'Oh, They're Just Friends': Hidden LGBTQ+ History That You Should Know About
Graphic by Samantha Olson.
The ugly truth about history is that we can’t always trust those in charge of teaching it to tell the truth. Don’t believe me? Let’s just say there’s a reason Leonardo Da Vinci was so much better at painting men.
Whether it boils down to social norms or misguided opinions, many LGBTQ+ figures are either hidden from the public or worse — completely rewritten. It’s from this warped perception of Queer personalities that came the viral pop culture bit that jokingly refers to LGBTQ+ couples as “good friends.” Because, you know, nothing spells good-natured friendship like an intimate make-out session.
While it can seem harmless to laugh at how bizarre and unrealistic these claims are now, there is a very real problem with the lack of information around famous Queer figures, celebrities and even fictional characters.
Photo via Toei Animation Studio
A great example of this behavior in recent times is the Japanese to English translation of "Sailor Moon." After debuting in 1992, the popular animated TV series gained so much traction worldwide that the show decided to dub the original with English voice actors to reach an English-speaking audience. When translating the show, the production companies decided that having two main female characters express romantic interest in each other was a major issue. So they went with the only sensible, logical solution: they made them cousins.
Yeah, these incredibly intimate scenes definitely look family-friendly… but I guess the translators thought it was less strange to imply incest than to let them be lovers.
Photo via Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
The discrimination doesn’t stop there. Even openly “out” LGBTQ+ lovers throughout history are still rarely publicized. Ethel Collins Dunham and Martha May Eliot are both award-winning medical pioneers that have made incredible life-changing advancements in pediatric care — and they also happen to be partners.
Some educators argue that there’s no need to include “romance” in what we teach children, but that’s just thinly-veiled homophobia. Representation is important and the fact that these two women made such important contributions to the medical field while fighting for basic human rights deserves to be highlighted.
Some really interesting and beautiful stories about Queer couples have only just come to light in the last few decades. For instance, Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were two servants that lived in Egypt around 2400 BC. Many historians claim they’re siblings and their tomb is often referred to as “The Tomb of Two Brothers,” even though their position inside the tomb was that of a married couple. Not to mention that it was extremely rare for brothers to be buried together. What’s even more interesting is the fact that while they both had wives and children, their families are not focal points and are almost even ignored in the hieroglyphics.
Although they were discovered in 1964, it wasn’t until Egyptologist Greg Reeder studied the two in the late 1990s that the argument of lovers instead of brothers was introduced. With all of the information that we have now, it’s hard to believe that those who study ancient languages and cultures could miss such blatant indicators of romantic interest. Even if they were unsure about the relationship between the two, the fact that for years Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were labeled brothers is neglectful and biased.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, history tends to repeat itself. To this day we’re still learning about couples — some of them spanning back centuries — who were unable to “come out” to the public safely in their generation, so they were mislabeled in ours. It’s sad that so much of our past has been swept under a rug or tampered with to be made palatable. Our society is built on the villainization of homosexuality.
Queer people have been around since the dawn of humanity and covering up those facts is a historical disservice.
Hopefully, as more people come out as Queer, society will one day be able to look back on documents and misconstrued data without present-day prejudice and uncover more information on prevalent members of the LGBTQ+ community that most definitely weren’t just good friends. These historical pillars of strength and beauty and intelligence can also be gay.
We should be able to celebrate the existence of Queer icons and give future generations the ability to feel represented in the historical figures they learn about in schools. So they can remember that they too can make a difference and be celebrated for being exactly who they are. And that most importantly, no matter what, no one will ever be able to cover them up.