Are Elves Gay?

I received some time ago a comment which stopped me in my tracks. I went back and forth on this, trying to work out my own thoughts on the subject, and to be honest I’m not sure I came to any solid conclusions other than ‘it’s not been presented that way before.’ Anyway, here’s a the comment and my reply.

 

First I wish to say, that I loved your books, especially Morathi was potrayed even better than I hoped. But I also hope I dont offend you if I say that there were lot of cliches, stereotypes and predictable events.

This brings me to my question. Basically I wish to know more about Elven homosexuality in wahrammer and censorship in GW/BL. Most fans get furious when I suggest I imagine Elves as pagans with very different view on sexuality.

I find it very curious that druchii who are often compared to Sparta and Rome, are according to most too ,,macho” pseudodarwinists to tolerate homosexuality, despite huge importance of homosexuality in both those warlike cultures. In case of extremelly hedonistic Druchii and sophisticated Asur this seems even more absurd.

Fans get even more angry when I suggest I imagine Malekith (and perhaps all Elves) as being quite bisexuall. Its not just that Malekith the Great reminds me so much of Alexander the Great and Gaius Julius Caesar (both bisexuall), it also seems natural to me that a mortal with such a long lifespan would surely experience some homoerotic affairs.

Am I wrong if I see GW as being similiar to Blizzard when it comes even to mere homoerotic references? On one hand GW is not afraid to sell completely naked harpies, witches in g-strings and daemonettes with six naked breasts as well as referencing to incestuous relationship between Malekith and Morathi and cross-breeding between different species, but is reluctant to make even slightest reference to existence of homosexuality.

I am not some childish gay person who demands to have such themes in every piece of art, its just that in warhammer fiction this phenomenon really lowers the potential for depth and credibility. It is especially obvious when it comes to any lore associated with Slaanesh and your description of athartists. Trying to bring such a natural feature (with huge importance on peoples behavior and fates) out of existence is like creating a world without gravity.

Otherwise I really like your work and I just hope I shall know thanks to you what to expect from GW in the years to come regarding this matter.

Sorry for taking so long to reply – I’ve been busy with travels and deadlines and didn’t want to rattle off something short and glib. You raise a very interesting point, and one that I’ve had to think about very carefully before replying.

Are there gay elves?

Yes, would be my overall reply, but though your examples from pagan cultures would make sense in the context of elven culture, I do not see their sexual society being as close to those you cite, simply from the few examples we have to look at. While the logic of what you say stands up, I simply don’t think this was what was intended when the early background of the elves was being written. The comparison with Athens and Sparta is a rough shorthand at best, particularly to highlight Nagarythe’s militarisation compared to a mainly citizen levy from other states; and also to present the political influence of Nagarythe and Caledor over the other, ostensibly independent, elven kingdoms. In other aspects – slavery most prominently – elven society is substantially different. There seems nothing to suggest that the distinction between adult, sexually active elven males and everything else – the basis for Greek sexuality at the basic level – exists within Ulthuan’s culture.

The only real background we have regarding elf sexual politics comes via the Everqueen. We know that the Phoenix King is required to sire the next Everqueen, but after this their relationship is purely formal (Aenarion notwithstanding). The only other relationship we have to compare is Prince Tyrion as the Everqueen’s consort, which suggests a more high medieval, courtly love than the culture of classical pagans. With that said, I don’t imagine there to be any particular stigma attached to homosexuality within elven society, and it may well be prevalent as you say.

A particular difficulty is that any special emphasis on homosexuality for Warhammer elves, as opposed to any other races, would feed into the juvenile view held by some that they wear dresses, are effeminate and, in a derogatory way, are gay. To include one homosexual elf in a story might smack of tokenism, while to explore it it more depth would be difficult within the scope of a Warhammer novel – just as exploring any other facets of sexual society is difficult given the guidelines for content that exist with Black Library. Creating the correct sort of context to explore these issues is tricky unless it is to be one of the main themes of a story, and cowardly though it may seem, it is not one I feel suitably skilled to present properly. Well, not until I’ve had a chance to think on it some more.

I’ll end by saying that I don’t think Black Library has any policy against portrayal of homosexuality any more than any other type of sexuality, but we all write from our own experiences and worldview and, as far as I know, as a bunch of straight authors we’ve simply stuck close to what we know.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to consider an answer to a question as involved as this, and it has made me think a lot about the assumptions I have made through my own writing. Thank you for that.

