Well, there are certain genres of media that automatically assume that GBLT people couldn’t possibly have existed, especially if it’s set in the future (especially in dystopians. I tell you guys, us GBLT folks are super freaking tasty – the zombies and aliens go right for us!) and especially if it’s set in the past. Because we all arrived in 1960, don’tchaknow.
This erasure annoys me, it truly does. But do you know what annoys me even more?
When they remove already existing gay characters to sanitise a work for television. To have those few tiny crumbs we’ve actually managed to achieve removed lest it hurt the delicate fee-fees of the poor straight world.
So when Tanya Huff’s Blood Ties series of books became a TV show, bisexual Henry became straight and gay man Tony was replaced by a straight woman. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a big fan for the portrayal in the books – but that doesn’t excuse cutting them out entirely.
Or did you know that in the Walking Dead comics, there were actually gay characters in the prison? Again, I actually hated how they were portrayed because they were a mess of homophobic tropes – but they were there. TV show? 3 seasons now and not one damn GBLT character.
Even Troy crosses the line with a very straight retelling of the Illiad.
Now we’re getting Da Vinci’s Demons, that would be Leonardo Da Vinci, he was repeatedly accused of sodomy, never married, was never connected to a female lover, but repeatedly with men, drew erotic pictures of them and left his most valuable painting in his will to one of his live-in “apprentices” Da Vinci. It’s an act of wilful ignorance to not realise Da Vinci played for our team. In fact, if you don’t want to include us icky gay people then you probably need to stay away from Renaissance painters – especially Florentine Renaissance painters! But Da Vinci’s Demons?
Well, the first scene we see him in, pretty much, involves him with a bare breasted woman who he “rescued” from a nunnery and it’s repeatedly made clear that he is having regular sex with. His main love interest - his overwhelming obsession - is Lucrezia Donati. A substantial amount of his time is spent obsessing over her - and her over him; and we get several explicit sex scenes between them. So do we have any indication that Leonardo Da Vinci, actual gay man, was actually even slightly interested in men? Well, in the Tower he is accused of sodomy (Florence is apparently full of “sodomites” - shame we never saw any of them, ever) and on trial. It’s almost comic if it weren’t so insulting - firstly when he makes an ambiguous speech that amounts to “mind your own business” Vanessa speaks up quickly to remind us that he’s totally slept with her.
Later he finally confronts his accuser, they share a chaste goodbye kiss (and it’s ADAMANT that this is goodbye) and Leonardo calls it “curiosity” and “experimentation.” They then quickly plunge him naked into a bath with Lucrezia so he can finger her under the water - subtle, right? They could have just flashed “No Homo” up on the screen. But hey, we did have a murderous gay or paedophile pope (Jury’s still out) and a self indulgent bisexual Duke of Milan (now dead). That’s some epic level straightwashing
Of course it’s not unique among straight washing of historical settings. Ancient Greece? Straightest of straightopias that ever declared the overwhelming joy of vaginas and penises being united! Really. Or so 300 tells me and Troy. Or Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Not only are all of them straighter than a damn laser beam, they’re freaked out by gay men or just homophobic. and so many more – I’ve actually read over 5 series using the Ancient Greek gods that are entirely straight. One actually has a homophobic Apollo. Apollo, homophobic. Or an all straight group of amazons. It makes me want to beat someone round the head and shoulders with a mythology text.
It’s not like these examples are one offs, straightening history has been a major habit of the media’s for a very long time. In fact, straightening us in general seems to be a massive requirement and reason #866 why I don’t watch these dancing reality shows is I’m sick of seeing gay celebrities shoved automatically into opposite sex pairs for dancing.
For that matter, straightening history has been a major part of society and academia for a long time. References to GBLT people throughout history have long been buried by academia and that’s on top of the forces of homophobia and transphobia that forced our predecessors to hide and closet themselves when they were alive.
Our past is often hidden from us. Those who come before have been removed from history or been forced into a closet that has lasted decades or centuries after death – perhaps even forever. Our heroes, our past, our foreparents have been lost, taken from us, and that is a terrible loss. It becomes hard to almost impossible to find those who came before us as not only has the closet forced individuals to hide their sexuality, but for much of history denied the existence of the identity itself and denied us a coherent language with which to define that identity and personhood (which is why I really really have no patience with anyone saying “but they wouldn’t have called themselves gay” excuse people love to trot out. For so much of history the only mainstream words for people like us were insults or euphemisms).
And once we’ve found those of us who were rendered invisible it becomes extra impossible to reclaim them from under the tide of heterosexism, cissexism, homophobia and transphobia. So much of the world resists any indication that GBLT people existed in the past (or exists today for that matter). Society also continues to consider being GBLT to be some kind of terrible, shameful thing meaning any attempt to try and find our forbearers is regarded as an attack or attempt to corrupt previous figures. Just look at the Greek lawyers threatening lawsuits on anyone who dared to suggest that Alexander the Great may have loved men.
Most tellingly, they will often say “this person is dead, they can’t defend themselves” because, y’know, being GBLT is an accusation you need to defend yourself against. Or it’s considered “demeaning” because whatever the figure did is suddenly rendered moot by us spilling the icky gay on them! Whatever achievements or brilliant reputation they managed to maintain can only possibly be preserved if they are straight.
It’s hard enough to try and dig up historical GBLT people in the first place with our prejudiced society, harder still to hold them out of the closet and present them as they were with the constant forces deciding to bury us or hold that we’re too obscene and need to be hidden from, well, everyone.
I am British. I went to a British school. I went to a British school during section 28. I didn’t know who Alan Turing was, imagine that for a second. Never mind Shakespeare, Marlowe and Da Vinci, I thought Oscar Wilde was straight. I was taught Oscar Wilde was straight. I didn’t know GBLT people were holocaust victims. There has been a movement for GBLT equality in the UK since even before the Mollies of the Victorian period. I still don’t know enough about it, I can’t find enough about it or the brave heroes involved, I certainly was never taught their names. I never knew Polari existed. I never heard of Edward Carpenter, John Symonds, Labi Siffre, Magnus Hirschfeld, Mother Clap, Roberta Cowell, Jeremy Bentham, the Lily Pond and so many others whose names and places are lost to history.
So this is my context. Our history is not only lost but actively removed and vehemently silenced. And then I turn on the television and find not only erasure, not only straightwashed characters who dared to be gay in books but was a step too far on the screen, but actual historical figures, one of the precious few we’ve managed to reclaim, being straightened for public consumption.