Renowned critic of the arts Michael Hootman examines our history
Famous Gays in History
One of the ancient world’s most famous men was Alexander the Great who had many male lovers. He conquered empires, killed and enslaved thousands and showed you could be a bloodthirsty warrior and still like female singers who led tragic lives. Queer theorists have argued about whether this is a good thing and their answer is usually ‘probably not’.
But of course it’s the field of the Arts, as opposed to Murdering, that perhaps gay people feel most at home.
Sappho was a poet of antiquity who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos. From which, of course, we get the word for women who love other women: dykes. (I assume Lesbos had a complicated series of reservoirs enclosed by banks of earth). I also think it’s quite possible that Sappho wrote that famous poem about the young lady from Ealing ‘who had a peculiar feeling’. Scholars find this theory of mine intriguing (so intriguing that they tend to roll their eyes in awe at my intellectual daring).
Moving swiftly through the waters of time we happen upon William Shakespeare who was England’s greatest playwright. But he fell in love with a lord, was accused of gayness by the lord’s father, and was sent to prison. Or maybe that was Oscar Wilde (memo to self: must do some more of that ‘research’ people are always going on about). Many people think that Hamlet’s sudden antipathy towards Ophelia in Act Two is down to the fact that he is gay. Such people also tend to think that everyone in Top Gun is gay. And so was John Wayne. However, what we do know for certain is that the Bard wrote a play called Coriolanus, which has kept generations of schoolboys amused for centuries. Because it has the word ‘anus’ in it.
But it was in the twentieth century that gays became prevalent in all fields of artistic endeavour. From Benjamin Britten to Leonard Bernstein, from Gertrude Stein to Edmund White, from Rock Hudson to the cast of Top Gun, we have transformed the cultural landscape.
Which brings us to the important question of who will be recognised as the greatest gay mind of the early part of this century. I’m sure the reader of this column will applaud my modesty in not putting my own name forward. But then this self same reader will, after some reflection, demand that I do. How fickle you can be! I can only humbly request that no world-famous sculptor is commissioned to make a bronze statue of me as I’d much rather have the cash instead.
Michael Hootman is arts editor of Gscene Magazine. He has had a number of short stories published and is currently working on his first novel. He is unaccountably single
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