When the Past Wasn’t the Worst

“Well, a lot of our stories were boiled down to their base ideas and changed. My brother has put forth a decree that we shall roam the mortals once more and correct these misconceptions.”

Paul pinched the bridge of his nose. “Wait, this isn’t a thing that appeared with the internet?”

I sat my cup of tea on the coffee table as I chuckled. “Not exactly. Were you told about the Stonewall riots?”

“It was the spark of the gay rights movement in the United States,” Paul said as he looked slightly confused. “What about it?”

“Well, Marsha P. Johnson was one of the first drag queens to visit the Stonewall Inn after they opened it up to women and drag queens. While she wasn’t there at the start the first night, she was a key player the next night when she might have dropped a brick on a police car,” I replied.

“So this transgender thing isn’t something new with the Internet?” Paul asked, an eyebrow raised at me.

“No. The First Nations here in America called them Two-spirit, a person who has both aspects of gender within them. Western cultures didn’t start demonizing the view until the thirteen hundreds because some king didn’t like same-sex couples. Before then, no one really cared.” I leaned forward, smiling at Paul. “Lesbians even have their patron goddess, Aphrodite. The very Goddess of Love is all let them be happy. There are many examples that I can give you, like Hermaphroditus.”

Paul shook his head, brows furrowed. “Isn’t he where we get the term hermaphrodite from?”

I nodded. “That’s a rather outdated term, but yes.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard the story. I thought it was some old Greek guy who did things,” Paul said before sipping his tea. “Come to think of it, I don’t know what he did.”

“Well, the myths that seem to propagate western culture are that the son of Aphrodite and Hermes was bathing when a little nymph saw him and instantly fell in love. After praying to the gods, her wish to be united forever with him was granted, the pair becoming one. The story has also been told to link to the biblical marriage, a husband and wife becoming one being. The myths are not exactly kind to Salmacis, as the stories have changed over time. Theophrastus’s accounting also helped advance his agenda, using the story to help push marriage on those who didn’t want it. It’s complicated and difficult to explain,” I said, smiling at the worried father. 

“Who are they? Salmacis and Theophrastus?” 

“Theophrastus was a student of Plato, taking over his school in Athens,” I answered as I twitched a finger, refilling both of our cups.

Paul snorted. “So an arrogant man twisted something to fit his agenda.”

“Pretty much, yes. Salmacis was a nymph while Hermaphroditus was a child of the gods,” I explained as the black tea smell filled my nose. 

“I am guessing he is the child of Hermes and Aphrodite?”

I nodded. “Yes, he was.”

“Not a very creative name,” Paul said.

“Hermes named him,” I said. I was sure that I had a twinkle in my eye, judging by the amusement crossing Paul’s face. “Now, Salmacis was married to Hermaphroditus, but the pair didn’t conform to the gender roles as expected. Hermaphroditus spent more time at the hearth, cooking and helping around the city, while Salmacis joined the guards and helped to defend their chosen tribe.”

Paul sipped his tea, sighing in appreciation as he listened.

“Everything was going great for the pair, right up until the city that they lived in was attacked. Poor Hermaphroditus was bathing when the scouts came across him. With a quick stroke of their blades, they wounded poor Hermaphroditus and murdered the poor women in the bathhouse with him. The citizens of the city were victorious and Salmacis found her husband near death. She prayed to Hermes and Dite to save his life, even if it meant taking her own. The answer to the prayer was to merge the two into one being.”

I paused, organizing my thoughts before continuing. 

“When Hermaphroditus awoke, she felt the memories of both in one body. She knew that a few mortals needed the mental peace that could come from matching the body to the mind. She prayed to her parents to bless the waters, and the bathhouse was blessed so that if someone bathed in the waters and prayed to the gods, they would become blessed with the proper body,” I finished before sipping at my tea.

“Did it work?” Paul asked, his eyes wide with wonder.

“It did, but those who often asked were not pure of heart and had their plea rejected. As a result,  it  was rumored that the bathhouse didn’t work,” I answered.  

“I could see that. It seems like the older cultures had a completely different perspective,” Paul said. 

