Deciphering the sex scenes in Spain’s medieval churches

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Experts meet to discuss the meaning of highly explicit sculptures made 1,000 years ago

An erotic sculpture at the Church of San Martín de Elines.

By Manuel Morales

Why is that man showing off his enormous phallus, which seems to be pointing straight at us? What about that other bearded fellow who is apparently masturbating? And what is the meaning of that woman who is exhibiting her vulva? And is that couple really in the middle of intercourse?

These figures have all been there for nearly 1,000 years, sculpted into churches in northern Spain. They are in plain view on the façades, on the corbels that hold up the cornices, on the capitals crowning the columns, and even on the baptismal fonts.

But why did the stonemasons of the Middle Ages craft this cheeky iconography? What was the Roman Catholic Church trying to convey? A group of experts gathered inside the monastery of Santa María la Real in Aguilar de Campoo (Palencia) tried to answer that question last weekend at a seminar called “Art and sexuality in the Romanesque centuries.”

A woman showing her sexual organs on a capital at the Collegiate Church of San Pedro de Cervatos (Cantabria).

Unfortunately, there seem to be no clear answers. “How many interpretations are there of this eroticism? As many as there are people in this room,” said Eukene Martínez de Lagos, an art historian at the University of the Basque Country, pointing with her chin at the hundred-odd students sitting across from her on day one of the seminar.

The course included a field trip to four churches built in the medieval style known in England as Norman, and elsewhere as Romanesque, and which gradually evolved into Gothic architecture.

The most famous of these temples is the Collegiate Church of San Pedro de Cervatos, in Cantabria, which dates back to the 12th century. This northern region is home to the most relevant depictions of sex in Romanesque art, although other examples exist in eastern Segovia, in western Soria, in northern Palencia and Burgos, and to a lesser extent in other parts of Castilla y León, Galicia, Álava, Navarre, Aragón and Catalonia.

“The artists were organized into traveling workshops where there was typically one master and several apprentices, and they moved around depending on their commissioned work,” said Alicia Miguélez, of Universidade Nova in Lisbon.

Even today, it is striking to discover a man and a woman exhibiting their nudity on a capital right next to the altar inside the church of Saint John the Baptist, in Villanueva de la Nía. There are still traces of black paint on the woman’s pubis, while the man’s penis was cut off at some point during more demure historical times.

“Some people think it was meant as a lesson, as a representation of what not to do, explained in a forceful and explicit manner,” said another one of the speakers, José Luis Hernando Garrido of Zamora Distance University.

“That is a strange interpretation; it would be like giving a teenager porn magazines and saying: ‘look, this is bad,’”, retorted Jaime Nuño, director of the Romanesque Studies Center at Santa María la Real Foundation, which organized the seminar. Nuño tends to think that it was merely “a representation of daily life.”

Other experts posited that maybe it was an incitement to have children at a time when infant mortality was very high. There was yet another, more daring hypothesis put forward at the gathering. “Perhaps they were used as an antidote against evil, as some sort of lightning rod against the Evil One, who comes from above,” said Hernando. “It might have been something of a bear trap for the devil…although I’m still of two minds.”

The one thing that these sculptures could not possibly have been is a prank by the stonemasons, despite some belief to the contrary. “They were humble artisans, they had very little power of decision over decorative elements; those decisions came from the bishop or from the individual who was paying for the work.”

Medieval sex

The sculptures also provide insights into sexual relationships in the Middle Ages. “We erroneously believe that all sex was considered bad at that time. Yet doctors regularly prescribed sex as a way to keep a marriage healthy, and there was even some tolerance for members of the clergy who had relations,” said Paloma Moral de Calatrava, a historian at Murcia University.

Her remarks put the spotlight on an issue that was to divide the clergy and the

Church of Santa María de Uncastillo (Zaragoza).

medical profession: the Gregorian reform that established celibacy for members of the Church from the 12th century onwards, partly because of theological matters (“The sacrament of the Eucharist cannot be administered by someone who stains his hands with semen, considered impure”). But there were also economic concerns: clashes between the children of clergy members over their fathers’ assets could hurt Christian unity. As for the rest of society, the papal orders were clear: yes to sex, but only for procreation purposes.

Paloma Moral, an expert on women’s health during the Middle Ages, underscored that “the Church was forced to face the fact that monks and nuns were sexual beings.” Nuns suffering from “uterine suffocation” due to abstinence were allowed to masturbate, and were even allowed to use a primitive dildo. Medical records of the era written by doctors who were also members of the Church explained that this substitute for the male organ must be “delicate, crafted out of saltpeter, wax and watercress.” Monks, who did not suffer from this condition, were not allowed to relieve themselves.

