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“attention readers: no homo”

just guys being pals

Historical figure: hey i want this dudes lips to touch my lips bcs he is my soul and my life

Historian: I’m sure there’s a very heterosexual explanation for this, honest

I don’t know about Polish, but in Russian “soul” can be an endearment like “sweetheart” or “darling.” So even if it’s not literal… still not something you say to your platonic BFF.
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if u ever get disheartened just remember people in the 19th Century were painting hot Napoleon/Tsar Alexander boyfriend yowz before our great-grandparents were even conceived

annicron I thought of you

THANK YOU i had been thinking of this post and how to find it again


Oh hey this one may be right up your alley? When it comes to history I am a Filthy Casual, but I do know sort of why Napoleon and Tsar Alexander’s relationship was a thing in the public collective? 

So Alexander was still in his ‘young sexy aristocratic-but-liberal’ phase in the early 1800s. He runs hot and cold on Napoleon until  ‘04 Napoleon straight up execute the Duke of Enghien on shoestring evidence, horrifies Europe (again), and Alexander decides to Fight this French Shit-Starting Shit-Starter with all he has. 

Meanwhile Napoleon would still really, really like Russia on his side, since sweeping reform is his jam and Russia is a pain in the ass to fight let alone try to annex, so he stays as friendly to Alexander as he possibly can while fighting a war against him. He opens negotiations, gets knocked down, gets up again, etc.

Alexander is having none of it, decides it’s his divine whatever to fight Napoleon, ignores everyone who tells him ‘Yo the French might be about to kick our asses, maybe neutrality?’ To which he answers ‘no, the Prussians and I will never get our asses kicked because God and the peace of Europe and I am young dumb and invincible.’ 

Then Alexander does indeed get his ENTIRE ass handed to him at the Battle of Friedland (aka the rout of Friedland), and sort of sheepishly decides to make peace.  Napoleon soaks Prussia for all the territory they’re worth, but he’s still got his eye on a Russian alliance and he knows that Alexander is still young (30, at the time) and has big dreams.  So: instead of twisting Russia’s arm he shows up with flowers and a box of chocolates and says ‘I know we’ve had our differences but I never forgot, let’s be allies’ 

Which brings us to 1807 and the treaty of Tilsit, conducted on a raft in the middle of a river.  


Young firebrand hotty 

His best frenemy Napoleon, they had a Thing but Alexander tearfully swears it’s over


Napoleon gracious in his victory

Alexander welcomed into his arms, the exes reuniting

If you’re picturing a scene in a manga I promise you so were the French propagandists. This whole making-peace-on-a-raft caught the public imagination and illustrators got very invested in the idea of this classical romantic male friendship™ between Alexander and Napoleon. Partially this was because the French really hoped that the alliance would stick because fighting in Russia -sucks- and part of it I’m pretty sure was just that people have always, always, in all of the history of mankind, been into celebrity gossip and celebrity romances. 

This is why during the period you get illustrations of it ranging from ‘intense eye contact over a treaty’ to ‘passionate continental kissing’. The word ‘brotherhood’ probably got thrown around a lot. Mentions of the intense friendship pop up in a Tale of Two Cities and Lord Hornblower (written 50 and 130 years later respectively) and that’s just the books I know?  The narrative stuck, is what I’m saying. 


I don’t have a lock on the French or Russian mores in the early 19th century, and I can’t tell you how many of these artists privately sketched some naked followup illustrations and how many were thinking about sanitized non!gay Greek shenanigans.  My gut tells me that if collective RPF fandom had been a Thing, the super popular tropes would be ‘Napoleon saves Alexander from peril’ and ‘Napoleon nurses Alexander back to health’ with a smattering of ‘Napoleon and Alexander United take over the world and everything is perfect’ and ‘they break up but UNITE AGAIN on another raft’. 

I’m also imagining an 100K epic adventure h/c fic where maybe there was a lion (yes in the middle of a Russian forest shut up guys don’t like don’t read)  that kills Alexander’s horse and Napoleon singlehandedly kills it and together they make their way back to civilization while IDK being captured by a cyclops and having other unlikely adventures.  1 million hits, 60K kudos, lots of fanart.

In conclusion though: yes, for a few years there Alexander and Napoleon being bosom companions was very much a thing, though it would take a less cazh historian (POSSIBLY YOU?!) to figure whether the popular notion was SanitizedGreeks or SodomyGreeks or whether the difference particularly mattered to people at the time. 

