Gender Stories

Gender & Sex in Medieval Times: a conversation with Eleanor Janega

December 31, 2020 Alex Iantaffi Season 3 Episode 45
Gender Stories
Gender & Sex in Medieval Times: a conversation with Eleanor Janega
Show Notes Transcript

Alex Iantaffi talks about gender and sex in medieval times with Dr Eleanor Janega,  a medieval historian. More specifically, Dr Janega specialises in late medieval sexuality, apocalyptic thought, propaganda, and the urban experience in general, and in central Europe more particularly. She has taught (and still teaches) medieval and early modern history at a number of universities across London, in the UK. Her work can be found in History Today, at the BBC History magazine, at sex education websites such as BISH, and on discerning erotica sites such as Frolic Me.
Content warning: this conversation might change the way you think about the middle ages. Also, they talk about sex, a lot. Apparently, it's a medieval thing.
You can follow Dr Janega on Twitter @GoingMedieval, support her work on Patreon, read her blog and pre-oder her book The Middle Ages: A Graphic History, illustrated by Neil Max Emmanuel.

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Hosted by Alex Iantaffi
Music by Maxwell von Raven
Logo by Lior Allen

Intro:

Everyone has a relationship with gender. What's your story? Hello, and welcome to Gender stories with your host, Dr. Alex Iantaffi.

Alex Iantaffi:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the gender stories podcast. Thank you so much for your patience dear listeners, I know it's been a while since I've done an episode but this 2020 and every week feels about like a day and a year at the same time. I hope you're well and that the wait will have been worthwhile. I know it's been worthwhile for me, because I'm here today with the wonderful Dr. Eleanor Janega yoga. And I'm excited. I'm so excited to have you on the podcast.

Eleanor Janega:

It's such a pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for having me, Alex.

Alex Iantaffi:

I've been wanting to do this for some time. And then all of a sudden was like, I haven't done this yet. So here we are, Dr. Janega is medieval historian specializing in gender and sexuality. And as a book coming out, A Graphic History. And we'll talk about the book. But most importantly, we'll talk about gender in medieval times. And I'm so excited about that. Anything else that should be saying to people to introduce you?

Eleanor Janega:

Oh, that's that's the main stuff that I want to get across. I mean, if you want more of this afterwards, I suppose you can check out also my blog as well, which is going hyphen medieval.com. And I just write a lot about politics and pop culture and medieval history. So you know, which obviously everyone is going to want to learn so much more about after this, because they'll realize how important and fascinating it is.

Alex Iantaffi:

Exactly. You're gonna be surprised that everybody's gonna go to your blog, you also have a wonderful Twitter account, which I really enjoy.

Eleanor Janega:

Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. Like I'm there. I'm yelling, and I'm there.

Alex Iantaffi:

I love your yelling, your yelling is often very, very purposeful.

Eleanor Janega:

It's true. It's true. It's one of those things where I kind of like vacillate back and forth from like, is, am I actually talking about history? Or am I just like yelling about politics? It's, and I would argue that you can't really be one without the other. So you know, that's, that's me.

Alex Iantaffi:

Exactly. I so agree. So let's, let's get right into it. And talk about how many misconceptions people have about times, especially when it comes to gender. Right. So what are your top pet peeves of what people get wrong about medieval times, especially around gender and sexuality?

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah, so this is a really obviously, like, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. And it's the thing that I spend all this time arguing with. Because for me, one of the big myths that we have about the medieval period generally is that it's quote, unquote, the Dark Ages, right. And it's the super lazy catch all for like, essentially writing off 1000 years of history. In the first place, the term Dark Ages was never meant to cover the medieval period, it just refers to the early medieval period. And it specifically means dark, like it has an occluded, so we don't have a lot of sources for it. So we just don't know very much what was going on. And there is this kind of like real tendency for modern people to think about history as a sort of like march towards goodness, or march towards equality or marched towards rational thinking. And we like to think that the Romans were a bunch of really good guys who were very rational and did nice things. And then when Rome fell, there was the bad time of the medieval period, where everyone was very stupid. And they just sat in ditches, throwing mud at each other. And then there was the Renaissance, and everything was fine again, and then we kept like going on with this glorious march. And so that's a really pervasive myth, that doesn't really make any sense. And, you know, I would argue that it's really born out of our own kind of like nationalism and colonialism. In particular, it's that we, we tend to look for a big, while basically big empires that are oppressing other people. And we say, Oh, well, that's what's good. You can tell that something is good. If there's a huge empire that's like constantly at war and subjugating other people, you can tell that that's when there's like good things happening. It's also a really weird way of looking at the world because it acts like Europe is the only part of the world which it's emphatically not. I mean, to be clear I am a europeanist. And also, it's interesting, because there it just like, we tend to take all of anything that we think is bad, we then call medieval. So for example, people will say, Oh, they'll talk about like torture being a really medieval thing I'll see. Now, you know, when people complain about extrajudicial torture that governments do, they'll be like, Oh, it's so medieval. And I'm like, torture is really much more of a modern thing. I mean, medieval people did torture people, but it's early modern people who really ramped it up. Stuff like witch hunts, like witch hunts are a pretty, they are an early modern phenomena. They are not a medieval phenomenon. So but it's these these sorts of things where people just make these assumptions where it's like, if there's a thing that they think is bad, then that's medieval. And it's also kind of like a really easy and lazy way of letting ourselves off the hook for all the bad stuff we do, where we're like, oh, yeah, basically, it's something that's bad that belongs to this 1000 year period of history. And oh, either side of that everything was fine.

Alex Iantaffi:

We're so much better now.

