Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hild's sexuality, redux

Over at Goodreads I've been answering questions, most recently on whether, in Hild's time, sex between women was or was not frowned upon.
Simon asked Nicola Griffith:

I absolutely loved your book _Hild_. Thanks so much for writing it! You depict a fairly open attitude to homosexual relations. In your research for the book, did you come across any evidence on attitudes to homosexuality, or was this part of what you "made up"?

Nicola Griffith said:
Thank you!

Hild isn't lesbian/homosexual. She's bisexual. I doubt they had such terms back then, though. I've seen no evidence that who you did or did not have sex with defined how women thought of themselves.

Actually, there's no evidence for anything, sexually, in early seventh-century northern Britain. Nothing. No material culture and no text.

I'm guessing that Roman Christians, being Pauline to the core, would have disapproved. Indeed, Breguswith says as much in the book: be careful around the priests. But that was as much about having sex with anyone as having sex with women. Monks and priests like Bede (if we go purely by written evidence) thought women were more holy if they didn't have sex at all; being a virgin was better than being married, for example.

The way I see it, at the time, before widespread conversion to Roman Christianity, no one much cared who you did and didn't have sex with. Sex wasn't a moral issue. All royal women before the founding of nunneries (I think--though I'm wary of the words 'always' and 'never' in any context, never mind a time we know so little about) got married, and that if they then wanted to have sex with other women no one would much care as long as they were discreet. After all, the point of marriage was alliance, household management, and the provision of heirs. Married girls loving other married girls wouldn't have any impact on any of these points.

I talk about that a bit here:

There again, there's this incident from Ireland from the 8th century that makes sex between women sound rather jolly and uncomplicated:

Make of that what you will...
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