Move over, Shakira, there’s a new BAB (badass bitch)™ in town. And by “new” I mean she was born roughly 700 years ago, and by “town” I mean medieval England, but still, potato/potabo. Enter Isabella of France, wife of King Edward II of England. Gurl had some mad haters in her time, and the shade they were throwing in the 14th century casts a longass shadow. Even though she was noted for her beauty, intelligence, and diplomacy, just because, like *one* time, she usurped her husband’s throne, probably had him murdered, and co-ruled with her lover, she has forever been labeled as The She-Wolf of France, and drawn as a manipulative, sadistic, vain, femme fatale. Whatever. Fuckem. Bitches Get Stuff Done.
So our weebaby scandalite is born probably in 1295, daughter of King Philip Eye-Vee of France, ruler of the most powerful state in Western Europe at the time. All of her brothers became kings, and, as was customary, Isabella was promised as an infanta to Edward II (New Moon) of England. Edward’s father (Edward Twilight, whom you know from the 1995 pre-meltdown Mel Gibson classic, Braveheart as “that old guy in the crown”), for some reason which Wikipedia did not make clear to me, tried to dissolve the union several times before his death. But, once he kicked it in 1307, the 23-year-old Edward and the 12-year-old Isabella were free to pursue wedded bliss.
Why? Because Edward was gayer than Christmas, that’s why.
Well, no—Edward was most likely bisexual, as he and Isabella did eventually have four children, and he had at least one illegimate son by an unknown woman (which I like to imagine means she was a ghost, kind of like Patrick Swayze was that one time), and there is considerable scholarly debate over whether Edward actually had romantic relationships with men (fueled not least by issues of interpreting concepts of medieval sexuality, homosexuality, and male friendship [and for an awesome introduction to these queries, plus a bit of academic titillation, check this nifty volume]). But still, the warning signs were there right from the start that Edward’s spankbank wasn’t filled exclusively with sweet, sweet ladybits.
Just quick, let’s have a tidge of context about Edward: though he was a strapping young buck, the heir apparent apparently shied from traditional kingly pursuits such as jousting, hunting, warfare, bloodshed, mayhem, and dick-measuring contests, in favor music, poetry, and “rural crafts.” Edward had a special little hole (in his heart) that was plugged by a nobleman named Piers Gaveston. Apparently, “as soon as the king’s son (Edward II) saw him, he fell so much in love that he entered upon an enduring compact with him”—which is sweet and all, but hanging on the arm of another dude like you’re the hottest wife in Stepford is 200% not cool in 1300. Edward I banished Gaveston a bunch of times to try to unhook his whore talons from Edward II, but I guess as soon as the king kicked it, Jr. saw this as an opportunity to not only marry his supahrich child-bride, but also debut his boytoy in one big ol’ “fuck you, dad, you’re dead” fell-swoop.
At her marriage banquet, Izzie watched all her presents given to Gaveston (I mean really, one man can only use so many chip n’ dips), and at her coronation, the halls were hung with custom tapestries bearing the coats of arms of Edward and Gaveston. …If TLC had gone all Four Weddings on that biznass, I’m pretty sure even Isabella’s sister wives would have given her pity points. That shit’s rough.
Isabella apparently resigned herself to a life of neglect and humiliation in the wake of her husband’s brazen hussiness. She befriended Gaveston’s wife and I assume they spent lots of hours bitching about their sham marriages in their finely illuminated Burn Book of Hours.
BUT, after merely four winters of discontent, in 1312, tensions between Edward and his barons over Gaveston’s power in court had reached a boiling point. After being banished once again by the peerage, and recalled once again by Edward, Piers was finally kidnapped by a couple of earls, who handed him over to a couple of Welshmen, who promptly rid the world of that turbulent puff.
