Do we really need to assemble lists of the great queers of history?
I am sometimes asked, But does it really matter that some historical figure, for example Tchaikovsky, was gay?
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Often this consists of merely a list of names, without any further details, such as a well-known cartoon by Rick Fiala in the 1970s showing a bearded man wearing a T-shirt on which are printed the words Walt Whitman Oscar Wilde Sappho Alexander the Great Gertrude Stein Cole Porter Radcliffe Hall Socrates Leonardo Da Vinci Colette Valentino George Sand Tchaikovsky . Charlesworth draws a map of the United Kingdom with arrows pointing to gay sites illustrating, for example: Bradford Where Blondes Have More Fun.
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I realize that I am expected to make the liberal answer, No, of course not.
The important thing is that he composed great music, and his homosexuality is ultimately irrelevant.
But I like to pose some questions of my own in response: If it doesnt really matter, why has society taken such great pains to conceal Tchaikovskys sexuality, maybe even murder him for it?
If it doesnt really matter, why has such an inordinate amount of effort been put into the censorship and suppression of queer history?
Society is happy to benefit from outstanding gay and lesbian writers and artists and musicians, and then has the impertinence to evade the issue of what desire motivates their work.
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The attack was attributed to anti-gay activists in the Brazilian black movement . In modern Brazil he is a symbol of freedom and resistance for Afro-Brazilians and others. It is the suggestion that an important historical figure is also a great queer of history that is felt to be threatening and subversive. Because most people appreciate that a persons homosexuality really does matter. Fiala satirizes the slightly preposterous effect of ordinary gay people including themselves in the company of the great queers.
The best-known paradigm of queer cultural history is the list of famous homosexuals. Kate Charlesworth similarly parodied the idea of a gay ethnic/cultural identity in her large full-page cartoon titled A Short guide to Britains gay heritage (in Gay News 170, 1979), prompted, I believe, by my column in Gay News headed The Gay Heritage Guide to Britain.