Published in: on November 12, 2012 at 11:30 am  Comments (13)  

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  1. Probably one of the most interesting questions about Elves to be fair, because you can’t really explain their mindset without ruining the races mystique.

    I always think of it in terms of species. Elves are the closest thing you can get to in most fantasy settings to true ‘aliens’ without adding limbs and other strange body parts. They look like humans with some superficial body changes (pointy ears, almond eyes) but are socially and mentally different, which leads many to view them as ‘arrogant, sham-humans’.

    My roleplay group (Warhammer and other systems) all view Elves in whatever game we play as the same thing, hedonistic joy seekers whose back story is always the same (got bored at home, went wandering), and their sexual views are always the same, bisexual and interspecies.

    Not sure if that is a comment on elves themselves or my roleplay group, but I mention it for comparison purposes.

    For me, I view Elves as ‘Aliens who look a lot like humans’, they have specific points of similarity but whose evolution is far different from our own. I do not consider their interactions as sexual, because they are very different from a human mindset that a lot of their views simply do not translate in our species.

    Hence: Alien.

    There is also the age gap between species, the maturity of each race in view of the evolutionary pace and the drives that make them different. In all honesty, we cannot truly comprehend just ‘what’ elf sexuality is, because you simply cannot compare Elf and Human culturally, only register the gap between them.

    There is also the emotional gap, what drives us does not necessarily drive them, and what we would consider some minor sexual quirk in human terms may be a simple gesture of affection and respect between two friends or compatriots. Again, the whole ‘alien’ argument.

    Sorry if this all seems a little jumbled, but here is a comparison I think will help.

    Think Star Trek. Think Humans and Vulkan’s. Think of the differences between the two cultures. Vulkan’s are Elves (Space Elves… you’d be surprised how often I get a ‘I never thought of it before’ from Sci-fi fans with this example).

    Think of the sexual hang-ups of the Vulkan race, having to use Logical reasoning to control their emotional state because they lack the maturity and social restraint of humans. Its much the same with elves I feel, having to wrap up their emotional states with care and diligence because they are A) very powerful, and B) can consume them if they dare explore their depths.

    Its a social hang-up, something to keep them all in check and focused on the wider problem of self control. Warhammer has the three elven factions, High, Wood and Dark, the three degrees of control. Lots, moderate and none.

    I could go on, but I think this should be more a point of debate rather than a personal views lecture. (re-reads) okay, its too late, it pretty much IS a lecture by now. Ah well, hope this confuses the issues for people.

  2. I think the fantasy setting allows for exploration of more than just Gay or not, which is pretty black and white. As i understand it Spartan society had homosexual acts as parts of some of their rites of passage, but i’m not sure of the evidence for this being more widespread to the extent of being a cultural norm? To my mind nothing in the Elves makes them more likely to be Gay than other races, but that said amongst followers of Slaanesh there must be more likelihood to carry out homosexual acts surely, and there are more Elves in this category than Dwarves are there not?

  3. I view elves in the Warhammer IP to have societal values most humans cannot understand. They evolved with a different physiology, a longer lifespan, and under a different set of circumstances.

    I don’t view the Asur as being overtly sexual on the norm. It seems to me they are more reserved, and respectful,towards whatever path an elf is taking to find spiritual contentment. A personal relationship with another is just one of life’s many options, whether it is with a male or female. Same for having children, living alone concentrating on a profession, becoming a part of the military, whatever. I believe they are reserved in this manner as they don’t want to interfere in another’s journey.

    You will find some though that want to experience more and more, and get caught up in the process. These would be the likely candidates for the Cult of Pleasure. Perhaps for some overcoming boredom becomes harder and harder. I know how bored I get just trying to find a good tv channel to watch, I don’t even want to imagine the elf who has to live a thousand years with such a limited amount of forms of entertainment.

    Druchii are a strange case, as they have quite a few conflicting values in their society, which will eventually come to some sort of a clash between the Khainites and those of the Cult of Pleasure, made much more interesting by how some seem to be involved in both. It also depends on which version of th elore you look at, as it seems from the first edition to 7th druchii have gone from being more sexually oriented to a more bloodthirsty, violent race. I picture in my mind a balance between the two, right or wrong, as it seems more natural than either extreme if you want to continue having any sort of functioning society.