Eleanor Janega:

Oh, yeah, everything's great.

Alex Iantaffi:

Right, especially right now where I am, peachy?

Eleanor Janega:

Oh, full time. Absolutely brilliant times, you know. So for gender. In particular, when we talk about the medieval period, it's quite interesting, as well, because I'm writing a book about this as well, which should come out I don't know what to do in July. So like in July 2022, or something like that, let's see but I'm writing a book specifically about women. It's sexuality and gender in the medieval period. And one of the things that I find really interesting about this, and one of the things that I like thinking about is that, you know, I'm not gonna, I'm not here to tell you 'Oh, yeah, like women had a great time in the medieval period'. Like, that's not what this is. But on the other hand, the reasons why, you know, women are oppressed are kind of like different from how they are now, which I think it's really important to look into. Because for medieval people, when you kind of drill down to it, they like to take all of this sort of classical reasoning behind anything, and then sort of layer on top of it. So it's really ironic when you hear people be like, oh, yeah, Rome, and the Greeks and all that that was great. But then it all fell down with medieval people. And medieval people are actually like completely reverential about the ancient period. And so like a lot of the phenomenon, or thinking about gender that they have is actually Aristotelian. And it'll be about like Aristotle's work, or Plato's work and taking all of those and then kind of like slapping some Christianity on top of that, and then rounding it all off. So when you start prying into it, it's interesting, because a lot of their thinking about gender is the sort of like Aristotelian way of thinking about things. So it's like, well, there is a default human. And that default human is a man, right? So we, so that's how we define things, right? It's like, okay, so there's a human. So women are kind of like, the other one, you know, in comparison to that. And for all of this thinking, you know, both in classical and medieval thought, this is also tied to humoral theory. Again, with humoral theory, that's one of those things that people like to say, Oh, well, like, that's very medieval. That's something that medieval people did, dude, classical people came up with it. Galen was an ancient Greek, this is like that, it's like every single roman physician that you come into contact with was doing humoral theory to at first. That's it's, that's a pet peeve of mine is people act like Romans had workable medicine all the time, which just blows my mind every time I hear it. So like... I mean... Right now I object to it, you know, literally coming from Rome. However, people have a lot of misconceptions about what the Roman Empire was, seriously. It's, yes. This Golden Age was like, I think people like you said, just love like a large empire. And, and a lot of what we knew came from, like, Arabic culture, you know, from Greek culture, it came like yes. Yeah. It was always a constantly a means of bringing things in. Right? So humoral theory.

Alex Iantaffi:

Exactly

Eleanor Janega:

In humoral theory to is one of these things where, you know, it was generally in the Mediterranean world. This is just accepted practice, right? So there's kind of like the idea that the body, the body is is kind of like microcosm of the universe itself.

Alex Iantaffi:

Yes.

Eleanor Janega:

And it split up into four humors and the humors. They correspond to different conditions, right, so there's hot, dry, wet and cold. And then that corresponds to four humors within the body, which are blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. And those things are, are divided up across every person. And then that also corresponds to four temperaments, which is sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and oh, gosh, what's the third one? That's bad.

Alex Iantaffi:

I don't remember it either. It's been a long time in history.

Eleanor Janega:

So anyway, basically, the idea is that men are dry and hot, right? And like, and those are kind of considered more to be like the positive attributes and women are wet and cold.

Alex Iantaffi:

Yeah.

Eleanor Janega:

And so that is supposed to like rule everything about everyone, right? And it or not just explains everything away, right. And so essentially, men.... everything that gets divided between like being male and female, because there's just hard borders, hard borders and men and women, and this is how things are. And specifically, anything that is kind of like seen as more good is masculine, and everything that is more bad is feminine. And you know, this is ordinary stuff like you know anyone now who studies gender to be like, yeah, definitely, for sure.

Alex Iantaffi:

Things change very much, but...

Eleanor Janega:

But what I find really interesting about it is the ways in which for medieval people in particular, and actually classical people as well, the ways in which women are then deemed to be not as good as men are really different from what they are for men and women now. So for example, one of the big things that I never get tired about harping on about is that one of the proofs that women are sort of like, the bad sex here is that they are perceived as being like massively and insatiably horny. And so like, women are just absolutely sex adult creatures who can't get out of bed in the morning, because all they're thinking about is sex all the time. And men are very rational. And they're like, No, I do not enjoy sex. I am, I'm a rational being. And that is something that doesn't interest me at all. And that's something that we've completely inverted now. Right. So now we're like, oh, women are not interested in sex even slightly. They, you essentially have to trick them into sex by having relationships with them. Whereas men are completely sex addled. And they've only got one thing on their mind. And they're, they're running around with this. So the humeral way of talking about women being the horny ones has to do with the fact that they are cold and wet. So it's like in the first place, they're kind of like seeking heat. So there's this idea that pre puberty all humans are pretty warm, they're pretty warm and dry. And then when puberty kicks in, women start getting cold and wet. Yeah, and you know, women, like girls will still be colder and wetter than boys, but they're still pretty hot. And that's why, you know, they're not sexual, yet. They're not this, they're not that. So puberty kicks in when they start getting cold and wet. And they become really desirous of having sex specifically with men, and specifically kind of looking at entry sex here, because they're attempting to warm themselves up. So there's a couple of ways of looking at this, which is the first, women are sometimes called something similar to wet wood, so it's like, oh, it takes them a really long time to get going. But once they heat up, it's like really hot. So they get so horny, it's like a forest fire, where it's just almost impossible to stop once it burns, because it's so out of control. We just can't do anything about it. And what they're looking for is that friction, which warms them up. But they also derive more pleasure from sex, because it was thought there's two competing schools of thought about this, there is the one semen theory and the two semen theory. Two semen theory, slightly more prevalent. And the idea there is that both men and women have semen. They will, I mean, this is extremely cis stuff.

