Thinking about Greeks? Hopefully you won’t, after reading today.

It’s often claimed, with some truth, but way too much oversimplification, that Greeks didn’t have homophobia, or that it was good to be queer back then.

A sizable number of people will fire back, that’s only if you’re the one doing the penetrating because they get peceived as men, not women. There’s no such thing as ancient homosexuality.

And that’s much closer.

Why? There’s no separation of gender via sex. You can’t have hetero vs homo because everything is between one ontological sex. Your gender is a social position, not a body type.

It’s like this. It’s a contiuum thing.

At one is Male Citizen Elites (think Ceasar, Senators, landowners and friends). They penetrate. Militarily, socially, sexually. They have fun going to brothels and leaving lots of grafitti about how good in bed they are, and that their rivals are cocksuckers. According to the medical anthropology of the day, they are cool, hard, rational, self-governed, and are paying attention to their pnuema (spirit, head, heart) and not their koilia (gentials, belly, desire). Terms vary slightly if your a stoic or a neo-platonist, but it’s basically congruent.

Under them are pre-male, pre-citizen, pre-elites. The boys of the above group. they’re almost men, but not yet. They might form into the cool, firm, self-regulated bodies of their fathers, but only if done carefully. They exersize, they learn (the right stuff, and not wussy, inferior, or emotional stuff), form their voices to sound confident and Male, and do all sorts of self-formation to turn them into men. Because they aren’t, but they could be. It’s hard for the modern observer to get the full ramificiations of this all, but they really aren’t ontologically men yet. They are on a process of formation that will lead them to becoming men. And it’s not just in their heads or about the right thoughts. Everything (physical and mental) that they do affects the form and substance of their body. For the Greeks, this meant nurturing the boy in to adulthood, often by sexual contact. Teachers would have the boys press their legs together, and have intercourse that way. Actual penetration was a bit taboo. For the Romans, this is gross. Being penetrated or even thighfucked can turn a Roman boy into a girl. And it turns the man into a woman, because he’s ruled by his desire, which is of course, feminized.

Quick digression in to Pauline Christianity. Paul says that before faith, they were “imprisoned under the law.” That according to the NRSV and many other translations. Not correct. The law was a “pedagogue” not a jailer. A pedagogue is a slave that teaches high status boys, and is assigned to protect them from strangers kidnapping them and fucking them and thus turning them into women. Off the topic, but it makes the point.

Under them, slaves, women. There’s some weird intersectionality, and so Elite Rich woman might be over some male slaves, but under others.

They’re down here precisely because they don’t have control over their bodies. They are skoas. Vessels or buckets. Recepticals for desire. Males take their desire built up in their koilia, and dump it into a slave or woman, because she’s already been made soft, pentratable, warm, and silly by desire anyways. Their idenity is that they’re fuckable.

So slaves don’t have a gender, they have a status as penetrated. Again, it’s helpful to go to Paul. He warns men not to go after prostitutes and throws a hairy fit about it in 1 cor 5. But shortly thereafter, he tells slaves to stay quiet. How is this connected? Those slaves (male and female) are being used and raped all the time. If they try to stand up for the “moral life” of the community, they get killed. So Paul exempts them from this teaching on desire, so they won’t get killed for refusing to get raped. Ugly, for sure. Practical, maybe.

So yes, there is some of what we would call homosexuality in the Greco-Roman worlds. And some of them (Greeks especially) think it’s a pretty good idea. But it’s a mistake to say they weren’t homophobic, they couldn’t have been like we are. We have a totally different knowledge/construction of what gender and sex are. But the constant factor is that penetrated parties have less control, status, consent, or voice. Women or softmen (a likely neologism of Paul’s that describes bottoms) aren’t Citizens, and they sure aren’t treated like it.

i hope this has been a constructive, if depressing, walk through history.

-sly

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