    I would think though, that their view on “gay” is the same as the Asur, but for different reasons. Relationships are viewed as a weakness, something that can and will eventually be betrayed. So while they might have sexual encounters of various kinds and reasons, they are likely to be more closed about them least a competitor find out this information and use it against them.

  4. Just a clarification. In Sparta homosexual acts were banished by death or exile for both lovers. In Athens things were more free, but the sexual acts were a frequency for the higher classes of the city (mostly), as is shown in Aristophanes’s comedies. Moreover, the whole case of Erastes and Eromenos, as is presented by Plato in “Symposium” is a matter of schollary debate, that is impossible to analyze and discuss here.
    Regarding Alexander the great there is no metnion in any of the ancient sources regarding him being bisexual – these are later assumptions of modern day historians and “historians”. This is not even implied in any of the ancient “biographers” (ie. Plutarch, Arrian, Diodorus, curtius etc). Same thing for Julius Caesar, not him nor anyone says or implies something like this about him (Plutarch, Suetonius,Appian etc). In the case of these two men, the quite opposite could be said with all the wives and lovers they had. Homosexual practises were present both in ancient Greece and Rome; this message was just to try and clarify some misconceptions.

    • My understanding is that such acts did happen between Spartan youths going through the Agoge system and their mentors. My source is a BBC documentary by Bettany Hughes.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spartans_%28documentary%29

      The documentary is possibly a little sensationalist in parts but seemed to be well researched.

      • You could check anciemt sources such as Pausanias, Plutarch and Thucedides and others. This is mentioned anywhere. You could also check books of Paul Cartledge; he is a professor in Oxford University and consided the best scholar worlwide on the history of Ancient Sparta.

        According to agoge each youth had to chose an elder Spartan, called “omoios”, who was a full spartan citizen. This elder was responsible for this youth’s education in life and military aspects, up till his coming of age. This is misintrpreted by later shcolars mostly (you can check info about Erastes and Eromenos in Plato’s Symposium – sometimes it’s difficult to say the difference between what was later called platonic love and sexual love), but there were not any sexual acts involved between those two. In fact sexual acts would be punishable even by death in these cases. I can imagine that some exceptions to the rule would exist, as in any society, but officialy and at large these things did not happen in Sparta. As regards to Athens and other city states fo the time that’s another thing.

        Its’ a huge topic to start and analyze here.

    • That is not true. The history is in this case very similar to zoology. Both these sciences were bound by social norms to censor, destroy and ,,misinterpret” all information about such a taboo until very recently. It is actually surprising how many sources about homosexuality in Ancient Cultures are to be found even after 2000 years of reign of monotheistic religions.

      Even today this trend slightly continues on academic ground, but since pederasty and other homoerotic actions were so omnipresent in realms such as Ancient Greece, you can never fully destroy references to such topics without destroying practically all historical sources (it is like if our descendants tried for 2000 years to convince themselves through censorship, that our generations never used plastics, after 2000 years and after only a short period of enlightenment most people will believe that only few freaks in our times used abominations such as plastic bottles, many will even believe there were no plastic bottles among their ,,noble ancestors” and just some among the ancestors of their hated wicked enemies BUT a minority among both academic and common people will actually look at films and tv series from our times and not convince themselves that Julia Roberts is in that classical historical film drinking just from some strange ,,glass” bottle).

      Nothing in the history is absolutely reliable, but bisexual behavior of Caesar, Alexander and Spartans is as sure as it can be in a set of lies of the victorious called history. Of course you can easily find many respected historians, who will claim that homosexuality was not common thing in any period of history just as you can find many scientists, who will claim evolution does not exist, but such claims are motivated strictly by their moral code, beliefs and prejudice, not by neutral academic research on that matter.

      It is very easy to claim that Sparta punished homosexuality by death even if you support it only by referencing to some short specific period or by nothing at all. It is easy to claim homosexuality in Rome was controversial, if you ,,forget” to say it was only if you were both highborne and known submissive in anal intercourse. It is even easier to make Disney-like movies such as Gladiator or 300 and pretend that only few effeminate degenerate hedonistic freaks or the ,,soft” people of Athens did that. Or you can very easily pretend that all those homoerotic things were just a masculine kind of bonding among ancient ,,bros”. But it’s a lie. Truth does not win because of moral advantage. Truth wins because every lie is artificial, you have to put energy, time and resources into creating it and sustaining it. And no ideology is on top forever.