Alex Iantaffi:

Yeah. Like, this is a lot about genderism.

Eleanor Janega:

This is like all over the place. And then so basically, both men and women, when they have sex, when they orgasm, they are they ejaculate, essentially. And so women are, it's thought get more pleasure from sex than men, because the idea is that they get pleasure from their own ejaculation. And they also feel pleasure from men's ejaculate. And so, you know, medical writers like Abba Sena, or EP Sinha, who was a big, who was a kind of Arabic world physician, very, very important. He was like, oh, yeah, it the women derive pleasure from the very motion of men's sperm within them. So it's like, again, that motion that friction, like warms them up. And they're and they're really desirous of that. Single sperm theory is kind of like the same thing only women don't ejaculate, and but they still just love sperm. They just love it, just absolutely loves sperm.

Alex Iantaffi:

That's what's fascinating to me is how much around the series have so much about pleasure, which is no different than the way we tend to think about sex kind of in a more modern era, right? And there is really almost a move away from pleasure, especially where women are concerned. And so much of this is actually about desire, and last and pleasure, and that's necessarily what people might think about when they think about gender relationship or cisgender relationship, we should say and sexuality in the Middle Ages, right?

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah I think that's that's a very astute because sometimes what I say is that, like, actually medieval theologians have really won this particularized war, where they were trying to make sex, not about pleasure and not about desire or anything like that. And they were trying to turn it into a specific procreative act that only exists for this reason. And there's a huge history of that. So for example, St. Augustine of Hippo theologian he writes all the time about how in the Garden of Eden in theory, if, if Adam and Eve hadn't fallen, then they would have been able to procreate just by using like their brains, they would just be like, okay, penis, get erect, vagina, get, get wet insert, think, okay. You know, we have ejaculated, we're done, baby.

Alex Iantaffi:

Oh, bless St. Augustine has some really weird that. Yes. Catholic and I was like, he had some weird, not really enlightened church ideas. Yes.

Eleanor Janega:

And my man was he's also just like this massive hypocrite because for years and years and years of his life, he had like, you know, he had concubines and all these extra recurrently. Then he joins the church, and he's like, in the first place, vaguely horny about Paris, which, okay, but it's, that's fine. So for him, he there's this idea that procreation would have, if we had all fallen, you wouldn't experience any pleasure from it, you just do it, it would just be something rational. And he writes a lot about sexuality and sort of shame associated with about a lack of control of genitalia. And so for him, like, part of like, the shame Eve has brought on people is that they're no longer in control of all this desire. They feel all this horniness that they feel. Whereas they would have never felt that ideally without the fall, and they wouldn't be feeling that it still. And everyone kind of agrees in the medieval period that like sex is really, really fun, right? And they spent all this time being like, knock off doing all the fun sex that you enjoy, because people are actually more interested in, it seems from the way that people write about it. The sort of sex that now we are like, Oh, that's not quote unquote, real sex, right? Because real sex is just penises and vaginas. That's the only one that really counts. Medieval people were like, yeah, we like everything else.

Alex Iantaffi:

Like, you can do a lot more than penis and vagina sex. I know. And this is whats great about the Middle Ages. It's like, we make all this assumptions that this is how we've always thought about sexuality. This is how it's always been, like you said, there was an active campaign, but theologians to really take the fun out of sex, pleasure out and also to blame women for this kind of masculine sexuality, right, which still is to this day. You know, I remember as a teenager with a good Catholic boys, it's like your fault if they feel desire, right. And you're moving them into temptation like St. Augustine did win that one. Was that something else? It's not this is not how it's always been. This is not done sex or thought about sex.

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah. And it's like for them, you know, that's also really kind of ties up with, you know, the conception of sodomy, generally, as well, because it's like sodomy, that they waged this huge war against, right. So you absolutely shouldn't be doing sodomy. You have to just be doing this procreative sex. You know, sodomy being anything that doesn't lead to pregnancy.

Alex Iantaffi:

Yeah.

Eleanor Janega:

And so like, no, no, handjobs no, oral No, nothing like, no, they're really into futage. There's a lot of frauding that goes on in the medieval period. And the church is constantly be like, please stop doing this and just have penis and vagina sex. Oh, my God, I'm begging you. Like this is so this is so not what we want you to do. And they've won that war. You know, now in the 21st century, we very much that's how we define sex. We're like, oh, well, I don't know if no one's if no one's vagina was penetrated or no one's penis was enveloped. Did you have sex? No, it's not real sex. Whereas, you know, obviously, there's this whole range of sexual expression that, you know, the big. The big worry here for medieval people around that meet medieval theologians is there like, that's the one that everyone likes, though, to like the one that people are doing. Because it's really pleasurable, like all the sex that is like, really, really pleasurable is all the stuff that you're not supposed to be doing? Because the only reason you're supposed to be having sex is to procreate. And we've just internalized that now. And we're like, yeah, yeah, sex exists for procreation. Absolutely. That's why it exists. And for medieval people, it was kind of like, sex exists almost as a punishment, a very sexy punishment that you really, really enjoy. Right? So it's like, the reason that sex exists is that it's like a trap, because it's so fun, that like, you're maybe going to be led into sin with this. And so women, of course, are more likely to be led in sin by this because, you know, women be sinning in general.

Alex Iantaffi:

And then from the beginning of time, according to the Bible.

