For Dany, because her body is imbued with royal power, having sex with her female handmaiden signifies the protective rationale of refusing all men the opportunity to usurp her body and therefore her power. Irri is, in other words, the safe substitute, and her function as substitute is readily acknowledged by Dany not just in Book 3 but in Book 5 as well, when she calls upon Irri once again to act as the bodily substitute for a man, this time, the sellsword Daario Naharis, who Dany lusts for:
“That night she could not sleep but turned and twisted restlessly in her bed. She even went so far as to summon Irri, hoping her caresses might help ease her way to rest, but after a short while she pushed the Dothraki girl away. Irri was sweet and soft and willing, but she was not Daario.” (305)
Through presentist, lesbian, spectacles we might “rageth” at the idea of sex between two women as predicated upon notion of substitution. But substitution does happen in life, regardless of the object substituted. (This is, arguably, the logic of “the rebound.”) This isn’t the Usher Theory of there not being “enough [real] men,” however; Dany as queen and mother of dragons is the object of every man’s desire. The act of substitution is a political strategy to safeguard both Dany’s life and her power, which are inextricably connected in and expressed through her physical body.
The only other sapphic scene in Game of Thrones occurs in Book 4 between Cersei, Queen Regent of Westeros, and the wife of someone serving on her son’s small council, Taena Merryweather, who is described a very sensual, “dark” and “exotic,” Myrish woman. With growing anxiety and increasing nightmares, Cersei keeps Taena in bed with her at night as a kind of security blanket. She does not want to be alone.
One night, after drinking a little too much wine, Cersei stumbles into bed to find a heavily sleeping Taena. Looking at Taena, she wonders “what it would feel like to kiss another woman.
Not lightly on the cheek, as was common courtesy amongst ladies of high birth, but full upon the lips. Taena’s lips were very full. She wondered what it would feel like to suckle on those breasts, to lay the Myrish woman on her back and push her legs apart and use her as a man would use her….”(685)
Cersei’s curiosity is piqued by her desire to play the man (“use her as a man would use her”), and attempt to feel how a man would feel when fucking a woman. In the world of the Game of Thrones (not to mention our world, as well), this dynamic is defined by aggression and violence. On the aforementioned drunken night, Cersei only briefly hesitates before taking advantage of Taena, cupping one of her breasts and pinching the “big dark nipple” until the Myrish woman awakens. Cersei continues to squeeze her nipple until Taena gasps in pain, “You’re hurting me.” The Queen calls upon her power—“I am the queen. I mean to claim my rights”—to clarify her position over Taena, who, while in pain, seems equally turned on by the prospect of being fucked by the Queen.
“‘Do what you will.’ Taena’s hair was as black as Robert’s, even down there between her legs, and when Cersei touched her there she found her hair all sopping wet…. ‘Please,’ the Myrish woman said, ‘go on, my queen. Do as you will with me. I’m yours.’
But it was no good. She could not feel it, whatever Robert felt on the nights he took her. There was no pleasure in it, not for her. For Taena, yes…. The queen slid a finger into that Myrish swamp, then another, moving them in and out…. She wanted to see if it would be as easy with a woman as it had always been with Robert…, she thought, slipping a third finger into Myr. She gasped some words in a foreign tongue, then shuddered again and arched her back and screamed. She sounds as if she is being gored, the queen thought. For a moment she let herself imagine that her fingers were a boar’s tusks, ripping the Myrish woman apart from groin to throat.
It was still no good.” (692-693)
After Taena comes she asks how she can pleasure Cersei, who hastily responds, “Leave me.”
The image of a vagina-swamp is enough to turn any gay girl straight. SERIOUSLY. I read this scene and freaked-the-fuck-out. Michelle Bachmann, this is the new image for your conversion campaign: “Stay Out of the Swamp, Stay Out of Sin.” Or, “Who Knows What Diseases Lie Within—Swampy Merkins Ruin Lives. Don’t Let Them Ruin Yours.”
Cersei’s dip into the sapphic
swamp waters stems from different motivations than Dany’s, this is all too clear. The man that Cersei plays is, oddly, not her Brother-D-Lover Jaime, but her late husband, Robert Baratheon, the lecherous and gluttonous king of Westeros. Perhaps the association is created through Taena’s black hair, a commonality she shares with Robert. More likely, the association with her late husband results from her desire to play the male sexual aggressor, and no one trumped the late king in acts of sexual aggression. Like Robert, Cersei calls on her regency to take (sexual) possession of an other/a woman: “I am the queen. I mean to claim my rights.” Like the King, Queen Cersei owns everything—and everyone—in Westeros.
In terms of dominance and submission, Cersei’s sapphic experience radically departs from Dany’s. Cersei’s lust for domination over others (collectively or individually) turns her on, whereas Dany is not looking to express but protect her power in her sapphic explorations. While neither woman could technically be the bottom since both are queens, Cersei would never take up the submissive, “female,” position in homosex-play because, again, for her sex is about domination, the conquest, which, in her mind, even is portrayed as violent, animalistic death. (It is also interesting to note that she imagines that she’s a boar—the same animal that gutted her late husband in the woods….) Dany, on the other hand, craves a substitute for a male top and thus plays the bottom in order to make the substitution feel like “the real thing.”
Instead of disappointment, lesbian fans should think on these scenes not as failed or thwarted lesbianism, nor as “stupid hetero-man’s understanding of how lesbianism works.” Rather, these scenes shed light on the complexity of every sexual encounter, homo or otherwise. Libidinal aims and objects are never simplex; they are always complicated by one’s history, one’s culture, and one’s environment. The point, here, is that it is impossible, not to mention solipsistic, to pass judgement on something without taking into account your own positionality, especially the (historical) time in which one is living. To fault something that is of a different historical or cultural location than your own for not living up to your historico-cultural specific knowledge or standard is wildly ignorant of the fact that our knowledge is built upon, and has evolved from, this history.
Comprehending the historico-cultural difference between yourself and another is not intended as some kind of ethical justification (of Cersei’s swamp-fucking, animal-gutting instincts) but as a means to create a sympathy or understanding of how and why things have different meanings in different contexts.
That said, I caution anyone against entering a swamp without proper protection.