Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Call for Help: A History of Sexuality for Romance Writers

So a conversation about m/m historicals on twitter yesterday evening got me thinking. Right now I'm in graduate school working towards a Ph.D. in history, and one of my areas of specialty is sexuality.  The more I write, study, read and talk to people about it the clearer it becomes that sexuality, although always a focus of mine, is going to end up one of the major focuses of my academic work.

Which brings me around to historicals. Personally I find the idea of writing a historical, specially one with same-sex attraction in it, daunting. Lots of writers do it though and I was wondering what m/m (but also other GLBTQA authors) would like to know about sexuality from a historical stand point?
What is useful information?
What questions do authors have about the history of sexuality?

My own academic specially is American history but I am engaged in the larger field of theorizing queer historiography. I've also done a small amount of research into the history of same-sex relationship in China.

What I want to know, and what would be interesting for me professionally, is what kind of historical narrative do writers already know?

So this is my request for all the m/m romance writers out there who write historicals or are interested in writing them: contact me with a short description of what you have read or heard about the history of sexuality. Also if you could include the top five questions you have about the history of sexuality that you think would be most useful for m/m (or other GLBTQA) romance writers to know that would be great.

Don't be afraid, I won't judge you and I don't bite. You can leave it in the comments or email me at: acosmistmachine[at]gmail[dot]com

A Note of clarification: Thinking more about this I guess the two questions I was trying to get at (all be it in a rather sloppy way) in my first request was: 1. Do you view sexuality in the past as essentially the same or different as sexuality in the present? 2. If you do view it as different how do you then express that difference to a modern day body of readers who may have very little historical background?  

Thank you all for the wonderful responses I've gotten thus far! :~)


  1. For me, the most important thing is how attitudes differed between countries/empires in a certain period. In my quest to figure out what was what and where in the mid-12th century, my first port of call was the inestimable Paul Halsall and his tremendous Internet History Project. The section on GLBT history is *huge* (http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/pwh/index.asp) and there's also full bibliographies which are enormously helpful.

    My second port of call is http://www.academia.edu/ which is like a Facebook for academics and has a huge wealth of information and academic papers on just about anything you can think of.

    I also find Etymology Online very useful, eg., the page on the word 'gay' http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=gay&searchmode=none and the one on 'homosexual' http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=homosexual&searchmode=none

    While writing "City of Jade," what I found interesting was the clear difference in attitudes between Byzantium and the Southern Song Dynasty - in Byzantium, gay relationships were a big no-no, despite Byzantium's lean towards a Greek identity rather than Roman. In the Southern Song, it wasn't a big deal, and the term 'fentao/fen-tao' was used quite frequently to describe same sex relationships. It's fascinating to me to see how the openness deteriorated as Western attitudes insinuated on China, particularly towards the end of the Qing Dynasty and during the Manchu rule.

    1. Forgot to say too, that there's a wealth of beautiful GBLT love poetry from China and from Persia as well.

      And totally unrelated to this, I just friended you on Ravelry. I love Ravelry. XD

    2. sexuality and same sex desire in Medieval China is fascinating to me as well. One of my favorite topics. Thanks so much! and yeah for the Ravelry friend!

  2. This probably isn't of any help at all, but I thought I'd just share my two penneth worth. (BTW, it's Nikki from LJ, but the site can't apparently verify my LJ details *wry grin*)

    1. Given how attitudes differed so much in the past concerning same sex relationships and how homosexuality (well certainly an aspect of it) was actually illegal and how far little was openly spoken about I view sexuality in the past as essentially different from how it is today.

    2. I've been writing late m/m Victorian fiction (for two pairings) recently and I have to say I don't cater to the reader, insofar as I don't spell things out for them. I treat them as adult & intelligent. Occasionally for one pairing I will mention in passing the illegal nature of it, but that's mainly because said pairing are involved in another illegal activity as well so it can often go hand in hand.

    Other than that, I don't explain or detail anything - I don't expect writers to do that for me, so I don't do it for other people. I assume (maybe naively) that if someone doesn't understand something they'll look it up - just as I do.

    1. I think just putting things out there and letting the reader figure it out is a very brave approach but probably the one I as a reader would most prefer. I've done that a couple times in stories with quasi-historical settings. I've gotten comments though including from professional reviewers who criticized the pieces as being confusing in that the male affection I portrayed didn't conform to what they were expecting. So I don't know.

      Good points though :~)