Eleanor Janega:

So it's like the thing that one of the things that denotes women as opposed to men from the Christian standpoint is that they are just more prone to sin and they are more prone to suggestion. You know, they'll be talking to snakes. You never know with them. So yeah.

Alex Iantaffi:

So basically always doing the fun stuff. Church doesn't like it. That's fascinating to me about this as, like I said, first of all, how much pleasure there is when it comes to sex and sexuality in the Middle Ages. But also that I know that it could there were all this theory they're very cisgender is theory, you know, it's also sis normative and heteronormative. But you know, it's not like gender and sexuality, we're only cisgender. And on the other asexual in the Middle Ages, right? Big misconception in the same way that people are like, Oh, kinky people were invented yesterday, when your middle ages were super kinky in the same way that like, oh, trans people, they came from Tumblr, you know, queer people, it is this, you know, held modern age we live in, but it's not true, is it?

Eleanor Janega:

No, it's not true at all. And it's one of those things where we see all of those things like, you know, adamantly present, you know, if you're looking for it, you know, for a long time, just people wouldn't look for it, because well, and I... A. sometimes it was actually staring people in the space and they were like, I do not see it. I'm just not going to interact with this. Because the way that history gets used a lot of the time is, you know, the other way that we use history, so Oh, there was a pure past when people were not sinful, like now. And they were an oh, they were all holy eyes on God, which is a big way that medievalism got used around sort of like the the late 19th, early 20th century, it was sort of like used as a way of contrast against industrial, industrialized society. And like, oh, everyone was more godly. Everyone was more eyes on this, whereas you go back to the medieval period, and they're talking about, you know, kink, they're talking about queer things, there are trans people walking around. But there's also a different way of looking at it. So because for example, now, we really think about all of these things is like identity. Right? So it's like, well, you know, when someone is heterosexual or bisexual, or you know, just gay, you know, like, so it's, that's the thing that one is, and for medieval people, that wasn't really true. It was a something that you did. So it's like, sex isn't something that defines you as a person. Other than, do you have sodomy or not? And like, that's it. So and technically, you know, a married cis woman and man, if like, she go gives her husband a blow job, she's as much of a sodomite. And he's as much of a sodomite as two gay dudes, right?

Alex Iantaffi:

Yes

Eleanor Janega:

What would you call gay dudes. But the difference is, there is a way for women and men to be having sex that isn't sodomy, whereas there wouldn't for two of the same people with the same sex. And within that, it's interesting, because sometimes you see theologians actually go in more heavily at married people who are doing so because they're like, you have a kind of sex that we said that you could do? Like, do you have an approved sexual? Like, what is your problem? Just do it? Whereas a lot of people that we see condemned for sodomy, a lot of the time it's like monks and nuns. And it's like, oh, well, what are you gonna do? You know, they're just, they're really just hanging out with each other all the time. So yeah, you know, a certain amount of sodomy is bound to happen and.

Alex Iantaffi:

And kind of almost acceptable in some way.

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah.

Alex Iantaffi:

Becomes part of the lore in some way.

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah. And it's, it's interesting, because it's like one of these things that we kind of even now really sort of expect that and people kind of expect you to be like, oh, yeah, well, a lot of monks were gay, that sort of thing. And I mean, partially, that's because we've got really good records of what they were thinking and doing. Because these are people who sit around writing all the time, right. So they do, you know, we have their love letters, we have their reflection on things. There will also be occasional moral panics within monasteries and nunneries, where, like, someone will say, that had a vision of hell, and that we've got to like root sodomy out of the monastery and...

Alex Iantaffi:

Stop having those orgies and...

Eleanor Janega:

That's like, sort of, like, Oh, I've been I've been to hell and back, and we've all like knock off the orgy right now. And so there, we have a lot of really good records about that. And we definitely also see especially references to particularly, you know, gay men, as we would say, especially income like from the 14th century and later on. Hell frescoes become a really big thing people just love on the side of a church, they want to paint hell. And they like to depict all the kinds of different tortures that you get in hell for the seven deadly sins. Sodomy kind of falls under lust. It's like one of the issues with lust. And one of the things that they like to show is it's sort of like whatever your sin was in life, you get sort of like the inversion of that. So there becomes like this real obsession with kind of like, for example, showing men who are lustful, being spit roasted, like naked, and you're like you're supposed to understand like this penetrative thing. So we do know a little bit more about that. And we do know more about like these panics about gay men in particular, because people like St. Thomas Aquinas was a real dick about it. Because he likes to make hierarchies of everything. And for him, he would always talk about sex as being logical or illogical. And it was like, oh, it's completely illogical. I mean, the worst thing that you could do, in his opinion was beastiality. And like, sort of like the heart agree. We kind of agree on some things, meaning Thomas Aquinas, but it's for him, though almost like ranking is pretty much on par with homosexual sex. Because it's like, well, yeah, that both, neither of them make any sense. It's like that that's something that you wouldn't do generally. So we definitely know that like, homosexual people are present, it's just that they don't call themselves gay because they don't think of themselves as that, that's not the way they're doing something. And that's something that they probably enjoy. I'm sure that they feel terrible about it because society is spending a lot of time to although, like the monks, nuns, hilariously, when nuns are going for it, they don't seem to have a whole lot of remorse about it at all.

Alex Iantaffi:

That doesn't seem to be a lot of that kind of nunnerism in the Middle Ages. Well, and also a lot of nuns were kind of almost forced into a convent. It's not like it was like this free choice for a lot of people. Right?

