On the Shelf May 2019

On the Shelf May 2019 is your monthly update on what the Lesbian Historic Motif Project has been doing. This is episode 34a with Heather Rose Jones

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[Music] this is Heather Rose Jones with the lesbian historic motif podcast this weekly podcast looks at lesbian themes in history and literature and historic research into gender and sexuality we talk about current historical fiction with queer female characters including fantastic versions of the past and have interviews with authors who write those stories and in months when we have a fifth show we’re proud to present new original lesbian historical fiction for your enjoyment welcome to on the shelf for may 2019. May is always a very busy month for me busy enough that even though my birthday falls in May I generally wait to have a party in June so I always joke that the annual medieval conference in Kalamazoo was just one big birthday party for me since that’s usually where I am when it happens this year I’m presenting a paper at Kalamazoo that comes directly out of my research for the lesbian historic motif project although it isn’t specifically about sexuality the paper is titled passing and failing the role of clothing and gender disguised narratives I’m looking not so much the social context of records and stories about women disguised as men but specifically at whether and how clothing is mentioned in those texts is it as simple as saying that a person puts on men’s clothing or our specific garments mentioned if the gender disguise fails does clothing play a part in that and are there distinctions and how clothing is discussed between disguised narratives and incidents of gender transgression if by some chance any of my listeners will be at Kalamazoo this year be sure to say hi even if you weren’t able to get to my paper this past month I finally did something I’ve been dithering about for a couple years the lesbian historic motif project now he has a patreon so people can sign up to support the show it’s a bit of an impulse thing evidently patreon is changing its contract structure this month to something a bit less beneficial to users but people with an account set up prior to that are locked into the current structure since I’d been toying with the idea of a patreon for a while this information made me think it might make sense to set up an account even if I didn’t seriously intend to push it you see I feel a bit weird about soliciting financial support through venues like patreon because I don’t need the money even with the added expenses of the audio fiction series what with royalties and narration fees and with the expense of commissioning podcast transcripts I’m quite capable of funding the thing out of pocket but on the other hand having a patreon gives people an opportunity to make a concrete statement that they find what I’m doing valuable and worth supporting and since I’ve currently set up only a single support tier at one dollar per month with no benefits other than goodwill and thanks it’s not like I’m going around begging people for more than a token statement in theory between the fiction series and commissioning transcripts of the interview shows I’m out of pocket about a hundred and fifty dollars a month this doesn’t count general overhead for the blog and I certainly wouldn’t ask people to underwrite my rather extravagant book buying habits and the podcast hosting is currently covered by the lesbian talk show which has its own patreon and if you’re interested in supporting the podcast I’d urge you to begin with a lesbian talk show patreon which supports the whole group of shows I’m not asking people to support the LH MP patreon because I’m in financial need or because the blog and podcast won’t continue without that support trust me they’ll keep going as long as it makes me happy to do them but if you support things I’m tajci and already and if you find the LH MP and especially the podcast of value to you and you wanted a concrete and low effort way to give me that feedback then pledging $1 a month on patreon is one way to send me that message the message that you find what I do valuable is far more important to me than the money if you have any ideas for patreon benefits for higher support tiers that wouldn’t involve significantly more time for me feel free to suggest them the patreon account is LHMP and you can find a link in the show notes believe it or not it’s almost time for me to start talking about next year’s fiction series several people have suggested that one reason for the low number of submissions this year may have been that I didn’t talk it up enough in advance there’s a fine balance between enough publicity and publicity fatigue so maybe this year I’ll try erring on the side of too much keep your ears open and start thinking about what sorts of historical lesbian short stories you might be interested in trying the blog is winding up our long series of articles taken from the Journal of the history of sexualities with several articles looking back on Carolyn Dean Shahs getting medieval sexualities and communities pre and post a look at the medieval church state interface around accusations of sodomy among religious personnel and odd topics like love magic and early egypt and formal cross gender roles in the balkans I haven’t mind anything up for the last couple weeks in May so it’ll be a surprise maybe even a surprise to me but I’ve been picking up several new publications that will make their way onto the blog at some point the first is precious and adored the love letters of rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple 1890 to 1918 edited by Lizzy Aaron halt until Alaska which I’ll be reviewing for the lesbian review here’s the cover copy you’re mine and I am yours and we are one that our lives are one henceforth please God who alone could separate us I am bold to say this to pray and to live by it rose Cleveland to Evangeline Simpson may 6th 1890 in 1890 rose Cleveland sister of President Grover Cleveland began writing to Evangeline Simpson a wealthy widow who would become the second wife of Henry Whipple Minnesota’s Episcopal bishop the women correspondent across states and continents discussing their