One plus one equals 32

There’s fact, and there’s speculation. From the fact that he found some documents indicating that medieval men would enter into a formal contract to share bed, board and income, a “scholar” has extrapolated this into supporting the conclusion that the medieval world supported gay relationships:

For example, he found legal contracts from late medieval France that referred to the term “affrèrement,” roughly translated as brotherment. Similar contracts existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe, Tulchin said.

In the contract, the “brothers” pledged to live together sharing “un pain, un vin, et une bourse,” (that’s French for one bread, one wine and one purse). The “one purse” referred to the idea that all of the couple’s goods became joint property. Like marriage contracts, the “brotherments” had to be sworn before a notary and witnesses, Tulchin explained.

The same type of legal contract of the time also could provide the foundation for a variety of non-nuclear households, including arrangements in which two or more biological brothers inherited the family home from their parents and would continue to live together, Tulchin said.

But non-relatives also used the contracts. In cases that involved single, unrelated men, Tulchin argues, these contracts provide “considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships.” (Emphasis mine.)

That last seems to me to be something of a leap, considering that, in the medieval world, sodomy, the physical manifestation of gay love, was a crime, punishable by death.

To me, this type of “scholarship,” falls into the same shabby, wishful thinking area as the recent argument that Abraham Lincoln was gay. He could have been, but the narrow facts on which the “historian” Larry Kramer drew are as likely to prove that Lincoln, rather than being gay, was simply a product of more innocent times.

As it is, there were definitely homosexuals in the medieval world, some more famous than others. I’m sure, too, that there were homosexual couples who took advantage of legal procedures to try to benefit themselves economically, but I’m willing to bet that nobody ever, ever acknowledged that this legal relationship supported a sexual or loving one. In any event, this historic line of argument is a ridiculous jumping off point for trying to promote gay marriage today by arguing that the Western family construction, which is premised on a man and a woman, is just a modern concept:

“Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize,” Tulchin writes in the September issue of the Journal of Modern History. “And Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures.”

People have always had varied living arrangements, but you can’t hide from the historic fact that, in the Western world, going back to the pre-Christian times of Greeks and Romans, and definitely including the Jews, the core family unit has been a man and a woman. If Tulchin wants to go all medieval, he’d better be careful, because that road is as likely to lead to death and castration for gays as it is to marriage. And if Tulchin doubts this, just have him look at a country that still subscribes to these medieval mores (say, Iran), and ask whether they benefit or hurt gays.

I’m all in favor of a debate about, as opposed to a rush into, gay marriage or gay civil unions. I am not in favor of a debate skewed by intellectual dishonesty — which is what this recent work of scholarship smells like.

One Response

  1. Book,
    That is one fantastic essay. I agree wholeheartedly with every point. As you pointed out in your conclusion, the debate is skewed by intellectual dishonesty.

    It’s also skewed by our own cultural bias against male affection. In other cultures men were (and are) free to express a level of affection or platonic love that we in America cannot. There is evidence across history of many such intense friendships. Was sex involved in any of these? No way to tell. There is little evidence in some cases and no evidence in others.

    Much of what documentation we do incontrovertibly have, at least in Western history, is sexualized love of older men for teenage boys. There’s much more actual evidence, including in modern day Afghanistan – of that than of sexualized love among adult men. Yet no one claims we should follow those examples, adopt that into our culture. (Well, a few do, of course, but they are all on the discredited fringe.)

    What is astonishing to me is that in ALL such cases, our “modern historians of gay sexuality” – and I hope you can hear my sneer – take every such instance of affection and immediately state that all of them, ALL of them, are evidence of gay sexual practice. Anyone with half a brain, and any sense of different cultural norms, must know that that simply cannot be the case.

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