Friday, October 26, 2007

Gay History

Zephyrus and Hyacinthus, Athenian Kylix (wine cup)

by Douris490-485 BCE, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

History is written by the victors. They choose what will be remembered, and what covered up. So it has been with male eros. Looking at any history textbook, one would think that never has a society praised love between men, never has a painter, a poet or a pope shared his bed and his heart with another male. Evidence of same-sex love has been either quietly suppressed, as with the Greeks and Romans, or quickly destroyed, as is still done with newly unearthed Inca and Mayan art. The result of this deception has been a needless polarization of society and untold suffering for those people who happen to fall in love with others of their own sex.

Uncensored, the historical record reveals an opposite reality: the male love instinct is a universal constant. Only society's attitude towards it has varied. All cultures have regulated male love, weaving varied tapestries of ritual around it. And a few have tried - to no avail - to regulate it out of existence.

Illuminated miniature of Shah Abbas I (1571-1629) of Persia, embracing his wine boy.

The poem reads “May life grant all that you desire from three lips, those of your lover, the river, and the cup.”

As a rule, male love was part of the social and religious fabric. From the city states of ancient Greece and Rome with its emperors (Trajan and Hadrian among others), to the Siberian shamans and Native American two-spirit medicine men, from the African tribesmen to Chinese emperors and scholars, people the world over understood and made space for men's vulnerability to the beauty of other males. They accepted that - whether married or not - men fell in love with men or youths, dreamt about them, wrote about them, fought over them, and took them to bed. And they usually understood that boy children were excluded from the game of love, to the same degree that they understood that girl children were excluded as well.

In Ancient Greece love between males was in many ways analogous to the marriages of the time, seen as equally important in the life of the individual, and enshrined in Greek mythology. It was the cornerstone of a cultural tradition that 2500 years ago provoked the awakening of democracy, theater, philosophy, mathematics, history, and so on. Male love was thought to bring out the best qualities in a youth, especially manliness and courage. In warfare soldiers often fought side-by-side with their beloveds, as in the renowned Theban band; later, led by Alexander the Great and his boyfriend Hephaestion, the Greeks conquered the known world. Greece, of course, was no Utopia: prostitution and rape, often attended by slavery, were common.

Miyakawa Choshun (1682-1753) -

The Go Game Individual panel from an shunga painting of silk done at the end of the eighteenth century, reprinted in The Love of Samurai, A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality by Tsuneo Watanabe and Jun'ichi Iwata.

In Japan,apprentice Samurai paired up with older warriors to be trained in love and war, and even the shogun had - besides his concubines - many boyfriends, their "nanshoku" loves recorded by writers and shunga painters who immortalized "shudo," the Way of the Young. They likewise immortalized the hard lives of the "tobiko" or fly boys, traveling young kabuki actors who had to labor on stage by day and please their clients in bed by night.

In the Moslem lands, famous Iranian and Arab poets such as Hafiz i-Shirazi and Abu Nuwas praised and rued the charms of boys (whom they sometimes plied with wine and seduced). Sufi holy men from India to Turkey sought to find Allah by gazing upon the beauty of beardless youths. Storytellers enshrined gay love tales in the Thousand and One Nights. Artists like Riza i-Abbasi amused kings and princes with exquisitely wrought Persian miniatures and calligraphies. Mullahs and censors railed against male love, but men of all walks of life, from Caliphs to porters, delighted in it and all looked forward to being attended by "unaging youths as beautiful as pearls" once in paradise.

In North America and Siberia, shamanic traditions dating back to the stone age recognized the special spiritual powers of those men and women drawn to same-sex love, as we still see in the Native American two-spirit tradition, which survives to this day.

Domenico Cresti (called Passignano) 1560-1638

Bathers at San Niccolo Private collection.

In the pre-modern west, male love survived mostly underground, visible only when the lovers were unlucky enough to get caught, or when hinted at by artists brave enough to flout convention. Many writers, musicians, painters and poets depicted male love, but always in coded form: Michelangelo, who adorned the Sistine Chapel with vibrant male nudes; Shakespeare, who serenaded his darling boy in his sonnets; Blake who railed against priests "binding with briars my joys and desires;" Whitman, who sang the body electric. The list of luminaries, artists, statesmen, men of the cloth, knights and knaves who felt the pull of male love - by itself, or alongside the love of women - is endless.

The big lie that same-sex love is "against nature," a fiction which flies in the face of both biology and history, depends on censorship for its survival. We at the Androphile Project, gleaning the work of scholars in gay studies, aim to undo that censorship by publicizing gay love's role in man's spirit and culture: its successes, its failures, and the controversies it has given rise to over the millennia. We hope the prose and poetry, religion and mythology, art, philosophy and history collected here from around the world will serve to deepen understanding of male love's place in human nature. As this is being written (winter 2004), it could also illuminate the growing debate about gay marriage, a tradition documented the world over for thousands of years, but nowhere as widely or as recently as in North America, where it was practiced and honored by many of the First Nations.

The documents gathered here are the footprints of the Gay Muse, who has inspired men and women on every continent since the dawn of time. They bear witness to the fact that male love is irrepressible. Where forbidden, it has prevailed over stonings, burnings, lobotomies, schoolyard homophobia, the gallows and the gaol. Where welcomed, it has openly blossomed into the highest achievements of the human mind.


hello, my name is danny. said...


i just recently started reading your blog and i am very glad to have found it.

rock on!

cant_u_read said...

uh-oh! there's a lot of catching up i need to do. will probably cancel banana boat tomorrow to read khalel instead.


marvelous roster.

how about the beautiful guy ganymede and zeus? hehe.

dazedblu* said...

this is great entry with a well wrtiteen point of views, well to speak the gay rhytym ;) nice one.


if the books i had in literature class have been written this way, lit then would be my favorite...

interesting insights... love your works khalel