Sidenote: This is in direct opposition to what I remember of the
stunning, delicate, cinema vérité death of a character based on Gaveston in the aforementioned Braveheart, in which Edward I pushes his son’s lover out a window, squealing like a piglet. No, now I find there’s a dignity in truth afforded to the poor soul, knowing he was in fact taken out to the ass end of Wales and beheaded by a couple of sheepfuckers.
Anyway, Edward was so distraught by Gaveston’s murder that he went all Norman Bates and kept his corpse around for a while before the Church finally forced him to bury it (Ew. Ew. Ew. EwewewEW.). But, with his lover gone in an arguably tragic turn of events, Edward had to pull it together. He put on his big-boy jerkin and favorite Bobbi Brown lipstick, and knocked up the wife he suddenly remembered he had. For England; for the Plantagenets; for something to do on a Thursday night.
So Isabella and Edward had a son in 1312, the future Edward Eclipse, but despite producing a healthy male successor, the political situation in England was increasingly unstable: ties between France and England were weakening, Edward had his ass decidedly handed to him with a side of tatties and neeps by the Scots at Bannockburn, a royal pretender showed up claiming to have been switched at birth with Edward (though he brought very little charming, lesson-learning, folksy-wisdom, and good-old-fashioned-adventure to this Twainesque episode, and thus totally deserved his eventual execution), and the barons were still having a hissy fit about how Edward threw around his power—particularly in light of his new advisor/bum-chum, Hugh Despenser the Younger.
(Also, there was a famine—which I would say was like the cherry on top of a shit sundae, but it’s probably more apt to say it’s like the restaurant never bringing you the sundae to begin with, charging you twice, then giving you a plague blanket rather than a mint on your way out.)
Isabella hated Hugh the Younger, because, in all honesty, he sounds like a total, utter, certified, signed-sealed-delivered, midnight-train-to-Georgia douche. Hugh had campaigned against Gaveston and actively displaced Edward’s rebound after Gaveston, a man named Roger d’Amory (Dare I say they engaged in amorous rogering? No? Too much? Ok.), so he could get into the king’s affections. He held huge political sway over who was in favor at court, and he and Edward instituted massive programs of land confiscation, large scale imprisonment, execution, and the persecution of the widows of their enemies. Hugh in particular wrongfully seized a bunch of land from female nobility (including his wife and his sister-in-law)(!!!!??!!1!), and apparently had one woman’s arms and legs broken until she went insane. *teethsuckholyshitfuckthatdude* It has been hypothesized that because Hugh so clearly hated women, and that because Isabella hated Hugh with such a passion, he had sexually assaulted her at some point, but either way, he was horrible, even by medieval standards.
He and Edward made like a shitload of enemies between 1320 and 1326 who plotted a myriad ways to kill them, including—I’m not kidding—voodoo. In response to a brewing war between Edward and the English nobility spurred on by Hugh, Isabella forcibly took a greater role in politics, and attempted to get the Despensers exiled several times, but Edward always manged to bring them back, like a bad penny, or herpes. Edward finally gave her one of his trademark kissoffs by confiscating all her lands, imprisoning all her staff, and taking all her kids. He wanted her to sign an oath of loyalty to Hugh, but she was rightfully like, “fuck that noise,” and in 1325 she returned to France, gathered an army with the help of her brother, Charles IV, and the really pissed off English nobles, and a hot little slice named Roger Mortimer.
Disclaimer: Mortimer and Isabella might have been having an affair back in England, but either way, once in France, the queen finally got the crowning she deserved (that doesn’t make sense, sorry, whatever, they boned a lot, let’s move on).
