Homosexuality in ancient China



Uncredited and undated graphic | Hornet | 18303

Matt Baume writes in about ancient China and its tolerance of homosexuality.

For centuries, same-sex relationships in China were simply no big deal. One collection of literature dating from around 600 BC describes male attraction at court; other scholarship identified numerous same-sex partners for male emperors around 200 BC.

Emperor Ai, for example, tried to arrange for his male partner to inherit the throne. It is from Emperor Ai that we get the euphemism of the cut sleeve: a story says Ai’s partner fell asleep on Ai’s sleeve, and so the emperor cut it off so as not to wake him.

(see graphic.)

China’s history has many similar stories. A story around the year 150 about Huo Guang describes a same-sex romance. Ruan Ji and Ji Kang were described as lovers around the year 300.

From the 1300s to the 1600s a number of writings record gay couples in a matter-of-fact context which indicates such relationships were common.

Laws against homosexuality in China originated in the 1600s. There was government surveillance over relationships. By the Second World War, Chinas’ LGBT community faced harassment and persecution.




China’s gay past


Queer Comrades | 15153

The Diplomat have been looking at the re-emergence of open homosexuality in China. Yuxin Zhang explains.

In ancient China, which was polygamous, same-sex sexual behaviors were well-received and tolerated. Positive descriptions of homosexual behavior, or Nan-Feng as it was called, in historical records and in Chinese literature can be dated back to the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). … Traditional Chinese gay culture changed with the introduction of monogamy from the West, and the establishment of institutions and “ethical standards” that regulated sexual behavior, thus shaping contemporary Chinese attitudes and social values. This produced what we know of today as a “normal” (as it is perceived) sexual orientation, in turn contributing to the development of conservatism and homophobia.



Play remembers Fanny and Stella



Fanny and Stella – Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton | Essex Record Office | 15105

The Guardian reviews the play “Fanny and Stella: The Shocking True Story” by Glenn Chandler. Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton were two cross dressing, possibly trans men who attempted to get the law changed in Victorian England. The press of the time called them the He-She-Ladies. Their attempts to mix and mingle in normal society got them into endless scrapes with the police force, and resulted in them being sent for trial.

Chandler sums up the result of the six day trial:

“The jury at the end of the day saw it all rather as a joke, light-hearted banter, and there was no proof of sodomy.”

Fanny and Stella’s trial – postponed for a year after their arrest – for “conspiring to incite others to commit unnatural offences” – at the Strand Theatre in 1870, when they appeared in Bow Street magistrates court the next morning still in their evening gowns, was farcical. The jury took less than an hour to return not guilty verdicts.

The police came under pressure to start looking into the sexual lives of citizens, bringing to court men who dressed as women, usually charged with soliciting or public order offences. But the line-crosser was sodomy, something the prosecution, despite sending six doctors to intimately and brutally examine the bodies of Fanny and Stella while they were in Newgate prison, failed to prove.

“People thought they were women, especially Stella, he was the most feminine of the two. Fanny was a bit more like my grandmother and definitely the underdog of the two,” said Chandler.

Fanny and Stella, alas, failed to get the law changed.



Remembering Karl Heinrich Ulrichs



Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, an engraving taken from “Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, (“Yearbook of sexual intermediates”), vol. 1″, 1899 | Geschichtswerkstatt | 15031

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was a German writer and lawyer who played key roles both in defining homosexuality and establishing the movement for gay rights.

Hans Rollman, reviewing the book “Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity” by Robert Beachy, explains.


Amazon | 15032

A homosexual himself, his promising legal career was cut short when rumours began to spread about his sexual activities with other men. Shut out of the legal profession, he gradually rebuilt himself a career in journalism and writing. But as Beachy points out, he was a true product of the Protestant Reformation (his family were ardent Lutherans), with its drive to question accepted traditions in the search for truth. No matter which way he looked at it, he couldn’t find anything wrong with his sexual attraction to other men, and concluded that it was normal behaviour, and that some people are simply born homosexual.

All this was, of course, highly revolutionary for his time, as was his decision to begin campaigning for an end to the existing anti-sodomy laws and moral persecution which accompanied them. He first opened up a remarkable correspondence with his own family in what was essentially the first documented coming-out in history. He tested his own theories on them, and while they clearly disapproved and urged him to change, they didn’t reject him and even re-affirmed their love and support for him.

Thus bolstered, he began issuing a series of anonymous pamphlets, arguing that homosexuality, or ‘Urning’, as he called it, was natural behaviour. In 1867 he ratcheted things up a notch, giving an address to the Association of German Jurists where he presented his views and argued for revision of the sodomy laws. He was shouted down and unable to finish his speech, but he had opened the dialogue, and at the same time emerged as its public spokesperson. As he continued his courageous campaign, he also refined his theories of sexuality to embrace a diversity of sexual and gender identities.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was born on 28 August 1825 and died on 14 July 1895.

