There’s this space between queer people and their history. Queer history is full of people flying under the radar and above it. There are French noble women who dress as men and fight their lovers in fencing and burn down nunneries to get their girlfriends out of them. But there are also those who dress as men and blend in with the men in the monastery around them, doing nothing to out themselves and just living their lives how they see fit.
The Mattachine Society and the groups that came after it struggled over this axis. They divided either because one group was too obvious or not obvious enough. The Mattachine Society boasted that being gay is normal, is blending in with society and being good christian Americans. While the GLF and the Daughters of Bilitis wanted to be loud, to be proud, to be outrageously gay while still yet being those good American citizens.
This dichotomy, this axis, it has prevailed throughout history. So the question becomes, how to talk about these people? How to talk about these people who wanted to just be a normal person who happened to be queer and those who wanted to be out and loud? To some extent, we would be outing someone who never in their lives wanted to be out and loud for our own gains.
We can point to them and say; “See! We’ve always been around! We’ve always been there! Just hidden away by your erasure!” And yet, we’ve come to weaponize their queerness as something parculer, something out of the ordinary when all they wanted was to be ordinary or even super ordinary without the bagage their queerness brought.
On the other hand, there are these out and proud queers that would have loved the spot light. That would have said; “Yeah, I’m gay and I’ve done X, Y, and Z!” Who have done both the ordinary and extraordinary that has nothing to do with their queerness but they flaunt it regardless to show the world that a queer can do and be anything.
Then, there is a wider section of historical queers who have been punished for what they are, be it that they’ve flanted it or not. Somehow, someway, someone found out and they were ostracized, harassed, and hurt. Some took to their punishments swinging, others quietly went into the night.
So, how do you present these histories without queerness changing anything and everything all at the same time? How do you tell these stories and show the world that being queer is natural and normal and yet, extraordinary and beautiful and defying everything we’ve ever been taught?
Do we out these people? Do we talk about them anyway? Sure, they’re dead now, but what about their legacy and honoring the dead? How do we frame their history to be both respectful and yet proving that being queer is normal and spectacular?
We have to face reality at some point. We have to be walking contradictions, two ends of the same spectrum at the same time. So, how do we represent these people who have always been around? Do we only talk about the ones who wanted to be out? Do we even mention the ones who wanted to stay hidden for their entire lives?
No, we can’t ignore an entire portion of our history. We can’t erase who those people are as much as they wanted us to. They are queer, like it or not. We can be respectful to how they wanted to present, but it's impossible to not talk about them.
While everyone might not willingly go into the night quietly, those who do, still have gravestones. Queerness is apart of our history, weither we like it or not. Normalizing queerness, breaking down these barriers society has built for us is apart of that, even for those who want to mix in with the ‘regular’ crowd. Just existing makes us break these barriers.
Our history is important to us, that much is clear. For those in the community, it’s important that we find people to relate to, in our present and in our past.
This axis encompases all kinds of people. Each individual can be plotted on this axis. They can be closeted. They can be stereotypical, normal, or proud. Each point is not mutually exclusive in relation to the other points and lines of the axis. Points can move freely throughout the axis despite the lines being static.
Being in the closet is the direct opposite of being proud while being considered normal is the direct opposite of being a stereotype. I’ll dive into this axis a little more in a different post, but here it serves as a representation of people of the past as well.
In the past, especially in western culture. To be closeted meant to suffer with feeling different from everyone else, yet safe from them at the same time. To be proud meant to go against the grain and take whatever punishment would come. To be stereotpyical was to be a perverted child molster and to be normal was seemingly impossible.
If people knew, being normal was no longer an option. To be queer was to be a child molster, end of story. It was to be disgusting and unnatural. Now-a-days there is much more to it, but in the past, things were very cut and paste. To be gay was to erase everything else good that one could have done.
Alan Turing is widely known for being the man to decode Nazi codes during World War Two. He is also known to be gay. And those things cannot be mutually exclusive. His history is tainted by his outing as a gay man. Not only was he forced to take estrogen and other drugs to make sure he couldn’t have children, but he was imprisoned and ridiculed. In his own time, his good deed could not outway his sexuality.
Today, he’s known for his good deed, not his sexuality because it caused him such great pains in the end, but also because being gay has been erased throughout history. Lovers were just ‘good friends’ and could have never have been queer. Transgender people were just strange crossdressers and are remembered by their dead names and pronouns who, in the end, settled down as their ‘appropriate’ gender.
These people are often outed at some point, which is how we know that they were queer now. There probably have been thousands upon thousands of queer people that the world never knew about because they were never outed. Some key figures in other cultures may have been queer but because being queer was not considered a bad thing for that culture, we may never know.
How can we keep outing these people? There’s a difference, supposedly, in the fact that they are dead and their outing cannot hurt them anymore, however, it can greatly damage their history. What they’ve done can be easily over shadowed by the fact that they were queer. On the other hand, their queerness can be completely erased by those in the present, completely ignoring a huge part of their lives.
How do we address these people? How do we present their histories without their queerness taking over or being erased? We have to present these people as completely normal yet spectacular.
We must tell their histories as they are, without leaving anything out or adding anything in. We have to tell their stories as they may have. Their achievements mean a great deal to the world and this queerness means a great deal to other queers.
I will not out anyone. I will only talk about those who are already out, whether they were proud of it or not. Although some of these historical figures may never have wanted to be outed, they were, and their histories and queerness are both extremely important to many people.
I will talk about them as people, humans who have done extraordinary things while loving someone of the same sex or identifying with another gender. I will gender them correctly. I will not deadname someone.
What’s important in this discussion is the comfort of all of the people involved, even if some of those people have been dead for some time. Our future relies on what we learn of our past.