If the modern Olympic Games ran true to the strict customs of ancient Greece, they might well today have been called the “Naked Games”. From the early 8th century BC, Olympic athletes competed in the nude. There are indisputable records going back to Athenian philosopher Plato in the 5th century BC and even Homer’s Iliad, as well as many explicit drawings that confirm it was common practice for all male track and field athletes to take part naked. This included the often-dangerous sports of discus throwing, wrestling, boxing, and horse racing without protective clothing.
There was a version of protection used by the Ancient Greeks, but one that would be odd to us today to be considered much protection. To protect the penis during wrestling matches and other contact sports, the men would tie a string known as a kynodesme around the tip of their foreskin enclosing their glans, thus keeping the glans safe. The kynodesme could then either be attached to a waist band to expose the scrotum or tied to the base of the penis so that the penis appeared to curl upwards.
The only exception to the nudity rule seems to have been for charioteers, who wore long white tunics. The words gymnastics and gymnasium are based on the Greek adjective gymnos, which means lightly-clad or naked. For non-charioteers, the only adornment on the athletes’ bronzed, muscular torsos would have been the gleam of olive oil with which they ritually anointed themselves.
Some historians have believed that the reason for competing nude was to make sure that women did not compete. According to one legend, it was discovered that a woman had competed and won, so it was decreed that athletes would compete nude from that point on to make sure that only men competed in the Olympics. It was also said that this was done to make sure that non-Greeks, particularly Jews or others who practiced circumcision, could not compete. Only a man who was uncircumcised was allowed to compete.
According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a writer in the 1st century BCE, Greek athletes did not compete in the nude until the 15th Olympiad in 720 BCE, more than 2700 years ago. That was more than half a century after the birth of the first Olympic Games, which originated in Olympia, in southern Greece, in 776 BCE. A Spartan runner named Acanthus was said to have set the fashion by appearing without the customary loincloth. Two hundred years later, the origin of this practice of nudity was attributed to another sprinter, Osippus, who won the one-stade footrace (about 200 yards) at the Olympics of 720 BCE. It was said he realized that a naked man could run faster than one impeded by a loincloth.
In the 7th century CE, more than 1300 years later, writer Isidore of Seville suggested that during a race in Athens, one of the runners had the bad luck to trip over his own loincloth when it slipped down. A magistrate in charge of the games ordered a new ruling that athletes should compete in the nude. The historian Thucydides, who lived at the end of the 5th century BCE, wrote that it was the “Spartans who were the first to play games naked, to take off their clothes openly and to rub themselves down with olive oil after their exercise. In ancient times even at the Olympic Games the athletes used to wear coverings for their loins and indeed this practice was still in existence not very many years ago.”
Women were not completely excluded from the Olympics. While married women were not allowed to participate in, or to watch, the ancient Olympic Games, unmarried women could attend the competition, and the priestess of Demeter, goddess of fertility, was given a privileged position next to the Stadium altar. During the classic period in Greece (500–323 BCE), women were allowed to participate in sporting events in Sparta, and there were two other events for sportswomen from other parts of Greece, Athens and Delos.
The closest thing to a women’s version of the Ancient Olympics were the Heraean Games, a separate festival honoring the Greek goddess Hera, which was held to demonstrate the athleticism of young, unmarried women. The athletes, with their hair hanging freely and dressed in special tunics that cut just above the knee and bared their right shoulder and breast, competed in footraces. The track shortened to about one-sixth the length of the men’s track in the Olympic Stadium. It’s uncertain if men were barred from these all-female races. Little is known about this festival other than what was written by Pausanias, a 2nd century CE Greek traveler. He mentions it in his description of the Temple of Hera in the Sanctuary of Zeus and says that it was organized and supervised by a committee of sixteen women from the cities of Elis. The festival took place every four years, when a new peplos, a body-length garment established as typical attire for women in ancient Greece, was woven and presented to Hera inside her temple.
It wasn’t that women were discouraged from sports in general; physical fitness was highly valued by women in Greece. A few women have been documented driving chariots, owning horses that won Olympic competitions, swimming, juggling, performing acrobatics, and potentially even wrestling. Spartan women were well-known for promoting physical education, believing good fitness assisted in healthy childbirth. By the first century CE, female athletic competitions were common under the Roman Empire. The first woman recorded to have won an event in the Olympics was Kyniska (or Cynisca) of Sparta, the daughter of Eurypontid king, Archidamus II, and the full sister of King Agesilaus (399–360 BCE). She won the four-horse chariot race in 396 and again in 392.
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Today is the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Churches across America will likely sing “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The songbook from my church did not have the “patriotic songs” section found in the Baptists, Methodist, or Presbyterian hymnals of my youth, so we never sang these songs in my church. We only sang very traditional hymns, like “Rock of Ages,” “Amazing Grace,” etc. Nothing adorned the knotty pine walls of the small church I grew up in. The only decoration in the church was a side table with a large Bible on a lower shelf and a vase of flowers on top. Two very plain simple cane bottomed deacon chairs sat behind the pulpit. It was the only church I knew with such simple décor. The Southern Baptist church where I was forced to attend vacation Bible school every summer was far more elaborate. Behind the pulpit stood the Christian flag and the American flag. The same was true of the Presbyterian church where I had piano recitals and the Pentecostal church my best friend attended.
Politics or patriotism rarely made an appearance in my church, but it did in many other churches across the country. In many churches, patriotism and religion have been interwoven into their theology. These churches believe in a Christian faithfulness where God desires America to do great, to be great, has ordained America to be at the top, and that America has been baptized by the Church. While this is not something I was taught or ever believed, it’s unrealistic for us not to realize that in the United States, Christianity and patriotism are seemingly inextricably woven together. As the world changes and equality and acceptance grows, the United States will no longer be able to claim (whether it was ever true or not) that America is a beacon of freedom, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” If we do not either follow the ethical tenets of most religions, including the teachings of Christ or throw off the chains of the uniquely American version of Christianity, then America will fall further and further behind the quest for human rights for all.
Even though the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” religion has been intricately laced in with American history. In 1630, the first ships of the Great Puritan Migration sailed to the New World, led by John Winthrop. During the crossing, Winthrop preached a sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.” He told his followers that they had entered a covenant with God according to which he would cause them to prosper if they maintained their commitment to God. In doing so, their new colony would become a “City upon a Hill,” meaning that they would be a model to all the nations of Europe as to what a properly reformed Christian commonwealth should look like. Since then, politicians have used the “city upon a hill” analogy for political purposes to push for American exceptionalism.
