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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:

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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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Old 05-14-2014, 06:05 AM
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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.
Mayhap HBO will use it when the WoT is turned into a television series.
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Old 05-14-2014, 07:02 AM
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Mayhap HBO will use it when the WoT is turned into a television series.
Im holding out for a Netflix Original series
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Old 05-14-2014, 07:14 AM
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I am holding out for the return of theater serials, perhaps in conjunction with Netflix. Theater serials used to be a big deal in the US; they could be again. It's like getting a new movie every week, which TV does as a matter of course; a movie that doesn't last too long and costs less than a full feature (and still nets a far superior budget in TV terms.)
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Old 05-14-2014, 10:01 AM
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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.
From what I recall of that historical time period, male homosexuality was totally acceptable as long as one was the "Top" in the relationship...it was more akin to dominance than anything else (same with modern day prisons for that matter). Patrician males in both societies tended to Top their social lessers. I wonder if the White Tower was the same...we get a hint of it with Elaida dining with that Gray Ajah girl that she used to hook up with as Novices (cant recall her name...Melidanne? something like that?). I wonder how much of it is simply the lack of options and the lack of connection to the outside world. We have a highly unique closed society of same sex individuals that live far longer than their male counterparts out in the world. Outside of Warders and servants, they have very little day to day contact with any men at all. And hooking up with Warders is frowned upon unless one is of the Green Ajah essentially. Same with servants but across all Ajahs. We also have a society where women are Novice/Accepted for literally decades in some cases and at least 10 years in most cases (people like Moiraine, Siuan, Egwene, etc were the small exception) where contact with men is outright forbidden. They are in that situation in their peak sexuality years while their hormones are going wild...thus, we see a lot of same sex "pillow friends" showing up...even among women that are nominally heterosexual. Given the variations on the Kinsey scale, its not hard to imagine that most of these women are at least open to the possibility of a same sex relationship given the absence of other options and the physical hormones they have going on.

So, really not a surprise that a ton of them are either out and out lesbians or they swing that way due to a lack of options/institutionalization during years of training.

Besides, we all know its just a choice anyway, right?

~ducks~

~not serious~
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Old 05-14-2014, 10:12 AM
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I wonder if the White Tower was the same...we get a hint of it with Elaida dining with that Gray Ajah girl that she used to hook up with as Novices (cant recall her name...Melidanne? something like that?).
Something like that..
Though more like Meidani, actually.
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Old 05-14-2014, 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Davian93 View Post
From what I recall of that historical time period, male homosexuality was totally acceptable as long as one was the "Top" in the relationship...it was more akin to dominance than anything else (same with modern day prisons for that matter). Patrician males in both societies tended to Top their social lessers.
Not precisely. One was expected to play the 'male' role in adulthood no matter one's class; even a prostitute could be criticized for playing bottom. That role was supposed to always be played by post-pubescent yet beardless young men. This differs from culture to culture and time to time, but the well-documented period I'm talking about was a culture of pederasty. There was a recent period when male prostitution was still widespread among Venetian gondoliers; they almost always lived their lives as married men and played top for their clients, and thus they were able to dip into homosexuality without any perceived loss of masculinity. Lord Byron had a gondolier named Tita.

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Besides, we all know its just a choice anyway, right?

~ducks~

~not serious~
Modern queer theory approaches the idea that there is a great deal of choice in what gender we pursue, for most of us. In other words, our natural state is bisexuality, with few exceptions, and we choose heterosexuality (when we are able), consciously or via repression, because it is socially convenient to do so. The theory goes that the relatively small percentage of people who admit to homosexuality are those who really are only attracted to the same sex. Theory also goes that the people who really are only attracted to the opposite sex are probably about equal in number.
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Old 05-14-2014, 10:26 AM
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Modern queer theory approaches the idea that there is a great deal of choice in what gender we pursue, for most of us. In other words, our natural state is bisexuality, with few exceptions, and we choose heterosexuality (when we are able), consciously or via repression, because it is socially convenient to do so. The theory goes that the relatively small percentage of people who admit to homosexuality are those who really are only attracted to the same sex. Theory also goes that the people who really are only attracted to the opposite sex are probably about equal in number.
Note: like a lot of sociological theories, this one is rather lacking in evidence. Of course, agendas are often more important than evidence anyway, so this is only a minor nitpick.
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Old 05-14-2014, 10:33 AM
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The evidence is in classical antiquity: under different social conditions, sexuality can be a lot more fluid than we are accustomed to in modern times. The phenomenon is not limited to Ancient Greece; a form of pederasty seems to have developed independently in Ancient Rome, and various studies of non-Christian cultures have uncovered similarly ubiquitous homosexual practices.
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