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Saturday, June 27, 2020 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 164 (previously 47d) - Lesbian-Like History and Racial Othering - transcript

(Originally aired 2020/06/27 - listen here)

I regularly both lament and apologize for the Eurocentricity of the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. As I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, it’s both a consequence of my own specific writing interests shaping the research I do, and of the ways that academic communities cluster around topics of interest. So when I follow up on sources mentioned by the books and articles I read, they tend to be about similar topics, written by people with similar backgrounds and interests.

That means that even when I happen across works on non-Western cultures, I often consider them of dubious value, if written from a Western anthropologist’s point of view, or if working from a position that Western models of gender and sexuality have some sort of universal status. Works written by historians who are cultural insiders and who can present the nuances of how variant sexualities work from within their own context are a treasure, but a rare one.

Those treasures include Samar Habib’s work on the history of female same-sex relations in the Islamicate world. Habib not only provides a detailed exploration and critique of Arabic texts that discuss female same-sex relations--dating from the 9th century up through the present--but speaks as an insider about the problem of resisting Western cultural frameworks both in a historic and modern context.

Another researcher doing fascinating insider research is Ruth Vanita, working on the interplay of many different cultural traditions within India, as well as the relationship of historic traditions to queer identities in modern India.

I have yet to find any good or reliable work on historic same-sex practices in sub-Saharan Africa, though there is some interesting contemporary ethnographic work being done on modern varieties of same-sex relations, such as Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men, and Ancestral Wives: Female Same-Sex Practices in Africaedited by Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wierenga.

But what I do have in abundance within the Western historic sources that form the majority of my bibliography, is the ways in which those sources viewed, discussed, and interpreted the intersection of women’s same-sex relations and the racial “other”. This may seem an odd topic to focus on for an episode in support of racial justice and awareness, but one of the things that I can do, as a white author, is to be aware of the long history of that othering and be able to identify tropes and motifs that can be harmful when casually included in historic fiction. To that end, here are some themes to be aware of when reading or writing about queer women of color in the past.

They Do it Over There, not Here

The conflict in Western culture between a fascination with sex between women, and the condemnation of it, manifests in a repeating motif that such practices happen over there, not here; back then, not now. Just exactly where “over there” is has varied, but tends to be whatever cultures lie on the edges of awareness that can be safely classified as “not us.”

For writers in classical Rome, “not us” was Greece, conveniently represented by the figure of Sappho, as in Ovid’s Heroides. Women interested in sex with women--or those assigned as women, such Lucian’s Megillus--are described as being Greek, or are described with Greek names as with Martial’s Philaenis. Respectable Roman women, as Juvenal has one such say, do not fuck each other.

The idea of associating sex between women with foreign locations subsides somewhat during the medieval era, where the focus was more on individual practices than social patterns. But around the later 16th century we again see references to associations with specific cultures, and as a practice that might be imported or picked up by contagion. Blame might be placed on a close-by rival, as when the French writer Brantôme--in the midst of telling all manner of stories of what French ladies got up to--claims, “the fashion was imported from Italy by a certain lady of quality.”Though he acknowledges, “by what I have heard say, there be in many regions and lands plenty of such dames and Lesbian devotees, in France, in Italy, in Spain, Turkey, Greece and other places.”

We see in Brantôme’s list a hint of the rising association of female homosexuality with the Ottoman Empire, a topic that I’ll treat separately in a moment.

Geographic othering is often a companion to other motifs associated with sex between women. The idea that an enlarged clitoris was associated with same-sex activity arose in the late 16th century and continued to be popular for quite some time. It, too, rapidly picked up associations with foreignness, and especially with Middle Eastern and North African cultures. But this, too, I’ll expand on in a moment.

A refrain that Susan Lanser picks up on in her book The Sexuality of Historyis how, during the 16th and 17th centuries, writers throughout western Europe continually claimed that female same-sex desire was something “new” and “never seen before in our land”, sometimes with explicit reference to it being prevalent elsewhere, sometimes in contrast to classical references. The underlying purpose of these claims is to isolate expressions of love between “our” women as chaste and noble, while warning of the dangers of letting outside influences corrupt them. There is something of a contagion model, in contrast to the morality model that prevailed earlier.

This desperate defense of white western European women as somehow naturally innocent of homoerotic desires still features prominently in the late 19th century court case of Pirie versus Woods, in which the argument boiled down to “nice English women would never do such a thing, it must be a false accusation made up by an Anglo-Indian student because they do unnatural things like that in India.

[Sponsor break]

They Especially Do it in Turkey

For Europeans of the 16th and 17th centuries the ultimate anxiety-provoking nearby Other was the Ottoman Empire. Even as Europeans were just beginning their own colonial enterprises overseas, the Ottomans, especially under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent, expanded into Europe throughout the Balkans and to the gates of Vienna. Although multi-cultural in many ways, the official face of the Ottoman Empire was non-Christian, non-European, and non-white. European travelers and diplomats to Constantinople were deeply fascinated by the dynamics of a severely gender-segregated society and their imaginations ran rampant around the topic of what women might be doing together in the isolation of the harem and in the sensual environment of the Turkish bath houses.

In the late 16th century, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Flemish ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, wrote of women’s homoerotic encounters in the baths, inviting the reader to imagine “young maids, exceeding beautiful, gathered from all parts of the world, exposed naked to the view of other women, who thereupon fall in love with them.” Busbecq ascribes this behavior in part to the strict gender seclusion of the women that makes them “burn in love toward one another” and in part to the stimulation of shared nudity in the bath houses.

The French diplomat Nicolas de Nicolay, a contemporary of Busbec, similarly describes the habit of using the public baths as a social escape for women from domestic seclusion. This, as well as communal nudity and mutual washing led to “feminine wantonness.” Though one does wonder how all these male diplomats had such a detailed knowledge of the activities in the women’s baths.

In the mid 17th century, the travel writer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier acknowledges this difficulty, noting that he is passing on information supplied by one of the eunuchs who served in the women’s quarters. Tavernier specifically ascribes the prevalence of homosexual activity to a lack of access to men and goes on at some length about how superior the social dynamics back home are where women with unfulfilled sexual urges can just commit adultery with men.

Mary Whortley Montagu, whose husband was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 18th century, had more direct access to the lives of the women she wrote about. In contrast to the male authors, she provides very sensuous, but non-sexual descriptions of women in the baths. “Not the least wanton smile or immodest gesture...,” she writes, knowing what her audience has been primed to expect. However she describes being entertained at the baths by female dancers and notes “...I am very positive that the coldest and most rigid prude upon Earth could not have looked upon them without thinking of something not to be spoke of...”

But it was too late for milder eye-witness accounts to undermine the motif of rampant lesbianism among Turkish women. In the mid 18th century, an English religious tract against lesbianism refers to it being “practiced frequently in Turkey”.

Masculinizing Women of Color

But if Turkish travelogues called up sensual images of bath houses full of naked women fondling each other, the same era created a new sexual stereotype: the tribade who used an enlarged clitoris to perform penetrative sex with other women. And nearly as soon as this figure had been invented, she became strongly associated with women of color.

While a number of books refer to this era as seeing “the discovery of the clitoris” it had not actually been lost but merely ignored by medical writers for many centuries. Now, as part of a shift in understanding the relationship between female and male anatomy, it was recognized as an analogue of the penis in both structure and erotic function. And as an organ that had no use other than for sexual pleasure, that recognition provoked a lot of cultural anxiety. The heteronormative imagination saw this anatomical variant as inherently masculine, and expected masculine women to sexually desire other women.

One contributing factor to the association of an enlarged clitoris with Egypt and northern Africa was an awareness of the practice of female genital mutilation, which suggested to the European imagination that the enlargement of the organs must have been one reason for it, in addition to control of female sexuality.

The Spanish writer Rodrigo de Castro remarks on this practice in Egypt, though he does not suggest that there is any greater frequency of the condition there.

However Jane Sharp, writing in 1671, claims that clitoral enlargement is rare in England but common “in the Indies and Egypt” and specifically cites stories of “Negro women” with enlarged genitals. Egypt becomes a particular focus of the othering of tribade physiology.

English writers displaced various types of female homoeroticism into different locations: as decadence it is French or Italian, as a consequence of the frustrations of female seclusion it was Turkish or Persian, cross-dressing women might occur anywhere in western Europe, but the macro-clitoris was specifically assigned to India and Africa, especially Egypt. Thomas Gibson in 1682 extends this geographic othering by assigning it to the indigenous people of Florida and Virginia, as well as to Arabia and Ethiopia.

But the English were not alone in attributing anatomical masculinity to these locations. At the end of the 17th century, Italian author Ludovico SInistrari similarly attributed clitoral enlargement to the Middle East, citing as proof the practice of clitoridectomy there. Curiously all these authors were citing examples of the feature in their own countries while simultaneously claiming it was most characteristic of women of color in foreign lands.

At least one person used this belief to their own advantage. Eleno de Cespedes, born Elena and assigned female at birth, testified at his trial for gender impersonation that he had genuinely transformed into a physiological man for a period, and cited classical sources (and relying on the beliefs of his contemporaries) that this sort of transformation was more likely for someone of African heritage as he was.

Conclusions

But I begin to stray afield from the point of this essay.

