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Monday, August 22, 2016 - 08:00

Here I am, bleary-eyed and just about to pack up and vacate my Worldcon hotel room. This is when I really appreciate the ability to set up LHMP posts in advance! A very short entry this time, as the article was primarily concerned with data on men.

Full citation: 

Monter, E. William. 1985. “Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland” in Licata, Salvatore J. & Robert P. Petersen (eds). The Gay Past: A Collection of Historical Essays. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 0-918393-11-6 (Also published as Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 6, numbers 1/2, Fall/Winter 1980.)

Publication summary: 


A collection mostly of case-studies of specific historic incidents or topics relevant to the changing understandings of homosexuality. Most of the papers address male topics. Only the three relevant to female topics are covered in this project.

Monter, E. William. 1985. “Sodomy and Heresy in Early Modern Switzerland”

The majority of this article concerns accusations of sodomy between men, and looks at the numeric distribution of evidence with regard to the date, location, nature of the charge, and demographic information about the accused. The analysis is particularly interesting with regard to the interplay of religious and sexual concerns. There is a single reference to an incident involving women.

In 1568, a woman in Geneva was accused of fornication and “irritated her judges” by proclaiming her innocence, based on a claim that she was a virgin. When a midwife (who presumably examined her physically) testified otherwise, She broke down and confessed to both heterosexual fornication and a lesbian interaction four years previous with a woman who had died since then. The record of the sentence included, “it is not necessary to describe minutely the circumstances of such a case, but only to say that it is for the detestable crime of unnatural fornication. ... a detestable and unnatural crime, which is so ugly that, from horror, it is not named here.” But her death sentence focused more on the crimes of blasphemy and the heterosexual fornication. Execution was by drowning.

Given that torture seems to have been a routine part of obtaining evidence from defendants, the trial record may be considered more accurate with regard to what the court believed to be plausible than to the woman’s actual deeds.

Time period: 
Sunday, August 21, 2016 - 17:10

You just know that these reports are going to get briefer and less coherent as the con goes on. It's a wrap at this point and here's what I recall from the last 24 hours.

Saturday Evening

When last we heard from our valient heroine, she was about to dress up a little and head off to join up with various other folks from File 770 to attend the Hugo Award ceremony. OK, so not all my readers may know what all that means. The Hugo awards are the annual member-voted awards from the World Science Fiction Society, given at Worldcon. There are awards for both professional and amateur writers, artists, etc., and for fiction, commentary, various types of activity (podcasts, either print or online magazines, etc.) relating to science fiction and fantasy writing and the SFF community. File 770 is a "fanzine", that is, an amateur publication of news, commentary, and discussion of the SFF scene, originally founded as a print periodical, but now also existing as a website that has developed a very active discussion and commenting community. It's a forum where I've been quite active in the past year and where I've made a number of new friends. And both File 770 and its founder, Mike Glyer, were finalists for Hugo awards (for Best Fanzine and Best Fan Writer). So those of us who had gotten to know each other through the site did a lot of socializing at this year's Worldcon--especially given that Our Gracious Host, Mike Glyer, was not able to attend for health reasons. So we sat in a group and were able to cheer together when Mike and File 770 both won in their respective categories. Here's a picture of the physical awards, held by John Hertz, who stook in to accept them for Mike...and he let me hold one of them for the picture.

John Hertz and me holding Mike Glyer's Hugos

After that, it was another evening of having startling success at finding fun conversations at the Marriott bar, but for the life of me I can't remember all of them. All I remember was that I succeeded in doing a few chained introductions where all manner of amazing people who hadn't previously known each other now do.


I had two panels, with the earlier starting at 11am, so I had to skip the last business meeting, but as I expected, the various decisions were ones I would have supported. The first panel was "When the Magic Goes Away", discussing stories and settings where magic is in transition, the magic-technology interface, the continuing echoes of the "lost golden age" motif, and the various purposes that both magic and its loss serve in stories.

The second panel was "Austen and Shelley and their influences on SFF" which was an amaingly fun discussion moderated by Mary Robinette Kowal that covered the literary, historic, and social contexts of Austen and Shelley's works, the reasons why the themes in their work continue to inspire SFF today, and all sorts of ways that readers engage with them. Really, you should have been there. It was a lot of fun.

I finished up by attending a panel sponsored by some of the con committee for next year's Worldcon in Helsinkii on "How to talk to Finns". Lots of humorous presentation of cultural differences and expectations, with a bit of practical Q&A for those expecting to travel from the States for the convention.

I didn't feel like trying to go off somewhere for a real dinner, so I grabbed a sandwich in the bar and hung out with Renay Williams and other folks from the Lady Business blog (who were also finalists for Best Fanzine). And now I'm about to go meet my interviewer. (Someone I met through facebook, not related to Worldcon except by geography.) I'll probably have time to do some more summing up tomorrow since my plane doesn't leave until after noon, but at this point my brain is completely toast.

