I don't seem to have taken any pictures yesterday -- need to remember to do that today. The convention officially opened, though I had something else opposite the opening ceremonies so I can't report on them. There is evidently a certain amount of "victims of their own success" going on with much higher at-con membership sales than expected, so the popular events and panels are jam packed. So maybe I wouldn't have gotten in to the opening ceremonies anyway. The main "large panel" space has four breakout rooms, and originally the largest panels were going to be in a the combined A/B section, but for the one thing I attended there -- the Tea & Jeopardy podcast live interview with George R R Martin -- they'd opened up the entire A/B/C/D combined space. (Back before the convention, the podcast had arranged for podcast Patreon supporters to sign up for special reserved seating, which I did, but when I got there it was clear that any plans of that sort had gone out the window. Or at least none of the crowd control folks knew anything about it.) The convention has put out announcements that they're scrambling to arrange for more function space with the convention center, and they've had to close down one-day memberships. I've heard bits of grumbling about basically not being able to attend anything back-to-back both because of traffic flow issues and the need to queue up well in advance to get into anything. It will be interesting to see if things settle out or escalate.
I didn't have any programming yesterday, and no must-do events other than the initial File770 social meetup and the Escape Artists meet-up (Escape Artists runs a series of fiction podcasts, including Podcastle.org which has bought two of my "Merchinogi" short stories.) The layout of the convention center is great for sitting down in one of the cafe areas and watching people go by (or wandering by people hanging out in the cafe areas), which is how I immediately ran into Irina Rempt (also on my list to visit after the con) and her friend Eleanor, then later once again bumped into Praisegod Barebones & The-Girl-from-Ankyra (with whom I'd had coffee the day before) at which we exchanged gifts (I brought a stack of chapbooks of "The Mazarinette and the Musketeer" for gifts), and others who are slipping my mind. Briefly bumped into Kari Sperring (whose schedule didn't work out for an after-con visit) and dropped by the Accessibility Point to wave hi to a couple friends who were staffing it.
As noted, I did got to the Tea & Jeopardy live recording, which worked very well as a stage presentation (including the singing chickens...who were simply too shy to come out from behind the curtain). Good audience participation schtick too. Then I went to a panel on "The Medieval Mind and Fantasy Literature" looking at contrasts between actual medieval history and culture, and the version that tends to show up in fantasy. (Generally good, though marred slightly by one of the panelists have a problem with taking 100 words to present a 5-word thought.)
In the mean time, thanks to the wonders of social media, I'd responded to a dinner-fishing post from Catherine Lundoff and her wife Jana with a suggestion to merge in my existing dinner plans with Sarah Goslee and husband Thorvaldr (I'm going to mix names from different spheres based on what I can remember most easily), to which Catherine had added Paul Weimer, Charlie Stross, and oh-crap-I'm-blanking-on-Charlie's-partner's-name-sorry! Dietary specifications landed us in a tiny vegan Vietnamese place where our moderate-sized party took up half the tables. Lovely conversation that wasn't all politics (though politics featured significantly), nor all about writing (though writing featured significantly), with most of us continuing on to a brew pub that it turns out was just a block away from my hotel.
This morning's hotel breakfast landed me with a group I'd seen yesterday, where I valiantly struggled to hold up my end of a discussion of current SFF television and movies. And now, in addition to writing this up, I'm reviewing my notes for my morning panel on historic fantasy (for which the moderator has sent out a somewhat over-structured outline for the discussion, but I'm sure it will go fine). Other than that, the fixed items on my schedule are three more social meet-ups (two of which conflict, so I may have to triage, since one is at the convention center and the other downtown for a loose dinner group). And beyond that, whatever programming I can squeeze myself into. See you on the flip side!
"Reception" is meant in several senses. The picture is not the official Worldcon reception at City Hall (which was a bit too washed out to make a good image)...but I get ahead of myself. One of the fascinating things about online culture, is that not only am I meeting people that I've known for years but have never seen face to face, but in some cases I'm meeting people I've known for years and realize I have no idea what their real names are. In the case of yesterday's coffee meet-up there's an objective reason for this (he's an ex-pat teaching in a country with touchy politics and doesn't want to connect his online and real life identities), but often it's just a matter of knowing someone through the nickname they use in a particular online space. That's who they are, as much as any name is "who you are". I joke that the first time I went to the medieval studies conference at Kalamazoo, between people I knew through SCA, people I knew through academia, people I knew through LiveJournal, people I knew through Usenet, and people I knew through other people talking about them, I had a vision of quite how many people I was likely to run into that I already knew...and then discovered that, due to redundancy, the actual number of discrete individuals was much smaller.
In any case, I had coffee with someone I know as Praisegod Barebones and with his daughter (just about to go off to college) who has become a charter member of the unofficial official Alpennia fan club. And because the next thing on their agenda was wandering around the farmers' market/tourist market at the harbor, we ended up spending several hours together. Checked out the interior of the Orthodox cathedral, shared a basket of billberries from the market, and then split up with they went off to do a ferry tour of several islands.