“A Model of Christian Charity” serves as an important text in United States history, conveying the optimistic, confident, community-focused mindset in which the New England colonies were founded. Perry Miller, a historian considered one of the founders of American Studies, wrote that the sermon “stands at the beginning of [the] consciousness” of the American mind. Several figures in U.S. politics—beginning as early as John Adams—have referenced this text in public speeches when trying to convey themes of unity and idealism, most often citing the symbol of “a city upon a hill.” In his 1980 Election Eve speech, Ronald Reagan asserted his belief that “Americans…are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining city on a hill, as were those long-ago settlers.” More recently, public figures have utilized the sermon to argue how far the United States has strayed from its values. In his blistering critique of the then-presidential candidate and future twice impeached and disgraced former president, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney posited that “[Hair Führer’s] personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.” The disgraced former president tried his hardest to destroy the United States, ironically, with the help of American evangelicals.
However, most politicians do not pay attention to the rest of Winthrop’s sermon. They focus on the “city upon a hill,” but not on the rest of the message. Winthrop used logical reasoning combined with a sympathetic nature to make his point to the new Puritan settlers. To remove this work’s central arguments about love and relationships is to lose the sense of the whole completely. The Governor laid out his argument for charity and decent human behavior in the community. While exceptionalism was one of the sermon’s themes, Winthrop explained how God chose the few people on the boats to go to America to carry out their mission. He also mentioned how the rest of the world would watch them. This is the part that politicians have always latched onto, but they often ignore the other main points of the sermon. Winthrop believed that charity, giving to others who need help—not only the poor but also the community—would make the new lands the “city upon a hill” in his view of exceptionalism. Winthrop also believed that communalism reflected the Puritan ideals of “love, unity, and charity.” He mentioned that people have different things to offer each other, and this induced a need for each other, helping the community. He also said that different types of people were on the ship during the sermon but had the same goal of serving God. This was also represented by people being different parts of one body. Through his use of language connected to women’s work, such as “knit,” Winthrop suggests the importance of women in holding the community together. It’s amazing how much is forgotten by the politicians who use a small part of the sermon for their purposes.
Many patriotic evangelical Christians use the Bible to defend their ideas that God is pro-government (or, more specifically, He favors their preferred brand of government). They often use Matthew 22:21, in which Jesus says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It’s a radical statement publicly declaring that Caesar and Rome weren’t God. Most Roman emperors advocated the belief that they were gods and should be worshiped. In this passage, Jesus is warning us to avoid such thinking.
Romans 13:1 is also often used by people to defend their political allegiances: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. But these texts have a significant caveat, where the authors presuppose that this “submitting” is coinciding—and never contradicting—the supreme call to love God and love others. This becomes obvious when looking at other passages that explicitly say so, such as Matthew 22: 36-40:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Christians using Romans 13 as a defense to support various political viewpoints at the expense of loving others are also ignoring the words of Peter in Acts 5:29 when he tells the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” and the teachings of Jesus himself when he proclaimed in Matthew 6:24, “no one can serve two masters.” Separating patriotism and Christianity is difficult for many modern American Christians to comprehend because they often incorporate nationalism and patriotism into much of their religious expression and even their faith. Churches celebrating the Fourth of July by adorning their sanctuaries with American flags and incorporating America and American nationalism into songs of worship would have been alarming and even considered blasphemous for the very first followers of Jesus.
The challenge for Christians is to simultaneously honor the virtues of sacrifice, service, and freedom without idolizing American exceptionalism and Christian nationalism, celebrating bravery without romanticizing violence, and realizing that our salvation comes from the sacrifices of Jesus and not the wars of men. For those raised in churches that interwove Christianity with patriotism, it may not seem a big deal that our country’s flag stands alongside a pastor onstage but try to imagine the apostle Paul and the earliest churches pledging their allegiance to Caesar and the conquering legions who were slaughtering anybody who stood in their way. As citizens of the United States, we’re trying to follow Christ within a similar context as the earliest Christians—living within a powerful empire and susceptible to state-sponsored religion, where it’s socially, politically, and economically advantageous to adhere to certain political beliefs and leaders—even to the point of becoming a pseudo-theocracy.
Unfortunately, Christians have been historically gullible to nationalistic “Christianity.” They often treat our faith as a civic religion to establish a voting bloc and create enough influence to legislate laws, gain wealth, and consolidate power rather than sacrificially serve and love others. The American version of Christianity often perverts the life and mission of Jesus because instead of forgiving enemies, the state spends billions of dollars to kill them, instead of caring for the poor, we villainize them, instead of accepting the foreigner we ban them, and instead of helping the oppressed we further alienate them. While it’s clearly possible to be both an American and a Christian, we must realize that the goals of our country’s government and those of Christ are rarely the same and often directly contradict each other, especially under Republican administrations.
Many right-wing politicians and evangelicals Christians are terrified of the phrase “separation of church and state.” The problem with the comingling of church and state is that only one brand of religion gets instituted for all people in the country. In America, it is often the perverted version of American Christianity that tries to legislate our morals and bodies. Suppose American Christianity had latched onto the charity, communalism, and unity in Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” instead of American exceptionalism. In that case, the link between religion and politics might not be so bad, and that’s why the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Founding Fathers knew that when it came to church and state if you gave an inch, religious leaders would take a mile. There had to be a clear separation of church and state.
Two hundred forty-five years ago today, fifty-six delegates to the Second Continental Congress put their signature to the following words:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
As we go into the holiday weekend, I hope we will all remember these words from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Many Americans who claim to believe in “their Creator” want to deny LGBTQ+ Americans, and other marginalized groups, our unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and deny us the equality that Jefferson wrote was “self-evident.” Those same people claim there is some secret gay agenda, when in truth we just want life, liberty, and the ability to pursue our happiness. We want the right to live our lives without fear and without the tormenting hatred of others. We want the liberty to be liberated from our oppressors who claim we don’t have the same rights as everyone else. We want the ability to pursue our happiness and to love each other. We simply want what all Americans want. There is no “gay agenda,” but there is a human agenda.
Other tripartite mottos like “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” include “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity) in France; “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit” (unity, justice and liberty) in Germany and “peace, order, and good government” in Canada. It is also similar to a line in the Canadian Charter of Rights: “life, liberty, security of the person.”
