Friday, March 22, 2002

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Pillowfriends...

by MJJ_Sedai

Robert Jordan has woven many details into his Wheel of Time world in order to make it seem a solid place, a place that can be imagined by his readers as perhaps actually existing at some point in the past—or perhaps at some point in the future. His treatment of relationships and the interaction between his characters is no exception to this. In the Wheel of Time series, the term “pillow-friends” is used or alluded to by Jordan on a few occasions. He uses it as a descriptive for a certain type of relationship that exists in the Wheel of Time world, as well as in our own world. So, what exactly is a pillow-friend, and how does Jordan specifically define the term?

A Pillow-Friend by any Other Name…

In common usage, both historically and today, a pillow-friend can be defined basically as someone or something with whom you share your bed; a pillow pal, bed fellow, or bed buddy. Beyond that, there is quite a range in the definition depending on how you choose to use the term. A pillow-friend can be as simple and innocent as the favourite stuffed teddy a child might sleep with, to as complex and mature as a pillow-friend who is a lover or sexual partner. Given the historical context in which the Wheel of Time is set, with its greater prevalence in the use of euphemisms than in our more blunt, straightforward times; and given a mature reader’s understanding of Jordan’s multi-layered and often indirect writing style; as well as what he has said on the subject outside of the books; the meaning of the term as Jordan uses it is actually quite clear: in the Wheel of Time, a pillow-friend is a lover or sexual partner, and—at least up to this point in the books—the term pillow-friends has been used exclusively as a descriptive for female same-sex relationships.

Jordan has in fact confirmed that this is indeed the definition he uses in the Wheel of Time:

Pillow friends are not just good friends. Oh, they are that, too, but they also get hot and sweaty together and muss up the sheets something fierce. By the way, pillow friends is a term used in the White Tower. The same relationship between men or women elsewhere would be called something else, depending on the country.

- The Official Robert Jordan Blog, September 30, 2005

So Why Just Female?

You will note in Jordan’s blog entry above that he includes men in his definition of pillow-friendships. Even without Jordan’s comments on the subject, given his desire for depth and realism one could assume that male pillow-friendships do indeed exist in the Wheel of Time world. There is, however, little actual evidence for it in the books beyond one or two passing references, one of those being:

An Amyrlin was supposed to grant indulgences and relief from penances on the day she assumed the stole and the staff. None came from Sierin, and in the space of half a week, every last male clerk in the Tower had been dismissed without a character, supposedly for flirting with novices or Accepted, or for “inappropriate looks and glances”, which could have meant anything. Even men so old their grandchildren had children went, and some who had no liking for women at all [italics mine].

- New Spring The Novel, Changes

So why has Jordan chosen not to include a specific example or two of a same-sex male relationship, however indirectly? The simplest explanation is that he has found no reason to do so. Jordan rarely if ever includes anything gratuitously—and yes, let’s keep the number of bosom references out of this please! But then again, speaking of bosom references, within the Wheel of Time world and during the time period the story takes place, women are shown to be major players on the stage who fulfil pivotal roles in the story arc(s), both as individuals and within all-female groups and societies. As a result, Jordan has given us a very in-depth look at these women and their societies, dedicating a substantial portion of his story to them. This is particularly true of the Aes Sedai. Thus, the heavier emphasis on and opportunities to explore, the politics, public and private relationships, and general point of view of women.

Jordan’s own explanation for the dearth of male pillowing and the lack of specifically identified gay men in the Wheel of Time substantiates all this, albeit more simply and practically speaking—from a daily “working man-author’s” point of view if you will:

I have gay and lesbian characters in my books, but the only time it has really come into the open is with the Aes Sedai because I haven’t been inside the heads of any other characters who are either gay or bi. For the most part, in this world such things are taken as a matter of course.

- The Official Robert Jordan Blog, October 6, 2005

For instance, the Asha’man Emarin (formerly Lord Algarin) is gay, as Pevara enlightened Androl in A Memory of Light, The Last Battle.

Of Women and the White Tower

Jordan has stated in interviews that his Aes Sedai organization is based on the way convents in the western world were organized between the years 1000 and 1800 AD (a time in which they wielded a great deal of influence and power). The parallels are apparent. But as with most things in the series, Jordan puts his own interpretive twist on it, changing some basic assumptions which naturally and logically lead to different results. As with a real-world convent, the present day Aes Sedai organization is all female, and its training is difficult, demanding, and fully indoctrinating. Its novices and Accepted must together endure long hours of study and practice, times of unrelenting labour and hardship, periods of intense trial, and physical and mental isolation within its Tower grounds and walls. All of this can continue for many years. As with real world historical convents, the physical and mental confinement is in part to prevent these very valuable young women from being wooed away by the influences and attractions of the outside world. One of these attractions that the White Tower knows its young women are particularly vulnerable to is men.

