history historical photograph

Understanding Sexuality in a Historical Context

History is not a monolith, and queerfolk have been around since before men started scratching hunting scenes on cave walls. Yet much of what we know of queer history comes from the voices of our oppressors. We have records of churches and governments condemning those who are other, of hangings and burnings and pillories. Living so often on the fringes, we have left precious little that is positive behind. For queerfolk throughout much of history, being invisible was the only way to be safe.

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Chichester cathedral

Historical Romance and the Arundel Tomb

The Arundel Tomb is a stone monument featuring effigies of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster. It dates back to 1376 and is currently housed in Chichester Cathedral, for those curious enough to want to see it. Although an interesting artifact in its own right, today it’s most famous for the Larkin poem it inspired.

I was reminded of the tomb recently while thinking about historical queer romance, and the realities of writing historical queer lives. (more…)

gay couple

The History of Homosexuality: Same-Sex Marriage in the USA

The first legal challenges to the ban on same-sex couples marrying in the US came in the early 1970s, without success: Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that a ban on SSM wasn’t unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case regarding SSM in 1972, “for want of a substantial federal question.” That denial blocked lower federal courts from addressing the matter of same-sex marriage for decades. (more…)

judge gavel legal

The History of Homosexuality: Legal Challenges

The queer emancipation movement has had more dealings with the courts than the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the legalisation of same-sex marriage. First after decriminalisation was an equal age of consent. It took a 1997 ruling by the European Commission of Human Rights to confirm that the UK’s unequal age of consent was a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, a wrong which wasn’t corrected until 2000. (more…)

gay rights protest

The History of Homosexuality: Radicalisation vs Assimilation

For hundreds of years when being queer was criminal in western society, the public face of queerfolk was the most visible members of the community, those who were unable to hide by passing as heterosexual and consequently, those most often brought before the law. Trans* individuals, cross-dressers, and those who eschewed the gender binary were obvious, easy targets. When the political climate became unbearably repressive, and the civil rights movement to emancipate other minorities took off, one of the first acts of the community was to change the image of queerness in the public consciousness. (more…)

gay pride rainbow

The History of Homosexuality: The Rainbow Spectrum

Through the 1960s as homophile organisations started to form in defence of queerfolk, the community which was only just forming began to fracture. Societies like the Mattachine wanted to present an assimilationist approach to queer emancipation, representing the white, middle class, straight-passing men who politicians and lawmakers would relate to and find most sympathetic. (more…)

gay pride born this way

The History of Homosexuality: Gay Pride

The hundred-year period leading up to 1970 was a hugely significant one for queerfolk. From a series of small, disparate socio-sexual communities with no real sense of wider identity or framework for understanding their orientation, to an established subculture with a naming convention, identity, and political presence. In response to a repressive legal atmosphere in the UK and USA, “homophile organisations” such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis were formed with the aim of politically liberating queerfolk. While other rallys and marches had been organised in the past, it was the uprising following the botched raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York which really provided the catalyst for the modern Pride movement. (more…)

The History of Homosexuality: The Mattachine Society

The Mattachine Society was founded in LA in 1950 by Harry Hay and a number of his friends. Hay conceived of  an “international…fraternal order” to serve as “a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society’s Androgynous Minority”. He had tried to form a similar political activist group in 1948 in support of a Progressive presidential candidate, but it never got off the ground. Over the following two years, Hay worked hard on the model of a queer emancipation group which could be politically engaged on a public stage. (more…)