Bawdy Gay Latvia!

posted by Madame Bubby

Surprises abound when sifting through the wealth of LGBTQ archival material at Bijou Video. I picked up an issue of a 1970s vintage gay porn monograph or serial (not sure) called Hard? A Pictorial and Literary Study, which is comprised mostly of explicit gay sex photos, with a running text by one Dr. Jack Muller. In other words, to pass the censors, even at that time when restrictions on such material were easing up, the publication is billed as “Educational Material for Adults Only.”

Muller gives in this issue an ambitious history and analysis of pornography. I found his discussion of censorship and homosexuality and its expression interesting, and it correlates to some extent with my previous blog on this subject.

It's painfully obvious the Church/Empire nexus that began under Constantine drove any type of sex other than heteronormative procreative sex into the shadows, while at the same time creating single-sex environments, such as monastic communities. that contained homoerotic “meta-structures.” In fact, bawdy, ribald literature, though mostly heterosexual, was preserved, but also originated in medieval European monasteries, whose inhabitants were copying manuscripts of sexually explicit materials by Roman poet Ovid and others. (And in many cases not just copying, but “enacting” the actions depicted in the texts with each other.)

Ovid Manuscript
Ovid Manuscript

Meanwhile, on what was then the edge of European civilization, Constantinople (the Eastern Orthodox Church) and Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) each fought for the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity, but as was the case in Europe, it was often difficult to discern a boundary between “pagan” or “heathen” cultures and the institutional dynamics of the Church. (In fact, the binary of pagan versus Christian is actually a later interpretation, a narrative built on the idea that the Church was one monolithic entity opposing an inaccurate lumping together of the pluralistic, syncretistic religious universe of the ancient world as paganism.)

Map of Latvia in the Middle Ages
Map of Latvia in the Middle Ages

The Slavic Lithuanians actually did not officially convert to Roman Catholicism until 1387, as a condition of union with Roman Catholic Poland. The motive was political, a top-down move by the rulers (as was the case previously with European countries).

Latvia, Lithuania's neighbor to the north, was also a late convert to Christianity, the process occurring in the 12th - 13th centuries; in fact, the local populace in the countryside maintained their pagan belief systems for several centuries, with pockets of paganism surviving in Latvia up until the 17th century.

Krisjanis Barons
Krisjanis Barons

One form of erotic expression that survived in Latvia was the daina, and thanks to the writer and editor Krisjanis Barons (1835-1923), part of the “folk-nationalist” movement the Young Latvians (at that time Latvia had been absorbed into the Russian Empire), these were written down and systematized in several volumes.

The dainas were short, rhymed verses in sing-song meters easy to remember orally, reflecting on the cycle of life and death; humans live as integral, organic participants in a natural landscape, and this landscape of course includes sexual activity. Love, the selection of a partner, and marriage with that partner are common themes, and mostly heterosexual, but Dr. Muller, using a book by by Bud Berzing, Sex Songs of the Ancient Letts, quotes several which are blatantly describe homosexual acts.

Cover of Sex Songs of the Ancient Letts

One wonders, though, if these elements might have been, given the overall patrilineal emphasis in Latvian culture (even before the dominance of the Church), sung to mock and even abuse, especially foreign oppressors like the Teutonic Knight and Order of Livonia Germans who colonized Latvia in the Middle Ages:

It's a German with an aching head,
While my dunghole's hurting bad;
Come on German, place your head
Close to my dunghole.”


“This boy, a pal of mine,
Has a two-headed pecker;
When he works in the drying barn,
He don't need any fork.”

“Come, laddie, rake some hay,
I got a place for stacking it,
I need one handy guy
To drive a stick in it.”