Oh, and I got an email to expect the editorial feedback on Mother of Souls to be waiting for me when I get home, so there's no rest for the wicked.

Saturday, August 20, 2016 - 16:29

Worldcon is a very long convention. Although I'm having a lovely time, I'm starting to look forward to it being over.

I started Friday evening at the Marriott bar, having recalled that a conversation with a new friend (and fan of Alpennia) had vaguely been scheduled to continue there. Found said friend easily and had a nice long chat about all manner of things with her and another participant. The Marriott bar was much quieter and less crowded because vast quantities of people were at the Tor (publishing) party instead. I figured I'd stick my head in there for at least a little bit, since it seemed like the "It Party" of the con. It filled up the ballroom at the top of the Crowne Plaza (with a glorious view of the city) and was jam packed with "name" authors...but it was jam packed. And the wall of sound battered at you when the elevator was still a couple floors away. I made one circuit of the room, waved hi to a couple people, and hi-tailed it out. Tried the SWFA suite next, but it's very catch-as-catch can, in my experience, in terms of finding people to talk to. This time, I didn't. Just as I was tweeting my decision to pack it in for the night, my roommate Fade responded with an enthusiastic command that I join her at a small semi-private speakeasy party at the Aladdin, so I checked it out. Nice friendly people (though I only really knew one other person in the room besides Fade, and that was Elizabeth Bear) but I ende up only staying a little while becase said roommate had set her heart on checking out the Tor party and was in a cheerful enough state that there was a communal decision that I should accompany her and see she got safely back to the room afterward. This time the Tor party had thinned out a little (though still quite noisy) and we worked our way through several converations and a lot of gazing at the aforementioned delightful view before turning in.

Well, I was going to do Saturday morning too, but I really need to change and get back to the main convention center to line up for the Hugo seating. So, briefly: morning full of WSFS business meeting again (I now have some strong opinions on the misuse of Roberts Rules of Order), several lovely panels, got a few autographs, bought some new earrings, then back to the room for some quiet time and a snack.

More tomorrow!

Friday, August 19, 2016 - 18:53

In theory, Friday is supposed to be review day, and I have a review partially drafted up. But it still needs some polishing and my brain is rather wrung out, so you just get the continuing con report instead.

Thursday Evening

Maybe I should have talked up my Kaffee Klatsch a bit more because only half the available slots were filled, but we had a good time. I talked about future plans for the series, answered questions, and did a short reading from Mother of Souls. Bringing the special print edition of The Mazarinette and the Musketeer was an excellent idea, because I've been handing out copies right and left, and it has served the intended function of being something I can sign for people if they don't have a hard copy of anything else available. My original idea was to suggest adjourning to dinner afterward if anyone were interested, but it turned out all the likely candidates were planning to head for the File 770 dinner at the Flying Saucer pub, so the two concepts were combined.

An evening panel on how media invite and adapt to various queer "gazes" was on my list to see, so I headed back to the main convention space. While I was killing time before the panel, I ran into Bogi Takács (one of the panelists) who was on my "Twitter people to meet in the flesh" list so we chatted a bit until it was panel time. The panel was one of those contexts where one is reminded of the mild absurdity of lumping together of all the various identities and interests covered under the label "queer". Lively conversation, though.

After that I tried the Marriott bar again, and worked my way through several conversations, both ones I inserted myself into and ones I was invited into. So: success. Very exhausting, though.


Slept in a little then grabbed breakfast at Starbucks with my roommate Fade Manley on the way to the business meeting. I have to say that WSFS business meetings are a fascinating universe, but I don't know that I'll continue to have long-term interest in attending them. A surprising amount of business got finished up.

Someone at my Kaffee Klatsch had mentioned that Larry Smith Books had sold out of my books, so I swung by and asked if they'd like a few copies to re-stock. It turned out they still had a couple, but did want the additional ones, and the displays had thinned out enough to give me face-out on an end cap. Of such things are authorly dreams made!

My tentative schedule was looked solid from there until 7pm. Took in a very packed panel on keeping track of characters and data in epic fantasy doorstop series (which I attended primarily for Kate Elliott). Then "We Deserve Better" a venting panel on the treatment of lesbian and bi female characters in tv. Finally met up with Twitter friend @Sandstone. There was a panel on cookbooks in the next hour that I'd liked, but decided to hang out and chat for a bit, and then went off to hide in the Green Room and collect up my notes for the panel I was moderating later on supporting characters in steampunk. Which people said went well. But first was my first panel as a particpant on "Queers in Heroic Fantasy" which was quite lively, covering subjects like "does sexuality even matter when you're being epic?" and issues of genre expectations. I tossed off some of my favorite tidbits of classic epic literature.

