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Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 10:52
Anyone who know me at all personally knows how uncomfortable I am with self-promotion. I’m going to say some very uncomfortably self-serving things in this blog. (When I want to draw attention, I normally fall back on doing or making something so totally fabulous that everyone will just naturally want to be my friend and talk to me…which evidently makes me too scary or intimidating to talk to, but that’s an entirely different essay.) So you needn’t fear that essays like this one will become a common feature on my blog. But book releases are a special thing—a thing that only ever happens once for each book. As I’ve frequently mentioned, when Daughter of Mystery was released last year, I really wasn’t sure what to expect or what the rules were and I missed a lot of opportunities and made a lot of mistakes. Perhaps mistakes that couldn’t have been avoided. No doubt this time I’ll make an entirely different set of mistakes. But the one mistake I’m going to try not to make is to believe that if I just let my book sit there on the shelf being its utterly fabulous self, that the sheer fabulosity will make it successful. Bullshit. Fabulous things get overlooked all the time. And quietly fabulous things get overlooked a lot. So here’s where you—my readers and fans—come in. I’ve frequently mentioned how tickled I am that my reader reviews are so overwhelmingly literate and articulate. I think a well-written review helps persuade potential readers more than a simple “OMG this is great!” does. But you know what else helps persuade readers? Numbers. A year and a quarter out, Daughter of Mystery has exactly 21 Amazon reviews. (It would have had 22, but I think they took my brother’s review down because he was honest enough to mention the relationship.) That’s actually pretty pathetic numbers. Books that are a tenth as good as mine have ten times the number of reviews. You know why? Because they have energized fan bases. Amazon reviews drive visibility on the site. They matter. Daughter of Mystery has 14 Goodreads reviews. (More ratings, because Goodreads lets you rate without reviewing.) That’s really pathetic. Obviously, I’m happy about the people who have left reviews. But I get rather depressed about my book’s apparent inability to get more people excited enough to talk about it. Excitement spreads interest. Interest generates curiosity. Curiosity leads to people checking the book out. And I can’t count the number of people I’ve heard say, “I wouldn’t ordinarily have read something like this, but so-and-so convinced me to try it and I absolutely loved it!” I can’t get those readers if my greatest fans are just quietly appreciating the books in private as if they were a guilty pleasure. Discoverability is a major problem for small press books and for niche genres. Let’s be brutally honest here: my publisher doesn’t do any promotion outside the lesbian fiction market—and that market is pretty much assumed to be a closed class who only need to be provided with the information of a book’s existence. All the promotion outside that narrow market is on my head, and it pretty much means that I’m hand-selling books one at a time and desperately hoping that someone else will love the book enough to spread the word. That’s where you all come in. Here are some very specific things you can do to help The Mystic Marriage be a success—assuming that you’d like it to be a success. Keep in mind that success is essential to having book series continue to be published. If the Alpennia books are very much outsiders in the larger world of SFF publishing, keep in mind that serious historic fantasy is just as much an outsider in the world of lesbian fiction, which is dominated by contemporary settings, category romance, and erotica. A lot of lesfic readers who will reflexively buy every new contemporary erotic romance, give Daughter of Mystery a pass because they don’t know what to do with it. So I need that cross-over appeal. I write niche books and I need to find and fill that niche in every reading community it exists in. So that’s the pep talk. What can you do?
  • Read the books – OK, that sounds like a no brainer. I assume that people who read this blog do so because they enjoy my writing and my ideas and are predisposed to like my fiction as well. But it’s not actually a given. So I’m going to make a personal, emotional appeal: I will never judge anyone by whether they’ve read my books or not, but if you have ever tried someone’s books or stories solely because you liked them as a person and wanted to support their creative work, I’m not proud. I’ll gladly take that as a reason for having you read mine. And past evidence has indicated that you’re more likely to be glad you did than sorry, so it's not a big risk.
