Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Brief Gay History...Into Darkness.'s a slow news day in my opinion. Therefore, since I have no desire to write about Levi Johnston's Playgirl shoot, I have decided that I would do an article on gay history. As I write, hopefully I'm educating myself as well as you, the reader. Hopefully I am not merely regurgitating what everyone already knows...but its nice to see it all together and get a sense of the larger journey.

We are a people who's history is largly untold. Our stories lost to the homophobia and violence of the past. We not only share in the history of the world at large but was also have our own tale to tell...and its sad that we still live under so much persecution that we don't get to learn it. Its a tale of love and tragedy, power and corruption, perseverance and triumph, and ultimately the end has not yet been written. It is, in fact, a tale too large to tell in one piece so I have broken it into installments. Today I will cover samplings of events from our ancient past. From our nacent beginnings lost to the mists of time, to our decent into the dark ages and beyond. I'm sure I will miss mentioning many famous gays along the way but I simply can not fit everything here.

Take a walk with me into days long past....

25th/24th century BCE:

  • Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum's tomb is built in Egypt during the fifth dynasty.

    *this is the oldest example of a same-sex couple, at least according to the wiki. Its amusing that they shared the title Overseer of the Manicurist. Even in acient times we were trying to make the world look

7th century BCE:

  • 630 BCE - Marriage between men in Greece was not legally recognized, although life-long relationships between adult men were not uncommon. The partnerships between two men in Greece were similar to heterosexual marriages in that generally there was about a generation difference in age and the older person served as the educator or mentor.

  • 600 BCE – Sappho of Lesbos writes her famous love poems to young women, providing the eventual inspiration for the word lesbian.

4th century BCE:

  • 338 BCE The Sacred Band of Thebes, an undefeated elite battalion made up of one hundred and fifty gay couples, is destroyed by the forces of Philip II of Macedon who bemoans their loss and praises their honor.

    *Theirs is a wonderfull, if tragic story on a scale with King David and Johnathan. They give GLBTQ people one more reason to hold there heads high and I fully recommend reading about them.

1st century BCE:

  • 27 BCE – The Roman Empire begins with the reign of Augustus. The first recorded same-sex marriages occur during this period.

    The Roman Empire is a time in which art and literature depict homosexual love in a positive light. Romans, like the Greeks, celebrated love and sex amongst men. Two Roman Emperors publicly married men, some had gay lovers themselves, and homosexual prostitution was taxed. However, like the Greeks, passivity and effeminacy were not tolerated, and an adult male freeborn Roman could lose his citizen status if caught performing fellatio or being penetrated.

    *And here we have the universal, basic objection to homosexuality defined: "its o.k. to have sex with men, just don't be passive or feminine". This is a sentiment that continues to echo through history today, much to our detriment.

1st century:

  • 54 – Nero becomes Emperor of Rome. Nero married two men in legal ceremonies, with at least one spouse accorded the same honours as a Caesar's wife.

    *Gay history is littered with famous individuals. Some of them are more infamous than famous, like Nero. Some famous GLBTQ people encourage us...some give us pause and remind us of the failings of humanity. Nero is just such a person. His actions are a warning against having a life of power and no limits to guide it.

  • 98 – Trajan, one of the most beloved of Roman emperors, begins his reign. Trajan was well known for his homosexuality and fondness for young males.

    *Trajan is far from the most blatent example of how Roman Emporers got away with not suffering the same stigmas that the mob did. Emporer Hadrian and his lover Antinous are a classic example of this...and a fantastic love story from the past.

Moving into the 4th century we see the rise of the Christian church and specifically the Bizantine Empire. While I identify myself Christian, there is no denying that these were the beginnings of dark times.

4th century:

  • 305- 306 Council of Elvira (now Granada, Spain). This council was representative of the Western European Church and among other things, it barred homosexuals the right to Communion.

    *Strike one against equality and the first step in oppression. Exclusion from religion. We have yet to fully recover from thise precedent.

  • 342 – The first law against homosexual marriage was promulgated by the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans.

    *Strike two, exclusion from civil institutions. I bet Constantius was a member of the National Organization for Marriage. This is our modern day place on the continuum of regaining human dignity as we work to undo the deeds done by men like these.

  • 390 – In the year 390, the Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius declared homosexual sex to be illegal and those who were guilty of it were condemned to be burned alive in front of the public.

    *Strike three, we're out. This was litterly the death blow to Gays and Lesbians in the ancient world. If progress on gay rights is reversed today, as many anti-gay groups hope, acts like these are the ultimate, if extreme, outcome.

13th century:

  • 1250–1300 – "Between 1250 and 1300, homosexual activity passed from being completely legal in most of Europe to incurring the death penalty in all but a few contemporary legal compilations." — John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) p. 293. Other historians dispute Boswell's claim, however.

