,” regards the tale of a woman who wears men’s clothes, paints, and laments the constriction of gender roles for limiting her ability to use her skills (self-portrait anyone?). In her middle age, she became a Daoist (or Buddhist, depending on the source) nun.

Throughout her life, she had many romantic and sexual relationships with women and wrote several erotic poems to female courtesans, like this one:

FOR THE COURTESAN CH'ING LIN
To the tune “The Love of the Immortals”

On your slender body
your jade and coral girdle ornaments chime
like those of a celestial companion
come from the Green Jade City of Heaven.
One smile from you when we meet,
and I become speechless and forget every word.
For too long you have gathered flowers,
and leaned against the bamboos,
your green sleeves growing cold
in your deserted valley;
I can visualize you all alone
a girl harboring her cryptic thoughts.

You glow like a perfumed lamp
in the gathering shadows.
We play wine games
and recite each other poems.
Then you sing “Remembering South of the River”
with its heart-breaking verses.
We both are talents who paint our eyebrows.
Unconventional as I am,
I want to possess the promised heart of a beautiful woman like you.
It is spring.
Vast mists cover the Five Lakes.
My dear, let me buy you a red painted boat
and carry you away.

And another: A BITTER RAIN FALLS IN MY GARDEN

A bitter rain falls in my garden
in this autumn that is ending.
I barely have vague poetic feelings
that I cannot gather together.
They disappear among the dark clouds
and the reddish leaves.
After the yellow fall of the day
the cold moon wakes up
amid the melancholy fog.
I will not lower the blinds of mottled bamboo
from its silver hook.
Tonight my dream will follow the wind,
enduring the cold,
towards the jade tower of your divine body.

(Note the “jade tower” metaphor, like the use of ‘jade’ as a way to describe beautiful men in the 3 Kingdoms and 6 Dynasties period.)

More information about her can be found in Women Poets of China by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung.

Bai Juyi (772-846 CE, Tang Dynasty)

 Portrait of Bai Juyi by Chen Hongshou of the Ming Dynasty.

Portrait of Bai Juyi by Chen Hongshou of the Ming Dynasty.

We mentioned Bai Juyi in our discussion but didn’t have time to include the long, romantic poems he wrote to many of his fellow officials. Regarding happy nights with a fellow official, he wrote:

We are fond of the moon, and nights sleep side by side;
We love the mountains and on clear days view together.

When one of his ‘friends’ sent him a bolt of cloth, he wrote the following poem:

Thousand li (of distance), friend’s heart cordial;
one strand, fragrant silk purple resplendent.
Breaking the seal, it glistens
with a rose hue of the sun at eve---
the pattern fills in the width
of a breeze arriving on autumnal waters.
About to cut it to make a mattress,
pitying the breaking of the leaves;
about to cut it to make a bag,
pitying the dividing of the flowers.
It is better to sew it,
making a coverlet of joined delight;
I think of you as if I'm with you,
day or night.

To his friend and fellow official Qian Hui, he write the following poem about a frosty winter night they spent together:

Night Deep---the memorial draft finished;
mist and moon intense piercing cold.
About to lie down, I warm the remnant last of the wine;
we face before the lamp and drink.
Drawing up the green silk coverlets,
placing our pillows side by side;
like spending more than a hundred nights,
to sleep together with you here.

Bai Juyi and his friend Yuan Zhen made what they called the “Green Mountain pact” to retire as Daoist monks once they’d gained enough money. Unfortunately, Zhen’s untimely death prevented them from fulfilling their pact, inspiring the following melancholy poem:

My body is harassed by closeness to the Throne,
my heart bound by fame and righteousness.
Nights of moon and times of blossoms,
seldom encountering delights of the wine cup.
There was only Gentlemen Yuan
who came in leisure and drank with me.
He took my hand and sang drunkenly
in carefree spirits, and at times we laughed and joked.

This year you were appointed Censor;
two months ago you went to Loyang.
Since parting I still have not smiled,
and dust fills my wine cask and ladle.
A scented breeze---night fragrance ended;
cassias and rain---the last blossoms fall.

Autumn’s intent, one sighing solitude,
our beings apart, both lonely and forlorn.
How much more so, aging in the bright sun;
we have repudiated our Green Mountain pact.
Who knows my heart as I think of you?
It’s a captive falcon and a caged crane.