Pop Matters


Gay Marriage in the Navajo Indian Nation


“Peggy and Buck. Peggy said to be intersex.” Photographer: Ben Wittick | 1880-1890 | Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, New Mexico History Museum | 15010

Writing in Fusion, Jorge Rivas notes:

The Navajos have a rich, documented history of accepting and even honoring people that identified with different genders and sexual preferences. … “We were recognizing same-sex unions between a man and a man and a woman and a woman long before white people came on to this land,” Alray Nelson, lead organizer at the Coalition for Navajo Equality, a local community group working to end the ban on gay marriage, told Fusion.

There are drawings, photographs, oral histories, and even language that may be evidence LGBT Navajo tribe members were once accepted. The Navajo language has at least one term for tribe members that don’t fit traditional heterosexual roles: nádleehí.

“Historically our society was more accepting of a person who was nádleehí,” said Dr. Jennifer Denetdale, a University of New Mexico associate professor and a member of the Navajo Humans Rights Commission.



The Mary Travers libel case



Mary Travers | Somerville Press | 14477

It is only loosely gay history, but the Irish Times reminds us of the fascinating Mary Travers libel case that engulfed Oscar Wilde’s parents when he was a 10 year old boy.

On December 12th, 1864, the Mary Travers libel trial opened in Dublin. This case, which The Irish Times called extraordinary, soon mesmerised Irelandwith accusations of sexual assault and hints of illicit affairs. It all began when Travers, an angry young woman, sued Jane Wilde, mother of 10-year-old Oscar, for libel because of an intemperate letter that Wilde had written. On May 6th that year she had sent it to Dr Robert Travers, assistant keeper of manuscripts at Marsh’s Library in Dublin, complaining about his daughter Mary’s behaviour.

Mrs Wilde’s letter claimed that Travers was well known at Bray “where she consorts with all the low newspaper boys in the place” and Travers was now trying to blackmail Mr and Mrs Wilde.

The case at the Four Courts lasted a week. Nationalist MP Isaac Butt was counsel for Mary Travers and all of the Irish media were in rapt attendance, as Jane Wilde was a much-loved figure.

The case quickly got juicy when Butt raised an alleged assault by William Wilde, in his surgery, on Travers – William Wilde and Travers had been lovers – with Jane’s compliance! – and that the letter came in the angry aftermath of the ending of the affair.

Travers took the stand on December 14th but contradicticting herself, turned the tide of public sympathy against her, and the Wilde’s counsel alleging Travers was a laundanu addict, and revealing the letters demanding money from William Wilde.

On December 19th the jury took only 80 minutes to find in Travers’s favour – but awarded her a paltry farthing damages.



Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and the early gay rights movement, Berlin, 1867



The cover of Die Insel (The Island), December 1930, advertising a serialized instalment of “Men for Sale” | German National Library, Leipzig | 14469

A new book, “Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity” by Robert Beachy, documents the history of gay activism in Berlin.

Nancy D. Kates, writing in SF Gate, notes:

The earliest public demand for gay civil rights was made by lawyer and civil servant Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who addressed the Association of German Jurists in 1867, calling for repeal of antisodomy laws. Ulrichs and his supporters did not prevail in unified Germany, and the newly formed country unfortunately codified these antisodomy laws in 1871 under “Paragraph 175” of the penal code. (The 2000 documentary film “Paragraph 175,” directed by San Francisco filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, deals primarily with Nazi persecution of gay men under the same 1871 law, which they made more extreme. It was not repealed until the late 1960s.)

Things did not go well for Ulrichs, who lost his job, social support and credibility for being so outspoken about the rights of men-loving men. Despite numerous setbacks, Ulrichs continued his advocacy work for decades, publishing a series of pamphlets about the rights and experiences of “Urnings” (gay men) like himself, and blazing a trail for gay rights that would be taken up several decades later, primarily in Berlin.


Karl Heinrich Ulrichs | Lloyd Duhaime | 14470

The application of the laws was, shall we say, somewhat versatile in Berlin.

…The late 19th century Berlin police chief, Commissioner Leopold von Meerscheidt-Hüllessem, who created the police Department of Homosexuals in 1885, to prosecute cases under Paragraph 175. Since homosexual prostitution and sexual acts were illegal, but gatherings were not, Hüllessem’s force focused on rounding up actual criminals and monitoring Tiergarten Park and other well-known cruising areas. Homosexual gatherings were allowed to flourish with police monitoring: Gay balls required police permits, gay clubs and taverns were regulated, and the police mingled openly in gay crowds, sometimes acting as tour guides for slumming heteros.

Before the Great War, the relatively tolerant city had a huge number of gay establishments, publications (some with nude photos and personal ads), and other gay businesses, as well as a fair number of male prostitutes, called “warm brothers” in the slang of the day. But not always warm: Berlin’s rent boys frequently turned the tables on their wealthier clients, usually married men, threatening to “out” them as homosexuals unless they received large payoffs, resulting in scandals, lawsuits and the suicides of several prominent citizens. Hüllessem’s division eventually changed its name to the Department of Blackmail and Homosexuals.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was born on 28 August 1825 and died on 14 July 1895.

SF Gate