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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 4 - Bosom Sex

(Originally aired 2016/11/26)

[Note: Spelling follows the original in all direct quotations from the correspondence.]

When I expanded the LHMPodcast to a weekly schedule in August, I set up a rotating set of four monthly segments: On the Shelf (general discussion and listener questions), Author Interview, Author Book Appreciation, and the Historic Essay that I'd started out with. But four times a year, there's going to be a fifth Saturday in the month. For the moment, I'm planning to use those for some random surprise topics--something intentionally different from anything I do in the other segments. I also have some exciting long-term ideas that I may be ready to share soon.

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 1 - Ordinary Women

(Originally aired 2016/08/27)

Let’s start this series with some ordinary women. Nobody special: they weren’t scandalous aristocrats or dashing adventurers or women who set out to transgress the rules of society. All they did was love each other. Perhaps not wisely, perhaps not always well.

When interviewing authors of historical fiction for the podcast, one of things that come up regularly is that people have a hard time finding research on what, specifically, women in earlier ages were doing in bed together. But both sexual practices and attitudes towards them are strongly influenced by culture. Imagination alone isn't a good guide to sex any more than it is to cuisine or clothing. Today's podcast takes a look at the types of documentary evidence we have for specific sexual techniques and practices, and what they tell us about medieval European women's sexual lives.

In last week's post, I lamented that I'm increasingly finding less new material in general medieval works such as this. But I was able to extract three new publications to track down from this book: two on pairs of women buried together with a common memorial (where it's clear they aren't family members), and one on the source of an anecdote I've been seeing references to for many years. This last is a description of a group of women showing up at a tournament dressed as men to take part in the activities.

I'm somewhat torn between disappointment and smug satisfaction at how very little material there is in books like this that I'm not already aware of (and, indeed, that I haven't already covered in their original publications). Disappointment, because it suggests that there are few new treasures waiting for me to find for the medieval period. Smug satisfaction, because it suggests that I've been doing a good job at tracking down all the essential publications. This is a book that I would strongly recommend for anyone wanting a basic grounding in medieval attitudes toward sex and sexuality.

When I was putting together my main podcast essay for this month, on details of lesbian sexual techniques as given in sources like penitential manuals, I realized that I already owned this book but had never blogged it. I was somewhat disappointed to discover how heavily excerpted it was, making it rather less useful for my purposes than I thought, particularly in relation to the podcast. That means that at some point I should track down the full texts of some of the penitential manuals that I know have relevant information. Still, it was on the list and now it's been done.

This book isn't in-depth in context or details, given the purpose for which it was put together. And it is sometimes generously inclusive in subject matter, straining the limits of solid evidence. But what better place to look for lots of portraits of women in Boston Marriages than a book on the history of lesbians and gay men in Boston? I only wish this blog could show you some of the photographs of female couples--going back to the mid-19th century--who we know to have been in romantic relationships with each other.


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