In 1326, this mediaeval Bonne y Clyd invaded with a very small force, but such was the state of Edward’s unpopularity that the country essential descended into mob rule at the news of her arrival. She laid siege to Bristol and retrieved her daughters, and soon captured Edward and Hugh as they tried to flee the country. Isabella or her followers essentially killed every higher-up still allied with Edward, with Hugh given a particularly humiliating public castration and disembowelment (Ew. Ew. Ew. EwewewewEW). Edward was placed under house arrest rather than executed, since he was legally still Isabella’s husband, and her legal basis for deposing him was minimal (even though bitch showed mad restraint for sitting it out as long as she did, if you ask me). Her son was confirmed as Edward III, with Isabella acting as regent. Somewhere along the way, Edward II dies—it’s unclear whether he was assassinated or simply died in prison, but the most sensational story is that he had a heated fire poker shoved up his butthole (EWWWW).
Now Edward really was a first class tit, but I don’t know if anyone really deserves to have the last of the red hot pokers nonconsensually inserted into their ass. But, you know, Middle Ages, anything goes.
Isabella and Mortimer co-ruled for about four years until her son came of age and promptly deposed his mom’s main squeeze. She had a nervous breakdown, and was briefly arrested, but eventually was give a massive pension and remained in close contact with the court and her grandchildren. And, like many retirees and shut-ins, she developed an interest in astrology. So, all’s well that ends well in the land of Medieval Times: where women who engage in the same shitty, philandering, power-obsessed activity as their shitty, philandering, power-obsessed husbands are forever remembered as despicable SeeYouNextTuesdays.
As you all may have noticed, I like to hear the sound of my own written voice. That is why I write such long posts (that and I have a hard time focusing and don’t actually read them over to see if I can cut anything out BECAUSE I KNOW IT’S ALL GOLD). So this week is an exercise in brevity for me. Also, I’m not saying I’m phoning this in, but I’m not not saying that I don’t have a shitton of other stuff to do.
(That link was shameless. Again, I know, I’m sorry, get over it. )
Thus ends my preamble, and so begins the part that is not the preamble. Question: What do you get from a country when Protestant morals are so deeply ingrained in the values and society that the collective consciousness resembles something akin to a four hour reflective prayer session in a Puritan meeting hall? You get England, and the culturally inherited (but not totally untrue) stereotypes of the stiff-upper-lip, willingness to submit to an unflinchingly ridged hierarchical structure, and a healthy sense of rebellious deviance.
You also get the religious entrepreneur, Aleister Crowley. Born in 1875 as Edward Crowley, he was perfectly poised (because the stars aligned, WHAT WHHUT) to ensnare the already willing imaginations of the Edwardians and post-Great War Bright Young Things. His parents were fairly wealthy, and extremely devout members of the Protestant religious sect known as the Exclusive Brethren, who I can most easily described as the Amish of Britain. This led Edward to do as every good teenagers does and hate the thing they valued most: Christianity.
After attending multiple private schools and universities, he increasingly challenged the Protestant values and teachings prevalent in education at the time. He also started to nail a lot of girls. ‘Cause, you know, The Bible says you shouldn’t.
He didn’t discriminate though, seeking out both prostitutes as well as girls he met off the street. Sort of like a Starz series, all full of passion, illicitly casual sex and mediocre production values. Annnnnnd he got gonorrhea before he was 20.
Along with dipping his wick in a lot of wax, young Edward engaged in many other pastimes including mountaineering, playing chess, writing and publishing erotica, and having lots of hetero and homosexual encounters (which were illegal, as you may recall until the Michael Pitt-Rivers trial of 1954, great-grandson of Lt.Gen. A.H. Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, whose ethnographic collection formed the basis of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford. NOW you know why that name sounded so familiar!). Oh, and he changed his name to Aleister. Rad.
He had a real nice boy-fran for a while, named Herbert Charles Pollitt, but they broke up because of Aleister’s increasing interest in the esoteric. For those of you who pretend to know the meanings of lots of words you actually don’t to sound smart, and may be wanting to quick search the interwebs for what esoteric actually means, I’ll oblige you (because let’s face it, I’m the queen of pretending I know more than I actually do). In the case of Aleister Crowley, when we talk about esoteric beliefs, we’re talking about mysticism, magic, and a fake religion Crowley made up about himself.