The final message of the seminar was that “not everything was darkness and horror in the Middle Ages,” said Hernando. “Nor have we made that much progress on some matters of sexuality,” added Moral.

Complete Article HERE!

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Celebrating Magnus Hirschfeld, the Einstein of Sex

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[D]ecades ago, wandering a ramshackle German flea market, an old book caught my eye. Emblazoned in gold on its brick red cover was the beckoning title Sexualkatastrophen. In its inevitably German way, the title (in English, obviously, Sexual Catastrophes) said it all and that alone was worth the few dollars price. Little did I know I had purchased a 1926 first edition of a collection of sexual studies including several written by the father of modern LGBTQ liberation, Magnus Hirschfeld.

Like his other works on the subject, his contributions to Sexualkatastrophen present scientific biographies of individual trans (he invented the term “transvestite” in 1910 that would evolve into today’s transgender and its variants), gay and lesbian subjects. Reading it at the time, I was struck by Hirschfeld’s candid and natural embrace of sexuality that helped confirm my own sense of being of another identity that was as valid as any other. And, as it still does today, the book made clear how we are so predisposed to ignorance and denial that our whole social structure continues to suffer as a result.

May 14 marks the 150th anniversary of Hirschfeld’s birth in 1868. The significance of the occasion is recognized in his native Germany where 2018-2019 has been declared “Hirschfeld Anniversary Year.” In July, the German Federal Post Office will issue a postage stamp in his honor. Throughout the jubilee, arts events, seminars, exhibits, conferences and concerts will celebrate the “Einstein of Sex” or, as he was affectionately known within his gay Weimar circle, Tante Magnesia (“Aunt Magnesia”).

Hirschfeld’s work in the field of sex was groundbreaking and visionary. Basing his theory of sexuality and gender on the “born this way” principle, he argued the case for fluidity and that all sexual expressions and their characteristics were part of a spectrum from masculine to feminine. He believed that homosexuality was, in fact, a third sex and practiced universally. As early as the 1890s he advocated the legalization of abortion and the decriminalization of homosexuality. In 1919, he helped produce a film, Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others). It depicts the plight of a gay man subjected to blackmail (it still exists today only as a restored reconstruction). His work, he hoped, would help fight prejudice and provide justice through knowledge for those “hostages of morality,” the victims of an invented system that condemned their natural deviations from the norm as deviance.

But given the politics of the times, whether in conservative Imperial Germany or, later, under the Nazi

Magnus Hirschfeld

regime, particularly as a Jewish gay liberal, Hirschfeld was considered revolutionary in its most subversive sense. A year after his film’s release, it was banned. The Nazis burned his books and his Institute for Sexual Science was ransacked and razed. Hirshfeld managed to escape to Switzerland and, later France, where he died in 1935.

In Germany today, his legacy was the complete repeal in 1994 of the infamous Paragraph 175, the anti-gay law in the German penal code and the founding of the Magnus Hirschfeld Federal Foundation.

Hirschfeld Anniversary Year should be recognized here as well. It seems, after all, we are still, a century later, fighting for the same cause.

Complete Article HERE!

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Women Got ‘Married’ Long Before Gay Marriage

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Two women in the 1890s

[I]n 1880, on the first anniversary of her marriage, author Sarah Orne Jewett penned a romantic poem to her partner. “Do you remember, darling, a year ago today, when we gave ourselves to each other?” she wrote. “We will not take back the promises we made a year ago.”

Jewett wasn’t addressing her husband—she was writing to her future wife, Annie Adams Fields. Over a century before same-sex marriage became the law of the land, Jewett and Adams lived together in a “Boston marriage,” a committed partnership between women.

They weren’t the only ones: For several years near the turn of the 20th century, same-sex marriage was relatively common and even socially acceptable. These women shared kisses, hugs and their lives—but today, few remember these pioneers of same-sex relationships.

Though homosexuality was taboo during the 19th century, intense and romantic friendships among women were common. At the time, women were encouraged to exist in a sphere separate from that of men. Public life, work and earning money were seen as the purview of men.

Two young women, 1896.

This ideology isolated women from the outside world, but it also brought them into close contact with one another. As women were viewed as devoted, asexual and gentle, it was acceptable for them to do things like kiss, hold hands or link arms, and openly express their affection for one another. At newly founded women’s colleges, for example, students gave one another bouquets of flowers, love poems and trinkets and openly declared their love. Having a crush on another woman wasn’t blinked at—it was expected and considered part of women’s college culture.

