Today in Gay History

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November 13

St. Augustine of Hippo
0354 -

ST AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, born (d: 430) Following the example of St. Paul, Augustine set the standard for confessional literature that was to flourish in the centuries that followed. The patter, of course, is a detailed listing of one’s sins, followed by a narration of some event or events that made one long for salvation, and then an enunciation of the pains and joys of penance with the hope of future redemption.

Augustine confessed not only to having fathered a son, but to friendship that was classically homoerotic. When he was a young man, his closest friend died and Augustine contemplated joining him in death. “I felt that his soul and mine were ‘one soul in two bodies’; and therefore life was to me horrible because I hated to live as half of a life; and therefore perhaps I feared to die, lest he should wholly die whom I loved so greatly. My longing eyes sought him everywhere.” Augustine, of course, cast off all sins of the flesh and becoming one of the great founders of Christian doctrine, admonished us all to do the same. Here is Augustine on sex:

“There seethed all around me a cauldron of lawless loves. I loved not yet, yet I loved to love, and out of a deep-seated want, I hated myself for wanting not. I sought what I might love, in love with loving, and I hated safety... To love then, and to be beloved, was sweet to me; but more, when I obtained to enjoy the person I loved. I defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I beclouded its brightness with the hell of lustfulness.”

Ah yes…the filth of concupiscence. I think the dude had issues.

At the same time, Augustine took the view that the Biblical text should not be interpreted literally if it contradicts what we know from science and our God-given reason. In an important passage on his "The Literal Interpretation of Genesis" (early 5th century, AD), Augustine wrote:

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.”

The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [AD 408]

Robert Louis Stevenson
1850 -

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, Scots author, born (d: 1894); a Scottish novelist, poet, and travel writer, and a leading representative of Neo-romanticism in English literature. He was greatly admired by many authors, including Jorge Louis Borges, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling and Vladimir Nabokov. Most modernist writers dismissed him, however, because he was popular and did not write within their narrow definition of literature. It is only recently that critics have begun to look beyond Stevenson's popularity and allow him a place in the Western canon.

There has always been an air of mystery associated with the romantic character of Robert Louis Stevenson. Did the author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde possess a dual nature himself? The question, though unanswerable, has been raised often. Was there, in fact, a homosexual side to Stevenson? He was one of the outstanding proponents of Whitman’s poetry in Britain. He married a widow older than himself and eventually wrote several works jointly with his grown-up son. During the last four years of his life, he found the paradise he had yearned for in the South Seas. Is it merely coincidence that others who had yielded to the seductive islands and to the bodies of their natives were homosexual or bisexual – Gaugin, Stoddard, Maugham?

1953 -

The MATTACHINE SOCIETY changes the preamble to its constitution, striking the phrase "A highly ethical homosexual culture." Delegates say they believe their goal is not the creation of a special Gay "culture" unto itself, and chose not to have the groups' description mention "homosexual," since they aren't necessarily homosexuals but "a group interested in the problems of homosexuals." (Makes you wonder what problem they had with the word "ethical," now don't it?)

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