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah, it's like, with both, I mean, like both really, it's like most monks and nuns, like they basically get sent there by their family. It's like, we've got this extra kid. And it'll be there from richer families because you got to kind of put money in but then you also have like, you know, whole orders of nuns, for example, like the Madeline's who are all what you call quote unquote, reformed or repentant sex workers. And they'll be like, Oh, bless me father for I've said, I've been a big old sex worker and to be a technically the, the standard penance to be for being a sex worker is just to go get married and have kids. But um, if you were really feeling bad about it, you might want to join a convent instead. And then and really pray about it. And you know, so that's open, but a lot of times, yeah, you basically get marched up to a monastery or Nunnery when you're like, eight to 11. And it's like, there you go. There's life now and families kind of see this as like a down payment on like, prayers for their family, it seems like a 'get out of hell' faster card, because you always have someone who's praying for you. And because also interestingly, you know, like, all of the, you know, on and on and on about the way that we tend to centralize kind of like, a penetration. A lot of time nuns were like, well, not doing penetration. So....

Alex Iantaffi:

It must be okay. Right, that's the coin. What the theologians were trying to do if legitimate sex was with a vagina, then all this other stuff must can't be that bad, right? Must be...

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah. It's like, although we also know that like, people like, women were having sex with other women using dildos and stuff. Like, we know that we've got receipts, we've got actually literal receipts about like, you know, that someone in the lowlands made a red leather dildo and harness for a woman we know. And that's, that's kind of hot, you know, I don't actually know who she was using it on. To be fair, there's the bishop who shot a Vermes, who wrote a penitential, which is essentially a guide book about, like, if you're taking confessions from people, it gives you questions to ask if they're not like being particularly forthcoming. And it also lets you know, what penances you should get if people do certain things, and he's got this whole thing where he's, like, oh, you should ask women if they're making dildos, if they're then making like strap ons to use their dildos with, and then if they're using just the dildo on himself, or if they're using it on other women, and it's like, it goes, basically the penances for that go up. And it's like, even for worms, he's thing is like, well, if you're just kind of fooling around with another woman, you know, if it's just like, hand stuff, that's, I mean, it's not good, but it's not that bad. But then by the time you're making dildos, that's much more like, oh, I don't know about this, because there's this whole thing about it being like, inverted and that unnatural, you know. For medieval people unnatural, it also means more specifically in line with God. So there's like, and...

Alex Iantaffi:

What's, what's fascinating to me is that it must have been pretty common. If you made it into like, a book, right? It's, it's, it's how, like I say, Now, while if it's made into like a Netflix series or something, it means that enough people have experienced. And it's a bit like that it's an IF made into this penitential it must have been a fairly common occurrence in ages for women to be doing this.

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah, this is a thing specifically with medieval history, right? We don't have you know, like, the term Dark Ages, you know, basically, hence, we don't have a whole ton of sources that always survive. So when we have multiple sources that are all telling us the same thing that do survive, we're like, Oh, yeah. Okay. I guess that's, I mean, potentials are also a difficult one, because basically, they're written by this group of people who are essentially sexually deviant, and that they're celibate. And so sometimes it's like a little bit sometimes it reads a little bit like some dude be like, Yeah, are you making strap ons? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And you know, like, tell me tell me about that. And they'd like you do have to worry about that. But having said that, even controlling for that it looks very much like this is something that is a fairly regular occurrence. We also know, for example, that like, there's a lot of trans people about. Interestingly, we have a lot more trans men that tend to show up on the record.

Alex Iantaffi:

That's fascinating. Tell me about that. I didn't know that.

Eleanor Janega:

A lot of the time it's like monks and stuff. So a thing that happens really commonly is that, you know, brother, you know, Bertrand or somebody will die, and they go to bury him. And they're like, oh, surprise. So, interestingly, that doesn't change the way they feel about it. They will still, like refer to him as brother and things. They're just like, oh, well, now, I guess we know. And I mean, I think that there's also, you know, with that there's a certain amount of also judgment of women, right? Because it's like, well, of course, you'd want to be a man. Like, obviously, everyone would be a man. Like, if they had the choice like that. That's a perfectly logical way of relating to it. It also kind of shows up in a lot of like saints, miracles and things, where women who are going to be, you know, classic, you know, a woman who is Christian is going to be forced to marry a pagan Dude, she's watching prays to God, He gives her a beard. And then her husband says, oh, nevermind, I don't want to marry a woman to the beard. And she says, hurray and joins a monastery instead. And, but it is really specifically played out. It's like, oh, well, now she is a he, and now that he's got this beard, it's like, you're off to the monastery with you live your life, like your best life. So we have tons of that but we also do have, like trans women show up in certain places. For example, here in London, we know in the 14th century, there was a sex worker who was also named Eleanor, who got apprehended having sex outside of the Tower of London. And turns out, she was trans. And she kind of gets apprehended at first, because you're just you're not supposed to be having sex outside of the Tower of London, if you're doing commercial sex, that you're supposed to be having it across the bridge in southern, you need to be outside of London proper. So that's what she got apprehended for it first. And then they were like, Oh, you're trans. And then and they're really quite interested in it, it really comes across like the way that they write about it. It's very, like, quite obsessed and sort of like it's, treated it kind of like in a chasery way, almost where it's like...

Alex Iantaffi:

Definitely nothing much has changed.