A group of New England women took this concept one step further by “getting married.” Though they didn’t commit to one another legally, they combined households, lived together and supported one another for the long term. These independent women pushed the boundaries of what society deemed acceptable for women by attending college, finding careers and living outside their parents’ home. But since they did so with other women, their activities were deemed socially acceptable.

In 1885, novelist Henry James explored the phenomenon in his book The Bostonians. The novel, which pokes fun at independent women, features a relationship between Verena Tarrant, an outspoken feminist, and Olive Chancellor, who becomes fascinated with the fiery speaker. They form a partnership and move in with one another, but when Verena decides to marry Olive’s cousin the relationship falls apart. The popular novel is thought to have contributed to the use of the term “Boston marriage,” though James never used the phrase in his book.

Michèle André and Alice Sapritch in “The Bostonians”, the drama adapted by Jean-Louis Curtis from Henry James’s novel.

Boston marriages offered equality, support and independence to wealthy women who were determined to push outside of the domestic sphere. They also offered romantic love: Though each relationship was different, women often referred to one another as husband or wife, kissed and hugged, wrote passionate letters when they were apart and shared beds. However, this was not necessarily seen as sexual in the 19th century since women were assumed not to have the physical desires of men.

Were these women lesbians in the contemporary sense of the word? Though we can’t glimpse into the bedroom behaviors of people of the past, it’s certain that many of the women in romantic friendships and Boston marriages did share sexual contact.

For some women, Boston marriages were used as a front for relationships we’d see as lesbian in the 21st century. As historian Stephanie Coontz tells NPR, “a pair of women who actually had a sexual relationship could easily manage to be together without arousing suspicion that it was anything more than feminine affection.” But for others, sex didn’t appear to be part of the equation. Rather, Boston marriages offered something even more appealing—independence.

Ironically, the practice faded as people became aware of lesbianism. At the turn of the century, the concept of “sexual inversion” made it possible to categorize relationships that had once been considered socially acceptable as sexually deviant.

Though Jewett and Fields lived together for over two decades, Jewett’s publishers seem to have edited out telling details from her letters to Fields, a society chronicler, to prevent readers from assuming they were lesbians.

It would take 100 more years for same-sex marriage to be legally accepted in the United States. But even in death, the commitment and love of same-sex partners from the 19th century lives on, like that of American novelist Willa Cather and her longtime companion, Edith Lewis. The pair lived together as committed partners for almost 40 years—and now they’re buried together in a New Hampshire cemetery. If that isn’t love, what is?

Complete Article HERE!

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“The Alternative Is Awful”

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Sexual Justice Pioneer Carol Queen on Why Sexual Justice Needs to Evolve

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“As Wilhelm Reich believed, if a state can control peoples’ sexuality, it can control them — politically, culturally. This is a huge challenge for organizers, theorists, justice advocates,” Dr. Carol Queen, founder of the sexual justice movement (and my queer fairy godmother since I interned for her at the Center for Sex and Culture), tells me.

As a pivotal figure of the sexual justice — formerly sex positivity — world, Dr. Queen is no stranger to that challenge. “The deeper definition of sex positivity — way more than just enthusiasm about sex, which was never intended to be the definition of that phrase — is about social justice: access to information, resources, freedom from shame, a focus on consent, diversity and more,” she says.

Dr. Queen has decades of experience uniting social justice and sexuality through advocacy, education, and community development. She has written extensively on topics ranging from bisexuality to queer kink; co-developed sex education resources to combat the AIDS crisis; and mentored up-and-coming activists, artists and educators. One of her key accomplishments is founding the Center for Sex and Culture along with her partner Robert Morgan Lawrence in 1994 after they noticed the lack of spaces for sexuality workshops in the Bay Area. The center has become especially important for subcultures and marginalized communities in the world of sexuality and gender: queers, leather and kink communities, sex educators, sex workers, erotic artists and more. “[The Center] tries to make space for multiple needs: giving diverse people a space to gather, collecting cultural materials in the library and archive and making them available to researchers, etc., [and] presenting creative work about sex/gender, which is the way more people develop their understandings about sex more than any sex ed class,” says Dr. Queen. In other words: the centre gives people the chance to learn from and build connections with each other, pointing us towards the future.

“I want more conversations that help us connect and unite across identity barriers.”

“I want more conversations that help us connect and unite across identity barriers. This is an era when we must, must revive alliances. I came out in Eugene, Oregon, in the 1970s, and the importance of alliances was one of the first lessons I learned. It has never seemed so relevant to me as it does now,” says Dr. Queen.