    *Disputed or no, most Christianized countries rushed to enact legislation to criminalize homosexuality. This spread like the plague and with much the same the next entry demonstates.

  • 1260 In France, 1st offending sodomites lost their testicles, 2nd offenders lost their member, and 3rd offenders were burned. Women caught in same-sex acts could be mutilated and executed as well.

    *YIKES!...and I thought Califoria's three strikes law was tough! Of Course, As usual..if you were royalty you totally got away with it.

  • 1265 Thomas Aquinas argues that sodomy is second only to murder in the ranking of sins.

  • 1283 French Civil Code dictated that convicted sodomites not only were burned but that their property was forfeited.

    *Wow..Social stigma, Mutilation, possible death, AND we got to lose everything we owned...Whats not to love? Its only sad that this still goes on in some countries around the world.

15th Century:

  • 1483 The Spanish Inquisition begins. Sodomites were stoned, castrated, and burned. Between 1540 and 1700, more than 1,600 people were prosecuted for sodomy.

    *No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  • The intervening time was really repition of the same types of abuses. This is a dark time in history for everyone, not only gays. But, as with all long nights, eventually a little sun must shine. Unfortunatly for us, things continued on as they were...

18th century:

  • 1779 – USA- In 1779 Thomas Jefferson prepared a draft of Virginia’s criminal statute, envisaging that the punishment for sodomy should be castration.[20] The bill read: Whosoever shall be guilty of rape, polygamy, or sodomy with a man or woman, shall be punished; if a man, by castration, a woman, by boring through the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch in diameter at the least. (Virginia Bill number 64; authored by Jefferson; June 18, 1779).

    *You would think that the age of reason would have brought about a fairer view of treatment of others, especially in men who had such a dim view of the role of religion themselves. I am only thankfull that the Declaration of Independance and U.S. Constitution were created by more than one individuall.

As abuse against GLBTQ people continues on unabated, the world begins to change from the inside of humanity...out. As the dawn of a new age it was some time, before we could feel its light. In future installments we will move on, into the 19th and 20th centuries and witness the the tragedies and triumphs of GLBTQ people on the backddrop of a changing world.

To read more about any of these people or events Please visit the Wikipedia and explore a rich tapestry of GLBTQ history.

*All notes are the addition of this author and represent my opinion only.


  1. I´m sorry but I have no problem with christians, but I have a Huge problem with their church, I have thius fantasy where I go to the vatican and I just beat the shit out of the pope, declare myself Jesus 2.0 and say to all people they will all burn in hell. With a smile ^^

    Just look at the facts, if the church didn´t exist not only our problems would be gone, but science as we know it TODAY would be from years ago. Wars wouldn´t even be fought.

  2. Doing that Swampy would be emulating the actions of some of those same people who have abused religion for their own purposes. And IF the church were gone...I believe bigotry would still be present in the form of the belief that somehow gay=weak.

  3. I know ( I´m in a crappy mood right now, it lead to display the rage in there)

    I hear what you say about bigotry, but it will be so much weaker, I actually think it will be the minority.

    Btw, I saw the facebook event for a Holiday party at your house, If I could only afford it...

  4. Holiday party? Why do people living in California get to have all the fun? You don't even get cold, and rarely get real snow. Come host it in Saskatchewan - we'll go tobogganing, snow-shoeing, and look at the stars while drinking Prairie Fire shots.

    That last part is no good, really. Prairie Fires are not tasty. Even if you do like tobasco sauce.

    In response to this post - I'm curious if you could compile a list of "gay history" books that you've read and recommend. I enjoyed reading your list of events, but I'm a History major/teacher - I want more information, and my general understanding of world history doesn't provide me with enough context.

    Interesting though, this clear affinity for the pre-Christian age. I wonder if historians would suggest that we've already entered the post-Christian age, but that we continue to deal with the residual effects of it...

    I found the part on Thomas Jefferson quite interesting.

    Expect an e-mail from me soon, Bryan. I've got a couple questions for you and your husband...

  5. worries :)

    @canadianhumility I get exposed as a hack because I took my information right off the wiki and you know how trustworthy that can be. But follow the link at the bottom of the article if you want to find the source documents that were used in the wiki post. There is hours worth of reading material in there and some surprising information.

    Good gay history books are hard to find...especially where I live. The average bookstore used to have an actuall section of gay and lesbian books, now we have one shelf.

    As to whether or not we are in a "post-christian age", I do not know. The span of our lives is simply too short and the only people who WILL know will be looking us up on the wiki one day far from now. My personal feeling is that we never really lose merely changes form and lives on.

  6. I think you missed an important part out of this - the rise of christianity as shaped by Paul. If Paul had not shaped the church there would have been little homophobia in the new testament and things could have been nicer. I personally think he was probably a closet case.