  • Tell people if you enjoyed the books – In person, in your social media, everywhere. Be as enthusiastic as your conscience will allow. Not just, “Hey what are you reading?” “Oh, this thing my friend Heather wrote.” but “It’s this great book [title]! It has [favorite story features] and I love the [best parts]! And it’s a series—I just finished the second book and I can’t wait for her to finish the next one!”
  • Post reviews – You don’t have to buy a book from Amazon to post a review there. (You do have to set up an account, but that’s trivial.) It’s just as easy to set up a Goodreads account and you can post the same review in both places. And then re-use the review on your personal blog, or facebook wall, or anywhere else. A review doesn’t have to be a formal essay. It doesn’t have to be long. (As noted above, specific observations are better than generic squee. But don’t forget to squee as well!)
  • Add the books to Goodreads lists and best-ofs -- Goodreads has a lot of features for helping people identify books they might enjoy reading. There's simple shelf-tagging. There are theme lists. Daughter of Mystery is currently included in "Lesbian Historic Fiction" and "Lesbian Fantasy". Other lists that it might naturally belong on include "Fantasy of Manners" and "Regency Fantasy". There are book groups with associated recommendation lists. Goodreads also has the option to ask an author questions, or to start discussions related to a specific book. All of these things increase visibility and engage people's interest.
  • Recommend the books – If you encounter people looking for suggestions to read, keep the Alpennia books in mind if they fit what the person is looking for. There’s nothing like the thrill of seeing someone recommend your book to a third party. (And it’s disappointing when someone who says they like your book never seems to remember it exists when they’re making recommendations. See comments about “guilty pleasures”.)
  • Pass on promotional opportunities – Not everyone will be in a position to do this, of course, but if you know someone who does book reviews or book blogs, someone who does book-related podcasts, if you’re part of a book club (either in-person or on-line), suggest the Alpennia books any time they’re relevant. If you’re reasonably local to me, I’m always happy to look into personal appearances. Personal connections got me a library reading, a bookstore reading, and a Q&A session with HS and college students who’d had Daughter of Mystery as assigned reading. The possibilities can be creative.
  • Help get the books into bookstores – Yes, I know, brick-and-mortar stores are so 20th century, and many people no longer have the luxury of having a local bookstore, not even a Barnes & Noble. But physical stores are still a great place for book discoverability, and bookstores rarely stock small press books without a special reason. If you have the opportunity, give them that reason. Special-order my books through your local bookstore and actively suggest that they order extra copies and put them on the shelves. (I had one SFF bookstore tell me, “We didn’t stock your book because we didn’t think it would sell, and since nobody came in and asked for it, obviously we were right not to have stocked it.” Just one person walking in and saying, “Hey, could you order this book for me?” might have gotten me into that store.) And here’s a further detail on discoverability: suggest that they shelve the book in the SFF section…not that one tiny shelf in the far back of the store where they cram all the LGBTQ books. People who buy lesbian fiction will already have heard about my books (it they’re going to hear at all). It’s the fantasy readers who need to be able to stumble across them.
  • Be enthusiastic – I can’t emphasize this enough. The minimal baseline for getting people’s attention for a book these days is “OMG this is the best thing ever! You have to read it!” A recommendation along the lines of, “I rather like it. If you’re into this sort of thing, you might check it out.” might as well be a thumbs-down.
  • Don’t anti-sell – There’s this thing that shows up in reviews sometimes that comes out sounding like, “This book is very good for a lesbian novel” or “If you like lesbian fantasy adventures, you’ll enjoy this.” A lot of potential readers will have a knee-jerk reaction to being told that a story has lesbian characters. “Oh, this isn’t meant for me.” I never want to apologize for my characters being women who love other women. And every time the books get described in a way that prioritizes the “lesbian” label, it feels like a big red warning label is being slapped across the cover. Lots of people have enjoyed Daughter of Mystery who would not have deliberately read a “lesbian novel”. Don’t feel you have to foreground this aspect of the books unless it’s a positive selling point. Because if you do, it comes across as giving your listener an excuse to reject it. And that connects to...