advocacy and humanitarian work and demonstrating their sexual attraction romance and partnership in 1910 after Evangeline Whipple was again widowed the two women sailed to Italy and began a life together the letters mostly written in Cleveland’s dramatic quirky style guide readers through new love heartbreak and the rekindling of a committed relationship additional correspondence by the woman’s friends and relatives supplies valuable perspectives in introduction to annotations by editors Lizzie Aaron halt until alaskey provide the context for same-sex relationships at the time discuss the women’s social and political circles and explain references to friends family and historical events after rose Cleveland’s death Evangeline Whipple described her as my precious and adored lifelong friend this collection rare in its portrayal of LGBTQ 19th century history brings their poignant story back to life the other two new acquisitions are both electronic texts freely available online there is finally an addition and translation available of the medieval romance of EDA and olive this is only one of the three versions of the story that appear with slight differences in the plot but it’s the primary text part of the extended medieval genealogical romance of hewn of Bordeaux the translation is by Moana wire a Buchi published by the medieval feminist forum in 2018 the entire work is available for free online and I’ll have a link in the show notes the other text is a little less accessible while working on the script for last month’s essay I discovered that the primary source for the trial records of an gran gene is available through Google Books it is of course in 18th century French it’s short enough and very long out of copyright of course that I hope to be able to post the original text in my translation as a blog entry at some point again I put a link to the downloadable file in the show notes I totally screwed up last month when I announce that the April interview would be with Molly tan sir I’d intended to organize the interviews around the special episode 100 show so in April I needed someone who’d done the regular interview and not the book appreciation show so the April guest was actually Zen Chow talking about her wonderful new historic fantasy the true Queen said in early 19th century Malaysia and England and Molly tan sir will be this month’s guest really truly but of course you come to listen to all my wonderful author guests no matter who they are right so what’s this month ethic going to be I confess I have no idea at this point I’ve been scrambling to meet deadlines so much that I haven’t had a chance to think about it and if the month goes on as it currently does I may end up pulling another one of the early podcasts to reprise time for recent new and forthcoming books not quite as long a list as last month’s marathon they all take place in what might be called the long 19th century and all set in either England or the USA half of the books feature women of color as protagonists which adds some longed-for diversity to the lesbian historical fiction field we start off with penny nickel buries two wings to fly away from water books I’m really looking forward to reading this book in 1856 Philadelphia runaway slave Jeannie Oliver uses her dress shop as a front for her work with the Underground Railroad and reluctant heiress Abby Reed runs a rooming house not just because she hates the life of the idle rich society woman but because she has no intention of ever marrying a man when the daughter of Abby’s free black servant is grabbed by rogue slave catchers an unlikely group of people come together first out of necessity and then gradually in friendship and in the case of Abby and Jeannie something much more the confessions of friending Langton by Sarah Collins from Harper Collins gives us a murder mystery with a touch of horror all of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton accused of the brutal double murder of her employers renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric french wife Marguerite crowds packed the courtroom eagerly following every twist while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being tried at the Old Bailey the testimonies against Franny are damning she’s a seductress witch a master manipulator a whore but Franny claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening even if remembering could save her life she doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victim’s blood but she does have a tale to tell a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation her apprenticeship under a debauchee scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics and the events that brought her into the benhams London home and into a passionate and forbidden relationship though her testimony may seal her conviction the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself the confessions of Franny lankton is a breathtaking debut a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic and through the darkest channels of history a brilliant searing depiction of race class and depression that penetrates the skin and Sears the soul it is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade popular author of gay male historical zkk AJ Charles gives us a spinoff from one of existing series featuring a female couple in proper English which is self-published a shooting party at the Earl of Witten’s remote country house is a high treat for champion shot Patricia Martin until unexpected guests turn the social atmosphere dangerously sour that’s not Pat’s biggest problem she’s visiting her old friend the Earl’s heir Jimmy Axl but she wants to spend a lot more time with Jimmy’s fiance the irrepressible miss Fenella Carruth with her laughing eyes and lush curves is the most glorious woman Pat’s ever met and it quickly becomes impossible to remember why she needs to stay at arm’s length but while the woman’s attraction grows the tensions a trotting tanea secrets betrayals and blackmail come to light and when a body is discovered with a knife between the shoulder blades it’s going to take Pat and fens combined talents to prevent the murderer destroying all their lives the rail root of threads self-published by rivets my