1920s LGBTQ Fantasy

posted by Madame Bubby

I was staring the other day while on the internet at images of 1920s living rooms and kitchens, because I realized how many places I’ve lived in (including my current dwelling) were built in that time period. For example, builders were churning out rows and rows of the traditional Chicago brick bungalow, and, as my grandmother (born in 1900, and she would know) had told me, this was really one of the first homes with consistently “modern” conveniences such as an indoor, private bathroom with a tub and shower, a kitchen with a sink and room for an icebox/refrigerator, and up-to-date electrical wiring and outlets for the period.
 

1920s bungalow kitchen
Source: Old House Journal

Thus, I posed this question on my personal Twitter: what if you woke up and it was 1920 or thereabouts (which, next year, will be 100 years ago!); where would you be, who would you be, what would you do?

Most of the responses were frankly, more glamorous and noble, than mine, such as, according to one classical music specialist being in Vienna and/or Paris and hanging around with such luminaries as “Webern, the Mahlers, Picasso, Woolf, Freud, and Jung.” Another person chose Paris, identifying himself with The Lost Generation, “buying tickets for Koussevitzky’s concerts, Prokofiev’s recitals, and Diaghelev’s ballets.” Another person claimed she would be involved in the women’s suffrage movement.

I concocted a 1920s LGBTQ fantasy. I wonder if I should just write it as a kind of 1920s “Tales of the City,” set in Chicago.
 

Dapper young 1920s guy

I imagined myself as a “dapper young” homosexual, working as a clerk in a library, maybe the Chicago Public Library or even the more esteemed Newberry Library. I would also be trying at the same time to go to school in some humanities-related field. I would be riding the streetcar downtown to work and school from the single room occupancy hotel for men where I would be living.
 

Newberry Library, 1920
Newberry Library, 1920

At the hotel, I meet another dapper guy who is studying philosophy, and we both plan to go to the infinitely more exciting New York and experience the much more sophisticated bohemian scene there (we are both too poor to go to Paris, alas). But a muscular stevedore with a big moustache moves down the hall and distracts me, especially after I accidentally on purpose get a glimpse of his massive uncut cock as he is leaving the shared toilet area in the hotel.
 

Newberry Library, 1920
Source: Collector's Weekly

By this point, one of my Twitter buddies (who is married, of course, grr) said he was getting turned on by this whole narrative, that he would be thinking about it all day, and that he wants to hang out with me, and that, when I mentioned the stevedore, he was thinking, “I want to binge this on Netflix.” (I now know I may have missed my calling.)

Continuing the literally steamy narrative, the dapper philosophy student goes to the Turkish bath. He lies to me that he “did something naughty there.” But I pretty much realize the story is a fabrication, because during that time period, one would be arrested and jailed for sodomy.

As a result, I break up with him (he goes back to live with his Irish parents on the South Side), and visit my eccentric grandma who lives in a two-story frame house in the Division/Milwaukee area, at that time a Polish area. She works full time at the famous Wieboldt’s department store in the area. She is my only family left, because both my parents had died in the 1918 influenza pandemic.
 

1920s Chicago Tribune article on Milwaukee Avenue retail district boom
Milwaukee Avenue retail district - Source: Chicago Patterns

Next door to Grandma, two German ladies live together in a “Boston marriage” (two single women, usually wealthy, living together, not necessarily lesbian, but … ). Scandalously, one of them was seen outside smoking.

While I am staying next door at my grandma’s house, enjoying her front porch on steamy summer nights, the spinster aunt of one of the lesbians next door (Aunt Heddy owns the house) is found stabbed to death with an ice pick. One of the ladies blames the African American ice man, who is convicted on circumstantial evidence (revealing the extreme bigotry of the period, right after the infamous 1919 Chicago Race Riots), but I suspect something else may be afoot.
 