A harsh reality for women of the Tower is learning to endure the losses they will experience as a result of their extended life spans. Through strong custom, if not law, the Tower makes its views known:

…and she regaled them with arcane customs while they walked along the Tower’s first level, some as silly as wearing blue stockings when leaving Tar Valon, some as sensible as refraining from marriage. Aes Sedai did marry now and then, but Moiraine could not see how that could end other than poorly.

- New Spring The Novel, Just Before Dawn

We are given a better sense of why this view is held earlier in the book:

Of memories before the shawl, there were few. Just a row of painted miniatures on the wave-carved mantel over the fireplace…They were Kerene’s family, long since passed into the grave along with her nieces and nephews, and their children, and their children’s children and more. That was the pain borne by Aes Sedai. Families died, and everything you knew vanished. Except the Tower. The White Tower always remained.

- New Spring The Novel, The Itch

The Tower and the Sisters. Which is why, as Jordan explains in his Aes Sedai notes:

Between one-third and one-half of all Aes Sedai (possibly somewhat more) are either gay or (mainly) bisexual to one degree or another. This is in large part because relationships with men are exceedingly difficult: men age and die, many men find a relationship with a woman so powerful difficult. Lesbian relationships between Aes Sedai and non-Aes Sedai are not unknown, but they are not highly common; the same difficulties engendered with men by hugely differing life-spans also works against these, at least as more than dalliances.

Thus it is not at all uncommon for pillow friendships to become purely platonic friendships once the young women reach the shawl. Nor is it all that uncommon for the sexual relationship to continue for many, many years, either. Some will continue the relationship intermittently with the same friend with whom they first began, others will occasionally experiment with gay affairs throughout their lives, and some, of course, find out that they are gay. The proportions of gay women to heterosexual among Aes Sedai is roughly the same as in the general population, but the fact that any sister who loves a man must watch him grow old and die while she changes not at all lead some Aes Sedai to invest a strong emotional, and sometimes sexual, component in their long-term friendships with other sisters. Of course, just to confuse matters more, a fair number of those who consider themselves lovers of women and women only will still occasionally experiment with a man. Most, though not all, of these relationships are monogamous, though frequently it is a sequential monogamy.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

All of the above notwithstanding, the White Tower holds a very pragmatic view of its women’s basic and undeniably human nature. While long-term intimate relationships and marriage with men may be discouraged and frowned upon (as evidenced, for instance, by the general Aes Sedai opinion of Myrelle’s relationship to her Warders; a rather well-known kept secret), sexual fulfilment is not. Though strong custom may still govern its particulars, especially for novices and Accepted where men are concerned, the White Tower requires no vows or oaths of chastity. In other words, the Tower understands that the extraordinary women sealed to it are—at the end of the day—just women with ordinary needs and ordinary desires. And as novices and Accepted living under considerable pressures, these ordinary needs and desires can become urgent and intense. Moraine explains one way in which novices and Accepted relieved the extra pressures and high spirits of young women like Siuan and herself:

Siuan had not needed the lecture to think about breaking rules. Oh, she never broke the major strictures…but she had had a liking for pranks from the start. Well, Moiraine did, too. Most Accepted did, at least now and then, and some novices, as well. Playing jokes was a way to relieve the strain of constant study with few freedays. Accepted…were expected to work hard at their studies, harder than novices dreamed of. Some relief was needed, or you would crack like an egg dropped on stone.

- New Spring The Novel, Practice

There is an additional way to relieve the demands and pent-up stresses of a difficult life, and all within the customs and pragmatic view of the Tower. Jordan commented on this at the Marcon 36 convention in May 2001:

”Well, you put fifteen-year-old girls in a tower filled with almost entirely women, with their hormones raging on overdrive, keep them away from men, because you can’t afford to lose any of them, and what do you think is going to happen?”

Egwene thinks about this very thing, after her capture by adherents of Elaida and her subsequent confinement to the Tower as a “novice”. Other novices begin coming to her for advice and help with their lessons:

And as for advice…With the novices kept strictly clear of men, advice was easy. Though strains between pillow-friends could be as harsh as anything men ever caused.

- Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea

Egwene’s advice is typical of the Mistress of Novices, or other senior Aes Sedai. Pillowfriend relationships are encouraged, but there are also rules surrounding them:

Pillow friends between novices and Accepted: There is certainly no rule against the girls developing these relationships. The Mistress of Novices or the sisters would only break one up if it interfered with the girls' progress, or if it produced strains or jealousies. The relationships are even sometimes encouraged, as a way for the girls to overcome the loneliness and the hard training, and a girl who is faltering and not in such a relationship may find herself guided into one if it is believe this will help and/or encourage her. This doesn't take the form of coercion - at least, seldom; it has happened, depending on the Mistress of Novices - but the girls will be thrown together in such a way that the relationship becomes more possible.