The phrase can also be found in Chapter III, Article 13 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan, and in President Ho Chi Minh’s 1945 declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. An alternative phrase “life, liberty, and property,” is found in the Declaration of Colonial Rights, a resolution of the First Continental Congress. The Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution declare that governments cannot deprive any person of “life, liberty, or property” without due process of law. Also, Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.”
The civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer told the National Women’s Political Caucus in Washington in 1971 that black and white women had to work together toward freedom for all. “Now, we’ve got to have some changes in this country,” she told the group. “And not only changes for the black man, and only changes for the black woman, but the changes we have to have in this country are going to be for liberation of all people–because nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Shes 100 percent correct, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
I hope you all have a wonderful and relaxing weekend.
Aside from the street festivals, corporate platitudes, and sex parties, LGBTQ+ Pride is meant to be a living embodiment of LGBTQ+ history. The tradition started in June 1970 as a commemoration of the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn, when queer people rebelled against police harassment in New York City. But the history we remember remains myopically focused on the United States. The LGBTQ+ past on display each June is a heroic one with familiar, American milestones: the tragedies of the Lavender Scare and the AIDS crisis offset by the triumphs of Stonewall and marriage equality. This story has even become part of the progressive narratives of American democracy. In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama declared, “The most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
This heroic narrative is, of course, incomplete. The U.S.-centric story of LGBTQ+ liberation ignores that sexual minorities abroad have fought just as hard and sometimes faced even greater discrimination. When we look beyond the United States, it becomes clear that liberation is far from the inevitable end of a progress narrative. Rather it is a local, subjective, and ever-changing project. LGBTQ+ rights have come with hard fought battles and the progress can sometimes be very slow.
If we look at some other countries, we see that LGBTQ+ liberation didn’t even start in the United States, and we have often lagged behind. Germany is a particularly compelling place to examine. The term homosexual comes from the German language. The term ‘homosexuality’ was coined in the late 19th century by an Austrian-born Hungarian psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert, who wrote extensively on the subject. In his pamphlets, Kertbeny argued that the Prussian sodomy law, Paragraph 143 (which later became Paragraph 175 of the penal code of the German Empire), violated the “rights of man.”
In Berlin in 1919, Germany, Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld co-founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research), a pioneering private research institute and counseling office. That same year, Different from the Others, one of the first explicitly gay films, was released. Magnus Hirschfeld had a cameo in the film and partially funded its production. In 1922, Dora Richter became the first transgender woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Hirschfeld’s Institute, the first operation of its kind in the world. Then on October 16, 1929, a Reichstag Committee voted to repeal Paragraph 175. The Social Democrats and other leftist parties backed the repeal, while the Catholic Center party and other right-wing parties opposed the repeal.
Berlin has a long history of gay culture and influence on popular entertainment, and in the 1920s the city was the Gay Capital of Europe. In 1896 the world’s first gay magazine started in Berlin, called Der Eigene (“The Self-Owning”). During the 1920s and 1930s the world’s first gay village was in Berlin’s Schöneberg. Gay and lesbian bars and nightclubs flourished, as did queer artistic expression through films, music, and print publications. Cabaret singer Claire Waldoff and actress Marlene Dietrich lived and worked in Berlin’s queer neighborhoods during this time. The first gay demonstration anywhere occurred in Berlin in 1922.
The Nazis’ rise to power prevented the implementation of the vote on Paragraph 175 and ended the gay culture of Berlin. In 1933, the Nazi Party banned homosexual groups. Gay men were sent to concentration camps, and the Nazis burned the library of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research and destroy the Institute. The first use of the pink triangle for gay men in Nazi concentration camps came in 1937. Then in 1945, when Allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces, but those interned for homosexuality were not freed and were required to serve out the full term of their sentences under Paragraph 175.
After World War II, Germany was divided by the Cold War and charted two very different paths when it came to gay liberation. In 1949, the country formally split into democratic West Germany and communist East Germany. Yet, of the two, it was the liberal democracy that continued Nazi-era persecution of gay men. Over the course of the 20 years between 1949 and 1969, West German courts convicted more than 50,000 queer men under Nazi statutes that remained on the books. East Germany began to repeal parts of Paragraph 175, and in 1968, Paragraph 175 is largely ignored in East Germany, decriminalizing homosexual acts over the age of 18. West Germany followed in 1969.
Groups of same-sex desiring men who labeled themselves homophiles (a word they thought sounded more respectable than homosexual) cropped up in West Germany in the early 1950s. Unlike similar groups in the United States and other western European countries, however, they quickly faded. By 1960, they had all but disappeared. There was no Stonewall moment in West Germany, nor any memorable stand against the oppressive policing and sexual morality of those early postwar decades.
Instead, West German politicians reformed the laws banning homosexual conduct in 1969 as part of a broader revision of the penal code. After this legislative change, new gay and lesbian bars, saunas, and periodicals soon arose. A radical liberation movement also appeared in those years. But it was strikingly different from its cousin in the United States. Its members opposed the commercial gay scene, viewing it as a barrier to the kind of solidarity that would be necessary to win real social and political change. The groups attacked gay publications, denouncing them as nothing more than “masturbation templates.”
When it came to politics, the movement also diverged from the center-left alliance that arose between LGBTQ+ activists and the Democratic Party in the United States. Over the course of the 1970s, West German activists enjoyed their greatest support from the centrist Free Democratic Party, but activists ultimately had little success pushing their policies in the federal government. They grew cynical about the possibilities of parliamentary politics. As a result, LGBTQ+ West Germans never fully came together behind any of the major parties, even after German reunification in 1990, and they continue to divide their votes across the political spectrum.
During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, West German history also diverged from the U.S. path. Whereas the Reagan administration stayed silent and let LGBTQ+ Americans perish, the West German government, in particular federal health minister Rita Süssmuth, partnered with AIDS self-help groups to circulate information about the disease and safer sex. West Germany never shut down its gay saunas and still managed to bring infection rates down dramatically over the course of the decade. Because of the government’s success fighting AIDS, radical groups like ACT UP played a much smaller part in the German activist scene.
If, by the end of the 1980s, West Germany’s activists were far less politically radical than those in other countries, they had nonetheless managed both to preserve their subculture and find ways to collaborate with politicians and bureaucrats. West German LGBTQ+ activism was not characterized by the same triumphal moments or catastrophic setbacks as the American version, but nonetheless forged a kind of liberation no less real than that in the United States.
