LGBT+ Hidden Histories - a Guide

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There are various ways to 'do' History, ranging from consideration of notable individuals to consideration of social groupings. Within those methods, some stories are heard more loudly than others. This Entry is a guide to the stories of LGBT+1 people, and in particular those that have been told through the h2g2 Edited Guide.

A Note on Gender

There is considerable overlap between LGBT+ issues and perceptions of gender. For example a man behaving in a manner judged to be 'camp' or effeminate may be assumed to be gay, while a woman who dresses in a typical feminine manner may be assumed to be straight, as the gender of their partners (if they have any) would not be known to onlookers in public. In turn, a transgender man may be assumed to be a gay woman, for example. However, history shows that the rules for the behaviour and roles of people such as men and women, and how people who do not adhere to those rules should be treated, are not universal.

Religion or science or other factors may be involved in setting the rules, but diversity in the human experience still exists, and it is mainly just the extent to which diversity is taken into account by the rules that varies. For example, clothing and personal expression has seen much variation over time. Particular fashion groups such as Dandies or Macaronis pushed the boundaries of gender expression, while various types of Gender Police have enforced the boundaries of their time.

While some women in history were looked after by men and expected to devote themselves to raising children, other women worked alongside men, for example on farms or in industry. Intellectual pursuits were sometimes encouraged, and sometimes discouraged for fear of damaging women's ability to bear children. A number of women chose to disguise themselves as men so as to serve in the US Civil War in the 1860s, but in the Middle Ages some women fought openly in wars. In the 21st Century in the UK, for example, women are again able to serve in the armed forces.


In ancient times, homosexuality could be an asset in the military, as evidenced by the Sacred Band of fighters, but in modern times it has been more often viewed as disruptive and bad for morale.

Those LGBT+ people who rise to prominence through fame or infamy become icons for people who simply want to be themselves in everyday life. The criminalisation and punishment of people such as author and playwright Oscar Wilde or computing pioneer Alan Turing might have caused some people to become repressed in fear of the law, but at the same time people would know that they were not alone in their struggle to be themselves.

The world of sport offers challenges and opportunities for LGBT+ people. There is controversy and debate around who should be able to compete, but some sportspeople have become icons, such as the tennis player Martina Navratilova.

In the field of film and television there is more scope for diversity, but also a risk of perpetuating stereotypes in order to continue with a mainstream career. Actors such as Kenneth Williams and Stephen Fry have been accepted by fellow cast members as well as audiences in a variety of roles. Quentin Crisp's appearance, behaviour and writings provoked controversy at the same time as encouraging acceptance of people who were visibly 'eccentric'.

The worlds of art, music and literature also allow for freedom of expression. Singer Dusty Springfield is an icon to many people. Comedian Eddie Izzard introduced audiences to a different style of gender diversity from drag queens and female impersonators, as did Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst.

Sometimes people are recognised in a smaller way, but pave the way for others even so. A number of cases of women marrying 'female husbands' were recorded in the 18th Century, in which one partner took the role of a man. However, in 1707-8, in a certain parish in Cheshire, two couples went to the church to get married and it just so happened that both partners in both marriages were women. If there had been any debate about their decision at the time, it was not recorded, but whatever the case, the marriages were entered in the register the same as for any other couple. This foreshadowed the lives of later people, such as Anne Lister, who was known as 'the first modern Lesbian' - in 1834, Anne attended church with her partner Ann Walker, where they took Communion together and exchanged rings in a private ceremony. And this in turn foreshadowed the developments in the 21st Century that allowed for same-sex marriages and civil partnerships to take place and be legally recognised in many countries around the world.

1Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual...

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