Category Archives: History

Gay History: John F. Kennedy Had A Gay Best Friend Who Even Had His Own Room At The White House

The book “Jack and Lem: John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship,” details the extraordinary relationship between two unlikely friends.

JFK, or ‘Jack’ as he was known by his close friends and family, had a gay best friend named Lem Billings, who he met in prep school when Kennedy was 15 and Lem was 16.

The pair became the best of friends who wrote letters to each other when they were apart, traveled to Europe together and were so close that Joseph Kennedy Sr. thought of Billings as another son, according to GregInHollywood.

The book details JFK’s angry reaction to Lem after he made a sexual advance towards him, saying: “I’m not that kind of boy.” But this misunderstanding did not end the duo’s relationship.

Writes GregInHollywood:

From the time he and Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings met at Choate, until the President’s assassination thirty years later, they remained best friends.

Lem was a virtual fixture in the Kennedy family who even had his own room at the White House.

The book about their friendship draws on hundreds of letters and telegrams between the two, Billings’s oral history and interviews with family and friends like Ben Bradlee, Gore Vidal, and Ted Sorensen.

It was a friendship that endured despite an era of rampant homophobia.

Billings was a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School and was an advertising executive at the Manhattan advertising firm Lennen & Newell. He put his business career on hold to work on Kennedy’s campaign for president.

Bradlee says in the book: “I suppose it’s known that Lem was gay….It impressed me that Jack had gay friends.”

Billings obviously never came out but did once say: “Jack made a big difference in my life. Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married.”

Kenneth Hill of WoolfAndWilde, conducted a fascinating interview with David Pitts, the author of ‘Jack and Lem’, to uncover some more details about the extraordinary relationship between the two unlikely friends:
Kenneth Hill: How would you characterize the friendship between JFK and Lem Billings?

David Pitts: The way I would characterize it is that is was a very close, deep, friendship across sexual orientation lines.

KH: You said that this was the story of a friendship that crossed sexual orientation lines, which I think is really an interesting element of it, but talk a little bit about the depth of this friendship. The fact that it started when they were very young and, from what I read in the book, they were basically inseparable for the rest of their lives except when circumstances had them in distant cities.

DP: Yes, indeed. I think there were a number of elements to it. First of all, there were a series of bonding events early on. One was the fact that they both hated that school [Choate] in which they met. And were engaged in all kinds of pranks which almost got them expelled twice. That was obviously a bonding phenomenon. Secondly, they roomed together for part of the time at the school.

Thirdly, and I think this is really important, John Kennedy was so sick most of his life, far earlier than when most people think, including when he was at Choate, and Lem was the person at boarding school — his mother and father did not come to the school when he was ill; Lem was there. Lem was the person who was always there for him and took care of him. And then fourthly, there was the two month trip to Europe that they took, just before WWII in 1937, just the two Americans at that pivotal time, I think that was obviously a very strong bonding event.

And then over and above these issues, I would say this — and this is kind of a complicated thought because we really don’t have language to express these kinds of relationships — and that is, I’m firmly convinced after working on this book that John Kennedy’s sexual interests were in women. We don’t need much evidence of that, the evidence is all over the place. But his strongest emotional attachments were to men — and principally, to Lem. We don’t have a word for that, right? Somebody who prefers the opposite gender for sexuality, and the same gender for deep, emotional attachments.

KH: We don’t really have a word for that. I guess “man’s man” used to sort of mean that, but JFK took it so much further in a way because he loved being around men, he knew some men were attracted to him and even seemed to enjoy it. He liked the stimulation of those relationships, there was nothing sexual about it, but there was something about that male-male dynamic that fed him.

DP: I think that’s exactly right. There was one reviewer who wrote, “What’s the big deal here? This guy’s writing that JFK was comfortable with gay men, so big deal, we all knew that.” But of course it’s not the fact that he had a friend named Lem Billings who was gay. This was the closest person in all the world to him outside of his family for 30 years. He wasn’t just “a gay friend” on the side.

KH: One of the very surprising facts that comes out in this book is that Lem had his own room at the White House?

 Yes, that’s one of the revelations in the book that’s really surprising. And actually some of the people who were working in the White House very close to JFK didn’t know it. For example, Ted Sorensen whom I interviewed for the book, perhaps the closest aide to JFK, saw Lem around the White House all the time, but he told me he didn’t know that he’d had his own room there and was staying there so much of the time. But yeah, that’s another indication of the depth of the attachment.

One thing I was intent on doing when I wrote this book, because I thought it would be open to various forms of attack, is that I never went beyond what the documents said. The book is a lot of quotes from documents, or that interviewees said. This friendship might have contained a lot of things that I wasn’t able to find out because I didn’t want to enter the area of speculation.

 It seems without a doubt that Lem was in love with JFK. But it’s never stated explicitly because you don’t have any record of his ever saying that.

 No, I think the closest … I mean, these were more sedate times, especially where homosexuality is concerned. Even in the various documents, Lem is never overt in his statements. But there was one statement from one of the documents, and I have it in front of me here, that I think is just expresses his feelings. Here’s the quote: “Jack made a big difference in my life. Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married.”

This is somewhat of a difficult thought as well, but I think gay people had a way back then of telegraphing to future generations what their feelings were that they could not express candidly at the time. And anybody who reads some of these words today would have no doubt what Lem’s feelings were, but in the context of that time it was not obviously understood.


Gay History: Sodomy; The Law in England, 1290-1885

There was no royal or parliamentary law against homosexual activity in England until 1533, but a number of medieval legal sources do discuss “sodomy:.

Fleta, xxxviii.3: Those who have dealings with Jews or Jewesses, those who commit bestiality, and sodomists, are to be buried alive after legal proof that they were atken in the act, and public conviction” 

[Fleta, seu Commentarius Juris Anglicani, (London: 1735), as trans in Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, (London: Longmans, Green, 1955), 145] 

Bailey notes that it is improbable that the penalty or burial alive was ever inflicted in medieval times [although Tacitus refers to it among ancient Germans in Germania 12].

Britton, i.10: “Let enquiry also be made of those who feloniously in time of peace have burnt other’s corn or houses, and those who are attainted thereof shall be burnt, so that they might be punished in like manner as they have offended. The same sentence shall be passed upon sorcerers, sorceresses, renegades, sodomists, and heretics publicly convicted” 

[Britton, ed. F.M. Nichols, (Oxford: 1865), Vol 1:41-42 and Bailey, 146]

Bailey notes that this implies a process in which ecclesiastical courts made the charges and convictions and the state put them into effect. There do not seem, however, to have been serious efforts made to put theory into practice. The preamble to the 1533 Law seems to make this clear.

25 Henry VIII. C6

Le Roy le veult
“Forasmuch as there is not yet sufficient and condign punishment appointed and limited by the due course of the Laws of this Realm for the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind of beast: It may therefore please the King’s Highness with the assent of the Lords Spiritual and the Commons of this present parliament assembled, that it may be enacted by the authority of the same, that the same offence be from henceforth ajudged Felony and that such an order and form of process therein to be used against the offenders as in cases of felony at the Common law. And that the offenders being herof convict by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realme. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy, And that Justices of the Peace shall have power and authority within the limits of their commissions and Jurisdictions to hear and determine the said offence, as they do in the cases of other felonies. This Act to endure till the last day. of the next Parliament” 

[Bailey, 147-148, and H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970) [British title: The Other Love

Note that the law only ran until the end of the next Parliament. The law was reenacted three times, and then in 1541 it was enacted to continue in force for ever. In 1547, Edward VI’s first Parliament repealed all felonies created in the last reign [I Edw. VI. C.12]. In 1548 the provisions of the 1533 Act were given new force, with minor amendments – the penalty remained death, but goods and lands were not forfeit, and the rights of wives and heirs were safeguarded. Mary’s accession brought about the repeal of all Edward’s acts in 1548 [1 Mar c.1]. It was not until 1563, that Elizabeth I’s second Parliament reenacted the law [5 Eliz I. C.17] and the law of 1533 (not 1548) were given permanent force. 

In 1828, the statute of 1563 was revoked by a consolidating act, but the death penalty was retained. In 1861 life imprisonment, or a jail time of at least ten years, was substituted for the death penalty. All these laws were against buggery, and indeed the law of 1828 had discussed matters of proof in terms of penetration. Note that other sexual activities were not specifically criminalised.

In 1885 Mr. Labouchere introduced an amendment to the Criminal Amendment Act of 1885. It read:-

48&49 Vict. c.69, 11: “Any male person who, in public or private, commits or is party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour” 

So for the first time private acts were brought under the scope of the law, as were acts other than anal penetration. This became the famous blackmailer’s charter, and was the law used to convict Oscar Wilde.