Carol Queen

She would know. Key to her work in sexual justice is understanding the diversity of identities and “sexual possibilities” through education and advocacy, especially in “respect[ing] each person where they are and helping them appreciate their own point in the diversity mix.” “This is important because too many people have been taught there is only one way to be, and honestly don’t understand they may have their own unique sexuality,” she explains.

As a bisexual woman and longterm LGBTQ rights activist, Dr. Queen believes that sexual justice is especially important for queer women, and that queer women are in turn a key part of sexual justice movements. “Queer women have the gift given to all queers: we must wrestle with cultural notions of normativity to be able to live our lives, find our people, create our alternative relationship variants. Sure, we can marry now, but many queer women don’t want to and wish to connect in different ways. This intersection makes us really important stakeholders in sexual justice and sex positivity,” she says.

Bisexual women, for instance, were key to work changing sexual attitudes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In a 2000 paper co-written with Lawrence for the Journal of Bisexuality, Dr. Queen documents the importance of bisexual people in the fight against AIDS via their contributions to the Sexual Health Attitude Restructuring Process (SHARP), a safer-sex-oriented program that exposed participants to accurate sexual health information and the possibility of diverse sexual experiences that Dr. Queen worked on directly for several years starting in 1987. SHARP’s active and hands-on education was part of the acclaimed “San Francisco model”: “community-based effort to educate, prevent infection, and provide services that does not primarily rely on governmental or medical direction and intervention” that inspired other work around HIV/AIDS across the United States and worldwide in the 1980s.

Dr. Queen has observed significant shifts in the discussions around sexual justice and sexual diversity since SHARP. “I don’t see the basic underlying activism or kinds of sex as fundamentally different, mostly, but discourse about sex is out of the box and so many issues have been more or less mainstreamed that it’s striking,” she says. “It means more and more people potentially are exposed to the idea that sex, relationship and gender possibilities are many and varied; communities exist; normative ideas can be oppressive and sex/gender/relationship are not ‘one size fits all’ constructs. This is mildly interesting for some people and a matter of life and death for others.”

“[Sexual justice] has to adapt. The alternative is awful.”

“I think many people in the world of sexual justice activism believed that the path forward would only grow more progressive,” she explains. “The reality is way more fraught, and more entwined with tons of other issues: electoral politics, civility and respect on the internet, reactionary responses to identity politics, educational policy, racial justice, feminist issues, so much. And [sexual justice] has to adapt. The alternative is awful,” she says.

To look forward, for Dr. Queen, the long arc of sexual justice requires more deeply examining the healthcare matrix for reproductive rights and gender confirmation; reexamining consent and its intersections with the criminal justice system; more comprehensive sex education that incorporates consent, pleasure, and media literacy especially around pornography; the removal of laws that penalize sex workers as well as certain consensual sexual behavior and relationships; and more respect and understanding around diversity and intersectionality. It also requires looking backward. “I’m sick of all discussions that revolve around the notion that people who came before didn’t know as much as people who are setting the terms of the discourse now. That is, to me, so disrespectful. And it’s my belief that the internet age has made understanding our history, ironically enough, more difficult,” she explains.

Looking backwards to look forwards, what’s her best advice for following in her footsteps? “To do something like I’ve done, one would have to be entrepreneurial, have help from other people who want the project/s to find their audience or community and who help broaden perspective, get as much education as you can manage, realize your own experience is significant but not the marker of everyone else’s, be an ally for other peoples’ genius and identities, and consider it a gift whenever you learn more about other peoples’ perspective and struggle,” she says. The work has never been more urgent.

Complete Article HERE!

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A history of sexual depictions in art

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‘Sex has been evoked in ways that simultaneously challenge, repress and embrace its notions’

[E]ven though the existence of humankind is dependent on sex, it has always been a taboo topic of discussion.

The entire history of art, from ancient to contemporary, has portrayed sex in very overt ways, bringing the subject of sex into the institution of art museums. Because of the lack of recorded history about sex, these frank depictions of sexuality in art visually uncover the way sexuality was viewed over time. These works of art can help us understand attitudes towards sex as they were transformed and shifted geographically through time.

Studying erotic art exposes the open attitude ancient Romans had towards sex. Statues, frescoes and household decorative items from ancient Rome prove that sex was an integral part of their everyday lives and that they were not afraid to show it.