These and more poems and information about Bai Juyi (and others!) can be found in Passions of the Cut Sleeve by Bret Hinsch.

If you want to learn more about these folks, as well as the history homosexuality in Imperial China, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books:

  • Passions of the Cut Sleeve by Bret Hinsch
  • The Culture of Sex in Ancient China by Paul Rakita Goldin
  • Sex in China by Fang Fu Ruan
  • Sexual Life in Ancient China by Robert Hans Van Gulik
  • Sapphistries by Leila J. Rupp
  • Carton, Adrian. "Desire and Same-Sex Intimacies in Asia". ay Life and Culture: A World History ed. Robert Aldrich

NSFW Erotic Art of the Ming and Ching Dynasties

 

 Male lovers, note the 'active' participant has a darker skin tone than the 'passive' one.

Male lovers, note the 'active' participant has a darker skin tone than the 'passive' one.

 Male lovers, once again the skin tone distinguishes the partners. 

Male lovers, once again the skin tone distinguishes the partners. 

 Gretchen's personal favorite because of the guy reading a book while he's having sex. 

Gretchen's personal favorite because of the guy reading a book while he's having sex. 

 Woman peeping on male lovers, just like the wife of Shan Tao in the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove" story. 

Woman peeping on male lovers, just like the wife of Shan Tao in the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove" story. 

 Man peeping on a woman masturbating with a dildo tied to her foot. Woman's gotta do what she's gotta do to get pleasure!

Man peeping on a woman masturbating with a dildo tied to her foot. Woman's gotta do what she's gotta do to get pleasure!

 Woman peeping on another woman masturbating. (we told you peeping was a thing in erotic art.)

Woman peeping on another woman masturbating. (we told you peeping was a thing in erotic art.)

 Two women using a dildo.

Two women using a dildo.

 Three women using a dildo.

Three women using a dildo.

 Old woman selling dildos to young women (omg this is the best. #goals).

Old woman selling dildos to young women (omg this is the best. #goals).

 Woman using a strap-on with a man, just like the funny story we told of the couple who didn't know what to do on their wedding night and the other couple who wanted the woman to penetrate the man!

Woman using a strap-on with a man, just like the funny story we told of the couple who didn't know what to do on their wedding night and the other couple who wanted the woman to penetrate the man!

 man with two women.

man with two women.

All these and more can be found at the Wikimedia Commons Chinese Erotic Art page.

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 2: Cloistered Queers

This week, we talked a lot about medieval views of sex and sexuality, including the practice of brother-making that very likely had a romantic component to it, if not a sexual one as well. It was a pretty context heavy episode, but all that set the stage our large cast of love poem/love letter writing, highly suggestive mystical vision having monks and nuns: Alcuin, St. Anselm of Canterbury, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Baudri of Bourgeuil, Aelred of Rievaulx, Benedetta Carlini, and other monks and nuns with 'special friendships' with each other. Tender words caressing little breasts making you want to die? Licking inmost parts? Quoting gay Greek mythology in love letters? Arm-sized dildos? Visions of the wound in Jesus' side that sound remarkably like a vulva? Jesus and John being married? These monks and nuns were definitely not as straight as people think.  

How do we know about these folks?

As we mentioned in the episode, a lot of our information about the individual people comes from love letters and poems written from one monk or nun to another. While some have been lost due to history or religious purges, we still have some pretty awesome letters lying around. We quoted from a few in our episode, but there are so many more and they're too good and too gay not to share in full.

Oh, and make sure you check out Humon's Tumblr comic about monastic views of sex and sexuality. It's accurate and adorable.

Alcuin to Arno of Salzberg (c. late 700s)

 Carolingian manuscript, c. 831 with Rabanus Maurus (left) and Alcuin (middle), dedicating his work to Archbishop Odgar of Mainz (right).

Carolingian manuscript, c. 831 with Rabanus Maurus (left) and Alcuin (middle), dedicating his work to Archbishop Odgar of Mainz (right).