  • Make connections to other things people like -- One of my readers recently recommended, "If you like Ellen Kushner's Privilege of the Sword or Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics, or if you think Georgette Heyer novels would be better with lesbians, Daughter of Mystery is a book for you." Now that's how you sell a book to people! I would love it if more people promoted the connections between the Alpennia books and better-known works that have the same target audience. (I'd love it even more if someone convinced the authors of those better-known similar works to check out Alpennia and if they subsequently recommended my work to their fans. This is, alas, something that is Very Bad Form for an author to do herself.)
So that’s everything I can think of at the moment. I’m sure you’re all creative enough to come up with more. The LHMP100 celebratory contest for a chance to win a e-book of The Mystic Marriage is still running and will be open through April 20. You currently have an excellent chance of winning if you enter (hint, hint). Now I’ll just go back to working on being quietly fabulous until next time.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 09:08
I'm combining my celebration of publication #100 in the Lesbian Historic Motif Project and the upcoming publication of The Mystic Marriage with an e-book give-away! Details at this link. [*] We're coming down to the wire. Next Tuesday I'll post the teaser from the final chapter and the Tuesday after that, The Mystic Marriage will already be released! (If you're one of the lucky folk coming to this weekend's Lone Star LesFic festival in Austin TX, there will be early copies available there.) [*] Let me tell you a secret. Promotions like this are a way of gauging reader interest and engagement. If relatively few people show interest in a chance at getting something free, it can make an author very sad. Sad authors don't write as much as happy authors. * * * The accusations against Antuniet had a trail that led back to her housekeeper, Mefro Feldin. Feldin had disappeared from Rotenek, but Barbara's blood was up and a hunt was just the thing to feed her fury. * * * “But you didn’t take those pretty trinkets just to hang about your neck, did you?” Barbara said, giving just the slightest emphasis to the words hang and neck. “Someone else was very interested in those stones.” It was a fraction better than a stab in the dark but Barbara knew she must tread carefully not to give her ignorance away. A shadow of guilt crossed Feldin’s eyes and Barbara probed again. “Someone came to you in secret asking questions.” Again the flinch. “You felt no special loyalty to Maisetra Chazillen. Why should you? She didn’t even pay your wages. And it was quite a come-down having to work for an alchemist. You were owed something extra for that, weren’t you?” She probed step by step, watching Feldin’s reactions. “Just some samples of the work, they said. Isn’t that right? And you knew which ones wouldn’t be missed immediately.” She knew she was inching closer to the truth. “You might have guessed what plans they had for those stones, but it was nothing to do with you.” Feldin nodded eagerly as if seeing a clear path out. “Who am I to question my betters? He said they’d be grateful. Important people, he said. They’d see I got what I was due.” “But they aren’t here, and I am.” Barbara pulled the woman closer until their faces were mere inches apart. Feldin’s breath stank of garlic and fear. “Do you know who I am?” “B…B…Baroness Saveze,” she stuttered as she turned pale. “No,” Barbara said softly. “I’m Lumbeirt’s duelist. I’ve killed two men with my own hands and sent a third to the executioner’s sword. Those who hurt people under my protection have a habit of disappearing. I tracked you down and I can promise you, there is no place on earth that I cannot find you if I choose.”
Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:34
ETA 2015/04/21: The contest is now closed. Thanks to all who entered! When I started posting the Lesbian Historic Motif Project last June, I refused to speculate on how long I’d keep it going. Better just to see where it went. So now here we are at publication #100! And here I am just a couple weeks short of the release of my second novel The Mystic Marriage! So let’s celebrate both those events with a give-away. Here’s the deal: tell everyone about your favorite LHMP posting and win a chance at a free e-book of The Mystic Marriage. (Here’s the comprehensive index to refresh your memory, or you can just page through using the LHMP tag.) Of course, in order to be eligible, I have to know that you’re participating, so here are the logistics:
  • On Twitter: Post a link to your favorite LHMP entry and tell why you like it, then add the hashtag #LHMP100 or @ me @heatherosejones or both.