Most of these relationships do not survive being raised to Accepted in large part because it is rare for both of a pair to be raised at the same time. The perceived gulf between Accepted and novice is fairly large—especially from the bottom end — and it is difficult for the relationship to endure, whether platonic friendship or a pillow friendship, when one girl is placed in a position above the other, having authority over her not simply to give her orders but to send her to the Mistress of Novices for punishment. It is generally considered proper for the one who is raise first to break it off, at least until the other is raised. Some, rarely, do survive even the raising of one girl before the other, but these are watched very closely by the Mistress of Novices and the sisters who lecture to make sure that the Accepted is not taking undue advantage of her situation and that the novice is not being affected badly in any way. If it is felt that she is, the relationship is terminated, the Accepted being advised and encouraged to do so, and punished if she is too slow to heed. As a note, in cases where the less dominant or more submissive of a pair is raised first, the situation is watched even more closely than usual. It would not do for an Accepted to be dominated by a novice, so in that case the Accepted is gently led into assuming the leading role, if she does not naturally assume it. If she cannot be led into that, the relationship is broken up.

- Robert Jordan, Aes Sedai notes

There is also the strong need in women for the giving and getting of emotional support and comfort. Physical intimacy can satisfy this as much as it satisfies sexual need, and in fact, the two are sometimes inextricably bound to each other for women:

Last night, revealing her woes had seemed out of place, a trifle compared to what they knew the world faced, but Moiraine had no hesitation in telling her now. Before she finished, Siuan enveloped her in a strong, comforting hug. They had wept on each other’s shoulders much more often than either had availed herself of Merean’s. She had never been as close to anyone as she was to Siuan. Or loved anyone as much.

- New Spring The Novel, Surprises

Yes, Moiraine and Siuan were pillow-friends. There is more than enough specific evidence in New Spring The Novel, if not in the main sequence novels, to support it. With the exception of two passages towards the end of New Spring, the evidence within the books is relatively subtle for the most part and even occasionally a little ambiguous (perhaps an intentional expression on Jordan’s part of Moiraine and Siuan’s own ambiguous feelings, since they were both still clearly interested in men), but the evidence is there nonetheless for the mature reader to see. And when the dynamics of their relationship are compared with that of a few other close female friendships between women, it’s even more evident. As an example:

Elayne did not care at the moment if she did freeze to death. She clung to Aviendha in laughter and tears. She had found her sister. Light, she had found her sister!

- Winter’s Heart, Snow

But she loved Aviendha every bit as much as she did Rand, only in a different way…

- Crossroads of Twilight, A Blazing Beacon

There are never any such qualifications of sisterly or familial love between Moiraine and Siuan. Their thoughts and daily interactions with each other run deeper than close friendship. Theirs is also a very physically demonstrative relationship, again more so than other close relationships between women in the series:

Siuan was right, in a way, about her knowing Siuan’s tricks. Siuan liked to use tickles at the worst possible moment, sudden pokes in unpleasant places, embarrassing caresses…

- New Spring The Novel, Practice

When read within the context of New Spring, it should be apparent that this has happened many times before, and not just for the sake of “practice”. Moiraine is much too familiar with Siuan's intimate playfulness here. Myrelle on the other hand, also a close friend of Moiraine’s, uses ice, pinches and flicks as tricks during her practice—much less sexually suggestive distractions, and much more indicative of a typical close friendship between two young women.

Siuan and Moiraine have kissed, wept on each other's shoulders and slept in the same bed for comfort (New Spring The Novel, The Human Heart and Shreds of Serenity), by their own choice rather than because there was no other bed available. Furthermore, when they share a bed at the inn in Chachin, Moiraine expects Siuan to tickle her that night:

They were going to be sharing that bed, and Siuan knew exactly which ticklish spots could reduce her to helpless laughter and pleading.

- New Spring The Novel, The Evening Star

A classic example of playful mock retribution…and foreplay. An expectation born of past experience, and no hint Moiraine was going to say no.

As for those two passages towards the end of New Spring The Novel, the first is:

Cadsuane moved behind Merean, asking the same question, adding, “A fondness for … pranks, Larelle said. A troublesome child?” Merean shook her head with a smile.
“Not troublesome, really. High-spirited. None of the tricks Moiraine played were mean, but they were plentiful. Novice and Accepted, she was sent to my study more often than any three other girls. Except for her pillow-friend Siuan. Of course, pillow-friends frequently get into tangles together, but with those two, one was never sent to me without the other. The last time the very night after passing for the shawl.”

- New Spring The Novel, An Arrival

And a young Moiraine’s very Cairhienin reaction (for Cairhienin, public matters are discussed publicly; private matters are definitely not discussed publicly):

Moiraine kept her face smooth, kept her hands from knotting into fists, but she could do nothing about burning cheeks. That ruefully amused frown, as if she were still Accepted. She needed seasoning did she? Well, perhaps she did, some, but still. And spreading out all these intimacies!