[for all the above see Bailey 145-152]

It was the Act of 1533, then, which first made buggery an offense under English criminal law. This law survived in various forms England until 1967, although it was amended in 1861 to substitute life imprisonment for the penalties of death and forfeiture of property. 

But the direct effects of this law were not restricted to England. Because of England’s success as a colonial power, and its tendency to impose its entire legal structure on the ruled areas, legal prohibitions against homosexual activity derived from this law extended well outside England. In Scotland, for instance, (which has a separate legal system) the law was not changed until 1979. In many American states “sodomy” laws are still on the books, as also in former British colonies in the Caribbean.

The original document of 1533 survives – select the link for a a jpg image

[ref. H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970)


Over Forty Years Later, Disagreement About Disco Demolition Night

Disco vinyl smolders in center field at Comiskey Park. (Fred Jewell/AP)

On July 12, 1979, 48,000 fans packed Chicago’s Comiskey Park for Disco Demolition Night. Some spectators went out of control.

“They got really, I would say, violent,” says Darlene Jackson, who was 10 years old when the White Sox held Disco Demolition Night. “It was so primal and tribal.”

Jackson was jolted as she watched the postgame news reports.

Darlene Jackson (left) and her mother at WBEZ in 1978. Jackson had won 2nd place in a radio writing competition. (Courtesy Darlene Jackson)

“I remember sitting in our living room — we had green carpeting — and sitting on the floor,” Jackson says. “And my dad in the background saying, ‘These people have lost their minds.’ ”  

In recent years, some have said Disco Demolition Night had a dark side, a side many didn’t see — or didn’t want to see – 40 years ago.

Veeck’s Big Idea

In the late ’70s, the Chicago White Sox were owned by Bill Veeck. Veeck was famous for his creative promotions, including a pyrotechnic scoreboard and a shower near Comiskey’s center field bleachers. But in 1979, neither fireworks nor personal hygiene drew hordes of fans.

“We were not doing well,” says Bill’s son, Mike Veeck .

In 1979, Mike Veeck was the White Sox’s assistant business manager and promotion director. At the season midpoint, the White Sox were 35–45. The team was drawing fewer than 10,000 fans per game. The poor attendance called for more creatively extreme measures.

While the Sox struggled, disco was at the peak of its popularity. It was everywhere — in movies, nightclubs, clothing shops and on the radio. The genre had grown far beyond its more obscure beginnings in the mid-’70s as a dance club phenomenon especially popular with African Americans, Latinos and the gay community. But in 1979, there was a growing backlash against disco, particularly at one Chicago radio station.

“I caught wind of a guy named Steve Dahl blowing up disco records,” Mike Veeck says.

Steve Dahl had lost his job spinning rock records when the radio station he worked for changed to an all-disco format. He quickly found another job at another rock station. But he was still angry.

“And every morning, I would play a disco record,” Dahl says. “I’d run the needle across the record. And then I would have an explosion — like, blowing up the record.”

(Just to be clear, Dahl’s talking about explosion sound effects. The real explosions would come later.)

Dahl started holding “Death to Disco” rallies at nightclubs. He even hit the airwaves with his own 45 single, a parody of Rod Stewart’s disco mega-hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

“Rod Stewart, The Stones, a lot of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll acts were putting out disco records,” Dahl says. “I think that there was a feeling of disenfranchisement by the kids wearing the blue jeans and the rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts.”

Dahl’s appeal to his growing fan base was too much for Veeck to resist.

“Steve was doing his 6:00 to 10:00  [a.m.] shift, and at 10:05, I’m standing at the door of the studio going, ‘Let me in. I got an idea,’ ” Veeck says, knocking on the table.

Veeck presented his idea for a Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. It would take place between games of a twi-night doubleheader against the Tigers on July 12. Admission would be just 98 cents for customers who brought in a disco record. Dahl agreed to give it a spin. Veeck had no idea what the promotion would turn into.

The First Game

Early on the morning of July 12, Mike Veeck met with a group of off-duty Chicago police who would be working security.

“And I told them in the morning meeting what we thought the estimated attendance would be,” Veeck says. “I told ’em we were gonna have 35,000 people. They thought that was hilarious.”

But by 4 o’clock that afternoon, about that many had lined up outside Comiskey.

Andrew Brown was one of them. He was there on an outing with his Cub Scout den.

“I was 10 and a massive baseball fan,” Andrew says. “This is my first double header. This was a big deal.”

Andrew and his fellow Cub Scouts entered Comiskey Park. He says he paid little mind to banners hanging from the upper deck that read “Disco sucks!” He was too excited about the baseball and the hot dogs he’d soon be eating in the outfield picnic area. It was a 10-year-old’s dream.

But when he made his way to his seat along the first base side, Andrew noticed that something was very different.

“The place was really crowded,” Andrew says. “I mean, really crowded. There were no empty seats.”

“And clearly a lot of people who were not there for the baseball,” says David Brown, Andrew’s older brother. He was there, too. “A lot of young guys in concert T-shirts.”

“… when Steve rode in on his Jeep, the electricity picked up several volts.”


“When the game actually started, I was working the seats,” says Dave Gaborek, who was a teenager selling soda pop that night. As the first game began, he noticed that not all of the paying customers had left their disco records in boxes at the gates, as they were supposed to do.

“They were just throwing records periodically on the field,” Gaborek says. “Kids were whipping them out of the upper deck. So it was starting to become a little mayhem-ish.”

But Dave Gaborek and everyone else in attendance hadn’t seen anything yet. In the bottom of the ninth of the first game, chants of “disco sucks” almost drowned out the sounds of baseball.

The White Sox lost the first game. And as the teams prepared for the second, DJ Steve Dahl took the field in a military Jeep. He wore a helmet and army fatigues.

“And when Steve rode in on his Jeep, the electricity picked up several volts,” Veeck says. “We went from 120 immediately to 220.”

The Jeep stopped in center field. Dahl grabbed a microphone and whipped the crowd of about 48,000 into a frenzy.

“Since I didn’t think anybody was going to be there, I had no prepared remarks,” Dahl says. “So I just yelled stuff.”

The Veeck’s motto had always been “Fun is good.” But Dahl’s tone was not fun. He led a chant of “Disco sucks.”

“And we’re never gonna let ‘em forget it!” he shouted. “They’re not gonna shove it down our throats! We rock ‘n’ rollers will resist, and we will triumph!”

From there, Dahl directed attention to a large box in center field. It was full of some of the disco records that had been collected at the gates. Then someone lit a fuse.

There was a huge explosion.   

“And records went everywhere, and parts of the box caught on fire,” Dahl says.

“It was a hot night, and the wind wasn’t really blowing,” Andrew Brown says. “And so, this almost smog or smoke just settled on the field and gave it, sort of, this surreal aspect to it.”

When the smoke cleared a bit, the damage became evident.

“I do remember it taking out a good portion of center field,” David Brown says. “I mean, there was a huge crater after this was done.”

‘Hell Broke Loose’

Dahl hopped into the Jeep. 

“We kind of went around the stadium once on the warning track, and people were throwing cherry bombs and beer at us,” Dahl says. “And those were the people that liked us. Went out through the centerfield gate.”

“And at that point, hell broke loose — people were on the field racing around, disco records flying,” David Brown says.

“I remember looking over to my right and seeing a guy slide down the foul pole from the upper deck,” Andrew Brown says. “And that’s where I was kind of like, ‘Whoa.’ “ 

“People jumping from the center field bleachers,” Mike Veeck says. “[It] was a 40-foot drop at old Comiskey. It was safe to say that I had probably mistaken what was going to happen next.”

As Dahl made his way back to the press box, he had no idea what was going on. But Dave Gaborek saw the whole thing.

“This kid — maybe 19 or 20, real long hair down his back — he ran across the outfield, and he slid into second base,” Gaborek says. “And he picked up the bag, and he started waving it around. And then that caused an avalanche of all the kids just running on the field and burning banners.”

(Fred Jewell/AP)

An estimated 7,000 people took the field.

“Yeah, I think Mike Veeck will tell you that they were underestimated in terms of security,” says, Dave Hoekstra, another of Chicago’s many DavesHe’s the author of “Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died.”

He watched as team officials took the field. One of them was Sox owner Bill Veeck, who used a wooden leg as the result of a war injury.

“And poor Bill Veeck’s walking around the field trying to get all these kids to calm down,” Hoekstra says. “He’s walking around in his peg leg, and his peg leg gets stuck in a piece of sod, you know? And he can’t move his peg leg out of the sod. But they just couldn’t control the crowd. It got too many people on the field to control.”