  • On Facebook: Post a link to your favorite LHMP entry and tell why you like it, then drop me an email to say you’ve done so (LHMP100 at heatherrosejones dot com). Feel free to urge people to check out The Mystic Marriage at the same time, but it’s not required. I’m not confident of the reliability of fb to get me notifications, so please notify me.
  • Elsewhere (LJ or similar, personal blogs, and whatnot): Same as for facebook: post a link in your blog or forum, tell people why you like the post and how you're looking forward to The Mystic Marriage, then drop me an e-mail to let me know (and, if you like, send me a link to your post).
Please be careful about only participating in appropriate spaces, either your own account/blog or groups/forums where such postings are acceptable. I’d hate for the LHMP to become considered spam! The contest will run from when this blog post goes up until release day, April 20 (end of day, by whatever your local date-stamp is). Winner(s) will be determined by random number generator. The number of winners will depend on the number of entries and I’ll notify you by whatever contact means you’ve provided to me. Notes 1. Don’t get too tied up in knots about picking a favorite! 2. Available formats include epub, mobi, and pdf. 3. The intent is to have one contest entry per person, not per posting. So feel free to have multiple favorite entries, but I'll be making the selection among unique people. 4. To preserve the appearance of impartiality, immediate family members won't be eligible to win, but feel free to post!
Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 08:49
I love how I can rely on my friends and readers for interesting prompts for the Random Thursday blogs. This one came out of a Twitter conversation on how frustrating I find it to try to shop for work clothes, given the number of intersecting constraints that fall out of my life choices, including the need for bicycle compatibility. (And that’s before we get into my relatively strict preferences for fiber types and color patterns.) When a couple of people mentioned bicycling in skirts and I noted that I Don’t Wear Skirts For Work and that the reasons were complex enough they’d need a blog rather than Twitter, the response was, “OK, do it.” I was born in 1958 in a middle-class American family. That context means a lot of things, but in particular it means that—as a girl—I was put into dresses pretty much from the cradle and that the schools I attended required me to wear dresses at school almost all the way up through the end of high school. (If I recall correctly, they changed the dress code at my high school the very last year I was there.) This did not sit well with me. For the first part of my life, it wasn’t about gender presentation, it was about mobility. The family story goes that I never really crawled “normally”, I started out with a sort of “up on all fours” locomotion with hands and feet rather than hands and knees. Well, duh! Have you ever tried to crawl with skirts on? Once I got to school age, I would change out of dresses as soon as I got home into something more compatible with running around in the yard and building forts out of picnic tables such like. (There’s another vivid memory from this era: one time in kindergarten I decided it would be more practical to wear my shorts and t-shirt underneath my dress to go to school so it would be simpler to change when I got home. I recall being frustrated at not being able to explain the perfectly reasonable logic behind this to my mother’s satisfaction.) It was never so much that I actively disliked dresses—my mother designed and made a lot of my school clothes and I rather liked that—but I disliked compulsory dresses. And as a shy loner I never got into performing femininity as a bonding activity with friends. (No friends.) Long after I was out on my own, there were delicate family battlegrounds about what I was going to wear to special events like weddings and anniversaries. When I got to college, I pretty much ditched skirts entirely as everyday wear and never looked back. Except for costuming, of course. That was also when I discovered historic re-creation and an outlet for the creative sewing I’d always enjoyed. And it was also when I started figuring out that I wasn’t heterosexual. Clothing started getting even more complicated than before. I’m going to skip a lot of the rest of the autobiography and style development and jump to the present status. As a costumer, as a student of social sciences, and as a participant in corporate and academic cultures, I’m strongly aware of the use and unavoidability of clothing as a communication medium and a social signifier. I don’t fight this; I embrace it. But I embrace it on my own terms. When I switched from being just a grad student to being a teaching assistant, I made a massive shift in my wardrobe to symbolize “I am an authority figure and need to show respect for my position.” When I switched from having biotech jobs that entailed scrubs and lab