In writing historical fiction featuring women of color, and in the reception we give the same as readers, it is important to examine the myths, tropes, and prejudices that have haunted the history of women loving women in order to avoid viewing the world through biased filters.

Do we write, or expect, characters of color to have systematic differences from white characters? Do we write or expect them to be more uninhibitedly sexual? To be the sexual aggressor? The social myth that black women are inherently more masculine, more aggressive, more stoic can be subtler than early modern myths about masculinized anatomy, but they come from a similar source. Have we examined those myths in our own thinking or swallowed them whole? Do we write or expect characters of Middle Eastern or Islamic heritage to walk out of an Orientalist fantasy of harems and bath-houses? To have an inherent predisposition to same-sex love because of the historic gender dynamics of Islamicate cultures? When writing or reading an f/f historical novel, what function do geography, ethnicity, and culture play in your expectations? Who do you see as Self and who do you see as Other.

Who do you see as deserving of a happy ending?


Show Notes

An unblinking look at the historic intersection of women’s same-sex relations and racial othering

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Major category: 
LHMP
Thursday, June 25, 2020 - 13:00
Cover - The Armor of Light

The Pride StoryBundle is always packed full of wonderful authors and stories. And who knows better about that than the authors themselves? To entice you to check it out, we contributors are interviewing each other. You can find the full list of contents and purchasing information here: https://storybundle.com/blog/2020pridemonthbundle/

Today’s featured author is Melissa Scott, whose historical fantasy The Armor of Lightis included in the bonus bundle. Melissa Scott is a queer Southern writer who abandoned academia for SF/F back in the mid-1980s and never looked back. She has published more than 40 novels, and is noted both for her worldbuilding, and for her emphasis on queer themes and characters. She has won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT SF/F four times as well as four Gaylactic Spectrum Awards. She currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, among a tangle of family, friends, and cats. Her most recent novel is Finders, space opera about a team of salvage operators.

HRJ:I read The Armor of Light, your contribution to this year’s StoryBundle, back when it first came out in the ‘80s. Why don’t you tell the readers what it’s about and why authors love to play with the figure of Christopher Marlowe.

Melissa Scott: The Armor of Light is essentially an alternate history novel set in Elizabethan England — in 1595, specifically — in which Sir Philip Sidney, poet, courtier, and soldier, survived the Battle of Zutphen and saved Christopher Marlowe, poet, playwright, and quondam government agent, from being murdered by other government agents. Both are accomplished magicians, though of very different schools, and when James VI of Scotland is threatened by magical attack, Elizabeth sends the unlikely pair north to save the man she has reluctantly accepted as her heir.

As for why Marlowe… Well, he’s one of those historical figures that readers would disbelieve if if he didn't exist. He reinvented English drama with the first part of Tamburlaine, was considered Shakespeare’s superior through the 1590s, wrote six plays that are still performed today (and probably contributed to several more), and was involved with Sir Walter Raleigh’s circle of mathematicians, scholars, and magicians known as the School of Night. (It is that last, plus the evidence of both Dr. Faustus and testimony offered against him at the time of his death, that suggests considerably knowledge of hermetic science and Neo-Platonic philosophy: Marlowe the magician.) He was also almost certainly employed by Elizabeth’s secret service as an agent in France and the Netherlands, and was murdered at the age of 29 while under investigation for atheism and treason, while in the company of men who were also known government agents. He was also about as out and proud as a man could be in Elizabethan England: his play Edward II is the first sympathetic portrait of gay relationships on the English stage, and his poetry is full of homoerotic descriptions even in the middle of ostensibly heteroerotic subjects—his Hero and Leander features an interlude in which Neptune attempts to seduce Leander as he swims. Among the accusations pending against him at his death was that he had said “all those who love not tobacco and boys are fools” and that he had claimed that “St John the Evangelist was Christ’s bedfellow and leaned always in his bosom, that he used him as the sinners of Sodom.” There’s just so much to play with, and all of it can be justified by the historical sources.

HRJ: Why do you think LGBTQ/queer fiction speaks to all readers -- other than the obvious answer that we’re all human and nothing human should be uninteresting to us?

Melissa Scott: One of the things that I think queer fiction offers to all readers is a vision of identity as mutable, conditional, and as often playful as serious; it’s capable of being chosen and created rather than simply being, and one may wear more than one at a time. And, yes, some of this ability to shift identities is grounded in oppression and the need for secrecy, but the community and culture have embraced that mutability and made a virtue of it. There are thousands of roles and archetypes within the community and we treat them with great seriousness and tremendous irreverence simultaneously, but always with the awareness that they are constructs and are therefore at least somewhat under our control. I think that’s one reason that queer SF/F works so well: the imagined futures and other worlds foreground this part of the queer experience.

HRJ: You’ve written in a lot of different corners of the SFF landscape, but I suspect that people who enjoy The Armor of Light might also enjoy your Astreiant series. It has an Early Modern feel to it, although it’s set in a completely invented world. Can you give the readers a sense of the flavor of that series?

Melissa Scott: The Points novels (Point of Hopes, Point of Knives, Point of Dreams, Fairs’ Point, and Point of Sighs) do indeed have a strong Early Modern sensibility to them, though they are set in a secondary world in which astrology not only works but is the underpinning of the society. The magic is similar to that in Armor in that it’s part of the background of daily life. Nearly everyone knows their horoscope, and knows how it fits them for their profession; there’s a thriving business of legal (and illegal) broadsheet prophecy, astrologers serve as counsellors, and alchemists also investigate the transformations in dead bodies. The novels are set in the city of Astreiant, capital of Chenedolle, and are in essence fantasy police procedurals exploring the relationship between Nicolas Rathe, Adjunct Point (a sort of senior policeman; the policing system is in the process of being created in these novels) and Philip Eslingen, a mercenary lieutenant turned bodyguard turned… several other professions.

* * *

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

  • Best Game Ever by R. R. Angell
  • The Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale
  • A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney
  • Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue by Andi C. Buchanan

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular books, plus seven more more books, for a total of eleven!

  • Grilled Cheese and Goblins by Nicole Kimberling
  • The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
  • Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones
  • The Hollow History of Professor Profectus by Ginn Hale
  • Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston
  • The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater
  • Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

Storybundle covers

Major category: 
Promotion
Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 19:00
Cover - Cinrak

The Pride StoryBundle is always packed full of wonderful authors and stories. And who knows better about that than the authors themselves? To entice you to check it out, we contributors are interviewing each other. You can find the full list of contents and purchasing information here: https://storybundle.com/blog/2020pridemonthbundle/

Today’s featured author is A.J. Fitzwater, whose debut novelThe Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper is included in the bonus bundle. A.J. lives and writes in New Zealand.

HRJ: Your contribution to the StoryBundle, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, has a rather striking premise: an elegant, lesbian, capybara pirate. Why don’t you tell the readers a little about how that concept came to you?

A.J. Fitzwater: Cinrak's origin was all about fun. I wrote what I thought at the time would be a one time only story for a competition centered around rodents, mashing up my heart-eyes for capybara and the theme, and Cinrak popped out of my brain blender.  I wanted to do something different and queer with the old rat pirate trope. With their broad chests and chill nature with other species, capybara come across as cool butch house parents. And so the House of Dapper was born.

HRJ: What does centering queer characters in your fiction mean to you personally?

A.J. Fitzwater: Finding the courage to, and pride in, writing queer characters came in parallel to the discovery of courage and pride in myself. When I began writing (again, after a very long time of repressing my joy...oh the layers!), I made an effort to explore different people, to understand and educate myself about the beautiful diversity of the world. It took me a long time to realize I was exploring myidentity, untangling the internalized fear and repression I'd used as a survival technique. While I cringe at some of my early stories, and understandings, it shows growth I'm proud of, and I'm proud to be on a lifelong journey of growth and change. 

HRJ: Cinrak is a very recent release, but you have another brand new book out--I know, because I included it in the new releases segment of my podcast. I suspect fans of the StoryBundle would also be interested in No Man’s Land, though it’s a rather different flavor of story. Why don’t you tell the readers a little about it.

A.J. Fitzwater:Thank you for the signal boost! It's a strange thing to be bringing out two completely different books during a tough time, but the way I've reckoned it, we still need to envision joy, to find the light to move towards. No Man's Land is a queer fantasy novella set in New Zealand during World War 2, and is about two land girls who find each other in the chaos. It goes into the ignored history of the manpowered farming land girls and queer people during war time, and uses shape-shifting magic to explore purpose, body, and identity. It's available from paperroadpress.co.nz, or on your favourite e-retailer platform. 

* * *

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

  • Best Game Ever by R. R. Angell
  • The Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale
  • A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney
  • Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue by Andi C. Buchanan

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular books, plus seven more more books, for a total of eleven!

  • Grilled Cheese and Goblins by Nicole Kimberling
  • The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
  • Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones
  • The Hollow History of Professor Profectus by Ginn Hale
  • Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston
  • The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater
  • Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

Storybundle covers

Major category: 
Promotion
Monday, June 22, 2020 - 18:00

This collection was not particularly fruitful in terms of LHMP content, with barely two articles speaking to the topic of women's same-sex desire. This is, alas, all too common in general collections, as well as all too common under the umbrella of Queer Studies. This tendency creates what I have come to call the "Little Red Hen Problem." You know the story about the little red hen? She finds a grain of wheat and asks help to plant it, then to tend it, then to harvest the wheat, then to grind it to flour, then to make bread out of it, all along the way encountering indifference and turned backs. So at every step she says, "Well, then, I'll do it myself." And at the end of the story when she asks, "And who would like to eat the bread?" then everyone is eager to join in, but the little red hen spurns them all, saying "I'll do it myself."

