James W. Hicks, M.D.

Posts Tagged ‘history’

Rimbaud

In Flexible People, Media on October 10, 2011 at 9:15 am

The publication of a new biography of — and a new translation by John Ashbery of the poems of — Arthur Rimbaud, the prodidgy of French modern poetry, have been the occasions for several articles about the poet and his life.

Rimbaud was notorious as a youth for his homosexual relationship with the older poet Paul Verlaine, who left his wife to be with him. Rimbaud spoke graphically about engaging in sodomy with Verlaine, and complained that Verlaine sometimes expected him to top, when he would prefer to bottom. But about a decade later, after giving up life as a poet and becoming a trader in Africa, Rimbaud settled down with a local woman.

Disappointingly, the reviewer of these books in the New Yorker needlessly characterized Rimbaud as really heterosexual, suggesting that his earlier homosexual relationship was just a bit of performance art. The reviewer in the New York Review of Books more properly avoided imposing modern assumptions onto the sexuality of either poet, both of whom were clearly capable of having meaningful relationships with either sex.

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The Kamasutra

In Cultures, Media on September 7, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Since I refer to this blog as a “kamasutra,” I should give a shout out to the original, which was written seventeen hundred years ago by the sage Vatsyayana in what is now India. The Kamasutra was written for metropolitan playboys in pursuit of women, and it catalogued a variety of sexual practices without judgment. A fascinating and authoritative translation by Wendy Doniger was published in 2002 and is now available in paperback (the following quotes are from her translation).

Vatsyayana was well aware of the bisexual potential of men and women. The description of oral sex between men is among the longest and most ecstatic descriptions of a sex act in the entire book (which is saying something). Vatsyayana describes eight stages, from the initial placement of the lips on the head of the penis to the swallowing at climax. He reports men “who care for one another’s welfare and have established trust do this service for one another,” though oral sex was more commonly obtained from a masseur. A commentary by the scholar Yashodhara goes further, describing how men “take one another, in friendship, and give one another the sensual pleasure of ejaculation. They say, ‘You do it for me now, and I will do it for you later.’ Or both of them do it at the same time, by turning their bodies head to foot, losing all sense of time because of their passion.” These Indian sages were referring to men who were otherwise straight and interested in sex with women.

The same commentary by Yashodhara also describes oral sex between women: “Certain women in the harem, unable to get any tools, trusting in one another, excite one another with their mouth on the vagina.” Vatsyayana also describes how sexually unfulfilled women in a harem would “give pleasure to one another with the following techniques. They dress up a [girl] like a man and relieve their desire with dildos or with bulbs, roots, or fruits that have that form. They lie on statues of men that have distinct sexual characteristics.” Again, these were not lesbians in the modern sense but women who were otherwise expected to enjoy sex with men.

See also my posts on Sex Among South Asian Men and Bisexuality among Indian Women.

Rome

In Cultures, Media on July 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm

In 2005-2006, the HBO miniseries Rome amazingly recreated the politics and personalities of the Roman republic on the verge of becoming an empire under Julius Ceasar. The acting, sets, music, and story are fabulous.

Among it’s other virtues, Rome portrays several different types of bisexuality in an accurate historical context.

Early in the first season, Octavian is taken to a brothel by the soldier Titus Pullo, where he is offered a range of men and women to choose from. It is taken for granted that men are ambisexual and might want to have sex with both genders.

Octavian’s sister, who has previously loved and been married to a man, is successfully seduced by her mother Atia’s arch-enemy Servilia, an older woman who had previously been in love with Julius Ceasar. (Yes, it’s a bit of a soap opera, but so much more.) Atia’s daughter is flexamorous. Servilia’s feelings are unclear.

Servilia also employs a 14 year old psychopath as an assassin who is supposed to poison Atia. This versatile young man becomes a servant by offering himself as a sexual bottom to the senior slave of Atia’s household, but he also flirts boldly with Servilia. For him it is all about the money.

In one episode, Lucius Vorenus’ fellow mobsters anally rape another man, reflecting the sexual violence that can be condoned within a macho sexual culture. Marc Anthony also rapes a passing woman and expects continuous sex from his slaves. He’s never shown having sex with a man (unless you count the orgies in Cleopatra’s court, where he shows off his new tattoos), but he is presumably supersexual.

Vorenus’ tavern manager in the second season, who becomes Titus Pullo’s girlfriend, is portrayed as atypically (for the time) manly and sexually aggressive, suggesting she might have metamorphic traits.

Julius Ceasar is involved only with women in the series, but the real Julius Ceasar was known in his time to have had a homosexual relationship when he was a young man. In fact, he was assumed to have been the bottom, which could have destroyed his reputation if he were not so strongly respected by his men as a soldier. He might have been flexamorous or ambisexual.

Three New Books about Female Sexuality

In Research on July 7, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Lisa Diamond is a psychology researcher who has published a number of ground-breaking articles over the last decade based on her interviews with women who have experienced some same-sex attraction. What she found is that women are less concerned about the gender of the person they happen to fall in love with and also less concerned about having a consistent sexual orientation (akin to what I call the flexamorous sexual type).

Last year, Professor Diamond published a book, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, which describes her research findings and the broader scientific context. She illustrates the book with quotations and life stories from many of the individual women she studied.

Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women, by Liela Rupp, is a beautifully written and comprehensive survey of homosexual desires, encounters, and identities among women throughout time and in different cultures. Sapphistries can also be read as a history of female bisexuality, because most of these women had relationships with men as well. (The same can be said of most “gay” male histories, which typically describe men more properly understood as bisexual.)

Emma Donoghue has just published Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature, a survey which includes many bisexual types.