coats to ones that involved desks and meetings, I made a similar shift for similar reasons. I’ve even gone through a few periods where I played with upping my game to blazers and scarves (though that has some practical aspects given the irregular temperature control at in the building). But what I don’t do is wear skirts or dresses. Some of that is practical. Both my grad school time and my corporate time have typically involved a certain amount of bicycle commuting. And—with a nod to my abovementioned friends who are happy riding bicycles in skirts—I’ve never been comfortable doing that, purely on a physical basis. But a lot of it has to do with specific signaling regarding gender relations. It may be simplest to jump over to talking about historic costume first. Most of my historic dress is in the context of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which allows for (let us say gently) a lot of personal expression in the re-creation of historic clothing styles. It was also in my first few years in the SCA that I figured out that it wasn’t just that I wasn’t interested in boys, but I was actively interested in girls. I was way too shy and socially inept to really be able to communicate this directly to other people. But in putting on costumes and trying out personas, I could test the waters. In a modern context, it’s been a long time since jeans and a t-shirt coded as “masculine” (as opposed to coding as “not femme”), but in the context of historic clothing, there are both much clearer distinctions between masculine and feminine styles, and (at least in the SCA) the potential for mixing those signifiers in ways that don’t map directly to modern expectations. From the beginning, I’ve done a lot of cross-dressing in the SCA not only for practicality (mobility, etc.) and for the sheer joy of creating a multiplicity of garment types, but for gender signaling. (See my article on this topic for a much more detailed discussion.) Because the SCA is about a sort of role-playing all the time, there’s a lower bar to trying out (trying on?) different roles than those people expect from you, and thus shaping their expectations. Back when I was still trying to figure out how to come out (which was harder than you might think in the ‘80s if you didn’t actually have a partner to be obvious with), wearing masculine-coded medieval clothing enabled me to break heteronormative expectations in the ways in which I interacted with women…and declined interactions with men. Even now, decades later, when pretty much anybody who knows me by my medieval name knows my sexual orientation, there’s a palpable difference in the sexual overtones of interactions with both men and women based on whether I’m wearing male-coded or female-coded costumes. Even solidly heterosexual women are happy to flirt and make admiring comments when I’m wearing a male-coded costume. And men who barely say hello to me under ordinary circumstances will come up and compliment me when I’m wearing strongly female-coded costumes. And that last point gets back to the topic of modern, everyday clothing. I’m not actually interested in having men notice what I’m wearing or feel that what I’m wearing gives them an invitation to interact with me on the topic of my appearance. I’m not doing it as a display for them. I’m not doing it as a social invitation to them. And frankly it makes me uncomfortable. In the context of the SCA, it’s an amusing sociological observation. At work, at family social functions, going through my everyday life, I choose to wear that shield of clothing that signals my opting out of heteronormativity. (Mind you, I don’t actually wear anything that would be unexpected if worn by a heterosexual woman—but I avoid wearing things that would tend to be interpreted as inviting male attention.) And yet, I do wear dresses. I love wearing dresses. I like swirly skirts and sweeping lines and necklines that show off my awesome collarbones. But I wear them in contexts where I either know or trust the people around me not to interpret them in unintended ways. (I think I surprised my girlfriend by wearing a dress for last year’s Golden Crown Literary Society awards banquet. But you know? A lesbian publishing conference is the perfect example of a place where no one is going to think I’m signaling heteronormativity! It’s probably one of the most comfortable places I know to wear dresses.) But I’m not going to wear them at work, whether I’m bicycling or not.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 11:50
While nattering around online this morning, it occurred to me that I'd missed a great opportunity to write my own spoof LHMP publication and blog it today. Believe me, I can spoof academic writing with the best of them and it would have been a lot of fun. Too bad I didn't think of it earlier. Maybe next year? But now you'll be warned.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 08:45