So what do I mean about something being a little red hen problem in historical research? When academics interested in the place of women in history found nothing but indifference and turned backs in the academy, they created the field of Women's Studies. When academics interested in the study of female same-sex relations in history found themselves largely shut out of the history of sexuality and queer studies, they said, "Well then, I'll do it myself" and created the field of lesbian history. But if time and again you have to create a field of study that is narrowly focused on your topic of interest, simply in order for that topic to be represented at all, then the act of narrowing the focus simultaneously results in progressive exclusion within your narrowed field, as well as failing to challenge the de facto exclusion in the larger field.

It's understandable. People get tired of begging for a place at the table and go off to build their own table. Or grow their own wheat. Or run their own mill. And if it results in an increasing separation from the "default" version of the academy, well, let someone else put in that work. You're tired and you just want a place where you're able to do the work you care about. But now you're part of a separate economy of research, just as the little red hen set up her own vertically-siloed economy of bread production. It's much more fragile than an integrated economy. And yet...you didn't feel like you had a choice. No one was letting you participate in an integrated economy. You had some wheat, but nobody was offering to help you turn it into bread.

I tend to feel that the lesfic publishing community is dealing with the late stage of a Little Red Hen Problem. When no one else was willing to publish fun, sympathetic genre fiction about women loving each other, the flock of little red hens came together and created the books no one else would touch. But what had originally been necessity developed into a way of life. We're going to grow wheat, not oats or barley, because that's what little red hens do. We're going plant and harvest it in specific ways because that's the little red hen tradition. And we're going to grind it to flour to make a specific type of bread. This is the bread we've always made. We're not going to make croissants or tortillas. We're not going to mix in olives or add eggs or top with caraway seeds, because that's the the little red hen way. We must respect the struggles and traditions of our fore-hens!

OK, I confess this metaphor has strayed a bit off the rails. And it no longer has much to do with why, in an entire collection of articles about queering the Renaissance, I could only find two about women loving women. But the point I'm reaching for is that sometimes even structures and systems that were about survival when first developed can turn around and become barriers. If I share my bread with you, will you share your polenta?

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Stephens, Dorothy. 1994. “Into Other Arms: Amoret’s Evasion”” in Queering the Renaissance ed. by Jonathan Goldberg. Duke University Press, Durham and London. ISBN 0-8223-1381-2

Publication summary: 

This collection of articles takes a broad view of “queering”. The articles look at the ways in whch “humanism” failed to recognize the humanity of many popuations, specifically those who were not straight white men. The research here encourages examination of the relationship of race, gender, and sexuality to notions of colonialism and imperial expansion.

Stephens "Into Other Arms: Amoret’s Evasion "

This article examines several passages in Spencer’s Faerie Queene that suggest female homoerotic encounters, either in the context of homosocial affection or primed by gender disguise. Amoret, our damsel in distress, finds herself in the allegorical “Cave of Lust” and encounters another woman bewailing her similar fate there. “Lust” should not be taken as benign pleasure here, but more aligned with sexual assault. The two women exchange stories and bond over their harrowing escapes from lustful pursuit.

This episode occurs at an interesting shifting point in the narrative. The original, shorter version of the tale has ended slightly previous to this point with Amoret reunited with her (male) lover Scudamore. But in the expanded version of the work, that reunion is sidestepped as Amoret wanders off from her rescuer (the female knight Britomart) and falls into this peril while Scudamore has his own adventures elsewhere.

In the shorter version, the reunion of Amoret and Scudamore is depicted in terms of the classical hermaphrodite: the reunion of two halves into their original whole and single being. There is a discussion of how Plato’s hermaphrodite allegory represents an equal and reciprocal love, in contrast to the hierarchical relations that Greek men participated in (regardless of the gender of their partner). Reciprocal love as a concept is associated in Plato with women, and the concept is attributed to Diotima, Socrates’ teacher. But how much can we rely on male depictions of female romantic/erotic experience? Compare Plato’s allegory with Renaissance images of the perfect Petrarchian woman who serves as an inspiring muse but whose intellectual and philosophical authority has been projected on her by men who do not recognize women as having an existence apart from that relationship with the men they inspire.

We return to considering Amoret, who has previously been brainwashed by her captor into doubting the validity of her own desire--into seeing desire as something that is done to her, not something she experiences.

This article examines the narrative changes and reframing that were necessary when Spencer expanded the poem. The knight Britomart has still been sent by Scudamore to rescue Amoret, but now some ruse must be found to allow for continued adventures before the eventual reunion.

Britomart is taken for a man, due to the disguise of armor, when she challenges and defeats Amoret’s abductor. Both women are changed by this rescue as they travel on together. Amoret and Britomart’s compaionship gives Amoret more agency to have adventures, rather than being a hapless victim of every encounter. And Britomart is shifted from a repressed, sexless state to a desiring character who will have her own romantic adventures.

When Britomart rescues Amoret, Amoret--believing her rescuer to be a man--finds herself torn between the faithfulness she owes her original lover, Scudamore, and an eroticized gratitude she owes Britomart. Britomart doesn’t reveal her sex to Amoret, thinking to better protect them both, but this allows the imperatives of the chivalric script--in which a woman is required to love and reward a virtuous rescuer--to work on Amoret’s feelings about the knight.

Britomart teasingly courts her, supposedly to reinforce her disguise, but as Britomart’s flirtation is greater than any similar behavior she engages in with her own nominal (male) suitor, could it be that she retains her disguise rather for the very purpose of this flirtation?

When the two reach a castle that can be considered a safe space, Britomart removes her helmet (thus, by the rules of the genre, unmasking her sex). Amoret is then freed to show her affection for the knight. They share a bed that night and exchange histories in an intimate scene. While the content of their tête-a-tête is heterosexual, the situation in which it occurs is not. In fact, this is the only “happy” bedfellows scene in the entire poem.

The idyll is brief, and more hazardous adventures ensue, but theirs is one of the few supportive female friendships in the work. (Most relationships between women are uneasy at best, while men are allowed true friendship.) Britomart is at once friend and knightly protector, a combination not possible for a man.

The “true love” between Britomart and Amoret continues to be emphasized even when they are  being paired off with men, and Britomart’s gender is foregrounded as calming Scudamore’s jealousy when he thinks the “strange knight” protecting Amoret may have become her lover. This revelation and partial reunion brings us back full circle to where the article began. Amoret rises from sleeping with Britomart and wanders off, finding herself lost in the Cave of Lust, where she establishes yet another supportive female bond based on shared histories and struggles.

Within the context of an otherwise overwhelmingly heterosexual plot, these disruptions of gender roles offer a different angle on the “natural” reactions of female characters to a sexualized peril based on their vulnerability to male power.

Time period: 
Place: 
Sunday, June 21, 2020 - 10:09
Cover - The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus

The Pride StoryBundle is always packed full of wonderful authors and stories. And who knows better about that than the authors themselves? To entice you to check it out, we contributors are interviewing each other. You can find the full list of contents and purchasing information here: https://storybundle.com/blog/2020pridemonthbundle/

Today’s featured author is Ginn Hale, who has two books in this year’s bundle: The Counterfeit Viscount in the basic bundle, and The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus in the bonus bundle. Ginn Hale lives with her lovely wife and two indolent cats in the Pacific Northwest.  Her fantasy and science fiction writing hasgarnered her a Rainbow Award, recognition as a Lambda Literary finalist and a Spectrum Award for best novel.

HRJ:You have two contributions to this year’s Pride StoryBundle: The Counterfeit Viscount in the basic bundle, and The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus in the bonus bundle, which of course is the level everyone will want to buy. While both books are set in a fantastic version of the historic past, they have rather different flavors. Why don’t you tell the readers a little bit about each book?

Ginn Hale: Oh sure, I’d be happy to.

Counterfeit Viscount is a mystery adventure set in the world of Wicked Gentlemen. After selling his soul to thehandsome Prodigal devil—and flashy dresser—Nimble Hobbs, Archiefinds himself in the unenviable position of joining Nimble to investigate the disappearances of several Prodigals. Archie soon realizes that they are up against much worse than absent actresses, debauched drunks, and dreadful poetry recitals. Bullets fly and top hats fall, as secrets are unearthed and a murderer decides to put an end to their inquiries.

The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus on the other hand takes place in the steampunk world of The Long Past. Warring mages have opened up a vast inland sea and released monstrous creatures from the distant past. (And by that I mean dinosaurs from the Cretaceous era!) In Chicago, at the New United Americas Exhibition, a brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton. But the secrets both women are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world. 

I had a great time doing research for both stories. I came across fascinating slang that I incorporated for Counterfeit Viscount and the women involved in the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 inspired a great deal of The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus

HRJ: Why is it so important to you to write and support queer fiction?

