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Monday, 29 March 2010

Natural Law, Natural Families: Acquiring Manly Virtue

Gay men in the modern Western world are accustomed to accusations a homoerotic orientation is seen as effeminate, sissyish. This is a complete myth, as is easily shown by the many counterexamples from the butch, bear and leather-oriented sub-groups that co-exist with the more camp and drag groups. The words "gay male" cover an astonishing degree of diversity. Still, stereotypes persist. Sometimes, though, they are not what we would expect.
In classical Greece and in Tokugawa Japan, same sex lovers were especially associated with courage and with military prowess. Elsewhere, the important virtues of "courage, proficiency in hunting, and the ability to dominate women" were so closely identified with masculinity that they were routinely passed on to young boys in the most direct way possible - by direct transfer from older males to younger in pure male essence - in semen, by anal or oral sexual intercourse.

This is from David F Greenberg , "The Construction of Homosexuality":
“The homosexual practices are justified by the belief that a boy will not mature physically unless semen is implanted in his body by an adult. Valued male qualities, such as courage, proficiency in hunting, and the ability to dominate women, are transmitted in the same way. Repeated intercourse builds up a supply of the vital substance in the boy’s body.”
But, says Greenberg, intercourse with women is believed to be debilitating. While this pattern of childhood homosexuality is found in a minority of Guinean societies, where it was recorded, it was obligatory for all. From a remarkably early age (sometimes as young as seven, sometimes ten or twelve), boys learnt to accept the all-important semen from an older age group. As they matured, these boys in turn would pass on their own semen to those younger than they. Not until they were fully mature were they permitted intercourse with women – by which time, presumably they were strong enough to withstand the debilitating effects of the experience.

The semen was transmitted in different ways: sometimes by anal intercourse, sometimes orally – or even by insertion into special incisions in the skin. In these cases, the semen was obtained from the older men, following special ritual intercourse with women.

The practice of passing on of manly virtue or other skills by donating semen was not restricted to New Guinea, although it was most widely studied and recorded there. In some Australian aboriginal groups, such as the Bora of the Kimberley region, drinking semen formed a part of intitiation rites. In Brazil, apprentice healers learned their skills from older, experienced healers - and did so by "sexual communication". In parts of northern Morocco, an important skill for young boys was the ability to learn the Koran, but they believed this was impossible until they had first been penetrated. The ability to learn the Koran was passed on to the new generation in the semen of their elders. 

So - who's the sissy, then?
See also:

Naphy, William: Born to be Gay

Greenberg, David F: The Construction of Homosexuality

Herdt, Gilbert H: Same Sex, Different Cultures

Murray, Stephen O: Homosexualities

Friday, 12 March 2010

Epimondas: Gay Military Hero, Democrat, Cultured Statesman

Epaminondas lived before the Christian era, outside the Jewish tradition, and has no claim whatsoever to be treated as a “saints in any literal sense. However, taking the term much more loosely, including those we might consider as role models, he clearly fits the bill. If that doesn’t suit you, think of him as included in the “others” of my title.
Together with his lover Pelopidas, Epaminondas was one of the celebrated “Sacred Band of Thebes”, a military company of 150 pairs of lovers. That’s right, an army band where it was compulsory to be gay – and partnered. We usually think of the Spartans as the most military of the Greek cities, and with good reason. While Athens (and some other cities following them) valued democracy, philosophy and intellectual life generally, young Spartans were educated for one thing only – war. After Sparta had convincingly beaten Athens and her allies in the Peloponnesian War, the victors extinguished democracy in the vanquished cities, and placed their allies in command as local despots.
In the case of Thebes, they met strong resistance from the defenders of democracy, in the form of the band of male lovers. Founded initially by Georgidas, on the principle that men never fight more bravely than when fighting to protect and support their loved ones alongside them, the founding proposition was soon confirmed. In their first engagement with the Spartan enemy, victors in the recent Peloponnesian war, the new company of Theban lovers overcame a Spartan army of two to three times their number, and were able to reinstate democracy in their city.
Epaminondaswas initially somewhat hidden in the shadow of his friend Pelopidas, who succeeded Georgidas as leader just a year after the band was founded. Together, they won many famous victories. Later, overshadowing his friend, he found the more enduring fame, and for many notable qualities beyond his illustrious military career.
After assisting in the re-establishment of democracy in Thebes, he developed a career as an orator and statesman as well as a soldier. Although he was instrumental in defeating Sparta in establishing Thebes as the dominant geek power, he refused to use this power to to subject other cities to Theban domination and pillage, so that he was known as a military liberator, not a conqueror. Many scholars have described him as Greece’s greatest warrior-statesman. Diodorus Siculus wrote that he excelled all the others in valour and military shrewdness – but also in “eloquence of speech, elevation of mind, contempt of lucre, and fairness…”.
The Romans also admired him, although less enthusiastic about his cultural achievements. Cornelius Nepos included him in his Book o Great Commanders, but found it necessary to excuse his reputation as a musician and dancer on the grounds that the Greeks had a fondness for these pursuits. He “praises without reservation Epaminondas’ intellectual and athletic prowess, and finds he meets roman standards of temperance, prudence and seriousness….. and was such a lover of truth that he never lied, even in jest.” .
He died in 362, in a battle which once again defeated the Spartans, but also ended Epaminondas’ own life.
This could be my kind of guy – accomplished, virtuous, a democrat and liberator – and good-looking. Except that he lived about two millennia too soon, he could easily be seen as a great Renaissance man. My only objection? Surely he’s just too good to be true. Yet this is the picture that comes down to us from the ancients.
And to think that men of this calibre are not permitted to serve openly in the US army.
(Source: The material above condenses a passage from “Homosexuality & Civilization” by Louis Crompton, which makes an excellent and stimulating introduction to the history of homosexuality.)

