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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 19a - On the Shelf for February 2018

Saturday, February 3, 2018 - 11:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 39 (previously 19a) - On the Shelf for February 2018 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2018/02/03 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for February 2018.

By the time you listen to this, the submissions for the podcast’s fiction project will be closed and I’ll be in the middle of the difficult task of sorting out which stories I want to buy. But at the time I’m recording, that deadline is still in the future and I have no idea what I have yet to receive. So you’ll have to wait for next month’s On the Shelf episode to find out what the results are.

I had a bit of a “duh” moment recently and realized that this monthly roundup should include mention of new releases of lesbian historical fiction. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier, since I’ve had a couple of author guests that I scheduled around new releases. But my excuse is that I haven’t been doing the weekly format very long and I’m still settling in. So here’s the deal: each month I’ll tell you about what’s new in the world of lesbian historical fiction that I know about. And that’s the catch. I can only talk about it if I know about it. I’ll be monitoring the websites of the lesbian publishing houses that I know have published historicals in the past. And I’ll keep my eyes peeled for announcements online. And I’ll put out a regular reminder on twitter and facebook asking people to send me information. But I can’t guarantee I’ll catch everything, so if you have a book or story coming out that you think my listeners would be interested in, let me know. The contact information is in the show notes. And don’t agonize too much about whether the book you’re telling me about counts as historic. Give me the information--the blurb and the description--and I’ll decide if it fits. I’ll definitely be including historic fantasy and alternate history and may include stories with settings inspired by historic cultures even if they aren’t technically set in real-world history.

While I’m doing general announcements, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Lesbian Book Bingo reading challenge that Jae is organizing.  This is a year-long fun challenge to read books fitting 24 specific themes (plus one free square) on a bingo card, with a chance for prizes for those who complete rows and squares and who participate in the book recommendations on her blog. One of the squares is for historical fiction, but a lot of them have to do with particular types of characters and plots, so you could fit a lot of historic titles in if you’re clever. I don’t know if I’ll manage to get any bingos, but I’ll be cheerleading for the challenge throughout the year. And as a special bonus, I’m writing a mini-story for each of the categories, all tied loosely together in a historic setting. Check my blog every two weeks for a new installment.

The New “History is Gay” Podcast

A few weeks ago, I saw on Twitter a notification for a brand new queer history podcast, and I have invited the proprietors of that podcast on to tell my listeners about it.

Gretchen: Yay, thank you so much for having us!

Leigh: Yeah, thank you so much!

Gretchen: This is exciting!

Heather: So tell my listeners who you are, and and what the name of your show is.

Leigh: I am Leigh.

Gretchen: And I’m Gretchen.

Leigh: And our podcast that just launched is called “History is Gay.”

Gretchen : Where we are examining the underappreciated and overlooked queer ladies, gents, and gentle enbies that have always been there in the unexplored corners of history. ‘Cause history’s not as straight as you think, and we want to shed light on that.

Heather: And it looks like we have a fairly similar intent in the program except that you cover a much wider spectrum of the queer world.

Leigh: We were really fascinated by the fact that we have such a wide breadth of experiences and intersections in our community and a lot of other communities, and it’s sad that there isn’t a central place that we can go to talk about these things or find information. It’s a lot of digging around and piecing things together and creating kind of a global timeline and global community. And so we kind of want to look at all the different experiences we can and show people ways to find those commonalities and that comfort in knowing that what they experiences is not new.

Heather: Yes, it’s the “We are everywhen” phenomenon.

Gretchen: Yes!

Leigh: Ooh, I like that!

Gretchen: I like that too! Yeah, exactly. Like a huge part of why I first wanted to do this podcast, and led to a conversation between Leigh and I, was I had an interaction on Twitter where someone was going off on, like, you know, “All of these gender identities are all new,” and you know blah, blah, blah, whatever noise. And I said, like, “No, like, we’ve always existed. We’ve always been here. And it was at that moment that I realized that most people don’t know that. That there are a lot of people and--even within our own community--who were never told that Egypt had three genders, or--

Leigh: --that people you’ve heard stories about, and read their entire repertoire of work. Suddenly you’re like, “Wait, hold on. That person carried on a relationship with a person of the same gender for twenty years? And no one in school taught me this? No one anywhere, no book that I ever read said anything about this?”

