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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LGBTQ History Is Everyone's History!

posted by Madame Bubby

The new Democratic governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, signed into law on Friday, August 9, 2019, a bill to ensure that the contributions of LGBTQ persons to human culture are taught in Illinois public schools.

According to a news release by CNN, House Rule 246 was introduced by Rep. Anna Moeller to amend the school code to add a more inclusive history curriculum.

"In public schools only, the teaching of history shall include a study of the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this State," the bill states.

The bill will go into effect in July 2020.
 

Pritzker signing LGBTQ history bill
Pritkzer signs LGBTQ history bill (Source: Freeport News Network)

This development is indeed good news, especially in the current social climate where certain adherents to branches of Evangelical Christianity (hello, Mike Pence) attempt to impose their views of gender and sexuality on the United States as a whole in theocratic fashion. In other words, they wish to regulate sexual and reproductive behavior based on their religious beliefs, often doing so by purveying false, unscientific information and conspiracy theories.

The “holy haters” might think this development is a similar type of imposition, but as usual, the analogy is false. A textbook ideally attempts to present information in an unbiased way and bases its content on authorized research by experts. A textbook ideally allows room, based on the content, to generate critical questions about the subject matter, these questions allowing for multiple perspectives based on evidence.

Thus, my concern is that this development will become, for many, ostensibly a religious issue and they will use the sadly predictable scapegoat mechanism accusation that children will be harmed by learning about LGBTQ persons and their contributions.

I think the issue is how we interpret history. It's not just that the contributions of already famous LGBTQ figures like Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, and Gertrude Stein are worthy of being remembered authentically, respecting the synergy of the art and the creator, but that the interpretation of history should open up the opportunity to hear voices that have been silenced and censored.
 

Colorized photo of Walt Whitman
Colorized photo of Walt Whitman (Source: Walt Whitman Initiative Organization)

Thus, who is telling the story is just as important as the story itself, but even more significantly, who is determining what is worthy of being told and how it is told.

It's sad that one has to make a law in the present to ensure the voices of the past are heard, and it's even more sad that there are those in the present who still feel so threatened by the very existence of LGBTQ history that they will resort to what they did in the past to LGBTQ people: denigrate them, silence them, erase them.

I applaud the new Democratic administration in Illinois for this move, but dead or alive, one's voice in history should not be a gift given to you by someone else: it is yours, and it rightly belongs to you.

Check out our blog, our contribution to hearing the voices of LGBTQ history, https://bijouworld.com/Gay-History/Categories/Listings/gay-history.html.

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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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