(And in the end It all kind of fell apart. Alas. #it all ends on elba, #never forgotten, #angst.) 
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@planb-becomeapirate asked: I have a question! lesbianism was taboo in victorian times and I’m assuming so was cross dressing? What is the explanation of pictures that exist where a woman is dressed up as a man and posing with another woman (who is a woman and it is strongly indicated they are a couple). For that matter, what is the explanation of photographs of women canoodling women? Did these ladies just not give a damn what people said? 

First of all, THANK YOU: this is a great question.

I’m taking the bulk of my answer from Sharon Marcus’s *stellar* critical text, Between Women (2007), and TBH, if you wanted to read a full-length answer to your question – complete with citations, specifics, use of previous historians’ work, and further reading – you honestly could not do better than to go read BW right now.

**Here, though, I’m cutting to the highlights of Marcus’s book. Admittedly, it’s still a long post.**

1: Those photographs – including the one below – show, in many cases, pairs of women dressed, respectively, as male and female halves of a heterosexual couple. As Marcus stresses, way more Victorian and Edwardian women entered into what many knew as “female marriages” (aka same-sex couples, unrecognized of course by the law, but often perfectly acceptable to close friends and family) than one might assume. Female marriages – and this is how weird the Victorians could be at combining progressive and retrogressive thinking! – basically were seen to pose no threat to the gender system, since the end-goal of that system was to reinforce in every possible way the monogamous, procreative, married couple form.

Basically, women (and men, for that matter) who weren’t out cruising or having casual and multiple partners, who didn’t get too kinky or proclaim their unrestricted lifestyle, stayed on the “good” side of what Gayle Rubin identifies as the domino spectrum of “sexual peril” (“Thinking Sex”); crossing into random hook-ups in clubs, paying sex workers, or even becoming a sex worker yourself, all started down the road toward social irredeemability. Photographs were often taken for personal use and, since the apparatuses of photography were ever more available for individuals nearing and after the turn of the century, it was anything but impossible to get or even make portrait-quality photographs of female couples. (And of course, certain studios were prepared to take any nature of photograph – for a price.)

[Example photograph from 1910, apparently showing two women in, respectively, male and female dress. © Powerhouse Museum, Australia:]

Even famous women like Frances Power Cobbe – who, if you’ve never heard of her, you should look up IMMEDIATELY – were in such long marriages. Cobbe referred to her partner Marie Lloyd as (at one time or another) her “life-friend”, a ‘“truant husband” when Lloyd was traveling’, “my old woman”, and simply “my wife” (Marcus 52). Numerous other Victorians and Edwardians in same-sex relationships used similarly fluid and overlapping terms to refer to their partners and to themselves. It wasn’t as simple, then, as one partner being the ‘husband’ and the other the ‘wife’: the models for such things were available in the public consciousness, but in real people’s lives the terms were more useful in signaling the seriousness of the relationship for those in it, and to those who knew about it, than in setting their roles in stone.

2: HUGE for Marcus is pushing present-day readers to acknowledge that the category of “friends” – not just special friends *cough cough* but non-sexual and non-erotic, same-sex friends – was SO much more elastic than we tend to believe today. Codes of femininity stressed the essential difference between women and men, and thus stipulated (in all the ways social pressure can: parental advice, peer pressure from social circles, literary, visual, and commodity culture, etc.) that women be demure, innocent, passive, moral, and domestic in their dealings with men (who were, by contrast, encouraged to be bold, educated, enterprising, protective, and worldly… but not too worldly).

Relationships between women (as it were) gave the participants FAR more space to explore sides of themselves they were actively told to stifle in their lives beyond those friendship: women were assertive with their female friends, possessive, flirty, demanding, commanding (even domineering), callous, and loving, sometimes all with one friend over the course of one brief but volatile relationship, as well as in life-long beloved ones. Pairs and groups dressed up, went out together, met in clubs, vied for social favors, hugged, kissed, petted, admired, flattered, dressed, longed for, wrote long and passionate letters to, and relied on each other for support at the best and worst of times. Often, when a dear female friend visited her married one, the husband would relocate to a separate bedroom, leaving the women to sleep together and catch up. Whether many, or any, of these women engaged in sexual acts together is – Marcus emphasizes – not only unknowable, but missing the point. The intimacy of such friendships was seen to foster “feminine” feeling and (mad though this might seem to us in some instances) even help the married woman appreciate her husband and her role as wife, daughter, mother, sister, and ruler of the household.