Remember: Friday we start on publication #100 and I open (and explain) the combined promotional event for the LHMP and the upcoming release of The Mystic Marriage. Stay tuned and start thinking about what your favorite LHMP post has been.

The Mystic Marriage
Full citation: 

Huot, Sylvia. 1990. "Addressing the Issue of Lesbianism in a General Course on Women in the Middle Ages" (Gay and Lesbian Concerns in Medieval Studies, special issue) Medieval Feminist Newsletter 13:10-11.

The publication covered today wasn't originally on my list of referenced articles to look up, but it was right next to another article in that issue of Medieval Feminist Newsletter and it seemed like a useful book-end comparison for the Project. Back in 1990, this article indicates the state-of-the art regarding research into lesbianism in medieval Europe. Take a look at the publication dates for most of the cumulative bibliography for this project and you'll see that it wasn't a matter of Huot overlooking anything obvious. There has been a revolution in the field in the last 25 years.

Twenty five years ago, I was just starting to think about trying to write historic fiction with lesbian characters and motifs. Some of the lesbian historic novels that I'd read at that time that made me think there might be an interest in the genre had already been published at that time, without the benefit of all the research done since then. Michelle Martin's Pembroke Park came out in 1986, Katherine Sturtevant's A Mistress Moderately Fair in 1988. I recall several novels fictionalizing the life of Sappho that I'd have to take more time to track down. I'm not saying that it was impossible to write good lesbian historic fiction without access to extensive academic references, but my experience as an amateur historian -- particularly of material culture and social history -- is that historic reality is far more nuanced and far less predictable than can be predicted from the modern experience. And the research that has been done in the last quarter century has taken the possible set of solidly-grounded inspirations for lesbian fiction and blown the field much more widely open.

This isn’t so much an article about researching lesbianism in history, but about teaching the researching of lesbianism in history. It’s probably a pretty good snapshot of what was common knowledge in the field in 1990. [Compare that to what I’ve been able to find for this blog project and you’ll get an idea of why I call the 1990s “the early years of lesbian historiography.”]

The author discusses the publications she selected for an advanced seminar (for either upper class undergrads or for graduate students) on “Women in the Middle Ages” that were intended to address the topic of lesbianism. Requirements included that the publications be physically and linguistically accessible (i.e., in print, and in English). The list includes the following (starred items have already been covered by the LHMP; those with a + are already on the list to cover):

+Brown, Judith, C. 1986. Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-504225-5

*Matter, E. Ann. “My Sister, My Spouse: Woman-Identified Women in Medieval Christianity” in Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, eds. Judith Plaskow & Carol P. Christ. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1989.

Matter, E. Ann. 1989. “Discourses of Desire: Sexuality and Christian Women’s Visionary Narratives” in Journal of Homosexuality 18: 119-31.

Dronke, Peter. 1968. Medieval Latin and the Rise of the European Love Lyric. Oxford University Press, New York. [Specifically the love poem “To my singular rose” which has been discussed in several previously covered articles.]

Other background reading included:

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

Using these materials, the seminar discussed the question of what “identity” or “orientation” might mean in the context of culturally available options, the question of essentialism versus cultural constructionism, all-female communities such as convents and Beguinages as a potential site for discovering or enjoying same-sex romantic and erotic relations, and the problem of how cultures may construct or deny the concept of “sex” outside of heterosexual activity.

[Reviewing my current working list, I can find a few publications that might have been included, even with a narrow construction of “medieval” (she considers Brown to be a special exception with regard to time period, and so my have considered Faderman’s Surpassing the Love of Men to have too little pre-Renaissance coverage to be relevant) and a focus on historic rather than literary examples. The collection Hidden from History came out in 1989, but it’s possible either that the author wasn’t aware of it or omitted it for some logistical or methodological reason.]

