Monday, January 26, 2015

Day 26 of Feminist Joys: Same Sex Love in History

Read about the secret history of same-sex marriage (in the west).
In the 1680s, Cornelia Gerritse van Breugel disguised herself as a man in order to wed her long-time lover, Elisabeth Boleyn, in an Amsterdam church. They were only found out years later, when Cornelia tired of wearing men’s clothes... 
In the early 1730s, when both were in their late teens, Mary East and her girlfriend decided to move to London and make a life together as husband and wife. Mary put on male clothes and turned herself into “James How”. The two of them became successful publicans and pillars of their East End community. Everyone presumed they were married. Over the years, James was elected to almost every parish office: s/he served as the foreman of juries, on the night watch, as overseer of the poor. For more than three decades, they kept their secret, and lived as a married couple.
Though that makes me wonder whether James How was a trans man and not a gay woman.


Charity introduced her friends and relations to her new mate. “I need be under no apprehensions concerning your welfare while so dear and faithful a friend as Miss Drake is your constant companion,” her sister Anna wrote afterwards. Lydia Richards gave Sylvia her blessing as “the friend of your heart and partner of your cares … may you long be happy in each other”. “She is everything I could wish,” Sylvia wrote to her mother. Over the next 44 years, until Charity’s death in 1851, they never spent a night apart. “In their youthful days, they took each other as companions for life,” one of her nephews wrote in the New York Evening Post in 1843: their union was “no less sacred to them than the tie of marriage”. When Sylvia died in 1868, their families buried them together, under a joint headstone.
And it's not just the west. Same-sex love had always been openly written about in India.
Pre-colonial Lucknow’s court culture was exceptional in the prominence women obtained, and the Nawabs’ patronage of the arts and crafts... Hundreds of women were employed at court in different capacities, and were very well paid. Women of the royal family exercised immense influence over the Nawabs. Courtesans, who were highly educated women, often poets, were treated as intellectual equals by many male poets. They were the only women in the highest tax brackets and owned considerable property. Same-sex love had always been openly written about in India. Male-male attraction is one of the themes of pre-colonial Urdu poetry in general, but the unique feature in pre-colonial Lakhnavi poetry is the depiction of female-female relationships as well. The most important thing about this poetry is that it depicts cross-sex romances and same-sex romances in the same tone, showing that all relationships face ups and downs, and all lovers, experience similar emotions.

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