“I think you know all of me that you need to know,” she told Cadsuane stiffly. How close she and Siuan had been was no one’s business but theirs.

Moiraine does not deny they are pillow-friends; she is not even particularly upset about being thought callow, but oh, how embarrassed she is by the public stating of 'intimacies'!

And in the second passage, towards the end of Moiraine’s encounter with Cadsuane, Cadsuane gives her a little advice:

“Before you find a Warder like that, child, a brigand who wants to see what’s in your purse will put an arrow through your heart. A footpad who’d faint at the sight of a sister in her sleep will crack your head, and you’ll wake at the back of an alley minus your gold and maybe more. I suspect you’ll want to take as much care choosing your first man as you do your first Warder.” Moiraine jerked back, spluttered with indignation. First her and Siuan, now this. There were things one talked about, and things one did not!

- New Spring The Novel, An Arrival

In this last passage, Moiraine sees no difference between herself and Siuan and herself sleeping with a man. They both imply sexual intimacy, and in accordance with her Cairhienin upbringing, that is something that one simply does not talk about. Pillow-friends are lovers, and clearly Moiraine and Siuan were lovers as well as friends in their younger years, if there was any doubt left in the reader’s mind.

Custom and Etiquette and Pillow-friendships Elsewhere

While the Cairhienin attitude towards the public treatment of private matters is probably the most extreme among the cultures we know of in the Wheel of Time world, there does seem to be a generally held belief, just as in our own world, in some practice of discretion and use of common courtesy where intimate relationships are concerned, and it applies to pillow-friendships as well as any other:

She smiled at Seaine and Pevara, a monarch perhaps unsure how gracious she should be. “I saw the pair of you sniffing about like ferrets at the hencoop,” she said, “but I held my tongue—you might be pillow-friends, for all I know, and whose business is that but yours?”

- The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit

So, do pillow-friendships occur outside of the White Tower? Jordan has confirmed that they do, although a different term is used depending on the country. And indeed, there’s evidence within the books to substantiate it:

“…I had a little talk alone with Shalon. After a little gentle questioning, she spilled out the whole story, and Ailil confirmed everything once she realized I already knew. Soon after the Sea Folk first arrived here, Ailil approached Shalon hoping to learn what they wanted with young al’Thor. For her part, Shalon wanted to learn whatever she could about him, and about the situation here. That led to meetings, which led to friendship, which led to them becoming pillow-friends. As much from loneliness as anything else, I suspect. In any case, that was what they were hiding more than their mutual snooping.”

“They put up with days under the question to hide that?” Cadsuane said incredulously… Verin’s eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth.

“Cairhienin are prim and prudish, Cadsuane, in public at least. They might carry on like rabbits when the curtains are drawn, but they wouldn’t admit to touching their own husbands if anyone might overhear! And the Sea Folk are almost as strait-laced. At least, Shalon is married to a man with duties elsewhere, and breaking marriage vows is a very serious crime…”

- Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News

This is one of the most openly described of the female-female sexual encounters in the series. And just as Moiraine did not wish to have her relationship with Siuan discussed publicly, so Shalon and Ailil do not wish to discuss theirs, not because same-sex intimacy is wrong or improper, but for the simple reasons Verin gives. One could easily imagine that if Ailil were a man, she and Shalon would have reacted in the same way. As Jordan himself states:

For the most part, in this world such things are taken as a matter of course. Remember, Cadsuane is surprised that Shalon and Ailil were so hot to hide that they had been sharing a bed even knowing how prim and proper Cairhienin are on the surface. Well, for many it is just on the surface.

- The Official Robert Jordan Blog, October 6, 2005

Shalon even finds herself being blackmailed by Cadsuane because she wants to keep her infidelity secret:

Except that Shalon had agreed to Cadsuane’s demands in order to hide that secret. The Grace of the light be upon her, she regretted Ailil, but she had been so lonely that she had sailed too far before she knew it. With Harine, there were no evening talks over honeyed wine to soften the long months parted from her husband Mishael. At best, many more months would pass before she could lie in his arms.

- Winter’s Heart, To Lose the Sun

Regret or no, she still thinks of her lover as ‘dainty Ailil’ a couple of pages later:

She had been half-blind with the dainty Ailil…

- Winter’s Heart, To Lose the Sun

There is some evidence that the Aiel view same-sex female intimacy as a matter of course as well, if not necessarily a common occurrence, and have even accommodated it formally within their culture:

He might have enjoyed the meal more if she had not lectured him on everything. Not sister-wives. That was left to Amys and Lian, lying on either side of Rhuarc and smiling at each other almost as much as at their husband.