Some pulled up turf in centerfield and fanned the flames that were already consuming small piles of disco vinyl. With the chaos raging all around them, the umpiring crew and team officials discussed whether the field had been rendered unplayable.

“I distinctly remember Sparky Anderson, who was the manager of the Tigers, coming out to talk to the umpires,” David Brown says. “I could read his lips — basically saying, ‘How in the heck are we going to get the second game underway … or even played?’ “

(Fred Jewell/AP)

“Then they got the riot police out there and then the mounted police came in on horses,” Gaborek says.

“The Chicago police rolled in, and nobody’s gonna stand in their way,” Andrew Brown says. “So they got the field cleared.”

But the White Sox had to forfeit the second game. It was just the fourth forfeiture in modern MLB history.

Questioning Disco Demolition Night

Bill Veeck sold the team in 1981, and Mike was out of baseball for 10 years. He says Disco Demolition Night played a part in that.

But that’s not where the story ends. Because more people are now questioning the ideological underpinnings of Disco Demolition Night. Mike Veeck calls this “revisionist history.”

“That angers me,” Veeck says. “It had simply to do with choosing between rock ‘n’ roll and disco and dance clubs.”

“It was a little bit deeper than, ‘We’re just having a good time,’ ” Darlene Jackson says.

Today, she’s also known as “DJ Lady D.” She’s a well-known house music DJ in Chicago. She was 10 years old on Disco Demolition Night. Her favorite music then was disco. And when she saw the news reports featuring images of Steve Dahl in a military outfit, “Disco sucks!” banners, white rioters and smoldering piles of vinyl, she heard a message.

Darlene Jackson spinning at Chicago’s Grant Park. (Courtesy Darlene Jackson)

“I think part of what Steve tapped into was a little bit of this unspoken transcript, that, ‘This is the music of black people, of gay people, of Latino people — and we should not accept it. We should not try to be a part of it,’ ” Jackson says. “And so that’s why people perceive it as a homophobic and a racist event. The unspoken transcript, a lot of us heard it.”

“I understand now that there was an underground gay disco scene and all, but we were unaware of all of that,” Dahl says.

“You know, we were unaware of the origins of it. We basically joined the timeline at Saturday Night Fever and Studio 54. And that was 40 years ago. Things were just different.”

“I don’t believe I’m a racist, and I am not a homophobe,” Dahl adds. “And, you know, it’s fairly Kafkaesque in that I don’t exactly know how to explain my way out of something that I didn’t think in the first place. You know?”

Jackson says one simple gesture would go a long way: an apology.

“I think that that would be a step in the right direction,” she says. “I think people will respect that.”

But instead of apologizing, the White Sox last month celebrated Disco Demolition Night’s 40th anniversary. There were commemorative T-shirts — and Steve Dahl threw out the first pitch.

But he says he’s now aware of why some feel Disco Demolition Night was an affront.

Steve Dahl throwing out the first pitch before a White Sox game on June 13. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/AP)

“I understand it, and I’m sorry if that’s caused you harm or has hurt you in some way,” Dahl says. “That’s about all I can do.”

Dahl has trademarked the phrase “Disco Demolition.” So what if someone asked him to do another Disco Demolition Night today? 

“You know, I would say, ‘I don’t know. That doesn’t seem like a good idea,’ ” Dahl says. “Because, I mean, based on all that knowledge that I have now of how it affects people and upsets people and whatnot, it doesn’t seem cool, I guess.”

“Disco is an awesome music,” Jackson says. “It espouses love, and it has a lot of energy. And why would anybody hate it?”


Gay History: J. Edgar Hoover: Gay or Just a Man Who Has Sex With Men?

J. Edgar Hoover led a deeply repressed sexual life, living with his mother until he was 40, awkwardly rejecting the attention of women and pouring his emotional, and at times, physical attention on his handsome deputy at the FBI, according to the new movie, “J. Edgar,” directed by Clint Eastwood.

Filmgoers never see the decades-long romance between the former FBI director, and his number two, Clyde Tolson, consummated, but there’s plenty of loving glances, hand-holding and one scene with an aggressive, long, deep kiss.

So was the most powerful man in America, who died in 1972 — three years after the Stonewall riots marked the modern gay civil rights movement — homosexual?

Eastwood admits the relationship between Hoover, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer, is ambiguous.

“He was a man of mystery,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week. “He might have been [gay]. I am agnostic about it. I don’t really know and nobody really knew.”

In public, Hoover waged a vendetta against homosexuals and kept “confidential and secret” files on the sex lives of congressmen and presidents. But privately, according to some biographers, he had numerous trysts with men, including a lifelong affair with Tolson.

Dissociation — denying homosexuality, but displaying sexual behavior — is “not uncommon,” according to Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who is an expert in gender and sexuality.

Men with strong attractions to other men can have different degrees of acceptance from being fully closeted to being openly gay. And even if they are homosexually self-aware, they can embrace it or reject it publicly.

“We confuse sexual orientation with sexual identity,” said Drescher. “Some men do not publicly identify as gay, regardless of their sexual behavior.”

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks a group that is not labeled “gay” but “men who have sex with men.

Roy Cohn, the lawyer who served as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his anti-communist campaign of the 1950s and who successfully convicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of espionage, denied he was gay, despite an attraction to men.

Cohn, who died of AIDS in 1986, was a contemporary of Hoover and according to one biography, the two attended sex parties together in New York in the 1950s.

Cohn was characterized in a scene from Tony Kuschner’s play, “Angels in America,” speaking to his doctor: “…you are hung up on words, on labels, that you believe they mean what they seem to mean. AIDS. Homosexual. Gay. Lesbian. You think these are names that tell you who someone sleeps with, but they don’t tell you that … Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who f****s around with guys.”

Hoover’s degree of self-awareness may have been the same as Cohn’s. Despite his same-sex dalliances, he occasionally sought a “Mrs. Hoover” and even courted — albeit uncomfortably — actress Ginger Rogers’ mother and actress Dorothy Lamour.

Hoover and his constant companion for decades, Clyde Tolson. Getty Images

Hoover’s neuroses were likely rooted in childhood: He was ashamed of his mentally ill father and was dependent on his morally righteous mother, Annie, well into middle age. Until her death in 1938, Hoover had no social life outside the office.

In the film, Annie chastises her powerful son as he wilted before some of his FBI critics, telling him, “I’d rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son.”

In a 2004 biography by Richard Hack, “Puppetmaster,” which was culled from the notes of Truman Capote, who had begun interviews on Hoover and Tolson’s relationship, the author says Hoover was not gay, but suggests the man was vicariously turned on by the smut he collected on others.

One 200-page secret document was on the extracurricular activities of Capote himself, who was openly gay.

But Anthony Summers, who exposed the secret sex life of Hoover in his 1993 book, “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,” said there was no ambiguity about the FBI director’s sexual proclivities.

“What does Clint Eastwood know about it?” he asked Summers collaborated with historians and conducted 800 interviews for the book, including nieces and those who were young enough at the time to have known the man personally.

“We were able to get a close view of the man as an individual and as a human being — as close as anybody who had not been afraid of him since he died,” said Summers.

With interest in the Eastwood film, publishers in the U.S. and in Britain are issuing a remake of the book.

One medical expert told Summers that Hoover was “strongly predominant homosexual orientation” and another categorized him as a “bisexual with failed heterosexuality.”

J. Edgar Hoover with child film star Shirley Temple. Getty Images

Hoover often suppressed his urges, but would break out in lapses that could have destroyed him — alleged orgies in New York City hotels and affairs with teenage boys in a limousine, according to interviews conducted by Summers.

“He was a sadly repressed individual, but most people, even J. Edgar Hoover, let go on occasion,” he said.

Hoover as a Cross-Dresser Is Controversial

One short scene in the film showed the FBI director in anguish over his mother’s death, putting on her dress and beads, a nod to Summers expose that Hoover had been a cross-dresser.

The Washington Post recently dismissed that account because of a discredited source, but Summers maintains he had two other independent sources from different periods in Hoover’s life.

Hoover often frequented New York City’s Stork Club and one observer — soap model Luisa Stuart, who was 18 or 19 at the time — told Summers she saw Hoover holding hands with Tolson as they all rode in a limo uptown to the Cotton Club in 1936.

“I didn’t really understand anything about homosexuality at the time,” said Stuart. “But I’d never seen two men holding hands. And I remember asking Art [Arthur] about it in the car on the way home that night. And he just said, ‘Oh, come on. You know,’ or something like that. And he told me they were queers or fairies — the sort of terms they used in those days.”

