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MM Romance in Ancient Times

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MM Romance in Ancient Times

- by Tim Youngblood

In ancient times, the concepts of sexuality and gender vastly differed from the binary systems that we know today. Although the sexes of male and female were noted, things like who people were attracted to or how they dressed were fluid and had no permanent labels. It was actually quite common in ancient religions for their deities to change their sex in various stories. Ancient societies understood the difference between sex and gender better than the majority of society today. The video below illustrates the views of ancient India regarding gender and sexuality, other ancient societies shared similar sentiments.

What did romance between two men look like in ancient times?

It was very common for young men to sleep with older men who would take them on in a mentorship role, a practice referred to as pederasty. This age difference would be considered taboo in modern times, but in ancient times, lifespans were much shorter and young women were sold into marriage as children. So some historical perspective helps with understanding an arrangement that would not be accepted in modern times.

Marriage before modern times was usually more about duty than love, especially for nobility.

This practice was especially common among aristocrats and warrior societies like the Spartans and Samurai. Pederasty wasn’t just practiced; it was encouraged. The younger man gained a role model which, in turn, encouraged the older man to be more honorable to set an example for his young pupil. The relationship would usually end when the younger man came of age, usually around the age of 18, when they could grow a beard. After coming of age, the younger man would go on to do “his duty”, and marry a wife to bear children. Many would continue their relationships with men even after marrying women. In fact, many women were jealous of their husbands’ relationships with their male lovers.

This painting from the Qing Dynasty depicts a woman spying on two male lovers. One of them might be her husband.

Pederasty may have been the most common form of romance between two men, but that is likely a symptom of the aristocracy’s access to writing materials, which is why most historical texts come from the upper class. There is no record of homosexuality being outlawed in ancient Greece, so many romantic dynamics will most likely be forever lost to history.

A Greek painting from around 450 BC depicting a youth playing an aulos for a courtesan.

Why isn’t this information more common?

There are two primary causes for a lack of knowledge on this topic; one of which is a tendency to mis-translate ancient texts. In many older languages, there were no gender-specific pronouns. A love poem would not address the object of the poet’s affection as “him” or “her”, it would simply be a pronoun similar to “they.” Without context, the scholars of yesteryear would assume that these poems and manuscripts were about men and women until recently.

However, many historians purposely neglected to mention these discrepancies in language, effectively censoring many historical texts. This bias can be attributed to the translators speaking gendered modern languages, which were a by-product of the rise of monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; which had much stricter requirements for social normality than religions of the past. There is still debate among historians today how accepted romance between two men was in various ancient societies, and the debate likely won’t end soon.

Christianity essentially deemed any sexual act outside of a married man and woman having sex to procreate… probably in the missionary position… as debaucherous and sinful. Gay romance was one the many sexual outliers outlawed by theocratic Western society. Same-sex love arrangements remained prominent in Eastern cultures, but eventually met the same fate as in the Western hemisphere in the 18th and 19th centuries due to colonialism and westernization. As a result of this massive sex-policing, most of the MM romantic stories today center around a “forbidden romance” element. In ancient times, however, there was nothing forbidden about it.

If you’d like to learn more about gay and LGBT romance and sexuality through history, we’ve compiled a list of reading materials on the subject. This list will be updated, so let us know if there are any texts that you’d like to see added to the list!

Ancient Greece

Ancient Egypt

Feudal Japan

Ancient Persia

Ancient China

Ancient India

General Military

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