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Erik Wade @erik_kaars
, 15 tweets, 3 min read Read on Twitter
I've been thinking lately about how being a queer scholar of medieval sexuality almost inevitably working with homophobic sources. Not the medieval ones (homophobia doesn't seem the right word for their hostility to same-sex acts): the scholarly ones.
I work with the penitential tradition, one of our richest sources of data on attitudes towards sexual activities. But the 20th-century editors and translators of all of the major editions have almost universally deliberately mistranslated or erased the sections on same-sex acts
This is not simply prudishness around sex. They seem comfortable correctly translating sexual acts between men and women. It's same-sex activity that results in them leaving these Latin sections either untranslated (see Ludwig Bieler's The Irish Penitentials)
or mistranslated (see McNeill and Gamer's Medieval Handbooks of Penance, which remains the biggest English-translation collection of the penitentials to date). I've joked, and heard other people joke, that these editors think you deserve to read dirty stuff if you read Latin
But it's actually NOT that the "dirty stuff" isn't translated. It's the same-sex activities, particularly anal and oral sex. Sex between women and sex between men both seem to be a bridge too far for editors who are comfortable translating canons on murder, incest, and bestiality
This happens in other sources as well. The Everyman anthology of Anglo-Saxon Poetry erases a homoerotic scene of men sleeping together (literally just sleeping) from its translation of Maxims I without explanation.
Translations and scholarship on the Exeter Book Riddles automatically assumes that most of the sexual acts are between a man and a woman. I've read scholarly articles about penetration imagery that explain that it "must" be a man and a woman, because penetration = woman.
Some of this is simply unconscious bias. But a lot of it is hard to read as anything other than deliberate erasure of queer sexualities by modern editors publishing, in some cases, in the 1970s and 1980s.
It makes queer scholarship, or any responsible sexuality scholarship, more difficult to do. You have to undo a huge amount of erasures, which means you need to be able to even notice that they've occurred. It took me years to realize that I'd missed the section in Maxims I.
Is it any wonder that the most popular scholarship on same-sex activities in the early period in particular has been Allen Frantzen? Before the Closet, for instance, repeatedly castigates queer scholars who want to make same-sex attraction about sexual acts.
He tears into almost every other major queer scholar, disparages queer theory as "political," and devotes a page and a half to same-sex activity between women. His work is same-sex activity with the queerness and sex stripped out. It affirms conservative, racist agendas.
And his work constitutes a majority of the major cited work on same-sex activity in pre-1066 England. There has thankfully been excellent queer work done since then (and before then), but it hasn't held the same attention.
Scholars doing exciting queer work, like @EileenAJoy , have been pushed out or made uncomfortable in the early Anglo-Saxon field. Is it any wonder, in a field that has been so openly hostile to queer scholarship that wasn't wrapped in conservatism until very recently?
Anyway, I need to go teach and to work on my article about the penitentials, so end of rant, but it's a tiring prospect sometimes to think how much the basic tools of the field are explicitly anti-queer in all kinds of ways we have only begun to acknowledge.
Moral: go do queer, trans, anti-racist, feminist, intersectional things! And talk more about how the "scholarly," "factual," "philologically," and "historically-accurate" editions and texts of our field are in fact deeply, deliberately revisionist in favor of a cishet Middle Ages
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