I thought I'd had some vague plans to meet for possible dinner plans after the steampunk panel, but they didn't materialize and instead I took up an invitation from Cat Faber to join her dinner party. After rejecting a 40-minute wait at our original (noisy) venue, we just got deli & salad bar takeout from Cosentino's, which also had a small area with tables.

And now I'm decompressing a bit before deciding which parties to try. (Haven't made it to the SFWA suite yet, though that's always pretty random in who's there. Will probably stick my head in at the Tor party, since people I know are likely to be there.) The weather forecasts have been promising lightning storms this evening, and I see by my window that they're finally delivering. Fortunately, I needn't stick my nose outside to get to any of the places I might go.

I have no programming commitents tomorrow, so I can finally take in the art show and do a serious circuit of the dealers' area, if I want. Thinking seriously of actually attending the Hugo ceremonies rather than catching them on video-cast, but it will probably depend on whether I get together with other people who want to do that.

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 13:02

At some conventions, I feel like I have lots of down time to compose daily blog entries. This time, I'm feeling very "on the go" and figure I'll just jot down impressions and experiences.


After registering, there were a couple hours to kill before the event space actually opened. I tried wandering around to orient myself but was a little stymied by the con's renaming of spaces. (Which space does the "Heinlein arena" correspond to again?) Once things got going, I haven't had any problems finding anything, but it's a very spread out space and I tend to get anxious about not knowing where things are. While wandering, met up with a local couple for whom this is their first ever SFF con (not just "first Worldcon" but first con ever). I hope I was sufficiently enthusiastic about welcoming them and giving useful advice.

When the event space opened, I pretty much only had time before my signing to survey the dealers' tables to know where to send people who might want to buy the Alpennia books. This was a good thing, because not only did I get a steady stream of over a dozen people for signing[*] but about four of them went off to buy copies to bring back. Also handed out about 10 copies of the Musketeer story, which served its intended purpose of being something to sign for those who didn't have physical books.

[*] OK, so maybe a dozen people would be pathetic for most authors, but I think it's the most I've every had for any signing ever. Personal best, and all that.

Spent some time wandering the dealers' area (most of the non panel stuff is all on the one big event space, which is a great layout). Did my site selection voting for 2 years from now. Tried to sign up for some volunteer time with the San Jose bid, but never quite seemed to connect with anyone who was coordinating it. Bumped into a number of "first time in person" encounters, including JJ from File 770 with whom I grabbed a quick late lunch/early dinner. Went to Rachel Acks's "literary beer" (an alternate form of Kaffee Klatsch), then a panel with Sumana Hariahareswara, Teresa Nielsen Hayden & Heather Urbanski looking at historical fiction as "fan fiction" in how it fills in the gaps in stories and adapts existing characters to new storylines.

At that point, I was looking for known people to hang out with for the evening and had a brief period of thinking it was going to be one of those "wander around feeling lonely and not seeing anyone I feel able to approach" times. Now that I have Twitter, I have a potentially productive way of expressing that when it happens. Fortunately a brief Twitter coordination got me a chance to finally meet Renay of Ladybusiness & Fangirl Happy Hour. (Although after I briefly fangirled at her, I kind of ran out of things to say and felt really awkward just hanging out.) Got another tweet leading me to a group I met at Sasquan who were hanging in the Marriott bar, which took me through the rest of the evening.


This morning, met up with Catherine Lundoff & friends (Martha Wells, Steven Gould, and a couple others) for breakfast. It really helps to have the in-person thing with people I've only met online! Then off to do time at the WSFS business meeting. (3 hours of voting on the agenda and schedule for the rest of the sessions. Alas, some of the most intense debates will be on Sunday when I have programming opposite.) Went to a ready by Rosemary Kirstein, whose books have been on my to-be-read pile for quite some time now. And now I'm taking some brief down time and catching up before my Kaffee Klatsch at 4pm. I wasn't able to get a peek at the sign-up sheets, but I'll just assume that if I was able to pull a full slate last year, I should do the same this year.

At that's my Worldcon so far.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 - 08:00

This week, I’m going to pause in the chapters and go back to one of the concepts I discussed at the beginning of this series of posts: moral accounting as a literary analysis technique. To reiterate, it’s a concept that came out of the field of cognitive linguistics, and specifically the sort of conceptual analysis of metaphoric structure pioneered by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. In brief: the use of the langauge of accounting (debts and payments, balances and sums) to talk about how people’s interactions--and especially a series of interactions over time--reflects an underlying concept of “moral balance”. That is, that people who do good things (or who have bad things happen to them for no reason) are “owed” a good outcome, while people who do bad things (or who have unearned good things happen to them) accrue a moral “debt” which can be balanced either by disaster or good deeds. That fact that we use the language of accounting to talk about such things is both a symptom and a motivation for actually thinking/believing in the reality of "moral balance". (It is, of course, not the only metaphoric model we have for morality and ethics.)