Gretchen: Right.

Leigh: I was looking through one of our texts last night and--just flipping through the pages--and was like, “Wait! What?”

Heather: And I know that there has been an explosion of academic research in the field of history of sexuality in the last twenty years or so, but so little of it has trickled out to the general public.

Gretchen: Mm hm, exactly. And that’s really what we want to do, is like, we have the time and the energy and the interest and the training to look through all of these sources and find them all and compile them and then share them with people. And if we can make people happy, and help people understand that there’s a tradition, there’s a story that we can all connect to that tells us who we are, and we can situate ourselves in history, and in ourselves and our identity. Like that’s what we want to do.

Leigh: We also really want to make it accessible. The great thing about the internet and about podcasts and being able to make content like this is that everyone has a really easy time getting access to it, and these long, breadthy discussions aren’t locked up in an ivory tower of academia any more.

Heather: So, tell the listeners where they can find your podcast. I know you’re on iTunes because that’s where I’m subscribing. And what other places?

Leigh: We’re pretty much anywhere you can find podcasts. We’re on iTunes, Stitcher, any of the other podcatcher apps. We have an email: And we also have lots of different social media that Gretchen can tell you about.

Gretchen: Yeah, we are on Twitter as @HistoryisGayPod, on Tumblr as historyisgaypodcast, and you can always go to our website, which is And you can always listen there. Plus that’s where we have our awesome show notes and we’ll often have, like, images and poems and things that we can’t always have time to talk about. And we put all of that in our show notes on our website.

Heather: And speaking of show notes, I will put all of these links in my show notes so people can find you easily. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your show with us.

Both: Oh, thank you for having us!

Gretchen: We’ll have to have you on our podcast to talk about yours.

Heather: That would be fabulous!

Publications on the Blog

In January, the blog finished up covering the articles in the collection The Lesbian Premodern, which concluded with a series of considerations on the place of lesbian history in academia, and various approaches to how to study and write about it. This was followed by three articles from a collection centered around linguistics. Randy Connor looks at language used for homosexuals in 16th century France. Marie-Jo Bonnet tries to connect shifts in the terminology used for homosexual women in French with changes in social attitudes toward them. And Diane Watt looks at the phrase “clipping and kissing” (that is to say, hugging and kissing), used in a 16th century English translation of the story of Yde and Olive, and lays out the social context of whether and when these terms indicated sexual activity.

After those articles, I move on to a couple of publications about 19th century American actress Charlotte Cushman, who was famous for playing male roles on stage to the swooning delight of female fans, and who was the center of a colony of artistic woman in Rome, including several of Cushman’s lovers and various other female couples. This is one of those occasions where I’m coordinating the blog with the podcast essay, because at the end of February I’ll be doing a program on Cushman and her circle. I’ve come to the conclusion that we really really need a tv mini-series on Cushman and her social circle. So if you have any connections in Hollywood, see who you can poke to get the idea circulating!

Author Guest

This month’s author guest will be Ellen Klages. Ellen is known for stories that skim lightly across the fantastic and follow fascinating people caught up in unexpected events. She’s written about everything from the Manhattan Project, to women’s baseball leagues, to swamp monsters in Florida, and the focus of our interview, her 2017 novella Passing Strange, set in San Francisco at the time of the World’s Fair on Treasure Island during World War II. Listen to the interview to find out more about her stories.

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

So what’s new in lesbian historical fiction that’s coming out in February?

There’s an anthology of queer young-adult historical stories coming out this month titled All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages, edited by Saundra Mitchell and published by Harlequin Teen. This covers a whole range of queer identities. The blurb reads: “Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens. From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.” Kirkus Reviews notes that the contents focus heavily on the 20th century and the United States, although the casts are ethnically diverse. It’s hard to tell from the table of contents how many of the stories involve girls who like girls, but I see names like Tessa Gratton, Malinda Lo, and Dahlia Adler who might be good bets.