Ginn Hale: This is an interesting question, isn’t it? It’s so common to require marginalized creators to justify our stories and our identities that I think we often fail to recognize the query itself as an indicator of how much our erasure is normalized. That said, I know that in this case the question comes from a truly good place—one queer person asking another to share what’s powerful, moving, and important about the work we both do. 

For me, writing stories about queer characters—especially positive, empowering stories—is my way of sharing hope, strength and validation with other LGBTQ+ people. As a young person I keenly felt the absence of positive queer representation. I had no heroic tropes or flights of fantasy that I could look to and feel strong, safe, or validated. I had no assurances of happy endings or even survival. The few literary figures that reflected people like me were monsters and suicides.

So, I began making up my own stories. And, amateurish as they were, those stories really saved me on days when the rest of the world seemed degrading and desolate. 

In the decades since then, I’ve improved my craft but I still write stories about queer characters finding courage and love, having adventures, and experiencing triumph. I try to write the kind of stories I needed, so that they will be there for other people.  And I’ve learned that I’m not alone, not as a queer person and not as a queer author.

My books—and all the titles in the Pride StoryBundle—are a small part of a growing body of work that celebrates queer identities across genres and literary traditions.  As a reader and an author I love to support my fellow LGBTQ+ writers because the more we honor, applaud, and rejoice in our diversity the richer and better our lives and our literature grows.  

HRJ: You are a very prolific author! I think your Goodreads page lists over two dozen books. Maybe you can help guide readers who enjoy your StoryBundle contributions and point them to a starting place to try your other stories.

Ginn Hale: Oh my. That does make me seem like I’m whipping through the manuscripts, doesn’t it? In truth, I’m a very slow writer and quite prone to wandering off and poking around in the woods when I should be completing a chapter. J

The Goodreads page may be a little misleading because the Rifter series was released as a ten-volume serial. Really it’s one very big story about a young ecologist who is transported to another world along with his two best friends and how they change that world and are themselves transformed. It features marsupial weasels, magic keys, witches, talking bones, and no shortage of battles.

My other large fantasy series is the Cadeleonians books: Lord of the White Hell (book 1&2), Champion of the Scarlet Wolf (book 1&2) and Master of Restless Shadows (book 1&2.) This one is an epic fantasy that follows a group of schoolmates as they defeat a curse, are exiled, flee into the heart of a magical war, and take on ancient creatures and spells. Most of all, it’s about growing older and the struggle to remain true to youthful friendships while alliances and people change. 

Those two series aside, the majority of my works are novellas, featuring queer characters, mixed levels of technology and geeky bits of environmental fantasy. (I like to think that the two stories in this year’s Pride StoryBundle are among my best. I certainly hope that they bring smiles to the folks who read them.)

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!

* * *

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

  • Best Game Ever by R. R. Angell
  • The Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale
  • A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney
  • Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue by Andi C. Buchanan

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular books, plus seven more more books, for a total of eleven!

  • Grilled Cheese and Goblins by Nicole Kimberling
  • The Armor of Light by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
  • Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones
  • The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus by Ginn Hale
  • Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston
  • The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater
  • Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

Book Covers - 2020 Pride Storybundle

Major category: 
Promotion
Saturday, June 20, 2020 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 163 (previously 47c) - Book Appreciation: Black Authors/Black Characters - transcript

(Originally aired 2020/06/20 - listen here)

In this month’s On the Shelf program, I went on a tiny little rant about the frustrating and heartbreaking dearth of black authors and black characters in f/f historical fiction. There are a lot of dynamics in play, of course. The financial incentives for writing in the genre are small and not everyone can afford to bypass settings and genres that offer more promise of a living wage. Authors as well as readers can be brainwashed by popular culture into thinking that black people were absent from vast swaths of the favored historical romance settings. And if a reader is actively searching out black authors and black characters in the field of f/f historical fiction, they may find that book lists and review sites aren’t designed to search on that particular combination of features.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is and curating a list for this book appreciation show. I am immensely indebted to several websites that gave me a leg up in cross-checking and expanding my list, especially sites featuring authors of color writing romance, or authors of color writing queer fiction. Here’s a shout-out to SIstahs on the Shelf, Women of Color in Romance, the Black Lesbian Literary Collective, and The Brown Bookshelf, and also to LGBTQReads who reminded me of the existence of these excellent resources. You can find links to all of these sites in the show notes. It still took some searching to track down historical fiction within those resources, and to identify f/f stories within the results.

What I’ve come up with are twelve books. I certainly hope this isn’t the full extent of what’s out there! In particular, I may be missing self-published works where the ethnicity of the main characters isn’t foregrounded in the cover copy. Twelve books. As it happens, I’ve read six of them and two more were already on my TBR list. Two of the authors have been guests on this podcast. Very few of the books fit solidly into the romance category--only two or three by my count--though most involves some sort of romantic subplot. Four of the books are historic fantasy and another two use a cross-time motif where characters in a contemporary setting are researching the past. Eight are set in the 19th century and four in the first half of the 20th. None are set earlier than that. And--touching on another point I made in my earlier rant--most of them do feature elements of the trauma of black and colonial history in their plots.

On to the books! I’ve organized them more or less in chronological order, just for fun.

Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roadshas a gloriously inventive structure, set in three different times and places--early 19th century Haiti, later Paris, and Egypt in the early Christian era--all bound together by manifestations of Ezili, the goddess of sexual desire and love. The chapters are introduced as musical motifs making me imagine how a theatrical version of the story might play out. I’ve blogged previously about how the representation of many different identities and sexualities in this story made me feel seenin a way that characters who resemble me more superficially haven’t always. The book has many dark moments--how could it not, when it covers the conditions leading to the Haitian revolution? But it circles around to end in joy.

The book that falls most solidly in the historical romance genre is also the one where I’m least certain about having a woman of color as a protagonist. The author, Gabrielle Goldsby, is black and very often features black characters, but a close reading of The Caretaker’s Daughter, a mildly-gothic Regency romance, only has hints that the title character might be biracial. (Her father is described several times in ways that suggest dark skin.) On the other hand, I may have missed more specific evidence since I’m afraid I didn’t finish the book because the writing style wasn’t working for me. You, dear listener, may well have a different reading experience--it happens quite often. Set on a classic English country estate, the unhappily married Lady Bronte finds friendship and then love with the daughter of her groundskeeper.

The most delightful and charming romance on my list is the novella “That Could Be Enough” by Alyssa Cole, who also has a very popular m/f historic romance series featuring black heroines set in the American Civil War. Alyssa Cole was a guest on this podcast to talk about her story, inspired by the setting of the musical Hamilton, in which the repressed Mercy Alston, acting as secretary in Eliza Hamilton’s interviews of those who knew her late husband, encounters the vibrant and challenging dressmaker Andromeda Stiel. I loved this story and wish that it was enough of a bestseller to tempt Cole to write more like it. “That Could Be Enough” is near the top of my list of recommendations for those who want to dip their toe in the waters of f/f historical romance.

The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghostsis by Tiya Miles who is an award-winning historian and the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant. The book uses fiction to explore a little-known part of American history: the participation of Cherokee tribes in Georgia in the slave-holding economy. The author herself is of African-American and Cherokee heritage and has focused on this intersection in her historic research. This book presents that research in fictional form, framed by three contemporary women who come together on a Georgia plantation to investigate the past. The book is tagged as LGBTQ in Goodreads, though the specific content isn’t evident in the cover copy. Perhaps I’ll be able to provide more information in the future as I’ve just added the book to my TBR list.

One way to have a book cover a wide swath of history is to make your protagonist an immortal vampire. Vampire stories are often weak on historical grounding, but Jewelle Gomez’s collection The Gilda Storiesis a solid exception, tracing the protagonist’s life from 1850s Louisiana through to the present day. I remember reading this collection back when it first came out and was a rare example of overtly lesbian characters in SFF. The writing is atmospheric and explores issues of community and isolation.

Within the last year I had Penny Mickelbury on the show to talk about her novel Two Wings to Fly Away, set in Philadelphia shortly before the onset of the Civil War. There is an inter-racial romance that shows the delicate masquerade required when different worlds collide, though it is only one subplot among thrilling escapes, mysteries, and the building of a precarious community of free black people and those fleeing slavery at a time when one’s status could change in an instant. I found the writing rich in historical detail and atmosphere in a way that can be traced to Mickelbury’s background in journalism.

Justina Ireland has created an alternate history that asks the question, what if the American Civil War ended with a zombie invasion? In Dread Nationand the sequel Deathless Dividewe follow the adventures of a young black woman trained to fight zombies to protect her upper class employers. The sapphic content enters in the second book, though not the main focus of the plot, as our heroine and her companion set out on a journey west through dangers that are not limited to the restless dead. These books are on my TBR list. It is, alas, a very long list.

Also tackling alternate history with a speculative fiction twist, Nisi Shawl’s steampunky Everfairposits the creation by British and American idealists of an independent nation carved out of the colonial hellscape of the Belgian Congo. But having established it, they must find the resources to defend it, not only against their colonial neighbors but against their own deep-set prejudices and conflicts. There are several queer relationships among the extremely large cast, and though they are not the focus of the story, they normalize a variety of identities, expressed in historically grounded ways. This is a vividly imagined alternate historic path, with the assistance of some innovative tech that gives our protagonists just barely enough of an edge to survive.