Time period: 
Monday, March 30, 2015 - 08:45

This is it: the week we hit entry number 100 in the project! Keep your eyes peeled, because on Friday when the first installment in #100 drops, I'll kick off the celebratory give-away. I'm trying to make participation as easy and as widely available as possible.

Full citation: 

Halperin, David. 1998. “Lesbian Historiography before the Name?” in Gay and Lesbian Quarterly 4:557-630. [A panel discussion of Brooten 1997]

David M. Halperin -- Halperin focuses specifically on the social and historic context of varieties of sexual activity in ancient Greece and takes the position that Brooten fundamentally misunderstands the nature of Greek sexual hierarchies and of the institution of pederasty (in its ancient Greek sense). Although Halperin’s work was focused entirely on male culture (and at one point he specifically notes that everything he knows about women’s sexual culture in ancient Greece comes second-hand from a colleague), he accuses Brooten of being a “scholarly tourist” in the field and doing too much projection of modern attitudes and understandings onto the material. [He’s also insufferably condescending and pompous. He actually uses the word “tendentiousness” of Brooten -- I think “condescending and pompous” may be too kind.]

Halperin appears to be a “strong Foucaultian” in holding the position that there are no objective “facts” with regard to sexual or erotic orientation, but only socially constructed roles that dictate what behaviors and understandings people are able to inhabit. This puts him in direct opposition to Brooten’s implied position that there is an objective concept and category of “lesbianism” that can be studied in the past. Having posited that one can only understand historic sexualities by studying the historic data in context, he then more or less concludes that the data about female homoeroticism is so rare and decontextualized that it’s hardly possible to study it at all. He also seems to have his nose out of joint because he feels that he and his friends weren’t given sufficient credit for some of the ideas that Brooten presents in her work. But in the end he does seem to concede Brooten’s point that the histories of male and female homoeroticism cannot be treated as related and parallel, and therefore the study of one (typically, men) cannot stand in for the study of the other.

Ann Pellegrini -- Pellegrini supports Brooten’s emphasis on understanding the history of female homoeroticism as being inseparable from the history of women’s place in (patriarchal) society and that previous studies have been flawed in tacitly assuming an equation with men’s experiences. Pellegrini’s challenge to Brooten’s work and conclusions largely revolves around a perception that Brooten has “sanitized” lesbian sexuality and constructed an idealized image of egalitarian romantic love as the organizing principle for the history of lesbianism (projected from modern ideals) in order to make her arguments for modern Christian acceptance of lesbian relationships. And furthermore, that to do so Brooten has in some ways thrown historic male homoeroticism under the bus in order to create an exaggerated distinction between “bad” hierarchic, status-driven, asymmetric relationships and the “good” egalitarian “sacredness and holiness of a woman expressing her love for another woman.” [And I have to think that she has a valid point, in retrospect.]

Ken Stone -- Stone focuses primarily on the uses of history and exegesis to argue for and against policy positions of the modern Christian church. He points out that, purely from a logistical point of view, Brooten undermines several of the prevailing counters to Paul’s Letter to the Romans (e.g., the position that he wasn’t actually talking about loving homosexual relationships at all, and certainly not about women’s sexuality in particular), substituting instead an argument that Paul actually did mean to be misogynistic and homophobic, but because these were attitudes that he inherited from pre-Christian Classical cultures, they cannot be considered intrinsically “Christian” and therefore can be discarded in favor of more liberal Christian values. (Stone, too, feels that in this context Brooten is throwing gay men under the bus.)

Natalie Boymel Kampen -- Kampen praises the scope and thoroughness of Brooten’s collection of historic sources and agrees with her conclusions regarding the sources and innovations in early Christian attitudes towards female homoeroticism. But she takes issue with the way the second part of the book (the study of Pauline texts and their context) centers and foregrounds modern Christian philosophy and politics in what is otherwise an objective study of a historical phenomenon. She notes that the book “may be problematic for non-Christian readers” for whom the arguments pleading for a re-examination of Paul as a basis for modern Christian policy are entirely irrelevant. She, too, notes that Brooten has constructed a “sanitized” version of lesbian sexuality (in contradiction to large chunks of her evidence) in support of this plea.