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Gay Bishops: Ralph of Tours (promiscuous, gay) and John of Orleans

In  1098!

With all the current fuss about the decision of the US Episcopal Church to consecrate openly gay bishops, and the Catholic Church's declared hostility to gay priests and to gay marriage or even civil unions, we forget that in the older history of the church, it is not gay priests and bishops that are new, or gay marriage, but the opposition to them.  Many medieval and classical scholars have produced abundant evidence of clearly homosexual clergy, bishops, and even saints, and of church recognition of same sex unions.
gay bishops

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Gays in the Military: Japan

Now that DADT is finally under serious review, it is once again appropriate to consider how other military regimens deal or have dealt with with their queer members – or aspirant members.
As I have noted before, across the EU this is simply not a question at issue.  Gay men and lesbians serve routinely, just as any other servicemen and women. Here in the UK, every July some members routinely join the annual “London Pride” through the streets of London, either in uniform, in military squads, or as individuals in other groups of specific (non- military) interest. In South Africa, the constitution’s non-discrimination clause guarantees that sexual minorities should be able to serve on the same basis as anyone else. Last month, I was intrigued by this report from Peter Toscano, telling of a South African soldier who faced a gender identity issue by transitioning – and the military authorities provided a female officer as mentor and support to help her through the process.
In European history, gay soldiers were prominent in the Greek armies: notably in the Sacred Band of Thebes and its pairs of lovers (where only gay lovers were admitted), but also in other Greek fighting forces, where they were often crucial in creating or defending democracy.
Today, I want to discuss another renowned military culture with a strong homoerotic tradition – the Japanese shoguns and samurai.

Samurai and Shoguns

For centuries, love and sex between men have been recorded and celebrated at the highest levels of Japanese society, including several emperors, and have especially associated with the military establishment and with the monasteries.
Back in the 12th century, the Japanese Emperor Go- Shirakawa (1156 – 1158), who was a devout Buddhist, fell in love with Fujiwara Nobuori. Then, in 1192,a later emperor Go-Shu named Minamoto Yoritomo as his military commander – i.e. “shogun”, who came to act in the name of the emperor. Yoritomo took as a lover a young officer, Yoshino.
Many succeeding shoguns followed this example, taking as lovers apprentice warriors known as “wakashu”, giving rise to the name for this type of relationship: “wakashudo”. The name given to the younger warrior lovers in these relationships were known as “gomotsu”:
“most of those who storm the battlefield, warding off the enemy and accompanying their lords to the end, are the lords’ male sex-partners.” (p 421)
“As in ancient Greece, Japanese culture idealised shudo as a source of morality and military courage.”
“In our empire of Japan, this way flourished from the time of the great Master Kobo particularly. And in the abbeys of Kyoto and Kamakura, and in the world of the nobles and the warriors, lovers would swear perfect and eternal love …..whether their partners were noble or common, rich or poor, was absolutely of no importance.
During the Ashikaga shogunate, (1338 – 2573), 6 shoguns out of 15 are known to have had wakashu lovers. Add in the succeeding Tokugawa shoguns (1573 - 1837), “at least half” of all shoguns had male love affairs.
eg. Yoshimochi, the fourth Ashikaga shogun (1395 -1428) loved a young samurai Akamatsu Mochisada, to whom he granted three provinces, simply for homosexual favour.
Yoshinori (1429 –1441 ) was a Buddhist monk from age 10 until he became shogun at 35. He invited temple entertainers to share his bed, and planned to bestow three provinces on a young man who tad taken his fancy – but this led to his death.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Chinese Emperor and the Cut Sleeve.

For most of Chinese history, male love and sexual relations between men have been celebrated in history and in literature, especially where they involved rulers, poets or scholars. In a highly literate society, careful historical records were kept. With an openness about recording sexual escapades unheard of in the West, these were faithfully recorded and preserved. From the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), three celebrated stories of male loves demonstrate an unselfconscious acceptance of male love that has characterised China throughout most of its subsequent history.

The story of the Cut Sleeve relates to the young Emperor Ai, who ruled from 6 BCE to 1 CE.

According to the Han historian Ban Gu, the emperor once sought to rise when his lover Dong Xian had fallen asleep on the sleeve of his robe. Rather than disturb him, he cut off his sleeve and appeared in public in this mutilated state. Thereafter, reputedly, his courtiers adopted similar abbreviations of clothing to celebrate the love affair.
Two related stories were those of the Shared Peach, and of Long yang and the Fish.

These three stories are repeatedly invoked in Chinese literary and historical works. For two thousand years homosexual love was regularly referred to as "the love of shared peach", or the "cut sleeve", and a favoured lover as a "Long Yang." An important anthology of stories and anecdotes was published in late imperial days was titled simply "Duan xiu pian (Records of the cut sleeve)