Nik Nicholson’s Descendants of Hagarfollows the life of a gender-transgressing woman in Georgia in the early 20th century. Rejecting a conventional woman’s life, Linny takes on the role of her father’s “son” until she makes a promise that brings her into conflict with her responsibilities to her family. From the description, this looks to depict a complex extended family in which one woman slips sideways through society’s expectations. I haven’t read this one but it looks intriguing.

Set very closely in time to the previous book comes Jam on the Vineby LaShonda Barnett. A scholarship enables our protagonist to pursue her childhood dream of journalism, but she returns home to the hard reality that the only jobs she’ll be offered are medial labor. Leaving the South, Ivoe and her lover set up the first female-run African American newspaper just in time to cover the outbreak of lynchings and race riots in 1919. Like many of the non-romance books in this list, the plot centers around flash-points of racial oppression and injustice.

Those books are far more likely to be published as literary fiction than genre fiction, and that’s definitely the case with Alice Walker’s classic The Color Purple, following the lives of sisters Celie and Nettie in early 20th century rural Georgia and tackling issues of domestic abuse and lives constrained by poverty as much as by race. Same-sex desire is a minor thread in the story as part of the complex relationships the women experience.

Bringing us into the mid-20th century, Nigerian-American author Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Treestackles the Nigerian civil war shortly after the country gained its independence in the 1960s. Ijeoma, temporarily displaced by the war, falls in love with another girl, but her mother’s disapproval and homophobia result in a long internal struggle for Ijeoma to find a balance point between her desires, her desire for her mother’s approval, and her religious beliefs. Although the protagonist’s lesbian identity is central to the novel, this is far from a feel-good romance. The social context it depicts is still prevalent today, reminding us that acceptance is not evenly distributed. Under the Udala Treeswon a Lambda Literary Award for lesbian fiction.

It’s a short list--I’d love for listeners to suggest more books that would fit. And it’s a narrow list in many ways. No books set earlier than 1800. Very few romances with happily ever after endings. Plots that too often rely on Black suffering for their conflict. And when you talk to authors, it isn’t that these are the only books they want to write, but often it’s the ones that publishers want to see. I know I’d like to see many more, with more different plots and settings. And more happy endings. Don’t we all want to see more happy endings, in real life as well as on the page?


Show Notes

In the Book Appreciation segments, our featured authors (or your host) will talk about one or more favorite books with queer female characters in a historic setting.

In this episode we talk about f/f historical fiction by Black authors featuring at least one Black protagonist.

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Major category: 
LHMP
Monday, June 15, 2020 - 17:00

This is the second article that is an earlier version of one of the chapters in Valerie Traub's The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. I keep thinking I should go back and compare these summaries to what I wrote about the same material in the full book. For that matter, I think I should see if the content changed substantially between these original articles and the later work. Or I could realize that I don't have time and leave that as an exercise to the reader.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Traub, Valerie. 1994. “The (In)Significance of ‘Lesbian’ Desire in Early Modern England” in Queering the Renaissance ed. by Jonathan Goldberg. Duke University Press, Durham and London. ISBN 0-8223-1381-2

Publication summary: 

This collection of articles takes a broad view of “queering”. The articles look at the ways in whch “humanism” failed to recognize the humanity of many popuations, specifically those who were not straight white men. The research here encourages examination of the relationship of race, gender, and sexuality to notions of colonialism and imperial expansion.

Traub "The (In)Significance of ‘Lesbian’ Desire in Early Modern England"

This article is one of the components that went into Traub’s later book The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. I haven’t reviewed whether and how much it was revised for that 2002 publication (just as I didn’t for the titular chapter in GLQ covered in LHMP #275). Since my coverage of the eventual book was necessarily somewhat more cursory, I’ve gone ahead and summarized this article as if new.

* * *

Traub claims the title of this article is a “bait and switch” as she follows Halperin in treating “homosexuality” as such as only existing in the last 100 years, with “the lesbian” as an even more recent discursive invention.

[Note: I understand what the authors mean when they say this sort of thing -- that the concepts associated with the modern understanding of the category “lesbian” are only recently defined and codified -- but that leaves me wondering how they deal with the fact that the word “lesbian” was in regular use well before the last century in association with women who desired or had sex with other women. If “the lesbian” is a very recent conceptual invention, where does that leave the long history of the word and its associations? Do we just ignore that because it complicates our theoretical position?]

Traub compares the “asymmetrical representation” of three Early Modern figures: the French female sodomite, the English tribade, and the theatrical homoerotic “femme”. [Note: part of what Traub is trying to point out here is that sexualities are culturally grounded. The point isn’t that the words sodomite and tribade have different meanings, but that the specific manifestations those cultures applied those words to were different from each other.]

There is a discussion of the philosophical assumptions inherent in a 1729 book on “Ancient Laws against Immorality and Profaneness” that covers a wide variety of sex-related offences, encompassing categories of being (e.g., whores) as well as specific acts (e.g., bestiality). The author does not identify a common category for same-sex acts, grouping m/m sex with bestiality but omitting f/f sex entirely. Women may be whores (category) or may fornicate (act) but the possibility of being sodomites is excluded.

But was this an actual denial of the possibility of f/f sex or a byproduct of the author’s rigid approach to exclusive categorization? (I.e., that each person/act can only belong to one category of immorality.) After all, he also excludes the possibility of male whores, and yet those were clearly known and documented at the time. The book is a product of a period of gender instability and attempts to stabilize identities through artificial category boundaries. [Note: I feel like we’re going through a similar period currently. The early 21st century is a time of significant anxiety about shifts in older categories of gender and sexuality, and many people express that anxiety by trying to enforce rigid, artificial, and ill-fitting categories.]

It was the codification and normalization of sexual, psychological, and criminal categories in the 18-19th century that drove the legal regulation of same-gender desire. To a large extent, legal categories were seen to create fact: if no woman was prosecuted for sodomy, ipso facto, women did not practice sodomy.

It is only when one moves away from legal and theological discourse that we find texts that acknowledge f/f sexuality and attempt to regulat it, such as gynecology texts and stage plays. These genres were male-dominated, but show a distinct lackof anxiety about desire between women.

One must recognize geographic differences in attitudes toward f/f desire. Continental prosecutions for female sodomy emphasize the cultural difference from England. Montaigne’s anecdote about a cross-dressing woman (trans man) who married and had sex with a women shows contrasts between the law’s harsh response and the implication of a more accepting attitude of the couple’s neighbors, which is apparent in hints and wordings in the testimony. Within this French context, female sodomy is defined by the use of an artificial penis for sex. The focus is no on desire or non-penetrative sex, but only on the imitation of m/f sex.

Gynecological texts, both French and English, share this focus, being concerned specifically with the possibility of an enlarged clitoris that both caused and enabled women to have penetrative sex with women. See, e.g., Helkiah Crooke.

Despite the distinction in nomenclature and consequence for female sodomites (using dildos) and tribades (using a macro-clitoris), there is a unifying logic of supplementing female anatomy with male features. There is no consideration of distinction made in how these supplements may be used, only vague references to acting “like a man”. In masculinizing such women’s acts, authors failed to address what the acts may have meant to the women involved. Women’s agency in f/f sex is co-opted back into heterosexual forms.

Traub now turns to the question of finding evidence of f/f desire in other contexts. The nature and interpretation of this evidence is positioned within the framework of Judith Butler’s theories of gender as performance, and Derrida’s ideas of “difference”.

Early Modern women’s employment of anatomical “supplements” becomes not an imitation of man, but a replacement that emphasizes the artificiality of the gender binary, and indeed of men as a concept. The image of the enlarged clitoris becomes a cultural fantasy, apart from any possible biological reality, almost a fetish, in the same way that the image of the dildo became (apart from the concrete reality) and “object of desire” -- not necessarily for the women who were supposedly using them, but for the authorities who fixated on the phallus precisely in the context of its absence and displacement.

The focus of these texts is not on sexuality, but on gender; not on the pleasure the women experience, but on the usurpation of male prerogatives. So where do we see evidence of women’s erotic practices that do notinvolve a supplement for male anatomy? One place such practices are present is in Early Modern stage plays that feature what might be called “femme-femme love” as a viable, if unstable, state.

As with other literary genres, stage plays can’t be taken as representing real life experiences, but rather a discourse around how that possible experience was imagined, perceived, and regulated. Upon the stage, the popular motif of female cross-dressing can be viewed as representing similar cultural anxieties about gender identity as the fantasies of dildos and clitorises did.

The cross-dressing heroine becomes privileged as a representation of female homoeroticism because of her visibility. But -- aligned with Sedgwick’s “epistemology of the closet” -- are we as historians overlooking representations of female homoeroticism that did not generate the same obvious anxieties as cross-dressing? Are we focused too much on Viola (in Twelfth Night) the unwilling object of female desire due to her male disguise, and too little on Helena and Hermia, Celia and Rosalind, who express erotic sentiments for each other but whose destinies don’t challenge the marriage plot?

Shakespeare’s “femme-femme” couples always appear at the point of separation, simultaneously expressing homoerotic desire and placing the enjoyment of that desire safely in the past at the point of its betrayal. Female bonds become a point of anxiety when they threaten the patriarchal imperative (e.g., Titania and her handmaiden in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) or the prospect of marriage.

