Monday, 7 June 2021

Voices From The Closet

The ability to live safely out of the closet is very much a modern phenomenon (still largely only possible in the Western world) that is within the living memory of the generation who first came out en masse, the Boomers. We must not forget the countless generations who preceded us and did not have that freedom, but who lived and loved as best they could under horribly oppressive conditions.

Here's a selection of those past voices from the closet --


sometimes i think about gay people who lived centuries ago who thought they were all alone who imagined a world where they could live openly as themselves who met in secret spoke in code defied everything and everyone just to exist and i’m like..i gotta sit down. whew i gotta sit down


this is why this sappho fragment hits me so hard




If this little book should see the light after its 100 years of entombment, I would like its readers to know that the author was a lover of her own sex and devoted the best years of her life in striving for the political equality and social and moral elevation of women.

“The Great Geysers of California” by Laura De Force Gordon, 1879, unearthed from a 100-year-old time capsule in San Francisco, 1979.


“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time. Then all the world could see how in love we are.”

Gordon Bowsher to Gilbert Bradley, 1940s

I couldn't find any publication data on that book but a good summary of Gordon and Gilbert's wartime love affair is available here.

Another voice from the distant past -- a poem written by medieval Christian mystic St. Hildegard von Bingen to her beloved nun and muse Richardis von Stade:

I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse
I have gathered my myrrh with my spice
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey
I have drunk my wine with my milk
Eat, o friends
Drink, yea drink abundantly, o beloved
I sleep, but my heart waketh
It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh
Saying, open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled
For my head is filled with dew
And my locks with the drops of the night.

And further to the Sappho fragment at the beginning of this post, there's a famous modern poem written in response to it which is the perfect way to conclude this post --

Sappho's Reply

My voice rings down through thousands of years
To coil around your body and give you strength,
You who have wept in direct sunlight,
Who have hungered in invisible chains,
Tremble to the cadence of my legacy:
An army of lovers shall not fail.

-- Rita Mae Brown


Travel said...

Are we the bridge generation, between the deepest closet, and liberation of youth?

Martha said...

Beautiful post, Debra. So many souls that suffered. So many that still do. We are much further ahead but there's still work to do.

Frank said...

I am reminded of a song by Ten Percent Review "[Before] Stonewall"

and a documentary Before Stonewall

Happy Pride Month

baili said...

love is most beautiful emotion in all it's forms dear Debra
thank you for sharing things i should have not known other wise

this is golden era when people can speak their heart openly indeed !

jaz@octoberfarm said...

when i think of how prejudice ruined peoples lives and still does, it takes my breathe away.

Liz Hinds said...

Have you watched Gentleman Jack? (BBC) Brilliant programme.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Travel -- It was the Boomers who first came out en masse but yes, every successive generation after them has become more and more liberated!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Frank -- Thanks for the links! I saw the documentary "Before Stonewall" many years ago, a few years after I came out. Great doc!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Liz Hinds -- Oh yes, I love Gentleman Jack! Eagerly awaiting Season 2!

Martha said...

It is so horrible that so many had to live in secrecy. We are making progress but still so far to go.

Marie Smith said...

This is beautiful, Debra. Tears here. I’d like to read the book of letters of the two soldiers.

Mistress Maddie said...

While the month can be fun and games, it's important to remember what came before us, remember those brave folk, and not take for granted what we have. What we have fought so hard, for it can be taken away easily.

Laurie said...

Beautiful post, no one casts a second glance at heterosexual couples sex life so why do we judge gay peoples sex life, , sex and love although intertwine both can exist without the other, who we love should be no persons business but our own, same with sex, no ones business but our owns, how did something so natural and beautiful as loving some one become such a horrible ordeal. We humans are just so shameful at times. If a person is lucky enough in this big messed up world to find true love and have a healthy loving sexual life what business is it of ours. None, the end.

Bob said...

The letters from the soldiers! If only they had lived to see the change they saw coming.

