Condoms Before the Days They Were Rubbers!

posted by Madame Bubby

When I was in sixth grade (I didn’t go to a middle school or a junior high), the tougher boys were joking about rubbers. I did not make the connection to condoms until high school, climaxing in the time when, believe it or not, my dad gave me one to put in my wallet. He thought I needed one because I was hanging out with some girls (little did he or, most significantly, I know I was their gay friend, and one of the girls, nicknamed “Inch," was a lesbian).

I digress. Condoms weren’t always rubber. Before the invention of vulcanized rubber in the 19th century, condoms were made usually of some kind of linen smeared with chemicals or, ew, animal tissue or bladder. What’s interesting is that since ancient times they were used as both a means of birth control and a protection against STDs. (Ironically, usually birth control and/or abortion was the province of the woman, who was blamed for issues is in this area, even though, by the Middle Ages, the established view was that the woman was merely the physical receptacle of the life-giving, soul-containing male sperm.)

Some interesting facts about pre and early modern condoms and condom usage:

There’s a legend that the King Minos of Crete, subject to so many curses, used a goat’s bladder as a female condom to protect his partners because he suffered from a strange affliction; his semen was filled with snakes and scorpions.

Those short loincloths Greek and Roman guys wore (mostly those of the slave and laborer class), that in the sword and sandal movies showed off hot, muscular legs, often consisted of little more than a covering for the penis. If someone in a higher class wore one of these “lower class” outfits, some have speculated they may have served as form of condom.
 

Ancient Greek man in short loincloth
Ancient Greek man in short loincloth, Source: Pinterest

Sexual norms changed during the Middle Ages with the rise of Christian theocracies, and the emphasis on sex and procreation tended to put condoms under the radar, so to speak, and we also lost some knowledge of their substance and use during the ancient world. Some writings by Muslims and Jews, who during this period in some areas comprised the majority of physicians, mentioned soaking a cloth in onion juice or other perceived spermicides.

The syphilis outbreak that began among French troops in 1494 prompted an Italian guy named Gabriele Falloppio (from whence we get the name fallopian tube) to pretty much invent the first item we now can define as a condom. He invented a linen sheath sized to cover the glans of the penis, tied to it with a little ribbon, smeared with spermicide. He claimed to have saved the lives of 1100 sailors with the device. Sailors. And with that word, one I think can pretty much imply that these guys weren’t always going after the clichéd wenches.
 

Gabriele Falloppio
Gabriele Falloppio, Source: Sciencemuseum.org

During the Renaissance, condoms were also made of animal intestines or bladders. By the 18th century, they were available in all shapes and sizes; one could buy them especially at the ubiquitous barbershops, which weren’t just places for haircuts. The barbers performed various surgeries, dental work, and especially bloodletting.
 

Retro Durex condom
Condom made of animal intestine, Source: mirror.uk

During the above periods, the upper, and later the burgeoning middle classes, were the ones who used condoms. The lower classes couldn’t afford them, and they also lacked education on STDs.

Now the omnipresent and mostly all-powerful Catholic Church during this time wasn’t exactly keen on the use of condoms as birth control, of course, but it was yet to make its views on the subject official in the Pope’s encyclical Humanae Vitae with the advent of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

And in the early 19th century, after the invention of the rubber condom which increased usage and convenience considerably, the notorious Comstock Act pretty much made life miserable for anyone who wanted to use any form of contraceptive, much less educate oneself on the issue.
 

Retro Durex condom
Retro Durex condom, Source: sexinfo.soc.ucsb.edu/article/history-condom

The deadly AIDS epidemic of course made the condom a matter of life and death, with the holy haters decrying what condoms had always been used for, saving lives, in favor of reviving the scapegoating of anyone with STDs.

By the way: there was no “Earl of Condom.” The etymology of the word is indeed unknown!

Source: mostly Wikipedia’s article on the History of Condoms, combined with some of my own knowledge of gender/sexuality history

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Two Muscle Guys Kiss at the Last Judgement

posted by Madame Bubby

I got blocked on Twitter a while ago by a Roman Catholic bishop because I responded to a tweet about Michelangelo with a pretty general article on the sexuality of the famous artist Michelangelo. Michelangelo was gay. He liked guys. Especially guys with big muscles.
 

Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo Buonarroti (source: biografieonline.it)

Now, during the Renaissance, the concept of sexual orientation had yet to be articulated or analyzed. Thus, Michelangelo, according to the social and religious norms of the time (usually the same), either performed sex acts with men (called sodomy due to an interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story since deemed incorrect by current Biblical scholarship), and/or, perhaps more loosely, he loved men, young men (which does not necessarily imply sexual activity).

In this case, art imitates life, and Michelangelo, aiming to produce what he deemed to be an ideal mimesis of the body as revealing a primal strength and power coursing through creation, painted male bodies that rival the famous bodybuilders of the past, without the artificial steroid-induced bulk. (And even the women in the Sistine Chapel are muscular.)
 