Yet this distinctive West German history is largely forgotten, submerged beneath the dominant U.S. narrative — even in Germany. The annual Berlin Pride celebration is known as Christopher Street Day, named for the Stonewall Inn’s address. Even by the mid-1980s, activists and historians, dispirited by a lack of parliamentary political victories, had begun to compare West Germany’s liberation movement unfavorably with that in the United States.
The East German experience with gay liberation was yet more surprising. Although most Westerners assumed such activism could not possibly have been successful in a communist state, by the end of the 1980s, East Germany could realistically lay claim to being one of the most sexually progressive countries on Earth. In the 1970s, gay men and lesbians began to organize together in East Berlin. While the Stasi, the secret police, denied the group the right to organize in public, these tenacious women and men coordinated house parties, steamboat cruises, and birthday dinners. In the middle of the decade, the East German LGBTQ+ communnity met Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a trans woman who ran a museum in one of East Berlin’s outer neighborhoods. She offered them the museum’s basement to host their activities, and for several years they “bopped and danced like it was 1904.” This arrangement lasted until 1978, when the East Berlin police forbade the group to continue meeting.
But only a few years later, lesbian and gay activists mobilized again, this time under the umbrella of the Protestant Church, the only nominally independent organization in the communist state. Spreading rapidly across the country, they pressured the government to change laws and social policies, such as allowing gay men to serve in the military, repealing a law that set a higher age of consent for gay and lesbian sex, and making it easier for same-sex partners to find housing together. The government tried cracking down on the groups, but to no avail: They continued to grow in size and number. So worried was the Stasi that its functionaries convinced the East German government to accede to activists’ demands. Stasi officials began circulating memos in 1985 insisting that government bodies address gay men and lesbians’ “humanitarian problems,” that is, taking their complaints seriously.
As a result, change came rapidly. The government equalized the age of consent, years before most other countries, including West Germany and the United States. It promulgated a policy allowing openly gay men to serve in the military. LGBTQ+ people were given the right to seek sexual and mental health counseling. The East German government greenlighted the first gay feature film, “Coming Out,” which premiered Nov. 9, 1989—the night East Germans breached the Berlin Wall. Local governments began sanctioning LGBTQ+ organizations and staging gay disco nights.
In the years after reunification, these two distinct German paths converged. The principal LGBTQ+ organization in Germany today was founded by East German activists in 1990 and the West German federal states abolished the last vestiges of their antigay statutes as a direct result of East Germany’s more progressive lawmaking. The West German subculture began to bleed into the Eastern lands, in particular East Berlin, which has become synonymous with queer nightlife in recent decades.
The point is not that East or West Germany achieved a liberation better than that in the United States, but rather that LGBTQ+ life and activism took distinctive forms in different local and national contexts. The American version of LGBTQ+ liberation is not the only history we should pay attention to. Germany led the way for many years before the United States began its LGBTQ+ liberation movement. When America was undergoing the Lavender Scare, East Germany was relaxing laws against homosexuality.
Back in November 2001 while I was in my second year of graduate school, I attended my first academic conference (the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association) in New Orleans, Louisiana. We stayed at the historic Fairmont Hotel (now The Roosevelt New Orleans). The hotel was beautiful and luxurious. I have been in love with the city of New Orleans since I first visited it in the late 1990s. The first time I went was at Halloween, which was an eye-opening experience. The next time I went was to tour Loyola University New Orleans College of Law because I was considering attending law school there. Ultimately, I decided to get my master’s in history instead of a law degree. The third time I went was for the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association in 2001. It was also the first time I went to a gay bar.
I came out for the first time to a close friend of mine and her boyfriend at a party during graduate school in Spring 2001. This friend and I were staying together at the Fairmont for the conference, and she wanted to take me to a gay bar, since I’d never been to one before. I remember walking into Oz at the corner of Rue St. Anne and Bourbon Street. You can read more about this in a post I wrote in August 2020 titled “Coming Out and My First Gay Bar.” New Orleans was a great place to experience a gay bar for the first time because the city has a rich gay history. New Orleans seems to have always been a mecca for the LGBTQ+ in the South.
The city has always championed the arts and celebrated culture, which has fostered a lively gay social scene and drew many LGBTQ+ artists and performers to the French Quarter (aka Vieux Carré), home to Café Lafitte in Exile, one of America’s oldest gay bars. The longest running gay event, the Fat Monday Luncheon, kicked off in 1949, and the oldest gay social organization, the Steamboat Club, was launched in 1953. During Labor Day Weekend, Southern Decadence draws more than 180,000 LGBTQ+ partiers to New Orleans.
Notable gay locals and residents included Tennessee Williams, who came here in 1938 and wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire” from his home at 1014 Dumaine Street. Pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston retired to New Orleans in 1940, living in her Bourbon Street townhouse until her death in 1952. Ellen DeGeneres, a native of nearby Metairie, emceed the New Orleans Mr. and Ms. Gay Pride Contest in 1981, long before she came out publicly in 1997. It has also been home to a number of LGBTQ+ writers particularly Poppy Z. Brite (author of the Liquor novel series) and one of my favorite authors, Greg Herren (author of the Scotty Bradley and Chanse MacLeod mysteries).
I have always had a romanticized version of New Orleans in my head. I used to dream of living in a townhouse in the French Quarter much like Tennessee Williams’ Dumaine Street home or his first home on Toulouse Street. Williams lived in two homes on Toulouse Street, 722 Toulouse Street and 708 Toulouse Street, where he lived in 1941 and according to Tennessee Williams and the South by Kenneth Holditch and Richard Leavitt, “he was evicted as the result of an incident involving sailors.” We can only imagine what that incident was; I suspect it was quite salacious.
My dream home would have a wrought iron balcony that I could sit on like the picture at the top of the post. It would have one of those iconic courtyards that so many homes in the French Quarter. However, after living in New England for over five years now, I prefer the weather here better and now I tend to dream of living in a historic home Montreal, Boston, or any number of larger cities in the Northeast. I can still dream of a vacation home in New Orleans, but I’ll need to win the lottery first.
For many of us, Memorial Day weekend is about cookouts, sales, watching fireworks, fellowshipping with family and friends, though this year, like last year, is a bit different because of the pandemic. However, this weekend is supposed to be about honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives serving in one of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
As a military historian and working at a military college, I am very much aware of the sacrifices made every day by military personnel. Historically, LGBTQ+ soldiers have sacrificed even more. For most of the history of the U.S. military, LGBTQ+ soldiers had to be closeted because being “out” wasn’t acceptable. Being outed could have cost them their military career. Many LGBTQ+ soldiers kept their mouths shut and their business to themselves to protect themselves from harm and protect the nation.