Hoover promoted men inclined to homosexual indiscretions, including Tolson, who had barely 18 months experience with the FBI when he became Hoover’s deputy.

The pair used to make “saucy jokes” about some of the other agents, like Melvin Purvis, who was a hero for arresting John Dillinger, according to Summers.

Purvis’s son shared his father’s 500-letter correspondence with Hoover, who teased the good-looking, blond-haired agent as “the Clark Gable of the FBI,” even though he was heterosexual.

Many were intimate and one was highly charged with innuendo, as Hoover referred to himself as the “Chairman of the Moral Uplift Squad.”

Ethel Merman, who had known Hoover since 1938, knew his sexual orientation, according to Summers. In 1978 when the actress was asked to comment on Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign, Merman told the reporter, “Some of my best friends are homosexual. Everybody knew about J. Edgar Hoover, but he was the best chief the FBI ever had.”

Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations, confirmed that Hoover and Tolson sat in boxes owned by and used exclusively by gay men at their racing haunt Del Mar in California.

“They were nodded together as lovers,” he told Summers.

Another FBI agent who had gone on fishing trips with Hoover and Tolson revealed that the director liked to “sunbathe all day in the nude.” Even novelist William Styron told Summers that he once spotted Hoover and Tolson in a California beach house — the director painting his friends toenails.

But, according to Summers, “Nobody dared say anything, he was so powerful.”

The author interviewed the widow of respected Washington, D.C. psychiatrist Dr. Marshall de G. Ruffin, who treated Hoover in 1946 after his general practitioner had been “puzzled by a strange malaise in his patient.”

Monteen Ruffin told Summers that Hoover was “very paranoid” about anyone finding out, and he eventually stopped seeing the psychiatrist. She said her husband burned the evidence.

“He was definitely troubled by homosexuality,” she said in 1990, “and my husband’s notes would have proved that … I might stir a kettle of worms by making that statement, but everybody then understood that he was a homosexual, not just the doctors.”

As the movie depicts, after Hoover’s death, his loyal secretary Helen Gandy destroys the “official and confidential” files.

When Hoover died in 1972, President Richard Nixon ordered his “dirty tricks man” Gordon Liddy to scour the FBI director’s office for files. But when they arrived, someone had taken “drastic action,” said Summers. Nothing but tables and chairs remained.

Summers said he is often asked, but rarely answers the question about what he personally thought of Hoover as a human being.

“Yes, I had sympathy for somebody who has to bury their real preferences through a long life in the public eye,” he said. “But not sympathy for the way in which he was dictatorial, the way he behaved politically and personally to people right from the beginning in his late teens and early 20s.

“He was totally self-serving and the way in which he was a repressed homosexual didn’t require him to abuse individual rights and human liberties the way he did,” said Summers. “It does not begin to justify his behavior toward blacks and concoct an anonymous letter to Martin Luther King and suggest he end it all and kill himself.”

Psychiatrists have concluded that Hoover “no doubt” had a narcissistic personality disorder, perhaps because of his dependency on a forceful mother who had “great expectations for her son,” he said.

“Studies suggest that people with such backgrounds block their feelings and cut meaningful relationships,” according to Summers, who said Hoover would have been a “perfect high-level Nazi.”

However, Eastwood, who is a Republican, contends that J. Edgar Hoover was “probably good for the country,” and whether he was homosexual or not makes no difference.

“I don’t really know and nobody really knew,” he told ABC. “It’s definitely a love story. You can love a person and whether it goes into the realm of being gay or not, is here nor there.”

A younger generation of gays was moved by the film precisely because it portrayed such an iconic figure’s struggle with his sexuality.

“The audience I was in clearly rooted for Hoover to be gay and to have happiness in his sex and love life,” said Ben Ryan, a 33-year-old novelist from New York City. “In a pivotal scene between DiCaprio and Hammer in which the two men engage in the classic brawl-leads-to-furious-kiss, everyone got so excited when they finally locked lips.”

“Anyone in their right mind would see this movie and say, ‘Oh, well, of course Hoover was gay,'” he said. “The more suspicious among us might think that the filmmakers were still afraid of Hoover’s ghost suing them for libel if they just put it right out there that he was gay.”

Still, he said, the film is a “tragic story that should hopefully teach society lessons about how dangerous sexual repression is.”


How Ireland Turned ‘Fallen Women’ Into Slaves

Until 1996, pregnant or promiscuous women could be incarcerated for life in Magdalene Laundries.

When the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity decided to sell some land they owned in Dublin, Ireland, to pay their debts in 1992, the nuns followed the proper procedures. They petitioned officials for permission to move the bodies of women buried in the cemetery at their Donnybrook laundry, which between 1837 and 1992 served as a workhouse and home for “fallen women.” 

But the cemetery at Donnybrook was no ordinary resting place: It was a mass grave. Inside were the bodies of scores of unknown women: the undocumented, uncared-about inmates of one of Ireland’s notorious Magdalene laundries. Their lives—and later their deaths—had been shrouded in secrecy.

For more than two centuries, women in Ireland were sent to institutions like Donnybrook as a punishment for having sex outside of marriage. Unwed mothers, flirtatious women and others deemed unfit for society were forced to labor under the strict supervision of nuns for months or years, sometimes even for life.

When the mass grave at Donnybrook was discovered, the 155 unmarked tombs touched off a scandal that exposed the extent and horrors of the Magdalene laundries. As women came forward to share their experiences of being held against their will in restrictive workhouses, the Irish public reacted with outrage.

The interior of the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott St in Dublin’s north inner city on the day of The Irish Government has apologised to the thousands of women locked up in Catholic-run workhouses known as Magdalene laundries between 1922 and 1996. (Photo by Julien Behal/PA Images via Getty Images)

When the Magdalene Movement first took hold in the mid-18th century, the campaign to put “fallen women” to work was supported by both the Catholic and Protestant churches, with women serving short terms inside the asylums with the goal of rehabilitation. Over the years, however, the Magdalene laundries—named for the Biblical figure Mary Magdalene—became primarily Catholic institutions, and the stints grew longer and longer. Women sent there were often charged with “redeeming themselves” through lace-making, needlework or doing laundry.

Though most residents had not been convicted of any crime, conditions inside were prison-like. “Redemption might sometimes involve a variety of coercive measures, including shaven heads, institutional uniforms, bread and water diets, restricted visiting, supervised correspondence, solitary confinement and even flogging,”writes historian Helen J. Self. 

Ireland’s first such institution, the Magdalen Asylum for Penitent Females in Dublin, was founded by the Protestant Church of Ireland in 1765. At the time, there was a worry that prostitution in Irish cities was on the rise and that “wayward” women who had been seduced, had sex outside of marriage, or gotten pregnant out of wedlock were susceptible to becoming prostitutes. Soon, parents began to send their unmarried daughters to the institutions to hide their pregnancies. 

Initially, a majority of women entered the institutionsvoluntarilyand served out multi-year terms in which they learned a “respectable” profession. The idea was that they’d employ these skills to earn money after being released; their work supported the institution while they were there.

Nursery in the Sean Ross Abbey. (Credit: Brian Lockier/Adoption Rights Alliance)

But over time, the institutions became more like prisons, with many different groups of women being routed through the system, sometimes by the Irish government. There were inmates imported from psychiatric institutions and jails, women with special needs, victims of rape and sexual assault, pregnant teenagers sent there by their parents, and girls deemed too flirtatious or tempting to men. Others were there for no obvious reason. Though the institutions were run by Catholic orders, they were supported by the Irish government, which funneled money toward the system in exchange for laundry services.

Nuns ruled the laundries with impunity, sometimes beating inmates and enforcing strict rules of silence. “You didn’t know when the next beating was going to come,”said survivor Mary Smith in an oral history. 

Smith was incarcerated in the Sundays Well laundry in Cork after being raped; nuns told her it was “in case she got pregnant.” Once there, she was forced to cut her hair and take on a new name. She was not allowed to talk and was assigned backbreaking work in the laundry, where nuns regularly beat her for minor infractions and forced her to sleep in the cold. Due to the trauma she suffered, Smith doesn’t remember exactly how long she spent in Sundays Well. “To me it felt like my lifetime,” she said.