3: Class. Class matters all the time, but for the Victorians class was ENORMOUSLY important, and was intertwined with gender and sexuality in ways both explicit and implicit. Marcus admits that most of the women, real and fictional, she covers in her book are middle-class, because that’s where so much Victorian/Edwardian energy went into establishing a pervasive code: women who desired upward social mobility had to enter and excel within the system, even as much as they were able to find elastic and plastic “play” within that system. Working-class women, however, didn’t have this luxury. In many cases, this was literally true: the luxury of free time, of spare objects to trade as gifts on beloved friends, of room to invite other women to stay, of the dress/costumes for showing off or cross-dressing (whether for fun or as a self-fashioning of their preferred gender identity) – all these and more were simply not available to women who often had to pawn their few possessions on a weekly basis just to keep food on the table. These women –  as scholars like Judy Walkowitz, Olwen Hufton, and Ellen Ross all explain – did heavily rely on tight bonds of female sociability, whether this was in sharing what little they did have (washing tubs, pins and needles to repair clothes since new ones were beyond the budget, food, knowledge); pooling their labor so that they could collectively keep their eyes on more children than any one woman could mind alone; even passing on critical knowledge about sex, childbirth and child-rearing, abortions, money and household economy, and political agitation and action that would affect them as much as their husbands, fathers, brothers, and other male relations.

Lots of the examples in lesbian and other queer history (within the British context anyway) refer to upper-class women, because their blatant disregard for normative behavior was, obviously, tolerated because, yes, they didn’t have to care. Anne Lister, as early as the 1820s, used her large estate in Yorkshire as a home for herself and her two successive partners: first, Mariana Lawton, and later, Ann Walker (to whom she considered herself married from 1834 until her death). Lister often chose stereotypically “male” dress and referred to herself by a male pronoun and the name “gentleman Jack”. (So, for that matter, did author and artist Violet Paget at the the other end of the century, preferring her/his penname “Vernon Lee”.) But even that kind of story doesn’t end well once the legally-indisputable owner of the estate is gone: after Lister died, and despite that they shared their respective properties and that in her will Lister had left Walker a lifetime lease on Shibden Hall (where they’d lived together as married), Lister’s distant family took “less than two years to declare Ann [Walker] mentally unstable and incompetent to manage the two estates”, had her committed to an asylum, and left her there until her death in 1854. Even when big money had protected them, these and many more 19th-century women discovered how precarious their circumstances were, and how their gender and romantic/erotic lives could have major consequences for their financial ones.

[Image: Fanny and Stella, born Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, and discussed by Neil Bartlett for how they transgressed Victorian codes and forced a “contortion of the law” in order for their lifestyles to pass, as it were, under the radar. Photographed together – according to the Essex Record Office – ca. 1869:]

4: Coda. It’s worth keeping in mind that, for the Victorians, one of the central tenets of succeeding in society – not just getting into the good parties, but in having anyone look at you in the street, having friends who would visit you, having vendors who would take your business, keeping either your servants or, if you were a worker yourself, your job – came down to what might be termed plausible deniability: or, perhaps another way of putting it, public, tacit knowledge. As long as you didn’t make a scene, didn’t rock the boat, didn’t flaunt your difference, things could and definitely go on in private pretty much as you chose. Even working-class women definitely dressed as men in order to get work that was, increasingly over the century, exclusive to male laborers, but the rule came down to, to borrow a proleptic phrase, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. But once you, like Oscar Wilde or Fanny and Stella (pictured above), crossed that line and started to rub people’s noses in it – started to enjoy the hypocrisy of an “open secret” a little too much, and made the powers that be feel like they were being mocked to their faces – in short, once you forced that private, tacit knowledge to become explicit, your life could go very wrong, very quickly. 

* * *

There’s so much more to say, so I hope anyone interested checks out Marcus (Between Women), Walkowitz (Prostitution and Victorian Society), Olwen Hufton (on the economy of “makeshift”), Ellen Ross (Love & Toil), Gayle Rubin (“Thinking Sex”), Martha Vicinus (Intimate Friends), Judith Butler (Gender Trouble, especially the final chapter on drag), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (Between Men and always The Epistemology of the Closet), and all the various historians and theorists those works refer to and rely on.