- The Shadow Rising, Cold Rocks Hold

He was a little surprised to see Melaine directing the white-robed figures. Only three nights before, she had married Bael, in a ceremony that made her his wife and first-sister to his other wife, Dorindha. That part had been just as important as the marriage, apparently; Aviendha had been shocked at his surprise, or maybe angry.

- The Shadow Rising, Cold Rocks Hold

When it is also considered that Aiel women who are close friends sometimes marry the same man, thus becoming sister-wives and married to each other as well as to him, the convolutions become even more apparent.

- The Shadow Rising, Glossary, Aiel Kinship Terms

Yes, the convolutions with Aiel women are apparent; but the implications—at least for some—are there.

There is also evidence that pillow-friendships, or “heart friendships”, as they are called, are an acceptable part of the Seanchan culture—or at the very least, the only acceptable form of intimate relationship allowed to their channelling women:

Bethamin had named Zushi herself, and she felt a special concern. Unclipping the steel-nibbed pen, she dipped it and wrote a suggestion that Zushi be moved from the Palace to somewhere she could be kept in a double kennel with a damane from the Empire, preferably one experienced in becoming heart-friends with newly collared damane. Sooner or later, that always put an end to tears.

- Winter’s Heart, Questions of Treason

While the White Tower may discourage its channelling women from engaging in long-term intimate relationships with men, the Seanchan consider any such relationships as nothing short of bestiality, since damane are little more than animals to them. They do apparently have some empathy for their damanes’ basic needs and desires by allowing them relationships among themselves (within double kennels), but probably more as a practical means of control and reward than anything else. Of course the heart friends would likely form a close friendship first, and only become lovers later.

The Dark Side of Love

For three thousand years since the deadly tainting of saidin by the Dark One, one of the White Tower’s primary missions has been to safeguard the world from men who can channel. While all Aes Sedai are trained and indoctrinated into carrying out this mission when necessary, the Red Ajah’s primary reason for existence has been to hunt down and “gentle” these men. Their general attitude towards men is one of suspicion because of this, and some take it to such an extreme that all men, whether they can channel or not, are practically anathema. This is perhaps the reason some women choose the Red, rather than the effect of that choice; they already dislike men, and hunting men who can channel gives their dislike a ‘useful’ focus. Galina Casban is most certainly one of these:

Galina wanted to laugh. Maidens; they called these monstrous women Maidens. She wished she could laugh. At least there were no men present, a small mercy. Men made her skin crawl, and if one could see her now, less than half-clothed...Anxiously, her eyes sought for Therava…

- A Crown of Swords, Spears

Erian was quite beautiful usually, her face a pale exquisite oval, but now crimson suffused her cheeks…by chance both the dead Warders belonged to Erian. Most of the sisters would feel she had the right. And Galina herself wanted the doll-like Illianer Green to rid herself of her rage as soon as possible. Much better to travel the rest of the way able to admire that porcelain face unruffled.

- Lord of Chaos, The Feast of Lights

Galina, despite her hostile attitude towards men—and her allegiance to the Black Ajah—seems to possess a rather tender, if somewhat predatory heart, towards other women whose affections she would like to capture. If the reader has any doubts about these intentions, Tarna Feir’s thoughts later on in the story put them to rest:

Tarna kept her face smooth with an effort. Pillow-friends were common among novices and Accepted, but girlhood things should be left behind with girlhood. Not all sisters saw it so, certainly. Galina had been quite surprised when Tarna refused her advances after gaining the shawl.

- Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida

Predatory indeed, and considering Tarna was one of Galina’s “favourites” as novice and Accepted, the implication that Galina used her position as The Highest to take sexual advantage of young Reds seems quite clear. Galina finds herself, however, on the proverbial short end of the stick after her capture by the Shaido:

"She is mine, Sevanna.” Therava’s jaw tightened. She might have taken the woman [Galina], but da’tsang belonged to no one. “I intended to dress her in gai’shain robes of silk,” she muttered.

- A Crown of Swords, Spears

Therava is keen to own Galina and she cannot while Galina is da’tsang.

“It seems this binder does as your friend claimed after all, Sevanna.” Plucking the rod from Galina’s limp hands, Therava tucked it behind her belt as she straightened. “It also seems that you will wear white after all, Galina Casban.” For some reason, she gave a pleased smile at that.

- The Path of Daggers, Questions and an Oath

Quite keen to own Galina.

Galina was Aes Sedai, complete with the ageless face and a golden Great Serpent ring on her finger, but she wore white gai’shain robes, too—in silk as thick as anyone else’s wool, no less!—along with a wide, elaborate belt of gold and firedrops that cinched her waist tightly and a tall matching collar around her neck, jewels fit for a monarch…She was Aes Sedai…and she jumped when any Wise One crooked a finger, especially Therava, whose tent she often shared…Galina was pretty, but nowhere near beautiful, and Faile did not understand what Therava saw in her, unless it was simply the pleasure of dominating an Aes Sedai. That still left the question of why the woman remained when Therava seemed to take every opportunity to humiliate her.