1920s Women
Source: America in Class

All the while, the stevedore and I are enjoying casual kinky sex (Mr. Muscles of course is the dominant one, of course, but he does like me to give him a spanking once in a while with my belt), but his parents are setting him up to get married to an extremely boring childhood neighbor girl who works at Western Electric in Cicero.

The stevedore and I now decide to do some of our own investigating to find out who really killed Aunt Heddy. Was it her cigarette-smoking niece who was going to inherit the house she was living in with her friend?

That’s as far as I got. I think it’s got potential, both as a novel and/or as a screenplay, and also because of its rich allusions to the specific urban culture of the period.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll just write one of the steamy gay sex scenes and share it on the blog.

Rate this blog entry:
1034 Hits
0 Comments

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)
Rate this blog entry:
2052 Hits
0 Comments

William II "Rufus": Medieval King of England (and Probably Gay)

posted by Madame Bubby

The Middle Ages has been in the news lately.

As medieval scholars converge at their annual megaconvention in Kalamazoo, they carry with them recent analyses that traditional medieval studies both contains and feeds into elements of the burgeoning white supremacy movement, with its interpretation, now deemed inaccurate, of a pure white Christian Europe battling forces that wish to annihilate it (especially Jews and Muslims).

The biopic Tolkien focuses on an author many have claimed in his medieval-inspired fantasy world also equated the good and the great with the blond and the white (rather simplistically, I might add).

And on a less overtly political level, the mega hit Game of Thrones offers the viewer, I think in a playful postmodern fashion, almost every element of what we deem to be traditional medieval tropes in a complex fantasy world. The open-ended medieval and Renaissance romance with its complicated interlacing of multiple storylines lends itself well to the serial format of a television series.

My contribution to the medieval buzz this week is a brief introduction and analysis of the reign of King William II, aka “Rufus,” (1056-1100 A.C.E.; reigned 1087-1100) because of his red hair and/or ruddy complexion. He was the third son of William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda.
 

King William II
King William II

William laid claim to the English throne through a supposed promise to ascend it by the Saxon king Edward the Confessor. Whatever the truth to that promise, he invaded England in 1066. After the Battle of Hastings, he set up England as one of his fiefs, using the country as part of his plan to ascend to the highest rank in the feudal hierarchy like the French king in Paris.

Note that the Normans at that time spoke French, saw themselves as French (despite their descent from Vikings), and England was but one part of their amalgamation of fiefs, the most important of which was Normandy, in France.

After William died, his eldest son, Robert Curthouse, inherited Normandy, the most important fief (more on him below).

William Rufus inherited England. He was a strong ruler politically, but he was hated, deemed a tyrant, by the Saxon population of England, as he was consolidating, often brutally, the Norman presence, not just in England, but also in Scotland, and less successfully, in Wales. In fact, he actually put down a rebellion by the barons who wanted Normandy and England under one ruler, Robert. William reduced Robert to a subordinate status and his brother then went on the First Crusade (and survived).

Several historians or chroniclers of the period seemed to have thought that “sodomy” was going on in the dissolute court of William. For example, Ordericus Vitalis in his Historia Ecclesiastica complained that at the court of William, "the effeminate predominated everywhere, and revealed [reveled?] without restraint, while filthy catamites, fit only to perish in the flames, shamelessly abounded themselves to the foulest practices of Sodom." The Normans supposedly brought this “unnatural vice” to England when they invaded in 1066, but one wonders if the Saxon chroniclers were showing a xenophobic bias here.
 

Medieval gay sex
Medieval gay sex

Was William gay? William never married (in fact, there don't seem to be any women concubines either in the picture, not uncommon, much to the chagrin of churchmen, many of whom themselves hypocritically kept women and boys) and spent much of his time, when not at war, hunting with the “guys,” and, if the report by Ordericus contains elements of truth, enjoying sex with men.

He was thus, also according to reports of the time, both “bellicose” and “flamboyant.” One could claim this combination of excessively passionate personality traits made him quite difficult to deal with. In other words, he was probably an asshole, and I use that pejorative intentionally. It reveals the condemnation of same-sex sexual relations, or more specifically, the act linked with gay sex, anal intercourse.