He attributed his first mystical experiences to sexual activity, which brought him closer to an “immanent diety.” Clearly a formative experiance, so, hey, why not make that the basis of a faith? He studied alchemy and became a member of various cults religious societies in his mid twenties, as well as learning about the ritualistic use of drugs in magical ceremonies. He took a flat in London in which he had two rooms, one devoted to ‘White Magic,’ and the other to ‘Black Magic.’ As in, the type of magic from THE BLACK CAULDRON THE CLASSIC 1985 ANIMATED FILM BASED ON THE BOOK SERIES BY LLOYD ALEXANDER AND THE WELSH MYTHOLOGICAL TRADITION YES I LOVE ALL THE THINGS I JUST LISTED.
He then set sail to Mexico, India, China, America, Hawaii (NOT PART OF AMERICA), Hong Kong, Eygpt and Ceylon (SRI LANKA BITCES), tasted the local flavors (IF YOU KNOW WHAT IM SAYIN’ YEAH YA DO), did some mountain climbing (YEAH HE DID), tried yoga (SO MANY POSITIONS) and got married to Rose Edith Kelly (CAPITAL LETTERS).
He decided to call it Thelema, derived from the Greek for ‘True Will,’ and the religious text was called The Book of the Law (it’s number 4 on Oprah’s summer reading list). It was associated with ideas of Sun worship, reverence to a goddess of ‘all pleasure’ called Babalon, or “The Virgin Whore,” wild animals, and magick (the k makes it kool). Practices included masturbation, hetero and homosexual encounters, blood sacrifice, hallucinogenic drug use, and sunbathing (???). Oh yeah, and shortly after he created Thelema, Aleister was climbing and fell from 40 feet only to survive unscathed, making him think he was Mark Walhberg. So that happened.
He traveled around Britian and the US drumming up interest, mostly amongst a string of religious nutjob slorebags, and eventually founded (with one of his main sausage-wallets) his culminating achievement, the Abbey of Thelema in rural Palermo. It was this wholesomely named establishment that earned him the title, “The Most Evil Man in Britain,” since Tony Blair hadn’t been born yet. I have to stress how effing out there it was to be Aleister Crowley in the teens and twenties. I mean, you may be thinking he’s pretty strange right now, but there is no way to underrepresent the effect of his behavior in England, the most morally conservative country in Western Europe. He was news. He was crazy. He was corrupting the youth and challenging the morals and ideas his country had held for over 300 years FOR NO SEEMINGLY GREATER REASON OTHER THAN HE WANTED TO TAKE DRUG BONE SOME BITCHES AND BE WORSHIPPED.
One of his critics called his religious views and practices “a steaming pile of shite, replete with corpulent flies, buzzing hither and thither.” BUT, his supporters said of him that “Crowley clothed many of his teachings in the thin veil of sensational titillation. By doing so he assured himself that his works would only be appreciated by the few individuals capable of doing so.” Yup, only a few people can appreciate promiscuous sex.
His ‘anti-monastery’/magickkkkkk school at Thelema, where e’rybody did whatever and whoever they wanted, was populated by a bunch of wealthy, gullible, younger children of the English uppercrust who wanted to escape the reality of a war-ravaged Europe, have free sex and drugs disguised as spiritual enlightenment, and be on the forefront of the supposed ‘post-Bloomsbury’ cultural movement (since they were encouraged to write about their feelings after coitus. Like Poetry Orgy Summer Camp!).
But, as with all good things, it was merely a fleeting moment in time, like a season of Mad Men, or Daniel Craig’s beard. While at the Abbey, Aleister fathered at least 2, possibly 3 children by multiple women (none of them his wife who he drove to alcoholism, and that pissed some people off back home). There were rumors that a man had died because of a sacrificial ceremony involving drinking the blood of a cat (what?????), and, of course, petty jealousies and gossip served to fracture the community of believers Crowley had gathered around him. The press had a fieldday with this crap, and called it a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah…. which is pretty apt.