I headed back to my room for a bit of a rest (valiently struggling to not nap), and then eventually headed off to the Worldcon reception at City Hall (evidently they did a random pick of people who were participating in programming--or at least that's what I heard, which caused a bit of a wave of consternation when people tried to figure out why some people got invited and others didn't, without knowing about the random factor). A bit of speechifying, a light buffet of cocktail food, and a lot of milling about struggling to socialize. Within two minutes I was at the point of "I recognize six people in this room and they're all in the middle of knots of friends", so I shifted gears into "walk up and introduce myself to people who are standing all by themselves and break the ice by saying that that's what I'm doing." Eventually bumped into several people I actually did already know, but cocktail parties are always about survival mode.
Expecting (accurately) that the reception wouldn't be anything resembling a real meal, I'd hoped to hook up with people planning to go off to dinner afterward, but failed to make any connections. Since I had a phone call to make I went back to my room (I thought I needed to sort out something with my ATM card, but it turned out I'd just happened to hit the one malfunctioning ATM in all Helsinki and thought it was my account that was the problem). Still needed dinner after that and made some connection attempts on social media but nothing panned out with the right timing so I ate by myself at a pasta place with some nice patio seating on the main square. I always feel like a failure when I eat by myself at conventions. I failed again at breakfast this morning despite the hotel filling up with con goers, and me wandering through the (open seating) dining room hopefully trying for eye contact. My game isn't getting off the ground so far, but half the dinners from here on are already scheduled, so that should get better.
I've packed my backpack with essential supplies (business cards, Alpennia badge ribbons, sample books, a change of shirt) since the hotel is a train stop away from the convention center. Helsinki doesn't have a single big convention space + hotel so we're scattered throughout the downtown area. I'm assuming I won't be coming back to my room until evening most nights.
This will be an irregular chronicle of My Summer Vacation, beginning in Helsinki, Finland. Seeing all sorts of online friends reporting late planes and missed connections, I have to count myself lucky at getting a non-stop flight (though we were delayed an hour taking off, so good thing I didn't have a connection to miss). I spotted several other Worldcon-bound fans in the waiting room for my flight, in some cases due to strategic use of the "Helsinki 2017" bright blue t-shirts, but in some cases because it was someone I actually knew (waves at David Peterson). The flight was wonderfully non-full, and far more comfortable than economy class typically is. (I swear that the seats reclined farther than usual, but this may be an illusion because they certainly weren't any farther apart than usual.) By a judicious use of half a sleeping pill and my audiobooks, I managed as much sleep as I normally do, which meant I woke up just about when they were serving breakfast, a couple hours out from landing.
Of course, landing was at 4pm local time. It's possible I would have done better to get less sleep on the plane and been more tired last night, but I'm not going to complain. I navigated the airport, customs, and catching the train into the city as if I knew what I were doing. The one glitch so far is that my planned roommate (Liz Bourke) called in sick, having come down with something at the conference on Byzantium in SF last week. (The tweets coming out of that conference made me a bit envious of those who attended, but one can't do everything.) I'm a bit sad, because I like using room sharing at cons as a way to get to know people I might not have spent time with before. It's always awkward offering up room space for those in last minute need because of issues around being choosy.
Anyway, after checking in at the Hotel Arthur, I went out for a long walk to get acquainted with the downtown, find something to eat (a light smoked salmon sandwith at the Kappeli cafe in the esplanade park), and generally get in enough physical activity to reset my body a little. It was one of those times where it would have been nice to bump into other fans and do some socializing, but I wasn't up to figuring out how I would manage that. Sleep was decent enough that I think I'm well on track to get through the jet lag.
The hotel has a complimentary breakfast buffet with some interesting (and occasionally cryptic) choices. I mostly settled on muesli with yogurt-like-substance and fresh mixed berries. Then took in a walk through the botanic gardens which back up on the hotel. I have a 10:30 date to meet some online friends for coffee, and after that I'll improvise. Maybe even take some time to put together notes for the panels I'm on, which I haven't had the brainspace to do yet.
The blog comes around again to Catalina de Erauso, who kicked off the current thematic grouping. It's an odd trio: Catalina the cross-dressing soldier of fortune in the New World, Eleno de Cespedes the transgender doctor who began life as a slave, and Queen Christina of Sweden who became the darling of the Spanish aristocracy (at long distance) when she decided to convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism--a decision that made them willing to overlook her long-rumored romantic relationships with women. And I am now imagining a buddy movie...
Velasco, Sherry. 2011. Lesbians in Early Modern Spain. Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville. ISBN 978-0-8265-1750-0
A study of the evidence and social context for women who loved women in early modern Spain, covering generally the 16-17th centuries and including some material from colonial Spanish America.