yogi comes back to the topic of slavery in America and women coming together to take action Belva is a runaway criminal running from justice in colonial America her face is light enough not to be seen as a slave at first glance he uses this advantage to help slaves escape on the railroad to freedom Josephine is a bored wealthy widow who’s playing a hostess to equally bored young ladies when two of them meet their lives will change revealing hidden adversaries their lives were plagued by misery the question is is their freedom or love for them down the road this next book is from a publisher named illustrated romance which looks like it’s an erotica publisher that includes photography alongside the text the book is the lady and her secret lover the Lords of time story by Jena Leblanc much to her father’s dismay Lady Louisa Kathryn Alice present is quite solidly on the shelf she shows no interest in trying to find a husband after three long seasons of well not particularly trying she begins this season the new somewhat jaded and uninterested in yet another season and the annoyance she’ll certainly face from her family when she remains with them yet again but a single glance from one of the new set has her reeling straight back into a potted palm Maitland Ellis Elliott Rigsby has trained to be the wife of a Duke or perhaps if I count and hurl at the very least she has only her training at a rather healthy dowry to recommend her so when she catches the eye of a VY counts daughter her own mother is thrilled at the prospect louisa hasn’t ever trusted anyone the way she trusts Maitland and it frightens her but how will they survive a world in which the both of them must marry and on this one there’s a Content warning for sexual assault and advance reviews of the books who just unexpected sexual elements this is part of a series that appears to be primarily male female the last of the May books is the nonfiction work precious and adored which is mentioned under the blog acquisitions above so what have I been reading recently in the world of lesbian relevant historical fiction given that’s been a shorter time than usual between scripting up last month’s on the Shelf and writing this one and my fiction reading time has been curtailed this month because the reasons I’m just finishing up Zen chose the true Queen it’s a delightful historical fantasy with a largely female cast the lesbian talk show relies on support the support of you our listeners the support of those who like and review our show on their favorite podcast app the support of our patrons on patreon and the support of our sponsors we hope you’ll continue to enjoy and support the lesbian talk show for this month’s ask Zappos segment I’m going to answer an anonymous question that fits in with last week’s essay on gender and sexuality categories it’s a topic that might be worth an entire essay on its own but I’m not sure that I’m the right person to tackle it the question is the lesbian historic motif project blog and podcast spends a lot of time talking about the historic figures who could be interpreted either as cross-dressing women in lesbian relationships or as trans men and straight relationships but I’ve never heard you talk about historic examples of trans women in lesbian relationships why is that the simple answer is that in the priests 20th century period that I’m focused on examples of trans lesbians are extremely difficult to find and the historic motifs that most closely resembled that identity pretty much all turn out to be examples of a straight sis man disguises himself as a woman to gain access to a women only space in order to pursue a romantic or sexual relationship with an otherwise inaccessible woman you can understand why I’m not exactly excited about dwelling on this pernicious trope I touched on it a little in my podcast about the Greek myth of Callisto and Diana but you asked surely there were trans women throughout history or at least people who would have identified as trans women if the concept were available to them and surely at least some of them had same gendered desires so how is it possible that we have no records of them my answer as usual is going to be drawn primarily from Western history and culture largely because I don’t have the knowledge and resources to discuss other contexts in an appropriate fashion in cultures that had socially recognized third gender roles for people assigned male at birth it’s quite likely that examples could be found so preface all of the following generalizations with in the context of Western culture especially Europe to answer this question seriously and sensitively it’s important to consider two major issues the first is that the different practicalities in a pre-modern world for trans men versus trans women to live on question lives I invite correction and elaboration on this point from those more knowledgeable than me but in a context where hormonal treatments haven’t yet been invented it is more difficult for a trans woman to be accepted on long term unquestioned basis than for a trans man to do so there was of course a rather drastic surgical option available for suppressing testosterone I’ve seen some discussion that in certain historic context persons who were assigned male at birth may have voluntarily chosen castration as a means of gender reassignment though it appears that this would most often be a reassignment to a culturally accepted third sex quote unquote as with classical Roman devotees of Sibley or with India’s features that third sex category might be considered female coded in certain ways but usually in a cultural context where the gender binary was constructed as male and not male and any when in a non male category it was classified as feminine to some degree this brings us to the second important consideration the deep-rooted misogyny in Western society and here I’m not going to restrict it to historical Western society means that cultural attitudes towards trans men versus trans women had very little in common before the 20th century when a society is structured around the idea that men are better than women in deeply essential qualitative and quantitative ways there’s a big difference in how that society views people who move from the