Today’s entry will be unique for me; like a musician, I have been given a request for a specific topic. I hope that what results meets with Deborah Collom Strange‘s expectations. Since England is one of her favorite things, there will be a healthy dose of that included. Here we go.
Sir Charles Scott-Patten was one of my grandparent’s best friends. He was a member of the British nobility, and they met through their mutual love of bulldog shows.
Mr. Charles, as I called him, was a very tall, blond haired man, with coke bottle glasses that made his face look even more like Elton John. Similar to much of the nobility, he was slightly effeminate, with impeccable manners, and unlimited wit. He was a distant member of the royal family, and served as an intelligence officer during WWII. (One funny story he told he was that he was ordered to find some coca colas for a visiting petulant Indian rani during the height of the Blitz; venturing out into the dark night, with the bombs falling and the air raid sirens blaring to find that damn woman a soft drink!). He also studied theater with people such as Charles Laughton.
Think of Lord Grantham from Downton Abby, but always with a smile and twinkling eyes. He liked to get up late, and sit around in his lounging jacket sipping tea. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip would often drop by, and he always had the most juicy gossip from the palace. In London he owned a series of exquisite antique stores. His house included an aviary, and he loved to collect anything regarding frogs, and we brought him lots of frog things from America. One of the his best traits was that he was a very active listener, and always seemed intensely interested in whatever someone was telling him. That was especially nice for a small boy discovering the wide world. Mr. Charles was a much beloved member of my extended family.
When I was in the 10th grade, Mr. Charles offered to introduce me to the elite of British society. I would meet all the best families, the best tailors (handmade suits only of course), be introduced to all of Gentleman’s Clubs for possible future membership, and perhaps the Royal family, for perhaps future Honours and appointments. It never happened because my parents and grandparents were fighting at the time, and my parents were not thinking of what was best for me. The opportunity passed me by. This is one of my deepest regrets.
Mr. Charles was also a bachelor, because he was gay. To be precise, he was bisexual with a homosexual preference. When I was younger, he was involved in a love triangle with a man and woman who were professional dancers. Even in “Swinging Sixties” England, male homosexuality was illegal until 1967, and then only in private. (Strangely enough, lesbian sex has never been against the law in England). Mr. Charles was ultimately the loser in this relationship, and he was forced to move on.
There are several of you who can write better than I about this, and my writing can only be generalized in the short space, but I want to give a little history and my personal impressions.
Homosexual love has existed since ancient times, and there are numerous examples from nature, and even uni-sex species.
For Western culture, the obvious starting place is the Greeks. As part of their anti-female culture, men often developed relationships with other men. Alexander the Great is an example; he was married but also had male lovers. He is unusual in that he was partners with men his own age. Unlike as depicted in the film “The 300”, most Spartan males first sexual experiences were with the older man who was their mentor in military training. Information on female only love is sparse, but there are the poems of Sappho, for whom the term for female love is named.
The Romans looked down on the Greeks for this attitude, but were very hypocritical. Sex with servants, slaves, and persons of inferior social status were common and expected. For the Romans, there was nothing homosexual about the man playing the male role, only the man in the female role. (This attitude is prevalent in US prisons today). With frequent pregnancy for wives, husbands were still going to seek out sexual partners; is it not better that he goes with a man, in whom he is less likely to fall in love, rather than a woman whom he might make a bastard with? Also, while husbands were away, a woman could not accidentally get pregnant if she had a female lover.
All of the early Roman emperors except Claudius had male lovers, and Hadrian (now famous only for his wall in Scotland) named a city after his dead lover Antinous, and even had him deified!
With the rise of Christianity, the Church emphasized certain aspects of the bible, while downplaying or ignoring others completely. We all know about Leviticus 18 and 20 and Deuteronomy, which lists whom you can have sex with. (If you reread the passages, you discover that a man can have sex with his niece and natural daughter, but not step daughter.) Once again, lesbian sex is ignored. These chapters also contain death provisions for eating certain types of seafood, wearing clothes composed of more that one type of material, and for woman who are not virgins on their wedding night. (The latter contradicts other laws regarding forced remarriages of widows and rape victims marrying their rapists, but most law systems are not internally consistent.)
