Sarah Prager, founder and creator of the free mobile app Quist, illuminates some historical queer men.
It’s easy to think about male soldiers, leaders, athletes, aviators, artists, and others of history without giving a second thought to if they were straight and cisgender. We tend to just assume that was the case. But queer men have existed for as long as men have existed. It’s important to remember this because LGBT people today can be seen as joining some new fad or a movement that’s only been around since the 1960’s when in fact we have been part of all cultures in all countries in all centuries, making important contributions to society.
So many important men of history have been queer, like Walt Whitman and Alan Turing, but I’d like to use this space to talk about somewhat less famous men. Enjoy these snapshots from the 3rd, 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
It appears Elagabalus, 25th Emperor of the Roman Empire from 218 to 222, married and divorced five women and one man during his eighteen-year life. The man was an athlete named Zoticus, and they wed in a public ceremony in Rome. According to Cassius Dio, despite these marriages, his most stable relationship was with his chariot driver, a blond slave named Hierocles, whom he referred to as his husband. Cassius Dio also reported that Elagabalus would paint his eyes, epilate his hair, and wear wigs before prostituting himself in taverns, brothels, and even in the imperial palace. Herodian commented that Elagabalus enhanced his natural good looks by the regular application of cosmetics.
Al-Hakam II became the Caliph of Cordoba (in the Moorish Empire in modern-day Spain) in 961. He ruled in Al-Andalus as an open homosexual until his death in 975. He kept a male harem, which was problematic since it was essential for the Caliph to produce an heir. A resolution was reached by having the female concubine and sultana Subh dress in boys’ clothes and use the masculine name of Jafar. They had a son, Hisham II, who succeeded Al-Hakam in 1976 at age 10 and who also kept a male harem.
The first recorded same-sex wedding (after the fall of the western Roman Empire) happened between two men on April 16, 1061. Pedro Díaz and Muño Vandilaz were married by a priest at a small chapel in Rairiz de Veiga, Galicia, Spain. I wish I knew more about this story, but I include this as one more example of how long the history of men loving men is and that same-sex marriage is not an invention of this century.
Irish-born Albert Cashier enlisted in the Union Army in 1862 in Illinois. Cashier goes on to serve in approximately forty battles until 1865. His female body is discovered by nurses while being a given a bath at age 70 and he is forced to wear a dress from then on. His tombstone read “Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G, 95 Ill. Inf.” until his birth name of Jennie Hodgers was discovered nine years later and a second tombstone with both names was placed beside the original.
A newspaper ran an interview on August 6, 1936 with a transman talking about his transition and his wife. The article was called “The Girl Who Became A Bridegroom.” Mark Weston says: “After living 23 years as a female, then some years in a sort of twilight zone where I doubted my own sex, I am now able, after my operations last April and May, to live as a man.” He adds, “The thing that gives me the greatest start is to suddenly look down, or into a mirror, and see myself wearing trousers.”
Historical arguments are used against us all the time from the “traditional” definition of marriage to Biblical references. As you can see, queer men have been part of traditional cultures as least as early as we began keeping records.
What do you think was different for these men than those of today? What about the concepts of masculinity in these times?
Sarah Prager is the creator of Quist, the free mobile app that shares daily LGBTQ history. Each of the stories in this article is one of the ones you’ll find in the app. Available for Apple and Android devices. More information at www.quistapp.com.
Credit: Photo_Wikipedia Commons (all photos)