THANKS FOR THE ASK, @planb-becomeapirate! I welcome any and all questions on matters Victorian: submit your question here.

*UPDATE*: here’s my first follow-up post, addressing a few more questions about Victorian words and notions around female homosexuality.
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A very furry story from the history of the space race! Khrushchev’s move strikes me as brilliant: half, “we may be engaged in a cold war, but we’re still human!” and half, “the dogs we sent to space are already having babies. How’s NASA coming along?”

Apparently, Pushinka (which means “fluffy" in Russian) was examined before arriving at the White House to check for listening devices.

Images: Daniel Mogford/Flickr, Ralphdj/Wikimedia Commons, The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, 
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So, we’re having the bathroom in our 100 year old house renovated and the contractor found these in the ceiling. They are letters to an American GI who was serving in France in 1955 and he has at least three women (at current count, we haven’t finished reading them) writing him love letters from London. Even once he’s back in the States. Monotasker and I are taking sides. I’m #TeamWendy while he’s #TeamHelen. I’m hoping I can get them scanned and put up in the cloud and then maybe track down some surviving relatives. 

TL;DR, this is so cool.

(Oh, and I will reblog this with updates as we learn more. This is going to be such a fun project, I can feel it.) 

First update after reading them all…this was the 1950s version of Tinder and this guy always swiped right. He had at least six women from both sides of the Atlantic. They exchanged pictures constantly. And a couple of the letters were downright smutty (lets just say Patsy would definitely be writing fan fiction in the modern times.)
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“…and I handed [Roddenberry] my resignation that I’d written out. And he took it, and he just, and I finally laid it on the desk and he looked at it and he said ‘Take the weekend, Nichelle’, ‘cause that’s how I know it was either Thursday or Friday, and he says ‘and think about it. And if you feel the same way the beginning of next week, if you still feel that way, think about this. It’s more than you think it is. Just think about it, and if you still want to go on by Monday morning, then… go with my blessings.’ And he took the resignation, and he stuck it in his desk drawer. And I said ‘Thanks Gene.’ and I skipped out of there, that went better than I thought. And as fate would have it, I’ve always used this word because I believe in fate, I believe it was fated, I was to be a celebrity guest at some fundraising thing in Beverly Hills…And so I went to do this on that Saturday night, and I had just been taken to the deus and been sat down when the organizer came over and said, ‘Miss Nichols, …listen, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan, …and he’s desperate to meet you… really want’s to meet you.’ And I said, ‘Oh, thank you’… And I stand up and I turn and I’m thinking, ‘It’s a Star Trek fan. He said a Star Trek fan. I’m looking for a young man who’s a Star Trek fan.’ I turn, and instead of a fan, there’s this face the world knows with this beautiful smile on it. And I remember thinking, ‘Whoever that fan is, is gonna have to wait because Dr. King, Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, at not ten feet away, with a beautiful smile on his face.’ And then, this man says, ‘Yes, Miss Nichols, I am that fan, I am your best fan, your greatest fan. And my family are your greatest fans. As a matter of fact, this is the only show on television that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to watch, to stay up and watch because it’s on past their bedtime.’ And I said, {mouths words}, and that was all I was able to say, my mouth just opened and closed. He said, ‘We admire you greatly, you know.’ And he said some more things and 'the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity’ and so forth… I said, 'Dr. King, thank you so much.’ And then I got the courage to say, 'and I really am going to miss my co-stars.’ And he said, 'What do you mean?’ Dead serious. 'What are you talking about?’ I said, 'Well, I’ve had an off-’ …going to say 'have an offer to star in’. I never got that far… He said, 'You cannot. You cannot.’ And I felt like that little boy Willis, 'Whatcha talkin’ 'bout, Willis?’, but you know I didn’t say that, but I was taken aback. And I didn’t say anything, I just looked at him. He said, 'Don’t you understand what this man has achieved?’ …and I thought deja vu all over again. I just looked at him. He said, 'For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen, every day. As intelligent, quality, beautiful, people who can sing, dance, …but who can go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be prof- who are in this day, and yet you don’t see it on television? Until now.’ And he went on, so many of the things, perhaps some of the things he said, but I could say nothing, I just stood there, realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. And he said, 'If you leave, Nichelle, Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us, if you leave, that door can be closed because you see, your role is not a black role, and it’s not a female role. He can fill it with anything including an alien.’ And at that moment, the world tilted for me, and I knew then I didn’t want to know it, 'cause I was going to go through some more turmoil for the rest of the week, but I knew that I was something else, that the world was not the same. And that’s all I could think of as Dr. King, everything that he had said, 'the world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.’ And I remember being angry come Sunday or whatever, 'Why me? Why should I have to-?’ Whatever happened, Monday morning I went to Gene, and I’m not sure to this day if I knew what I was going to say. He’s sitting behind that same danged desk, and he had whoever he was talking to had to leave 'cause I wasn’t there first, and I said, 'Gene, …if you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.’ And he opened his drawer, and he looked up at me and said, 'God bless Dr. Martin Luther King, somebody knows where I’m coming from.’ And he took out my resignation, which was torn into a hundred pieces, and handed me the pile, and we just stood there looking at each other, and I finally said, 'Thank you, Gene.’ And he said, 'Thank you, Nichelle.’ and my life’s never been the same since, and I’ve never looked back, I’ve never regretted it because I understood the universe had somehow, that universal mind had somehow put me there. And we have choices, are we going to walk down this road, or are we going to walk down the other? And it was the right road for me.”