There is also the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, although the Jewish interpretation of this tale is that the citizens violated the rules of hospitality and makes no mention of the sex part, as Lot did offer his daughters for gang rape. A very similar story repeats in Judges 19, in which a Levite offers his wife/concubine to a group of Bejamites to rape in his place, pushing her outside and locking the door to the sounds outside. In the morning, he collect’s her dead body, takes it home, chops it up into pieces, and sends the body parts throughout the country. This act perpetuates a civil war which almost exterminates the tribe of Benjamin, until as a peace gesture other women are kidnapped into sexual slavery to replace the murdered wives.
The writings of Saint Paul are the main source of condemnation of homosexuality in the New Testament, although Jesus Himself is silent on the matter, and spreads much of his time with persecuted minority groups.
Homosexual love disappeared almost entirely from the annals over the following centuries, but did exist in the shadows. One ironic home was within the structure of the Roman Catholic Church. Not the rape of alter boys as we have today, but relationships between those in seminaries, monasteries, and nunneries. These closed, uni-sex organizations are often sited during the periodic purges of personnel the Church experienced.
During the Renaissance and Enlightenment, Western Europe rediscovered the writings of Ancient Greece and Roman, and with it the attitudes expressed within. Men were sent away to all male colleges, and love with young boys and other men became a sort of hidden pleasure. Many famous men from the period, such as Shakespeare, had homosexual relationships.
Revolutionary France was the first nation to decriminalize sex between same sex adults in the Western World. The Soviet Union did likewise, until the strict rule of Joseph Stalin did away with many freedoms.
The North Americas were usually colonized by religious fundamentalists, who frowned on all types of pleasure, except alcohol. Slaves were not really human beings, so sex with them was fine, as long as they were not the same gender. Homosexuality of all types was closeted. This attitude was reinforced in the ultra-conservative 1950s, where the United States worked very hard to show its contrasts to communism and free thinkers.
But, the cracks were appearing. The Civil Rights movement was not just for black Americans, but championed all those oppressed by the social system. The LBGT community did not gain as much at that time, and continues to advance their platform to this day.Characters like Mr. Humphreys from “Are You Being Served” on television had much to do with the changing of attitudes in Britain. The many countries on earth today have removed at least some of the restrictions on homosexuals. History is probably on their side.
There was a recent episode of the American Experience on PBS called “Stonewall Uprising” that sheds some light on the Gay Movement in the United States in 1969.
Mr. Charles was my dear friend, and I loved him like family. He was never an activist, but supported a gradual change in attitudes. When he made the generous offer in my 10th grade year, he assured my parents that “nothing funny” would happen. Plus, I could look after myself.
In 1986, he locked himself into his home, and refused to see friends. He was never a very healthy person, but he thought that he had AIDS, and did not want to endanger others. People pleaded to see him, but he died, alone and afraid in his beautiful home. I will never know if he truly had AIDS. Perhaps he did. That disease also killed another friend of mine, Eric Trew from my high school. All of Mr. Charles’ treasures went to his niece and nephew.
My grandmother was visiting us at the time, and her friends and my parents conspired to lie to her about his death for some reason. When my grandfather went into the hospital dying from cancer, she rushed home to England, and he spent his last few waking moments looking at the get well cards and presents we had sent him. When she tried to call her best friend for comfort, she discovered that he was dead too. My grandmother never truly forgave her family and friends for this, and I cannot blame her.
For myself, I have no problems with homosexuals. Many of my nearest and dearest have been gay, and I am glad that they have found love, which is so precious. Two friends who were nurses took great care of me, in the days before weekend clinics, when my respiratory illness would hit me over the weekend. They are family. Daniel Bach, who is like my little brother, has found a person who loves him.
When you take out the religious restrictions, it is difficult to come up with good reasons to oppose homosexual relationships. Other authors have addressed this since time immemorial, and I recommend their writings to you, from both sides of the argument. If one does use religion to justify attitudes, what about the other 612 mitzvot commandments required in the bible? Or the other requirements by the Apostles, such as wealth limits and obeying all governments?
I wish you all had had the chance to meet him. He was a wonderful human being. If you have someone in your life who is struggling with any type of trouble, please reach out to them and lend a hand. You never know if it will be your last chance.