Straight until proven gay


Mo Murray , Sports Editor

Although many view identifying on the LGBTQ spectrum as a modern practice, evidence for the existence of queer men and women can be found throughout popular history. If you disagree, it is likely due to the fact that the identities of queer historical figures have been repressed in favor of less “controversial” traits by many historians.

It is no secret that the past has not necessarily been kind or accepting of the LGBTQ community, and therefore, the fact that the recorded history of homosexuality is extremely limited makes sense. The problem is that even in a modern, more accepting society, direct evidence of queer relationships and opportunities for important representation in history are still ignored and pushed aside, and no significant effort has been made to expose deeply rooted ancient LGBTQ culture that was destroyed.

Evidence that suggests many significant historical figures lay somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum isn’t hard to find; Abraham Lincoln’s marriage to his wife was known to be tumultuous, and he had numerous very close relationships with men, including a man named Joshua Speed who “shared his bed” for several years. Love letters written by Eleanor Roosevelt to a female journalist named Lorena Hickok have been found, and her close friends included many lesbian couples throughout her life. In Japan, same-sex love culture created strong traditions of painting and literature to document these relationships. Thai kings and all ancient Roman emperors (except Claudius) took both men and women as sexual partners until 390 A.D.

But the point is not that there is significant evidence to “out” these historical figures. The point is that regardless of the fact that being queer isn’t a choice and it is completely possible that many of these people may not have been straight, heteronormativity (‘the belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (male and female) with natural roles in life – assumes that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or the only norm, and that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sex”) has a captive grip on history. In a time of acceptance and freedom, we should examine historical evidence openly without belittling or denying the possibility of LGBTQ identity.

The “straight until proven gay” mentality that historical studies have adopted not only damages  the identities of LGBTQ individuals in history, it belittles the identities of those currently on the LGBTQ spectrum by implying their identity is a modern fad and that there isn’t a possibility for historical representation. Yes, societal advancements and environmental factors have and will continue to contribute to a rise in the number of people identifying as LGBTQ. But to blame this on environmental pressures alone is inaccurate and unfair to a community that has faced discrimination for thousands of years.

For example, some Greek, South American, and pre-Columbian pottery that contains images of lesbian and gay relations has been recovered, but the majority of the pottery was destroyed by Christian missionaries because they were an “insult to national honour.” There is evidence to suggest that homosexual relationships were normalized in ancient Mayan and Aztec culture, but because most of their records were destroyed in the Spanish conquest, this rich LGBTQ history is lost and considered insignificant. Literature including homosexual relationships that was written in the 1700’s was edited to remove the “controversial” scenes before it was published.  

The unjust homophobic acts of prejudiced groups are the reason LGBTQ history is shallow; because LGBTQ history is shallow, the door was opened for homophobic people to claim that examples of queerness can’t be found in history. This cycle cannot be broken until we are willing to analyze history with an open mind and stop pretending that gay people just magically appeared in the 70s.

Some are afraid to call historical figures queer in fear of shifting focus to sexual identity rather than actual accomplishments, but does one’s accomplishments change based on who they love? The only effect of beginning to accept differences in the orientation of historical figures is that a community that has been largely marginalized by historians may finally have an opportunity to celebrate and learn about their history and celebrate the accomplishments of LGBTQ people who existed generations before them.