Eleanor Janega:

We're like, Oh, yeah. And then what did you do 'uh huh uh huh'. And she says, Well, this is something that I picked up, you know, I was really desperate and poor. And I started hanging out with a bunch of other sex workers. And they were like, look, you'll make more money, if you know, and then I was like, Hey, I could be a girl too. And then then that's just it. And we don't really know what happened to her, we think she might have like, either been let off or escape. Like she was sort of brought into court. Everyone was like, tell him, tell him about tell him about how you're trans and like, she has to, like, go into court and be like, Yeah, I'm big trans person, you know, or whatever. And then we don't know what happened after that. And so there's kind of a big question mark over her. But we know that, you know, basically, if people were getting caught, and it's showing up on in records like this, again, we know that it's something that's happening. And, you know, it's no surprise to anyone that especially in a sort of community that is this kind of punitive, and this specific about what gender is, and what it means that, you know, we'll see more sex workers in segments of society that are already kind of on the outside, like sex workers. So it's like, yeah, that's a great place to go find some, some trans woman, you know, then as now again, because it's like, well, how do you get through the society that is really saying, you know, this is what you have to be? And how do you deal with the poverty that ensues from that? You know, and it's one of the only trades that was really open to women in the medieval period is sex work, which is like, how...

Alex Iantaffi:

And that was, for all women, like that was, you know, says, I'm trans like, and it's so interesting that there is read this paradox of like, you are not, you're not allowed to exist in any other way. But also your existence is completely titillating in some way. And that's when it's aligned with femininity, when it's aligned with masculinity of oh, this is logical, and we'll just go.

Eleanor Janega:

Slowly with men, right? It's like, oh, wow, this is great. We love this. And then when it's aligned with women, it's just this the sexual immediately. Yeah. And so it's, that's really depressing. I mean, in terms of kink, it's quite interesting, because like, there's a lot. There's a lot of stuff around the shop, but which always interests me, then there, it seems to be, you know, particular interest, for example, in just you know, masochism, in particular, in sadism. And we see it in that come about in a lot of different ways. You know, you'll see it in instances, like, for example, there is a 12th century philosopher Peter Appleyard. And he's got this kind of celebrated relationship with his it's which is kind of creepy in real in the his two T Eloise who he goes on to knock up and marry and all this stuff. But he was very, very famous philosopher. If you've seen Being John Malkovich, and you've seen the puppet show that he's doing at the beginning, that's Appleyard and Eloise where the guy punches him on the street. So they have a bunch of hot and horny sex and this sort of thing, but they're not supposed to be having A. because they're not married at the time and B. because Appleyard is her tutor. So there's this whole thing about how occasionally Appleyard will um, hit her publicly in front of other people to kind of a keep people off the scent of the fact that they're having sex. But also, there's a specific thing where he writes about how the blows that he gives her are more tender than any kiss could be. And they both write about it in this really kind of like, sexualized way. And so there's this kind of performance that for them both establishes their religion, that religion, their relationship in their minds, but it's also they're clearly like deriving real pleasure from this. We also know a lot in terms of like, looking at stuff like art, because the art gets kind of horny, very quickly, especially around kind of like s&m thing, so, which people don't realize, because a lot of it is religious. But I mean, you just gotta go look for it. And it's there. So you have examples, for example, say, Agatha, who have Titania. And she, yeah, we love her. And she's, again classically, Christian girl who was supposed to marry a Roman didn't want to, so they decide that they're going to torture her before she's executed. And one of the ways she was tortured, she has her breasts cut off, but then I think it's St. Peter that shows up in jail is like, oh, here, girl, your titties are back and like, give them back for her. And that's...

Alex Iantaffi:

That's her leg and Cecily you're going to church and this like there's some target of with their breasts on a plate. And I'm like, my British partner visited was like, what is happening? There are though, I was like, yeah, those are boobs. Make sweets that are like breasts in Cecily in honor of St. Agatha. You know?

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah, it's her. It's her in St. Lucie. And it's live in St. Agatha is boobs and St. Lucy's eyes. Yeah, so St. Agatha. Agatha has all this art of her. And she's like very provocatively kind of like, stripped to the waist. And her hands are tied above her head. And they'll be the Roman guards that have like, it'll be like, the instruments are right up against the boobs, but like not doing anything yet. And so and it, it's fairly kinky, you know, or you have, you know, queer favorite St. Sebastian. You know, and he and he gets tortured by being tied up to a tree and shot with arrows. And he is often like erotically tied up and stripped naked. And, you know, you could say, oh, well, you're just reading queer things into it. But we know for a fact, there are during the Protestant Reformation, like, right at the 15th century, you have all these 16th century, you have all these people who are like, Yeah, well, it's good that I'm a Protestant now, because when I was a Catholic, I used to go to the church. And I would just get so horny looking at all the pictures of saints, and it was just like, so hot, and like, my dick would be so hard. And I'd be distracted from thoughts of God by all the horny art of saints there was. And so they are telling you that the way that they related to this is, like, sexy, so we'd like it's not us, like we don't have to, you know, or they'll have ecstatic visions where they'll be like, Oh, I was praying in church, and Jesus came down off the cross, and he was covered in blood, and I licked it off, and then we made out and then I put my hand in his side wound and like, they're telling you, like about these extended makeout sections or sessions, they're imagining or like, ecstatic orgies were cross and He has sex with all of the nuns in a convent, and they all have sex with each other. And there's like, a bunch of stuff about him being bloodied. And it's like, that's what's hot, you know, so we know that kink is about the shop, because they're just straight up telling us you know, there's, you know, if almost all art that survives is religious, because that's just what there was room to do. Like, that's what there was room for professionally, then yeah, people are gonna get the horny stuff and where they can and they they do you know, so it's, it's just one of those things where we tend to go oh, well, if it's religion, you can't hide these things in there. And video people are like, Look, everything.

