I'm always delighted to have evidence that people are using the LHMP blog as a resource as intended. (I had high hopes that it might spark interest in more people writing lesbian historical fiction--perhaps some day it will.) I received a note this past week from a teacher who had bookmarked an item on my now-deleted LiveJournal version that he wanted to assign as class reading. You can't imagine how that warms the heart! I supplied a longer list of blog links relevant to the class topic (but also suggested one or two of my source texts that might be a better assignment for that purpose).
I've had several long-weekend events lately that have interfered with getting blogs up, but in this case it gave me enough slack time to get the rest of Mill's book written up. There are three more chapters in the can after this one, although some of them are rather thin and I may accelerate the posting schedule if I get more material written up to follow.
It's the last Saturday of the month, so it must be Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast time! This month I'm talking about romantic relations between women in poetry and stories of the courtly love era in Europe. I also talk about how female same-sex desire is erased in academic discussion by setting up entirely different goalposts than are placed for heterosexual desire.
There's one part of me that just wants to squee on the theme of the title of this blog. But what I love about Mills' work here is that he puts the brakes on the emotional reaction that's inspired by wanting to "own" this piece of history, and he walks the reader step by step through what these images do and don't mean. The biggest part of that is that they mean a lot more than simply "here is a picture of two women or two men making love." Because sex never exists in a social vacuum.
Have you ever wondered about the image I used as the icon for this series? Maybe you weren’t even sure what is was depicting. I’ve been wanting to cover publications about the presentation of same-sex desire in visual arts in the pre-modern period for some time, but it isn’t a topic that’s received a lot of attention. And it isn’t always easy to determine what images are showing same-sex desire as opposed to same-sex interactions that were not, at that time, considered to be erotic or sexual. (For example, kissing was used as a non-sexual ritual in many different situations.)
This concludes the series of "tag essays" which were something of a byproduct of the process of adding brief descriptions to all the tags, plus an audit to identify and deal with duplicates, errors, and unused tags. The poetic categories show an interesting dichotomy. Among those poems and poets identified as writing about romantic love and desire, 75% are women. Among the poems and poets treating sexual activity more explicitly, only about 10% are women, though about 25% are anonymous.
This category of tags covers literary characters who are portrayed as being in intense or romantic friendships with other women where there is no overt erotic component and typically where they are not living as a committed couple. Check out the permanent page if you want to follow up on links to the publications that discuss these works.
The current installment of working through the People/Publication/Event tags is a somewhat uncomfortable topic. One of the ways in which lesbian desire has been dismissed in literature (and then used to "prove" that lesbian behavior is sick or evil) is to take the trope of an asymmetric desiring/desired pairing and frame it as inherently non-consensual and abusive. The reasoning goes something like this. Lesbian desire always exists between an "abnormal" desiring woman and a "normal" desired woman.
This finishes up the literary works that feature cross-dressing and gender disguise. These works may involve a number of other themes as well. Keep in mind that these tag essays are meant to identify thematic groups, but individual stories are rarely simple. In particular, if cross-dressing opens the window to an enduring love once a disguised woman's gender is revealed, or if the personal interactions within the disguise have more of a predatory flavor than an erotic one, then I've placed works on those more specific categories.