This paper reads sexual encounters between humans and otherworldly creatures in Sir Orfeo and Sir Gowther as examples of queer sexuality. A human with a fairy lover undermines the normative ideal of the human relationship that produces pure (racially, socially) and legitimate heirs to aristocratic positions, so in these lais the male fey are queer: they mix their sexual pleasure with violence and are racialized as Other. The paper also considers unexpected links between these medieval human-fairy liaisons and the contemporary sexual practices of BDSM.
Traditional interpretations of the Medieval Irish Sheela-na-gig stone carvings have relied upon patriarchal and phallocentric beliefs about women’s bodies and sexualities, using terms such as ‘grotesque’ and ‘obscene’ to describe their female features. In my paper I draw upon the work of Julia Kristeva and Adrienne Rich to develop an alternative and feminist critique of this interpretive tradition. I conclude by discussing the renewed debate over the interpretations of the Sheela-na-gig images of woman as a multifarious site for new knowledge about gender and sexuality, demonstrated by the feminist reclaiming of them during Dublin’s Millennial Celebration in 1988.
The reading curriculum of 11-12th-century cathedral schools (ie.the Latin auctores) contains several depictions of gender fluidity in adolescent boys, in such texts as Statius’s Achilleid and Terence’s Eunuchus. While the primary purpose of this curriculum was to improve reading comprehension and Latin grammar, cultural notions of gender and sexuality were conveyed at the same time, at a formative stage of students’ social development. This paper will examine the ways in which medieval commentators explained the characteristics and behaviour of these ambiguously gendered adolescents to their own adolescent students, connecting Roman and medieval notions of masculinity and adolescent liminality.