Shakespeare’s successors shifted female homoeroticism into the present, and depict it as explicitly erotic. (e.g., Heywood: The Golden Age; Shirley The Bird in a Cage) At the same time, they displace f/f love, not in time, but into a mythic, separatist female realm, such as Diana’s band. The Golden Ageis a reworking of the myth of Callisto and Diana. The Bird in a Cagealso uses classical myth as the setting for its f/f eroticism, and again uses the motif of Jupiter disguised as a woman to gain sexual access to an otherwise forbidden female object.

The use of f/f themes on the stage suggest an acceptability of f/f desire as long as male signifiers such as cross-dressing and dildos are not present. Though f/f love in he plays is replaced by heterosexual marriage, this is a resolution that must be forcibly imposed, rather than emerging as the “natural state”. May we posit that the gender of a woman’s object of desire need not be significant so long as the woman retains a “feminine” role?

Traub suggests the existence of (at least) two modes for female homoeroticism at this time: the omnisexual femme who did not challenge norms, and the tribade who usurped the masculine role and did not participate in the expected economy of female availability to men. Tribades were, to some extent, defined by their use of a phallic supplement. So what sexual practices might femmes have enjoyed? Stage plays make reference to kissing and caressing. Given that (heterosexual) marriage manuals of the time encouraged men to arouse their wives by caressing the breasts and genitals, surely these techniques were available between women as well?

Precisely because “femme” homoeroticism failed to challenge gender roles, it is rarely documented outside of drama. [Note: but see also a few rare examples of female-authored poetry of the time that express it.]

Saturday, June 13, 2020 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 162 (previously 47b) - Interview with Amy Hoff

(Originally aired 2020/06/13 - listen here)

Transcript pending.

Show Notes

A series of interviews with authors of historically-based fiction featuring queer women.

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Links to Amy Hoff Online

Major category: 
LHMP
Monday, June 8, 2020 - 07:00

One of my newer side projects while reading and summarizing books for the Project is to pull out specific data that makes for a boring blog, but a useful resource. My eventual goal is to make these excerpts available in more organized form through my Patreon. From Klosowska's book, I've extracted three sets of data: a list of medieval French romances that include cross-dressing motifs (both male and female), a discussion of the language of desire and sexual activity differentiated by whether a same-sex or opposite-sex pair are involved (though the same-sex language is primarily male), and a catalog of the language in Yde et Olive specifically about desire, sexual activity, and love between the two women, both before and after Yde's sex is known by Olive.

Major category: 
LHMP
Full citation: 

Klosowska, Anna. 2005. Queer Love in the Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-6342-8

With a title like "Queer Love in the Middle Ages" my hope is always for a broad, general discussion of the stated topic. But academic publishing lives and dies by focused, specific, theory-filtered studies of narrow topics. So while there was some fascinating information in this book (especially close readings of certain vocabulary fields), I found it less interesting on a personal basis than I'd hoped. It isn't a book that I'd recommend to the non-specialist, not only for the very dense framework of literary and psychological theory that fills every corner, but because it assumes a fairly detailed familiarity with the specific medieval texts that are under discussion.

* * *

Introduction: History of Desire, Desire for History

The general topic of this book is a queer studies look at medieval French literature. It’s inspired by looking at the contrast between the medieval theory of friendship in philosophical and conduct texts, and fictional depictions of friendship. The former exclude women entirely from the possibility of “true friendship” while the latter focuses on autonomous characters, including women, for whom true friendship is possible. But although that theme was the inspiration for the book, the content looks at a handful of specific motifs and their context.

A contrast is noted in the manuscript of the Roman du comte d’Anjou between the male-focused central text and the female-focused illustrations. Does this relate to the primarily female book owners and audience? There is a close relationship between friendship and passion, and readers may shift in interpreting one for the other. Among modern scholars, there has been a push by some authors to read depictions of passion in the text as friendship. This led to Klosowska’s refocusing this book explicitly on the topic of same-sex love.

She looks at “thematic sites” that regularly provide representations of same-sex desire -- sites that may be over- or under-specified with respect to that theme.

There is an extensive discussion of literary theory and motifs as background for the examination.

Question: were the same-sex aspects of these themes as evident to medieval readers as they are to modern ones? Pejorative readings of same-sex desire are common and obvious. But should we consider the medieval reader to include or exclude positive readings of same-sex relationships as well?

How did literary culture relate to the experiences of ordinary medieval people who might never interact directly with literary texts? There is a discussion of the dynamics of post-modern and queer theory studies of medieval topics.

What is the importance of sex acts to the study of the history of sexuality How do ideas about orientation/desire fit with historical acceptance of situational and life-stage same-sex relations? As an example, there is a discussion of classical Roman (male) same-sex social dynamics.

If contexts with homoerotic potential (such as bed-sharing between close friends) were not targeted as problematic, why not? Perhaps because they usually strengthened rather than undermined the social structure? See, e.g., Alan Bray's discussion of the contexts where these thematic sites were used as social/political weaponry.

The author discusses the theoretical context of Judith Bennett’s “lesbian-like” concept. There is a discussion of theoretical problems in studying homosexuality in past eras when that concept is ill-fitting to conceptual realities.

Chapter 1 - Grail Narratives: Castration as a thematic site

This chapter focuses on male topics and is not relevant to the Project.

Chapter 2 - Dissection and Desire: Cross-dressing and the fashioning of lesbian identity

The chapter begins with appreciation of the sensory experience of medieval manuscripts as objects: the manipulation of these objects via disassembly and recombination. The author compares that process to the segmentation of meaning and identity created by cross-dressing, whereby clothing, social status, gender performance, behavior, emotions, roles in romantic scripts, bodily configuration, all can be manipulated and combined independently to create new identities. [Note: This discussion is very theory-centered.]

The author wants to create an alternative model to understand medieval cross-dressing fictions in order to challenge existing interpretations such as “carnival reversals” or the creation of an “other” to contrast with the norm. But those models presuppose a relatively modern view of gender such that contrasts could define or contradict it. Given that fictions of female cross-dressing can’t be understood either via models of heterosexual couples or as female friendships, the author suggests a direct parallel with the cutting up and reassembly of medieval manuscripts: a violent process that leaves the marks of seams.

[Note: This is the point where the author began to lose me. She returns regularly to this "cutting up and re-assembling" motif, though it isn't the only focus of the analysis.]

Texts such as Yde et Olive are created to “fulfill erotic needs and social fantasies rather than being mere accidents of narrative.” That is: the homoerotic consequences of cross-dressing narratives are the point, not a side-effect.

The author discusses the illustrations in the manuscript of Yde et Olive in which the two women are married and in bed together.

There is a review of the legal evidence for f/f relationships and the explanations offered for why there is comparatively less evidence than for men.

Can characters like Yde and Olive be explained purely in terms of plot requirements? Or as an intense female friendship with no erotic component? This is hard to reconcile with the details of the text. (Which, in fact, requires a later change of sex for plot purposes.)

There is a very useful catalog of female cross-dressing episodes in medieval French literature. This is followed by an analysis of cross-dressing episodes (for both sexes) and their contexts, such as the motif of the cross-dressed woman being accused of rape. But in Yde et Olive the audience is set up to sympathize with the couple, not to condemn them.

Some authors see a “progression” from ambiguous/sympathetic portrayals of cross-dressed women in f/f relationships, to a focus of the purpose of the cross-dressing on achieving a heteronormative destiny. Thus cross-dressing becomes just one more “feminine trick” to achieve the woman’s goals. But while cross-dressing and consequent same-sex encounters often serve as humor, or to reinforce gender norms, Yde et Olive is well positioned to suggest a function of expressing f/f fantasies.

The chapter returns to a symbolic discussion of manuscript mutilation. [And I’m skipping over large section that are mostly playing with symbols.]

The chapter concludes with a very detailed discussion of the exact language used in the bedroom scene in Yde et Olive. It looks at how a literal reading of Olive’s thoughts and verbal responses portray a woman desiring and enjoying sex with a female partner in specific preference to intercourse with a man. [Note: this part of the chapter is perhaps the most useful for the purposes of the Project, though it requires a familiarity with medieval French and with the story to be fully understood.]

Chapter 3 - The Place of Homoerotic Motifs in the Medieval French Canon

While the previous two chapters took a deep dive into specific themes and works, this one surveys a selection of motifs, such as the false accusation of same-sex preference. Such an accusation might be in reaction to apparent indifference to a heterosexual advance, or as a shield against unwanted attention. These motifs occur in texts as varied as an adaptation of Aeneas, a collection of courtly anecdotes, and the chivalric allegory The Romance of the Rose.

In some, there is a contrast between a “literal” same-sex interaction being used to allegorically represent an opposite-sex one. Within a homosocial society, same-sex playing-out of romantic scripts becomes ambiguous.

[Note: consider this in the same context as the use of heterosexual forms and scripts in single-sex school crushes, or the assertion that pairs of young women may “practice” with each other for marriage, in contexts where mingling of the sexes is discouraged.]

Another repeating motif is the disguise of a noblewoman’s male lovers as waiting women. In this context, there is an explanation of hair as a distinguishing gender marker--or in age-differentiated m/m relationships, as a sexual role marker. The young, beardless, long-haired cinnaedus of Roman age/status-differentiated pairs creates a split contrast of male/effeminate performance with m/m bodies. Whereas the medieval “disguised waiting woman” motif creates a different split contrast between f/f performance with underlying f/m bodies.