A Little Princess has always struck me as a supreme exercise in moral accounting. Sara begins with an “unearned” balance (i.e., a debt) due to her social and financial circumstances and her happy family situation. All these are taken away from her so drastically that she shoots right past balance into severe credit. That is: a state of being “owed” good things by the universe. Then she is driven even deeper into credit by the combination of continuing to do good deeds as best she can, and experiencing unwarranted bad experiences (e.g., the persecution by Miss Minchin). It is only by this continued accrual of credit that Sara can “earn” the eventual conclusion of the story where she becomes wealthy beyond imagination and once again achieves a happy and loving family situation.

But before she has earned that, she has to hit bottom. First, we’ll see Sara perform a significant “good deed” (the part of the accounting under her control). Then we’ll see a series of external bad deeds done to her (e.g., deprivations of food and comfort). And then, when it seems that complete disaster has struck, the balance will begin to assert itself. Not all at once--that wouldn’t be satisfying. Rather in a long, slow build-up to the final climax.

Mr. Carrisford's moral-economy arc is in a different place. Like Sara, he begins the story with what we can assume is a moral debt due to unearned life circumstances. This debt inflates greatly by the good fortune of the diamond mines and by his failures toward Captain Crewe during the supposed crash. His brief brush with the threat of financial loss can't really be treated as a payment toward that debt because it's so quickly neutralized. One might say that Mr. Carrisford's illness is something in the way of paying "interest" on the debt. (A different symbolic understanding of morality might view the illness as a physical realization of his moral weakness--that he won't be healed until he makes good.) Carrisford will work toward balance by a combination of taking action (performing charity for "the little girl in the attic") and experiencing failure (the unsuccesful quest to find Sara). But when you look at the magnitude of these events compared to his wealth and good situation, one can see that he may be carrying a debt load even past the end of the story.

Compare all this to Becky's moral account books. One might think that she begins with a credit due to her economic circumstances and the hardness of her life. It's clear that she is treated much worse as a school employee than Sara is. One might think that she increases this credit by the way she supports Sara through her difficulties. If one's absolute situation were what mattered, one might think that she is owed a larger payoff than Sara is. But the story dynamics of moral debt appear to place a stronger weight on changes than on static experiences. Or, to put it another way, Becky's plot/accounting arc is "damped down", with smaller movements around a lower balance point. One could either see this as an implicit, invisible difference in how their experiences are valued, or one could see it as defining the difference between a protagonist and a supporting character. (When you look at changes in accounts, pretty much the only minor characters who have any activity in their moral ledger at all are Becky and Anne the beggar girl.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 - 21:26

So far, my Worldcon activity has been meeting up with some other early arrivers from the File 770 community for dinner & drinks at The Dubliner.

File 770 meetup

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 - 08:00

The most frustrating thing about they way the Alpennia books fall between genres and between markets is trying to figure out how to bring them to the attention of readers. It will be interesting to see the ways that the StoryBundle promotion that finished up last week will address that question. Of course, not everyone who bought the bundle will read Daughter of Mystery. And not everyone who reads it will love it. But that's true of any path by which a book comes into someone's hands. And the undeniable truth is that the Storybundle has come close to doubling the number of people who have Daughter of Mystery on their e-readers. I've already started to see reviews and mentions trickling in from it. More importantly, this is a far more tightly targetted readership than my publisher's default category "readers of LesFic", many of whom are looking primarily for contemporary romance. I have high hopes. A girl can dream.

My characters have dreams that take off in a lot of different directions. Antuniet will soon turn her dreams to something beyond applying her alchemical talents to the service of the state--or at least, the service of Princess Anna Atillet. One of those services is to devise protective gemstone amulets for Princess Anna's son Efriturik, who is departing to learn something of diplomacy with the Alpennian embassy in France. Jeanne, too, is casting about to find something to turn her hand to. Perhaps something that will refresh her appeal to the leaders of Rotenek society. And the other Anna--Antuniet's apprentice, Anna Monterrez--is beginning to dream beyond her current role...

* * *

[From Mother of Souls, Chapter 6]

The building in which the workshop was located had been surrounded at one time by the old kitchen gardens, but they had fallen into riotous chaos. Only the herb beds were still kept in order as part of the pleasure garden. Now in October the flowers were well past and the weather uncertain, but just for today the afternoon sun still warmed a few small stone benches. There was a delicate wrought-iron table and chairs, not yet taken in for the winter. It served for the moments when Antuniet was able to tear herself away from the work.

Jeanne poured the tea, saying, “Was it only last summer we’d take our picnic to the river wall down on the south bank! How much has changed.”

“How much indeed,” Antuniet echoed. “Have some cake.” She picked up a tiny almond pastry and playfully slipped it into Jeanne’s mouth.

