Although men tend to be more sexually forward than women on Kalymnos, talk of sex is not taboo for either men or women, and I often heard ribald tales told by "respectable" married women. In part, this reflects the fact that sexuality (and other bodily pleasure) tends not to be stigmatized in Greek Orthodox tradition as long as it is channeled through proper kinship and marriage roles. Homosexuality is stigmatized largely insofar as it interferes with these demands. As in the rest of Greece, however, it is only the passive male partner who is labeled "homosexual" (omofloflos, colloq. poustis). One can be an active male partner as an extension of male virility (Loizos, 1994). While there were several "known" homosexuals on Kalymnos, lesbianism is seen as an anomaly and as a foreign importation.

Control over sexuality has long been the source of tension between generations, and in particular between fathers and daughters. People still talk of "the old years" when fathers "kept their daughters locked up in their houses" in order to keep them from shaming the family honor through even the hint of premarital sexual behavior. Indeed, when people spoke of male power and control on Kalymnos, they generally did so in the context of the father-daughter relationship rather than the husband-wife relationship. This is also reflected at the level of island identity in claims that men on other neighboring islands "don't care if you sleep with their daughters." While other islanders "let their daughters" have relations with Italian men during the Italian Occupation, Kalymnians claim that their resistance to Italian rule was expressed in the fact that any Kalymnian women who had sexual relations with Italians were killed or exiled (see Doumanis [1997] for women's "counter-memories" on this topic).


Traditionally, there were three types of courtship on Kalymnos: arranged marriages (proksenio, synekesio), marriages of "familiarity" (tis gnorimias), and "love marriages" (tou erota). Arranged marriages were controlled by parents, but occasionally involved intermediaries such as aunts or uncles. In these cases courtship could be quite short—only a period of several weeks. Marriages of familiarity could be initiated by the couple themselves, with their parents' approval, and often involved neighbor children who had grown up nearby and knew each other over a long period. These two types could blend into each other: neighborhood parents could arrange marriages between children who had grown up together, and courtships might be longer, extending until after the man had performed military service. One woman boasted of choosing the best of five sons that her neighbor had offered to marry to her daughter. Because of their long acquaintance, she knew which son was most honest and upright. The final type, the "love marriage," was initiated through sexual desire, and might involve the couple "stealing away" without the knowledge of one or both parents to get married on a nearby island. Though parents still play a role in spousal selection, arranged marriages are growing increasingly uncommon on Kalymnos. With the advent of "dating" over the past 15 years, couples themselves have an increasingly larger role to play, and love becomes an important if not decisive factor in decisions.

Weddings often involve a day of celebrations before the actual ceremony. These celebrations include an opening of the couple's house to the guests of the family, firing of guns, or throwing of dynamite (Sutton, 1998a). The guests throw money on the nuptial bed as a gesture to symbolize the couple's future fertility. Often the wedding party walks in a procession through town to the church. The ceremony itself is conducted in the Greek Orthodox tradition (although political marriages were legalized by the socialist government of Andreas Papandreou in the early 1980s, they are uncommon). This involves the setting of crowns on the heads of the couple by a man and women chosen by the groom and bride respectively (the koumbari). The koumbari are close friends who often become godparents (nonoi) to the couple's children.

Until recently, divorce was highly stigmatized, and the prospects of remarriage were slim because both men and women would be stigmatized by gossip. While gossip still goes on, divorce and remarriage have become much more common. In cases where an affair leads to divorce, the partner having the affair (husband or wife) may leave the island to avoid criticism, leaving the remaining spouse to care for the children.

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