In 1982, the U.S. military enacted a policy explicitly banning gay men and lesbians from their ranks. Before that, however, same-sex relations were criminalized and cause for discharge. And in the early 1940s, it was classified as a mental illness, disqualifying gay men and lesbians from service. In 1993, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (DADT) went into effect, allowing closeted LGBTQ+ soldiers to serve in the military. Under the policy, service members would not be asked about their sexual orientation but would be discharged for disclosing it.
Many LGBTQ+ soldiers were outed as gay or lesbian by fellow soldiers and not allowed to serve. Some soldiers were killed by their fellow comrades while on active duty. If you saw the 2003 film Soldier’s Girl, you are aware of U.S. Army infantry soldier PFC Barry Winchell who was murdered on July 6, 1999, by a fellow soldier for dating a transgender woman, Calpernia Addams. The murder became a point of reference in the ongoing DADT debate. Eighteen years after DADT was enacted, Congress repealed the policy, allowing openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to serve in the military.
Another barrier was lifted in 2013 when spousal and family benefits were extended to same-sex married partners in the military. After ending temporarily in 2016, the ban on transgender individuals was again rescinded in 2021, allowing transgender individuals to enlist and serve in the armed forces. It’s been a long journey, but LGBTQ+ soldiers have always been part of the American military. In an era before gay marriage or open pride, military men fell in love, formed passionate friendships, and had same-sex encounters. Due to social and official discrimination, most of the stories of these LGBTQ+ soldiers have gone untold. One famous example was Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian military man hired by George Washington to whip the Continental Army into shape during the darkest days of the Revolutionary War. He was known for his bravery and the discipline and grit he brought to the American troops. Historians also believe he was gay—and served as an openly gay man in the military when sex between men was punished as a crime.
So, if you have never considered the LGBTQ+ service members who lost their lives to serve a country that didn’t respect them, you should. We shouldn’t take our freedom for granted. It comes with a price tag, and we all need to remember this. As we celebrate another Memorial Day weekend, please note this isn’t just another time to party. Today is a day set aside to remember those who have sacrificed their lives so that we may live and be free, fight against discrimination, and love who we want. These brave, unsung heroes sacrificed the truth of themselves. Let us never forget them.
Be safe, be conscious, be proud, and remember our fallen LGBTQ+ service members who died in times when being “out” wasn’t allowed. Thankfully, things seemed to have changed drastically in the U.S. military. LGBTQ+ service members are able to serve openly and without harassment. While acceptance of LGBTQ+ service members is a relatively new development in the military’s long history, the Department of Defense is committed to maintaining a strong force that reflects the nation’s diversity.
Other than anywhere in the state of Maine (the only New England state I have not visited), I have wanted to visit Mount Washington in New Hampshire, which is called Agiocochook by some Native American tribes. Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288.2 ft. and the most topographically prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River. The mountain is notorious for its erratic weather. On the afternoon of April 12, 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory recorded a windspeed of 231 mph at the summit, the world record from 1934 until 1996. Mount Washington still holds the record for the highest measured wind speed not associated with a tornado or tropical cyclone. The mountain is located in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, in Coös, New Hampshire.
A few years ago, I read Jamie Fessenden’s Murder on the Mountain, a gay mystery novel that takes place on and around Mount Washington. Here is the publisher’s summary:
When Jesse Morales, a recent college grad who aspires to be a mystery writer, volunteers to work on the summit of Mount Washington for a week, he expects to work hard. What he doesn’t expect is to find a corpse in the fog, lying among the rocks, his head crushed. The dead man turns out to be a young tourist named Stuart Warren, who strayed from his friends while visiting the mountain.
Kyle Dubois, a widowed state police detective, is called to the scene in the middle of the night along with his partner, Wesley Roberts. Kyle and Jesse are instantly drawn to one another, except Jesse’s fascination with murder mysteries makes it difficult for Kyle to take the young man seriously. But Jesse finds a way to make himself invaluable to the detective by checking in to the hotel where the victim’s friends and family are staying and infiltrating their circle. Soon he is learning things that could very well solve the case–or get him killed.
Fessenden lives in New Hampshire, where several of his books take place. Murder on the Mountain is a mystery and gay romance, which is always fun. It is also my favorite of Fessenden’s books. I rarely read books more than once, but this one I have. It’s always enjoyable, and it got me interested in Mount Washington.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway, also known as the Cog, ascends the mountain’s western slope. The Cog is what attracted me to want to visit Mount Washington. I’ve always loved trains, and the Cog is a historic and interesting locomotive. Built by Sylvester Marsh between 1866 and 1869, the Cog is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway (rack-and-pinion railway). The railway is still in operation. It uses a Marsh rack system and both steam and biodiesel-powered locomotives to carry tourists to the top of the mountain.
The steam locomotive above is the Waumbek built by the Manchester Locomotive Works in 1908 and is still in operation. In the picture above, you’ll notice how the boiler is tilted to compensate for the steep mountain grade of the tracks going up the mountain. The boiler needed to be even, so they tilted the boiler to compensate. The original locomotive #1 Hero (nicknamed Peppersass) first reached the summit in 1869. While it was primarily designed to build the railway, Peppersass saw passenger service until it was retired in 1878. Until 2008, the Cog was a steam railroad. As more locomotives were added over time, the wood-fired engines gave way to coal when the railway began to operate biodiesel engines. These engines were more economical, easier to maintain, and environmentally friendlier. The biodiesel engines take anywhere from 18-22 gallons of biodiesel fuel to complete the nearly 7-mile round trip; by comparison, the steam locomotives consume 1000 gallons of water and a ton of coal to make the same trip.
April Fools’ Day was once a time to pull a prank on both friends and enemies but has now turned into a day for corporations to try to fool customers with predictable internet hoaxes. Today, April 1, we can all count on an announcement about a fake new show, feature, or some other outrageous piece of news. In the town where I used to teach high school, guys would climb to the top of the water tower and paint a message (usually vulgar), or the seniors at the school I taught at would fill the school’s halls with balloons or some other crazy prank. But there have been many outrageous pranks throughout history.
Satirist Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) decided to play an elaborate All Fools’ Day prank on John Partridge, a famous astrologer who sold bogus predictions to the public in almanacs. After Partridge predicted in his 1708 almanac that a fever would sweep London in early April, Swift published an almanac under a fake name predicting that on March 29 at 11 p.m., Partridge would die “of a raging fever.” The public was intrigued, but Partridge was irate, and he published a rebuttal to Swift’s almanac calling its author a fraud. Then, on the night of March 29, Swift published an elegy (again, under a fake name) announcing that Partridge—a “cobbler, Starmonger and Quack”—had died and admitted on his deathbed that he was a fraud. News of Partridge’s death spread over the next couple of days so that when Partridge walked down the street on April 1, people stared at him in surprise and confusion. Partridge angrily published a pamphlet saying he was alive. Swift again publicly asserted that Partridge was dead and claimed someone else wrote Partridge’s pamphlet. The whole escapade helped to discredit Partridge, who eventually stopped publishing almanacs.
Another prank also occurred in the 18thcentury. In January of 1749, London newspapers advertised that in an upcoming show, a man would squeeze his entire body into a wine bottle and then sing while inside of it. The ad promised that “during his stay in the bottle, any Person may handle it, and see plainly that it does not exceed a common Tavern Bottle.” The ad promised the show would feature other tricks as well, including communicating with the dead. Legend has it that the ad was the result of a bet between the Duke of Portland and the Earl of Chesterfield. Reportedly, the duke bet that he could advertise something impossible and still “find fools enough in London to fill a playhouse and pay handsomely for the privilege of being there.” And apparently, he was right. The night of the show, spectators filled every seat in the house, but no performer ever showed up. Realizing they had been duped, the audience rioted. With all the Republicans who believed Trump was the most Christian president in U.S. history, it just goes to show that people have been gullible for centuries.
The next prank comes from the early 20th century. Decades before the Bond villain Goldfinger plotted to nuke all of the United States’ gold at Fort Knox, a prankster dreamed up another heist that was just as ridiculous. On April 1, 1905, a German newspaper called the Berliner Tageblatt announced that thieves had dug a tunnel underneath the U.S. Federal Treasury in Washington, D.C., and stolen America’s silver and gold (this was before the U.S. built its Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky). The Berliner Tageblatt said the heist was organized by American robber barons, whose burglars dug the tunnel over three years and made away with over $268 million; and that U.S. authorities were trying to hunt down the thieves while publicly covering up the fact that the country had been robbed. The story spread quickly through European newspapers before people realized that it was an April Fools’ Day prank by Louis Viereck, a New York correspondent for the Berliner Tageblatt who published the joke article under a fake name.
Sometimes the line between what’s a prank and what’s not isn’t always clear-cut. If an unlikely candidate runs for public office as a kind of protest prank but ends up winning, is it still a prank? Here’s one example: in 1959, students in São Paulo, Brazil, who were tired of the city’s overflowing sewers and inflated prices launched a campaign to elect a rhinoceros to the city council—and won. (Animals are routinely elected mayor in towns across Vermont.) The rhino’s name was Cacareco (Portuguese for “rubbish”), and she was already a popular figure in São Paulo when the students launched her campaign. The four-year-old had moved to the city from Rio de Janeiro when São Paulo’s zoo opened and was scheduled to return to Rio soon. When the students looked at the 540 candidates vying for São Paulo’s 45 city council seats and feared that none of them would address the city’s problems, they decided to make a point by asking people to vote for the famous rhino instead. Cacareco won a city council seat with a whopping 100,000 votes, far more than any other candidate (the closest runner-up only got about 10,000 votes). Of course, she didn’t end up serving on the city council because the election board disqualified her. Still, she remains one of the most famous protest votes in Brazilian history.
One of the most famous April Fools’ Day pranks is the BBC’s famous “spaghetti harvest” segment. On April 1, 1957, a news broadcaster told his British audience that Ticino, a Swiss region near the Italian border, had “an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop” that year. The camera cut to footage of people picking spaghetti off of trees and bushes, then sitting down at a table to eat some of their “real, home-grown spaghetti.” At the time, spaghetti wasn’t necessarily a dish that British people would’ve known about. That doesn’t mean that no one realized the segment was a prank—some viewers were upset the BBC had aired a fictional segment during a serious news program. However, other viewers reportedly asked about how they could grow their own spaghetti at home.
Caltech has a long history of pranking other schools. One of its most famous pranks happened during the 1961 Rose Bowl football game in Pasadena, the location of Caltech. The game was between the University of Washington’s Huskies and the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers. During the game, Washington cheerleaders handed out colored cards to the Huskies’ side and told them that if they held the cards up at halftime, the cards would spell “Huskies.” But when halftime came and the fans held the cards up, they ended up spelling “Caltech.” It was so weird and unexpected (Caltech wasn’t even playing in the game!) that the band on the field stopped mid-song. It was later revealed that fourteen Caltech students had orchestrated the prank by breaking into the cheerleaders’ hotel rooms and switching the instruction sheets for the card stunt.
One of the best-selling erotic books in American history was actually written as a joke. No, it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey(though that did famously start as Twilight fan fiction)—it’s a 1969 parody called Naked Came the Stranger. The book’s author was listed as “Penelope Ashe,” but the real authors were a group of journalists at Newsday, a Long Island newspaper. The project’s ringleader was Mike McGrady, a Newsday journalist frustrated with the popular romance and erotic novelists he’d interviewed. “I saw the writing that was being accepted, and it seemed absurd,” he told the Associated Press. So McGrady rounded up about 25 journalists and asked each to contribute a ridiculous, over-the-top chapter to an erotic parody novel. He and columnist Harvey Aronson then patched these chapters together into a story about a Long Island housewife who suspects her husband is unfaithful and starts cheating on him. The hardcover sales earned it a number four spot on The New York Times’ bestseller list. Because it was exposed as a parody soon after publication, readers were likely in on the joke and bought it for the laughs (after one intimate encounter, a character says, “I’d forgotten there was more to life than mowing a lawn”). The following year, McGrady published a book about the experience called Stranger Than Naked, or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun & Profit.
Stranger Than Naked wasn’t the only prank journalists played in 1969. That year, Rolling Stone music critic Greil Marcus published a piece spoofing the trend of big-name rock stars forming “supergroups.” One of the most popular supergroups in the ’60s was Cream: its guitarist Eric Clapton was already famous for playing with the Yardbirds. At the same time, drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce were already known for playing in the Graham Bond Organisation. Marcus penned a gushing review to a nonexistent bootleg album by the “Masked Marauders,” a secret supergroup he said was made up of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. The fake review garnered genuine interest in the album, and Marcus ended up writing and recording the songs he’d made up; then Warner Brothers bought the songs and released the album. “It was just an attempt to say, ‘This is stupid, and let’s make it even stupider,'” Marcus told MSNBC years later. But it was also a little prophetic. Two decades after the “Masked Marauders” review, Bob Dylan and George Harrison did join a supergroup with Tom Petty called the Traveling Wilburys.
Finally, Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, has a well-documented love of April Fools’ Day. But in 1989, his annual prank came a day early, on March 31. That evening, residents outside of London spotted a flying saucer that appeared to land in a nearby field in Surrey. Police officers went to the field to investigate the supposed UFO and were probably surprised when they actually found one. As they approached the flying saucer, a door opened, and a silver-clad figure walked out. The cops promptly ran away. Little did they know, Branson was hiding out in the UFO behind his silver-clad companion, whose name was Don Cameron. The two of them had taken off in the flying saucer—which was a hot-air balloon—and planned to land in Hyde Park on April 1 as a prank. However, changing winds forced them to land a little earlier in Surrey.
I hope those historic pranks gave you a laugh. While it is April Fools’ Day, each of these stories is true.
An Athenian red-figure kylix (cup) dating from around 510–500 BC depicts a young pentathlete pulling his older lover towards him for a kiss. In many of the city-states of ancient Greece, sex between a man and a youth was an accepted – even idealized – form of love, its virtues extolled in works by writers including Plato.
In Ancient Greece, some philosophical reflections even idealized same-sex love. We can find notable examples in the Symposium, the philosopher Plato’s description of an intellectually high-powered Athenian dinner party. One character, Phaedrus, extols the virtues of manly, same-sex love among warriors and legislators: “And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor, and emulating one another in honor; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world.” This, allegedly, was the inspiration for the Sacred Band of Thebes, comprising 150 pairs of male lovers, which fought heroically at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC before succumbing to the overwhelming forces of Philip II of Macedon.
Another dinner guest at Plato’s imagined symposium, Pausanias, contrasts “base” love (with women and boys) as merely for sexual gratification and therefore inferior, with “noble” love (with young men). The latter, he says, is “pure” and about instilling guidance and wisdom in a pedagogical relationship rather than sex. This rationalization of same-sex love, whether platonic or carnal, had an extraordinary resilience in western societies over the next couple of millennia and beyond. Take, for example, the famous defense by Oscar Wilde at his trial for sodomy and gross indecency in 1895: “The ‘love that dare not speak its name’ in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare… It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it.”
Throughout history, the receptive/penetrated partner in male same-sex relationships has often been seen as the lesser person in the relationship. One of the most famous examples of bottom shaming is Julius Caesar, who has often been portrayed as a macho, militaristic, elite Roman leader. Much of that masculine power revolved as much around his ability to demonstrate his sexual prowess (think Cleopatra) as it did around political prowess. However, his contemporary political rivals saw this masculinity differently and often commented on such. Julius Caesar was nicknamed the “bald adulterer,” which fit the Roman political stereotype perfectly by sleeping his way to power. As a young man, he spent a considerable amount of time at the court of King Nicomedes of Bithynia, fueling a series of rumors about an affair in which Caesar was the submissive party. His return to Bithynia just a few days after leaving to “collect a debt” further fanned the flames. Suetonius tells us that this was the only stain on Caesar’s masculinity. But it was a stain that proved difficult to wash out, and he would be reminded of it throughout his prematurely ended life. One colleague, Bibulus, addressed Caesar as “the queen of Bithynia.” During an assembly, a man named Octavius hailed his co-consul Pompey as “king” and Caesar as “queen.”
Male sexuality and sexual masculinity have been defined throughout history by the role played by the receptive partner. Women have been seen by most of world history as the weaker sex, and because they take on the receptive role in sex, a man who is the penetrated partner for another man is seen as less of a man. A gay man’s position in the bedroom can extend to how he’s perceived in the LGBTQ+ community. Bottoms, those who are the receptive partner, are often not afforded the respect they deserve. Bottoms deserve a lot more respect than they usually receive. All too often, the terms “bottom” and “submissive” are used interchangeably. However, not all bottoms are submissive. Some bottoms can be quite aggressive, thus the term “power bottom.”
Even versatile men can have a more submissive side because they may prefer those who bottom for them to be more aggressive, but versatile men may also like those who top them to be more aggressive. The opposite can also be true: a versatile gay man who is more dominant may prefer more submissive bottoms and to take control of sex when they are the bottom. Then there are the “strict tops” who refuse to bottom no matter what. These men are often the least respectful of bottoms, and “strict bottoms” may often feel (or be perceived as) inferior to tops for being the receptive partner. The dichotomy of the top/bottom relationship needs to be more respectful for both positions.
Most tops do not consider that being a bottom takes a lot of preparation before engaging in anal sex—something a top benefit from but seldom worries about. The idea of spontaneous sex might sound like a thrill, but it is an unrealistic fantasy of the gay community seen in depictions of gay life from m/m romance novels to gay porn. We don’t want to think about all the preparation available. It’s similar to something I once read about Henry James’s novels that no one ever goes to the bathroom in his novels, though that is true of most novels. However, for a bottom who hasn’t prepared for sex, it can be a stressful and uncomfortable experience. To avoid any awkward mishaps during sex, most bottoms will prepare for it—even if there’s only a tiny chance, they might have sex that day. Even with the most preparation and precautions taken, most bottoms will still hope and pray the entire time that no accidents happen.
Furthermore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that anal sex can be painful at times, and it can take a lot of getting used to before it becomes a fully satisfying sexual experience. When it’s been a while, it’s literally like sticking your finger in a Chinese finger trap, and we all know that isn’t the most enjoyable thing. Most gay men will prepare themselves for bottoming ahead of time. Still, if they don’t know their partner’s penis size, this could make the experience more satisfying if he has a larger than average girth but might be less enjoyable if his penis is less girthy. There is a lot to consider and be prepared for, but it’s also a gamble if you don’t know what to expect. A bottom might ask for “Size?” or “Pics?” from a potential partner while chatting online. Those are not just questions for size queens; they can also be a question so that the bottom can be more prepared for the top. Many men will just see those questions as crude, but the bottom may just be trying to prepare for a better experience for the top.