I’ve been hearing for a while about a blog titled The Comfortable Courtesan that presented the fictional memoirs of a Regency-era courtesan, whose interests are bisexual and whose social circle includes lesbian and gay figures. The blog is now being published in several volumes as The Comfortable Courtesan: Being Memoirs by Clorinda Cathcart (that has been a Lady of the Town these several years), by L. A. Hall, published by Sleepy Wombatt Press. Volume 1 is already out, and volumes 2 and 3 will be released shortly, or perhaps may be out already by the time you hear this. The book has a witty tone that matches the historic setting and looks to be a delightful read if you’re ok with a fairly pansexual approach to relationships.

I can’t believe I forgot about this next story and had to come back and splice this in! There will be a new Alpennia story coming out in the anthology Lace and Blade 4 edited by Deborah J. Ross. Set during the Napoleonic occupation of Alpennia, this is one of several planned stories about the early life of Jeanne Vicomtesse de Cherdillac. “In The Mystic Marriage, Vicomtesse Jeanne de Cherdillac tells another character, ‘I have loved—truly loved—only four women. One of them is dead. One never found the courage to say either yes or no. You were the third.’ When I wrote those words, I knew relatively little about those first two women, but I had the first inkling that Jeanne might have some interesting stories to tell. This is not the story of either that first or second love, but of the time between them when grief and regret had not yet been replaced by archness and a cultivated sophistication.” Lace and Blade offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories.

There are works that are hard to classify as either being historical or not historical. I figure I’ll have three categories of publications that I include in my forthcoming books. The first will be strictly historical works. The second will be historical fantasy; stories that are set in a particular time and place in history but have fantastic elements of some sort. This would include stories with time-travel and alternate histories as well as stories with magical elements and that sort of thing. The third group would be what I call historically inspired fantasy. This includes stories that are clearly not anchored to our world, but where the world-building has drawn on elements of historic cultures. The last two works I want to mention this month fall in this category.

First is the ongoing serial Tremontaine, based on the Riverside novels by Ellen Kushner and written by a whole team of authors, with episodes coming out weekly during each run from Serial Box Publications. Riverside is both clearly based on a vaguely 18th century-ish Western Europe, and very clearly not a real-world historical setting. The serial is packed full of queer characters, with the majority of the female point of view characters having same sex relationships at some point (generally with each other). The story is packed with intrigues, politics, romantic adventures, and a great deal of sex of all types. The current season has just concluded, but you can still get all three seasons, either in text or audio format. I really enjoy listing to the audio version. Each episode covers one day’s commute listening very nicely!

Another historically inspired fantasy coming out this month is the second book in G. L. Roberts young adult “Shieldmaiden” series, title Jewel of Fire, published by Bella Books. The world of the setting draws on medieval European cultures of the British Isles and Scadinavia, but stitched together in new ways and with a splash of magic, as you might be able to tell from the blurb, which reads, “In the highlands of Alban near the waters of the Inbhir Nis, Lady Athebryn waits for her dragon to bring word of the enemy across the sea. At her side is her beloved Princess Thalynder. Once handmaiden to the Princess, Lady Athebryn now stands ready to lead the hastily gathered army of clanns and kingdoms to battle against the marauding Vík Ingr. If they are successful, Lady Athebryn will win the hearts and minds of all, uniting Alban under one banner. But if they fail, then all hope for a united Alban may be forever lost.”

If you know of books of interest coming out in March, or know of something I missed this month that I should come back and mention, please let me know. My contact information is in the show notes.

Ask Sappho

This month’s Ask Sappho question is another one from podcast fan Amy Herman-Pall on the Lesbian Talk Show facebook group. She asks, “I believe that your area of study and expertise is mostly European in nature, but I wonder if you know of any historical accounts of lesbians in other cultures, especially in Asia, or the Indian sub-continent?”