Chapter 4: Transgender Lesbian Celebrities
This chapter focuses on three specific individuals whose gender and sexuality brought them celebrity status in 16-17th century Spain: Catalina de Erauso, Queen Christina of Sweden, and Elena/Eleno de Céspedes. In comparing them, we can see the influence of race and class on how gender transgression was received.
Catalina de Erauso ran away from a convent in Spain at age 15 before taking final vows, began living as a man, and had a violent and turbulent career in the Spanish colonies of the New World before deciding to tell her history publicly. She returned to Spain where she was greeted as a celebrity and successfully petitioned the crown for a pension, went to Rome where she received dispensation from the Pope to continue wearing male clothing, wrote her memoirs, and eventually returned to the New World where she lived in relative obscurity working as a mule driver for twenty years until her death. [I’ve abbreviated her background due to its more detailed coverage in Steptoe & Steptoe 1996 and Velasco 2000.]
Elena/Eleno de Céspedes was a black enslaved person in 16th century Spain who, after a failed marriage and giving birth to a child, began living as a man and eventually embarked on a successful career as a surgeon. Eleno testified that he had undergone a spontaneous physical change of sex and, after obtaining testimony supporting this claim was given persmission to marry a woman. This assessment was later challenged and a second examination did not support the claim of male physiology. Following that, Eleno was tried for sodomy and “consorting with demons” along with “contempt for the sacrament of marriage”. The eventual conviction, somewhat confusingly, was for bigamy. That is, Eleno had failed to provide documentation of the death of Elena’s husband prior to Eleno marrying a woman. Eleno was sentence to whipping and to serving a sort of community service providing medical care in a hospital for indigents, whose administrator later complained of the crowds of curious people who came to see the celebrity. [For more details, see Burshatin 1996.]
Queen Christina of Sweden may seem an odd person to become a celebrity in Spain, particularly as she never actually traveled there. Spanish connections were a major influence on Christina’s decision to covert to Catholicism (necessitating her abdication from the Swedish throne). Christina had a lifelong habit of crossdressing and her romantic interest in women, including specific members of her household, was open knowledge. But these issues that Spanish culture, in theory, disapproved of, were overlooked due to her social rank and the high-level approval of her in Spain because of the coup her conversion was considered.
These three people had three very different receptions by the Spanish authorities. Eleno was a person of color whose life as a man included marriage to a woman and (at least the accusation of) performing sex with an artificial penis. Eleno went to significant lengths to establish an official male identity in the face of physical signs of female sex. An interesting contrast to Eleno is the situation of the nun María Muñoz, who developed male physical characteristics (possibly as a result of an intersex condition) but manufactured signs of femaleness (such as apparent evidence of menstruation) in order to conceal the issue and continue to be accepted as a woman.
Eleno’s transgression (in addition to being non-white) was laying claim to male priviledge despite anatomy. In contrast, although Catalina (white and upper class) didn’t dispute the judgment of female status once her story was told, even in the context of requesting permission to continue performing as male. Catalina never tried to marry a woman. There were several situations where the possibility of marriage was raised and Catalina deceived the potential brides for her own gain, but in all cases these women were mestizas and this may have contributed to a lack of concern over their experience.
Christina’s interest in converting from Lutherinism to Catholicism motivated positive reactions to her from Spanish authorities, despite regular comments in the Spanish diplomatic correspondence on her masculine appearance and rumors of her affairs with women. These were sometimes coded in phrases like “not being the marrying type.” After Christina’s abdication, Spain was excitedly preparing for a visit from her in 1656 when everything fell apart at the last minute due her choice to support Spain’s enemy France in certain concerns. Spanish rhetoric about her made an abrupt change from praise to satire, focusing specifically on romors of heterosexual affairs, including a fictitious illicit pregnancy, but curiously avoiding mention of her relations with women.
This omission of the lesbian rumors was not universal. There was a thinly veiled depiction of Christina as the character Cristerna de Suevia in the play Afectos de Odo y amor, which portrays her using the stock character of a mujer esquiva, a woman averse to love and marriage, and to men in general. The character in the play is defending her right to rule as a woman, in conflict with the antagonist/romantic lead Casimiro. The play toys with implications of same-sex desire in giving Cristerna a lady-in-waiting named Lesbia, and setting up a bait-and-switch marriage plot in wich Cristerna agrees to marry Casimiro’s sister (that is, within the play this is overtly a same-sex marriage plan). When Cristerna has committed to the marriage, the sister substitutes in her brother Caisimiro and Cristerna inexplicably capitulates all her feminist positions and declares that women should be men’s vassals.
Starting this month, the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is expanding from monthly to weekly! Originally I was hesitant to try an expanded schedule because I didn't think I could produce enough new material to match that demand. The key was trying some new episode types. And it all ties in with promoting the general idea of lesbian historical fiction. Basically, I'll be adding author interviews, and people talking about their favorite lesbian historical fiction. And the first episode of every month (like this one) will be a hodge-podge I'm calling "On the Shelf", talking about the publications that I'm covering on the blog, announcing who the month's author guest will be, and having a listener Q&A and feedback segment I'm calling "Ask Sappho". This month's question asks for an overview of the legal status of lesbianism across the centuries.
