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sex between women

 

This tag is used for any general discussion of erotic physical activity between women or one where more specific terms are not mentioned.

LHMP entry

Ruth Vanita does an in-depth comparative study of several texts concerning the birth and life of the legendary hero Bhagiratha. The specific focus is a set of three 14th century Bengali texts (also reproduced in later 16-17th c collections) in which the hero is the result of the sexual union of two co-wives, queens of the late King Dilipa whose had died without fathering the son who was foretold to bring the sacred river Ganga to earth from heaven.

There is a long tradition, starting with the ancient Greeks, of attributing particular sexual tastes to specific astrological alignments. This wasn’t as simple as heterosexual versus homosexual, but included things like whether one preferred sex within marriage or outside of it, what type of partner one preferred in terms of class, age, etc., whether one preferred to take a sexual role that aligned with social expectations or contradicted them (in terms of active/passive participant).

While the study of homosexuality was developing in Europe in the later 19th century, theories and publications on the topic made their way to Russia, but did not necessarily shape how Russian culture and medical/psychological professionals viewed people in same-sex relationships. Direct evidence about female homosexuality in Russia is scanty, but a collection of three case studies were written up by a Russian gynecologist in 1895, based either on direct contact or on documentary evidence.

This article forms the core of Traub’s 2002 book by the same name, covered in entry #69. However summarizing this original article will provide a different angle and different details than I picked up from that previous entry.

When one of my summaries is basically a list of contents, either it means that the publication is really thin on relevant content, or it means that it’s so rich that you simply need to buy the book and put it in a cherished place on your shelf. This one is the latter. At least half the contents apply to women’s experiences (although it’s still true that the male-authored female-relevant content far outnumbers the female-authored male-relevant content) and the collection includes many of the oft-cited texts from the covered period. Far from all, but an excellent place to start.

As might be predicted from past experience with general survey works, the amount of material relating to female same-sex relations in this book is low. And like most surveys that cover all of history up to the present day (1969 counts as “the present day” for practical purposes), more than half the page count covers the 20th century. Out of 120 entries, I counted 14 that were in any way relevant to the LHMP (and that includes anything ambiguous between lesbians and trans men).

Clark came up with the poetic label “twilight moments” to identify practices relating to sexuality that are not openly acknowledged--and certainly not accepted--but that are treated as temporary and “recoverable” lapses, even if they are lapses that happen repeatedly and throughout a society.

Clark presents the early 19th century example of Anne Lister, not only as a fairly unambiguous example of lesbian identity--despite never using that term for herself--but as an illustration of the function of representation and agency in the history of sexuality. A contradiction of sorts to the social constructionist position that sexual identities are shaped or even determined by the surrounding societal discourse, rather than by the personal experience of desire.

Amer begins by tackling the Whorfian-tinged assertion that the lack of a specific terminology for lesbianism in medieval Europe contributed to a lack of modern scholarship about same-sex desire between women in that era, by noting that the existence of a diverse and specific vocabulary for the topic in medieval Arabic (sahq, sihaqa, musahaqat, al-nisa’, sahiqa) hasn’t resulted in a vibrant field of study. This is particularly disappointing given the significant surviving literature on the topic.

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