Survivors (left to right) Maureen Sullivan, Mary McManus, Kitty Jennette and Mary Smith, at the Law Reform Commission offices in Dublin to discuss proposed compensation packages, for those who survived Catholic-run workhouses known as Magdalene laundries. (Credit: Julien Behal/PA Images/Getty Images)

Smith wasn’t alone. Often, women’s names were stripped from them; they were referred to by numbers or as “child” or “penitent.” Some inmates—often orphans or victims of rape or abuse—stayed there for a lifetime; others escaped and were brought back to the institutions. 

Another survivor, Marina Gambold, was placed in a laundry by her local priest. She recalls being forced to eat off the floor after breaking a cup and getting locked outside in the cold for a minor infraction. “I was working in the laundry from eight in the morning until about six in the evening,” she told the BBC in 2013. “I was starving with the hunger, I was given bread and dripping for my breakfast.” 

Some pregnant woman were transferred to homes for unwed mothers, where they bore and temporarily lived with their babies and worked in conditions similar to those of the laundries. Babies were usually taken from their mothers and handed over to other families. In one of the most notorious homes, the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, scores of babies died. In 2014, remains of at least 796 babies were found in a septic tank in the home’s yard; the facility is still being investigated to reconstruct the story of what happened there.

John Pascal Rodgers, who was born in Tuam, Ireland, at a home for unmarried mothers run by nuns, poses with a photograph of his mother Bridie Rodgers. (Credit: Paul FaithAFP/Getty Images)

How did such an abusive system endure for 231 years in Ireland? To start with, any talk of harsh treatment at the Magdalene laundries and mothers’ homes tended to be dismissed by the public, since the institutions were run by religious orders. Survivors who told others what they had been through were often shamed or ignored. Other women were too embarrassed to talk about their past and never told anyone about their experiences. Details on both the inmates and their lives are scant.

Estimates of the number of women who went through Irish Magdalene laundries vary, and most religious orders haverefusedto provide archival information for investigators and historians. Up to 300,000 women are thought to have passed through the laundries in total, at least 10,000 of them since 1922. But despite a large number of survivors, the laundries went unchallenged until the 1990s.

Then, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity decided to sell some of its land in 1992. They applied to have 133 bodies moved from unmarked graves on the property, but the remains of 155 people were found. When journalists learned that only 75 death certificates existed, startled community members cried out for more information. The nunsexplained there had been an administrative error, cremated all of the remains, and reburied them in another mass grave.

Kevin Flanagan with Marie Barry, who was born at a Bessboro Mother and Baby home, at the 2014 third annual Flowers for Magdalenes remembrance event in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, to mark all of the women incarcerated in the Magdalene laundries. (Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Images/Getty Images)

The discovery turned the Magdalene laundries from an open secret to front-page news. Suddenly, women began to testify about their experiences at the institutions, and to pressure the Irish government to hold the Catholic Church accountable and to pursue cases with the United Nations for human rights violations. Soon, the UN urged the Vatican to look into the matter, stating that “girls [at the laundries] were deprived of their identity, of education and often of food and essential medicines and were imposed with an obligation of silence and prohibited from having any contact with the outside world.”

As the Catholic Church remained silent, the Irish government released a report that acknowledged extensive government involvement in the laundries and the deep cruelty of the institutions. In 2013, Ireland’s presidentapologized to the Magdalene women and announced a compensation fund. However, the religious groups that ran the laundries have refused to contribute to the fund and have turned away researchers looking for more information about the laundries. 

Due in part to the uproar surrounding the discovery of the mass grave, the last Magdalene laundry finally closed in 1996. Known as the Gloucester Street Laundry, it was home to 40 women, most of them elderly and many with developmental disabilities. Nine had no known relatives; all decided to stay with the nuns.

Although Smith managed to reclaim her own life, she understands the damage that long-term institutionalization can inflict. “My body went into shellshock when I went there. When that door closed, my life was over,” Smith recalled in her oral history. “You see all these women there and you know you’re going to end up like them and be psychologically damaged for the rest of your life.”


‘Dickensian’ Good Shepherd Institutions Covered Up Dysfunction In Canadian Society, As Late As The 1960s

Operated in reality as a form of incarceration, they sentenced women and girls as young as 12 or 13 to back-breaking, indefinite labour

A Magdalene Laundry in England in the early Twentieth Century, from Frances Finnegan, Do Penance or Perish, Congrave Press, 2001. PHOTO BY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Thousands of academics gathered in Vancouver for the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences from June 1-7. They presented papers on everything from child marriage in Canada to why dodgeball is problematic. In its Oh, The Humanities! series, the National Post showcases some of the most interesting research.

If you saw the Oscar-nominated 2013 movie Philomena, you’ve heard of the Magdalene laundries — Catholic institutions that persisted in Ireland until, incredibly, 1996. They supposedly provided asylum to “fallen” women, such as former prostitutes and unwed mothers.

In reality, these institutions were understood, and operated, as a form of incarceration. They sentenced women and girls as young as 12 or 13 to back-breaking labour, living out their days boiling and stirring and rinsing and wringing and hanging laundry for the wealthy, respectable members of society

Until recently, the laundries were thought of as “an Irish phenomenon,” but they also existed in the U.K, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and, yes, Canada, says Rie Croll, associate professor of social cultural studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland and author of the new book Shaped by Silence: Stories from Inmates of the Good Shepherd Laundries and Reformatories.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd ran more than a dozen institutions for girls and women across the country, from the Maritimes to Ottawa to Vancouver. They proliferated in the 19th century and were variously called homes, training schools, asylums, refuges, reformatories and laundries, Croll said. Of the Canadian institutions she examined, the last to close was the St. Mary’s Training School in Toronto, in 1973.

Croll presented two talks based on her research at the annual conference of the Canadian Sociological Association, part of the larger Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver.

She interviewed survivors who entered institutions between the 1930s and 1960s, not long before they closed for good. Their accounts provide some of the most detailed information we have about Good Shepherd homes in Canada, which, despite being relatively recent, are now nearly forgotten. No one knows how many Canadian women were incarcerated in them or how many survive, though it’s “more than single digits,” Croll said. Few records were kept and the survivors and their families were shamed into silence. In fact, it took years for Croll to gain enough trust to sit down with survivors and hear their tales. She spoke to inmates from Canada, Australia and Ireland.

Almost to a body, the women described them as Dickensian

What she heard beggars belief. The institutions were so draconian that it seems impossible they existed within living memory, during the same period as the flappers were tearing up dance halls, as Civil Rights activists were marching, as The Beatles were scoring hits.

Their stated purposes varied and their practices were different across regions and over time. The Good Shepherd sisters had a set way of doing things that was quite uniform, Croll explained, and “almost to a body, the women described them as Dickensian.”

The day began before dawn. The nuns clapped their hands and the women jumped out of bed and dropped to their knees for prayers. They pulled their heavy, long cotton dresses and aprons over their nightgowns: It was forbidden to show their bodies even to other inmates. After a quick wash, they filed in silence into chapel for mass, in silence into the dining hall for a starchy, flavourless meal, and in silence into the heat of the workroom to do laundry, or sometimes other menial chores, all day. Depending on the institution, they may have had a few hours of basic schooling each day. For an hour before bed, they had a break. Often this time was used to make rosaries for sale.

“Everything was taken away that was a reminder of a possession of identity,” Croll said. Their street clothes were confiscated, their hair and nails chopped short and, in the laundries, they were given new names and forbidden to use their own.

This made it hard for survivors to find each other and organize in the years since — though the shame did that much more effectively.

The institutions were based on the idea of contagious “moral pollution,” Croll explained. Their purpose was not only to segregate the women and give them asylum from a cruel, judgmental society, but to keep society safe from their corrupting influence.

“They’re told that they are bad, they’re shameful, they’re sluts, that they have done something really wrong. The state has imprisoned them, and the Church has imprisoned them, and their families have abandoned them. The language that’s used to describe them is shameful — you need to clean, you need to clean, you need to clean, you need to be penitent. You are not worthy of your old name. You may not mention your former life. This is a stripping away, through ideology and words, that creates a stigma that becomes internalized and believed — believed as fact,” she said.

In one of her talks, Croll argued this breaking of the human spirit was a form of “symbolic violence,” a sociological concept articulated by the French theorist Pierre Bourdieu. “It broke their resistance to other more immediate and explicit forms of violence in their lives,” she said.

The state was working with the church and families were, too

Canadian women and girls were committed to Good Shepherd institutions for a huge variety of reasons. Their sentences could be indefinite or extended at will. Some had been involved in sex work or gotten pregnant out of wedlock, but others were simply considered “defiant,” “incorrigible,” or “wayward” because they’d been caught “lipping off to their parents, smoking cigarettes, stuff that in those days that would have been shocking,” Croll said.