Love has penetrated my heart with its flame,
And is ever rekindled with new warmth.
Neither sea nor land, hills nor forest, nor even the Alps
Can stand in its way or hinder it
From always licking at your inmost parts, good father,
Or from bathing your heart, my beloved, with tears.
Sweet love, why do you inspire bitter tears,
Why do bitter draughts flow from devotion's honey:
If now your sweetness, world, is mixed with bitterness,
All prosperity will alternate rapidly with misfortune,
All joys be changed to sad lamentation;
Nothing lasts, anything can perish.
Therefore, world, let us flee from you with all our hearts,
As you, ready even now to perish, flee from us.
Let us seek the delights and ever-enduring realms
Of heaven with your whole heart, mind, and hand.
The blessed hall of heaven never separates friends;
A heart warmed by love always has what it loves.
Therefore, father, abduct me with your prayers, I beg you;
Then our love will never be estranged.
Look with joy and with a gladdening heart, I pray,
At these little offerings which great love sends you,
For our gentle Master praised the two copper coins
The needy widow put into the temple's treasury.
Sacred love is better than any gift,
And so is steadfast faithfulness which flourishes and endures.
May divine gifts follow you, dearest father
And at the same time precede you. Always and everywhere farewell.

(Source, includes other love letters)

Anselm, to Gilbert (c. 1077/78)

 Illumination of Anselm from his manuscript of  meditations

Illumination of Anselm from his manuscript of meditations

 

Brother Anselm to Dom Gilbert, brother, friend, beloved lover

            . . . sweet to me, sweetest friend, are the gifts of your sweetness, but they cannot begin to console my desolate heart for its want of your love. Even if you sent every scent of perfume, every glitter of metal, every precious gem, every texture of cloth, still it could not make up to my soul for this separation unless it returned the separated other half.

          The anguish of my heart just thinking about this bears witness, as do the tears dimming my eyes and wetting my face and the fingers writing this.

          You recognized, as I do now, my love for you, but I did not. Our separation from each other has shown me how much I loved you; a man does not in fact have knowledge of good and evil unless he has experienced both. Not having experienced your absence, I did not realize how sweet it was to be with you and how bitter to be without you.

          But you have gained from our very separation the company of someone else, whom you love no less – or even more – than me; while I have lost you, and there is no one to take your place. You are thus enjoying your consolation, while nothing is left to me but heartbreak.

(Source, including more of Anselm's love letters)

Boudri of Bourgeuil to Walter (c. early 1100s)

May an exchange of letters always unite us while we are apart,
And may this letter now bring me into your presence.
Let my letter now greet you, repeat my greetings,
And repeat them a third time to please you even more.

Lately I received a sweet poem from Walter
Which, since you wrote it, has touched your hand.
I received it with the
honor it deserves
And immediately called you to mind with my love.
Now my poem gladly returns your visit,
And I pray that you cherish me with your love.
If you wish to take up lodging with me,
I will divide my heart and breast with you.
I will share with you anything of mine that can be divided;
If you command it, I will share my very soul.
You will be lodged completely within my breast
And will continue
as the greatest part of my soul.
Meanwhile I will humbly pray for good fortune
Until conversation
revive us.
A different garment – if you haven't considered it – would bring that about:
The name of monk would make such conversation endure forever.
So that you could long enjoy our true love,
Another life would change your visits,
Whether the love of God or fear of punishment or both
Commend monastic life to you.
In case you decide to come to us as such,
I have ordered our men to accompany you.
And if
rumor has told you that I am about to visit you,
That hangs in doubt – it might be possible or it might not.
For now, therefore, hurry; "Procrastination harms the ready."
Anticipate tomorrow; do what you should today.

(Source, includes other love poems)

Bavarian Nun Love Poems (c. 1100s)

The first letter, which we read in the episode:

I am weighed down with grief,
For I find nothing
I would compare to your love,
Which was sweeter than milk and honey,
And by
comparison to which the gleam of gold and silver seems tawdry….it is you alone I have chosen for my heart...
I love you above all else,
You alone are my love and desire…
Like a turtledove who has lost her mate
And stands forever on the barren branch,
So I grieve ceaselessly
Until I enjoy your love again

And the second letter, in its full, entirely gay entirety:

To G., her singular rose,
From A.---the bonds of precious love.
What is my strength, that I should bear it,
That I should have patience in your absence?
Is my strength the strength of stones,
That I should await your return?
I, who grieve ceaselessly day and night
Like someone who has lost a hand or a foot?
Everything pleasant and delightful
Without you seems like mud underfoot.
I shed tears as I used to smile,
And my heart is never glad.
When I recall the kisses you gave me,
And how with tender words you caressed my little breasts,
I want to die
Because I cannot see you.
What can I, so wretched, do?
Where can I, so miserable, turn?
If only my body could be entrusted to the earth
Until your longed-for return;
Or if passage could be granted to me as it was to Habakkuk,
So that I might come there just once
To gaze on my beloved’s face--
Then I should not care if it were the hour of death
For no one has been born into the world
So lovely and full of grace,
Or who so honestly
And with such deep affection loves me.
I shall therefore not cease to grieve
Until I deserve to see you again
Well has a wise man said that it is a great sorrow for a man to be without
            that
Without which he cannot live.
As long as the world stands
You shall never be removed from the core
of  my being.
What more can I say?
Come home, sweet love!
Prolong your trip no longer;
Know that I can bear your absence no longer.
Farewell.
Remember me.

(From John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality)

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (c. late 1600s)

 Sor Juana's book  A Celebration of and Posthumous Works by the phoenix of Mexico and Tenth Muse, the Mexican poet, Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz

Sor Juana's book A Celebration of and Posthumous Works by the phoenix of Mexico and Tenth Muse, the Mexican poet, Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz

A luminary Mexican nun who was an early champion for women's rights to education, her letters to Vicereine Maria Luisa de la Paredes of New Spain: 

But, [Maria Luisa], why go on?
For yourself alone I love you.
Considering your merits,
what more is there to say?
That you’re a woman far away
 is no hindrance to my love:
 for the soul, as you well know,
 distance and sex don’t count

 Can you wonder my love sought you out?
 Why need I stress that I’m true,
 when every one of your features
 betokens my enslavement?

Another poem, entitled "My Lady": 

I love you with so much passion,
neither rudeness nor neglect
can explain why I tied my tongue,
yet left my heart unchecked.

The matter for me was simple;
love for you was so strong,
I could see you in my soul
and talk to you all day long.

How unwisely my ardent love,
which your glorious sun inflamed,
sought to feed upon your brightness,
though the risk of your fire was plain!

Let my love be ever doomed
if guilty
in its intent,
for loving you is a crime
of which I will never repent.


And yet another, "Don't Go, My Darling", in what seems like the most dramatic post-breakup "fuck you wait no don't leave me" to exist:

Don’t go, my darling, I don’t want this to end yet.
This sweet fiction is all I have.
Hold me so I’ll die happy,
thankful for your lies.

My breasts answer yours
magnet to magnet
Why make love to me, then leave?
Why mock me?

Dont brag about your conquest--
I’m not your trophy.
Go ahead: reject these arms.

That wrapped you in sumptuous silk.
Try to escape my arms, my breasts--
I’ll keep you prisoner in my poem.

(Source, from Leila J. Rupp's Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women)

Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098-1179)

 St. Hildegard of Bingen and Her Assistant Richardis” by Lewis Williams

St. Hildegard of Bingen and Her Assistant Richardis” by Lewis Williams

 

 German nun, mystic, poet, healer, and scientist who fell in love with her sister nun, Richardis von Sade, wrote in homoerotic ecstacy about the Virgin Mary, and in a case of "she who doth protests too much", wrote a series of morality plays arguing against the love between women, yet FULL OF THEM and waxing poetic on the divine nature of femininity. SHRUG. 

From one of Hildegard's letters to Richardis, begging her to return to be with her instead of her position as an abbess at a far-away convent:

Now, again I say: Woe is me, mother, woe is me, daughter, “Why have you forsaken me” (Ps 21.2; Matt 27.46; Mark 15.34) like an orphan?  I so loved the nobility of your character, your wisdom, your chastity, your spirit, and indeed every aspect of your life that many people have said to me: What are you doing?

Now, let all who have grief like mine mourn with me, all who, in the love of God, have had such great love in their hearts and minds for a person- as I had for you- but who was snatched away from them in an instant, as you were from me.  But, all the same, may the angel of God go before you, may the Son of God protect you, and may his mother watch over you.  Be mindful of your poor desolate mother, Hildegard, so that your happiness may not fade.

(From Selected Writings of Hildegard of Bingen)

From her writings on the marriage to God as a union between souls alike two lovers:

Creation looks on its Creator like the beloved looks on the lover.
The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.
With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.
It is a yearning to take on God’s gentle yoke,
It is a yearning to give one’s self to God’s Way.

