A Sapphic Heroine

In my novel, I have written Medousa as a lesbian. This was not something I had planned. I never set out intending to write her so. But, with each round of edits and re-writes, it became clearer and clearer that this was who Medousa was.

That said, I don’t really consider my novel to be a specifically LGBTG novel. I do not explore LGBTG issues. Medousa’s sexuality is simply a part of who she is, as much a part of her as her hair color, her eye color, her height, or any other physical attribute of hers.

When I began writing, I had intended for Medousa to have a rather conventional romance with Ajax. But as I noted above, things changed as I started editing and re-writing. It all began with Cynisca. I had originally intended for her to be a minor, supporting character, there only to give more “texture” to Medousa.

As I worked on the romance between Medousa and Ajax, it became apparent that Cynisca was quite fond of Medousa. At first, I didn’t notice. I actually thought at one point that Medousa and Cynisca were simply “besties,” like Harley Quinzel and Pamela Isely (depending upon who’s writing them, of course). But as I continued working on the boring, genre-appropriate, cis-normative romance, I began noticing that Cynisca was not simply “fond” of Medousa. There was something more, there, that was not being spoken.

I gave up, then, and let Cynisca do as she pleased. But as I did, with each subsequent edit and re-write, it became plain to me that Medousa herself was also very “fond” of Cynisca

I finally realized that Medousa and Cynisca loved each other. Well, who am I, that I should interfere? I realized that I had to let them go and do what they wanted. I couldn’t force them to be what they weren’t.

On the one hand, it pleases me that there is lesbian representation in my book. And it pleases me that this is not seen as anything worth remarking upon. It is simply who Medousa and Cynisca are (And Stheno and Campe, too, for that matter).

Of course, this normalization of their sexuality—as if there were anything unnatural about it in the first place—means that I am not specifically exploring lesbian themes. And it was never going to have been the focus of Medousa, anyway. As I noted last week, my real purpose was to cry out against the sexual violence and injustice to which Medousa was subjected.

Setting the novel in ancient Sparta, homosexuality was probably never going to have been an issue. With men and women essentially leading separate lives for their first twenty or thirty years, homosexuality was expected, and indeed, in many cases encouraged. The real societal horror of Medousa and Cynisca’s relationship was the crossing of class lines between the two, that a member of royalty should allow herself to fall in love with a mere Helot and slave.

In ancient Greece, sexual orientation was not the social construct of identity we now think of it to be in the modern West. Furthermore, sexual desire and behavior were not distinguished by gender, but by the roles played by the participants in the relationship.

Male homosexual relationships in Greece were ritualized in the institution of Pederasty. An older, accomplished gentleman, perhaps in his thirties, would take to himself a youth, in his early to late teens, as a sort of gentleman’s apprentice. The elder would instruct the younger in the finer points of Greek society, and part of the relationship included sexual relations.

While in Greek thought, there was no shame in being the active participant, or penetrator, to be the passive receiver was thought of as shameful—if one were not a beardless youth in his gentlemanly apprenticeship. Men who carried on this type of love in their maturity might be looked down upon. And the partner who played the passive role might be accused of “making a woman of himself,” as Plato once put it.

As to female homosexual relationships, there is very little mention of it in ancient Greek writings. There were once institutions called Thiasoi (singular, Thiasos), in which women would receive a rudimentary education. In similar fashion to the male apprenticeships, women would experience same sex love. However, these institutions were phased out, being generally looked down upon by society at large. Plato mentions “women who do not care for men, but have female attachments,” when discussing Sparta, the only place in all Hellas in which women received the same training and education as men.

I really wish I could have added to my novel an exploration of LGBTG themes, but they never really occurred to me. And, being myself on the Ace spectrum, I am not really familiar with what those issues might be.

I am still proud, however, that my heroine is lesbian, and that it is nothing to be remarked upon. It is normal. It is accepted. By her friends, and those around her. There should be nothing special about it; for we are all the same, whatever sex, gender, or sexuality we find to be a part of us.

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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