Tag Archives: bisexuality

Why I love historical fiction

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This isn’t going to be an annotated scholarly work on the Troubadours, and 12th century Occitanian culture, but I thought that I might share some interesting tidbits from my current research.

I’ll start off with something you might not know- Richard the Lionheart was, in all probability, gay. And so was his next-youngest brother, Geoffroy. And they both probably slept with the king of France. Which, any ardent student of medieval history probably knows, but it was news to me when I started researching my current wip. All I was looking for was the chance that troubadours had expressed homosocial desire… Which is much harder to find than I had thought.

A 17th century royal portrait of Richard I

 

 

 

However, all was not lost. I ordered a book called Listening to the Sirens (see below), and there were a few pages dedicated to a troubadour by the name of Arnaut Daniel… who was, possibly, maybe, if you took some of his lyrics a certain way, gay. The evidence is compelling when you look at it, but, you have to be sensitive to the subtext.

Arnaut Daniel was the premier poet and troubadour of his age (and many that followed), and he invented an insanely complex poetic form called the ‘sestina’. He also liked to use obscure language that had multiple meanings

 

 

Arnaut tramet son chantar d’ongl’e d’oncle          Arnaut sends forth this song of uncle and nail

a Grant Desiei, qui de sa verj’a l’arma,                    to Great Desire, which of his rod holds the soul,

son cledisat qu’apres dins cambra intra.                 a framework-song which, learned, the room enters.

Dezirat was the nickname of both Arnaut Daniel and Bertran de Born. It’s true, that the object of desire (ostensibly a noble lady) was quite often given a masculine code name (senha), but that doesn’t actually make it any clearer. There are quite a few words that he uses which could go either way – ver(g/j)a meant virgin, rod, branch, sceptre, and penis, intra meant to penetrate or to enter, and cambra had the double meaning of chamber and vagina. Uncle meant both a literal Uncle, and an older man who was a protector.  I have included a link to a good English translation below. If you read through it you’ll see what I mean. This was a naughty, naughty song.

Dante Alighieri includes Arnaut Daniel in his Divine Comedy in the section on Purgatory. The troubadour was apparently spending time there with all the other lustful hermaphrodites (ie. Men who enjoyed the passive side of of sodomy due to their feminine natures). Dante seems to have thought that quite a few men of letters ended up there, including a number that he knew personally and admired.

In the 12th century they didn’t really have a classification for people who were anything other than heterosexual. Any desires which deviated from the ‘norm’ were considered sin, although there were various gradations of it. If someone had sex with someone of the same gender in a consensual fashion it was considered to be a form of greed on par with charging too much interest on a loan… as long as it wasn’t done too often. If one went around raping people it was much worse to do it to someone of the same gender, and would probably send the perpetrator to hell.

As with all things in European society, the punishments and fears got greater as time wore on. By the 15th century it wasn’t a good idea to be anything different at all, including a leper, Jew, woman (of any kind, but especially an intelligent one), have a severe learning disability, or have any physical deformity (like moles, which were called ‘the kiss of the Devil’- I would have been burned at the stake for sure, since I look a bit like a negative Milky Way and I just can’t help giving people the dubious benefit of my opinions).

History is fabulously fascinating, and half of the joy of writing historical fiction is discovering a context to place the characters in. Also, knowing more about history can make your fantasy worlds more robust- you can cherry-pick elements to add depth.

I don’t know how long it will take me to write the story of Isodard and Berengar, but hopefully once I get everything set up it will flow like hot butter (and not molasses in January, which is my usual writing pace).

~Jennifer

This is supposedly a portrait of Arnaut Daniel (Bibliothèque Nationale, MS cod. fr. 12473)

Works From Which I Got Some Good Tidbits And You Might Like To Read As Well:

Peraino, Judith A. Listening to the Sirens: musical technologies of Queer identity from Homer to Hedwig. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 2006.

Boyle, David. Blondel’s Song: the capture, imprisonment and ransom of Richard the Lionheart. Viking, Toronto, 2005.

http://www.trobar.org/troubadours/arnaut_daniel/arnaut_daniel_09.php

Accessed on September 14, 2012

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Thorne has just recently published a contemporary novella called A Road Not Taken with Samhain Publishing.

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The Immortal Bisexual in Fantasy Fiction

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The Kinsey scale was developed in 1948 as part of Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking sexology studies. The concept is simple. Human sexuality is not divided into an either/or field with opposing teams, but laid out along a spectrum. 0 is for someone who prefers exclusively heterosexual relationships; 6 is for exclusively homosexual. Someone who’s a 1 or a 5 might never identify as bisexual; someone who’s a 3 is more likely to do so. Another important aspect of the Kinsey scale is that a person’s number can change over the course of a lifetime.

This doesn’t mean that sexuality is “just a choice,” as some reactionaries would have it. It simply leaves room for the incredible plasticity of the human mind. Switching from a 6 to a 0, or the other way around? Not going to happen. But sliding from a 0 to a 1, or a 5 to a 4? That’s a different story.

I buy it. I’d give myself a steady 0-point-something. Aside from a teenage encounter that resulted in fail!sex, plus a long-term crush on Michelle Rodriguez (unrequited and likely to remain so), I’m so close to purely heterosexual that identifying as anything other would be pointless and unethical. Might as well round down.

