Mind The Gap: Dealing With A Lack of Sources

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The months after I discovered I had been offered the Laidlaw Scholarship were immensely exciting. My research aimed to explore the pre-Colombian positive view of female homosexuality in Andean culture, exploring how their diverse understandings of gender influenced these views on sexuality. It was the love child of all of my academic and personal interests meshing together. The idea of spending a summer pouring over gender and queer theory and Peruvian history was thrilling. Each time a fellow scholar asked me about the subject of my research, I had to try to resist (to little success) from blabbering on for too long. I envisioned myself planted in St Andrews’ King James Library with a tall tower of books brimming inaptness, with my fingers stained in black pen ink. 

This has only ended up only being half true — for one, I tend to frequent the St Andrews’ Main Library, purely because I feel less awkward eating in there; secondly, while I certainly have a tall tower of books, the vast majority of the tower’s contents is, to be frank, useless. That said, my fingers do seem to be perpetually stained with the pen ink, warm water and Dove hand soap be damned. 

Back to the useless stack of books — I spent the first week of my research trying to find sources beyond the one which had inspired my project. I searched every scholarly database I had access to and found next to nothing. The majority of articles entitled “Incan Queerness” or “Moche Sexuality” should have added the descriptor word male as they neglected to reference females at all.

I dug, dug desperately, searching for any information I could find on the topic. I checked out even more books, a small tower quickly building on my desk, and submitted a handful of interlibrary loan requests, beelining straight from the library each time I got the email informing me my book was ready to be collected. Not even patient enough to get home, I would open the book on my walk back to my flat, flipping straight to the index of each, desperately trying to find the coveted words, “female homosexuality.” In most books, the words were there, followed by about two pages numbers, which I eagerly flicked to, only to find a sentence along the lines of, “Though female homosexuality was practiced, the phenomenon was only sparsely documented.” 

I was disheartened. It might even have been preferable to have absolutely no information on the phenomenon. The fact that it was known to be practiced but deemed so unimportant that a description was unnecessary was a slap in the face, especially considering the explicit, uninhibited rates at which the Conquistadors recorded male homosexuality. 

The more I looked, the more frustrated I got, but this frustration seemed important. How could it be that there was absolutely nothing on a topic that seemed so important? I had found what my supervisor refers to as a gap. A place scholars have neglected to charter previously, most likely due to the severe drought in sources. Perhaps what was most interesting was not the very little I could find on the Andean gendered understandings of the female sex and homosexuality, but the very fact that there was so little on the topic. 

I consulted various sources of lesbian theory, reading about the recurring lack of research on lesbian issues and the naive idea that male homosexuality covers the full spectrum of queerness. What I once saw as an obstacle to overcome has developed into the new subject of my research. My research will now not only explore female homosexuality and gender in Andean Peru, but also the severe lack of research on it. I am eager to continue exploring this and am looking forward to unveiling my findings. 

Sophia Brousset

Student, University of St Andrews

My name is Sophia Brousset and I am a Peruvian-American student at the University of St Andrews studying International Relations and Social Anthropology. I am fluent in Spanish and have lived in four countries (the UK, Peru, Switzerland, and the USA). Growing up in Peru, a country with a great amount of gender inequality, sparked an absorption in the feminist cause at a young age. This flame has not burnt out, and, amalgamated with my academic interest in international relations, resulted in an interest in understanding patriarchy as a global power structure.

My research explores the Incan Empire's positive view of female homosexuality, exploring how their diverse understandings of gender influenced these views on sexuality. It will also consider how La Conquista's use of a European lens and translation when documenting the Incas resulted in the erasure of much of the sexual and gender diversity which existed throughout Incan Peru.

Comments

Go to the profile of Cath Brislane
6 months ago

This. is. so. cool. Your writing style is amazing Sophia, with a story that must have been incredibly frustrating to actually experience. However, your enthusiasm and tenacity pulled you through- two skills that every researcher needs (or aspires to have). I wish you the best of luck in filling that gap. Researchers stand on the shoulders of giants- be that giant!

Go to the profile of Sophia Brousset
5 months ago

Thank you so much, Cath! This was really nice to read. I'm glad you enjoyed it, I'm really hoping to be that giant.