She also wrote "Symphonia", a collection of songs devoted to the Virgin Mary, extoling her love and passion for the holy mother, calling her "the greenest twig" and praising her womb as the creator of all things. 

 "The Universe" by hildegard of bingen. uh huh okay hildegard that doesn't look like anything we've seen before sure

"The Universe" by hildegard of bingen. uh huh okay hildegard that doesn't look like anything we've seen before sure

She was also fascinated by women's health, and her medical writings were perhaps the first to ever describe the female orgasm: 

When a woman is making love with a man, a sense of heat in her brain, which brings with it sensual delight, communicates the taste of that delight during the act and summons forth the emission of the man’s seed. And when the seed has fallen into its place, that vehement heat descending from her brain draws the seed to itself and holds it, and soon the woman’s sexual organs contract, and all the parts that are ready to open up during the time of menstruation now close, in the same way as a strong man can hold something enclosed in his fist.

HOLY WOW, HILDEGARD. 

Some other images of our cast of queerios:

Aelred of Rievaulx - 1110-1167, Cistercian monk and abbot of Rievaulx

 Illumination of Aelred from his manuscript, "The MIrror of Charity."

Illumination of Aelred from his manuscript, "The MIrror of Charity."

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz - c. 1651-1695, Hieronymite nun, poet, philosopher, and self-taught scholar

 Portrait of Sor Juana by Miguel Cabrera, c. 1750.

Portrait of Sor Juana by Miguel Cabrera, c. 1750.

Jesus' Side Wound, aka That Sweet Side Pussy

 Jesus' wound and Jesus as 'man of sorrows' in manuscript from france c. 1375.

Jesus' wound and Jesus as 'man of sorrows' in manuscript from france c. 1375.

 Wound of Christ in Psalter and Prayer book of Bonne de Luxembourg, 1345.

Wound of Christ in Psalter and Prayer book of Bonne de Luxembourg, 1345.

 Side Wound from a Book of Hours from England and the Netherlands, 1410.

Side Wound from a Book of Hours from England and the Netherlands, 1410.

 From a nun's prayer book made in Southern France between 1275 and 1300, Christ displaying the wound in his side to a nun in prayer, historiating the initial D(omine) of the Hours of the Passion (  D omine labia mea aperies , O Lord open thou my lips). 

From a nun's prayer book made in Southern France between 1275 and 1300, Christ displaying the wound in his side to a nun in prayer, historiating the initial D(omine) of the Hours of the Passion (Domine labia mea aperies, O Lord open thou my lips). 

Interestingly enough, the discussion regarding the erotic nature and treatment of Christ's side-wound extends even to some of our monk friends, including Aelred of Rievaulx, of whom we spoke! His meditation for his sister on what she should do in thinking of the moment Christ received the wound from the spear piercing his side: 

Then one of the soldiers opened his side with a lance and there came forth blood and water. Hasten, linger not, eat the honeycomb with your honey, drink your wine with your milk. The blood is changed into wine to gladden you, the water into milk to nourish you. From the rock streams have flowed for you, wounds have been made in his limbs, holes in the wall of his body, in which, like a dove, you may hide while you kiss them one by one. Your lips, stained with his blood, will become like a scarlet ribbon and your word sweet.

In this, he is referencing The Song of Songs, one of the most erotic spiritual texts in which a groom says to his bride:

My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, show me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face comely...  (2:14)
Thy lips are
as a scarlet ribbon: and thy speech sweet... (4:3)
Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my bride, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes... (4:9)
Thy lips, my bride, are as a dropping honeycomb, honey and milk are under thy tongue... (4:11)
I am come into my garden, O my sister, my bride, I have gathered my myrrh with my
aromatical spices: I have eaten the honeycomb with my honey, I have drunk my wine with my milk... (5:1) 

Who's the bride and who's the groom when it comes to Aelred speaking to his sister of Christ? Hmm?

