Homosexuality has been a part of human nature since the dawn of time. Ancient cultures not only accepted homosexuality they fostered it. In ancient Greece, teenage boys would be cast into relationships with older men to learn, explore and blossom into better citizens. Native American cultures believed in people with two spirits, one masculine and the other feminine, occupying the same body. Even Alexander the great had a male lover, one to which he was heavily dedicated, right up until his death. Somewhere along the way all this changed. Somewhere along the way, humans got lost and became afraid of something not fully understood. Today, for the ignorant of the world, the general contentious is that gays are a disgusting and frightful group of people. We spread diseases and sin through the otherwise pure world. How conveniently they forget the other sins like lying and even adultery. When did gay become a taboo? And what are we doing to fix it?
In a text by Nicole Holmen we learn that this relationship between a man and teenage boy in ancient Greek culture was known as pederasty. 1“Pederasty is an ancient Greek form of interaction in which members of the same sex would partake in the pleasures of an intellectual and/or sexual relationship as part of a socially acceptable ancient custom.” One of the key words in this excerpt from Holmen is Acceptable. This practice was accepted by the Greeks and encouraged because it formed a better society overall. In these relationships there were two roles. The young teen boy had certain duties and they were to essentially be the submissive student. This role was given the title of eromenos. The older partner was called erastes, it was his job to teach and provide for his eromenos for the duration of their relationship. Although penetrative sex between the pair was seen to be out of the norm, these relationships were nothing of the platonic sort. These pederastic relations were so important to the Greeks that even their gods partook in them. In ancient Greek society there are a few examples of the ideal pederastic couples one being between a god and his eromenos. 2“Zeus was so taken by the beauty of the mortal Ganymede that he made the boy immortal: “Boy-love is such a delight, since even the son of Cronus,/King of the gods, once came to love Ganymede,/And seizing him, brought him up to Olympus and made him/Eternal in the lovely flower of boyhood.” Accounts of these relationships were often recorded on the exterior decoration of Greek pottery. However the depictions of these relations started to fade around 470 B.C. a long with images of heterosexual intimacy.
Native American tribes believed in two spirited people very widely up until the turn of the 20th century when their tribes were broken up and forced to give up some of their native heritage by the white settlers that were relocating them farther west. Still to this day however, two spirited peoples are accepted in many of the Native American tribes.
In a book by Michael Mazzalongo he explains when the fear of the gay population really started to take ahold. 3“The term “homosexuality” was first used in an 1869 pamphlet published in Leipzig, Germany. Homosexuality has been observed and reported through out history, however, this marked the first time there was a label involved.” Attaching a label to the practice of homosexuality most certainly increased its infamy. This no doubt attracted the attention of the leading medical professionals of the day because they came to their own conclusion about homosexuality in the late 19th century. 4“Psychiatry and psychology took the position that homosexuality was a form of mental illness.” This conclusion can be directly linked to the stigma looming around homosexuals in today’s society. This extremely damaging blow to our reputation is still being healed today, in many areas of the world. Instead of being seen as just like heterosexuals with a few key differences, homosexuals were cast into the same category as schizophrenics, someone with Tourettes or even Down syndrome. Gays were shunned and turned into mental hospitals by their families and just like that homosexuality had become taboo. The remaining portion of the essay will discuss how the effects of this conviction as being mentally ill were slowly overcome.
Struggles between heterosexual politicians of New York and its seen of underground gay activity grew evermore tense in the late 1930’s. Drag queens and lesbians became permanent fixtures in the gay club scene of the city. Their appearance on the stages of New York night life simultaneously horrified the heterosexual population of the city and excited the gays. This was all known as the pansy craze, meant to compare the young gay men that were performing to flowers. They were viewed as a novelty items or even something like a freak show. This pansy craze was allowed to take place because it occurred during the prohibition era, clubs were forced underground and were then able to support this gay culture. Once prohibition was over and clubs reemerged within the city the reaction to these gay shows were highly negative. Police began missions to eradicate the pansy acts as well as drag balls from the city entirely. 5“In Spetember1931, for instance, they launched a “round-up… of apparent homosexualists” who gathered on Fourty-second Street near Bryant Park, their efforts were only partially successful. “The degenerates… gradually returned, “as one social hygiene society observed, “and (could be) seen in that section almost nightly.” Bryant park, portions of Forty-second street and the streets around it continued to serve as gathering places for young “painted queens” as well as for soldiers, seamen, hustlers, and the gay men who were attracted to them.” Within a few years the police did successfully eradicate these “painted queens” from this section of town.6“Fiorello La Guardia, a man known for his moralism as well as his reformism, was elected in 1933, he had issued orders forbidding the appearance of drag queens anywhere between fourteenth and seventy second streets. Whatever the cause, the disappearance of the “painted queens” from times square was noted by the less overt gay men who remained there.”
