chapter  7
Prodigious Monstrosities
Pages 26

A monstrosity, of course, belongs to the class of “things contrary to Nature,” although it is contrary not to Nature in her entirety but only to Nature in the generality of cases.

A main topic of early modern teratology, the study or discussion of monsters, was hermaphroditism, and that was commonly thought analogous to at least penetrative samesex sexual relations. Also, as monsters were considered “contrary to nature” in some traditions, so sexual “sins against nature” could render their practitioners monstrous.2

From a Christian Aristotelian viewpoint they could appear hypermonstrous, insofar as sodomitical sex appeared to violate God’s entire natural order (*Theology). The Levitical rhetoric of “ab-homination” subsumed sex between males in the transgression of the perceived norms of humanity. Comparing females to males, Aristotle found the former incipiently monstrous, redeemed only by the natural reproductive utility of the womb.3

From Aristotelian viewpoints, then, sexual affiliations between females would seem to revoke that exemption, while males sexually receptive to other males would perpetrate the redoubled monstrosity of degrading their “superior” manhood to assume the sexual position and imputed status of a female, but in a nonreproductive semblance. The perspectives and media of teratological discourse were manifold, involving vernacular broadsides and pamphlets, religious and political polemics, portions of Latin medical texts, popular and learned miscellanies of marvels, and modulations within other discourses and genres, as in The Mooncalf of Michael Drayton (1563-1631), a poem partly satirizing sexual inversions. Teratology’s pejorative applications to same-sex desire helped to fuel and sustain homophobia by evoking and exploiting superstitious fears.