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Old 05-14-2014, 04:09 AM
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Default The White Tower and Sexuality

One might say this is in Encyclopedia territory, but I somehow doubt this particular detail will be in the Encyclopedia.

I told a friend in email that RJ wrote in his notes that at least 1/3 of the White Tower was lesbian or bisexual. She commented that it was a surprisingly high number (presumably because less than 10% of people in the US, for example, claim to be either). I explained to my friend why I thought it wasn't particularly surprising, in some detail, but then I went back and read what RJ actually said on it:

Quote:
Originally Posted by RJ
Between one-third and one-half of all Aes Sedai (possibly somewhat more) are either gay or (mainly) bisexual to one degree or another.
This actually fits even better with the explanation I gave to my friend. It's an interesting point, so I wanted to write about it here.

There are probably two real-world phenomena at work in this detail, both well-documented: 1) same-sex institutional homosexual behavior, and 2) classical antiquity, particularly ancient Greece, more particularly the city-state of Athens (because it is the most well-documented). There is a lot of modern scholarly literature on both, particularly the latter.

Needless to say, same-sex institutions are notorious breeding grounds for homosexual behavior. This is particularly well-documented in prisons; schools have a greater tendency to cover it up altogether (which is not to say prisons don't cover it up at all).

No real-world institution is 3000 years old, though, and no real-world institution is as powerful and as insulated as the White Tower. One might say the Vatican compares, and breeds its own sort of sexual deviance (rather less consensual), but that happens out in the world rather than merely in the Vatican, and besides, this discussion is beyond the scope of my OP.

The unique situation of the White Tower along with what we know about same-sex institutional homosexual behavior might be enough to stretch modern perceptions of the frequency of homosexual desires...but what if our modern perceptions are wrongheaded?

That is where classical antiquity comes in, and where the arguments of modern queer theory are founded. In Athens, for example, it would appear that a majority of men were, in effect, bisexual. Heterosexual and homosexual relationships were highly differentiated and governed by different laws and customs, but they were both normal, and relatively few citizen men appear to have preferred only one or the other.

So RJ has a leg to stand on when it comes to his beloved lesbians in the Tower; his only faux pas, then, is his relative inattention to gay men. And while I have no doubt that RJ's own sexual desires are the real inspiration behind this particular focus, he has a leg to stand on here, too: very little is known about lesbianism in classical antiquity, Sappho being a rare exception, because women in general are not very well documented.

RJ flips the gender power balance in his world (to an extent) and also flips the attention from the men to the women, a detail that despite his male main characters extends to the focus of the books. Rand, Mat and Perrin get a lot of POVs, but they are outnumbered by the women. Their importance seems outsize at times, but when it starts to get difficult around LOC to keep up with all the characters, the main reason is all these groups of powerful women: the Aes Sedai, the Wise Ones, the Sea Folk, and the Kin. The females play a more prominent role in politics, whether because they are more ambitious (e.g. Colavaere) or more outgoing (e.g. Borderland rulers) or more important (Andor) or all-important (Far Madding).

Despite RJ's love for lesbians, I was surprised to find that estimate in the notes. Not surprised that it was so high, but that it was there at all. I tend to doubt that the aforementioned literature did not have something to do with his thinking here. His specification that most were bisexual is consistent with Athens et al. His words "to one degree or another" are consistent with Kinsey. His aversion to writing about gay men is consistent with repressed homosexual desires, but that is a story for another day.

He also had some weird ideas about power balance in lesbian sexual relationships (not seeming to realize that these ideas come from patriarchy and patriarchal ideas about heterosexual relationships). In general, there is a lot of attention paid to sexual matters in the notes, most of which didn't make it into the books, for which we should probably be grateful.
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Last edited by Terez; 05-14-2014 at 04:11 AM.
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