None of the survivors she interviewed had done anything that would be considered a crime today. One was declared “unmanageable” and sentenced to a Toronto reformatory in 1961 for sneaking away from her abusive parents to spend the evenings with friends. Another was born into a Good Shepherd laundry in Saint John, N.B. in 1934 to a 13-year-old Indigenous girl who got pregnant after a gang rape. The two remained incarcerated together, working side-by-side from the time the girl was eight until she escaped over the fence at the age of 18.

These institutions were supposed to respond to some of the worst violence and dysfunction in society, but they ended up covering it up, Croll said, adding that adolescent girls who had been victims of incest often ended up in them. So it’s not surprising that there has been no big movement from surviving family members to get recognition and restitution for what happened.

“The state was working with the Church, and families were too,” she said.

Croll’s other academic talk was on the concept of the moral double standard. There’s the obvious, gendered double standard, in that women were committed to these institutions while men were not. Women were seen as “solely responsible for any sexual transgression that’s happening in society.”

Then there’s another layer of double standard: The gulf between the stated purpose of the institutions and their real effects.

“The very system of incarceration that was supposed to reform them, became a significant factor in shaping their lifelong inequality,” Croll said. “Those who the Church and state targeted for saving were simultaneously treated as bad, dirty and unsalvageable.”

The sisters, obviously, saw their work quite differently. Their motto then and now is, “One person is of more value than the whole world.”

The National Post’s attempts to contact the order for comment by phone, email and letter have so far been unsuccessful.

A call to the Good Shepherd office in St. Louis, Mo., was not returned by press time and a visit to the sisters’ listed address in Etobicoke, Ont. yielded nothing. A staff member at nearby St. Gregory’s church, though, remembered a nun called Sister Doris who loved to tell stories about her days working at St. Mary’s, a Good Shepherd reform school in Toronto.

Sister Doris died in 2018.

Croll argues the institutionalization of women created a lifelong loss of self-confidence and difficulty reintegrating into society. She spoke to an Irish politician who remembers the day in 1996 when the last Magdalene laundry was closed in Dublin.

“Those poor women. They staggered on to the street. He said they didn’t even know how to cross a busy, modern street. They were so institutionalized. It was heartbreaking.”


Gay History: All The Kings And Queens Who Were Allegedly LGBTQ+

For much of history, LGBTQ+ royalty needed to hide their identities. Even though some societies embraced homosexuality, most refused to accept a gay monarch. But before we talk about LGBTQ+ kings and queens, let’s start with the history of sexual identity.

The terms heterosexual and homosexual didn’t exist until the 1860s. And until the 1930s, heterosexual meant an abnormal attraction to the opposite sex. For centuries, many societies didn’t see sexuality in binary terms at all. Ancient Greeks and Renaissance Florentines took both male and female lovers. King Edward II of England openly kissed his male lover on his wedding day. And the Roman emperor Hadrian named a city after his male lover. Many kings and queens needed to keep their sexuality quiet, but others defended their lifestyle openly.

Queen Anne Was Clos4 With Her “Lady Of The Bedchamber”

Photo: Charles Jervas / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne of Great Britain maintained a long-term relationship with Sarah Churchill in the early 1700s. Anne wrote to Sarah, “I hope I shall get a moment or two to be with my dear… that I may have one dear embrace, which I long for more than I can express.”

Anne has been called England’s lesbian queen because of her close relationship with Churchill, who served as “Lady of the Bedchamber.” But when Queen Anne pulled back, Sarah publicly accused the monarch of choosing another woman over her. Anne stayed above the fray, however, and remained popular through her death in 1714.

Pope Julius III Named His Lover A Cardinal

Photo: Girolamo Sicciolante / Wikimedia Commons / Public Doma

Pope Julius III ran the Catholic Church from 1550 to 1555. He also created a scandal thanks to his young male lover. Julius met Innocenzo, a 15-year-old beggar, in 1548, when Innocenzo was fighting with his pet ape on the street. The future pope swept the boy away and named him a cathedral provost.

When Julius became pope two years later, he convinced his brother to adopt Innocenzo, and later named his alleged lover a cardinal. Julius’s enemies called Innocenzo “Cardinal-Monkey” and complained the boy shared the pope’s bed.

Edward II Kissed His Male Lover In Front Of His Bride

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Most stories about a royal’s sexuality were only mentioned in secret and whispers. That’s not the case for King Edward II of England, who openly showed affection for his male lover, Piers Gaveston. When Edward married Isabella of France, he showered kisses on Piers in front of the entire court. 

As chroniclers wrote at the time, Edward’s affection for Gaveston was “beyond measure and reason,” “excessive,” and “immoderate.” One writer even said, “I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another.” The relationship didn’t end well: Edward’s barons beheaded Gaveston.

Queen Elizabeth’s Partying Sister Allegedly Had A Female Lover

Photo: David S. Paton / Wikimedia Commons / Public Doma

The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, was known for being a party girl. In addition to multiple affairs, she married bisexual photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who explained, “I didn’t fall in love with boys, but a few men have been in love with me.”

Royal reporter Noel Botham claimed in his book Margaret: The Last Real Princess that Margaret had an affair with the American ambassador’s daughter, Sharman Douglas, known as Sass. One of Douglas’s close friends told Botham that Sass confessed to being the princess’s lover in the 1950s.

Richard The Lionheart Shared His Bed With France’s King

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Richard the Lionheart became King of England in 1189. Today, he’s famous for his role in the Third Crusade and his alleged association with Robin Hood. To others, though, Richard I is a gay icon. The king chose not to marry and never fathered an heir. Instead of having a queen by his side at his coronation, Richard invited his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to play the role of his partner. 

According to historical documents written at the time, Richard shared a bed with King Philip II of France. One chronicler even wrote the men were so close that “at night the bed did not separate them.”

Prince George Had A Ménage A Trois With An Ambassador’s Son

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Prince George was the son of George V and the brother to Edward VIII and George VI. Called “the most interesting, intelligent and cultivated member of his generation” by biographer Christopher Warwick, George also allegedly carried on multiple bisexual affairs.

Married to Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, Prince George never stopped partying. In the 1920s, George became addicted to morphine and cocaine during an affair with American socialite Kiki Preston – known as the girl with the silver syringe. George reportedly had a ménage à trois with Kiki and Jorge Ferrara, the son of Argentina’s ambassador. George died in 1942 in a tragic plane crash.

Hadrian Named A City After His Male Lover

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domai

Roman emperor Hadrian is best remembered for building Hadrian’s Wall, marking the northern border of his empire. And although Hadrian married around the year 100 CE, he also had a male lover. Hadrian’s partner was a young Greek named Antinous. When his lover drowned, Hadrian founded a city in Egypt and named it Antinopolis in his honor. 

The Romans didn’t care about men taking male lovers. It was only important what part a man played during sex:

older men always needed to take a dominant, active role.

Alexander The Great Had Sex With A Eunuch

Photo: Meister der Alexanderschlacht / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Alexander the Great conquered enough land to rule one of the largest empires in ancient history. During a whirlwind military campaign, Alexander toppled the Persian Empire and invaded India. But where did he fall on the spectrum of sexual identity? Historians still debateAlexander’s sexual preferences, but most agree he had sex with men and women.

Alexander’s most likely male lover was Bagoas, a eunuch. Being a eunuch, the Greeks didn’t see him as a man – instead, he was in a third category, between man and woman. Many also believe Alexander maintained a relationship with his companion Hephaestion. The ancient Greeks were very open-minded about homosexuality.

James I Defended His Right To Love Other Men

Photo: John de Critz / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domai

When James I of England took the throne in 1603 after the death of Elizabeth, he had big shoes to fill. England loved Elizabeth, and they remained uncertain of the Scottish ruler with a reputation for homosexual love affairs. In his early years, his new subjects circulated a Latin phrase which translates to “Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen.”

As James rode through the streets of London, people yelled out “Long live Queen James!” James himself defended his right to love other men in 1617, in a speech to his Privy Council: 

I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had John, and I have George.

The Last Medici Ruler Lost Tuscany Because He Wouldn’t Have Sex With His Wife

Photo: Franz Ferdinand Richter / Wikimedia Commons / Public Dom

The last Medici to be Grand Duke of Tuscany, Gian Gastone, knew if he didn’t issue a male heir, his domain would go to the Bourbon rulers of Spain. Gian Gastone’s sister arranged his marriage to a German princess, but she refused to move to Florence. Gian moved to her small village, but eventually ignored her and spent his time with a male groom, Giuliano Dami, who reportedly became his lover. 

