Ancient Heathens, Gender, and LGBT people

I was looking at some old files/links in my own personal warcraft file when I debate Wotanists and their ilk and I reread this, so I thought this would be interesting to share, here because of it’s subject matter. Hrafnkell’s thoughts are here:

Take for example my own Norse ancestors. While a boy might be born with male sex organs, that simple fact did not in itself make him a man. Gender categories were not fixed and manhood was something that had to be earned – and maintained – through the activities normally associated with that gender category. This meant that while a boy and his penis could aspire to manhood, so could a woman. By laying aside one set of gender roles and embracing another, a woman could “become” a man. Conversely, a man could “become” a woman.

“This is a world in which ‘masculinity’ always has a plus value, even (or perhaps especially) when it is enacted by a woman,” writes one scholar.[6] It was “a society in which being born male precisely did not confer automatic superiority, a society in which distinction had to be acquired, and constantly reacquired, by wresting it away from others.” Because women had no theoretical ceiling and men no theoretical floor, gender categories were flexible and movable.[7]

My thoughts: This made sense when I first read it and it makes sense now. My research into the Norse indicates that gender was not percieved as it is now at least in with the ancient Norse. Gender was obviously a spectrum to the Norse, but at some point(possibly when the Norse began to be Christianized) they began to see gender being set in stone based on your equipment. During the Viking age you start to see the concept of ergi, which to call someone an argr is probably the worst insult you can ever give a man, as it was seen as an attack of their character.

The Old Norse word used in the law code and literature for an insult was níð , which may be defined as “libel, insult, scorn, lawlessness, cowardice, sexual perversion, homosexuality”. From níð are derived such words as níðvisur (“insulting verses”), níðskald (“insult-poet”), níðingr (“coward, outlaw”), griðníðingr (“truce-breaker”), níðstông (“scorn-pole”) , also níða (“to perform níð poetry”), tunguníð (“verbal níð“), tréníð (“timber níð“, carved or sculpted representations of men involved in a homosexual act, related to niíðstông, above). Níð was part of a family of concepts which all have connotations of passive male homosexuality, such as: ergi or regi (nouns) and argr or ragr (the adjective form of ergi) (“willing or inclined to play or interested in playing the female part in sexual relations with another man, unmanly, effeminate, cowardly”); ergjask (“to become argr“); rassragr (“ass-ragr“); stroðinn and sorðinn (“sexually used by a man”) and sansorðinn (“demonstrably sexually used by another man”). A man who is a seiðmaðr (one who practices women’s magic) who is argr is called seiðskratti.

The Grágás(Grey Goose) law code states:
“There are three words—should exchanges between people ever reach such dire limits—which all have full outlawry as the penalty; if a man calls another ragr, stroðinn or sorðinn. As they are to be prosecuted like other fullréttisorð and, what is more, a man has the right to kill in retaliation for these three words. He has the right to kill in retaliation on their account over the same period as he has the right to kill on account of women, in both cases up the next General Assembly. The man who utters these words falls with forfeit immunity at the hands of anyone who accompanies the man about whom they were uttered to the place of their encounter”.

The evidence of the sagas and laws shows that male homosexuality was regarded in two lights: there was nothing at all strange or shameful about a man having intercourse with another man if he was in the active or “manly” role, however the passive partner in homosexual intercourse was regarded with derision. It must be remembered, however, that the laws and sagas reflect the Christian consciousness of the Icelander or Norwegian of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, well after the pagan period. The myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality, and history is altogether silent as to the practice of lesbianism in the Viking Age.

The key to the problem of interpreting Germanic attitudes towards homosexuality seems to be the relationship of passivity/receptivity to the feminine gender role. Of the variants in homosexual behavior– berdache; boy-man pairings; and the pairings of macho men– I would speculate that the one which was most common in the ancient North was transexuality, because of later references to effeminate dress in a religious context, and because sexual passivity is used as an insult later on.

The culture was less concerned with the behavior of women. One would assume, however, that the tradition of valkyries and the prohibitions against women dressing like men indicated some tradition of women at times adopting a masculine role. The spakona Thorhild is said to have girded herself like a man with a helmet on her head in order to prophesy. As far as sexual behavior was concerned, it is likely that same-sex preference became a problem only if it interfered with serving the interests of the kin-group by marrying and bearing children.

Clearly in a traditional culture the criminality of sexual behavior depends less on the gender of the partners than on their relative social status– their freedom to refuse. Whether any act (of sex or magic) is considered shameful depends on the status of those with whom it is typically associated in that society. If women are defined by a culture as submissive, and if one considers women inferior, then it becomes shameful for a person of socially superior status (a male) to submit sexually.

In a society in which women are considered to be equal to men, or even to have abilities which though different from those of men are equally valuable, there should be far more tolerance for a man who takes a traditionally female role. When the relationship is not one of submission to a social superior, but a free association of equal partners, then even the conditions of Viking homophobia become irrelevant. Ethically, one should not force sexual attentions on anyone, be it man, woman, or sheep.


~ by ladycat123 on November 4, 2011.

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