They caught each other’s eyes as she savored it, and when her mouth was free again she said softly, “I still love my bread the best.” But Anna was there and serious flirtation would have to wait for later.

Their visitor’s approach was heralded by Anna’s quick scramble to her feet to curtsey. Jeanne rose with more dignity to greet the bright-uniformed figure who strode along the path toward them.

“Mesner Atilliet,” Antuniet hailed him. “I hadn’t expected you until later. Do you have time to join us or only enough to collect your talismans?”

The cavalry uniform did much to set off the person of Princess Annek’s son, Jeanne thought, as he lifted the hat from his auburn locks and bowed over her hand with that charming Austrian mannerism that he’d chosen not to shed. She approved of the addition of a small moustache. She was not so old or so settled that she couldn’t take pleasure from the attentions of a handsome man.

“A little time, yes,” he said.

Antuniet received the same greeting and then he turned to Anna, bowing over her hand and whispering something that sent her into blushing confusion. Really, he shouldn’t tease the girl, for all that they’d spent long months working side by side last year like brother and sister.

Jeanne said, “Anna, go fetch another teacup if you would.” That would allow her to regain her composure. She returned with alacrity as if unwilling to miss a word.

“Are you back to your regiment for the winter?” Antuniet asked.

“No, my mother sends me off to Paris with Albori. I’m to be apprenticed in diplomacy, it seems, though officially I’ll be nothing more than an aide.”

“Ah, that would explain some of the particular stones she requested.”

Jeanne had been paying only slight attention to the current projects in the workshop, but there had been something about a special commission from Her Grace. The alchemical gems Antuniet created went far beyond the techniques DeBoodt had developed two centuries earlier. Careful layers of enhanced crystals magnified the natural properties of the gems, lending the wearer their strengths. No wonder at all if Annek wanted to send her son off into the world as well protected as possible.

The conversation turned to lighter matters: gossip of the court, the latest sensational novel, the news from France. Jeanne handled the reins without thought, drawing him out, bringing Antuniet out of her habitual taciturnity, allowing Anna her shy silence as she watched the conversation move back and forth, like viewing a play on the stage.

And then, without giving any hint of impatience, Efriturik rose and Anna was sent off to fetch the set of gems. He tucked the case inside the breast of his waistcoat and took his leave with a broad compliment and a wink that encompassed all three of them.

It was no more than a matter of habit for him. In the last year, the attractions that arose from being personable and well-fashioned and a likely heir to the throne had been augmented by leaving behind the brashness of youth and by the cultivation of wit and charm. Efriturik was developing quite a reputation for the careful and gentle breaking of hearts. Some day a bride would be chosen for him, but for now any girl he smiled at could dream. And even a middle-aged widow with no interest in young men could enjoy the game.

It would soon be time to clear away the remains of the tea, but they sat for a while yet after their guest had gone, enjoying the birdsong. Jeanne saw a pensive look settle over Anna’s face. Something softer than the usual moodiness of youth. “What do you want to learn next?” Jeanne asked her.

The question seemed to startle her. “I want—” She glanced over at Antuniet, as if looking for permission.

Without need for explanation, Antuniet nodded in assent. Yes, she understood what it was to wonder if you were allowed to want things.

“Mesnera de Cherdillac, I want to learn to be like you.”

Monday, August 15, 2016 - 18:01

As if I didn't have enough plates spinning in mid-air, I've started doing a monthly column at Queer Sci Fi, focusing on motifs, tropes, and echoes of queer fantasy themes in historic literature. The venue gives me a chance to branch out a bit from the women-centered research I discuss for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. In fact, for the debut column, I've gone quite far afield from my usual work and discuss the implicit themes of shape-shifting same-sex relationships and "male" pregnancy in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. I'll be interested to see what people think of that spin!

Monday, August 15, 2016 - 10:00

I've been teasing about this for a little while and now I can announce it officially. The Lesbian Historic Motif Project will now include the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast, part of the Lesbian Talk Show Podcast, a magazine-style podcast that includes reviews, discussions, readings, and news from a variety of contributors and is created and hosted by the folks at The Lesbian Review. To begin with, I'll be contributing a monthly episode to be posted on the last Saturday of the month. If the material and my workload allows, it may eventually increase in frequency.

I'm rather excited about this development. I'd informally discussed the idea of a podcast about a year ago, but friends of mine who have done their own podcast convinced me it wasn't something I wanted to try on my own. So when The Lesbian Talkshow expanded from its original format to include multiple contributors, I floated the idea to them and immediately got back the response that they'd been thinking of asking me the same thing! At the time, I decided that if I could put together ten initial episodes, then I'd commit to it. It took me a little while to free up enough time to learn the Audacity software and to settle on what sort of content I wanted to include. In the end, when I had the first four episodes recorded, I decided that was good enough to go live.

