I think that the reason that I’ve not posted much lately is that blogs require rage, and I’ve just not felt very ragey. What’s that? Dan Brown’s got a new book about flesh-eating Cistercians? *shrug* Somebody called a toaster oven’s lack of a self-cleaning mode “medieval”? *meh*
So I’ve been left trying to rekindle the rage on small tinder, lest I finally throw in the towel and admit that I’m actually an ex-blogger. Indeed, I almost wrote an entire post nitpicking a nitpick in a seven-month-old editorial about the terrorist agenda in the UK–but at last, the internet gods offered up this travelogue from the Times Online: The Medieval Lesbians of Tallinn. Finally, something worthy of my full attention.
To properly understand this article, I had to do some research.
Research item #1: There is at least one man employed by a major newspaper to go get drunk in exotic locations and then to write about it. I’m not much of a heavy drinker, but for the right salary and benefits package, I’m sure I could learn. My hat’s off to you,
Research item #2: The UK’s supply of locations for carousing and public drunkenness is critically low, so low that conservation-minded British drunks have begun seeking out the services of destination drinking binge companies.* One of these companies, Tallinn Pissup Tours, is featured in the article.**
Research item #3: Medieval lesbians wear string-bikinis and fake snakeskin high-heeled boots.
This final item gave me pause and caused me to worry that perhaps these weren’t medieval lesbians at all. The official name for Tallinn Pissup’s service is the “Medieval Lesbian Strip Show and Meal.” This could mean that these are practitioners of medieval-style lesbianism stripping in a modern fashion. It could also be a show of modern lesbians stripping in a style that dates to the middle ages.*** Or, worst of all, it could be actual lesbians from the middle ages, stripping in either a medieval or a modern style. Though, to be fair, judging by their pictures, they are remarkably well-preserved if that’s the case.
After taking another long look at the pictures on the website–for purely scholarly reasons, of course–I was forced to conclude that the service offered is actually for some modern girl/girl stripping that merely takes place near some medieval architecture. Ah well. You could always fire a rocket launcher at a live cow, instead.****
Now, it occurs to me that I need to add something to this post to salvage my scholarly cred, lest my readers come to believe that I’m just an overly literate frat boy. So, concerning the topic of medieval lesbians, it turns out that there is something to learn that is more interesting than the fact that ₤25 will buy you a pair of strippers and a meal near some medieval towers.
By and large, the Middle Ages was not overly concerned with homosexuality–and even less with the female variety. But there was a medical condition recognized by medieval authorities that might cause normally heterosexual women to become lesbians. It was called ragadiae. According to Carolyn Dinshaw, who is your go-to scholar for weird medieval sexuality, William of Saliceto’s 1285 Summa conservationis et curationis or “Bumper Book of Treatments and Cures” defines ragadiae as fleshy growths, often in the shape of a penis, caused by difficult childbirth, other abscesses of the womb, or sometimes friction from excessive sexual intercourse. Women who found themselves in possession of these growths would sometimes subsequently develop a desire to use them to have sex with other women.*****
No problem, you’re probably saying. Weren’t medieval women supposed to have as little sex as possible? Technically, yes–but on this matter the Middle Ages offered your basic damned if you do, damned if you don’t conundrum. According to Brundage and Bullough’s Handbook of Medieval Sexuality
It might seem weird to hear of a medieval doctor prescribing masturbation, but it makes a kind of sense. Theologically, sex was justified through its procreative function, so these doctors were just ordering their patients to keep everything in working order down there. It was almost God’s work. Think about that the next time you’re strolling down the “novelty item” aisle.
*That sentence may seem overly condemnatory. This is only because of my great shame that I did not hit upon the idea first.
**It’s also possible that I have the supply and demand relationship wrong, and that rather than an underabundance of places to get propperly pissed, Britain now has an overabundance of men wishing to get pissed, forcing them to use binge-drinker export services.
***I also worry about the conjunction there before “meal”. Is the meal medieval at all? Does it feature big turkey legs like at the Renn Fest? Or is it a lesbian meal? And if it is, does that mean that the turkey legs you’re eating belonged to lesbian turkeys, or that the legs were prepared in the traditional lesbian style?
****Apparently, this is something else that drunk Brits are rumored to do in other locales during their bachelor’s parties. YouTube it, if you’re interested. Man, the US is tame by comparison. If we get a stripper in the place at all, we think we’re wild boys.
*****This information from Dinshaw’s Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Post-Modern, p. 258. Also, just to head off any uncomfortable misunderstandings or disappointments with your medieval dating sites, ragadiae could also just mean hemorrhoids, according to Isadore of Seville.