Alex Iantaffi:

Hold my beer. I'll show you. We've been doing this for a while. And I think that's the thing with the myth, the medieval times. People have this idea, like preside at the beginning, right. Ideas that we have dismantled them. You have dismantled them already in like a few minutes. Tell me about like, how do you translate all of this for something like a graphic guide where I'm assuming there'll be either some content warning or like weird, like, you know, put my like rating on the podcast and children don't listen to this one unless you have parental guidance.

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah. that's really wanted, because it's like, so I suppose for my God, it's like in the first place, all I had to do was, you know, put 1000 years of history in a book. That's it, normal.

Alex Iantaffi:

Easy peasy, right? So I've done the kind of like a traditional thing of like having a big way that we talk about pre modern society, in generally, in general is we will use the term persecuting society, which I'm always like, really, like, we need to be very careful with that. Because certainly, you know, the medieval, early modern and ancient period, we're all part of a persecuting society, but we're still in one. So like, let's not go around patting ourselves on the back. But, you know, there is a real opportunity within that to kind of like talk about groups that are often overlooked. So I've got specific spaces where I talk about, you know, lepers, sex workers, Jewish people, Muslims and women, you know, and all these things where it's like, okay, well, like, let's drill down more specifically. I tried really hard to get women in, generally, into the conversation. But you know, there are times when you're you just have to be like, here, we're gonna talk about humoral theory, this is the way that you think about women. And I mean, the trouble is to like when you when people are really horny, so it's hard to kind of like, get the horny stuff out, it's like, if you want to talk about courtly love, you specifically have to sit down and be like, well, this is about a bunch of married people being horny for each other, and like in writing each other letters about how badly they want to bang, and there's like, you can't get around that. So I just had to choose words very carefully, and say stuff like Bang. And it's but it's also really difficult, because, you know, it's one of those things where with a graphic guide, you know, people say, Oh, look, a picture, and oh, it's the medieval period. So this must be for children. And I'm like, This is not for you. And also a kid would be just bored out of their tree. Because, you know, half the time, I'm just being like, Oh, the autoneum Renaissance? Isn't it interesting, when, you know, it's like, you know, I think that's interesting. And I think readers will, but I don't know what the average 11 year olds, I don't think that they are that interested in the walk to Canosa. You know, that's all I'm saying. It's, that's, that's for telling the story of the history. So it's an interesting one, because I think the way that we tend to relate to history a lot of the time is, is this particularly dry thing, and it's just a bunch of like kings and wars, it's a list of what you what history is, is a list of kings and wars. And the more wars, the better the king was on land. That's basically it. But we're finally starting to kind of broaden out and recognize that history is basically just looking at, you know, looking at stuff that's old, one way or another. So, you know, what I say that I do is, you know, I'm a social historian. So what I'm interested in is talking about society generally. And it's just kind of like the equivalent of being, you know, a sociologist now, or an anthropologist now, but it's just I do it with people who have been dead for a couple 100 years. That's it. You know, I'm just, I'm trying more specifically, to recreate what a society was like, I don't, you know, I'm, of course, I'm interested in, you know, important dead people, because they have an effect on things. But that's, that's not what I'm about, like, I'm trying to figure out what conditions would have been like for the average person by taking that stuff, and kind of flushing it around. So hopefully, the graphic guide reflects that. And so but it you know, it does everything that you kind of need, it might and the thing that I did is I based it on first year courses that I taught all the medieval period. So it's like all the same things that I want a group of 19 year olds to learn in a year. It's it's doing all those same things, basically. Yes, and not too R-rated.

Eleanor Janega:

Exactly, not too R-rated. Just R-rated enough to get people to pay attention, you know?

Alex Iantaffi:

Well, it also sounds like it's really hard to talk about the Middle Ages without being R-rated because there was so much like you said there was so much sex going on. And what's fascinating is that even let you know, the way we think about gender you already talked about the way we think about sexuality is not the way to think about it now. It's about behavior rather than identity, right? Even gender when you think about the humoral theory, right? The division between the genders doesn't come from genitals, which is fascinating, right? That's one of the things we say it's like, science is not neutral, you decide the things that you choose to pay attention to. Right. So there's, there's almost an empty, undifferentiated nature of the genders until puberty right where differentiate just because of sex, but because of those humors.

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah and that's what it is. It's actually about like your humor, your humor as being the thing that determines everything else. So they because it's sort of thought that like, you know, when men are hot, so the penis kind of grows out sort of away from that whereas women are not sufficiently warm to grow, which is the idea that it's like, well, ideally, your dick would have like, Come out if you were warm enough, but you just weren't warm enough. So there is actually much more of a way of thinking about, you know, genitals and that sort of thing as being well, yeah, it's a toss up, everyone's got everything, and it's just down to the heat. It's down to the the requisite amount of heat. And that's what makes that determination. But it's all the same thing that then your heat your heat, does it? And yeah...

Alex Iantaffi:

Which is very different than the way we think about it now, I think. So that's fascinating, too. It's very different, but also kind of similar in terms of what we know now about maybe no. Genders not being as inherently differently different as we think they are.

Eleanor Janega:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And you know, they there is that even though they love to do a gender division, they do have this kind of, like, innate thing of like, yeah, there isn't, you know, in the first place, souls are kind of like gender neutral. And then yeah, it does. Yeah, women are worse, obviously, it's like, it's always kind of shameful that you ended up being a woman, like, oh, how dare you. But within that there is also this acknowledgement that it really could have gone either way, you know, and sexual practice on the part of parents might determine that, you know, just luck and timing might determine that there's all sorts of different things. But it is one of those things where, you know, yeah, and, obviously, I'm sure you've probably talked about this before, but even up into, you know, the 19th century 20th century, there wasn't a real gendering of children so much it was you slap smoke on them, and it's like, get out, you know, and then that's it. It's not like until Victorians when it's like, oh, no, we have to start putting everyone in the requisite clothing, and they all behave in this way. You know, so for medieval people, it really is about just kind of like when your humerus start kicking in. That's the thing. That's an actual thing.