There is a discussion of the gendered vocabulary of hair in various medieval languages with a highly speculative connection made between effeminate curled/kinky hair and the use of “kinky” for non-normative sexual acts. [Note: Even the author indicates this is highly speculative, and there’s a distinct lack of receipts.] In general, there is a sense that deliberately ostentatious and excessive hairstyles were associated with effeminacy, luxury, and sexual wantonness.

The author discusses a medieval version of Aeneas that depicts the titular hero as sexually wanton with both men and women, though always in the “active” role.  This discussion includes more interesting vocabulary analysis regarding which expressions for sexual desire/pleasure are used for which gender combinations. The overall tone of the Aeneas text is one of disparaging him for his sexual tastes and a female complaint at being set aside in favor of male lovers -- disguised to some extent as a concern the failure to produce a next generation.

The next motif is how the attractiveness of ideal, but non-gendered, features disturbs the boundaries of gender and heterosexuality. Both men and women may express appreciation for an attractive body, as long as the attractiveness is not described in specifically gendered terms. A shapely leg is beautiful because it is “noble,” not because it is “manly.”

This theme is explored in Lanval, via the courtship-like symbolism of the lord-vassal relationship, but embodied in the vassal relationship of Lanval to his secret fairy-queen lover. Lanval has sworn to keep their relationship secret, so when he refuses Queen Guinevere’s advances, she accuses him of preferring boys.

The chapter concludes with brief discussions of other texts. [Note: there is very little attention given to f/f motifs, even when they involve men disguised as women. Which is odd since texts that include them, such as Silence, are mentioned.]

Conclusion

The author discusses how medieval and modern readers view the homoerotic themes, placing the reading within various theoretical contexts. The existence of overt accusations of same-sex preference in medieval literature only works as a plot device if medieval readers had an understanding that such a preference was possible. This understanding must be dealt with, no matter what theory of sexuality one uses to interpret it.

[Note: There is much discussion of the themes of the book within various theoretical contexts, but by now you probably know that I get bored easily with theory for the sake of theory.]

Place: 
Event / person: 
Saturday, June 6, 2020 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 161 (previously 47a) - On the Shelf for June 2020 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2020/06/06 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for June 2020.

The Color of the Past

Sometimes I think if I didn’t have regular commitments to my blog and podcast -- to say nothing of the day-job -- I’d want to just curl into a ball in a corner and hope for the world to stop burning. It’s a standing joke among my writer friends that no novelist or script writer would have been allowed to create a year like this one because it has smashed the limits of plausibility. And yet, we persist.

Watching people rise up, not only across the US but around the world to once more protest the callous disregard and disrespect for the lives of certain human beings purely because of the color of their skin, I’m reminded of how critical it is for the stories of our history to tell us truths. Truths about the deep and poisonous roots of the social dynamics that are at play. The truth that history does not belong to only certain people.

Historical fiction and historical dramas too often offer us lies instead of truth. Not the inventive lies that entertain, but lies about who exists, about who matters, about who is allowed to imagine a happy ending. If you learn your history from novels and movies--and too many people dig no deeper than that--you are fed a skewed version of the past. And it we don’t understand the past, how can we expect to understand the present?

History has been used by racists to distort our image of the past by careful and selective omission. Historical fiction reinforces that distortion when it sticks to safely familiar tropes and images.

As queer people, we’re accustomed to thinking about the ways in which certain genders and sexualities have been erased from the popular fictions of history. But how often have you thought about the erasure of entire ethnicities, entire religions, entire cultures from the vision of history that we passively consume?

When was the last time you read a sapphic historical story that centered around black protagonists? When was the last time you read one where the story did not revolve around the traumas of black history? That allowed the character simply to exist like everyone else? When have you ever seen a sapphic historical novel set in Africa and written by a black author? How often have you paused to notice and wonder about the gaps in the stories available to you?

I’m white. And I’ve had to work to learn to notice those absences. Every month I search out new books, and believe me I notice how overwhelmingly white the field of f/f historical fiction is. Or that when non-white characters are featured, too often they are written by white authors to be the “exotic” love interest. Beyond doing my best to feature and promote authors and characters of color when I find them, there are limits to one person’s ability to influence the field. But readers, collectively, can make a difference by supporting a diversity of authors and stories: with your reading, with your reviews, and with your enthusiastic recommendations of what you love.

There are so many stories out there. Ask yourself what you can do to bring all those pasts to life so that we can survive the present and build a better, more inclusive, more just future.

Pride Month

June is, of course, Pride month. It was Pride month that originally inspired me to start the Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog. And if you like queer genre fiction, one tradition is the Pride Storybundle: a curated collection of eleven SFF books featuring queer characters, many with a historic flavor, available on a “pay what you like” basis (with a fixed minimum) that supports not only the authors but a worthy charity as well.

This year I once again have a book in the Storybundle: my most recent historical fantasy Floodtide alongside authors like Melissa Scott, A.J. Fitzwater, A.C. Wise, and Ginn Hale. Check out the link in the show notes and consider picking up this bargain while it lasts.

Fiction Series

June also means that the year is nearly half over and it’s time to look ahead to 2021. Next month it will be time to officially announce the 2021 podcast fiction series. Stay tuned for details of what we’ll be looking for and details regarding submissions.

Publications on the Blog

The Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog spent May working through some books and articles on gender presentation and the many ways in which gender and sexuality intertwine. If there is a single lesson to take from this field, it is perhaps to shift from thinking of gender in terms of male and female, but to contemplate a whole array of male genders, of female genders, and of genders that blend the two in diverse ways. By gender, of course, I mean social and performative identity categories, but those categories also interact with the variability in human bodies in a similar spectrum of ways.

Toss the question of desire into the mix and we can see the oversimplification of trying to classify desire into homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. Within this context, it becomes easier to understand the difficulty of applying a label like “lesbian” to a specific subset of that spectrum of identities.

Every once in a while, the blog examines a book that helps me break my brain free of previous ways of thinking. It needn’t be a book that is particularly earth-shattering in subject matter, but simply one that unsticks a particular image or idea. Halberstam’s Female Masculinity was one of those books for me last month. The other May publications in the blog were Garber’s Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety which unfortunately was much more dated in its analysis, Hindmarch-Watson’s study of a cross-dressing Victorian juvenile delinquent “Lois Schwich, the Female Errand Boy”, and Hermann’s literary analysis "Imitations of Marriage: Crossdressed Couples in Contemporary Lesbian Fiction". In June, my plan has been to cover several books that have only bits and pieces of lesbian-relevant content, but I may have to scramble to do all that reading, given the way the quarantine has disrupted my normal working routines. First up is Klosowska’s Queer Love in the Middle Ages, which falls more in the literary analysis category. Next is Goldberg’s collection Queering the Renaissance, which has three articles of interest. I was going to follow that with Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England, but my intention was to read a library copy on the assumption that the lesbian-relevant content would be too scanty to be worth buying the book. Since going to the library is out at the moment, that book will get moved to a later date. How much later is anyone’s guess at this point.

Book Shopping!

New book acquisitions haven’t been from shopping but a gift of a copy of Anne Choma’s Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister, the biography on which the tv show was based. One of my friends from science fiction fandom had promised to give me the copy he was done with the next time we met, and since meeting face-to-face is postponed indefinitely, he mailed it to me instead.

Author Guest

This month’s author guest will be Amy Hoff whose historical fantasy novel My Heart’s in the Highlands is coming out from Bella Books this month. So look forward to hearing more about that book next week.

Essay

I don’t have an essay topic lined up yet for this month, so it’ll be a surprise. At this point, it’ll be a surprise to me as well!

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

On to the recent, new, and forthcoming books!

March

I have one March book which is a bit further back than I usually reach, but the sequel came up in my search and when I checked out the first book, it looks to have sapphic themes as well. This is the Chinese-inspired historic fantasy The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle Book 1) by Nghi Vo from Tor.com.

A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully. Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor's lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for. At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She's a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

April

April books missed during previous searches include Lovers & Dancers by Heather Ingman from Lume Books.

Ireland, 1916. The First World War rages on and rumours fly about nationalists planning an uprising against the British for Independence. Sheltered from the outside terrors, Louisa lives at High Park, an upper-class estate in the Irish countryside where she feels she never quite belonged. Caught between an unhappy marriage and mundane wifely duties, Louisa’s dream of being a painter never felt so distant. But then she meets wild, strong-minded Viola Luttrell and Louisa’s world is turned upside down. Viola has a secret that could put both their lives at risk: she knows James Connolly, the nationalist rebel leader, and she plans to join the imminent uprising against the British. As Viola and Louisa grow closer and their friendship blossoms into something more, the fight for freedom becomes more than a fight for a nation, but a fight for themselves.

Another April book is Heart of Gold (Heart Series Book 1) self-published by Luci Dreamer. This is one of those gender-disguise stories where it’s hard to tell from the cover copy how the author is handling gender identity themes, but the cross-dressing character is referred to with female pronouns in the description.

