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[I’m back. I’m sorry for the long absence. I had to pass about 15 exams with an average high enough to keep my scholarship. But I have more time now, so hopefully I’ll be able to post more frequently.]

I don’t usually write reviews of books, mostly because I have no idea what to say. But while I was reading Sexual Ambivalence, Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity by Luc Brisson, the review was starting to write itself. [I’ll bold the keywords in the text, so you can jump to whatever interests you most, since this book deals with several different topics.]

First of all, I have to say that I bought the book thinking it actually talks about androgyny in regards to gender. It doesn’t, it’s a book about having both sexes (the author calls it dual sexuality) – either at the same time, or one after the other. It was still quite interesting, despite the fact that it was not what I had expected.

It would also definitely benefit by a strict editor. I think it could be shortened by about a half without taking out any of the information. And I don’t think just irrelevant information – any information at all. The author has a tendency to repeat everything, sometimes several times. It’s very annoying after a while, especially when it’s supposed to be an analysis of the story preceding it, and it’s really just a re-telling.

It’s divided into 6 parts: Introduction, Monsters, Dual Sexuality and Homosexuality, Archetypes, Mediators and Conclusion.

The chapter about monsters talks about how hermaphroditic children went from being seen as bad omens to “errors of nature”.*

The chapter on dual sexuality and homosexuality is perhaps the most interesting one. It first talks about how in the antique societies, the roles of men and women were clearly defined. Men were warriors, women were wives and mothers. Hermaphrodites were seen as a threat to this clear division, which is why they were feared and usually killed.

Then it goes on to talk about the myth of Hermaphroditus and some known cases of dual sexuality (all of those people were killed, mostly ‘purified’ by water).

Lastly it deals with homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome, which was the most interesting part for me. It talks especially of the difference between Greece and Rome, since passive male homosexuality was accepted and even a great honour in young boys in Greece, but was not allowed for any citizen in Rome (noncitizens were another matter). It also mentions female homosexuality, mostly to say that it was not tolerated.

The interesting part is that homosexuality was, while still condemned, somewhat tolerated when the person ‘suffered’ from sexual inversion (not a term that the author actually uses). That is, if a woman dressed and acted as a man and took on the active role, or a man dressed and acted as a woman and took on the passive role. What really bothered me is the fact that the author clearly isn’t quite sure what the difference between a transsexual and a transvestite is, since the women who take on this role of a man are referred to as transvestites. This could still be excusable, because we cannot actually know what those people actually thought or felt, but it is in particular reference to a person who said that she feels like a man (I use the female pronoun because that is what the original author of the story uses).

The next chapter, Archetypes, starts with using the term asexuality to refer to the beings (people, animals, gods) who are at the same time man and woman, but really neither. The author uses both “simultaneous dual sexuality” and “asexuality” to refer to this condition. It is never really expanded upon in the rest of the chapter, which talks about all sorts of different belief systems (Orphism, Gnosticism, several myths and so on). But I found it extremely interesting, since if we continue to apply “asexuality” to the people who are at the same time a man and a woman through the rest of the chapter, the way the author uses the term is actually a start towards the way it is used in the asexual community (feeling no sexual attraction).

The term refers to beings who have no need for another person, who do not partake in this looking-for-the-other-half, because they are in themselves complete. In antiquity, this yearning for a partner was explained with the story you all probably know. The one about how there are first three kinds of human beings: man-woman, man-man and woman-woman, who are then separated by Zeus for being too strong, and they are to spend the rest of their lives searching for their other half. When they find it, they yearn to be joined again, and they partake in sexual activity to relieve this yearning. Asexuality in this book refers to the condition where the person has both the female and the male part, and as such does not wish for sexual activity, since they are already complete. These would be mostly the human beings before the division, the early gods who are not yet described as either men or women, and the phoenix. I found it curious, though I suppose it isn’t very useful today.

The part about mediators is mostly completely boring. It talks about Tiresias and how he was successively a man and a woman. It’s really over-analyzed, and it has several digressions which have only minimal connection to the topic of dual sexuality.

The whole book really stresses the importance of opposites, and how dual sexuality connects with other contrasts and balance. Especially when it comes to Tiresias, who was both a man and a woman, lived an extremely long life, making the connection between youth and old age, and regained his memory when he died, thus being a living dead person (the connection between death and life). It talks about how people with dual sexuality are usually also people (or gods) who are a perfect balance of other opposites as well.

It was, in whole, an interesting read, but also a really frustrating one. Like I said before, it’s really repetitive. It’s also very loose in the treatment of its subject, and it has many digressions. The part about the different versions of the Greek pantheon (in the Archetypes chapter) is extremely confusing (at least it was for me, since I have almost no previous knowledge – it might be clearer for someone who knows their facts), and it is full of unnecessary information. The book is also very bad at stating the point of each chapter, it’s just this sprawling monstrosity of stories and their analysis (such as it is).

I did manage to get some useful information from it, and I’d suggest you read it if you are deeply interested in the subject. Otherwise, don’t bother.

*As bad omens they were given by their parents to the state, which then usually exposed them. They couldn’t kill them, because that would be risking revenge, but they also did not want to keep them on their territory. So they would expose them somewhere outside the boundaries of their state and leave them for the almost certain death. Later several writers challenged the belief that hermaphrodites were warnings, and eventually people saw them as a natural phenomenon. They were often shown off as such.

TW: This post is about being horny, wanting to have sex, and also about sensual touch. It’s not explicit, but it’s quite frank and I wasn’t exactly careful about phrasing things.

I really should be studying right now, since I have an essay, two presentations, and a test next week. So of course I’m here writing a blog post. Procrastination is the best! (Except for when you get your exam results back. Not so much then.)

Today I’d like to write a little bit about sex. It’s quite possible this will be a very… confusing post, since my views on sex and sexual attraction are so all over the place, and I quite often can’t really understand my sexuality at all.

But anyhow, I identify as grey-a. Mostly because my experience with sex and sexual attraction has been quite different than that of most of my friends. First of all, I’ve talked about how rarely I experience sexual attraction before, in this post. (Just to recap: it’s quite often, but it’s mostly directed towards people I know I won’t have sex with.) Right now I’d like to talk about sexual desire. (If that’s the right term, I don’t quite know.) Anyway, I’d like to talk about horniness and wanting to have sex.

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Something came up yesterday, so I wasn’t able to post. But today, finally, the last part of the Shakespeare “series”. =D

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And finally, part 3! =) Like I said before, I somehow managed to delete the post I’ve already written on this topic. I don’t know how it happened, it just suddenly wasn’t there anymore. Also, it (again) turned out longer than I expected. Which is why I divided it into two parts. Part 3 is what you’re getting today, and part 4 is coming tomorrow. I’m sorry, I just can’t shut up.

Anyhow, this is take two of part 3. =D It deals with whether the relationship between Shakespeare and the Fair Youth was sexual, again. But this time it’s from the perspective of what is actually written in the sonnets, not from the social POV as the previous post.

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My Belief System

Unfortunately Part 3 of the Shakespeare writings won’t be up today. I accidentally deleted it from my computer… Yeah, sometimes I really do things that are that stupid. Anyway, I’ll try and re-write it by the end of this week.

Instead, I’d like to share this amazing video with you. It’s from one of the TED conferences, and it’s called “Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself” by Thandie Newton. You can watch it here.

My belief system is… not a system. I call myself an agnostic, because I think that the existence of any kind of deity cannot be proven or disproven. But I do believe in spirituality and I do believe that there is more about this world and ourselves than we can experience with our senses. Mostly I believe in whatever resonates with me, whatever sticks. If something keeps coming up and I can’t stop thinking about it, and if it feels right, I’ll most likely… well, adapt it and take from it what I like, and leave the rest.

And this thing about the self and what it is keeps coming up. Right now, at this point, I believe that there is no core to the self, that we are our experiences and thoughts. I also believe that we change all the time, that there is no constant self. And well, it scares the crap out of me. But it also gives me a sense of connectedness, because I am a collection of things I picked up from my experiences, from the world, from other people. Which means I carry a part of everyone that has ever touched me around with me. It’s incredibly comforting to think about it that way.

And yes, I do leave some parts behind, if I don’t need them anymore. But that simply means they have done their part. They don’t serve me anymore. That doesn’t mean I haven’t managed to pass them on to someone else along the way, while they were travelling with me.

And this idea that we are all one in this video, coming from the fact that babies apparently can’t tell the difference between themselves and everyone else, is incredibly compelling. It fits right in. Because if we are our experiences and our thoughts, this means babies are a blank. (I don’t want to talk about what that might mean for all sorts of things here, but I am aware of them. Feel free to comment on this post if you want to talk about that, though.)

I also really like what she says about losing oneself and tapping into that connection, and about creating another self. She does it with acting, I do it with writing. Writing for me personally can be both – losing myself completely, or creating another self when I write from a point of view of a particularly strong character.

Like I said, it scares me to think about having no constant, no core. Because that means I may just be a random collection of things. But you know, it’s not that random. I have control over what I want to keep around, and which parts I’d rather not have. I can intentionally pick experiences I want and people I want around, and this control appeals to me. I am, after all, a control freak.

It also makes change easier, because there’s suddenly nothing standing in the way. If there’s no core self that would prevent me from acting in certain ways and prevent me from doing certain things, I can do anything. I am not fundamentally any way, I can be whatever I choose to be.

I will probably write more about this in the future, because I have a feeling I might go find some literature on it. You know: when in doubt, go to the library.

So this is my post for today, I hope you enjoyed reading. =) And that Part 3 on Shakespeare is coming soon.

Hello and welcome back! =) Today’s post is still more or less general, but for the third one I promise I’ll focus on the sonnets. Now, Elizabethan male friendship*.

Male friendship was something that the society of that time saw as far removed from the notion of sodomy, even though it was a close emotional and physical relationship between males. Contrary to sodomy, it was completely socially acceptable. In fact, it was often seen as the ideal, as the best possible relationship a man could have. (And there’s a lot to say for how the women were seen in those time and all the misogyny, but about that some other time. Possibly soon, since I do want to write about the female friendship in one of the following posts. But back to the topic on hand.)

Men who were “masculine friends” hugged, kissed and even slept in the same bed. Being someone’s bed fellow was a publically recognized position. It usually meant that the two people had great influence over each other, since a bed is, besides sleeping, also a place where people talk.

This can be partly explained by the fact that those physical intimacies were exchanged in very public places – even when they occurred in someone’s house or bedroom, because the servants would freely walk from one room to another and there was no actual privacy. So these displays of affection served as some sort of a public declaration of the relationship.

The physical intimacy was usually matched with an equally strong emotional bond, however, that was less public. These men exchanged letters and did each other favors, and sometimes spent a considerable amount of time together. They also tended to be quite possessive of each other and jealous if somebody else wanted to take their place.

Basically, Elizabethan male friendship was in most cases romantic asexual friendship. I’m sure there were also some completely platonic bonds, some queerplatonic relationships, and most certainly some actual homosexual relationships. But most recorded relationships can be defined as romantic friendships.

The intimacy existent in those relationships was accepted by all and it was not considered to be a sign of sodomy. So what was actually the difference between the two?

Well, the first thing was perhaps the social status of the participants. They were expected to be of similar social standing – both males had to be from the gentry (though this changed over time, and eventually it didn’t hold true anymore at all. But this is beyond the scope of this blog post). Another difference is that male friendship was very much open and public, while the participants would surely try to hide a sodomitical relationship. And of course, male friendship, while it had a lot of physical intimacy, absolutely did not include actual intercourse.

So that’s why I think that the relationship between the Fair Youth and Shakespeare wasn’t homosexual. Shakespeare himself would likely see sodomy as so unnatural and so disgusting, he would never want to take part in it. And also, if a sexual relationship could be seen in the sonnets, they would never have been allowed to be published and Shakespeare would likely end up in court.

But more on the relationship between Shakespeare and the Fair Youth – finally – tomorrow.

 

*I got most of the information for this blog post from an essay entitled “Homosexuality and the Signs of Male Friendship in Elizabethan England” by Alan Bray (History Workshop , No. 29 (Spring, 1990), pp. 1-19). You can read it on JSTOR if you have access.

 

It took me a while, but I finally found the time to write about Shakespeare and his sonnets. More specifically, I want to write about the Fair Youth and his relationship with the writer of the sonnets. This ended up being quite a bit longer than I expected, so I decided to post it in 3 separate parts. This one is a bit of an introduction.

We don’t actually know whether Shakespeare’s sonnets are autobiographical. Some critics believe they are, some think they aren’t. But those who do believe that Shakespeare is actually writing about himself have spent a lot of time trying to identify this Fair Youth he is writing to. Most believe that he is the same person as the W.H. to whom the sonnets are dedicated.

There’s a lot of controversy on this topic, because there is no way to conclusively prove who W.H. is. But I don’t want to get into that today. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

For this post, I’ll assume that the sonnets are autobiographical just to make it easier on myself, and also because it’s more fun that way.

Now, there’s a lot of literature out there trying to prove that Shakespeare and the Fair Youth had a homosexual relationship. For example, this person here feels very strongly about it. I happen not to agree with this literature, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, the concept of homosexuality as we know it today didn’t exist in Elizabethan times. There was no category of a relationship between two men that was comparable to a relationship between a man and a woman.

Second of all, there was the Buggery Act of 1533. Under this act, sodomy was punishable by death.

Today we like to simplify sodomy and define it as anal intercourse between two males or a male and a female. But sexual acts were only a part of what was called sodomy in the Elizabethan times. The term includes much more than that. It is considered not only a sexual, but also a political and a religious crime. A sodomite was seen as someone who was a rebel against the nature, society, and the (religious) truth. Which meant that it was unlikely that a respectable member of the society would be seen as a sodomite. Anal sex was seen as so unnatural and disgusting that the society couldn’t comprehend any normal person would want to do it.

Also, under the Buggery Act only actual anal intercourse was punishable. It wasn’t until 1885 that all homosexual behavior was criminalized. Which allowed a certain kind of a relationship between males to exist. It was called male friendship.

Come back tomorrow to find out what male friendship was and how the Elizabethan society saw it.

 

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