nita munus.ra munus nita.ra
You read Frazer, so you must have a smattering of interest in comparative religions; are you familiar with the diverse gender identities of the gala/kalû of Inanna/Ištar, who were sometimes men who took female names and wrote hymns in the exclusively female eme-sal dialect of Sumerian and had sex with men and married women and fathered children and were sometimes women? And that this is a rudimentary and almost certainly misgendering way to discuss this priesthood, because as the above description implies, the gala were not defined on a gender binary? Aṣûšunamir the assinu of Ištar's Descent is another gender-crossing figure of Mesopotamian myth. Often assumed to be a eunuch. Maybe. You can find lots of literature describing the assinû as homosexual cult prostitutes, although since Aṣûšunamir's explicit function is to delight and distract and soften the mood of Ereškigal, Queen of the Underworld . . . The kurgarrû are likewise ambiguous in gender.
I recommend reading the full post, as well as a subsequent translation of Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius' Saturnalia 3.8.2–3.
It prompted me to dig up Kathleen McCaffrey's article "Reconsidering Gender Ambiguity in Mesopotamia: Is a Beard Just a Beard?" in S. Parpola and R.M. Whiting (eds). Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East, which I photocopied during my MA and never got around to reading. It's a useful article that covers some of the same ground as Sonya's post, but suffers from a lack of the idea that gender can be "neither". It's worthwhile to look at gender through the lens of role rather than genitals: the possibility of changing gender by changing role without any modification of the body, possibly? (eg: women entering the male role of "king", thus beginning to be depicted iconographically as men, with features including weapons and beards, which raises the question of whether they grew/wore beards in reality; the example given is a 9th C BCE Assyrian "bearded queen" represented at Nineveh, notably only c.50 years distant from Šammuramat). But, but, this system of gendered roles becomes just as rooted in the binary as the gendered bodies of the Western system, this crossing between male and female without leaving the two genders, whether partially or totally. (It reminds me of reading Siri Hustvedt's The Blazing World, which I wrote about on Tor.com: the troubling of male and female by "both", sort of, without strongly considering the possibility of "neither".) And, really, gender beyond the binary and beyond aspects of a binary-defined "both" seems, to me, to be there. The bigger (and perhaps un-answerable) questions are what "neither" might have meant for people in the past, what the relationship/s with male and female was, what fluidity was possible, what relationship/s it had with bodies, roles, and so on.
(There're things I want to say about performance and gender and how talking about, say, a woman taking on aspects of male performance and therefore queering her identity, really frustrates me when it's talked about in a certain way, but I think that's a post for another day. I need to pin down my thoughts better.)
I want to talk about gender in the past on Tor.com, because I think it's important to talk about history. As I said elsewhere: our history is often visible between the lines of what we write about the future. (What we write about the present, too.) Many SFF writers struggle to depict people of all genders as people of the future, not men and women of the past -- based on a flawed understanding of the past. The supposed "newness" of queerness is an oft-used excuse for dismissal.
I recently re-read B's essay "What "queer" could look like in Hindi: translated poetry and queerness in regional tongues", which talks about the tension between trying to look to the past for our queer history -- through which lens/es? -- yet how important it is to see the queerness. There are always lenses, there is no objectivity, considering the possibility of gender identities that can be usefully termed "non-binary gender" is not (in my opinion) an overactive modern lens, but the how of approaching gender in the past is always important.
(This isn't my research area -- sidenote: it darkly amuses me when people assume my academic work is gender-related, as if I cannot possibly have other interests -- but it's something I intend to keep reading about, where I can, and I can, because I GOT THE FUNDING TO GO TO OXFORD TO DO A MASTERS IN CLASSICAL ARMENIAN STUDIES.)