Adam and Eve, Sistene Chapel Ceiling
Adam and Eve, Sistene Chapel Ceiling (source: artarchive.com)

This unabashed glorying in muscular nudes under the aegis of a commission to paint the Sistine Chapel ended up becoming a problem. Why? The Counter-Reformation not only reacted to the Reformation, but to some of what it deemed licentious excesses of the Renaissance, and much Catholic religious art ended up degenerating into fixed forms drawn in attitudes of pious sentiment. Hello, anemic Jesuses with bleeding hearts and heavily draped Madonnas gazing up at the clouds.

And, in the case of Michelangelo’s paintings, the Church authorities covered up the genitalia.

But, as one article I read recently reveals, Michelangelo’s Last Judgement shows that just covering up genitals does not literally erase any imagery that might induce those impure thoughts that might send one to hell.

In the midst of the Last Judgment, where a muscular beardless Christ resembling Apollo looks like he is a bad ass coming to whale on a rival gang, two men kiss. Mutually and fearlessly. (Even his mother is frightened.) And these are not the ones condemned to hell. These are two guys on the redeemed side, as opposed to, as the article claims, a reputed pedophile biting his genitals to hell.
 

The Last Judgement kiss close up
The Last Judgement close up (source: Michelangelo.org)

Now, the men kissing need not imply sexual attraction, of course, depending on the cultural context. They could even be family members displaying affection. But it’s there, it’s there for the homosocial gaze, and I just wonder if Michelangelo was himself encoding, as it were, his own Last Judgement against a Counter-Reformation Church that viewed humanity as more fallen and sinful rather than filled with a holy energy that includes struggle and conflict but also surmounts it with a hope for a final vindication.
 

The Last Judgement
The Last Judgement (source: Vatican Museum, Michelangelo)
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Censored!

posted by Madame Bubby

Lately many libraries (probably more boards that run libraries composed of evangelicals or traditional Catholics, now in alliance against anything that doesn't endorse “heteronormativity”) are censoring LGBTQ-themed books, especially that bestselling book by John Oliver, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, about a certain male bunny named Marlon Bundo who discovers the love of his life, who happens to be another male.
 

Marlon Bundo book cover

We seem to be going around in a circle where instead of a person, a book or any artistic creation is branded with as scarlet letter. Here are some the more extreme, even ludicrous instances of censorship against LGBTQ-related artistic creations:

Michaelangelo was homosexual, but he worked for a papacy which was becoming increasingly puritanical as it attempted to restrengthen itself in response to the Protestant Reformation. Male nudes appeared in his fresco The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. In 1559, five years before the artist's death, the Vatican hired someone to paint loincloths on the more risuque ones. Poor Daniel de Volterra became “the breeches maker.” In 1563, after the Council of Trent really started to crack down on any nudity in religious art (or any art, in fact), there was even talk of destroying it. Luckily, it did not happen thanks to protests by nobles and other artists. The Church had to back down. (It needed money.)
 

The Last Judgment

Then, much later, in 1933, a time of reaction to the Roaring Twenties, a shipment of art books containing images from The Last Judgment was seized by U.S. Customs as obscene material (someone who worked there had never heard of this painting; shows the importance of an liberal education, in my opinion). A few days later, the Treasure Department admitted the mistake and turned over the books.

Also during the 1930s, the screen version of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour was reworked, even bowdlerized, to omit any references to lesbianism. The lesbian character became a heterosexual, making the love triangle heteronormative. In fact, the Code, now in full force, even forbade meniton that the movie, called These Three, was based on the play.
 

The cast of These Three
The cast of These Three

In 1961, the Motion Picture Association of America relaxed the code mentioned above, which forbade any portrayal of homosexuality on the screen. But, in 1962, it still did not approve of the film Victim, because it actually metioned those “H” words, homosexual and homosexuality, on screen. Its star, Dirk Bogarde, was gay, but given the overall social climate of the period, he had to keep it in the closet. (He came close to really revealing his sexuality when he sported tight leather pants in the campy Western, The Singer Not the Song.)
 

Dirk Bogarde in Victim
Dirk Bogarde in Victim

In 1979, when the sexual liberation movements were in full swing, right before the age of AIDS and the ascendancy of Reagan/Thatcher and the Religious Right, British customs officials seized and burned 100 copies of The Joy of Gay Sex. They ignored 200 copies of The Joy of Lesbian Sex, but in 1984 they seized and shredded both books.
 

Cover of The Joy of Gay Sex

I wonder if the real issue here is fear combined with a substantial dose of ignorance. It's not like these creations are going to appeal to children, though I am certain some fanatics would use the for them appropriate religious imagery of The Last Judgment to scare children.

The irony here is those who would use power to limit knowledge and impose rigid boundaries, even though knowledge itself is power. When used wisely, it is a power that acknowleges limitation but at the same time understands that the world and those who dwell in it will always be more than we know.

Source: Leigh Rutledge, The Gay Book of Lists

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