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Gay or Straight? You’ve only been able to say so for just over 125 years…

by Beth Divine 1 Dec 2018

Anyone who does a bit of reading into the renaissance and medieval periods might be forgiven for thinking that people were either very very liberal or very very straight. This is because there is little mention of same sex relationships – and yet, when you do find mention of gay or lesbian liaisons, there is no censure of such an affair.

How is this so, these curious researchers into the past, might be forgiven for wondering, that generations upon generations of normally judgemental people have let gay and lesbian relations pass entirely unremarked?

The answer is both shocking and revealing: there was no distinction made between gay and straight relations before the late 1860s – because there was no such distinction seen before then. Of course, people fell in love, usually with the opposite sex and some people could not ever see the attraction in someone of the same sex, but more often people would be married ‘traditionally’, but perhaps have flings on the side with those of the same sex.

Shakespeare, famously, is often rumoured to have been enamoured with a young man, to whom he addressed many of the sonnets. The young man is golden haired and slender, while the woman to whom Shakespeare addresses some of the other poems is famously dark haired with ‘dun’ coloured skin and hair that is coarse and ‘wiry’ – this makes it almost certain that he is addressing two different people, not, as some have said, addressing himself only to his wife. There is enough detail given to establish the golden haired character as almost indisputably male, showing that Shakespeare was probably bisexual and comfortable being so.

But he would not have known the term with which to describe himself. As mentioned above, the term homosexual, as a specific description of what was thought to be a sexual perversion, was only coined in 1868 – and such is the way of things that is was criminalised within just a few short decades, remaining so until very recently (and in some countries, remaining illegal…)

Hopefully, with a little tolerance and love, we will soon return to the times when love was accepted as love, and people did not judge and discriminate against others for perceived faults which are actually just instances of difference between one person and another.