- Crossroads of Twilight, Traps

“Shall I tell Therava you were manhandling one of Sevanna’s gai’shain? ...The last time Therava thought you’d poked your nose where she didn’t want it, everybody inside a hundred paces could hear you squealing and begging.”

- Crosssroads of Twilight, Traps

Therava also refers to Galina as “Lina” or “my little Lina”, not just privately but publicly as well. Such terms of endearment are something that the Aiel simply do not use in public, for the same reason they do not kiss in public, because of the intense intimacy such things imply. That Therava does so is an indication of how much pleasure she takes in embarrassing and degrading Galina:

Does my little Lina want to be free of her oath? she would say mockingly. Then Lina must be a very good pet, because the only way I will consider freeing you is for you to convince me that you will remain my pet even then. A lifetime of being Therava’s plaything and the target for her temper? A surrogate to be beaten whenever Therava raged against Sevanna? Bleakness was not strong enough to describe her feelings on that. Horror was more like it. She feared she might go mad if that happened. And equally, she feared there might be no escape into madness.

- Knife of Dreams, Embers Falling on Dry Grass

And indeed, Galina’s worst fears are finally realized:

Burdened with waterskins and pots and kettles till she almost felt decently covered, Galina staggered through the forest at Therava’s heels. She did not think of the rod, or escape. Something had broken in her. She was Galina Casban, Highest of the Red Ajah, who sat on the Supreme Council of the Black Ajah, and she was going to be Therava’s plaything for the rest of her life. She was Therava’s little Lina. For the rest of her life. She knew that to her bones. Tears rolled silently down her face.

- Knife of Dreams, Outside the Gates

This is a relatively classic example of a sado/pyscho/sexual “relationship”, if there ever was one. In his Aes Sedai notes, Jordan described the relationship from Galina’s point of view:

Galina is a lesbian; she had the hots for Erian Boroleos. That part of her relationship with Therava is no shock, just that Therava likes to dominate her and does it so easily. One of the Shaido Wise Ones (Therava) has the hots for Galina, and despite Galina's sexual orientation, and her innate toughness, this woman gives her the cold shivers. Not surprising considering that Therava also hates and despises her. Part of Galina knows that this woman will take immense pleasure in degrading and humiliating her—perhaps any Aes Sedai—and that what is envisioned is a dominatrix-and-slave relationship. Galina is by nature a most definite top, or at least the one in charge, but she's destined to be taught how to bottom quite thoroughly. After she is bound by the oath, of course, Galina has no choice at all in the matter.

Another example of the use of sex to manipulate and control, albeit of a different nature, is that of Elaida and her old flame from novice days, Meidani. Meidani is one of the rebel “ferrets” in the Tower, sent back by the rebels to help undermine Elaida’s powerbase and support. She and her fellow ferrets are “outed” by one of their own, betrayed to the Black Ajah Tower hunters, and Meidani is tasked by the BA hunter Yukiri to take up where she left off with Elaida:

”Last night, I remembered you were a novice with Elaida, and close friends as I recall. It would be a good idea for you to renew that friendship.”
“That was some years ago,” the taller woman [Meidani] replied stiffly…”Elaida very properly broke it off when she was raised Accepted. She might have been accused of favouritism if I were in a class she was given to teach.”
“As well for you that you weren’t a favourite,” Yukiri said dryly. Elaida’s current ferocity had its precedent. Before she went off to Andor years ago, she had pushed those she favoured so hard that sisters had needed to step in more than once. Siuan Sanche had been one of them, strange to remember, though Siuan had never needed rescuing from standards she could not meet. Strange and sad. “Even so, you will do everything in your power to renew that friendship.”

- Crossroads of Twilight, Glimmers of the Pattern

As it turns out, Medani had already tried:

”I did try,” she said finally, in a breathy tone. She still avoided Yukiri’s eye. “Several times. The Keeper…Alviarin always put me off. The Amyrlin was busy, she had appointments, she needed rest. There was always some excuse. I think Elaida just doesn’t want to take up a friendship she dropped more than thirty years ago.”

So the rebels had remembered that friendship, too. How had they thought to use it? Spying, most likely. She would have to find out how Meidani was supposed to pass on what she learned. In any case, the rebels had provided the tool, and Yukiri would use it. “Alviarin is out of your way. She left the Tower yesterday, or maybe the day before.”

- Crossroads of Twilight, Glimmers of the Pattern

With Alviarin out of the way, Meidani tries again and finds herself on the verge of success with Elaida. But thanks to her own ferret, Beonin, Elaida now knows that Meidani is one of the rebels’ ferrets. And thanks to the ever turning coat of Beonin, Meidani now knows that Elaida knows. So the real question becomes, who exactly is the huntress, and who is the hunted?

