Historical Homos is a London-based Instagram blog and publication dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ history.
Developed by Sebastian and Lucy Hendra, a brother-sister creative team based between NYC and London, Historical Homos aims to make the legacy of history’s greatest LGBTQ figures more visible in popular culture.
I caught up with Sebastian and Lucy to talk about their ‘no-fucks-given’ guide to history’s greatest homos.
What was the initial inspiration for establishing Historical Homos?
Historical Homos was born out of two simple observations. Firstly, LGBTQ people have been around since the beginning of time, irrespective of how we wish to label them. Secondly, the history of LGBTQ people has largely been written by, for, and within heteronormative societies. As a result, these great figures are received as great historical figures, rather than as what we like to call them – Great Queers of Yesteryear.
It also has the absurd effect of making LGBTQ History a niche subject, when in fact the queerness of the Great Yesterqueers is part of what makes them great. As a gay man and a straight woman running this project, we’re proof that this history matters to allies as much as it does to those who identify as LGBTQ.
We also just think the LGBTQ community, known for its creativity and joie de vivre, deserves a more celebratory approach to its history. That’s why we say we’re no-fucks-given – we use humour, art, and good storytelling to make this immense legacy more accessible, more visible, and more stimulating. That doesn’t mean making stuff up, but it also means operating outside the limitations of academic writing and methodology.
Many people we’ve met in the past year have confirmed that it feels fairly joyless to read through most histories of homosexuality and queer people. Persecution, alienation, oppression—these seem always to be the name of the game.
But our legacy also includes some of the most fabulous characters in human history. We wanted to turn people’s attention to the brighter side of humanity’s LGBTQ past, and show people that the narrative of queer history is nowhere near as uniformly depressing as most people think. Horrible things were done, but great lives and deeds always existed alongside them. Just as today!
Every land and every era has dealt with its queers in its own queer way.
How do you decide which queer people from history to feature?
We’re discovering this history as our readers discover it. We’re not academics. We don’t have a final say. We share anything worthwhile that we come across.
In the beginning, that tended to be big names, like Sappho and Marlene Dietrich and Oscar Wilde, but the lesser known homos are often some of the most fascinating!
There tends to be a Western skew, unfortunately, as we have limited research abilities in other languages, and limited expertise in certain periods and geographies.
However, we’re currently working with more writers and researchers to bring some of that expertise into the fold.
Our mission is to deliver readers the global legacy of history’s LGBTQ community, so we want to do better than rehash names everyone knows or simply regurgitate a who’s who of the Western canon.
Ultimately, the only thing that matters to us in terms of criteria is – can we tell a good story about the queer in question? If we can, then they’re in.
Who are some of your favourite Historical Homos?
It’s always delicious to uncover a little titbit about someone big — we recently wrote about Abraham Lincoln and one of his bodyguards, who might have guarded Abe’s heart better than his body.
It’s also fun to knock big names around because it dimensionalizes them with a human element. Something sexuality does uniquely well.
Plato, for example, was clearly a raging homo. Julius Caesar apparently bottomed for the sake of diplomacy. Virginia Woolf was not only a lesbian-leaning bisexual, but also a huge fag hag.
We also love mythical, legendary, and fictional homos – King David and his beloved Jonathan from the Bible, also Apollo and Poseidon, Greek gods who fell for a boy or two.
Sometimes the great figures aren’t even the homos – there was a woman who ran a ‘molly house’ in early 18th century London, which was like a gay pub for working and middle class homosexual men, and her name was Mother Clap – hilarious! Then you read about all the names the mollies used to call each other – Princess or Mary – something gay men and drag queens still do today!
Have there been any historical figures that have really surprised you as you researched them?
We’re never really surprised. The fundamental premise of our research is rarely contradicted – queer people have been around forever. It’s just a matter of time before new evidence surfaces.
But some stories have tripped us up, because they contradict expectation – which probably says more about our prejudices than the figures in question.
For example, coming across traditions of homosexuality and homoeroticism in Islamic cultures was rather unexpected. Poets and politicians who loved boys are well documented from the Golden Age of Islam in the 700s AD to Safavid Persia in the 1500s.
What is sadly unsurprising and immensely frustrating is the lack of evidence for lesbianism. It’s just very difficult to come across clearly, unless we hear about it through male filters. But we know it’s there – on Greek pottery and in Roman brothel paintings, in reports of nuns diddling each other in early monasteries, on Japanese erotica, and in many mythological and classical tales from Egypt to China.
The trick is to imagine what might have been. You can extrapolate an entire universe from the smallest detail. Just because something isn’t clearly in the record doesn’t, mean it never existed.
Giving people the confidence to imagine a queer past that has only left traces is also part of our aspiration for Historical Homos.
Are there any Historical Homos that you wouldn’t want to feature?
In principle, there’s no one we shy away from, but we have gotten some really nasty reactions to a few.
We did a Halloween feature about Jeffrey Dahmer, and people still comment on it – complaining that we’re ‘glorifying’ his life by writing about him.
Ernst Röhm, the self-hating Nazi homo, is another doozy we’re working on, but trying to find the right time to feature.
People automatically assume that we’re honouring people, but to us it’s equally fascinating to highlight difficult figures in the history of homos.
You can’t get around the plain fact that even our heroes like Virginia Woolf and Plato and so on weren’t perfect – they’re all problematic when viewed from a modern perspective.
What are some of your goals and aspirations for the months ahead?
More homos. More art. More dick jokes.
We’re already working on our next book, which we hope to crowdfund with a Kickstarter in April 2019.
We’re planning new kinds of events with people in London and California, including live shows and pop-up queer history exhibits.
We’re talking about producing a podcast, a short web series, and a shorter-form zine.
We’ve got tons of ideas and even more energy.
Most of all, we want to reach more people and spread the word about what we’re doing. Both so that more people see it, and so we can get more artists, writers, researchers, and amateur enthusiasts helping us to produce this content.
Specifically this year, we want to catch people while they’re listening to everyone talk about LGBTQ history for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
We want to make sure everyone sees the full richness of the LGBTQ community’s history – from Hadrian’s Wall to Stonewall, and so much more!