Gian Gastone also allegedly paid young male prostitutes for sex. They became known as the Ruspanti, after the coins (ruspi) Gastone gave them. Needless to say, Gian Gastone never produced an heir and the Spanish seized Tuscany when he died.

Henry III Of France Was Called A Buggerer And A Sodomite

Photo: Francois Quesnel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Dom

King Henry III of France was the son of Catherine de Medici and the last Valois king of France. In 1589, one of his subjects called the king “Henry of Valois, buggerer, son of a whore, tyrant.” During his lifetime, Henry was attacked for sexual deviancy, and people blamed the calamities of his reign on his sexuality. 

Although Henry endured repeated accusations of sodomy, most historians believe they were just rumors. As Nicolas Le Roux argued, “It is less the supposed or real sexual practices of the king and those close to him that interests the historian than the image of illegitimacy conveyed by the discussion of sex.” In short, regardless of his sexual identity, Henry’s enemies used slurs to attack his masculinity.

King William II May Have Had An Affair With A Bishop

Photo: Matthew Paris / Wikimedia Commons / Public Doma

The third son of William the Conqueror became King of England in 1087. William II, also known as William Rufus, was his father’s favorite, explaining why William the Conqueror skipped over his older sons to make him king. 

For centuries, rumors swirled about William Rufus’s sexuality. The king never married or fathered a child. His close advisor, Ranulf Flambard, is considered a possible sexual partner. William appointed Flambard as the Bishop of Durham in 1099. As William’s reign was over a thousand years ago, however, historians don’t have much to extrapolate from, other than the king’s close friendship with Flambard and his reputation for surrounding himself with attractive men.

Louis XIII Of France Might Not Be The Sun King’s Father

Photo: Philippe de Champaigne / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Most famous for his son, the Sun King, Louis XIII of France became king at 9 and helped transform France into a major European power. He married Anne of Austria at 14, and loathed her. Many assume Louis XIII was gay, and believe Louis XIV might not have been his son at all.

According to rumors, Louis carried on relationships with two men: Charles d’Albert, Duke of Luynes and Henri Coiffier de Ruzé, Marquis de Cinq-Mars. While little proof remains that Louis had sexual relationships with these men, many generally accept the king did not enjoy sex with women.


The Monks Who Spent Years Turning Themselves into Mummies—While Alive

Japan’s self-sacrificing sokushinbutsu were a very determined lot.

Danjōgaran, a temple on Mount Kōya in Japan. (Photo: V663highland/CC BY-SA 3.0)

THE JAPANESE CLIMATE IS NOT exactly conducive to mummification. There are no peat bogs, no arid deserts, and no alpine peaks perennially encased in ice. The summers are hot and humid. Yet somehow a group of Buddhist monks from the Shingon sect discovered a way to mummify themselves through rigorous ascetic training in the shadow of a particularly sacred peak in the mountainous northern prefecture of Yamagata.

Between 1081 and 1903, at least 17 monks managed to mummify themselves. The number may well be higher, however, as it is likely some mummies were never recovered from the alpine tombs.

These monks undertook such a practice in emulation of a ninth-century monk named Kūkai, known posthumously as Kōbō Daishi, who founded the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism in 806. In the 11th century a hagiography of Kūkai appeared claiming that, upon his death in 835, the monk did not die at all, but crawled into his tomb and entered nyūjō, a state of meditation so profound that it induces suspended animation. According to this hagiography, Kūkai plans to emerge in approximately 5.67 million years to usher a predetermined number of souls into nirvana.

The first recorded attempt at becoming a sokushinbutsu, or “a Buddha in this very body,” through the act of self-mummification took place in the late 11th century. In 1081, a man named Shōjin attempted to follow Kūkai into nyūjō by burying himself alive. He, too, was hoping to come back in a far distant future for the good of mankind, but when Shōjin’s disciples went to retrieve his body, rot had set in. It would take nearly two more centuries of trial and error before someone figured out how to mummify himself and, they believed, cheat death to enter a state of eternal meditation.

A portrait of Kōbō Daishi from the 14th century. (Photo: Art Institute of Chicago/Public Domain)

The process of self-mummification is long and arduous, taking at minimum three years of preparation before death. Central to this preparation is a diet called mokujikigyō, literally “tree-eating training.” This diet can be traced through Shugendō to the Taoist practice of abstention from cultivated grains.

For a thousand days, the mokujikigyō diet limits practitioners to only what can be foraged on the mountain, namely nuts, buds, and roots from trees. Some sources also report that berries may have entered the diet, as well as tree bark and pine needles. Time not spent foraging for food was passed in meditation on the mountain.

From a spiritual perspective, this regimen was intended to toughen the spirit and distance oneself from the common human world. From a biological point of view, the severe diet rid the body of fat, muscle, and moisture while also withholding nutrients from the body’s natural biosphere of bacteria and parasites. The cumulative effect was to arrest decomposition after death.

At the completion of a thousand-day cycle on this diet, practitioners were considered spiritually ready to enter nyūjō. However, most monks completed two or even three cycles to fully prepare themselves. After the final cycle, the devout would cut out all food, drink a limited amount of salinized water for a hundred days, and otherwise meditate upon the salvation of mankind while waiting to die.

A wooden statue of Kōbō Daishi. (Photo: PHGCOM/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Many believe that some adherents at this stage drank tea made from Toxicodendron verniculum tree bark. A kind of sumac, the Japanese lacquer tree is called such because it is used to make traditional Japanese lacquer, urushi. Its bark contains the same toxic compound that makes poison ivy so poisonous. If ingested by these monks, urushi tea would have both hastened death and made the body even less hospitable to the bacteria and parasites that aid in decomposition.

When the devout felt death approaching, his disciples would lower him into a pine box at the bottom of pit three meters deep in a predetermined spot. They would then pack charcoal around the box, insert a bamboo airway through the lid, and bury their master alive. Sitting in total darkness, the monk would meditate and regularly ring a bell to signal that he was still alive. When the ringing ceased, the disciples would open the tomb to confirm their master’s death, remove the bamboo airway, and seal the tomb.

A thousand days later, the monk would be disinterred and inspected for signs of decay. If any such signs were found, the body would be exorcised and reinterred with little fanfare. If not, the body was determined to be a true sokushinbutsu and enshrined.

The last person to become a sokushinbutsu did so illegally. A monk named Bukkai died in 1903, more than three decades after the ritual act was criminalized during the Meiji Restoration because the new government deemed it barbaric and backwards.

By then Japan had entered the modern age, and most people considered Bukkai more madman than sage. His remains were not disinterred until 1961 by a team of researchers from Tohoku University, who were amazed by Bukkai’s pristine condition. Though he entered nyūjōin Yamagata, his remains now rest in Kanzeonji in neighboring Niigata Prefecture. There are 16 extant sokushibutsu in Japan, 13 of which are preserved in the Tohoku region. Seven of the eight found in Yamagata remain in the vicinity of Mt. Yudono, making it the ideal place for a pilgrimage.

The oldest and best preserved of these mummified monks can be found at Dainichibō, mentioned above. His name is Shinnyokai, and he entered nyūjō in 1783 at the age of 96. Like all the others, he sits in the lotus position behind glass in a box on small shrine within the temple that looks after him. His skin is an ashen grey, pulled taught over the bones of his hands, wrists, and face. His mouth is stretched into an eternal jackal’s grin, his face turned towards his lap.

Shinnyokai’s elaborate robes are ritually changed every six years, twice as often as all the other sokushinbutsu. The old robes are cut into small squares and placed inside padded silk pouches that can be purchased for ¥1,000 as protective amulets. Testimonials sent in by people swearing by these talismans’ miraculous effects are plastered around the base of Shinnyokai’s shrine.

Another sokushinbutsu, Tetsumonkai, resides at nearby Churenji, also mentioned above. Tetsumonkai entered nyūjō in 1829 at the age of 71, and of all the sokushinbutsu, his life is perhaps the best documented. Tetsumonkai was a commoner who killed a samurai and ran away to join the priesthood, an act that allowed him full legal protection. Later, Tetsumonkai visited the capital city Edo, present-day Tokyo. There he heard about an ophthalmic disease afflicting the city and gouged out his own left eye as an act of merit that might counteract the malady. Incredibly, Tetsumonkai is one of several sokushinbutsu to auto-enucleate—remove one’s own eye—as a charitable act.