Alex Iantaffi:

I could keep talking about this for a long time. But I want to be respectful of your time. And one of the questions I always ask is, is there anything we haven't talked about, that you feel it's really important to name or mention or talk about?

Eleanor Janega:

That's a good question. I suppose that's the main thing, I'll just kind of like underline what like my point, the sort of like, my point is the way that sexuality and gender works is really complex. There are certain things, obviously, there are certain in terms of historical the historical relationship to it. And we tend to say, Okay, well, things were always like they are now but they were just more rigid, and we're just moving towards an increasingly permissible place. And that's simply not true when we look at it on the face of it. And you see a lot of the same results as a result of this thinking. But also we see the basically the mathematics that you use to get there are completely different. And I think that's really valuable to think about. Because if we just acknowledge that things are a social construct, I'm not saying that social constructs aren't real. What I'm saying is that there that can be dismantled, because if it's a construct that we're all agreeing upon. And we're all saying, Well, women are like this, because of x, y, and Zed, but we'd get to exactly the same place, which is that women have to be lesser than men, because of these five things. Well, if those five things is constantly changing, but the outcome is that a woman is always treated, like she's not optimum, the optimum is a man, then that's something that we can take apart. And we can dismantle. If people want to act like a trans people were invented on Tumblr, as you say, it's only it's only something now. And it's not something that happened before then they need to explain why it is that we see such evidence of it in the past. And I think it's really telling when we look at the relationship that people had to, for example, trans people in the medieval period. It's often kind of seen still in the trans panics that we have now, where it's like, oh, well, yeah, it's a you need to focus more on trans women, because like they're doing Oh, it's some weird sex thing. It's got to be a sex thing, because you know how that is. Whereas it's like, a lot of the time, either trans men, everyone ignores them, or it boils down to baby making, and it's like, oh, well, how dare people not be making babies? Because that's the only thing that women are really good for is their potential ability to maybe make a man right? So we can actually learn a little bit from the medieval people on trans issues, because they're actually a little bit more like, I don't know, okay, you know. And they love it when it happens and when it turns out that like, a monk is exist, they're like, this is we love that. That guy, my good friend, you know, and they're like, Hey, everybody, they want you to know he was trans and they still refer to him as a dude. So it's like, maybe, maybe when certain people are writing ridiculous, like moral panic guides about trans men right now they could chill out and learn something from the medieval period. Actually cooler about this stuff. That's all I'm saying you know...

Alex Iantaffi:

I mean, you made the Middle Ages sound very cool. Like history was not my favorite stuff in school I have to say but now I want to pick up a history book.

Eleanor Janega:

Yay!

Alex Iantaffi:

So I know you mentioned the blog at the beginning so if people would like to find your blog or find you on social media where can people find all things Dr. Janega because you're awesome.

Eleanor Janega:

Oh, I love you. The blog is All My Stuff Is Breaded. I'm on Twitter I'm at going medieval capital G mapital M. My blog is going-medieval.com because some fool got to goingmedieval.com and he's not even using it and I know it's I know it's a man and I'm just like give me give me my rightful URL please but it's going on so I usually new stuff up there every week. Oh and I suppose for in the gender the gender stories podcast universe. I also have from you know are like we're we are like a writing metamors metamors thing. I also have a new podcast if people are interested in it called Sex Jams with Justin Hancock, where we listen to we listen to pop songs that are about sex. And we kind of take them apart critically as a success story and and a sex educator. So that is up now in the culture, sex relationship universe. So if you're interested in those things, do check it out.

Alex Iantaffi:

That's so exciting.

Eleanor Janega:

I'm just constantly talking about sex and being like this really reminds me of courtly love.

Alex Iantaffi:

Do you have a Patreon as well?

Eleanor Janega:

I do. I do have a patreon as well.

Alex Iantaffi:

May you should say that.

Eleanor Janega:

Oh yeah, I'm so bad at asking people to pay me for my labor. It's ridiculous. Yeah, my Patreon is Patreon slash going medieval and there if you're interested in becoming a patron at the minute all my patrons get a bespoke podcast every month where I read a medieval source and analyze it out. And then they also get a newsletter and a video every month where I do various things so it's very exciting. I just chose today my podcast this month I'm going to be doing a bunch of ghost stories because the medieval period Christmas time is associated with the undead as you do and this month for the the other content my friend Sorrow Oberg struggle another medieval historian and I are doing a watchalong of the Netflix flicks terrible Christmas movie, A Night For Christmas, which is a terrible rom com. We're about a 14th century night coming to I think Cleveland I don't know anyway....

Alex Iantaffi:

I love A Night For Christmas. It's Christmas movies. It's like it is so bizarre. It's yeah if you haven't watched that...

Eleanor Janega:

Everyone go watch that and if you want and if you want to contribute to the Patreon you can know what I think about that. But yeah, help. Hello, I'm a sex historian.

Alex Iantaffi:

Well, thank you so much for coming on Gender Stories today. I really really appreciated this conversation. It was so fun and I'm sure the listeners thinks it was also so fun. So please go find the blog, the Twitter feed and the Patreon and also sex gems with just so much exciting material out there and and stay curious because the history books don't tell as it is as you've learned tday. So thank you so much for listening and thank you for being on today.

Eleanor Janega:

It's such a pleasure. Thanks so much. I've had such a blast.