Why is Greece a great place for travel? Well, it doesn’t hurt that Greece has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and that some of them–especially Mykonos–have a wild gay club scene. But there is another, fascinating level to Greece for the gay traveler, because travel to Greece is all about its ancient culture and the glorious ruins it left behind.
There are not many people in history as cool as Gad Beck, a gay Jewish hero in Nazi Berlin. Beck was the child of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. This kind of thing was relatively common in early 20th century Berlin. It was also the kind of thing that drove the Nazis wild, but paradoxically, it also protected Beck, his sister, and even his father, all of whom survived the war. Beck’s Christian relatives, it must be said, were never turned by the Nazis and helped protect Beck’s family too, to the extent of their power: at least they helped feed them and tried to hide them when it was necessary. The increasing separation of Jews from the rest of society made Beck feel very attached to his Jewish identity, however. He insisted, against his parents’ will, on going to a Jewish high school. He had a long series of Jewish boyfriends. And ultimately, became a leader of the anti Nazi resistance in Berlin, serving as the lynchpin of a system that kept many of the last surviving Jews in the city hidden, fed, and alive.
Traveling to Europe this summer? Want to do something gay? Here is a suggestion. Along with going to a gay bar and chatting with the locals, how about looking up your destination’s gay history and trying to see some things connected to it? It might take some deep research, but you can find out not only about local gay politics now, but also things like Shakespeare’s sexuality or the world of fashionable lesbians in 19th century Paris—and make your trip that much more interesting. As a historian, I can tell you that it is a mistake to assume that history is straight; and as an *art* historian, I suggest you keep an eye on the art museums, where LGBTQ themes are often present!
In many of Europe’s major cities, there are monuments that have gay connections and also interesting places or artworks with gay connections that you might never see if you don’t look into their gay side. This is particularly true in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and Athens—but there are interesting connections to gay history in many other places. Look into it! You never know what you will find.
Want to read more? See Professor Lear on the blog of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.
The world’s art museums are full of Gay Secrets. These two gorgeous objects from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston are a great example. They are the kind of things you would just glance at in a museum—and then you’d move on to something you knew more about. But hold on a minute! Both belonged to a man named William Beckford (see the portrait from the UK’s National Portrait Gallery above)—who was the subject of the biggest gay scandal in 18th century England.
The ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans—think of Julius Caesar and Nero, etc.—plus all those Renaissance artists—Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio: did it ever occur to you how much Italian gay history and art there is? Well, let us tell you: Italy not only has some of the most beautiful cities, the most great art, one of the world’s top cuisines, some of the cutest guys. It also has one of the most fascinating, long, and varied *gay* histories, from the ancient Greeks to the Etruscans and Romans to the Italian Renaissance, to modern gay greats like Pasolini, Versace, and Valentino. And there are great monuments and works of art connected with every period of it, which you can easily see on a trip to Italy, if you know where to look.
Everybody knows that Paris is a fantastic city to visit, with fascinating historic neighborhoods, amazing museums, fabulous shopping, and of course spectacular food. But many people seem not to realize that Paris is also one of the greatest cities of gay history. But so it is: I think Paris has so many other great sides that people almost overlook this one. France was the first modern country to decriminalize homosexuality—in 1798, almost 2 centuries before the US. And from that time on, it was a relatively free city for gay life, and gay themes appeared more and more openly in French culture.
In the next week, Oscar Wilde Tours will announce its Europe season for 2017, with Gay London/Gay Paris (August 14-22), followed by our first gay history tour of Amsterdam (August 22-25), and then our new Gay Gods and Heroes package, consisting of two back to back tours of the gay history and art of the Classical world: Gay Greece, Homeland of Same-Sex Love (September 7-19) and Gay Italy, from Caesar to Michelangelo and Beyond (September 20-29). There will be lots to tell when we make the announcement, including for instance our first visit to Northern Greece, where we will explore the life of that ultimate gay hero, King Alexander the Great. But first I want to talk about what a great year it is for the Gay London/Gay Paris tour, because London is the gay history capital of 2017!
Oscar Wilde Tours is just about to announce its new season of European gay history tours, with London, Paris, and Amsterdam in August, and tours (which can be combined) of Greece and Italy in September. And as I plan them, the things that stick with me most are the fun new things that I discovered this year or have added to the tour.
In a way, this blog post is a protest against Facebook and its homophobia. I am intentionally writing a post that I will not be able to treat as an ad on Facebook, because (as you may or may not know) Facebook will not allow companies to have any nudity in their ads—even the naked chest of a statue in the Metropolitan Museum. When I first started advertising on Facebook, they claimed that art was exempt, but it wasn’t, if my experience is any guide; now they don’t even claim it is. And yes, as you may already suspect, they are stricter about this when the subject is gay. I know that directly, because I also do tours that focus on courtesans and royal mistresses, and they seem to give my “straight” ads a little leeway. With my “gay” ads, we get none: they tell me (a professor selling history tours) that I cannot advertise ‘adult products’ on Facebook. An obvious case of homophobia—and there is no-one to appeal to.
Paris is of course one of the world’s greatest cities—above all, one of its great cultural cities, with literature and art and architecture and fashion and cuisine and so on and so forth. But I think that Americans easily forget how great a gay city it is as well. They don’t call it ‘Gay Paris’ for nothing!