The podcast is going to take a slightly different angle than the blog. The blog is very much organized around reviews and summaries of specific scholarly publications. The podcast is going to focus on people, on stories, on the "human interest" angle. Each episode will take off from a specific historic individual or fictional character and talk about who they were--their historic context and significance. It will be an opportunity to include some longer readings of historic texts than would have worked well in the blog. Imagine, for example, a dramatized readers' theater excerpt from Lyly's Gallathea! I'll also have a chance to synthesize information from multiple publications to present a more informal take on the subject matter. Eventually, I have some ideas for possible interviews to include.

My hope is that this will be a chance to bring the LHMP research to a new audience and to expand the diversity of coverage in The Lesbian Talk Show. You can subscribe to The Lesbian Talk Show via iTunes, Stitcher, or Podbean, or listen to individual episodes at their website. I'll post a reminder and link each time a new episode comes out.

Full citation: 

Eriksson, Brigitte. 1985. “A Lesbian Execution in Germany, 1721: The Trial Records” in Licata, Salvatore J. & Robert P. Petersen (eds). The Gay Past: A Collection of Historical Essays. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 0-918393-11-6 (Also published as Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 6, numbers 1/2, Fall/Winter 1980.)

Publication summary: 


A collection mostly of case-studies of specific historic incidents or topics relevant to the changing understandings of homosexuality. Most of the papers address male topics. Only the three relevant to female topics are covered in this project.

Eriksson, Brigitte. 1985. “A Lesbian Execution in Germany, 1721: The Trial Records”

I still remember a conversation I had, quite some time ago, with a relative who was a social worker. She primarily worked with "troubled youth" who were in the system due to psychological or behavioral problems. Knowing that I'm a lesbian, she commented something to the effect (highly paraphrased) of, "I know that homosexuality is a mental disorder because everyone I work with who's gay is completely messed up." To which I replied, "Everyone you work with is completely messed up." My observation was, of course, over-broad, but hers was ignoring the highly skewed nature of her selection process. It's the same skewing that led the early sexologists--who often worked with people who were seeking treatment for unrelated psychological issues--to pathologize all same-sex desire.

Researching queer people in history has a bit of the same problem. When a group of people are marginalized and stigmatized, the contexts in which the nature of their marginalization is mentioned are going to be highly skewed towards the negative. Most of the clear and unambiguous medieval European data on women having sex with women comes from legal cases in which at least one of the women was on trial for that behavior. But that doesn't mean that every (or even most) such couples were prosecuted and punished. Nor does it mean that the types of behavior that triggered prosecution were universal or even necessarily typical for women who loved women. For example, both penitential literature and the discussions around these legal cases suggests that the use of dildos and gender disguise were more strongly condemned than other types of homoerotic activity. So the focus of trials on those types of activity may simply mean that those were the ones most likely to be prosecuted. Similarly, prosecutions for same-sex relations that involve violent behavior may simply be the cases most likely to have been pursued, rather than a correlation between same-sex relations and violence.

It's in this context that we should consider the case of Catharina Margaretha Lincken. Unless one believes that a certain religious hysteria (and mercenary cynicism), as well as domestic conflict are necessary conditions for a same-sex relationship, one must suppose that other, less tragic, couples existed in the same time and place, well under the legal radar. Lincken was a troubled individual with a complex history. But there were many more troubled individuals in 18th century Germany who didn't share her sexual orientation. The case is highlighted for us because a late 19th century sexologist found it useful to support his theories of sexual pathology. Viewed more neutrally, without the filters of prejudice, it is a fascinating, if ultimately tragic, story of someone who was out of step with her society in several different ways, and whose sexual transgressions may have been only the last straw for the authorities, rather than the primary offense.

This is a translation of an 1891 publication of the summary of German trial records from1721. The 1891 publication is by Dr. F. C. Müller, a sexologist who added his own commentary from the point of view of sexual psychopathology. Eriksson’s translation omits this commentary and includes only the original trial summary. The summary was put together after the conclusion of the trial when the sentence was being sent to a higher authority for review. The history of the two defendants is long and complicated and touches on trangressions of religion, theft, and fraud, as well as the sexual allegations. There is some confusion of identity in the text, as both women are referred to as “defendant” and the descriptions sometime devolve into chains of she said/she said and she did/she did. But in general, Lincken is framed as the primary transgressor and Mühlhahn as the deceived innocent. As both women have the forenames “Catharina Margaretha” I have referred to them by their surnames.