Has the podcast only been going for a year? There were twelve numbered episodes under the monthly schedule, not including the cross-over October special episode I did with Susie Carr. I've learned a lot about recording and editing, and am beginning to get the hang of recording interviews via Skype. (Now I want to pick the brains of all the multi-person shows I listen to for more tips.)
At this point, I still have the freedom of doing pretty much any sort of show I want, because I don't get much feedback on what people would like to hear. (About the only solid piece of criticism that's been passed on is that I talk too fast! I'm working on it, believe me. Hey, did you know there's an editing effect in Audacity that will decrease the speed of your recording without affecting pitch? Ask me how I know.) But with the expanded format, I need more listener feedback. What sort of random questions would you like me to talk about in the "Ask Sappho" segment? Is there an author you'd like me to try to interview? (No promises, but suggestions are welcome.) Is there a topic you'd like to see in the long-form episodes? I keep a list of prompts to inspire me.
Keep in mind that "free" entertainment online still needs your support if it's going to continue. At the very least, leaving ratings and reviews on your podcast site of choice helps bump the show up in visibility. And if you especially like my history series, please say so, in your reviews or directly to the Lesbian Talk Show management. As in everything I do, my work is about 97 degrees out of sync with the field I'm operating in, so it's important to let people know that you like my work in particular, not just the show as a whole.
Using the records of court cases to research lesbian lives in history is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, they often present a wealth of detail not found in any other type of record unless--by miraculous luck--a personal diary or set of candid correspondence is unearthed. But conversely, court cases, by their nature, present a skewed view of people's lives. They show people in conflict and distress. They arise when relationships go bad, or were never particularly good in the first place. They are typcially the records of only those classes of people who aren't able to conceal their activities through priviledge, or to evade legal penalties if concealment is impossible. It would be all too easy, when looking at the trials of criminal lesbians, to conclude that lesbianism inherently leads to criminality. (Consider as a parallel how early psychiatrists studying homosexuality in their patients--patients who had come to them for help with severe problems--concluded that homosexuality was an inherently deranged condition. Because, after all, all the homosexuals they knew were people with serious emotional problems!) With that caveat, the court records studied here provide a rich and extensive (sometimes very extensive) record of the details of how some women lived together in romantic and sexual partnerships. Of what some of their sexual practices were. And how their relationships were sometimes viewed by the neighbors and family members who were aware of them.
One interesting take-away is that these romantic relationships between women were sometimes public knowledge in their communities, and sometimes apparently accepted by their families. (At least, that's the implication when they are living as a couple in a family member's house.) And although the cases that came before the law demonstrate that any sort of sexual activity between women was considered worthy of punishment, the severity of that punishment depended strongly on the specific sex acts involved. Reading between the lines, there seems to be plenty of scope to imagine lesbian relationships that never came to the interest of the law for the simple fact that they never turned sour enough to disrupt the community, and where the women lived openly as a couple with at least tolerance from family and neighbors.
Velasco, Sherry. 2011. Lesbians in Early Modern Spain. Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville. ISBN 978-0-8265-1750-0
A study of the evidence and social context for women who loved women in early modern Spain, covering generally the 16-17th centuries and including some material from colonial Spanish America.
Chapter 3: Criminal Lesbians
This chapter looks at evidence regarding lesbian activity that can be found in specific court cases, as well as perceptions of the role of lesbian relations in criminal activities and contexts. The point here is not that lesbians were inherently criminal in early modern Spain (though some official opinions were that one type of deviant behavior was expected to lead to other types), but that the nature of legal records can provide a wealth of detail that is not available for other contexts.
The conflicting professional opinions on female sodomy in Spain played out in criminal prosecutions. The outcome of trials could depend both on the specific nature of the behavior and situation as well as on how successful the accused woman was in contesting the charges. The summary of this chapter will largely be brief outlines of the cases.
Ca. 1400 a woman dressed as a man served as a judicial official and married two women (presumably sequentially). She was convicted of sodomy because she used a penetrative instrument for sex, but recognition of her government service resulted in leniency. Specifically, she was hanged rather than the prescribed sentence of being burnt to death. The accusation had come from her second wife.
In 1502 in Valencia a woman passed as a man and married a woman, using an artificial penis made of lambskin for sex. She had also had sex in that way with other women. Her gender was discovered in the context of an accusation of theft. She was sentenced to hang but was pardoned on the basis of a legal technicality with regard to how the trial was handled. In a number of these cases, it is an open question whether the “femme” partner was truly ignorant of the sex of the passing woman or whether she was relying on the legal tendency to focus on gender transgressions rather than the sexual relationship per se.
