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Egypt

Covering approximately the region of modern Egypt in north-eastern Africa. See also Arabic and Islamicate for inclusion in general discussion, but many uses are for Roman-era or Coptic Egypt.

LHMP entry

The general topic of this chapter is the historic association of the clitoris with transgressive lesbian sex (as opposed to culturally-acceptable same-sex relationships). Traub begins by reviewing Freud's theory that vagina = heterosexual, clitoris = homosexual, and points out that this was not a new concept with him but merely the culmination of a long tradition.

In the 5th century CE, Taese and Tsansno**, two women living in a monastery in Southern Egypt were chastised for "running after" other women in "friendship and physical desire". This instance--with its unusual specificity of details--is part of a general discourse on women's homoerotic activities in Late Antique Egypt that is shaped by the (mostly) male monastic writers whose records survive. While this material dates from a fairly late (and geographically peripheral) part of the Roman Empire, enough continuity can be identified to use it as a window on broader Roman thought.

The article concerns the interrelationships in the Mamluk military caste between the lack of an ability to pass on inheritance, the relatively high status of women, and a general acceptance of homosexuality (among men). At the end of the article is an appendix discussing cross-gender behavior and possible evidence for lesbianism among women in the Mamluk community. One author (Mervat Hatem), discussing 18-19th century Mamluks in Egypt, notes “Lesbian women in Mamluk harems behaved like Mamluks, riding pedigreed horses, hunting, and playing furusiya (chivalrous) games.

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).

He calls grinding an “illness” and offers various possible causes, including having an “inverted womb” (a variant on the clitoral hypertrophy motif), or a mis-match between the shape of a woman’s vagina and the shape of the penis. Another possible cause he lists is the mother’s diet during breast-feeding. Some women pick up the habit from having sex with concubines. Another explanation is that grinding is a natural appetite, derived from a variant of humoral theory.

Chapter 4: A close reading of Aĥmad Ibn Yusuf Tifashi’s Nuzhat al-Albab - Toward re-envisioning the Islamic Middle East

This is an extensive survey of early saints’ lives that involve the motif of a woman crossdressing and passing as a man, generally in order to participate in a monastic community at a time when there were no women’s communities available. Given that the context is hagiographical, this activity is framed positively, not only in pragmatic terms (it enables the woman to do something holy) but due to the greater value placed on men, especially in the context of religious practice.

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