This proclamation forced the gays back underground and farther downtown within the city as well. Life did not get any easier of the gays of New York. 7“In the '60s, gay men and women settled in the Village in droves, though paradoxically, Carter reports, "New York was also the city that most aggressively and systemically targeted gay men as criminals." Men wearing fewer than three pieces of clothing "appropriate to their sex" could be arrested. Gay sex was against the law (in every state except Illinois). Life was tough for the homosexual population of the city but they kept their spirits high and kept the gay nightlife scene alive. Cops would constantly raid their clubs and arrest most of the people inside. That being said, most of the clubs were also mob owned, so in exchange for their business, the mob would offer the gays some protection and pay cops off. However one late night early morning in June of 1968 the cops decided to raid the Stonewall Inn. The reaction of the gays was something completely unprecedented in the history of homosexual culture, the fought back. 8“The flame queens resisted, a lesbian kicked her way out of a squad car, a gay street kid was clubbed, and a crowd outside the bar, initially about a hundred, swelled to 10 times that number in two hours. The police barricaded themselves inside The Stonewall, trying to protect themselves from missiles of rocks, garbage cans, gasoline-filled bottles that exploded into flames.” The gays had had enough repression and they were ready to fight back for their rights. This riot set off a number of other gay riots against the political opposition of the city. They’re anniversaries are still celebrated every June with pride parades and festivals all around the world.
Ever since these infamous uprisings, things have been different in homosexual culture. This change is helpfully illustrated in a series of essays edited by Gilbert Herdt. 9“since the 1960s the growth and development of both gay and lesbian culture and individuals’ identities as gays or lesbians has proved an especially dynamic coevolution in American society. We might think of this as a slow waltz during which the dancers change steps and costumes as their very essence alters in the eyes of their partners. Thus, American society and the gay movement have formed an uneasy partnership.” One main way this partnership helped out the gay cause, came just over a decade after the stonewall uprising. 10“finally, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the diagnostic and statistical Manual.” Seemingly small, this step played a huge role in the reprieve of gay harassment not only in New York but the entire country. It cleared the name of the homosexuals well, at least on paper. The damage had already been done. The wounds on the homosexual reputation were too deep to be forgotten. Even in the 21rst century being gay is still considered a taboo by many. This brings us to the question of how, in todays hetero-centric society are we fighting to rid the harmful scars of the past left upon the homosexual reputation. On a website devoted to reporting the happenings within media trends, I found an article describing the current trend of increasingly numerous representations of the LGBT community. 11“Things have changed in thirty years: more than ever before, queer people have a media presence. No longer relegated to the realms of innuendo and secrecy, we now see lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people represented on television and in mainstream film. Queer people see their reflections on screen in a largely positive light: stable, employed, charming, attractive, well-liked, and successful. And yet, there remain many challenges.” This entry exemplifies the general consensus of the homosexual community about their media representation in today’s society. You must admit that you can find a homosexual couple or some bit of a homoerotic storyline in most television shows and movies now a days. These representations and the sheer quantity of them will hopefully sway the world into agreeing that there is no shame in being homosexual. No longer a need for homosexuals to hide in the shadows of their heterosexual oppression. We have a long way to go until gay culture is fully accepted by society once more, but I’m certain that by getting the message out there through the use of media, people will come to see that things from a queer point of view are one in the same.
Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1994.
Gary Zebrun, “The Night Gays Stood Their Ground at New York’s Stonewall,” The Providence Journal (2004)
Herdt, Gilbert, Gay culture in America: Essays from the Field. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.
Mazzalongo, Michael, Gay Rights or Wrongs: a Christians guide to homosexual issues and ministry. Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 1995. (pg. 68)
Nicole Holmen, “Examining Greek Pederastic Relationships, “Student Pulse VOL. 2 NO. (2010) : accessed November 22, 2014.
“Queer Representation in the media,” http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/queer-representation/queer-representation-media