In 1503, two women--Catalina de Belunçe and Matiche de Oyarzún--were accused of having sex “like a man and a woman”. No other specifics of the offence were given and there was no mention of the use of an instrument. Only one of the pair was sentenced to banishment and confiscation of her belongings, but with capital punishment if she returned from banishment. But rather than accepting this leniency, she appealed to the royal court, claiming innocence and that no evidence had been offered. The charge had been based on “public reputation” of her activities. She impugned the witness and accused the prosecutor (the local mayor) of a profit motive in pursuing the case. She was pardoned, the sentence reversed, and her possessions were returned to her. The true story behind the case is hard to decipher. Why was her partner not also accused (given that there doesn’t appear to have been a “butch-femme” dynamic in the accused behavior)? Who was the witness?
In 1560, the Inquisition in Aragon debated whether a case involving several women fell under the category of sodomy as no sexual instrument had been used, though there was genital contact (which was described in heterocentric terms). They ended up not prosecuting.
In 1656, the Inquisition in Aragon judged a case against a 28 year old widow Ana Aler and a 22 year old laundress Mariana López who were accused of sodomy by nosy neighbors (two men and three women). The specific behaviors involved were hugging, kissing, putting a hand under the skirt to touch the genitals, expressions of jealousy followed by protestations of loyalty and pledges of love. The women were said to follow each other around. It was claimed that Ana boasted of having sex with “the best woman in Zaragoza” who was willing to pay her for it, but it’s unclear if this was an actual reference to female same-sex prostitution or just boasting. The neighbors testified they overheard the sounds of passion and sex talk , “Give it to me, I can’t wait any longer!” as well as to seeing the women lying on top of each other and evidence of “emission of semen” (i.e., orgasm). Although there was no evidence of a penetrative instrument being used, the verdict was still labeled “sodomy” but the sentence was limited to whipping and exile and the women were forbidden to live in the same location in the future.
Inés de Santa Cruz and Catalina Ledesma were arrested in 1603 in Salamanca as “bujarronas” (female sodomites). They had previous sodomy convictions in Valladolid. A complex background story emerged from the trial. Inés had at one point claimed to be a nun and was soliciting donations and assembling a group of “wayward” young women to take them to a convent (the implication being a house of penitence for reformed prostitutes). The suspicion was that instead she was recruiting for the sex trade. The sexual accusations against Inés and Catalina included use of a penetrative instrument and they were given a death sentence which was appealed and reduced to whipping and banishment.
Among the details of the testimony it emerged that the two women had enjoyed a long term domestic partnership “eating at the same table and sleeping in the same bed.” Their love for each other was public knowledge. Catalina had left her husband to live with Inés. Among the witnesses was a maid from Catalina’s father’s house where the two lived for a time. The detailed testimony reveals the witnesses’ fantasies as well as facts. The existence of sexual activity was assumed from overheard activity including panting and grunting and comments like, “Does that feel good?” as well as love talk.
The defendants admitted to the sex but each tried to frame her own role as less culpable based on minor technicalities such as who was lying on top. The sexual acts they admitted to included rubbing vulvas together and manual stimulation. They were inconsistent with regard to the use of an instrument. (Witnesses said they had used an instrument made of cane, but Inés described one made of leather that they stopped using because it was painful.)
During one temporary separation, they may have had sex with other women and there was reported discussion of the advantages of lesbian sex: no pregnancy, it was more pleasurable than heterosexual sex, they found men repulsive. In this context, Catalina reported on knowing of other female couples in the convent where she stayed for a time. Much of the evidence may have come out during fights between the women. Catalina felt that Inés was stalking and harassing her to renew the relationship, though witnesses said their relationship ran hot and cold and was not one-sided. Inés seems to have been the more jealous and controlling. Neighbors described them as being so close a couple “like man and woman” that all attempts to break them up failed. All this happened over an extended period of time during which their relationship was public knowledge. The neighbors would insult them (and they each other) with terms like bujarronas (female sodomites), puta bellaca (cheating whore), somética (fem. sodomite), bellaca baldresera (dildo-wielding scoundrel). Velasco compares their reported behavior to modern patterns of domestic violence among lesbians. Inés was significantly older, more economically stable, and was the more aggressive and controlling. The trial was instigated when Catalina went to the authorities to complain about Inés’s violent behavior.
Despite the admitted use of a penetrating instrument, they were not given the death penalty and had received similarly lenient treatment in a previous trial. Velaso notes that these trial records contradict the idea that sexual relationships between women were invisible but also contradict the idea that they were tolerated or considered insignificant.
In 1745 in Colombia, two mestiza seamstresses named Margarita Valenzuela and Gregoria Franco had a long-term public romance that was disrupted by the reappearance of the father of Margarita’s child. This resulted in a conflict that came to the attention of the law. Gregoria was banished for a short term and warned not to reinitiate the relationship on penalty of permanent banishment.