quote lower to quote higher versus people who move from higher to lower on that social scale when pre-modern medical and philosophical writers discussed the possibility of spontaneous change of physical sex they asserted that it could only happen that a female body could change to a male one because to quote Pliny nature always goes from the imperfect to the more perfect but not basely from the more perfect to the imperfect a person assigned female at birth who was discovered to be presenting or living as male tended to provoke to reactions admiration for aspiring to be a more perfect that mail being and disapproval for claiming higher status and privileges than they were entitled to there were ways in which it was viewed as transgressing class barriers just as much as transgressing gender barriers in contrast for someone who was assigned male at Birth to choose to present or live as female was almost incomprehensible within official philosophical frameworks why would someone choose to become a lesser being that is a woman and on a less philosophical level why would someone who had access to the legal and economic advantages of being male in a horrifically patriarchal and misogynistic society choose to abandon those advantages of course there are ways in which this question still holds true today to which the answer is but it’s a testimony to the position that it isn’t a choice but I’m talking about the reactions of the society not the motivations of the individual a third factor which I discussed extensively in last week’s show is that classical medieval and to a lesser extent early modern European society had such a hard time conceiving of same-sex desire as a possible thing that the expression of same-sex desire was considered all by itself to be a basis for challenging someone’s gender assignment so now imagine yourself in the position of a pre-modern person in Western society who was assigned male at birth has an internal gender identity that aligns more with femininity but also experiences romantic or sexual desire for women there are significant practical barriers to changing your public gender expression and maintaining a female life on a long-term basis those barriers are not only psychological but economic and legal due to men’s greater privilege successfully changing your gender category will have massive implications for your position in society your physical and legal safety and the ability to maintain an economic standing in order to achieve your other social goals if you make the transition you will have moved from a gender category where your desire for a female partner can be easily realized and creates a recognised and stable social and economic unit to a category where you relate ship with a female partner will have no official status and where you two will have significant economic and legal disadvantages as a couple such a life is certainly possible it involves building blocks that can individually be documented and justified and if someone wanted to write a work of historical fiction involving a person with that life story and did it well I would find it plausible but it may be no wonder that it’s hard to find actual historic examples to be clear there are plenty of historic examples of people in Western history who can be very approximately categorized as trans women but overwhelmingly they are expressing that gender in the context of sexual relationships with men there are also a significant number of examples both literary and historical of people assigned male at Birth who pursue romantic or sexual relationships with women while presenting as female and almost universally they are depicted as engaging in deception to gain sexual access to a woman in a gender segregated society that is their the historic equivalent of the accusation that straight sis men who will pretend to be trans women for sexual access literary examples include the myth of kalisto the figure of Zell mana the Amazon in Philip Sidney’s Arcadia and the 18th century novel the reformed Coquette by Mary Davies but there are a very few possible exceptions one interesting literary example is the 18th century novel anecdotes of a convent by Helen Williams in which a girl at an all-girls convent school forms a deeply romantic and erotic though not sexual bond with a fellow student the relationship is depicted within the framework of intense romantic friendships between women except it turns out that the other student is a boy who has been raised as a girl voila now his true quote-unquote gender is revealed it turns out their love is just the same as before but now they can get married I don’t know how the novel depicts the characters internal gender identity but as far as I can tell from summaries the situation is depicted in reasonably positive terms the closest I’ve come to a historic example the case of John or Ellen or Rickon er from 14th century England Rikin or was a sex worker who presented his female for male clients but also had sexual encounters with women while presenting as male it isn’t clear whether reckoners relationships with women were professional or personal interestingly the law appears to have treated Rickon ER as at least a part-time trans woman in terms of considering their legal offense to be prostitution rather than sodomy but as reckoners relationships with women involved a male presentation they don’t precisely fit the category of trans lesbian if anyone knows of any historic or literary cases that better fit the category of trans lesbian I’d love to get leads on looking into them more closely [Music] I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the lesbian historic motif podcast if you want to follow up on anything we’ve covered see the show notes for links and to contact me with questions book announcements or topic suggestions if you enjoyed this podcast please read it and subscribe on itunes stitcher or pod bean and consider supporting our patreon and if you’re on facebook check out the lesbian talk show chat group [Music] you [Music] English (auto-generated)  

Sheena

Sheena is the founder of TheLesbianReview.com She has always loved interviewing people and chatting about interesting topics. Now she has started some podcasts which she hopes you enjoy.