The Italian Prime Minister, you might have heard of him, Benito Mussolini, didn’t like that shit, ’cause he was a fascist and they hate everything, so he kicked the Abbey out in 1923. And to cut what was, in fact, not an exactly a short story short, Aleister got remarried, but kept boning like all these chicks, fathered at least 2 more children on top of the 4 or more attributed to him, became bankrupt after he lost like all these lawsuits (and after he tried to fake his own death), and then became a spy for Ian Fleming (yup) during the WWII. Go figure.
So from devout Chrisitian upbringing, to religious sex zealot; from “Most Evil Man in Britain” to working espionage for the government, I give you Aleister Crowley. Boy, it sure would be hard to top him.
I would like to preface this post with 2 (two) items:
1. Sorry it’s been so long since we’ve posted. We’ve had a lot of real-life shit going on. A lot of moving in & moving out of our respective apartments to do. And at the end of move-in/-out day, your number one priority is usually not to write a pithy li’l essay about historical sex. BUT GUESS THE FUCK WHAT. We’re back, our priorities are just where they should fucking be, and you’re about to reap the rewards. You’re welcome.
2. As you may have noticed, roughly 83% of our posts are about people or events or places that we just fucking adore and always have. This will be one of those posts. I’m an English major of the American nineteenth century persuasion, and the following is sort of my jam. Get over it. My throat is already a little tight.
OKAY. Walter Whitman. Uncle Walt. That’s what I call him in my head. And I will probably call him that for the rest of this post. The bard of the American experience. He of the legendary beard and the namesake of that bridge connecting Philly to south Jersey. Probably the best American poet ever to live. That’s a bold fucking statement, and I meant every word of it. Here’s another bold-ass statement: I don’t even like poetry that’s not Walt Whitman. You’re shocked, I know. I love my Uncle Walt so, so much. Because he’s not just MY Uncle Walt, he’s OUR Uncle Walt. We Americans fucking share this treasure of metaphysical verse.
So if America is a metaphorical family, and we’ve already established Walt as our eccentric, bearded, single uncle…I think you know where I’m going with this.
Walt Whitman is America’s super intellectual, super gay uncle.
Actually, scholars think he was either gay or bi, but there’s really no way to know. It’s not like he was snapping daguerrotypes of his sexploits. “Don’t worry baby, just wanna see how hot we look! But stay still, the exposure takes 20 minutes.” So before we get into this I want to say that it’s really hard to prove who or what someone was doing in the heat of the night through historical evidence. But dammit, I’ll try!
And one more disclaimer: in no way am I trying to suggest that being gay is scandalous. I’m just trying to say that in the 1840s-50s, a public male figure would probably definitely want to keep his homosexuality under wraps so as to avoid a giant shitstorm. Remember that sodomy was a crime punishable by jailtime and often hanging. So to review – being gay: not scandalous. Being gay in a time when you could lose everything including your motherfucking life if your sexual orientation became public: scandalous.
First, let’s contextualize (my favorite pastime). It’s the mid-nineteenth century. Shit’s getting all kinds of fucked up with the whole slavery issue. People are getting caned in the Senate, James Buchanan, God bless him, understandably is having a real fucking hard time keeping shit together, John Brown is orchestrating suicide missions in the name of the North. It’s just a rough time to be American. You’ve got so many feelings. And you just don’t know what to do with them.
Unless you’re a genial Long Islander with legs for days, a pair of misty-ass baby blues, and you go by Walt Whitman. Because then you fucking write beautiful, inspiring, transcendental, metaphysical, what-do-those-words-even-mean-ical verse all over the place. Verse that’s political but also relateable and celebratory. I’m getting a little boner.