-Nichelle Nichols, Archive of American Television
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from The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, January 3, 1835.

Who is Mr. Waterton? No idea, but I am charmed by his pet sloth.
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On September 26, 1983, Duty Officer Stanislav Petrov, stationed at the Oko nuclear early-warning system command center, saw that his computer system was reporting that six missiles had been launched from the United States towards Russia.

Mr. Petrov correctly judged that the system was experiencing a malfunction and that the missile strike was a false alarm, and did not call for retaliatory launches of Soviet missiles, thereby preventing what would have been large-scale nuclear war.

I am very glad of Stanislav Petrov.
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“Were there any straight people in this period of history?”

“Well…obviously speaking, there must have been some people that nowadays we would describe as ‘straight’, but we have to be very careful about applying modern standards of sexuality to the past. I’m sure if you asked anybody at the time if they were straight, they would have been very confused. And there’s something quite dangerous about forcing identities onto people who might not consider themselves that way. You also need to keep in mind that some things that today would seem ‘straight’ to us - like getting married, having children, etc. - were just the way things were back then. Nobody would have thought twice about doing that, including non-straight people. And there were plenty of people who undoubtedly got married, had very intensely emotional connections with their spouse, but then went off to go see their lover. Again, sexuality is a very complex thing, so I wouldn’t presume to state definitively that anybody was ‘straight’, and especially not without good, solid evidence that they were exclusively heterosexual. To presume otherwise would not only be making a lot of assumptions, it might even just promote harmful, overdone stereotypes about what makes someone ‘have’ to be straight, you know? So, yes, technically speaking there were, but I don’t see any reason to specifically consider straight people historically.”

this is what I’ve been saying

I think this is basically true though.

It basically is. It’s frustrating and invalidating for people to equivocate ONLY over assigning queer labels to historical figures, while they’re happy to label other figures as Obviously Straight. But I would be happier if people gave this disclaimer every single time someone made an assumption about the sexuality of any historical figures/time periods. A Queer History of the United States spends the entire first chapter talking about how we can’t actually call people straight/gay/bisexual outside of a certain historical/cultural context because those ideas are specific to us. It’s not that people didn’t draw distinctions between normative and non-normative sexualities, but the boundaries were frequently different - sometimes opposite, sometimes with no modern equivalent - from where they’re drawn today.
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Collection of lachrymatorys (or lachrymosas), these tear catchers or tear vials - sometimes worn on a necklace, sometimes merely held - were used to gather the tears wept by mourners at funerals, to hold the tears of people mourning the passing of loved ones. One type of lachrymosa had a special top which allowed the tears to evaporate (signifying the time to stop mourning), others had a sealed top to allow the tears to last for a year, at which point they would be poured on the grave of the person whom the tears were wept for, Victorian era, 19th Century.

On one hand these are beautiful and this is a really interesting and unique form of death ritual. On the other hand Victorians are sooooo fucking extra. Like wow could you make things any more dramatic if you tried.


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