Sometimes to be yourself, you have to become someone else. Thomasina Miller knew from a young age she wasn't like other girls. She didn't want to be a rancher's wife, so she makes the harrowing decision to leave all she's known, risking everything for the chance to choose her own fate in life. Now going by 'Thomas' she realizes hiding her identity is a rather small price to pay for the freedom to live her own life and the Klondike Gold Rush is the perfect opportunity to help her fund her endeavor. Rachel Harkes knew that marrying Roy would be her ticket out of her small town in Kansas. Two years into their marriage and still looking for more adventure, Roy decides they should try their luck and join the Klondike Gold Rush. When tragedy strikes and Thomas and Rachel are brought together at the top of the world in the unforgiving, arduous search for gold, can Thomas navigate her relationship with Rachel without revealing her secret? Will Rachel reconcile what she's known with the new, seemingly overwhelming reality she now finds herself in?

May

The recent May publications continue the theme of series books. So many books with Book N of the X series!

Leather and Lace (Gold Sky Series Book 5) by Rebel Carter from Violet Gaze Press is part of a romance series encompassing many types of couples set in a not-quite-entirely-historical Montana.

What do you do when you’ve been chasing the wrong dream your entire life? Mary Sophia James came to Gold Sky, Montana to find a husband at the insistence of her overbearing mother. Striking out in spectacular fashion after setting her eye on Julian Baptiste, her options are dwindling, and time is running out. She needs to find a man to marry before her condition becomes...obvious. Her mother’s prejudice and sharp tongue aren’t helping matters and Mary, to her shame, hasn’t behaved much better. But all her plans are upended when she spots the most beautiful person she’s ever seen across the town square. Alex Pierce is strong, intriguing, looks stunning in a pair of trousers...and a woman. Gold Sky is accepting of all types of love, and that between women is no different. Still, Alex didn’t expect to be so floored by the sight of the firey haired, yet fragile looking young woman. Mary needs to be married and Alex has a solution. Because in Gold Sky, Montana there are many ways to be married...and not all of them include a man.

This next publication is quite short and appears to be the start of a serial, being released in individual chapters. So don’t expect a full, completed story yet. The Queen Takes All (Part 1, Book 1) self-published by Clarissa Somers.

A rumored courtesan, an exclusive party and a secret society. What could go wrong? Hetty is overcome with excitement when her stepfather asks her to complete an undercover assignment. The catch? She must travel to London and pose as a French Lady in order to win the friendship of the infamous Delphine Dubois. Yet the evening takes an unexpected turn...

A Matter of Time (The Unlikely Adventures of Mortensen & Spurlock Book 1) by Lucy True (aka Jea Hawkins) from Persephone Press takes place in a supernatural version of the past.

It’s not easy finding love in 1892 Victorian London. Midnight adventures, artifact hunting, and the occasional murder—it’s all in a day’s (or night’s) work for Alice Mortensen. As an Aetheral, a supernatural race with special abilities, she is hardly an eligible marital prospect, even with her upper class social status. Not that she minds. The woman she once loved broke her heart and that, for Alice, is that. Until said woman, one Lady Eleanora Spurlock, returns with a desperate request: find a powerful artifact to ransom in exchange for a kidnapped servant. It’s one thing for Alice to risk her life. It’s quite another to risk her heart for the second time. But her perpetual curiosity about the mysterious Aetheric world is enough temptation for Alice to gamble both. Soon, both Alice and Nora are fighting off fireballs, an over-eager stepmother determined to see them marry, and each other in a race to rescue an innocent lady’s maid.

Coming back to ordinary--very ordinary--life, we have Like a Tornado self-published by Lauren Abosamra.

Charlotte Swanson comes from an affluent family in the town of Yursbury, Vermont. The time is 1955. To the untrained eye, Charlotte has it all. A charming husband, two young adoring sons, and a prominent place in the town's circle of book clubs, tea times, and a local women's organization. A beautiful newcomer, Evelyn Howard comes to town and does more than intrigue our restless Mrs. Swanson. Exchanged glances, accidental hand brushes, and small talk may not be all these two share.

June

I found five books coming out in June, though based on experience, more will pop up in next month’s search. The first one is rather cagey about whether the queer content is solid or only being teased at.

Belladonna: A Novel by Anbara Salam from Penguin.

An evocative, atmospheric story of friendship and obsession set in the 1950s that follows two schoolgirls from Connecticut whose lives are changed forever when they travel to a silent convent in northern Italy to study art for a year. Isabella is beautiful, inscrutable, and popular. Her best friend, Bridget, keeps quietly to the fringes of their Connecticut Catholic school, watching everything and everyone, but most especially Isabella. In 1957, when the girls graduate, they land coveted spots at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Pentila in northern Italy, a prestigious art history school in the grounds of a silent convent. There, free of her claustrophobic home and the town that will always see her and her Egyptian mother as outsiders, Bridget discovers she can re-invent herself as anyone she desires. Only Isabella knows the real Bridget, just as Bridget knows the true Isabella. But as that glittering year goes on, Bridget begins to suspect Isabella is keeping secrets from her, secrets that will ruin all of her plans and that will change the course of their lives forever.

I keep thinking from the title that this next book is set much earlier, but it’s a post-World War I story: Her Lady's Honor by Renee Dahlia from Carina Press.

When Lady Eleanor “Nell” St. George arrives in Wales after serving as a veterinarian in the Great War, she doesn’t come alone. With her is her former captain’s beloved warhorse, which she promised to return to him—and a series of recurring nightmares that torment both her heart and her soul. She wants only to complete her task, then find refuge with her family, but when Nell meets the captain’s eldest daughter, all that changes. Beatrice Hughes is resigned to life as the dutiful daughter. Her mother grieves for the sons she lost to war; the care of the household and remaining siblings falls to Beatrice, and she manages it with a practical efficiency. But when a beautiful stranger shows up with her father’s horse, practicality is the last thing on her mind. Despite the differences in their social standing, Beatrice and Nell give in to their unlikely attraction, finding love where they least expect it. But not everything in the captain’s house is as it seems. When Beatrice’s mother disappears under mysterious circumstances, Nell must overcome her preconceptions to help Beatrice, however she’s able. Together they must find out what really happened that stormy night in the village, before everything Beatrice loves is lost—including Nell.

This month’s author guest has written a cross-time story that blends several of her favorite eras and themes: My Heart's in the Highlands by Amy Hoff from Bella Books.

Lady Jane Crichton is one of the Edinburgh Seven, the first women to study medicine in the United Kingdom. Jane’s real love is science and invention, and she builds a time machine. Her first flight, attended only by Dr. Joseph Bell, ends badly when she crash-lands in 13th-century Gaelic Scotland. Her rescuer, a gruff warrior woman named Ainslie, shows her the delights of island life and teaches her more than she’d ever learned in the university’s hallowed halls.

A.J. Fitzwater has had two book releases in the last month, and I can’t go without mentioning The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper (published by Queen of Swords Press), a collection of stories about a lesbian capybara pirate. Yes, you heard that right. But Cinrak doesn’t quite fit into anything resembling our history, so for that I’ll feature No Man's Land from Paper Road Press.

Dorothea ‘Tea’ Gray joins the Land Service and is sent to work on a remote farm, one of many young women who filled the empty shoes left by fathers and brothers serving in the Second World War. But Tea finds more than hard work and hot sun in the dusty North Otago nowhere—she finds a magic inside herself she never could have imagined, a way to save her brother in a distant land she never thought she could reach, and a love she never knew existed. Inspired by feminist and LGBTQ+ history and family wartime memories, AJ Fitzwater has turned a piece of forgotten women’s history into a tapestry of furious pride and love that crosses cultures, countries and decades.

And we finish up the June books with what looks like the start of another series, Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery (A Vera Kelly Story) by Rosalie Knecht from Tin House Books.

When ex-CIA agent Vera Kelly loses her job and her girlfriend in a single day, she reluctantly goes into business as a private detective. Heartbroken and cash-strapped, she takes a case that dredges up dark memories and attracts dangerous characters from across the Cold War landscape. Before it’s over, she’ll chase a lost child through foster care and follow a trail of Dominican exiles to the Caribbean. Forever looking over her shoulder, she nearly misses what’s right in front of her: her own desire for home, connection, and a new romance at the local bar. In this exciting second installment of the Vera Kelly series, Rosalie Knecht challenges and deepens the Vera we love: a woman of sparkling wit, deep moral fiber, and martini-dry humor who knows how to follow a case even as she struggles to follow her heart.

What Am I Reading?

And what am I reading? Still not much. I started the non-historical science fiction story Cat-Fishing on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer but it isn’t really grabbing me. I swear I started reading something on Kindle but my Kindle app is being wonky at the moment and I can’t check--and I don’t remember the title.  And--now don’t laugh--I always have a hard copy book that I’m reading while brushing my teeth because it ensures I spend the right amount of time on the job, and for that I just started--very belatedly--Malinda Lo’s young-adult fantasy Huntress. And I’m still listening to the audiobook of N.K. Jemisin’s fantasy of a sentient New York, The City We Became which is simply amazing. (And at least one of the avatars of the city is a lesbian so it fits in the theme.)

How about you? Has the quarantine completely disrupted your fiction reading or has it sent you to books for comfort?


Show Notes

Your monthly update on what the Lesbian Historic Motif Project has been doing.

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Major category: 
LHMP
Publications: 
Floodtide

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