And (Northern) people were stepping all up in his shit. Important people. Famous intellectual people, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and my literary heartthrob, Henry David Thoreau. They all agreed that Uncle Walt was really on to something with his emotional, expressive, glorious writing, because people just really weren’t doing that. Poets like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were getting all kinds of popular for fucking pansy-ass poems about Revolution-era blacksmiths and Founding Fathers while Uncle Walt quietly wrote these amazingly personal and bold poems. Sort of how Ke$ha is to Arcade Fire, to use the parlance of our times. People know Arcade Fire, but more people know, thoughtlessly support, and throw money at Ke$ha.
Okay, so most of the people who think Uncle Walt was gay think so because 1) his poetry was really sexy in a time when you didn’t do that shit and 2) he had a longtime male BFF to whom he wrote steamy letters and was totally devoted.
STOP. I know what you’re thinking. “But MRG, from my extensive reading of the canon Uncle Walt’s poetic voice was just so VIRILE, so PATRIOTIC, so AMERICAN! How could he possibly have been gay?” I know that’s not what you were thinking but indulge me.
So boop ba doop, it’s 1866, the war is finally over. But it’s the Reconstruction and people have no fucking idea how to deal with what’s happened. It’s an uncertain time. And much as before, feelings are popping up like lilacs in the dooryard (see what I fucking did???!?!) So Walt is feeling a little lonely, a little old, a little in need of some zest. And let me ask you this, dear readers. What’s fucking zestier than a 21-year-old man in uniform?
Walt met Peter Doyle, a sexy little bus conductor, on a rainy night in DC. Walt stumbled on, a little rainwater dripping from the end of his Gandalf beard, a wet blanket wrapped around his shoulders. They looked longingly at each other and promptly made out. I mean I just made that part up, but Peter later said this about the night he met the love of his life:
“I thought I would go and talk to him. Something in me made me do it. He used to say there was something in me had the same effect on him…We were familiar at once — I put my hand on his knee — we understood. He did not get out at the end of the trip — in fact went all the way back with me.”
I mean FUCK. I don’t know about you but I’m about to ride public transit all day every day.
And this romance had all the makings of a sequel to Romeo & Juliet. Walt was a staunch supporter of the North, his brother had been a Union soldier, and dear Uncle himself worked as an army nurse throughout the war. Peter was a Confederate soldier. Plus they were both dudes. FUCKING STAR-CROSSED STATUS.
Walt and Peter were really fucking in love. Their relationship also had a serious effect on Walt’s writing, mostly because Pete WAS FUCKING THERE when Abe Lincoln got shot, an event that really yucked Walt’s yum for a long time. Using Pete’s description of that event, Walt wrote several poems about Honest Abe who was his hero. And I like to think Uncle Walt had a big ol’ crush on Abe and his death hit hard. Sort of like how I’m not over Heath Ledger yet.
ANYWAY, the most popular of the Lincoln poems is “O Captain! My Captain!,” which aside from inspiring one of the most fucking gut wrenching scenes in film history, was almost definitely also about young Pete, in my professional/totally unsubstantiated opinion.
Wait, MRG. I read that shit in junior year English class. No way that’s about a gay!
SHUT YOUR GODDAMN MOUTH. BECAUSE……
The poem is ostensibly about a captain trying to steer a ship through a fucking monsoon. The Captain is Abe, the ship is America, the storm is slavery/the South/mo money mo problems, blah blah blah you get it. But I bet you didn’t fucking know that Peter Doyle was Irish, and that his family came to the good ol’ US of A by boat through a vicious-ass storm on Good Friday in 1852. Abe Lincoln was shot on Good Friday in 1865. COINCIDENCE? OR SORT OF ADORABLE BEAUTIFUL POETIC DECLARATION OF LOVE & ESTEEM?
I mean I could go on. Their letters to one another are lovely. After a tiff, Walt wrote “I never dreamed that you made so much of having me with you, nor that you should feel so downcast at losing me.” And later he promised Pete “a good smacking kiss, many of them – taking in return many, many from my dear son – good loving ones too.”