Catharina Margaretha Lincken was 27 at the time of the trial. She was illegitimate (her mother was a widow) and she was raised in an orphanage in Halle. Her mother was aware of her whereabouts and activities, at least to some extent, and continued to be in contact with her into adulthood After leaving the orphanage, Lincken worked as a button maker and printer of cotton fabrics. During a journey, she disguised herself as a man “in order to lead a life of chastity” and attached herself to an ecstatic religious movement called “Inspirants” where she was baptized by a “so-called prophetess” Eva Lang and took on the name Anastasius Lagrantinus Rosenstengl. She had an ecstatic and somewhat violent religious experience at one of the meetings of the Inspirants after which she spent two years with them as a traveling preacher. The group believed in direct communication with God (direct confession and penance, randomly assigning the task of sharing Eucharist with no distinction of gender). The summary goes into great detail on the religious practices of this group. They are in some places refered to as “Quakers” but this seems to be a behavioral nickname rather than a specific connection with the Society of Friends (who don’t seem to have extended to Germany at this time). Lincken became dissatisfied with the results of her preaching, finding her prophecies didn’t come true and that her declarations of penances were contradicted by others. She was also experiencing hallucinations/visions during this period.

Lincken returned to Halle around 1705 and enlisted in the Hanoverian army under the name Anastasius Lagrantinus Beuerlein, or possibly Caspar Beuerlein. [It’s a bit hard to sort out in exactly which year the statement about Lincken being 27 was made, but if it were the time of her trial in 1721, then she was born in 1696 and would have been 9 years old when enlisting and even younger when traveling with the Inspirants. This seems implausible but no comment is made on it.] Three years later she deserted at Brabant (Netherlands) but was arrested near Antwerp and condemned to hang. She got off by disclosing her biological sex, with the aid of a letter from a Professor Francken in Halle. She then later re-enlisted in a Prussian company in Soerst, using the same male name as before. About a year later, Professor Franken [and one wonders exactly who he is and what his part is in this] wrote the priest of the garrison, outing her as female, and she was discharged.

She returned again to Halle and lived as a woman for part of a year, then again took on a male presentation and went to Wittenberg to join a Polish troop, under the name Peter (or Lagrantinus) Wannich. She was captured by the French during a campaign near Brussels but escaped. She served the next year with a Hessian troop in Rheinfels and got in a brawl but ran away to escape punishment. At some point during this she was also using the name Cornelius Hubsch. In addition to name changes, she alternated between presenting herself as a Catholic and as a Lutheran.

She returned again to Halle for three or four years of civilian life, working making flannel, spinning, and printing fabric. During this period she alternated between wearing female and male clothing. This resulted in some arrests, further intercession by Professor Francken, and a physical inspection at the Rathhaus to determine her physiological sex.

After this inspection, she returned to passing as a man (though not to the military) and in 1717 became employed by a stocking maker where she met Catharina Margaretha Mühlhahn. [Based on later testimony, they may have met in Halberstadt. In any event, it seems unlikely to have been in Halle since Mühlhahn had plausible deniability regarding Lincken’s biological sex.] The two became engaged and asked for the reading of the banns so they could marry. At the first reading, someone accused Lincken of having a wife and children in Halle [so presumably they’re somewhere else] but Lincken produced a letter from her mother and two witnesses to show that wasn’t the case. [Interesting that the witnesses could testify to her lack of a wife and children in Halle but weren’t aware of the gender issue. And one wonders exactly what aspect the letter from her mother addressed.]

After the wedding, Lincken used a leather strap-on dildo for sexual intercourse and there are detailed descriptions of how both of them experienced their sexual activity. In addition to penetration, they engaged in petting and fondling. Lincken testified that she had enjoyed sex previously with prostitutes when she was a soldier and “when a woman touched her, even slightly, she became so full of passion that she did not know what to do.” Also, “during intercourse, whenever she was at the height of her passion, she felt tingling in her veins, arms, and legs.” [This is by way of noting that intercourse with Mühnhahn was not simply an act for the purpose of disguise, but was driven by erotic desire.]

Mühlhahn testifies to having been somewhat less satisfied: that her genitals became very swollen and painful [from the friction of the device]. But Lincken countered that Mühnhahn had frequently held the “instrument” in her hands and inserted it into herself, and that when Mühnhahn’s mother and tried to break up the marriage, Mühlhahn had complained to her mother and returned to her spouse. [Note that none of this need be in contradiction. Domestic disputes are notoriously complicated.] But there is other evidence of conflict between them. One complained that the other wasn’t earning any money. [There is a fair amount of pronoun confusion here and both women are referred to as “the defendant”, so it isn’t entirely clear which one is accused of what.] There is a complaint that Lincken took clothing and linens belonging to Mühlhahn and sold them. Also a complaint of physical abuse, apparantly aimed at Lincken.