The Secret Museum in Naples exhibits ancient Roman works of people having sex, phallic statues and beastiality, which is sexual relations between a human and an animal. Although the ancient Romans were seemingly comfortable with sex, the museum is called The Secret Museum because King Naples I of Naples deemed the works inappropriate and demanded they be locked away. Art’s attempts to comfortably illustrate sex have been historically shunned and disapproved because it is considered taboo.

Mesopotamian art (c. 4500-539 BCE), like ancient Roman art, portrayed sex openly. Observing these works reveals the sex customs in the culture as well. For example, it was a custom for every woman to perform a specific type of prostitution at least once in their life. This ritual was for women to sit outside the Temple of Ishtar and have sex with a man who chooses them. Mesopotamian plaques frankly evoke people having sex as well as this ritual of prostitution.

Western culture is particularly known to disapprove of open sexuality. But, Western artists rebelled against this notion, especially with the introduction of Modernism. Prior to what we call Modern art (1860s-1970s), was the Renaissance in Europe. Renaissance art is typically more discrete with depictions of sex and sexuality. Because it is inspired by classical antiquity, nudity is common among the works. This portrayal of nudity is not shunned because it depicts religious figures and figures of the past.

As a response to urbanization and industrialization, Modern art took a major turn from classical antiquity, which created a shift in subject matter. This introduced illustrations of what were contemporary figures rather than ancient ones. Suddenly, sex and nudity were deemed inappropriate and tasteless. Modern artists have intentions of being radical, disregarding this response to their work.

Modern artists in Europe explored how the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the time period commodified sex and alienated figures of the modern. Egon Schiele frankly depicts sex to address this condition of modernism in his work “Two Women Embracing” (1915). The drawing portrays two women being sexually intimate in front of a blank background.

Although the figures are embracing, the perspective and the background make them appear as if they are floating in a space of loneliness and alienation. This melancholy feeling of isolation that stems from modernization is a condition that Modern artists repeatedly evoked. Schiele expresses this feeling through a depiction of sex to elicit that even in the highest forms of intimacy, feelings of loneliness exist.

“Two Women Embracing” and the rest of Schiele’s works were extremely radical for the time. In fact, Schiele was forced to spend time in jail as a pornographer. His frank representations of sexuality were so incredibly radical because of his depictions of modern subjects and lesbianism. Schiele revolutionarily instigated a discussion about sex and sexuality in the Western world where it had been neglected and shunned.

Following Modern art is what we call Contemporary art, which was produced from the late 20th century to the 21st century today. Performance art was a medium introduced with Contemporary art. The medium aimed to create a bodily encounter between the artist and the viewer. Many performance artists took advantage of the live relationship between artist and viewer to bring sex into their workplace.

A lot of performance art would be considered abject art — art that works to introduce the bodily functions that are silenced and taboo into the museum. When a viewer encounters an abject work of art, they are forced to think about their own body and what they repress everyday. Abject artists oftentimes work with the concept of sex in an attempt to dismantle its history as something forbidden and address issues about sex and sexuality.

Vito Acconci’s abject work titled “Seedbed” (1972) encounters the viewer in a shocking and vulnerable way. It was a performance piece in which Acconci said sexual comments to the audience members walking past a little wooden square in the corner of a museum. During the performance, he hid under a ramp so the viewers could hear his vulgar comments out of a speaker yet they could not see him. Under the ramp, Acconci was masturbating to those who encountered the wooden square. By making the repressed sexual act of masturbation a public performance, Acconci attempted to break stigmas about sex while simultaneously addressing issues of sexual objectification.

The Contemporary artist Carolee Schneemann evoked sex through performance art as well. In her 1964 performance “Meat Joy,” men and women wrestled sexually with meat in an orgy encounter. She provoked the viewer to look at sex in a profoundly unusual way. Through this seemingly odd performance, Schneemann confronted the audience with this overt sexuality in an attempt to reject the notion that sex should be repressed.

Throughout the history of art, sex has been evoked in ways that simultaneously challenge, repress and embrace its notions. From ancient art to contemporary, artists have continuously worked to make sex a comfortable topic that should be embraced and addressed openly.

Complete Article HERE!

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Pride 2017

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Happy Gay Pride Month!

gay-pride.jpg

It’s time, once again, to post my annual pride posting.

In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a most remarkable change in societal attitudes toward those of us on the sexual fringe. One only needs to go back 50 years in time. I was 17 years old then and I knew I was queer. When I looked out on the world around me this is what I saw. Homosexuality was deemed a mental disorder by the nation’s psychiatric authorities, and gay sex was a crime in every state but Illinois. Federal workers could be fired merely for being gay.

