Since Game of Thrones hit the mainstream viewership, I have pondered the concept of alternative sexual lifestyles in the medieval, fantasy setting. It’s an interesting concept, and one that surprisingly hasn’t been touched on much in a lot of famous Middle Age pieces, like the Arthurian legends.
I always found this weird. Anyone who knows anything about Roman and Greek culture knows that homosexuality was not “taboo,” so to speak. Art, stories and historical records talk about LGBTQ+ relationships. Even Zeus had a relationship with Ganymede, who was described by Homer as the the most beautiful mortal ever to exist.
But by the time the Early Middle Ages rolled around, the concept of LGBTQ+ relationships was labeled evil, and were seemingly hidden from plain view in the time period’s legends and stories, specifically the British legends of King Arthur. For example, while Galehaut may have had a strong romantic obsession with Lancelot, the legend never explicitly mentions that Galehaut is gay. Furthermore, there are strong implications that Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere were all sexually active with each other. Society just likes to pretend that Lancelot and Guinevere were sleeping together, not Lancelot and Arthur.
This is the complete opposite from how the British monarchy actually worked. While a king was expected to father children to continue the bloodline, and flaunting a homosexual relationship was taboo, there are multiple reports that some kings, like Edward II of England, also had homosexual relationships.
So there should be no surprise that Renly Baratheon can be depicted as both gay and a strong potential heir to the Iron Throne. While Hollywood may, at times, perceive gay men as weaker than their straight counterparts, Renly is just as deceptive and strong-minded as the rest of the leaders fighting in the War of the Five Kings.
Furthermore, Renly’s lover, Ser Loras Tyrell, is a very skilled knight, fighting to avenge his lover’s death. If Renly was a woman, that storyline would fit right in with Arthurian lore.
So why is it that that go-to relationship in fantasy is the belief that the king valiantly fights for his queen, no matter what? There are just as many historical references of British kings hating their queens as there are for kings loving queens.
And oh by the way, women can be strong leaders too. Elizabeth I and Victoria guided England to immense prosperity, and I have a feeling that the women of A Song of Ice and Fire will play an immense part when George R.R. Martin’s finishes the story. But women/women relationships rarely happen. I think that is another wasted tool in the writer’s toolbox.
And, to be honest, there aren’t many examples of good woman/woman relationships in a medieval setting. Some reports show that Anne, Queen of Great Britain, had a relationship with favorite Abigail Masham, but that’s pretty much it. And the examples in Game of Thrones are of prostitutes pleasing their clients. There is no emotion behind it.
Ultimately, fantasy writers need to not fear backlash from having characters not follow the male/female dynamic. Having a leader live a sexual lifestyle outside of heterosexuality doesn’t make the leader weak, and to think otherwise is ridiculous.