In 1597, the Inquisition in Mallorca found a 30 year old single woman Esperanza de Rojas guilty of various offences, including practicing love magic to re-attract the passion of two women she’d been sexually involved with while all three were at a home for fallen women. She was sentenced to whipping and exile with the mitigating factor that she had acted in anger. The major concern was the accusation of demonic magic and the recorded testimony included specifics of the rituals. These included claims that she used Jewish and Muslim prayers as well as using a demonic statuette as a focus. The nature of the rituals was consistent with descriptions of heterosexual love magic at the time. Esperanza claimed she had learned the rituals from another woman while traveling to Rome and Naples.
Further investigations by the Inquisition at the institution where the three women had lived that took place in 1597-8 turned up other accusations of same-sex activity. Catalina Lebrés was accused of “illicit relations with other female residents.”
Velasco spends some time discussing the nature and context of female penitential institutions in early modern Spain. Their general purpose was to control women who were not successfully under patriarchal authority. There were concerns about women’s misbehavior inside the institutions, but that concern might either focus on, or be oblivious to, the possibility of lesbian sex. Overcrowding was a regular concern, as well as the potential for women to learn new forms of criminality from the other inmates.
Concerns regarding the potential for sexual relations between women were shared by religious penitential institutions and regular convents. Convent rules often proscribed sleeping together or forbade two nuns to be alone together behind closed doors. The code word for the concern was “special friendships”. Specific behaviors that were considered a sign of danger were talking together at night, sleeping together, hugging, “joining their faces together.”
Another intersection of concern is the long historic association between lesbianism and prostitution, dating as early as Roman times (Lucian, Alciphron). Velasco notes the contrast laid out in a 16th century Italian text on women’s friendships by Firenzuola, that contrasts the “chaste” love between Laudomia Forteguerra and Duchess Margaret of Austria with the lascivious love of Sappho and of “the great prostitute Cecilia Venetiana.” But within the same century, Brantôme in France imputed a more sexual relationship to Margaret and Laudomia, and grouped them with a noted Spanish prostitute in Rome, Isabella de Luna, who kept a mistress. Moving our attention back to Spain, there were conflicting opinions whether the existence of legal brothels successfully kept men away from sodomy (by making women available) or whether one sin would breed other sins and thus men who frequented brothels were more likely to move on to sodomy.
The intersection of prostitution, love magic, and “medical” manual stimulation, as well as the possibilities of sex between women appear in Fernando de Rojas’ La Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea more commonly known as La Celestina. Velasco spends some time reviewing the details and implications of this work.
There was an association of witchcraft and lesbian desire, along with aspects of heresy. Several authors repeat a description from Leo Africanus of North African sahacat witches, who seduce or pleasure other women under the guise of medical treatment. (It isn’t clear whether the repetition of this motif is in reference to Africa or gives the appearance of generalizing it to Spain. Note that sahacat is from the Arabic root sahq with the same general meaning of rubbing as fricatrix.)
The chapter concludes with one last case study in Mexico of an accusation of lesbian seduction (or predation) by a female couple of their female boarder, who then used witchcraft to try to take revenge on the couple.
I confess I'm only now getting around to posting my Worldcon schedule because, dear reader, you're either going to be there or you aren't, and if you're going, you're going to pick your program items to attend based on topic and triaging all the wonderful possibilities, not based on whether I'm on the panel. The only plea I have is that if you're at Worldcon and haven't bumped into me yet, consider swinging by my "signing" session Friday at 1:00 to say hi. I'd be extremely surprised if any of the book dealers at the convention have my books, so I expect it to be a long lonely hour. I'm also proposing that if anyone expresses interest, I'll make myself available for a completely unofficial informal get-together immediately after my signing slot (i.e., Friday at 2:00). If you're interested, let me know.
Here's the very brief overview -- check out the link above for full details:
Thurs Aug 10 10AM - A Stitch in Time: Historical Fantasy
Friday Aug 11 1PM - Book signing
(Friday Aug 11 2PM - unofficial get-together)
Friday Aug 11 6PM - Alien Language in Science Fiction
Sunday Aug 13 3PM - History as World Building
This month's historic podcast as about 17th century Spanish gender outlaw Catalina de Erauso. If you've been reading the LHMP entries recently, you'll know why Catalina's life is so fascinating. The podcast includes autobiography excerpts and a discussion of how Catalina became a fictionalized figure across the Spanish-speaking world.
There are two approaches to fairy tale retellings: ones that re-map the original story as a whole into a new setting that shifts the reader’s vision to a different angle, and ones that take the original premise as a jumping-off point then map entirely new territory thereafter. Walking on Knives by Maya Chhabra is definitely of the second type. The jumping-off point is not one of the more sanitized versions of The Little Mermaid, but something much closer to Hans Christian Andersen’s original, complete with hazard to one’s immortal soul and the virtues of physical suffering. Readers who expect a feel-good romance rather than a hard-edged tale of impossible moral choices and unbreakable magical contracts may find themselves off balance.