Samantabhadra, one of the 13 Buddhas of Shingon Buddhism. (Photo: PHGCOM/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tetsumonkai once served as head priest at Honmyōji, a short drive from where his remains are now kept. Here he was charged with looking after another sokushinbutsu, Honmyōkai, the oldest self-mummified monk in Yamagata. The samurai-turned-priest Honmyōkai spent a mindboggling 20 years in ascetic training until May 8, 1681, when his disciples lowered him, delirious with hunger, into a pit behind the temple and buried him alive. A massive, moss-covered stone epitaph marks the site where Honmyōkai entered nyūjō amid a grove of pine trees only a few dozen meters beyond the hall where his remains are now displayed.

These three sokushinbutsu are by far the closest to Mt. Yudono and the sites of their respective training. Dainichibō and Churenji are accustomed to tourists, and on weekends visitors are likely to encounter gaggles of retirees being ushered on and off the air-conditioned coaches that stop by these temples on their way to or from Mt. Yudono. The ¥500 admission Dainichibō and Churenji each charge, along with sales from protective amulets and other trinkets, keep the temple doors open and their history alive. Honmyōji charges no admission and receives fewer guests, but they’re still happy to show off their wish-granting mummy. The temples are happy with the attention and even went so far as to issue a sokushinbutsu stamp card in 2015, along with Nangakuji in the nearby city of Tsuruoka, to encourage visitors to stop by all four temples.

Nangakuji houses Tetsuryūkai, who was mummified in 1878, a decade after the practice was made illegal. Tetsuryūkai died of illness before he could complete his training and so is not technically a sokushinbutsu. His body is artificially treated in order to better preserve it, and the relatively simple shrine surrounding his remains offer the closest look one can get of a mummified monk in Yamagata. Tetsuryūkai’s failure to properly enter nyūjō is written all over his face, the skin of which is peeling away from his nasal cavity.

Kaikōji houses two sokushinbutsu. Chūkai, who died in 1755, and his former disciple, Enmyōkai, who died in 1822, now sit side by side in eternal meditation. Despite their difference in age you’d think they were brothers. They have the same taut, glossy and blackened skin, as well as the same bony hands, sunken eyes, and gaping toothy mouths.


Gay History: The Crossdresser From Dublin Who Tricked The British Army

Christian Davies donned her missing husband’s clothes and went to war to find him

Even after she found her husband, Christian Davies continued her soldier’s life until she fractured her skull at the Battle of Ramillies.

Historical stories of cross-dressing never fail to fascinate. Ideas of what constitutes “normal” sexual identity have shifted over the centuries. Christian Davies is a unique Irish example, in that we hear her account ostensibly in her own voice, as recounted to Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe in The Life and Adventures of Mrs Christian Davies.  

“I had too much Mercury in me, to lead a sedentary life,” Davies tells Defoe. Born Christian Cavanagh in Dublin in 1667 and raised on a farm near Leixlipby industrious parents, her upbringing was comfortable, her education sound. But Davies was happier breaking a horse than doing needle-point: “…my inclinations, while a Girl, were always masculine.”


Davies inherited her aunt’s public house in Dublin. There she met and married Richard Welsh, a former servant of her aunt’s, and the man whose disappearance would prompt her greatest adventure.

In 1691 Welsh went to pay a bill and never came back. A year later Davies received a letter saying he had stopped for a drink with an old school friend, and had woken up on a ship bound for the Netherlands. With no money to his name, he had been forced to enlist in the British Army.

Davies’ thoughts turned to finding her husband and she left her children with her mother, dressed in her husband’s clothes, and enlisted. The recruiting officer in Dublin called her “a clever brisk young fellow”. Soon, she was on a ship bound for the Netherlands and the Nine Years War.

Her first battle was at Landen, where she suffered a leg injury and was captured by the French. Upon her release, she addressed her suit to a Burgher’s daughter, dismissing the affair as “a frolick”. However, when the girl was assaulted by a sergeant, Davies fought a duel with him, leading to her discharge from the army.

Still ostensibly on the hunt for her husband, Davies enlisted again in the second North Royal British Dragoons in 1697, fighting with them until the Peace of Ryswick. She recounts to Defoe an accusation by a prostitute that she was the father of her child. Initially insulted, Davies then agreed to support the child: “…it left me the reputation of being a Father, till my sex was discovered.”

After 13 years, Davies found her husband among French prisoners after the Battle of Blenheim. He was in a relationship with a Dutch woman and Davies decided not to take him back. The pair fought side by side for some time as brothers, and she continued her soldier’s life until she fractured her skull at the Battle of Ramillies.

A surgeon discovered her identity, but when the story got to Lord Hay, the Scots Gray commander, he ordered that she should be given a pension.

Military honours

Somewhat unusually among historical cross-dressers, Christian Davies returned to life as a woman, marrying again twice. She ended her life at the Royal Hospital Chelsea as one of its pensioners, having been honoured by Queen Anne, and was buried with full military honours.

So what are we to make of the rollicking tale of Christian Davies, as told to Daniel Defoe? By the time the story was recorded, Davies had had the benefit of many years’ practice at regaling an audience and perhaps a narrative framework had been created that fitted her audience’s ideas of what the story should be. The account begs the questions: did Davies want to find her husband? Or did she see his disappearance as an opportunity? Why would a woman of means throw herself into the life of a foot soldier? The questions that emerge from the gaps in this tale are perhaps as compelling as the narrative itself.


Gay History: Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Robles in 1915

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day! After a war that lasted over 11 years, Mexico achieved independence from Spanish rule and would begin a path toward self-determination. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launched the Mexican War of Independence. Yes, decolonize!

To celebrate Mexican history, we’ll be focusing on one hero today, not of the Mexican War of Independence but of the Mexican Revolution. Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is recognized as the first trans soldier in the Mexican military’s history. A decorated colonel, Amelio Robles Ávila lived as a man from the age of roughly 22 or 24 until the day he died at 95 years old. 

While some believe it was Ávila’s wealthy family that allowed him to live life as his truest self, it certainly may have helped, but his courage in battle and in life must be honored and celebrated. Ávila’s identity was not always met with kindness, but the soldier was well-equipped to deal with challenges to his gender. The pistol-whipping colonel was a ladies man, skilled marksmen, and hero. This is the story of Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila. 

Amelio Robles Ávila

Amelio Robles Ávila was born to a wealthy family on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero. In his youth, Ávila attended a Catholic school for little girls where he was taught to cook, clean, and sew. However, at a young age, he began to express his gender identity. He showed an aptitude for things that were, at the time perceived to be, masculine like handling weapons, taming horses, and marksmanship.

Perhaps, it was a natural response, if not the only response, to being pressured to conform to a gender identity that isn’t yours —  Ávila was perceived as stubborn, rebellious, and too much to handle for the school nuns. But it would be his tenacity and obstinance that served him in the long run. 

In 1911, when Amelio robles was arranged to be married to a man, he enlisted as a revolutionary instead. 

Not a woman dressed as a man, just a man.

To force the resignation of President Porfirio Dîaz and later, to ensure a social justice-centered government, Mexico needed to engage much of its population in warfare. This meant that eventually women were welcomed with many limitations. Soldaderas were able to tend to wounded soldiers or provide food for the militia but were prohibited from combat and could not have official titles. 

Amelio Robles legally changed his first name from Amelia to Amelio, cut his hair, and became one of Mexico’s most valuable and regarded revolutionaries. 

“To appear physically male, Robles Ávila deliberately chose shirts with large chest pockets, common in rural areas, and assumed the mannerisms common among men at the time,” according to

While he was not the only person assigned female to adopt a male persona to join the war, unlike many others Ávila kept his name and lived as a man until the day he died. 

“After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did,” writes Alex Velasquez of Into. “Others, like Amelio Robles Ávila, lived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.”

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Ávila fought courageously in the war until its end. Becoming a Colonel with his own command, he was decorated with three stars by revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata. He led and won multiple pivotal battles where his identity and contributions were respected. 

However, that respect was sometimes earned through empathy other times through the whip of his pistol. Ávila was a man and anyone who chose to ignore this fact would be taught by force. On one occasion, when a group of men tried to “expose” him by tearing off his clothes, Ávila shot and killed two of the men in self-defense. 

Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila

Unsurprisingly, Amelio Robles was a bit of a ladies man, though he finally settled down with Angela Torres and together they adopted their daughter Regula Robles Torres. In 1970, he was recognized by the Mexican Secretary of National Defense as a veterano as opposed to a veterana of the Mexican Revolution, thus Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is considered the first trans soldier documented in Mexican military history. The swag is infinite! 

After the war, Ávila was able to live comfortably as a man where he devoted his life to agriculture. He lived a life, that still for so many trans people around the world seems unfathomable. Colonel Ávila lived to be 95 years old and the rest — no all of it — is history.