Today, gays serve openly in the military, work as TV news anchors and federal judges, win elections as big-city mayors and members of Congress. Popular TV shows have gay protagonists.

Two years ago this month, a Supreme Court ruling lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the whole country.

The transition over five decades has been far from smooth — replete with bitter protests, anti-gay violence, backlashes that inflicted many political setbacks, and AIDS. Unlike the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement, the campaign for gay rights unfolded without household-name leaders.

And yet, now in Trump’s America, we are experiencing a backlash in the dominant culture. I don’t relish the idea, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. And while we endure this be reminded that it won’t smart nearly as much if we know our history. And we should also remember the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”

In honor of gay pride month, a little sex history lesson — The Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between demonstrators and police at The Stonewall Inn, a mafia owned bar in Greenwich Village NYC over the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 are usually cited as the beginning of the modern Lesbian/Gay liberation Movement. What might have been just another routine police raid onstonewall.jpg a bar patronized by homosexuals became the pivotal event that sparked the entire modern gay rights movement.

The Stonewall riots are now the stuff of myth. Many of the most commonly held beliefs are probably untrue. But here’s what we know for sure.

  • In 1969, it was illegal to operate any business catering to homosexuals in New York City — as it still is today in many places in the world. The standard procedure was for New York City’s finest to raid these establishments on a regular basis. They’d arrest a few of the most obvious ‘types’ harass the others and shake down the owners for money, then they’d let the bar open as usual by the next day.
  • Myth has it that the majority of the patrons at the Stonewall Inn were black and Hispanic drag queens. Actually, most of the patrons were probably young, college-age white guys lookin for a thrill and an evening out of the closet, along with the usual cadre of drag queens and hustlers. It was reasonably safe to socialize at the Stonewall Inn for them, because when it was raided the drag queens and bull-dykes were far more likely to be arrested then they were.
  • After midnight June 27-28, 1969, the New York Tactical Police Force called a raid on The Stonewall Inn at 55 Christopher Street in NYC. Many of the patrons who escaped the raid stood around to witness the police herding the “usual suspects” into the waiting paddywagons. There had recently been several scuffles where similar groups of people resisted arrest in both Los Angeles and New York.
  • Stonewall was unique because it was the first time gay people, as a group, realized that what threatened drag queens and bull-dykes threatened them all.
  • Many of the onlookers who took on the police that night weren’t even homosexual. Greenwich Village was home to many left-leaning young people who had cut their political teeth in the civil rights, anti-war and women’s lib movements.
  • As people tied to stop the arrests, the mêlée erupted. The police barricaded themselves inside the bar. The crowd outside attempted to burn it down. Eventually, police reinforcements arrived to disperse the crowd. But this just shattered the protesters into smaller groups that continued to mill around the streets of the village.
  • A larger crowd assembled outside the Stonewall the following night. This time young gay men and women came to protest the raids that were commonplace in the city. They held hands, kissed and formed a mock chorus line singing; “We are the Stonewall Girls/We wear our hair in curls/We have no underwear/We show our pubic hair.” Don’t ‘cha just love it?
  • Police successfully dispersed this group without incident. But the print media picked up the story. Articles appeared in the NY Post, Daily News and The Village Voice. Theses helped galvanize the community to rally and fight back.
  • Within a few days, representatives of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis (two of the country’s first homophile rights groups) organized the city’s first ever “Gay Power” rally in Washington Square. Some give hundred protesters showed up; many of them gay and lesbians.

stonewall02.jpgThe riots led to calls for homosexual liberation. Fliers appeared with the message: “Do you think homosexuals are revolting? You bet your sweet ass we are!” And the rest, boys and girls, is as they say is history.

During the first year after Stonewall, a whole new generation of organizations emerged, many identifying themselves for the first time as “Gay.” This not only denoted sexual orientation, but a radical way to self-identify with a growing sense of open political activism. Older, more staid homophile groups soon began to make way for the more militant groups like the Gay Liberation Front.

The vast majority of these new activists were under thirty; dr dick’s generation, don’t cha know. We were new to political organizing and didn’t know that this was as ground-breaking as it was. Many groups formed on colleges campuses and in big cities around the world.

By the following summer, 1970, groups in at least eight American cities staged simultaneous events commemorating the Stonewall riots on the last Sunday in June. The events varied from a highly political march of three to five thousand in New York to a parade with floats for 1200 in Los Angeles. Seven thousand showed up in San Francisco.