We have, as a given, the unexplained desire of the mermaid for the prince whose life she saved—a desire so strong she is willing to face enormous risks, sacrifices, and suffering for the merest chance of success. We have the foreign princess who is willing to take credit for the prince’s rescue. But throw into the mix a sister to the sea witch, who has her own goals and desires and is willing to make her own ruthless bargains to achieve them. And crucially, we have a tacit acceptance of same-sex attraction that needs no special pleading or justification.
The story is not about romance, but about working through misunderstandings and barriers to communication. It’s about negotiating your way out of a maze of bad alternatives and choosing which consequences you’re willing to accept. And it’s about the pain that comes from forcing consequences on other people when there is no clean way out. I found the plot delightfully unexpected and challenging. Once it diverged from Andersen’s road map, I had no idea where it was going to take me, but I was satisfied with where I ended up.
The prose style is ambitious, though not always successfully so. There is a wavering between a more formal fairy-tale style and unexpected shifts into colloquial language. Flights of description sometimes veer into excess and I occasionally stumbled over words being used outside their expected meanings. The story has the substance of a fresh and individual voice and I expect that, with practice and maturity, that voice should come into its own.
I have a list of blog prompts that people have suggested, and though I always mean to address them first in/first out, usually some other intersection causes one to pop up to the top. In this case, when I mentioned dictating stories during my commute, Sara Uckelman asked: When you dictate, do you write like you talk? Do you edit a lot when transcribing or is it faithful? How much is it "these are the ideas I want to convey" and how much "these are the words I want to convey the ideas with?"
I love this question, because in fact I had to train myself laboriously how to dictate fiction. I tried it a few times when I was writing the first draft of Daughter of Mystery--especially after I’d found out how well MacSpeech works to convert speech to text. But faced with a live microphone, my brain utterly emptied itself of story. Nothing would come out.
In part, I think it was because my story composition process was so thoroughly tied up with text and the physical act of writing. At that point, I was still doing all my initial drafts longhand and then transcribing to the computer. Trying to create story by speaking was like the difference between being able to write a foreign language and being able to talk in it.
Another part of my block was what I tend to think of as a “buffering problem”. One of the reasons writing longhand worked better for me than typing was because it more closely matched the speed at which I could actually compose in my head. So if I wrote longhand, I’d always have the next sentence buffered in my brain and ready to come out, whereas if I typed, my typing might outpace my composition. And dictation would seriously outpace my composition.
But I clearly remember the first time that dictation did work for me, though I don’t recall exactly which scene it was. I think it must have been during my last push to finish the first draft of Daughter of Mystery, because it was Christmas time and I was at my brother’s house in Maine and I was simultaneously focused entirely on getting the story down and too fidgety to just sit and write. So I got out the cross-country skis and skied over to the nearby college campus that had a big network of cross-country trails, and I’d ski and think up the next sentence, then pull out my iPhone and dictate it, then ski and think up the next sentence, then pull out my iPhone and dictate it, and so on until the scene was done.
And that’s not a bad outline of how it still works for me. The pause button is my friend. I still can’t manage to just turn the recorder on and spin a tale, but I can jerk through it sentence by sentence. (I’ll digress a moment and note that I had much better luck dictating ideas for blog posts, because I can blather on about process and structure and ideas at great length without pausing for breath.) And I still can't use MacSpeech for transcribing, because I do my dictation on a little tiny handheld recorder and the file format isn't compatible. (I can't dictate on my iPhone while driving, not only because there are laws against interacting with a phone while driving, but because I need tactile controls for the pause/continue function.)
Getting back to some of the specific questions: When you dictate, do you write like you talk?
I try. Because one of the things I worry about most is that specific wordings and turns of phrase will come to me only once and they fly away forever. So when I dictate I try very hard to capture those exact expressions as they come to me, whether or not I keep them. But it doesn’t resemble ordinary talking. And the clearest way I know that is because in the middle of dictating story, I may drop in a note about needing to explain something earlier, or changing my mind about something in light of the bit I’m dictating, or simply a footnote about needing to come up with some name or backstory or other detail. I drop into my ordinary voice for those things and when I’m transcribing, they’re instantly recognizable even if I’m not paying attention to the words.
Do you edit a lot when transcribing or is it faithful?
I definitely edit as I transcribe. For one thing, once I see it on the page, I’ll realize that I was repetitive, or used the same word or phrase twice in close proximity, or I’ll know that I shifting things later in the dictation session, and will go ahead and modify them as I type.
How much is it "these are the ideas I want to convey" and how much "these are the words I want to convey the ideas with?"
I’d say about 30:70. Sometimes I’ll shift into summary mode, especially if I know I have detailed thoughts for the next scene. But mostly I’m trying to get down the specific words I want to use. If I dictate summary, then it’s going to get transcribed as summary and I’ll have to expand it later. I don’t want too much of that to deal with on the first serious editing pass.
One of the reasons I decided to pull this topic up to blog about, is that I had an interesting dictation experience this week. I mentioned above that I worry a lot about catching the perfect words and then losing them if I don’t get them down. Well, maybe that doesn’t need to be as much of a worry as I think it does.