They went traveling, supporting themselves by begging. They separated and reunited. In Münster it seemed expeditious to be Catholic, so Lincken was rebaptized in the Jesuit church and they celebrated a Catholic marriage. But then, on traveling to Helmstadt, Lincken made a long confusing plea to a Lutheran authority, citing her early experiences with the Inspirants and requesting Lutheran instruction and baptism. Lincken seems to have been alone at this point, for she stated that she would go fetch her “spiritual sister” (i.e., her wife) from Halberstadt and bring her to Helmstedt for a Lutheran marriage. [There are some indications in the testimony that one might be paid a bounty for converting, and this was one of the charges against her: that she had fraudulently converted to take advantage of this. This makes the conversion activities make more sense, because if it were simply a matter of "fitting in" a mere statement and appropriate behavior should have been enough.]

Lincken found Mühlhahn with her mother in Halberstadt [so perhaps this is where they had originally met and married?] who both turned her away. Lincken then got into a fight with her mother-in-law, who accused her of being a woman, and in the process Lincken’s pants were ripped off and her strap-on revealed. Mühlhahn’s mother took the evidence to the law and made her accusation, resulting in the trial that is being documented.

Lincken testified that she’d first made the strap-on while in the Hanoverian regiment and had used it for sexual purposes with a number of women. She also claimed that Mühlhahn and her mother were perfectly aware that Lincken was a woman before the original marriage, and that Mühlhahn had removed the strap-on and played with it sexually at one point and that they had continued living together intimately after that and gone through their second marriage after that.

On being interrogated about how she would justify the various actions she was accused of, Lincken offered the following:

  • Yes, she wore men’s clothing, but so did other women, and she believed that cross-dressing was only prohibited for married women. [Presumably she didn't consider herself a "married woman" since she had married as a man.]
  • Yes, she had been involved in the Inspirant movement, because she considered it a holy life and wanted to be a prophet. [It appears that at some point since then the Inspirants had been outlawed.]
  • Yes, she had deserted the army several times and committed multiple perjuries, but she had already been punished for those.
  • Regarding her marriage to a woman “she thought she would be well able to answer this before God.” This statement is followed by a confusing story about her mother and the devil.
  • Yes, she’d acted as a man in having sexual relations with her wife and she hoped God would forgive her. She now realizes that she was deluded by Satan.
  • She denied that taking and selling her wife’s clothing and things was theft because the sale benefitted them both.
  • Regarding her multiple baptisms and multiple marriages in different religions, she asked God’s pardon and repented any sin and was willing to die for her error.

Mühlhahn’s testimony is more succinct. She was 22 at the time of the trial and had married Lincken in 1717 [i.e., at age 18]. On the wedding night, she had found penetration painful and despite multiple attempts it had not been successful for about a week. She became apprehensive about sex but hadn’t realized there was anything out of the ordinary going on. On one occasion in 1718, when Lincken was sleeping, she had inspected Lincken’s body and discovered the strap-on and confronted Lincken with it on waking. Lincken begged Mühlhahn not to betray her and Mühlhahn promised, but had become afraid of her. Lincken tried to convince Mühlhan that she (Mühlhahn) was pregnant, and then urged her to get pregnant by someone else. Mühlhahn testifies that she resisted participating in the various religious shenanigans, but confessed that she’d finally gone along with it in Münster and been baptized and then married as a Catholic—but that was before she learned Lincken’s true nature. [This doesn’t seem to fit the timeline, though.]

The interrogation with regard to the charge of sodomy includes a fairly detailed she-said/she-said exchange in which Mühlhahn takes the position of an extremely naïve and ignorant virgin who believed every implausible thing Lincken told her about the inconsistencies of the masculine presentation. In contrast, Lincken asserts with a number of specific incidents, that Mühlhahn was perfectly aware that Lincken was a woman.

Medical authorities are brought in to consider the hypothesis that Lincken is a hermaphrodite. On examination, they testify that there is nothing hermaphroditic, much less masculine, about Lincken’s body. They go further to assert that based on the size of Lincken’s breasts and the appearance of her genitalia, they conclude that she’s been sexually active with men. [This is nonsense on a medical basis, but it was brought in as evidence of Lincken’s morality.]

The defender representing the two women asked for nothing worse than life imprisonment for Lincken, and that Mühlhahn be released.  But the judgement was for Lincken to be executed by hanging and then to be burnt, and that Mühlhahn was to be tortured in order to ascertain the truth of her testimony.

The document then goes into a philosophical discussion of what penalties should apply and why, and an appeal is made to a higher court to decide the matter. (Including arguments as to whether decapitation, hanging, or burning is appropriate, or some combination thereof, and in what order.) One of the points of contention is whether “sodomy” can be committed with an artificial device, or whether the term only applies between when an enlarged clitoris is used for penetration (which is asserted as occurring only among Eastern and African women). There is a great deal of reference to classical and biblical texts and commentaries, as well as contemporary legal norms. The final conclusion was that Lincken was executed and Mühlhahn spent a brief period in a workhouse and then was exiled.

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