Other folks we didn't get a chance to dive into during the episode due to time constraints but you should look up (part 2, anyone?):

"Gay" Monks & love letters:

Walafrid Strabo (c. 808-849)
Marbod of Rennes (c. 1035-1123)
Notker Balbulus (c. 840-912)
Salamo III, bishop of Constance (c. 860-920) and Waldo
Egbert and St. Boniface (letters c. 716-20)
Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (c.1090-1153) and his friend Archbishop Malacy of Armagh)

Mystic/religious women & homoeroticism in medieval texts:

Hadewijch (d. 1248),  who wrote poems to her beguine sister Sara and wrote on God as the female personification of love
Bieris de Romans
Julie D'Aubigny (c.1673-1707, who will get her own episode!)

If you want to learn more about these folks, as well as the history of medieval sex, sexuality, and cloistered communities, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books:

  • Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
  • Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality
  • Brown, Judith. Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy
  • Krueger, Derek. “Between Monks: Tales of Monastic Companionship in Early Byzantium” in Journal of the HIstory of Sexuality #20 (2011): 28-61.
  • Rupp, Leila J. Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women
  • Rictor Norton, My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (Full Text available online)
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Selected Writings

If you like cloistered queers, you might also like...

  • Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s novel Sor Juana’s Second Dream, which was then adapted into a play, “The Nun and the Countess” by Odalys Nanin
  • 1990 film, I, the Worst of All (Yo, la peor de todas), won Argentina’s Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Language Film. 
  • Netflix series “Juana Ines”, 2016 produced in Mexico
  • 2009 film from German feminist director Margarethe von Trotta called Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen
  • Lesbian playwright Carolyn Gage's play "Artemisia and Hildegard"
 Illumination from the Passional of Abbess kunigunde of bohemia. 

Illumination from the Passional of Abbess kunigunde of bohemia. 

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!

Episode 1: Were Some Pirates Poofters?

This week, in our first episode, we introduced you to the dramatic pirate quartet of Anne Bonny, Mary Read, John “Calico Jack” Rackham, and Pierre “the pansy pirate” Bouspet! Two women eschewing stereotypical gender presentation, dressing as men, then falling in love each thinking the other is a man? Anne kicking Jack out of his quarters and sharing them with Mary instead? Jack Rackham being jealous of Mary and Anne's 'friendship' and walking in on Mary naked on Anne's bed? A pirate who owns a dress shop, coffee shop, and loves to paint with turtle blood? A pirate with a taste for splashy colors and may have been the lover of his former captain? Oh my! Or should we say, ‘arrrghhh’? These pirates may not have been as straight as people think.

How do we know about these folks?

As we mentioned in the episode, much of the histories of Anne, Jack, and Mary comes from the book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, published in 1724 by a mysterious  “Captain Charles Johnson”, whom some claim is a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe, aka author of Robinson Crusoe.

 First edition cover, 1724.

First edition cover, 1724.

Some images of our cast of queerios:

Anne Bonny - c. 1702-1782, born in Cork, Ireland

 Illustration from the 1725 Dutch version of  A General History of...Pyrates

Illustration from the 1725 Dutch version of A General History of...Pyrates

 

Mary Read - c. 1690-1721, born in England

 Illustration from the 1725 Dutch version of  A General History of...Pyrates

Illustration from the 1725 Dutch version of A General History of...Pyrates

 

John “Calico Jack” Rackham - c. 1682-1720

 Illustration from the 1724 edition of  A General History of the Pyrates

Illustration from the 1724 edition of A General History of the Pyrates

 

Sadly we have no images of our favorite drama pirate, Pierre Bouspet.

If you want to learn more about these folks, as well as the history of piracy in the 17th and 18th century, check out our full list of sources further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books:

  • David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag
  • David Cordingly, Women Sailors & Sailors’ Women
  • Ed. C. R. Pennell, Bandits at Sea: A Pirate Reader
  • Myra Weatherly, Pirate Women: Eight Stories of Adventure
  • Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates
 Anne and Mary, from the 1724 edition of  A General History of the Pyrates

Anne and Mary, from the 1724 edition of A General History of the Pyrates

If you like Mary Read, Anne Bonny, Calico Jack Rackham, and Pierre Bouspet, you might also like...

  • The TV show Black Sails on Starz

  • The Abyss Duology (The Abyss Surrounds Us and The Edge of the Abyss) by Emily Skrutskie

  • The Seafarer's Kiss by Julia Ember (mermaids and Vikings, but close enough!)

  • This list of "16 Great Reads for Lesbians and Queer Girls who Love Pirates!"

  • Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess comic by Jeremy Whitley

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!