      For example Gods and Heroes of Antiquity by Vojtech Zamarovsky is an excellent book, extremely respected among academics. But just as zoologist sometimes marks 9 homosexual intercourses among giraffes as a ,,mere social binding” and the 1 brief physical contact as ,,heterosexual intercourse”, so does Zamarovsky in his whole huge book pretend that homosexuality does not exist. Its not just that he names 43 female lovers and not even one of male lovers of Zeus or Apollo, he does not mention such topic even once in those huge chapters about Ganymedes or Antinous, which is like describing David Beckham without referring to football.

      Easiest way to confirm facts about Spartans etc. is sadly through earliest homophobic propaganda of catholic church, which clearly describes how common was homoerotic behavior so many centuries ago.

      • Oh man, this could go on forever. I could make a list of ancient and modern historians/philosophers with views on the subject but this is just a blog of an entirely different subject. It has no meaning.

        I think that perhaps you have misintepreted what I wanted to say (or perhaps not). The best – and only – sources we have are the ancient writings. What we know is what we can deduct from these, not leave out. In some cases back then and in our days people jump to conclusions that fit to their ideas; they try to make the “truth” as they want it or comprehend it. This has to do with all matters of life.

  5. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing out that neither Games Workshop nor Black Library are particularly well set up for (or have any kind of track record in) dealing with any sexual aspects of culture. I’m sure there are plenty of intelligent fans minded to try and analyse things that way but the purposes for which the background has historically been required don’t really demand it. Just one of those things.

    It’s generally the case that people are increasingly cognisant of themes relating to sexuality even where that isn’t a principal part of the discussion, just like people are more aware of issues of gender and race (and very good questions about the depiction or inclusion of both of those themes can be asked of Black Library and the Warhammer World too, without saying that anyone has been doing anything ‘wrong’ heretofore; it’s just changes in awareness) so it might be that people writing even for what are (or were) at heart relatively unassuming fantasy worlds like those that have grown up around hobbies like toy soldiers might now need to think about. Or they might not. There’s certainly nothing wrong with saying, for now, that the answer is basically, “Never really thought about it.” I’m pretty sure that’s true of most of those involved.

    Going looking for precedents in whichever cultures might have inspired the elves or might have ended up analogous to them is probably misleading anyway – those cultures weren’t picked as models for their sexual cultures, and those aspects weren’t really called upon in any way I can think of; if they were, let’s be honest, going back thirty or even forty years now, there’s every chance it might well have been on the basis of the kind of derogatory ‘under the table’ assumption of exactly the kind you mention. Fortunately that hasn’t really surfaced as part of the elf stereotype, but I don’t think the answer to the question is to be found in precedent. It’s something people would be thinking about now, if at all.

  6. When I read fantasy, I want heroism and tall tales and I really wish to leave behind society and all its bothering questions.

    I think it is really annoying that even in a fantasy setting, some people are bringing this kind of debate.

    Are there limits to LGBT activism and lobbyism?

    • I am not a member of the lbgt community, but as a writer and as a role player, I find the question legitimate. Understanding how elven society and their mores and social values work makes it easier to portray them a bit more accurately, and as more than just generic card board characters. Mind you, this is only one small facet of the elven make-up, but it is one that gets asked quite a bit by gamers.

      Many of the Warhammer Black Library books also go beyond just standard army meets army, hero meets villain , story lines. Riders of the Dead, for example, did quite a bit of exploration of both Kislevite and Norscan society and how they compare to those born not only from the Empire, but from different levels of society. Mark of Damnation posed the question “what would a person do to survive”. Even Gav’s Malus books look at the druchii houses and their roles in dark elf society. I, for one, am thankful for these stories, and appreciate them not only for the conflict and strife we know and love from the IP, but also for lore that comes along with them.

      • Just a slight correct – The Malus character was created by Dan Abnett and the novels written by Mike Lee. As much as I’d like to take the credit and payments for them, I can’t…

        > Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2012 16:55:26 +0000 > To: gav.thorpe@hotmail.co.uk >

  7. […] referente a la representación de cualquier tipo de sexualidad, como bien nos explica Gav Thorpe en este curioso artículo sobre la posible homosexualidad de los elfos del universo Warhammer. Ya se sabe que los jóvenes […]


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