”The morning reports are ready, Mother,” Tarna said, bowing slightly. Light! She felt as if she had intruded on lovers!
“You won’t mind leaving us, Meidani?” Even the smile Elaida directed at the yellow-haired woman was predatory.
“Of course not, Mother.” Meidani set her goblet on the small table beside her chair and leaped to her feet, offering a curtsy that nearly had her out of her dress. “Of course not.” She scurried from the room breathing hard, her eyes wide.

When the door closed behind her, Elaida laughed. “We were pillow-friends as novices,” she said, rising, “and I believe she wants to renew the relationship. I may let her. She might reveal more on the pillows than she’s let slip so far. Which is nothing, truth to tell.”…
”That seems odd, Mother,” she [Tarna] said…”She appears frightened of you….Almost as if she knew that you know about her being a spy.”

“Of course she’s afraid of me.” Sarcasm dripped heavily from Elaida’s voice, but then hardened to stone. “I want her afraid. I intend to put her through the mangle. By the time I have her birched, she’ll tie herself to the birching frame if I order it. If she knew I knew, Tarna, she’d be fleeing instead of delivering herself into my hands.” Still staring out into the rainstorm, Elaida sipped at her wine.

- Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida

There seems to be an underlying sense of bitter regret—and genuine hurt—in Elaida’s response to Tarna with regards to Meidani here. That she plans not just punishment for Meidani’s betrayal, but a rather harsh and passionate revenge as well, is chillingly evocative of what she meted out to Siuan for Siuan’s perceived betrayal so many years ago during the time of New Spring. Of course, Meidani is far from blameless in this herself. And yet it’s no wonder the Black Ajah have been so successful in using Elaida as their dupe in breaking the Tower. Sad indeed, as Yukiri says.

So, What Exactly is Jordan’s Point Anyway?

As stated at the beginning of this FAQ, Jordan has woven a great many details into his Wheel of Time world in order to make it seem as real and as solid a place as his readers might imagine. This includes a variety of human relationships that parallel and reflect those in our own world. Pillow-friendships in the Wheel of Time world run the gamut: from loving, long-term relationships begun in youth (Moiraine and Siuan); to short-term, expedient, infidelous affairs (Shalon and Ailil); to old passions rekindled for the sake of manipulation and control (Elaida and Meidani); and to highly abusive dominant-submissive entanglements (Galina and Therava).

While occurrences of same-sex intimate female relationships, or interest shown by female characters in same-sex intimacy, are relatively few, there are enough examples involving a wide enough variety of characters with differing backgrounds and loyalties to prove that Jordan’s intent is to show that in his Wheel of Time world, same-sex intimacy is a basic fact of life that transcends culture and social status, drives individual behaviours, and occurs under similar circumstances and in about the same ratios as it does in our own world. It is just another one of the many details that Jordan has woven into his Wheel of Time world to enrich it, make it seem more real, and render it more relevant to his readers.

Written by MJJ_Sedai, August, 2004 and updated by Linda August 2019

Contributors: Linda


Jenn said...

One of the quotations in this article is cited with the wrong book.

He was a little surprised to see Melaine directing the white-robed figures. Only three nights before, she had married Bael, in a ceremony that made her his wife and first-sister to his other wife, Dorindha. That part had been just as important as the marriage, apparently; Aviendha had been shocked at his surprise, or maybe angry.

It should be The Fires of Heaven, The Gift of a Blade

Linda said...

Thanks! I'll change it now. :)

Phil said...

It's interesting that Jordan says that there are male gay characters in the book. I guess he means that he wrote these characters 'gay', by giving them suggestive characteristics, friends, or relationships. He must have. I don't think he would take the time to note a character as gay if he doesn't take into account their sexuality.
I could see the article title: "'...Admer looked away from Steler...':Significant glances in WOT."

JDH1973 said...

What an incredibly well written post!

Anonymous said...

Here's another relevant passage, from Path of Daggers:

"Perhaps I was mistaken after all," Sulin said dryly. "But I will tell her." Turning, she paused. "Tell me something. Teryl Wynter and Furen Alharra are close to Seonid Traighan — like first-brothers with a first-sister; she does not like men as men — yet they offered to take her punishment for her. How could they shame her so?"

Jordan said...

To add to this: I do not have the book to hand, but I recall that Faile at first believed that Rolan didn't like woman, in a manner that suggested she did not consider it remarkable. This is one of the few references to male homosexuality in the books.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I just listened to that part. It was just after Rolan had saved her from being raped, and she is remembering when he made her into gai'shan and wondering about the reasons he didn't try to take advantage of her then.

That was in the "crossroads of twilight" somewhere in chapter 8 or 9?

Anonymous said...