Dierdre Good -- Good also focuses on the Biblical exegesis aspect of Brooten’s work, though noting that she takes a firmly historical approach, in contrast to many other critiques of Paul which are more theological in approach. Good finds the latter lacking in failing to address the historic context of Paul’s writings in a way similar to Brooten. The remainder of Good’s discussion focuses on details of the Biblical context.

Bernadette J. Brooten (response) -- Perhaps the last third of the article covers Brooten’s response to the above comments. She begins by summarizing their points of agreement and the highlights of their points of difference. Subsequent sections address: whether undue attention is paid to Paul’s Letter to the Romans; whether sex between women had been overly idealized in the work; whether anachronistic interpretations have been projected on the data; whether her presentation of Classical pederasty is accurate and fair; and several other more minor topics. I won’t cover these in detail as they largely reiterate positions given in the book, as well as noting that many of the objections involve the same cherry-picking of data that they attribute to her.

Aside from the guided tour in how professionals critique each others’ historical work, this article gives a peek into the forms and nature of academic argument.

Event / person: 
Sunday, November 17, 2013 - 08:00

[Note: This was not originally part of my "Died / Recanted / Unhappy / Came Out" movie review series, but in migrating it over to the Alpennia blog, I'm including it in the overall index for that series.]

I'd kept hearing about this new lesbian-themed French movie -- Cannes award winner -- and went out of my way to see it in that brief blip of time when it was showing somewhere other than one obscure theater in a not-public-transit-accessible corner of San Francisco and before it blinked out of existence altogether. This gave me a one-week window and a location in downtown Berkeley, so I squeezed it in on last Wednesday after work (since I only found out that was the last week on Monday, already had Tuesday and Thursday evenings booked, and it would by gone by Friday). Going to see it on a work night turned out not to have been entirely the best idea. My brief review on facebook begins "Very long. Very artsy. Very French." The film is over 3 hours long and the vast majority of that time does not advance the story or elucidate the characters in any meaningful way. Now, to be fair, it only felt like half that time was spent on tediously extended sexual encounters. But let's just say that if the director had gotten over the whole thing of "I'm French, I can get away with spending an hour showing explicit lesbian sex on screen and calling it Art so I'm going to do it," it would have gone some distance towards making this an enjoyable and meaningful film. Yes, by all means, let's have more movies that don't treat F-F relationships as either taboo or exotic, but this is not one of those movies.

I suppose the younger female lead is supposed to come off as confused and messed up in an innocently high-school-I'd-be-like-this-if-I-were-straight-too sort of way. But to the extent that that was the goal, she comes off as an unlikable character. It's ok to be confused about what you want romantically and sexually. And it's understandable to be afraid of being honest with less open-minded friends and family if you're stepping outside society's comfort zone. But she ends up being a habitual pathological liar who reaps the natural consequences of that in the destruction of her hopes and dreams and hurts everyone she interacts with in the process. Oh, and she never NEVER has a handkerchief on her at any of the multiple times when she starts blubbering when those consequences slap her in the face. Honey, snot is not your most attractive feature.

The second lead -- the artist with the blue hair -- is a far more likable character and one has to cheer when she holds fast to the position that you don't get to screw her over twice, not even for great sex, and walks off into the sunset with a happy, if not over-the-top OMG mind-blowing relationship. She was willing to take the chance on being someone's First Lesbian Relationship, even against her better judgment, gave it a sincere effort, and knew when to set boundaries and hold to them. Her girlfriend's insecurity, dishonesty, and personal aimlessness are not her responsibility. Go her.

I may have missed some nuances of the plot -- I did nod off at least once -- but I kind of doubt it.


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