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A graphic history of sex: ‘There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned’

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Changes in sexuality over time have made the modern family what it is. What next? Homa Khaleeli asks the authors of a groundbreaking graphic guide, The Story of Sex

The Story of Sex … some images from the book. Illustration: Laetitia Coryn
The Story of Sex … some images from the book. Illustration: Laetitia Coryn

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[P]hilip Larkin famously announced that sexual intercourse began in 1963 (“Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban / And the Beatles’ first LP”). Being French, and a psychiatrist to boot, Philippe Brenot takes a rather longer view. In his latest book, The Story of Sex, a bestseller in France, he runs an anthropological eye over the sexual mores of human societies from prehistoric times to today. Yet Brenot believes that the sexual revolution did spark a dramatic change, creating the modern couple, which is the basis of our families today. Now, however, he thinks this partnership of equals is under assault from all sides.

The academic, who has the wonderful title of director of sexology at Paris Descartes University, has spent his life studying sexuality. The Story of Sex is an irreverent, graphic novel (in both senses), filled with fascinating – if alarming – history. Cleopatra used a vibrator filled with bees; the word “trousers” was considered to be positively pornographic in Victorian England. Illustrator Laetitia Coryn’s extremely cheeky, but never sordid, pictures liven up the page and keep the narrative zipping along. The book was a real collaboration, says Coryn, who says it was made easier by Brenot’s firm ideas – and the fact he liked her jokes.

The illustrator admits she hesitated slightly over collaborating on the book. “I told my publisher we have to be careful with the drawings and with the jokes – we have to be sensitive,” she says, because she wanted the book to have as wide an audience as possible. “I didn’t put any porn in it!” As a reader, however, the frankness of the pictures still shocked me (you, er, might not want to whip out the book on public transport or in the office).

philippe-brenot-and-laeticia-cory
Philippe Brenot and Laeticia Cory.

Talking to Brenot over the phone (through charmingly accented English that becomes somewhat eccentric as he struggles with the complexities of his ideas) it’s impossible to escape the psychiatrist’s anxiety about our attitudes to love and intimacy today. We have never been freer to define our own relationships, and follow our own pleasure, he says, but despite this we are far from satisfied; and the modern couple is looking dangerously fragile.

“It’s incredible the difficulties couples have,” Brenot declares, in a tone that makes me imagine he is throwing his hands in the air in despair. Of the couples he sees in therapy, he says, “there is nothing wrong with them psychologically, but still they cannot communicate quietly, live calmly and have sexual fulfilment”.

While we think of lovers as a timeless relationship model, it has been the family that has been paramount in society for most of history, the 68-year-old says. “The couple used to get together for the sake of the family,” he explains. And the idea of equality in long-term pairings is even more recent, with “traditional” marriages putting men firmly in charge of their spouses.

“Love marriages have only been widespread for a century or so, and homosexuality was condemned until very recently,” Brenot notes.

“Since the 1970s, we have begun to invent modern couples with respect for each other and equality between the sexes,” he says. “This only came about after ‘marriage’ as a concept began dying out. Not because people stopped getting married, but because marriage stopped being seen as a sacred union – couples instead started developing on their own terms.”

Yet the rise in divorces since the 1970s and breakups of long-term relationships shows that the modern couple is not surviving, Brenot argues. In part, he says, this is because we are demanding more than ever before.

“It is difficult to live intimately, because we want perfect love and perfect sex and that is very difficult in a long-term relationship. We want a lot more than a reliable person to raise kids with.”

The solution, he says, is for us all to learn more about sex – which is where his book comes in. “It’s not possible to understand our intimate sex lives without looking at centuries of history, and even the origins of human life,” he says. “We understand what we live today if we understand from where we came.”

For instance, he says, if we look at the way relationships were formed in early human societies we can see echoes of our own problems. “We came from primates, but in chimp society there are never couples or families. There are lone males and females with children.” It was only as our brains evolved and emotions developed – including love – that monogamous relationships set in. For the first time (“somewhere between 1 million BC and 100,000BC”), it was possible to know the paternity of a child.

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While the beginning of family life may sound like a wonderful moment, Brenot argues that it was also the start of women’s subjugation, with men taking possession of their female partner and offspring – which traditional marriage legalised. “Paternity is the beginning of male domination,” says Brenot simply. “The day that happened, men took possession of women.”

In the animal kingdom, Brenot argues, there is none of the domination of female partners that has been a hallmark of human societies through history, nor is there domestic violence. Instead, among animals “males fight against other males and females fight with other females,” he says.

“Violence between men and women is only in humans – because of marriage, which puts men above women.”