"I used to hunt rabbits with Gwil," Perrin said. "He's only a few years older than me, and he used to take me hunting sometimes."
It took her a moment to remember who he was talking about.
"Gwil is trying to learn how to be a footman. You don't help him when you invite him to go smoke his pipe with you in the stables and talk horses." She took a deep slow breath. This would not be easy. "You have a duty to these people, Perrin. However hard it is, however much you may not want to, you have to do your duty."
"I know," he said softly. "I can feel him tugging at me."
His voice was so strange she reached up to grab his short beard and make him look down at her. His golden eyes, still as strange and mysterious to her as ever, looked sad.
"What do you mean? You might think fondly of Gwil, but he-"
It's Rand Faile, he needs me."

That's from the Lord of Chaos prologue. Looks as though at first Faile thought Perrin was sweet on Gwil...'course he's talking about Rand's Ta'veren tugging, but still. It's there and it's obvious what her train of thought was.

Anonymous said...

On and Tuon makes a reference about male soldiers having needs or some such in one of her POVs in Knife of Dreams. Can't remember where though...

Anonymous said...

In New Spring, in Entering Home, there's another line that states the quite obvious relationship between Siuan and Moiraine:
"Siuan could have kissed her (Moiraine) In fact, she did."

corwin said...

I don't buy the explanation that there are only overt (somewhat) female to female relationships because women are such strong and prevalent characters in this series.

The three boys from the Two Rivers are arguably the heart and foundation of the books.

You can't exclude the smothering multitude of bosom references just because it's negates your theory. And the rosebud lips and constant and incessant references to petticoats and every aspect of womans clothing. Good Lord, I don't know very many real woman that are as obsessed with clothes as much as RJ is.

No, I think there's ample evidence that Jordan simply likes women a great deal and is uncomfortable in the extreme with anything other than straight relationships. The only reason there are references to female-female relationships can be found in the mind of pretty much every straight male over the age of 12 as they see lesbians as part of their own "straightness" regardless of how ridiculous that mentality is.

It's a sad testament to such an incredibly talented writer that he has this particular blind spot.

Vicki said...

Whitecloaks would be an obvious society with lots of gay male relationships: male-only (by the looks of it) and organised along military/ monastic lines. They aren't true monks: Whitecloaks are allowed to marry and have children (eg Geoffram Bornhald and his son Dain), but wives never appear or are even mentioned, so one wonders when they find time for women. There have been some Whitecloak POV's, but perhaps not enough to show any gay characters. Perhaps one or more of the Whitecloaks with Galad will be insanely jealous and resentful now that Galad is in love with Berelain? :)

The Black Tower is another obvious place for gay male relationships to flourish. It's also not a true single-sex setting - married men are allowed to bring their families - but single guys who join the Black Tower don't have many opportunities to meet women during their training (unless a bunch of Aes Sedai show up to bond them. :) )

It's also interesting that while single-sex relationships are unremarkable, there's no such thing as 'gay marriage'. (Aiel sister-wives don't count as a genuine single-sex marriage since the marriage always involves a man, the common husband.) There doesn't seem to be a gay rights movement in the WOT world either, though (from what we've seen so far), so perhaps the gays and lesbians there are content to simply be able to have relationships with whomever they choose.

There appear to be different attitudes in different cultures on whether a same-sex relationship by a married person constitutes infidelity towards their spouse. Same-sex relationships are clearly seen as a violation of marriage wows in the Sea Folk culture (as Shalon and Verin both know very well). On the other hand, the Saldaean Faile doesn't seem too upset when she suspects Perrin has feelings for a man (just try substituting 'Berelain' for 'Gwil' and you'll get a *completely* different reaction. :) )

Finally, I wonder if the more isolated, conservative cultures like the Two Rivers, where they come down on premarital (hetero) sex very hard, would also be more homophobic than more cosmopolitan cultures.

Anonymous said...

Reply to Vicki^

I think the only reason why we haven't seen same-sex marriage in the series is because the Westlands are a pre-industrial culture. In such places marriage was more of a business contract than anything else...especially amongst the upper class. Same-sex marriage probably existed in the Age of Legends though.

Homophobia doesn't exist in the Wheel of Time, even in isolated places like the Two Rivers. While they do take issue with premarital/under age sex. So long as the two parties are adults I doubt the Women's Circle would give a damn :)

Ty said...

To be even more accurate, the only pre-marital and under-age sex the Women's Circle of the Three Rivers seem to take issue with is those of the heterosexual type.

That could largely be seen as protecting women (keeping their marriage value, etc, not having them pregnant with no man to care for them) in which case they may not have any problems with underage/premarital homosexual relationships.

It's not exactly something addressed one way or another. Perhaps the Wisdoms and Knitting Circles out there has similar attitudes as the White Tower as to the harmlessness of it?