The Kinsey scale also reflects the reality of many self-identified bisexuals and pansexuals who are not equally attracted to both genders. And, of course, sexual attraction informs, but does not 100% determine, the actual relationships people end up having. Someone might be mostly attracted to their own gender, for example, but end up having relationships with mostly the opposite gender due to homophobic pressure. Or they might be mostly attracted to the opposite gender, but end up in a same-gender relationship because love struck out of the blue, and lasted.

If people keep using “playing for the other team” as the dominant metaphor of sexuality, bisexuals are doomed to be the sneaks, the cheaters, the traitors, which is absolutely not fair, and also just plain stupid. If we have to use a game metaphor, can’t it be something like hopscotch? Or even better, a game where everybody wins?

One fascinating extension of the Kinsey scale concept leads us to the trope of the immortal bisexual. There’s a fair amount of these in fantasy fiction. I think they appeal partly on a logical level. Since the immortal being lives so long, and is too powerful to be subject to restrictions of any human homophobic society, wouldn’t they sort of… slide to number 3 after a while, out of curiosity, if nothing else? Once you throw other fantasy tropes into the narrative mix, like gender-switching and reincarnation, the slide to the middle seems even more likely, because outer gendered bodies become less important than the (possibly ungendered) mind or soul.

I’ll list a few examples, and there are more at the TV Tropes page. Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, is the story of a young man in the Elizabethan age who lives forever, changing genders and lovers with the centuries as he or she passes through history. It was made into a wonderful movie starring Tilda Swinton. Then we have Anne Rice’s vampires, who are pretty much all bisexual. Bo from the television series Lost Girl. Tanith Lee’s Lords of Darkness.

My personal favorite is Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, a Time Agent from the 51st century, when Everyone is Bisexual. In the Whoniverse, the 51st century is like an individual slide-to-the-middle writ large.

Although Jack Harkness was “omnisexual” from his origin story, he does get made immortal through quasi-magical means, and is then trapped in Earth’s past. The conflict between his 51st-century sexuality and our more codified version is crucial to the character and his stories. He has enough power that he defies the rules. “You people and your quaint little categories,” he says, with a sigh and a roll of his eyes.

Apollo and Hyacinthus

Immortal bisexuals also have a long pre-Kinsey history. The Greek and Roman gods were pretty bisexual. Zeus had a huge number of female conquests (not many were consensual, so the word is appropriate)—Europa, Io, Semele, Callisto, Leto are just a few—but then there was Ganymede. According to Wikipedia, Apollo the sun god counted roughly 60 women, 13 men, which gives him a score of 1.07 on the Kinsey scale.

Using our present-day sexual metaphors—either opposing teams or scales—is anachronistic (though fun) since the ancient Greeks and Romans had a much different conception of sexuality. Their myths have reached far, influencing European and Anglophone stories for millennia. Now we reinterpret them, changing the past in light of the future.

It would be irresponsible, however, not to mention that the trope of the immortal bisexual has some stereotypical implications for real-world bisexual people. The immortal bisexual is often powerful and amoral, like the Greek gods, caring little for “petty human” concepts like, well, consent. In real life, bisexuals are stereotyped as sexually voracious, incapable of restraining themselves, depraved, chronically unfaithful. The Immortal Bisexual is clearly fictional and fantastic in origin, but the trope borders on that of the Evil Bisexual…

When I wrote the epic Celtic urban fantasy The Druid Stone with my cowriter Heidi, it was almost a given that we’d have an immortal bisexual. And we do. King Finnbheara is a real (mythical) figure from Irish folklore, known, like the Greek gods, for abducting women. Our take on him is archetypal inhuman IB: capricious, powerful, amoral, very sexual. He’s evil according to human standards, but he’s not human—his psychology is purposefully alien. And he was incredibly fun to write. He’s also not the only antagonist in the story.

We do have human people “on the scale” to balance things out. Our hero Sean, in the beginning of the story, identifies as straight, but he’s moved higher in number by the end. And even in the beginning, he knows he’s not the “average” straight man, because of certain aspects of his past, which readers will know about if they read his prequel story, “Cruce de Caminos” (Otherwise, you’ll get the backstory anyway, about halfway into The Druid Stone, and I’m sorry for being so mysterious!). We conceived of Sean as someone who hovers around a 1. Someone who might identify either as straight or bisexual depending on a lot of different complicated factors.

The Druid Stone is out August 6th from Carina Press

But Cormac, our modern-day druid-slash-paranormal-investigator, is gay and has always identified as gay. He’s had at least one brief relationship with a woman in the far past, isn’t conflicted about it, and doesn’t plan on doing it again. He’s the opposite of confused. Sean isa little confused about his sexuality, but he’s younger, at a very confusing stage of life, and also under a lot of stress… including a magical curse! His confusion isn’t intrinsic to bisexuality; it comes from the outside, from external forces. And he has the mental resources to find clarity, as well. It’s part of his journey, not all of it.

Sexual attraction and love are changeable things. Sometimes frighteningly changeable. The person we thought we’d be in love with for the rest of our lives when we were sixteen, we might barely remember by twenty. Perhaps figures like the immortal bisexual incarnate some of that fear and also help work through it. I think we’re attracted to the idea of limitlessness, of power over sexuality, of the ability to make our own rules. There’s nothing so fantastic that it doesn’t have some connection to our magically complicated, lived reality.

~~~

Do you have a favorite immortal bisexual, either hero(ine) or villain? Or are you just interested in one of the ones I listed? Leave yours in a comment along with your email or a Twitter/FB contact link, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of The Druid Stone. The winner will be announced at the end of our blog tour on August 27th. (ETA: the drawing is for an eBook in your choice of format)