In the gay community, bottoms are still seen as the more feminine ones. Bottoms are looked at as less than tops in the community. If you doubt this is true, then ask yourself, when was the last time you heard someone refer to a “top” in a derogatory way. Gay men often have insecurities about being labeled a bottom because the gay community all too often engages in “bottom shaming.” Why is this the case? It goes back to historical perceptions of gay sex which ingrained in men the idea that the receptive partner was lesser: either they were the younger partner, a slave, etc. Achilles and Patroclus were an example of this, while the exception was the relationship between Alexander the Great and Hephaestion. Yet, even with Alexander, all of his male lovers were not equal, such was the case with another of his favorite sexual partners, Bagoas, a eunuch “in the very flower of boyhood.” It’s a stereotype that we must work to change.
The fact is your sexual preference be it top, bottom, or versatile, doesn’t mean a damn thing when it comes to your masculinity. We should be proud if we are a bottom, a top, or a bit of both. We should be proud of our sexuality and not get bogged down in roles because why does it matter? You need to realize it doesn’t matter, and we are all a part of the same community and should uplift each other instead of trying to tear each other down. Tops come in all shapes and sizes, including short guys and feminine guys. Plenty of drag queens out there are tops. Don’t assume someone is a top or a bottom because of the way they present or because of their size. There are also plenty of well-endowed bottoms, and while many of us may find that a waste of a good penis, we should respect their preferences. It boils down to each of us respecting one another.
The United States appeared to be changing, and it looked like equal rights and protections were in the future for Generations Y and Z. However, it would not be easy. In 1993, the Department of Defense issued a directive prohibiting the U.S. Military from barring applicants from service based on their sexual orientation. “Applicants… shall not be asked or required to reveal whether they are homosexual,” stated the new policy. But it still forbade applicants from engaging in homosexual acts or making a statement that he or she was homosexual. This policy was known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Then in 1996, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. The law defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman and said no state was required to recognize a same-sex marriage from out of state. On November 4, 2008, California voters approved Proposition 8, making same-sex marriage in California illegal. The passing of the ballot garnered national attention from gay-rights supporters across the U.S. Prop 8 inspired the NOH8 campaign, a photo project using celebrities to promote marriage equality.
As these setbacks eventually have been overturned, Generations Y and Z have grown up in a time of immense change mainly for the better. In December 2010, the U.S. Senate voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. Military. On June 26, 2015, in a 5-4 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. These new freedoms and equality brought new challenges for the youngest members of the LGBTQ+ community. The “Alphabet Mafia,” so named for all the letters to support the sexual spectrum (LGBTQIA, etc.), has given rise to a backlash from religious conservatives. While more states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ+ people, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals largely have been protected by rulings only from the U.S. Supreme Court. Those rulings are now in jeopardy with the make-up of the current court. The Equality Act passed by the House of Representatives is unlikely to pass the Senate unless changes are made to the filibuster or the filibuster is abolished. Plus, there are bills advancing through state legislatures that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate.
The current anti-transgender bills target transgender and nonbinary people for discrimination by barring or criminalizing healthcare for transgender youth, stopping access to the use of appropriate facilities like restrooms, restricting transgender students’ ability to fully participate in school and sports, allowing religiously-motivated discrimination against trans people, or making it more difficult for trans people to get identification documents with their name and gender. Two of these bills, Alabama’s HB-1 and SB-10, companion bills filed by Rep. Wes Allen and Sen. Shay Shelnutt, would criminalize medical professionals who support transgender youths’ identity forcing them to choose between the possibility of government prosecution or adhering to the evidence-based clinical guidelines of their field. These bills would expressly prohibit the use of puberty-blockers and hormone therapies, and require school counselors to report instances of “gender dysphoria.” They also ban gender-affirmation surgeries or sex-reassignment surgeries on children although such procedures are not performed on minors. If passed through the House of Representatives and State Senate, these bills would make Alabama the first U.S. state to enact an official transgender medical ban. The ban is one of eight anti-trans pieces of legislation being considered by state legislatures across the country. Medical experts and transgender advocates warn criminalizing transgender medical care could lead to a spike in suicides and mental health problems among trans youth.
Since the 1970s, when gay rights began to be enacted in some parts of the country, there has been a conservative backlash. It has happened for every minority that has tried to gain equality. The fight is a long way from being over for the LGBTQ+ community just as it continues to be a struggle for racial and ethnic minorities. Until Congress enacts solid protections for LGBTQ+ individuals and the courts back up those protections, conservatives in the U.S. will continue to find new ways to attack our rights. They will continue to use hate and religion to find exemptions even for protections that already have been enacted. In 1988, only 11 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. National support for same-sex marriage’s legal recognition rose above 50 percent for the first time in 2011. Today, the percentage of Americans who support gay marriage is slightly above 70 percent.I believe the most significant roadblock to LGBTQ+ rights are, and will continue to be, religious exemptions. I think the current Supreme Court will uphold religious exemptions. Until that changes, we will not have equality. The only way to end religious discrimination is for religious organizations with tax-exempt status to lose that status because of their discriminatory practices.
As I said at the beginning of Wednesday’s post, every LGBTQ+ generation has faced the difficulty of: if my family finds out I am gay, will they reject me? or if I come out, will my family accept me? Sadly, until there is universal acceptance of the diversity of sexuality, this is unlikely to change. In the seven generations since 1900, each generation has faced its own unique problems with some of those being carried over to other generations. It is paramount that the living generations of the LGBTQ+ community have conversations about what is important to younger gay generations versus those who remember the Stonewall riots and lived through the AIDS crisis. Whether perceived or real, differences between generations have existed long before the term “generation gap” became popular in the 1960s.
Often, each generation has different views on social, political, cultural, and religious issues. LGBTQ+ generations before Millennials were mostly in the closet and afraid of being outed, losing their job and families, possibly their lives. Many of those generations tried to maintain an appearance of “respectability” by being married and having children. In many ways, Generation X was a transition generation between the old and the new. They were the first to experiment with the internet and begin creating a greater LGBTQ+ community. The gay generations since the Millennials can connect no matter where they live. They never knew a time without the internet and have made the most use of technology. They can be more integrated into the mainstream, and they find it easier to be open about their sexuality within society. They have role models and allies that did not exist for older generations. In my opinion, if we recognize our differences, realize what we have in common, understand our past, and embrace our future, we can come together and be a powerful unstoppable force.
This three-part series of posts is not meant to be an exhaustive look at the problems faced by generations of LGBTQ+ individuals. This final installment is focused on the latest generations growing up in a vastly different world from earlier LGBTQ+ generation, and thus the focus is on how much more still needs to be done.