The theme for LGBT+ History Month for 2018 is “Geography: Mapping the World”. For this reason, I would like to keep with that theme in celebration of Australia’s recent vote of ‘Yes’ to same-sex marriage. Since LGBT+ History Month is about learning and celebration, I thought it would interesting to dive into origins, movements and history across the world.
Origin of ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’
tl;dr version – The term ‘gay’ has French origins, meaning ‘happy’ or ‘carefree’. In the 17th century, ‘carefree’ became associated with immorality and indulgence. This then evolved into referencing prostitutes or promiscuous men in the 19th century, so it was common to refer to a modern day ‘playboy’ as ‘gay’ because he had encounters with a lot of women. But in the 1920’s ‘gay’ was meant to have transformed to cover a male who slept with anyone, regardless of their gender identity.
In the 1950’s the term ‘gay’ was officially added to the dictionary in reference to a male who has relations with people of the same sex.
The origin of ‘lesbian’ being a term for women who have relations with people of the same sex is pretty simple. It is the home of a Greek writer, Sappho, who wrote a lot about the sexual relations of women. Her home was Lesbos in Greece, so apparently, it is in reference to this.
Sexuality Throughout History
It’s well known that Ancient Greek and Romans were accepting of homosexuality. But it was actually quite common for other Ancient cultures to see same-sex relationships as a-okay. There has been artwork from China, Egypt, India and Muslim majority countries depicting these relationships. But the interesting thing for me is that quite a few Ancient cultures had a ‘third gender’, as societal gender roles were much more prevalent. South Asian cultures have used the term ‘hijra’ to mean someone who is either intersex, transgender or a eunuch (used in a similar way to the modern term ‘non-binary’).
It has been thought that as religious doctrines grew in popularity and their teachings were interpreted, homosexuality became less acceptable. Under Christian leadership, The Roman Empire makes homosexuality punishable by death, in the 4th century… It kinda goes downhill from there, to be honest.
Interesting side note: Homosexuality has always been legal in Turkey (~98% is Muslim).
I’ve found this a thought-provoking read into “Religion and Homosexuality“: It discusses the history of religion and sexuality – it doesn’t include non-binary in the narrative though.
Looking back at the last 100 years
On a more personal note, I feel really privileged to have been able to grow up surrounded by people who were willing to let me learn about the LGBT+ community from a young age. I’m really fortunate to be able to live in a country where I have a voice and the freedom to discuss topics like this. But unfortunately, there is still discrimination against the community as a whole. We all can contribute to changing the attitudes of the people in our lives, this includes ourselves. I really enjoyed doing research for this article and want to carry on making a difference, in my own little way.
Sources: Geography of homosexuality Tiled imagery (4 images - from top left): Depiction of Ardhanarishvara - Androgynous depiction of Shiva and his consort Depiction of Abu Zayd and al-Harith - 13th Century story from The Tales of al-Hariri Depiction (cleaned up) of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum’s tomb art - Burial tomb found in the 1960's Nude youth plays for a banqueter ~400BC