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The Oxford English Dictionary defines courtship as “The action or process of paying court to a woman with a view to marriage.”[2] Courtship is thus, by Standard English definition, a heteronormative practice available only to masculine-gendered male subjects as an action or process directed toward a feminine-gendered female object eligible for marriage. Queering courtship, then, requires us to redefine courtship, or to theorize a category of specifically queer courtship in which the sex and gender roles of the partners are more fluid, and in which the goal may be something other than matrimony. In practice, however, such a queering presents great challenges, in part because the cultural customs and social behaviors associated with queer courtship (cruising public places for courtship partners, for example) are constructed as deviant by the dominant discourse; thus, a queer courtier risks becoming the object of intense ridicule as part of an ideological process of stigmatization and marginalization. This is no less the case for classical antiquity than for Western modernity. In this context, much of amorous Latin poetry constitutes at least a partial queering of courtship; for while the subject of courtship in Catullus, Horace, or the love elegists is generally a masculine-gendered male, the object of courtship is often a married woman or a courtesan with no intention of marrying: in any case, the goal of courtship in such poetry is rarely, if ever, marriage. Nevertheless, the sex and gender roles of the courting partners are largely, if not entirely, normative, even if their kinship expectations are deviant. Thus, we might say the performative context of Latin love poetry is only two thirds queer. When it comes to free Roman men or boys performing courtship with each other, however, the situation is quite different: the courtiers are deviant with respect not only to their kinship expectations, but also to their sex roles and their gender identities. In short, courtship between free Roman men is completely queer (slavery complicates the picture somewhat, because the normative sex, gender, and kinship expectations are different for freeborn males, freed males, and slaves). Consequently, we do not expect, nor do we readily find, examples in imaginative Latin literature of free Roman men or boys performing courtship with each other via the same language or gestures as they would perform courtship with a woman. Instead, we often find texts that exhibit what I would argue is a camp sensibility, in which incongruity, theatricality, and humor are employed to embrace stigmatized identities and express solidarity with a deviant, marginalized Other. In this paper, I will expand upon the theoretical framework of sex, gender, and kinship suggested above, and use examples from Juvenal and Martial to illustrate how Roman poets use camp aesthetics to queer courtship in a variety of sex, gender, and kinship configurations including both men and women.

[1] The Latin phrase is from Martial, Epigrams 9.63.2.

[2] See courtship, n., in Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989; online version November 2010; accessed 03 February 2011. Earlier version first published in New English Dictionary, 1893.

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