Latvian gay poetry in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study
Latvian gay poetry featured in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study

These types of verses (which were sung out loud at weddings and other events that celebrated life cycle moments) shocked a seventeenth-century German bishop named Paul Einhorn. He wrote, in his Historie lettice in 1649, “Afterwards such improper, brazen, and flippant songs were sung without interruption, day and night, that even the devil himself could not have devised and put forth anything more improper and lewd." The early modern European emphasis on enclosure and boundaries in a time when nation-states were trying to figure how religious institutions fit into their political and social goals spelt doom for many ancient customs that found profound value in the physical cycles of nature.

This was the time when the English Puritans banned the “heathenish” Christmas (albeit temporarily), Counter-Reformation popes covered up nudes, authorities everywhere burned witches and heretics and homosexuals at the stake, and Louis XIV proclaimed that he was the state, which meant vicious persecution and exile for the French Protestants (Huguenots). And a German bishop couldn't deal with euphemisms for genitalia!

It's interesting that it took a nationalist movement of resistance to rediscover and disseminate these songs, which have survived to this day even as new theocratic, nationalistic empires like Putin's Russia (and remember, Latvia had been part of the former Soviet Union) try to censor, subvert, control, and for LGBTQ persons, eliminate sexual expression.


Wikipedia, entries on Krisjanis Barons, religion in Latvia, Christianization of Lithuania, entry on Dainas.

Muller, Jack, “How to Be Circumspect,” in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study

Berzing, Bud, Songs of the Ancient Letts

Dryer, Richard. “Ovid in the Middle Ages,” at

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Spring Is Here!

Spring Is Here!

Just think: not too long ago, Chicago's landscape was covered with filthy, lumpy ice.

Now, in the Middle Ages, people really celebrated spring: so many songs about flowers blooming and animals and people screwing:

Sumer is icumen in,
Loude sing cuckou!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed, (meadow blossoms)
And springth the wode now. (wood)
Sing cuckou!

Ewe bleteth after lamb,
Loweth after calve cow,
Bulloc sterteth, bucke verteth, (leaps/farts)
Merye sing cuckou!
Cuckou, cuckou,
Wel singest thou cuckou:
Ne swik thou never now! (cease)


Peasants celebrating Spring

That was a time when life was much more precarious, and so when the inevitable cycle of nature began anew after a long winter (often a time of deprivation but also semi-hibernation, depending on the state of the autumn harvest). When spring arrived, the people celebrated, but they also had to participate in that cycle by literally sowing seed: a cycle of work and pleasure.

We've lost that intimate working connection with the land; thus our bodies and souls can't really hibernate or prepare to rejuvenate the way nature intends.


Sex in front of a fireplace in the dead of winter is wonderful, but if one is exhausted from commuting across windswept tundras, a cup of steaming hot tea is more enjoyable. (I wonder how the inhabitants of lands near the Arctic Circle fare with their long, sunless winters and short summers.)

T.S. Eliot claimed April is the cruelest month. I might say March is more cruel, which lately seems like the last, often vicious in-your-face blast of winter rather than a harbinger of cute lambs, bunnies, baskets of pussy willows, sprouting crocuses, and dewy grass. The weathermen Tom Skilling on WGN-TV Chicago actually called the month “schizophrenic” because of its extreme weather contrasts.

But there's one day, usually in early May, when I wake up and it everything has bloomed, like it happened overnight through some miraculous intervention.


It's unexpected, like the best sex. I want it to happen, but I won't know it has happened until it actually has happened!

Lush woods



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Beer, instrumental in the creation of the world, part one

Beer, instrumental in the creation of the world, part one

I recently saw a show on the Discovery channel the other night that informed me about one thing that we all should be thankful for, and that is Beer.


Beer truly makes the world go round. Yes I learned that beer is the basis for everything in this world (I shit you not). The show was simply amazing, so grab a bottle and learn a little something from the Chicago's night life sexual underground. Early man was a hunter-gatherer, each day he wandered around for a couple of hours hunting looking for something to eat. May it be animal or vegetable it didn't matter the routine until around 9,000 B.C. Of course early man did a lot of  fucking also or we won't be here (to enjoy a good beer).

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