The famous bishop Anselm approached him, concerned about the rumors and possible scandal. William and Anselm did not get along. William had preferred to receive religious advice from a Frenchman, Lanfrac, and he found Anselm's strong Anglo-Saxon presence and overall refusal to let William make decisions in the appointment of bishops insufferable.

William died in 1100 after a hunting accident. He was shot in the back with an arrow and killed while hunting in the New Forest in Hampshire. The incident was probably an assassination, and Rufus’ alleged slayer, Walter Tirel, lord of Poix in Ponthieu, may have been acting under orders from the king’s younger brother, Henry.

The Saxon population rejoiced upon the death of the tyrant.

His brother Henry I, totally heterosexual, with a saintly wife, Matilda, popularly known as Good Queen Maud, promptly seized the throne.

But Robert Curthouse, was also accused of sodomy by Ordericus Vitalis (Robert supposedly picked up this practice from the East via the Crusades). One could claim that the above shows the “gay gene” runs in families, as even Henry's son William Atheling, who drowned in a shipwreck, was also accused of this crime.
 

Ordericus Vitalis medallion
Ordericus Vitalis medallion

One could argue all these accusations could correspond to a moral panic, which often occurs when a society is in a state of transition on many levels. Thus, one wonders if there was truth to all these allegations, given the political social disorder resulting from the uneasy relationship between Normans and Saxons. The Saxon chroniclers, mostly clerics like Anselm who hated the foreign Normans, might have been conveniently scapegoating these individuals.

One could also gather that, based on the numerous discussions of them in several texts of the period, that same-sex relationships occurred frequently in military and clerical structures.

Yet, also remember that in aristocratic circles of that time women from their girlhoods were socialized separately from men during that period. William spent most of his life hanging out with the guys. Whether his marrying a woman (which would most probably have been a political than a love match anyway) would have revealed a bisexual or heterosexual orientation one will never know. As far was we know, he was not connected with any woman or women sexually.

I think the key to the lethal tension in William's personality is reflected in the art and architecture of the period. The great 12th century renaissance that encompassed all aspects of culture from economic development, centralization of Papal power, the beginnings of more defined national identities after centuries of warring feudal factions, and a flowering of spiritual and philosophical thought, had not occurred.

William, like his famous father, was a Norman, and the architecture that bears that name, also called Romanesque, is solid, fortress-like, like the castles of the feudal barons. The churches boast thick walls, rounded arches, dark interiors. The technology that produced the elaborate vaulting and traceries, the stained glass, of Gothic was not there, yet. Each church was an like an island protecting itself from warring forces. The head of the Church, Christ is a stern king and judge who demands fealty from his vassals.
 

Christ as a stern judge in Romanesque painting

Rochester cathedral

Romanesque art - engravings in architecture

Yet the paintings of the period present a quite unusual contrast, resembling the dreamlike surrealism of a much later period. Elongated, ghostly forms float in positions that attempt to defy the rigid hierarchical space they dwell in. The body is thus but a phantom compared to the immortal soul on its way to its home in God. The world of nature offers only temporary, transitory, pleasures. Nature's role is to reproduce itself (thus, absolutely no gay sex) in order to maintain its place as the mirror of God's endless life.
 

Romanesque wall painting

As the Church in the late 12th and 13th centuries achieved temporal and spiritual dominance in Europe (despite the failure of the Crusades), the splendor of cathedrals like Notre Dame overshadowed the growing intolerance of any deviation from social and religious norms. The light that illuminated the stained glass took another form: the fires that burned copies of the Jewish Talmud, heretics, and men who loved men.
 

Illustration - burning of sodomites
Burning of sodomites

Sources: Britannica.com; a dash of Wikepedia, and, yes, believe it, my memory.

Rate this blog entry:
3334 Hits
0 Comments

Contact Us | 800-932-7111 | Join our email list

Go to top