Their relationship lasted for decades, and when Walt had a stroke in 1876 and moved to Camden to live with his bro, Pete subsequently and probably not coincidentally became a brakeman on the Pennsylvania railroad (if you’re geography challenged like LHB is, PA and NJ are neighbors). He visited the Whitmans all the time. And then Walt had another stroke in 1888 and lived four more years, during which time his relationship with dear Pete fizzled. When he died in 1892, Walt thought Pete had already died because he hadn’t heard from him in so long. Fuck.
Later, in the aforementioned interview, Pete gave us this fucking gem of a statement. I’m going to go cry while you read it:
“I have Walt’s raglan here. Now and then I put it on, lay down… Then he is with me again… I do not ever for a minute lose the old man. He is always nearby…in a crisis, I ask myself, ‘What would Walt do?’ –and whatever I decide Walt would do, that I do.”
Okay I’m back. I want to know what Walt would do if he was crying like a child alone in his room because the story he’s relating on his humor blog about historical sex is so fucking lovely. That’s what I would like to know.
Anyway, aside from this beautiful, terribly sad, long romance, Walt had about a dozen other well-documented liasons with persons of the male persuasion. Including the biggest big gay in the nineteenth century, Oscar Wilde, who wrote “I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips,” to the second biggest big gay of the nineteenth century, George Cecil Ives. So Uncle Walt was getting his fo sho in a time when the getting was dangerous and difficult. That sounds gross. I mean the actual boning probably wasn’t dangerous or difficult, just the finding someone to bone part.
And once again, I have come to a graceful ending. Anyway, pick up a copy of Leaves of Grass, preferably the Deathbed edition, and fly your rainbow flag high. And celebrate the gayest, manliest, beardedest poet in history.
Emperor Hadrian was one of the most influential leaders of ancient Rome across political, cultural and military spectra. He was also a big gay. But before we talk about his exciting, half-a-decade-long sex scandal (that, ok, I’ll admit it, wasn’t really that scandalous), let’s talk about why he was one of history’s best gays.
He was enormously successful in expanding the Roman Empire through his military prowess. He was a Grecophile, and was not ashamed to learn from Greek cultural achievements and use them to strengthen his own empire. He is most remembered for his architectural and artistic contributions to Roman culture.
He was the adoptive son of Emperor Trajan and was pegged as his heir from a young age. The two apparently had nothing in common, except a love of young boys. It is speculated by some that Hadrian and Trajan may have been lovers, but that’s probably bull. Regardless, they were both into dudes.
But Hadrian had to get married, because that’s what people who are being groomed for emperor have to do. So naturally, Trajan picked a 13 year old girl named Sabina. I know what you’re all thinking, 13 years old, not too young for marriage in AD 100 something. Well guess again. That was still pretty weird. Even for the Romans. So they got married. And shocker! They didn’t like each other. Probably because Hadrian was gay and Sabina was too busy chatting on AIM with her girlfriends and painting her nails to pay attention to him. Needless to say, they didn’t do much boning.
And why would they when Hadrian had his dreamy favorite, the young, Greek boy Antinous to do. Antinous was in training to become some sort of civil servant/fancy slave boy when he instantly caught Hadrian’s eye and he remained his favorite (lay) for at least 5 years.
This was a looong time in gay years.
See, Hadrian subscribed to many Greek cultural ideologies. And the Greeks believed that love between a man and a boy was the purest kind of love there is. (Women had cooties.) But as soon as the boy started to look like a man, it was time to get the hell outa dodge and as soon as the man started getting old, it was definitely time to call it quits. But Hadrian was with Antinous when he was middle aged, so maybe it wasn’t just about being Greek-ish for Hadrian. Maybe he really loved the guy.
But let’s not get all emotional and crap. Because shit’s about to get real. While sailing down the Nile during some sort of seasonal festival, Antinous drowned under mysterious as shit circumstances. He is rumored to have been the victim of a murderous court plot by bitches who were jealous of his relationship with the emperor. It is also possible that he committed suicide as a sacrifice to the gods.