It’s true that my personal interests are focused primarily around Europe and the Mediterranean area. People have probably noticed that my coverage is a bit lighter even on American history. That’s just a natural consequence of the fact that I have to do the project for my own satisfaction to stay motivated. I’d always be happy to have other people contribute entries for publications on cultures they’re interested in.

But I have run across research on other regions of the world in the course of my work and I can give pointers to a few useful starting places. One thing to keep in mind when straying outside Western culture is that many of the organizing concepts of the study of homosexuality in history are very specific to Western culture and revolve around assumptions and interpretations that don’t necessarily make sense in other cultural contexts. So often the best and most reliable work in the field is being done, not by people who are looking for practices and lives that resemble those of queer people in Western culture, but those who are working within the dynamics of those cultures to understand varieties of sexuality and gender within their own cultural context. For example, although I’ve run across a few articles that discuss historic same-sex relations in sub-Saharan African cultures, I hesitate to recommend the ones I’ve seen as I have concerns about some of the racist and colonialist underpinnings in them that even I can identify. And this is another concern I have: my ability to read and summarize critically for cultures and topics outside my own field of knowledge. So I do my best to include non-Western cultures when I have confidence in the sources I’ve found, but I’m more cautious outside my expertise.

With that in mind, I have to say that one source I don’t recommend--which is a shame because it’s very ambitious in its coverage--is Leila Rupp’s Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women. Although she tries to tackle the entire history of the world, from the Ice Age to the present day, and covering every continent, her discussions feel very Western-centric and she has a habit of conflating modern traditional cultures with historic practices in a way that makes me very suspicious and uneasy. To some extent, the enormous scope of the work means that no particular culture can be covered in a nuanced fashion, but there are flaws even beyond that (which I go into in more detail in my blog entry on the book).

One region of the world that I have some excellant sources on is the Arabic-speaking and Islamic-influenced cultures around the Mediterranean Sea. And this is largely due to the excellent work of two specific academics. Sahar Amer has written some extensive comparative studies of medieval Arabic and French attitudes towards love between women, especially as depicted in heroic literature in her book Crossing Borders: Love Between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures. She has a number of other publications drawing on the same research. In the course of this work, she provides a detailed background of medieval attitudes towards woman and sex in the Arabic-speaking world.

The second writer that I was delighted to find working in this area is Samar Habib, who has put together something of an exhaustive catalog of pre-modern Arabic writings on love between women in her book Arabo-Islamic Texts on Female Homosexuality: 850-1780 A.D. In addition to the catalog of references to love and sex between women in historic Arabic literature, with a discussion on the historic, literary, social, and religious context of the material, she also provides an insider’s analysis of the problem of studying homosexuality in Islamic cultures when done from a European framework.

I have a couple of good insider sources on the Indian sub-continent. The two articles that I’ve covered in the project at this point are both by Ruth Vanita, who discusses lesbian-like themes in historic Indian literature and religious traditions. Vanita seems to be a major figure in this field because my “to be read” list for the project includes several other works and collections she was involved in, including Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History, and co-editing Same-Sex Love in India: Readings in Indian Literature with Saleem Kidwai. Let me pause a moment to order those. [pause] OK, I’m back.

Based on a few scraps I’ve seen, I’m fairly certain that there is interesting history to be uncovered from Chinese history--and of course many other cultures where I haven’t even found scraps yet--but I haven’t yet found a good entry point. One of the things about academic literature is that once you’ve found one good source, you can follow the trail of breadcrumbs in their bibligraphy to find out who else is working on the same topic, and then look at their bibliographies to find more sources, and so on, and so on. That’s one of the ways I find interesting new sources to track down. But because my starting point tends to be from works focusing on Europe, the branching bibligraphy trails tend to circle around the same topics. So I appreciate getting questions that push me outside those specific circles. Thanks, Amy!

As usual, all the publications mentioned here will be linked in the show notes.

Show Notes

Your monthly update on what the Lesbian Historic Motif Project has been doing.

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Major category: