March 04, 2014
I don't know whether to laugh or cry to see these stupid westerners trying to struggle with understanding the concept of 'third gender.'
March 27, 2013
Thus, it is again estalished that heterosexuality (i.e. falling in love with women) doesn't make a man manly. The only thing sexual with women that will fall within the purview of manliness would be occasional instinct to penetrate. Any emotional or long term attachment with women or for vagina/ female body is feminizing and the ancients/ non-western societies have always known that.
In Greece e.g., while men were required to procreate/ penetrate women to be eligible for manhood, over indulgence or desire for vagina was seen as feminine/gay.
All over the world, men in manly pursuits like warriors and sportsmen were required to keep away from any kind of contact with women -- whether sexual, social or emotional in order to, as it was long known as feminizing, and harmful for those pursuits. Pehalwans in India, e.g., were, traditionally encouraged to go without marriage for their entire life -- just like their deity, Lord Hanuman -- the warrior god of manhood.
May 23, 2010
Will Roscoe documents one of the most widespread and least-known aspects of native North America. In many Native American tribal societies, it was not uncommon for some men to live as women and some women to live as men. In this land, the original America, men who wore women's clothes and did women's work became artists, ambassadors, and religious leaders, and women sometimes became warriors, hunters, and even chiefs. Same-sex marriages flourished. Berdaches -- individuals who combine male and female social roles with traits unique to their status as a third gender -- have been documented in over 150 North American tribes. By looking at this aspect of non-Western culture, Roscoe challenges the basis of the dualistic way most Americans think about sexuality, and shakes the foundation of the way we understand and define gender.
Limited preview - 2000 - 320 pages - History
Reviewed by Donna M. Dean (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-Minerva (October, 2000)
DUALISM'S JUST A CONSTRUCT
In discussing gender and sexuality, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that the Western, or Euro-centered construct of a binary, or dualistic gender structure is not necessarily held by other cultures. Nor is gender necessarily determined by genitalia, sexual activities or choice of sexual partners, or even gender-based roles.
Western culture views gender as essentially based on a binary system: " we have boys and we have girls, and they act in certain ways, have sex with the opposite sex and are suited for pre-determined roles, and any deviation from this template is a freak; unnatural, a biological accident or wantonly evil." This narrow perspective is then utilized as a perceptual filter through which all human cultures and societies are viewed.
However, many cultures did not utilize this particular construct, particularly in the past, prior to European contact with the concomitant pejorative and destructively violent imposition of Western belief systems and societal constructs, and the more insidious, but equally devastating imposition of Western religious beliefs and moral judgments in a context which would be utterly inappropriate.
North American natives comprise many tribal groupings, each unique and with its own culture and social structure. At least 155 of these tribes had documented third genders, and perhaps fourth. Roscoe defines third gender people generally as male or sometimes female tribal members who undertook a lifestyle of another gender. Often called berdaches by Europeans, most tribes had special gender designations for these individuals. Occasionally, tribes had a designation restricted to women who undertook a male lifestyle, thus the status of "fourth gender." These genders were predicated upon any number of factors; dress, genitalia, religious or spiritual roles, work roles, governing roles, sexual preference or choice, sexual practices, dream or vision imperatives, parental decisions, and other aspects of individuals' lives.
The sheer complexity of the tribal differences, and the necessity of examining them not only through a comprehensible methodology, exacerbated by a frustrating inadequacy of empirical data makes even the examination of alternative gender systems difficult. Time and distance, and the overwhelming destruction of native cultures through conquering colonization combine to make even present day tribal members largely ignorant of their own history, and also to produce in them the alien and inappropriate judgmental morality of their conquerors. Roscoe manages to pull together literally hundreds of multi-lingual sources, a multiplicity of tribes and social systems and constructs and produces a coherent, highly readable work. This alone makes the book well worth reading for anyone even remotely interested in gender studies.
While the majority of the book deals with male berdaches, Roscoe does devote one chapter to the topic of females who became warriors, chiefs, or who managed to acquire wealth and thus power through various means, normally through widowhood. Women's status in the various tribes varied; some tribes were very egalitarian, others subjugated women severely. However, all tribes had at least some ways women could gain power and prestige. Some warrior women and chiefs were well-known and admired even by Europeans post-contact.
In chapter four, devoted to the alternative identities and genders for native women, Roscoe presents arguments that not only did past chroniclers and observers report observations and opinions (often the same thing) through their own cultural biases, they often do so today. He dissects feminist theory as applied to native history as coming out of the same Euro-centered assumptions about women and their roles, and their concomitant status within the tribal groups. While work roles did tend to be genderized across the range of tribes and type of culture, whether hunter-gatherer, agricultural, warrior, highly mobile, etc., the ability to cross genders and assume roles and lifestyles as desired, or at times determined by others, the status and power attached to those roles did not align with the European social aspects of the same roles, nor did they form the conditions of pan-Indianism often assumed by many observers.
Roscoe repeatedly remarks upon the built-in bias of historical primary resources in any attempt to reconstruct what conditions and cultural and societal structures of pre-contact native tribes actually were. For the most part, chroniclers found native ways so alien to their preconceived beliefs of their own moral superiority that they were incapable of interpreting what they saw in the context within which they saw it. Additionally, Europeans operated out of extraneous agendas of desired exploitation and colonization that made it extremely desirable to characterize natives as savages, beasts, and even, in some cases, sub-humans as part of their need to justify their actions in the many brutal incidents of genocide, mass forced "conversions" while indulging in murderous behavior, enslavement, and so on. Obviously, then, accounts and observations of contact and interaction between Europeans and natives tend to be highly colored by these factors.
Native women were particularly vulnerable to biased and flawed observation, as sex enters in as an additionally complicating factor. While many chronicles of European culture meeting native cultures center around sexuality, the practices of many tribes regarding sexual activity of males and berdaches normally resulted in censorious and disgusted commentary by men who viewed those individuals and their activities by European standards and beliefs. However, those men had a different outlook when it came to women, often possessing cultural beliefs of their own that most women were sexual objects, and that what they saw as promiscuous and openly sexual behaviors in many tribal women equated to loose morality, sexual availability justifying any kind of sexual aggression against them, and a discounting of the positions of power and respect the women really possessed. At the same time, many chroniclers found themselves strongly attracted to native women, so that sexual desire contributed to the highly colored fantasy or myth of the incredibly wild and deliciously sexual wanton still prized today in such films as the regrettable Disney offense "Pocahontas" in which a twelve year old girl is depicted as a voluptuous, slender-waisted siren barely clad in a conveniently clinging designer deerskin dress.
In addition to the thorough discussion of historical native cultures, the problems associated with accurately determining what those cultures looked like because of the origin of observations, the incompleteness of those records and observations, and the lack of knowledge in the tribes themselves in the present day due to the obliteration and repression of tribal identity and cultures, Roscoe presents a discussion of today's gay and lesbian community.
It is here perhaps that this reviewer finds some question. In our society, we deem same-gender sex and associated behaviors as homosexuality, and Roscoe examines his resources minutely on that issue. While simultaneously noting the negative results and aspects of historical reports when made through cultural ignorance and bias, he appears to focus heavily upon certain sexual preference and behaviors through his own cultural lens of a dichotomous system. Admittedly, discussing the full spectrum of sexuality in our basically binary world view, trans-gender, bisexual, cross-dresser, ambiguous-gender, and true hermaphroditic people cannot be readily lumped in as "homosexual". Historical reference must by necessity lack the refinement necessary to examine sex and gender due to the lack of knowledge on the part of the chroniclers to the nuances and differences among the various individuals if they are to be discussed from our perspective. While he does emphasize that often religious or spiritual roles, work roles, parental or spiritual assignment of gender and so on could, and did, result in assignment of gender or choice of lifestyle, he does seem to ignore this in discussing present-day situations. Here it would seem that he has ready access to individual stories and motivations, as well as psychological insights and personal feelings, yet he deals only with the groups he calls "homosexual," "gay," or "lesbian." This issue is not a major one, as the primary purpose of the book is to examine the generally little known and poorly understood sex and gender roles of native people historically.
Changing Ones is a valuable contribution not only to scholars in native culture and history, but to women's studies, gender studies, and related areas as well. It is also a highly readable, well-organized compilation of hundreds of historical references and accounts from a multi-lingual bank of European records and commentaries which promotes a more realistic appreciation of alternative genders and the derivation of their establishment as constructs. Roscoe is a well-known scholar who writes on gender and sexuality in many cultures, and this work continues his outstanding contributions to the fields. This reviewer highly recommends it.
Copyright (c) 2000 by H-Net and MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given. For other permission contact MinervaCen@aol.com.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Citation: Donna M. Dean. Review of Roscoe, Will, Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders In Native America. H-Minerva, H-Net Reviews. October, 2000.
Copyright © 2000 by H-Net and MINERVA: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact MinervaCen@aol.com or the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 01, 2010
By Erisis 2 Comments
Tags: anthropology, culture, Equal Rights, female, gender, Gender Variant, genderqueer, history, male, other, queer, religion, Third Gender, trans, Trans Rights, transgender, transsexual
I was going through some old notes about Trans Issues tonight and came across a list of Third Gender and Gender Variant groups from different cultures and time periods throughout the world. I compiled this list some time ago for a project that my girlfriend Widow Centauri was working on.
All of the groups listed here are considered as something other than or a variation upon what we in the Western World would consider to be “Male” and “Female”.
I have streamlined the information here so as simply to list the title or name of each “third gender” or “gender variant” cultural group I have found without specific definitions or delineations, which can be quite lengthy and/or complex.
The first such group in each culture or geographical area is followed by the name of the area and/or specific culture. All additional names and titles in the same area or culture are listed immediately below the first entry.
This list is not meant to be comprehensive or all-inclusive. I have included only entries where I could find a specific name or title or a simple English translation of such.
The reason for this list is that I could find no other collation of these materials in a simple internet search. I have drawn my information from a number of sources.
I hope that by posting this information in a simple to access and easy to digest form, I may impress upon anyone who is looking for it or who may stumble upon this blog that Trans people are not a new phenomenon or sub-culture. We have been an integral part of human history since the beginning. We are part and parcel of World Culture, now and yesterday. And we are not ever going to go away.
Please disseminate or link as you will.
Two-spirits – Native American
Berdache – Illiniwek (Illinois)
Muxes – Zapotec People, Oaxaca, Mexico
Travestís – Brazil
Guevedoche – Dominican Republic
Quariwarmi – Incan
The Sworn Virgin – Balkans
Catamites – Ancient Greece
Mollies – Modern England
Tertium genus hominum (a third human gender) “eunuchs” – Ancient Eastern Mediterranean
Ashtime – Maale culture of Southern Ethiopia
Mashoga – Swahili-speaking areas of the Kenyan coast, particularly Mombasa
Mangaiko – The Mbo people, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Sḫt (“sekhet”) – Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2000-1800 BCE)
The Kurgarûs – Sumer
Zenanas – Arab
Xanith or Khanith – Oman
Alyha – Mohave
Hijras – India, Pakistan & Bangladesh
also known as: Aravani/Aruvani or Jogappa
Hijira (alt. sp.) – India
Sadhin – The Gaddhi in the foothills of the Himalayas
Basivi – Madras (area of India)
Tritiya-prakrti (third-nature) – Indic culture of premodern India
Ubhatobyanjanakas – Buddhist Vinaya
Kathoey – Thailand
Pandaka – Ancient Buddhist Societies
Fa’afafine – Samoa Polynesia
Fakaleiti – Tonga
Mahu Wahine – Hawaii
Mahu Vahine – Tahiti
Whakawahine – Māori
Akava’ine – Cook Islands
Kwolu-aatmwol – “Sambia” community in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea
bakla – Tagalog
Bayot – Cebuano
Agi – Ilonggo
Bantut – Tausug)
If you should happen to notice any omissions or would like to add to this list, please leave a comment or email me at: email@example.com
I would love for this list to continue to grow. I’m sure there is much, much more that I have not yet found.
Dear Viking Answer Lady:
How did the Vikings regard and treat male and female homosexuals? I am considering adding a blue feather to my Viking garb, but I wonder how this will affect my persona?
(signed) They Call me Strange Oddi
My personal research into homosexuality in the Viking Age shows clearly that the Vikings had words (and therefore mental constructs and concepts) of same-sex activity; however since the needs of agricultural/pastoral living require reproduction not only to work the farm but also to provide support for the parent in old age, it was expected that no matter what one's affectional preferences were that each individual would marry and reproduce. There are no recorded instances of homosexual or lesbian couples in the Viking Age: moreover, the idea of living as an exclusively homosexual person did not exist in most cultures until present day Western civilization appeared. One's sexual partners mattered little so long as one married, had children, and conformed at least on the surface to societal norms so as not to disturb the community. Those Scandinavians who attempted to avoid marriage because of their sexuality were penalized in law: a man who shunned marriage was termed fuðflogi (man who flees the female sex organ) while a woman who tried to avoid marriage was flannfluga (she who flees the male sex organ) (Jochens 65).
The evidence of the sagas and laws shows that male homosexuality was regarded in two lights: there was nothing at all strange or shameful about a man having intercourse with another man if he was in the active or "manly" role, however the passive partner in homosexual intercourse was regarded with derision. It must be remembered, however, that the laws and sagas reflect the Christian consciousness of the Icelander or Norwegian of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, well after the pagan period. The myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality, and history is altogether silent as to the practice of lesbianism in the Viking Age.
Old Norse Terminology Regarding Homosexuality and Related Concepts
The Old Norse word used in the law code and literature for an insult was níð , which may be defined as "libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality" (Markey 75). From níð are derived such words as níðvisur ("insulting verses"), níðskald ("insult-poet"), níðingr ("coward, outlaw"), griðníðingr ("truce-breaker"), níðstông ("scorn-pole") (Markey 75, 79 & 80; Sørenson 29), also níða ("to perform níð poetry"), tunguníð ("verbal níð"), tréníð ("timber níð", carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act, related to niíðstông, above) (Sørenson 28-29). Níð was part of a family of concepts which all have connotations of passive male homosexuality, such as: ergi or regi (nouns) and argr or ragr (the adjective form of ergi) ("willing or inclined to play or interested in playing the female part in sexual relations with another man, unmanly, effeminate, cowardly"); ergjask ("to become argr"); rassragr ("arse-ragr"); stroðinn and sorðinn ("sexually used by a man") and sansorðinn ("demonstrably sexually used by another man") (Sørenson 17-18, 80). A man who is a seiðmaðr (one who practices women's magic) who is argr is called seiðskratti (Sørenson 63).
Attitudes About Homosexuality Introduced By Christianity
The secular laws of Viking Age Iceland do not mention homosexuality. The only place where homosexuality is documentably prohibited is by the Christian Church. The Icelandic Homily Book (ca. 1200 C.E.) has a sermon which states that among grave sins are "those appalling secret sins perpetrated by men who respect men no more than women, or violate quadrupeds." Bishop Þorlákr Þórhallson of Skáholt's Penetential (ca. 1178-1193 C.E.) lists penances of nine or ten years that include flogging for "adultery between males, or that committed by men on quadrupeds," and says of lesbianism that "if women satisfy each other they shall be ordered the same penance as men who perform the most hideous adultery between them or with a quadruped." (Sørenson 26) Christian belief condemns both the active and passive roles of homosexual intercourse, whereas the pagan Scandinavians attached disapproval only to the male who was homosexually passive.
Viking Attitudes About Homosexuality and Manliness
Homosexuality was not regarded by the Viking peoples as being evil, perverted, innately against the laws of nature or any of the other baggage about the concept that Christian belief has provided Western culture. Rather, it was felt that a man who subjected himself to another in sexual affairs would do the same in other areas, being a follower rather than a leader, and allowing others to do his thinking or fighting for him. Thus, homosexual sex was not what was condemned, but rather the failure to stand for one's self and make one's own decisions, to fight one's own fights, which went directly against the Nordic ethic of self-reliance. (Sørenson 20).
Being used homosexually by another man was equated with cowardice because of the custom of sexual aggression against vanquished foes. This practice is documented in Sturlunga saga, most notably in Guðmundar saga dýra where Guðmundr takes captive a man and his wife, and plans for both the woman and the man to be raped as a means of sexual humiliation (Ok var þat við orð at leggja Þórunni í rekkju hjá einhverjum gárungi, en gera þat vi Bjôrn prest, at þat þætti eigi minni svívirðing.) (Sørenson 82, 111; Sturlunga saga, I, 201). In addition to rape, defeated enemies were frequently castrated, again testified to in several places by Sturlunga saga. Grágás records that a klámhogg or "shame-stroke" on the buttocks was, along with castration, a "major wound" (hin meiri sár), ranked with wounds that penetrated the brain, abdomen, or marrow: the klámhogg was thus equated with castration as "unmanning" the victim, and classed with wounds that cause major penetrations of the body, strongly suggesting that the term refers to rape or forced anal sex such as was inflicted on a defeated combatant (Sørenson 68). It is not known how widespread the practice of raping defeated foes actually was, or if it existed before the advent of Christianity, but in other cultures which have had as strong an ethic of masculine aggression as existed among the Vikings, the rape of defeated foemen was obligatory.
The attitude that homosexual usage of an enemy was a means of humiliation in turn would have weighed heavily against men in homosexual relationships: if it was a shameful humiliation of an enemy, performing intercourse with a beloved friend would have been regarded as a the worst sort of betrayal or lack of loyalty (Sørenson 28). Since all the references in literature and especially insults indicate that to be sansorðinn, ragr, níðingr or to be accused of ergi is to be a man who is the passive recipient of anal sex, we do not know if the Vikings regarded oral sex between men unfavorably or not (or, in fact, how they regarded oral sex in general, no matter who, male or female, was doing it, or to whom, male or female, it was being done).
It is interesting to note that the Vikings considered that old age caused a man to become argr. A well-known proverb stated svá ergisk hverr sem eldisk, "everyone gets argr as he gets older." This possibly could point to an increasing acceptance of homosexuality after a man had raised a family and grew older (Sørenson 20), although a man such as the chieftain Snorri goði who fathered 22 children, the last at the age of 77 (just before he died), certainly proves that a man never was really too old to father children! (Jochens 81). For a man who could not have children (whether due to impotence, sterility, age, etc.) homosexual relations may have been acceptable. One slang term for such a man seems to have been kottrinn inn blauði, or "soft cat" as reported in Stúfs þáttr, an epilogue to Laxdæla saga, in a conversation between the Norwegian king Haraldr harðráði and Stúfr, the son of Þórðr kottr (Þórðr the Cat): puzzled by the unusual nickname, Haraldr asks Stúfr whether his father Þórðr was kottrinn inn hvati eða inn blauði, "the hard or the soft cat." Stúfr declines to answer despite the implied insult, but the king admits that his question was foolish because "the person who is soft (blauðr) could not be a father" (Jochens 76).
Insults Alleging Homosexuality
There is ample documentation of homosexuality in insults. Judging by the literature, the Vikings were the "rednecks" of medieval Europe... if you went into the mead hall and called a man a faggot, he'd do the same thing that any good ol' boy at a Texas cowboy bar would do. The end result would be a big axe in your head instead of a big cowboy boot in your face, but the idea is the same. Furthermore, in every one of the instances where níð or ergi is encountered as an accusation, no one seriously believes that the accused party is in fact homosexual: the charge is symbolic, rather like calling a modern redneck "queer" to provoke him to fight. (Sørenson 20)
Because, then as now, some sorts of insults were "fightin' words" or even killing words, Scandinavian law codes made certain types of insults illegal, and either condoned the victim's slaying of the slanderer or penalized the utterance of insults with outlawry. The Gulaþing Law of Norway (ca. 100-1200 C.E.) Says:
Um fullrettes orð. Orð ero þau er fullrettis orð heita. Þat er eitt ef maðr kveðr at karlmanne oðrom at hann have barn boret. Þat er annat ef maðr kyeðr hann væra sannsorðenn. Þat er hit þriðia ef hann iamnar hanom við meri æða kallar hann grey æða portkono æða iamnar hanom við berende eitthvert.
Concerning terms of abuse or insult. There are words which are considered terms of abuse. Item one: if a man say of another man that he has borne a child. Item two: if a man say of another man that he has been homosexually used. Item three: if a man compare another man to a mare, or call him a bitch or a harlot, or compare him to any animal which bears young. (Markey, 76, 83)
Similarly, the Icelandic law code Grágás (ca. 1100-1200 C.E.) has:
Þav ero orð riú ef sva mioc versna máls endar manna er scog gang vaðla avll. Ef maðr kallar man ragan eða stroðinn eða sorðinn. Oc scal søkia sem avnnor full rettis orð enda a maðr vigt igegn þeim orðum þrimr.
Then there are three terms which occasion bringing such a serious suit against a man that they are worthy to outlaw him. If a man call a man unmanly [effeminate], or homosexual, or demonstrably homosexually used by another man, he shall proceed to prosecute as with other terms of abuse, and indeed a man has the right to avenge with combat for these terms of abuse. (Markey, 76, 83)
The Frostaþing Law likewise tells us that it is fullréttisorð (verbal offenses for which full compensation or fines must be paid to the injured party) to compare a man to a dog, or to call him sannsorðinn (demonstrably homosexually used by another man), but goes on to penalize as hálfréttisorð (requiring one-half compensation) terms which in our culture would almost be considered complementary, including comparing a man with a bull, a stallion, or other male animal (Sørenson 16).
Many exchanges of insults are to be found in the Poetic Edda, particularly in Hárbarðljóð , a man-matching between Óðinn and Thórr; Lokasenna, in which Loki insults the Norse gods; Helgakviða Hundingsbana in the exchange of deadly insults between Sinfjotli and Guðmundr; Helgakviða Hjorvarðssonar in the exchange of threats between Atli and the giantess Hrimgerð. Other instances may be found in the sagas such as Egils saga Skallagrimssonar and Vatnsdæla saga.
Insults directed at men come in several varieties. Taunts might sneer at a man's poverty, as Óðinn does when he tells Thórr that he is "but a barefoot beggar with his buttocks shining through his breeches" (Hárbarðljóð 6), or declare a man to be a cuckold (Hárbarðljóð 48, Lokasenna 40). Some insults were scatological:
Þegi þú Niorðr! þú vart austr heðan
gíls um sendr at goðom;
Hymis meyiar hofðo þic at hlandtrogi
oc þér í munn migo.
Be thou silent, Njorðr! you were sent eastward
to the gods as a hostage;
Hymir's maidens used you as a piss-trough
and they pissed in your mouth.
Insults of this nature seem to have been merely rude or disgusting. More serious were those which were mentioned in the laws, concerning cowardice or unmanly behavior. Cowardice was perhaps the lesser of the two types of insults, although the categories blur:
Enough strength hath Thórr, but a stout heart nowise:
in fainthearted fear wast fooled in a mitten,
nor seemed then Thórr himself:
in utter dread thou didst not dare
to fart or sneeze, lest Fjalar heard it.
Other insults alleging craven behavior may be found in Hárbarðljóð 27 and 51, as well as Lokasenna 13 and 15.
More dangerous still were insults that called a man "gelding," implying cowardice as well as touching on the connotations of sexual perversity connected with the horse, as in the insult where Hrimgerð calls Atli "a gelding who is a coward, whinnying loudly like a stallion but with his heart in his hinder part" (Helgakviða Hjorvarþssonar 20).
The very deadliest of insults were those which attributed effeminate behavior or sexual perversion to the victim. Accusations of seiðr, women's magic or witchcraft, implied that the practitioner played the woman's part in the sexual act (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 66-68). Óðinn, a practitioner of seiðr, was often taunted with the fact, although this insult is found in other contexts as well (Lokasenna 24, Helgakviða Hundingsbana 38). Similarly, an insult might call a man a mare, either directly or via a kenning such as "Grani's bride" -- Grani being the famous stallion belonging to Sigfried the Dragonslayer (Helgakviða Hundingsbana 42). Loki's shapeshifting into the form of a mare may have resulted in the best of horses, Óðinn's mount Sleipnir, but the implication of (at best) bisexuality was an inescapable slur on Loki's reputation ever after (Markey, 79). As the Gulaþing Law states, it was equally insulting to liken a man to any creature that bears young. One of the more comprehensive insults of this class is to be found in Helgakviða Hundingsbana:
A witch wast thou on Varin's Isle,
didst fashion falsehoods and fawn on me, hag:
to no wight would'st thou be wed to but me,
to no sword-wielding swain but to Sinfjotli.
Thou wast, witch hag, a valkyrie fierce
in Allfather's hall, hateful and grim:
all Valhôll's warriors had well-nigh battled,
willful woman, to win thy hand.
On Saga Ness full nine wolves we
had together -- I gat them all.
(Helgakviða Hundingsbana 38-39)
This was directed at Guðmundr Granmatsson, one of King Helgi's captains and a formidable warrior!
In pagan Scandinavia, a ritual form of insult was also practiced at times, the erection of a níðstông or scorn-pole. This ritual had five basic elements:
- an overt or covert association of ergi [effeminate behavior];
- implementation of an animal, usually female [i.e., a mare], as a totemic device whereby lack of masculinity is implied;
- an animal's body or head is mounted on a pole and turned toward the dwelling place of the person towards whom the níð is directed;
- formulaic verse, often inscribed in runes on the pole supporting the totemic device;
- appellant incantations to the gods or spirits to confer magical power on the totemic device and/or carry out the desires of the níðskald (Markey 77-78).
Mention of this ritual is made in Book V of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum and in chapter 33 of Vatnsdæla saga, but the most complete description is given in Egils saga Skallagrimssonar:
Egil went ashore onto the island, picked up a branch of hazel and then went to a certain cliff that faced the mainland. Then he took a horse head, set it up on the pole and spoke these formal words:
"Here I set up a pole of insult against King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild."
Then, turning the horsehead towards the mainland:
"And I direct this insult against the guardian spirits of this land, so that every one of them shall go astray, neither to figure nor to find their dwelling places until they have driven King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild from this country."
Next, he jammed the pole into a cleft in the rock and left it standing there with the horsehead facing towards the mainland, and cut runes on the pole declaiming the words of his formal speech
(Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, trans. Egil's Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1976. p. 148)
Lesbians in Viking Scandinavia
There is little mention in the sources regarding lesbianism in the Viking Age. When the feminine form of the word argr, (org), is used about a woman, it does not indicate that she is homosexual, but rather lecherous or immodest. (Sørenson 18). Staðarhólsbók, one of the existing versions of Grágás, prohibits a woman from wearing male clothing, from cutting her hair like a man, bearing arms, or in general behaving like a man (chapters 155 and 254), however it does not mention behaving sexually in the male role. After the onset of Christianity, of course, lovemaking between women was condemned by the Church as mentioned above. During the Viking Age, however, women were in short supply, at least in Iceland. Exposure of infants (barnaútburðr) was a Viking Age practice, and female infants were preferentially exposed, leaving fewer women (Jochens 86). This meant that every woman who survived to reproductive age was going to be married to at least one man in her lifetime and would bear his children unless she were barren. This gave women quite a lot of their apparent power as reflected in the sagas, as a woman could control her husband quite well by threatening divorce (Clover 182).
However, men also could have concubines so long as these were lower class (thrall) women (Karras). In many societies when there are several women living in a household who are all sexually tied to a single man, especially when the woman had no say in the arrangement of marriage or concubinage, then lesbian relationships could and did exist. There is good reason to see an almost "harem" atmosphere prevailing among the Vikings... the women tended to gather in the kvenna hús (women's quarters) (Jochens 80), or in the dyngja (weaving room) where a man could not go without accruing shame for unmanly interests excepting only truly mighty ---i.e., virile--- heroes. Helgi Hundingsbana was able to hide disguised as a maid in the kvenna hús, but for any lesser man such an act would have been regarded as cowardice, and the man who braved the dyngja would have been labeled as níðingr and ragrmann simply because the location was so strongly associated with women's activity and central role in the society as weavers (Helgakviða Hundingsbana II 1-5). In most societies where polygamy is common and women are denied sexual outlets other than their husband, there is frequently lesbian activity to fill not only sexual but also emotional needs. If a husband had objected to his wife having a lesbian relationship, there would have been little he could have done about it, as she could always divorce him if he complained. This gave women, lesbians or not, quite a bit of power due to the relative scarcity of marriagable women, so long as they fulfilled their societal roles as wives and mothers.
Homosexuality and the Gods, Priests, and Heroes
Another aspect to the question of homosexuality is the fact that certain of the gods, heroes and highly respected priests of the gods, apparently indulged in homosexual, "unmanly" or "questionable" practices. Loki, of course, is clearly bisexual as he certainly took the female role sexually at least during the encounter with the giant's stallion in Gylfaginning, which says that "Loki had had such dealings with Svaðilfari (the stallion) that sometime later he bore a foal," the most wonderful of all horses, Óðinn's eight-legged steed Sleipnir (Sturluson, Prose Edda, 68).
Óðinn himself, the Allfather and King of the Gods, was justly accused of ergi or unmanliness because of his practice of seiðr or women's magic, as learned from the goddess Freyja. We are not certain what it is about seiðr that made it "unmanly" for a man to practice the art: it could be anything from the idea of cowardice as a result of being able to harm your enemies through magic rather than in open battle, to overt sexual rituals involving the seiðr-practitioner as the passive sexual partner, or even as the passive homosexual partner. Ynglingasaga explains:
Oðinn kunni þa íþrótt, er mestr máttr fylgði, ok framði siálfr, er seiðr heitr, en af þuí mátti hannvita ørlog manna ok óorðna hluti, suá ok at gera monnum bana eða óhamingiu eða vanheilendi, suá ok at taka frá monnum vit eða afl ok geta oðrum. En þessi fiolkyngi, er framið er, fylgir suá mikil ergi, at eigi þótti karlmonnum skammlaust við at fara, ok var gyðiunum kend sú íþrótt.
Óðinn had the skill which gives great power and which he practiced himself. It is called seiðr, and by means of it he could know the fate of men and predict events that had not yet come to pass; and by it he could also inflict death or misfortunes or sickness, or also deprive people of their wits or strength, and give them to others. But this sorcery is attended by such great ergi that men considered it shameful to practice it, and so it was taught to priestesses (Ynglingasaga 7).
Apparently homosexuals had a role within the worship of the Vanic gods. The Christian chronicler Saxo Grammaticus scornfully reported in his Gesta Danorum that some priests of Freyr used "effeminate gestures and the clapping of the mimes on stage
and . . . the unmanly clatter of the bells." Dumézil sees evidence for a group of priests of Njôrðr and Freyr who were honored, yet seem to have engaged in acts of argr, and who may have worn their hair in styles reserved normally only for women or even dressed themselves as women (Dumézil 115).
One might assume that the morals expected of gods cannot necessarily be applied for humans. However, there were likewise a number of heroes known to have been guilty of ergi such as Helgi Hundingsbana (see above). Another famous ragr hero is the famous Icelandic hero Grettir, who in the poem Grettisfærsla is said to have had sexual intercourse with "maidens and widows, everyone's wives, farmers' sons, deans and courtiers, abbots and abbesses, cows and calves, indeed with near all living creatures," (Sørenson 18) yet no one attached opprobrium to Grettir because of his vast, and omnisexual, prowess.
Other evidences of the acceptance of homosexuality in some circumstances at least is provided by the fact that apparently there were some men who acted as homosexual concubines or prostitutes. Olkofra þáttr, a short tale preserved in the manuscript Moðruvallabók (ca. mid 14th century C.E.) preserves the term argaskattr, which has the sense of "a fixed rate or other payment made to an argr man for his sexual performance" and further indicates that the worth of such a payment was very low indeed. (Sørenson, 34-35). It would be logical to conclude that, like other concubines, these men selling sex to other men would have been of the lowest social class, thralls (Karras).
Same-Sex Couples in Art
A provoking bit of information is provided in the art-historical evidence as well. There exist a good number of small gold foil plaques known as goldgubber which depict a couple embracing. Frequently these are assumed to be Freyr, god of fertility, and Gerð, the beautiful giant maiden, and many commentators such as Hilda Ellis-Davidson believe that they may have been used at weddings.(Ellis-Davidson, Myths and Symbols, pp. 31-31 and p. 121). However, if one looks closely, at least two of the surviving goldgubber depict same sex couples embracing, one two bearded figures, another two women with the typical long, knotted hair, large breasts, and trailing dresses!
Since these plaques in general are associated with weddings and sexual union, it is tempting to assume that these two same sex examples represent and/or commemorate homosexual relationships. Of course, the plaques in question could simply depict two friends embracing. Another possible explanation is that, in many cultures, people do not dance with the opposite sex, only with members of their own gender, and that therefore these figures may be representations of dancers.
Overall, it is most important to realize that our written records of the Viking Age typically date from 200 to 300 years AFTER the events described. If you ask a room full of Americans to describe for you, in detail, the life of George Washington, you will be able to elicit no more than a handful of "facts," most of which will be demonstrably false... and we have classes and are forced to study Washington! This does not bode well for the accuracy of the saga accounts in regards to ancient practice. Accounts written in 1200-1300 were also written by Christian men, using the Christian technology of writing, and whose worldview would have roundly condemned homosexuality. Homosexuality did not have a good reputation during the Viking age as portrayed by the Christian writers. If homosexuals enjoyed a better reputation earlier than these accounts, we have no record of it, as the "golden age" of the culture probably occurred between 600 and 800, before the actual start of the Viking Age proper, and is unrecorded except dimly through legends.
- Bax, Marcel and Tineke Padmos. "Two Types of Verbal Dueling in Old Icelandic: the Interactional Structure of the senna and the Mannjafnaðr in Hárbarðljóð" in Scandinavian Studies 55:2 (Spring 1983) pp. 147-174.
- Clover, Carol J. "The Politics of Scarcity: Notes on the Sex Ratios in Early Scandinavia." Scandinavian Studies 60 (1988): 147-188.
- Damsholt, Nanna. "The Role of Icelandic Women in the Sagas and in the Production of Homespun Cloth." Scandinavian Journal of History 9 (1984): 75-90.
- Dumézil, Georges. From Myth to Fiction: the Saga of Hadingus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1970.
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- Ellis-Davidson, Hilda R. "Insults and Riddles in the Edda Poems," in Edda: A Collection of Essays. eds. Robert J. Glendinning and Haraldur Bessason. Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press. 1983. pp. 25-46.
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- Ellis-Davidson, Hilda R. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 1988.
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- Hollander, Lee M. trans. The Poetic Edda. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1962.
[References to poems of the Poetic Edda are indicated in the text by the name of the poem and the verse number].
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- Jochens, Jenny. Women in Old Norse Society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1995.
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- McGrew, Julia H. and R. George Thomas, trans. Sturlunga Saga. 2 vols. New York: Twayne. 1970 and 1974.
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- Karras, Ruth M. "Concubinage and Slavery in the Viking Age," Scandinavian Studies. 62 (1990): pp. 141-162.
- Markey, T.L. "Nordic Níðvisur: an Instance of Ritual Inversion?" in Studies in Medieval Culture 10 (1977) pp. 75-85.
- Sørenson, Preben M. The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society. trans. Joan Turville-Petre. The Viking Collection, Studies in Northern Civilization 1. Odense University Press. 1983.
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- Stromback, Dag. Sejd: Textstudier I Nordisk Religionshistoria. Stockholm: Hugo Gebers Förlag. 1935.
- Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. Lee M. Hollander, trans. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1964.
[References to selections of Heimskringla are indicated in the text by the name of the selection (i.e., Ynglingasaga) and the chapter number.]
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- Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. trans. Anthony Faulkes. Everyman Paperback Classics. London: J.M. Dent. 1995.
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- Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. trans. Jean I. Young. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1954; Reprint 1962.
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February 13, 2010
October 07, 2009
Reviews in History: Sex and the Gender Revolution: Volume One: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London
Sex and the Gender Revolution:
Volume One: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London
Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 1998 xviii + 509 pp.
Reviewed by: Dr. Robert Shoemaker
University of Sheffield
One of the first aspects of the history of gender to be extensively researched has been, unsurprisingly, sex. A frequent meeting ground of the sexes, historians have shown how attitudes towards and practices of sexual intercourse reveal fundamental cu ltural assumptions about gender difference. But it is not only heterosexual activity that is relevant. Even before gender became a popular subject among historians, Randolph Trumbach's work on male homosexuality in eighteenth-century London contributed the important insight that beliefs about homosexuality are a constituent part of understandings of gender difference. This book, the first of two volumes (the second will examine 'the origins of modern western homosexuality'), develops his arguments with material amassed during more than twenty years of research. It appears at a propitious but inevitably contentious time, for sex in the eighteenth century is a hot topic, and this book will have to compete with several other recent and forthcoming public ations on prostitution, illegitimacy, and sexual reputation.
The main argument of the book will be familiar to those who have read Trumbach's earlier articles. Around 1700, stimulated by 'the emergence of individualism and equality', a 'new regime of sexual relations for men' developed. Those men who had sex w ith other men or boys became marginalised and labelled as 'sodomites' (the 'third gender'), and all other men assumed an exclusively heterosexual identity, with their sexuality shaped by the need to prove that they did not desire other men, while maintain ing their superiority over women despite experiencing greater intimacy with them. This change had important consequences for extramarital sex in London: seeking to affirm their heterosexual masculine status, men resorted to prostitutes in greater numbers , as 'a new, heterosexually inspired prostitution' developed, and it led to high rates of illegitimate births and the spread of venereal disease. Violence towards women, both in the form of rape and wife beating, although not new, was also encouraged by these changes.
In the next generation these patterns were both reinforced and somewhat modified by the growing influence of sentimental, romantic and domestic ideas among the middle and upper classes. Attitudes and the practice of prostitution changed as prostitutes came to be seen more as a separate class of women, were sentimentalised, and became the targets of attempts to reform rather than punish them. Some men became more faithful to their wives, and some became less violent. Nonetheless most men, driven by t he need to prove their heterosexual identity, continued to consort with prostitutes, thereby facilitating the spread of venereal disease to a substantial proportion of the population. Influenced by romantic ideas, elite wives started to form adulterous l iaisons with men, either servants or friends of their husbands, whom they met in their homes. 'By 1750 the entire system that this book has described was fully established'. (427)
This is an ambitious web of arguments, and they are supported by extensive research in legal records (of the Consistory Court, Quarter Sessions, and the Old Bailey), notably depositions, examinations and accounts of trials; the records of charitable i nstitutions (the Foundling and Lock Hospitals); printed literature including pamphlets and newspapers; and letters and diaries. As such, this book provides the most extensive and richly documented treatment of eighteenth-century sexual behaviour ever p ublished. The sources are effectively used to shed light on a wide range of subjects, including (in addition to those discussed elsewhere in this review) the changing ideological basis of male libertinism; the geography of London's brothels; the origin s of the Foundling, Lock and Magdalen Hospitals; the shift in the significance of adultery from an issue of public concern to a domestic tragedy; attempts to cure venereal disease (notably the belief that men could be cured by having sex with prepubesce nt women); contrasting courtship and illegitimacy patterns found in four metropolitan parishes; changing attitudes towards infanticide; the central role played by male violence in courtship and seduction; the various strategies for marital dissolution i n different social classes; and patterns of marital violence.
In assessing the overall argument, two questions need to be asked. First, has Trumbach convincingly documented the changes that he says took place? And second, has he correctly identified the causes of those changes? Trumbach certainly has identifie d many important transformations in sexual attitudes. The growing condemnation of any form of homosexuality and the concurrent development of a homosexual subculture in early eighteenth-century London were documented in his previous articles (and will be covered in volume 2) and they have been confirmed by other research. Similarly, the arguments concerning changing attitudes towards prostitution, and towards female sexual immorality more generally, with the increasing belief in female sexual passivity and the tendency to treat prostitutes as victims, fit in well with the work of other historians. The analysis of defamation cases convincingly shows that women continued to be concerned about defending their sexual reputations longer than men, thus provi ding evidence of the growing tolerance of male heterosexual promiscuity. The overall decline of defamation cases may reflect the growing belief that women's sexuality was too delicate a matter to be discussed in public, though the argument that consistor y court judges and lawyers discouraged prosecutions is not substantiated. The increasing influence of romantic ideas on the lives of the upper and middle classes, documented in divorce cases, is also unlikely to prove controversial. But the arguments con cerning the changing nature of prostitution and illegitimacy are less convincing. Here we come up against a fundamental problem that confronts historians of a subject as personal as sexuality, the limitations of the evidence.
There is plenty of evidence of concern about the growth of prostitution, especially streetwalking, in eighteenth-century London, but Trumbach fails to consider whether elite discourses, or the records of law enforcement, can satisfactorily docum ent changing patterns of activity in the world's oldest profession. It is not convincing to argue from such evidence that there was 'a new, heterosexually inspired prostitution' in the eighteenth century. This would certainly come as a surprise to histo rians of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London, and in any case demands an explicit comparison with prostitution in the earlier period, which is not attempted. The arguments about the changing character of prostitution during the eighteenth century, that it developed as a subculture separated from conventional life, are based on similarly thin evidence, such as the patterns of sureties prostitutes presented when bound over by recognisance (women became less likely to be bailed by members of their own families). Since the recognisance was not a common method of prosecuting prostitutes (most were punished with a commitment to a house of correction), this evidence must be of limited relevance, especially since we know so little about the ways in which sureties were chosen and approved by justices of the peace, and how what constituted an acceptable surety might have changed over the course of the century. Trumbach is more cautious when arguing that increased levels of illegitimacy were another consequ ence of the new male heterosexual identity, but here too there is danger in reading the examinations of the mothers of bastard children too literally, and failing to make allowances for the fact women may have constructed stories for their examiners which , by portraying themselves as helpless victims, maximised their chances of obtaining help.
In assessing whether Trumbach has correctly identified the causes of changes in heterosexual behaviour we come to his central point, that the root cause of 'the new male heterosexuality' was the emergence of the 'third gender', the sodomite, in the ear ly eighteenth century. But here at the core of his argument there is something of a vacuum, since, with the exception of some prosecutions for sodomitical assault and blackmail in the Quarter Sessions and Old Bailey records, there is very little direct e vidence to support the contention that heterosexual men's attitudes towards sex in the eighteenth century were fundamentally shaped by their fear of being labelled a 'sodomite'. Of course there is plenty of evidence of increased hostility towards male ho mosexuals, but this is not sufficient to prove the central contention that men's conduct towards their wives, mistresses and prostitutes was entirely shaped by this fear; that this is why, for example, men consorted with prostitutes. Here we come up aga inst some significant limitations of this study. First, it is explicitly a study of extramarital sexual relations, not simply because such behaviour produced the best evidence, but also because Trumbach alleges that 'the history of modern male het erosexuality is substantially a history of extramarital relations'. (13) By failing to consider men's sexual conduct with their wives (except where it involved violence) Trumbach has ignored in a book on heterosexuality the vast majority of the heterosex ual activity which actually took place in the eighteenth century. Second, by locating the source of all change in a shift in attitudes towards, and practices of, male homosexuality, he has largely ignored female sexuality, except when portraying poor wom en as the victims of the new male heterosexuality. Because, there was not, until at least the 1770s, a lesbian subculture against which to define themselves, he argues that most eighteenth-century women 'did not have an exclusive heterosexual identity', (429) and hence he sees little need to examine their sexuality. The one change identified, that some elite women, influenced by romanticism, experienced in adulterous affairs 'a second, deeper sexual awakening' than their first sexual experience with the ir husbands, (423) comes close to accepting uncritically later eighteenth- and nineteenth-century stereotypes that women were sexually passive until aroused by their husbands, 'since the majority of women would probably not have masturbated before their f irst intercourse with their husbands'. (395) One can't help wondering whether the evidence can really support such a statement.
This is thus a frustrating book. On the one hand, Trumbach has developed the important insight that the histories of homosexuality, heterosexuality, and gender are intricately interrelated, an insight which, unlike the approach adopted by most gender historians, identifies important changes in masculine as well as feminine behaviour. On the other hand, by viewing all eighteenth-century sexuality through this one lens, he has failed to examine other important forces which shaped ideas and practices in London, including changing understandings of the body and the shift from a belief that women were the most lustful sex to the opposite; the impact of urbanisation and the spread of print culture on the ways sexual knowledge was diffused, interrupting ch annels of information traditionally controlled by women; a growing distinction between public and private life which marginalised public discussions of sex, especially female sex, and pushed them behind closed doors; and the impact of early industrialis ation on traditional courtship patterns, encouraging earlier marriages but also destabilising them. Most of these changes served to encourage male heterosexual initiative at the expense of women, but not necessarily as a result of fears of homosexuality. But the new courtship patterns, as well as the adoption of the romantic ideals discussed by Trumbach, also allowed some London women the chance to take the initiative in their relationships, a point illustrated by several of the case studies in this boo k. This is an important and complex subject, unsuited to an essentially monocausal argument.