    As for the post christian age. I think that things changed for the better for gay people in europe during the The Enlightenment. People started using reason to examine their religious beliefs and dogma as weakened.

    If much of Europe and the USA this has carried on for the last 200-300 years. European culture has got a lot further down the path however, most western European countries are a great deal secular that the USA.

    So anyway blame Paul. He was the one who has fucked us up for the last 1500 years. And not just gays, he wrote loads of crazy shit about women as well.

  7. Oh you missed of Alexander and Hephisitan as well! That is a much better story and Hadrian! They were together their whole lives and even married and had wives so they could breed their children together and give them the empire they had conquered. When Hephistian died Alexander went mad with grief and died not long after.

    And there is the story of Achilles and Patroclus in the Illiad. One of the oldest stories known to man passed down for thousands of years, far older than the bible. And the central plot point is that of the rage of the greatest warrior that one of his enemies kills his gay lover.

    Fuck Brad Pitt for taking one of the oldest stories known to man, a story about gay love, and turning the lover into a cousin. My rage was incandescent.

  8. well now...THAT is why I had to break this into segments...there is simply too much to tell and not all this information is in one place. I simply could NOT fit all that in...

  9. Yeah I know, didn't mean to sound critical. I just get excited by history :D

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  11. Funny that you decided to address history issues, Bryan. I had the same urge several months ago when I studied LGBT history of my country (Russia) and I actually wrote quite a good article about that for Wikipedia covering almost a thousand years of history. I've spent a lot of time doing that and I still didn't get around to publish it in the main article (it's still in my sandbox, kinda draft). I really wanna finish it someday, but there is still a lot of research that needs to be done in terms of contemporary history (last 20 or so years), which is always hard: too many questionable sources, too many controversies, too many political issues that don't let us see the truth.

    About "What if?"s. What if Christian Church never existed or never proclaimed that homosexuality is one of the worst sins? My history teacher in high school would say, "I hate speculating on historical issues. What's done is done. We can't change it and we surely don't know what would happen if different decisions were made or different people were to make those decisions." Well, she also liked to say, "History is a hooker that bends over for anyone!" Not kidding: she actually said that to us, students, when we were 16-17 years old in high school. So what? She's cool. Anyway, I don't think that people would accept gays with open arms either way. Of course, there probably wouldn't be so much hatred, but people would still say that it is "unnatural" (if not Christianity, that would be paganism which worships nature, so everything "unnatural" [like homosexual sex] would or could be seen as crime against nature [that's actually how they call it in some countries these days, where religions do not have so much power]).

    I think, the best way to go is to explain homosexuality scientifically. If someday we would be able to give an explanation, whatever it is, people would have to accept that explanation. Most likely, it would state that this transition of sexuality is a nature's way to control some things (like birth rate), so if nature is doing it, how can it be unnatural? And what is nature in religious people's minds? It's God. So God did it. God created gays. And if He created us the way we are, we cannot be persecuted for that anymore. Cannot and shouldn't be. I understand it right now, without any scientific proof yet. Call if faith or call it stupidity, whatever. I just wish people could see it the way I see it.

    (Sorry for the post deleted above: I noticed that I misused some very important slang, but there is no Edit option here, so I had to post it again here with corrections.)

  12. @k!r!lleXXI

    I have to say that I agree with your history teacher and your overall message. If Christianity was not a factor, people would find some other way to express there fear of the different and avoidance of what they deem weakness. Ancient Romes attitude to gays is a good example...if you were the passive partner, you could lose your citizenship....unless of courst you were the Emporer then you could stick whatever you want WHERE EVER you want.

  13. That was very interesting, I do like history, so this sort of thing really dose interest me.

  14. This is a pretty good springboard for independent research! I can't wait for the next installment. I've got a pretty good picture of the modern (last thirty years) portion of gay history from my mum, like when she was a kid, it was still a mental disorder. Her telling is all mixed in with the feminist movement, though, so I'm looking forward to a male perspective on the subject.

  15. the next century is a bit of a puzzle in how to frame. Its a time when homosexuality was legalized and banned in so many different cultures but the community itself was so underground.

    I'm struggling with this one

  16. I to love history even if some it is taken from individual perceptives ...who know what historians will make of this age....
    we can only live how we are living & try to do what think will help & survive the time we have here & let history take care of itself.... but my understanding was there have been gay leaders in ... Alexander springs to mind as does Richard I the lion-heart & I am sure there are many others I dont have names off top of my head....

    I am really enjoying reading your past blogs Bryan
    Take care & be happy

  17. family in the next time: StadtCOLOUR!
    Virtuelle Universit├Ąt COLOUR (i.Gr.)