What does history mean to LGBTQ people? I often sit and wonder this very concept. Being Irish, Scottish, and Native American I can have a shared history with those peoples. Being American, I can learn and interpret where we started and what we’re moving towards. Asians, Africans, Japanese, British, Australians, and Central Americans can all be easily identifiable when it comes to history and it’s because of a shared experience. You can even look at your own family history and see where you came from; again this is because of a shared experience through your DNA. How does that fit in with LGBTQ people?
It would be nice if when we came out that we were sent a magical letter offering us invitation to a school that only teaches history of LGBTQ. We had a means to take a special mode of transportation; I’m thinking a unicorn that pulls a chariot able to carry s few of us at a time. We arrive at a large hall where we are greeted by icons of our history to give us our education. Teaching everything from the history of our modes of dress to why drag queens should be celebrated, classes that teach us the importance of acting out and civil disobedience, showing that we don’t need to be defined by boxes that heteronormative society has placed upon us, and teaching us that love is equal in all eyes and should have no limitations.
Sadly, there is no Hogwarts school of LGBTQIA, no train to sweep us away to our magical world of wonder, sparkles, and rainbows, and no means of solidarity to keep us sane and moving forward with pride and strength. We are born, largely, into heterosexual families who, not always for their own faults, no very little of our history and culture. We are given talk about our burgeoning desires in the relations to the birds and the bees. We aren’t surrounded by images of others like us in love. When we do get images, they are more furtive glances into what is defined and perverse and taboo. As LGBTQIA kids, we oftentimes sneak books and magazines into our bedrooms to read in the quite hours. We constantly clear our browser history, so parents aren’t aware of what we may have been viewing and this is only if you are a LGBTQIA youth. These means become complicated exponentially as we get older and develop other relationships.
In 1979, the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project said, “Our letters were burned, our names blotted out, our books censored, our love declared unspeakable, our very existence denied.”- LGBTQ Heritage Our desire to know our history isn’t just a passing fancy of the modern era to prove our worth; as far back as the early 19th century there has been a desire by people with same sex attraction and non-normative gender identities to find means of connecting with our past. It wasn’t until the late 70s that homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder; so finding our history in libraries and bookstores is increasingly difficult.
Part of the issue with tracing our history comes from the fact that many of the words that are used today to describe us aren’t that old. Take the word homosexual was first recorded in use between 1890-95. The term lesbian being used to describe women who love other women also shows record of being used in the 1800s and became much more popular in the 1960s. I hear what you are saying, it dates back much older to the sister of Sappho who were a group dedicated to Sappho of Lesbo. Now tell me that don’t sound like a line? Religious communities destroyed many of her works but what does remain does speak of her love of women. Gay however has a much more varied past, as far back as the 17th century it was used to describe a person who is “uninhibited by moral constraints.” A gay woman was often a prostitute, while a gay man was a womanizer. Using it to specifically talk about a homosexual was more of a branch of it being used to talk about a prostitute. It wasn’t until somewhere closer to 1920 that it was used more exclusively as a reference to gay men.
Even the feelings toward homosexuality changed over the time frame as often as the climate of the culture did. When a new group asserted power, history was changed and rewritten. Older dogmas would fall to the wayside for new or “enlightened” ways of thinking. There are conflicting ideas amongst Catholic scholars as to when exactly the church started condemning homosexuality. There are records of Christian monastic communities and other religious orders where homosexuality was a part of their way of life and the church exerted no direct interference. What is known is that it became a much more serious offense in the High Middle Ages and reaching their height in the Medieval Inquisitions. During this time, being homosexual was equal to being accused of Satanism. This was around the time that Thomas Aquinas came up with the idea of “natural law,” were homosexuality was viewed as “special sins that are against nature.”
As Christian dogma changed over the ages, what it enforced also changed. And with that mentions in history of positive references to homosexuality would have been removed so that there would be more representations of how it was a sin and amoral. History also shows us that almost every culture referenced LGBTQ in some way. Native Americans who had no concept of the individual and sexual roles didn’t focus on a gender binary point of view. There are plenty references from various tribes that show men dressing and living as women, while taking husbands. There are accounts of women who dressed as men and fought in battles. There are even reference of those that did not fit any binary thought of gender roles that were held in high spiritual regard.
Realistically we are all human. Not a single one of us is any different other than who we choose to love and sleep with. If they world viewed it as such, there wouldn’t be a need to try to find our history and teach it. However, history is a way for us to feel connected and comforted. It is a way for us to draw strength when so many only want to take that away from us. We live in a climate where we have fought for rights and watch as they are slowing being taken back, history can be what gives us the strength to keep fighting forward. Each of you matters for our future.