“Tiresias, a prophet of Apollo, is also significant to this conversation. In this case, he was transformed into a woman because he struck a pair of mating snakes.” I held my hand up to stop the question from coming. “I have no idea why it happened. I haven’t gotten the story out of Hera or Apollo as to why they changed him into her and then back again a few years later. The important thing is that she became a priestess of the Queen of the Gods, and a go-between for the mortals and gods. The myth says that Hera and Zeus disagreed on whether men or women found more pleasure during sex. Hera claimed that it was men, while Zeus believed it was women. Tiresias, after having had sex as a man and a woman, said that women enjoyed themeselves more. Hera blinded him for disagreeing with her. More than likely, if Tiresias had sided with Hera, Zeus would have blinded him,” I explained with an eye roll. 

“It seems that the Greek Gods were an angry lot,” Paul said.

“Well, a lot of our stories were boiled down to their base ideas and changed. My brother has put forth a decree that we shall roam the mortals once more and correct these misconceptions.” 

“Your stories seem to speak only of men turning into women. Is there any lore about the other way? It would be harder for women to pass as men, I’d think,” Paul said.

“There are. Leucippus of Crete comes to mind. A farmer tells his wife, have a son or else. He then goes and tends his farm. He ignored the child and didn’t discover that he had a daughter. Fearful for her child’s life, his mother raised the little one like a son. However, as puberty neared, she was fearful that her ruse would be discovered. After an offering to Leto, Leucippus was transformed into a man. This became celebrated in Phaistos. Eventually, the locals started calling the goddess Leto-Phytia. This led to festivals and also a tradition to sleep under his statue for a blessing,” I explained. 

“Then there is the story of Iphis and Ianthe. Iphis’s father said they couldn’t afford a daughter but needed a son. Iphis was born as a girl, but the name was unisex, and she was raised as a boy. At thirteen, Iphis was betrothed to a dear friend, Ianthe. The mother tried to put off the wedding as long as possible, but once it became impossible to put off, they prayed to Isis,” I said.

“Wait, Isis? Isn’t she an Egyptian goddess?” Paul asked.

“Yes, she is. She is also Aphrodite. We were in witness protection at the time in Egypt,” I answered.

“So what happened to Iphis?” Paul asked.

“Well, Iphis got his sex change, and the pair had many babies,” I said.

Paul stood up, pacing around the room as he thought about the stories. “Wow, things seem to have been more open in the past.”

I nodded. “It is even said that Prometheus invented queer people.”

“The one who gave man fire? How did he do that?” Paul asked with a chuckle.

“Well, he was busy shaping men out of clay, and Dionysus came by. The pair went off, got drunk, and when Prometheus came back to finish the job, he put the wrong body parts on a few. We can blame him for some folks being in the wrong body. It is also said that same-sex relations were caused by him being drunk,” I said.  

I glanced at my mug, frowning slightly. “When we were much younger, the gods were not exactly good at keeping their hands to themselves. One of them reportedly forced themselves on a woman. Caeneus was offered a boon, which he asked to be turned into a man. The story says that it’s so he wouldn’t be forced like that again. Sadly, that played into the myth that men can’t be forced like that. There are many stories of both sexes being assaulted,” I said with a sad smile. 

“Years later, Caeneus’s sister was married, and a group of centaurs thought it would be fun to rape the women at the wedding. Welp, Caeneus was having none of it. He killed five of the attackers while the centaurs’ weapons couldn’t touch him. This frustrated the assholes, with one of them realizing that Caeneus had been a woman.” I sighed and shook my head.

“They said things like Caeneus should leave the fighting to the men and how a woman couldn’t do anything without a man. He was an all around total transphobic asshole. Well, it wasn’t long before that centaur lost his head. This pissed off the attackers, and they used their powers to bury Caeneus under rocks and trees. However, this wasn’t enough to stop Caeneus, who transformed into a bird and flew away.” 

“Well, that’s a harsh story,” Paul replied.

“The thing is, it wasn’t the god who forced himself on Caeneus, he helped her. It was another mortal who had violated her. While we were not exactly kind in our younger days, we didn’t go out of our way to be assholes,” I said.

“Dad?” asked a voice from the stairs. “Who’s here?”

“Jenna, this is Lady Hestia. I had some questions about what you told me, and she was kind enough to answer them,” Paul said.

I stood up before tilting my head at the young woman. “Hello, Jenna.”

The transwoman on the stairs rolled her eyes. “Can you talk later? It’s two in the morning.”

“That it is. I’ll come by later and talk with you both. Rest well,” I said.

“Good night, Hestia. Thank you,” Paul replied before I left the house. 

Hestia (Kaitlyn Kalor)
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