Back in March, I had an inspiration for a Beauty and the Beast reworking. It came to me in a bit of a wholistic flash, and I laid out a basic outline with various plot and character notes in a Scrivener file. And then I set it aside to ripen while I worked on Floodtide. Now, having finished that ugly first draft of Floodtide and having decided to let it sit until I get back from Worldcon (and adjacent travels), I found myself casting about for a writing project to spend my commute-dictation time on. And I dictated the opening scene of “The Language of Roses”.
When I opened up the Scrivener file to transcribe it, I discovered that I’d already drafted up the same exact scene and forgotten I’d done so. Four months between the two compositions, and here is how they compare. (Please excuse the occasional *placeholder*. That’s just part of my process.) There are things that are entirely different, but it's striking how many of the details (and even exact phrases) were "sticky".
Draft 1 (March 2017)
She wore white—the white of the snow that lay thick at the sides of the castle steps as she picked her way slowly down into the garden. The white of the ice that hung from the eaves of the copper roofs and overflowed the tiers of the fountain at the center of the paths. It was not the white silks and laces of a bride, but the white of frozen winter that covered all the castle and the land around in a blanket of silence and waiting.
She pulled the hood of her cloak over her head so that the pale fox fur framed her even paler face. Her white-booted feet crunched on the path that wound past the sleeping outlines of the formal beds, past the dormant fruit trees, and toward a small iron gate set into the stone wall. A gate to the outside. There: just to the right of the path, a mere handspan from the latched gate that would have meant freedom, a briar grew, trembling under the weight of the ice that rimed every leaf.
One thorny limb stretched out toward the scrolling ironwork, pointing the way. Straining for release. The only message came in the form of a frost-touched bud, new-sprung since the day before. Since the last time the White Lady had come to visit.
“What is it, Rose?” she asked. She stretched a hand clad in white kidskin out to cup the bud gently and leaned closely and breathed on the tightly folded petals to coax them into revealing their message. Her breath, too, was cold. Cold enough that no vapor hung in the air, but warm enough to stir the bud to life. It shifted within her fingers and unfurled halfway, releasing just the faintest trace of perfume.
“*Color*,” the White Lady breathed. “A visitor, then. We haven’t had one of those in years.”
There was nothing of hope or anticipation in her voice. She released the *color* bloom that was already wilting and curling around the edges. But as she did, she saw a second bud, larger and swollen with blushed meaning. This time the White Lady’s hand trembled as she lifted it to her lips and breathed out. It opened eagerly: the deepest crimson, almost black. The color of heart’s blood. No frost rimmed the edges of those petals. The scent they offered up was deep and intoxicating. The Lady brushed her lips against the velvet softness of the petals. The rose was warm. A single crystal tear crossed her cheek and she whispered, “And I.”
Draft 2 (July 2017)
Grace picked her way along the graveled path that led toward the small wrought-iron gate at the back of the garden. With an effort that she felt, but no longer considered, the invisible ones trailed behind her, sweeping the path free of leaves in her wake. Erasing the traces of her visit. She felt the effort like an ache in her bones—an ache like the weight of the curse that hung over the manor.
Dawn was the best time to walk in the garden, when her limbs felt less heavy, less stiff. When there was no chance that he would be watching. Even so, caution led her along a roundabout path, past the low hedges of the maze and the beds where the kitchen garden had once been, the silent fountains. She could have asked the invisible ones to tend the gardens, but what was the use? He provided food for the table with an effortless gesture. Why should she spend her hoarded strength just to have some small bit of sustenance that didn’t rely on his pleasure?
She came to the briar that grew beside the gate as if by chance. Caution was a long habit. The rose twisted up from its roots, stretching thorny branches in two directions: one toward the gaps between the iron bars, seeking escape, one reaching toward the manor house, pleading for release. Here and there on the brambles, leaves trembled in the breeze. But only one unexpected bud swelled at the tip of a stem.
Grace reached out to cup stiff fingers around the bud and breathed a kiss of warm air across it. “Hello Rose,” she said. She looked anxiously over her shoulder at the upper windows of the house. They still showed shuttered against the light. He didn’t care for light in the morning. She returned to the rose. She had no skill to work with matter. That was his domain: the transformations, forcing one thing into another. She had only the invisible ones.
“What is it, Rose?” she asked softly. “What message wakes you?”
The bud swelled between her hands, cracking the sepals apart. The petals unfurled: half-blown, then just enough more to show the colors within. *Description of colors*
A tremor fluttered through her heart. Not hope, not precisely. She didn’t dare to hope.
“It has been long and long since you showed that message,” Grace said.
She hadn’t counted the years. And the last time—that had not gone well. But any change brought…curiosity. That was the safe thing to call it.
“Thank you,” she whispered and brushed her lips gently across the petals. In response, a crimson blush suffused the bloom before it faded back to *original colors*. “And I, too,” she said.