Hadrian was pretty upset about the whole thing. And who wouldn’t be? Have you seen a picture of this guy? He was a tooootal babe! Actually you probably have seen a sculpture of him because there are more statues of him in existence than, get this, ANYONE in antiquity. Hadrian had Antinous deified after his death and then started cranking out sculptures of his ass like he was Jupiter or something.
Like too many of our stories, this one also ends sadly. I suppose it is quite a shame that Antinous had to die such a tragic death in order that we might enjoy his finely sculpted (literally) body in centuries to come. But as you can tell by our photo captions, we’re not too upset about it.
Well, folks, it’s that time again. We’ve brought you stories of turn of the century Ireland and racist America and now it’s time to turn to Old Hollywood. Actors and actresses, poets and intellectuals of the post Great War era were really into having sex. And generally not with people they were married to.
Today, we’ll turn to one of the most overlooked lesbian sexual adventurers of the Old Hollywood era. Actually, she was one of the only out-of-the-closet-and-proud-of-it Lesbian socialites around in the 1920s and 1930s. So good for her! Am I right?! Anyway, we’re talking about the Cuban/Spanish-American playwright and intellectual Mercedes de Acosta. I suppose it really isn’t fair to call her a sexual adventurer, because while she did have relationships with a lot of famous actresses, she did fall pretty hard for her most famous lover, Greta Garbo. She was on again off again with the silent film star for a really long time, like almost 15 years.
But before Greta were three of old Hollywood’s most adored pretty ladies. The first two weren’t that famous and you’ve probably never heard of them. Alla Nazimova and Tallulah Bankhead were their names. The third was the first really important modernist dancer of the 20th century, Isadora Duncan. She was really well-known for her use of long, flowy scarves in her dancing. And even more famous for the freak-accident involving a scarf and a car door that culminated in her (comically?) ironic death. (Was that wrong? I’m sort of sorry.) She was also famous for embarking on a number of adventurous sexcapades. In fact, it was our research into Isadora Duncan that led us to the tantalizing subject of this post because before the whole scarf debacle, she had a steamy affair with the far more scandalous Mercedes.
After Mercedes married Abram Poole in 1920, she started having affairs left and right with Hollywood starlets, writers, dancers, and pretty much anyone in that swanky 1920s/30s scene. You know the type. Notables include Edith Wharton, Pola Negri (wife to designer First-name-not-important Valentino), ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina, the supposed greatest stage actress of the 20th century, Katharine Cornell, and get this…Marlene Deitrich. Yeah. Girl got what was hers. (According to my favorite reliable resource, wikipedia, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein’s long time partner, was not a fan of Mercedes, but admitted that she’d be hard to get rid of since she was intimately acquainted with the most important women in the US — Garbo and Deitrich.)
Most magical of her numerous affairs was by far her long and rocky relationship with Greta Garbo, who she called the love of her life. It was apparently miss fancy-pants Garbo who called the shots in their relationship and would go months without writing, driving Mercedes a little crazy. Greta finally called the whole thing off after almost 15 years in 1944.
But here’s where shit got scandalous.
Dying of a brain tumor and hurting for cash, Mercedes wrote an autobiography in 1960 called Here Lies the Heart in which she told about all of her affairs with famous women from back in the day. But these ladies were still around and they were not so into broadcasting the lesbian relationships of their past. And she lost a lot of friends. And by a lot, I mean all of them. Everyone stopped talking to her. People wouldn’t buy her book. She died poor and alone at the age of 75.
But she died a proud lesbian, which is what she sort of stood for throughout her whole life. And good for her, because she spent most of her young, scandalous life dealing with a bunch of pussies who couldn’t get their shit together for long enough to even approach the threshold of the closet.
So good for you, Mercedes. Garbo can suck it. Am I right?