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ANAHITA  July 1997

ANAHITA July 1997

Subject:

Re: intersex tribades? (was: references)

From:

jh10 <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Women and Gender in the Ancient World <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 9 Jul 1997 12:40:00 EDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (104 lines)

>I would like to pick this thread back up, and connect it with something
>that occurred to me sometime back in May, when within a few days of each
>other I read a BMCR review discussing "tribades", and a Newsweek article on
>intersexuals, people born with ambivalent genitals. I must beg everyone's
>indulgence, because I have no knowledge or expertise on either of these
>subjects, beyond reading these 2 things! Maybe those on the list who know
>more can contribute. (I think the book under review in BMCR was B. J.
>Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female
>Homoeroticism (Chicago 1996), which I just found in the Diotima sexuality
>bibliography; if not, it had a title similar to "Love Between Women." I
>can't access BMCR from here, unfortunately.)
>
>"Tribades" were women whose sexual proclivities (penetrating women) and
>sometimes anatomy ("fantastically enlarged clitorides") were like those of
>males. As I recall, the BMCR reviewer completely dismissed the possibility
>that such women ever existed (cf. the response copied below, that the story
>in Pliny must be "metaphorical and rhetorical :)"), and felt that the
>interesting question was how such a "construction" could have arisen. But
>doesn't the existence of intersexuals (and cf. the comments below on
>cryptandridsim) suggest that maybe the accounts of "tribades" were based at
>least partly on reality? Again, I admit that I have no first-hand
>familiarity with the literature on tribades, and appeal to those who do. I
>hope that if this thread continues it will be illuminating (and not
>inflammatory).
>
>yours, Diane
>
>> Pliny even claims to have
>>> seen the transformation of someone into a man in Africa, on
>>> the man's wedding day.
>>>
>>> Surely this must be metaphorical and rhetorical? :)
>>
>>Actually, in the area of Africa where Pliny is supposed to have visited the
>>birth defect cryptandridsim is more common  than elsewhere -- babies appear
>>to be female and are well within the normal as far as outside plumbing
>>goes, but around puberty the clitoris enlarges and the testicles drop.  You
>>can tell between babies who are girls and who are cryptandric male babies
>>if you have two related ones side by side but the differences are very
>>slight indeed.
>>
>>Given that most crypts studied are attracted towards men, African girls
>>married at puberty, and the husband is likely to have been the one to first
>>see his wife's genitals, it's very likely that Pliny is reporting
>>accurately.
>>
>>Just a little bit of medical trivia . . .
>>
>>JulieB
>>
>
>________________________________________
>Diane Arnson Svarlien
>[log in to unmask]
>________________________________________
Diane: As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I've written about the
representations of tribades/female homoeroticism in classical Latin
literature in an article referred to by the BMCR reviewer which will be
republished in Marilyn Skinner's and my Roman Sexualities this fall. The
article reviews the accounts (by Pliny and Aulus Gellius) of female-to-male
sex changes that are used to account for female homoeroticism, especially in
connection with Ovid's tale of Iphis and Ianthe. These episodes may in fact
be truthful, but they all involve long-ago and far-away as well as
masculinized women (just like most Latin literary representations of female
homoerotic practitioners). Complicating matters further is the etymology of
tribad--which the Elizabethans wonderfully translated as "rubsters": it
acknowledges that women can obtain mutual satisfaction with one another and
without penile penetration, which makes the standard portrayal of female
homoeroticism as requiring [de rigueur, as it were]>an erect male organ
inconsistent and anomalous. Among the points I tried to make in the article
is that when it came to female (although not necessarily male) homoeroticism,
pace Halperin/Foucault, the Romans did think in terms of the gender of both
amatory partners, although the phallocentric construction of sexuality in
Roman minds inhibited the recognition that mutually pleasurable sexual
activity is possible in the absence of male sexual equipment.  Judy Hallett
>----------------------------------------------------
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