During antiquity, meanwhile, a woman’s role was to provide a child – and female sexual pleasure was dismissed. But this role was also a dangerous one. “There were so many impediments to female pleasure. In the 18th and 19th centuries, one in six pregnant women died in childbirth. Then there were the infections and sexual violence.”

For men, of course, things were different. “Men have always done what they wanted,” says Brenot.

Even for men, sex for pleasure was something that happened “outside the home – for instance with prostitutes. Women were seen either to provide offspring or pleasure.” In ancient Rome, these rules were so strictly upheld that women could take their husbands to court for ejaculating anywhere but inside her body during intercourse, “because sex within marriage was for procreation, and the wife’s role was to receive sperm”.

Even during periods that today we think of as being golden ages for same-sex relationships, such pleasures were “reserved for the elite” – and the reality was often less accepting than we think. In ancient Greece, for instance, it was only the man who was “receiving” who was not stigmatised in a pairing. Similarly for the libertines in the 18th century, “there was a fluid sexuality, but it was also the top end of society – the intelligentsia and aristocracy. Throughout the centuries and the world’s rural populations, to be gay – or for women to have control of their own sexuality – has always been frowned upon.”

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Today too, Brenot argues, while much has been written about more people exploring fluid sexualities, entering polyamorous relationships and breaking down gender norms, “we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that this is trickling down to all sections of society”. And he warns too about a backlash from “new moralists” who oppose gay marriage, and will, no doubt, do the same for trans rights and alternative relationships as they gain more legal rights. Coryn says this is one of the reasons she enjoyed creating the book. “In France, people who don’t want gay people to be married, is a huge phenomenon. It’s awful. We say in the book this is a misunderstanding of sexuality; homosexuality is normal. I hope this is one topic on which people will change their mind in reading the book.”

For heterosexual couples, relationships began to look up about the time of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Up until this period, “men were having fun outside the home – hunting animals or chasing women. While women were always at home,” says Brenot. But the new spirit of education and the pursuit of knowledge changed this. Finally, says Brenot, men and women could be friends and even have platonic love.

Yet it took contraception for men and women to gain a semblance of equality. Previously “women were immobilised by marriage. They can’t get out of it, they don’t have the possibility of working or being free. The story of sex is, first of all, the story of marriage and the difficulties [it creates] for women.”

To start combating the problems that these historical inequalities have left us with, the psychiatrist insists, we need better sexual education, and one that starts at an early age. “People think sexuality is just an instinct,” he says, “that it is natural like eating and drinking. No. There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned.”

Because of this, says Brenot, the models for our sexuality are very important. Today, talking about sex is still taboo, and the dissemination of pornography has filled the void. “People say pornography changes adolescent life. But it changes everyone’s sexuality,” he says. “We have sex differently now; we try to imitate what we see [on our screens]. People feel bad and say, ‘I can’t do what they do.’”

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To displace this dangerous model, “sexual education should teach the rules that should govern relationships; it should teach us about communication, about consent and respect. This is not natural [to us]. We have to learn this.”

Coryn says that while the Story of Sex is not a sexual education manual, “we wanted it to be uninhibited”, to make talking about sex seem as natural as it should be.

“From the time children are little girls and boys, we have to teach them that everyone should be respected and to start accepting difference,” says Brenot. But, he says, while men and women are equal, that does not mean that they are the same. Railing against the teaching of “gender studies” departments, he says that a refusal to admit this difference is allowing gender inequality to become entrenched.

“They say, ‘Don’t speak of differences – a man is the same as a woman. Society is guilty of making differences, but underneath we are the same.’”

Unpicking these ideas, he says, is the only way to combat our most pressing problems. For example, “physical strength is different from a very young age. So [children] need to understand boys are stronger and take that into account – because that is the start of domestic violence, which is a real problem.”

If we leave this teaching too late, he says, the battle is already lost: “In children’s fairy stories it is the boy who seduces the girl, so there is power play early on.” Then there is the fact men have always been free to have multiple partners throughout history, because men don’t get pregnant. It is only by introducing the idea early on that “contraception is a joint responsibility” that we can challenge this.

Today’s modern couple, he points out, faces new challenges from the rise in options for dating to “new forms of relationship,” says Brenot. Yet Coryn stresses, as does Brenot, that there has never been a better time for people to live in terms of sexuality. Yet one thing has not changed, says Brenot – everyone still wants to find somebody to love. “People are afraid to be alone at the end of their life. They are afraid not to find the perfect person to live with. It is a difficult problem for everyone today.

“We have to learn how to live together anew.”

Complete Article HERE!

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