One of the sweetest things I heard at a Pride event was a woman singing "I Loved You Once In Silence" about being closeted and in love. While the original intent of the song wasn't for LGBTQ+ people, it fit the time when we had to hide ourselves to stay safe.

loved you once in silence
And mis'ry was all I knew
Trying so to keep my love from showing
All the while not knowing you loved me too

Yes, loved me in lonesome silence
Your heart filled with dark despair
Thinking love would flame in you forever
And I'd never, never know the flame was there

Then one day we cast away our secret longing
The raging tide we held inside would hold no more
The silence at last was broken
We flung wide our prison door
Ev'ry joyous word of love was spoken

And now there's twice as much grief
Twice the strain for us
Twice the despair
Twice the pain for us
As we had known before

And after all had been said
Here we are, my love
Silent once more
And not far, my love
From where we were before

bobbie said...

A beautiful post, Debra ~

Miss Val's Creations said...

Beautiful sentiments from the past. It amazes me how same sex relationships are still frowned in certain circles after centuries. We need more love and peace in this world.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Bob -- Thanks for letting us know about this song. It's not one I'm familiar with. said...

Wow - these words bring me goosebumps. Incredibly touching.
Thank you, Debra.

DVArtist said...

A truly wonderful story.

e said...

We are lucky when we live in a time and a place that doesn't criminalize or demonize our love. Sadly it's not the case the world over. I blame organized religion. Someday we will all be free.

Beautiful post, Debra. Thank you.

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Love this post!
The story of the WWII letters left me almost breathless. Really. I cannot even imagine.
As Maddie notes, people nowadays take SO MUCH for granted, it's maddening. Gaylings need to know their history.


Cynthia said...

May the world be a safe place for our transgender nephew.

Hena Tayeb said...

Beautiful post Debra.
Everyone should be able to be who they are and with whom they want.
That first illustration is wonderful.

CraveCute said...

Happy Pride Month! 🌈 Wonderful post! I had an older cousin who lived out of state with another woman... I think it was my family that was in the closet, not her!!

Rommy said...

I didn't know that about St. Hildegarde. These were so moving to read. Thank goodness for progress. May it continue.

Mike said...

It's a good thing two generations the closet was still in use. Turned out my wifes' grandfather was gay but got married and had two boys, one being her father. Then her brother turned out to be gay but he was out.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Cynthia -- It's wonderful that you're a supportive auntie!

brewella deville said...

How very touching.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Mike -- Yes, it wasn't uncommon in the days of the closet for bi/gay men to marry women and have children to protect themselves from discovery if they were able to do so. I had a cousin who was gay in the early 1950s but he killed himself at 18 instead. His parents always maintained the fiction that he had died in "a hunting accident."

Tundra Bunny said...

I often wonder how many people in previous generations led lives of quiet desperation, fear and loneliness stuck in loveless marriages for the sake of societal constructs? I'm sure there were many marriages of convenience, wherein both the husband and wife were known to the other as being gay, but there were thousands more who did not. Being able to openly love and marry whomever one chooses is a remarkable achievement!

Guillaume said...

Very touching. And chilling to imagine what so many of them had to go through.

Guillaume said...

Oh and on a side note, not all ancient societies were homophobic. Ancient Greece was remarkably tolerant about it, even open minded, although this did not prevent them to be very misogynistic.

Moving with Mitchell said...

This is a work of poetry in itself. Thank you for seeking, Debra!

Ol'Buzzard said...

It hasn't been that long ago. I remember my own prejudice.
It was in 1980 that my wife's little brother came out. There is not a finer man walking the earth and I love him dearly. I had to face my own prejudice. He opened my eyes.
the Ol'Buzzard

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Ol'Buzzard -- How wonderful that you were able to learn, to grow and to accept your brother-in-law! A gay senior friend of ours just passed away last fall. When he came out to his brother decades before, his brother rejected him and never spoke to him again. Luckily, his other siblings were not so bigoted, loved him dearly and were active parts of his life. 

Joanne Noragon said...

There were gay people when I grew up. I knew some of them well enough to be genuinely distressed by what people said, so I asked my mother. Both she and my father said "They are people, just like you and should be treated as such!" This all fit in with her standard response to people of color, and of a different ethnic background. Not until she was gone and I couldn't question the origin of her liberal views was I curious enough to figure out why. Her father was first generation German, back in the pre WW1 days and then WW2. He learned about hatred as a child and when he was an adult he went far out of his way to be kind to everyone because they were people, first.

peppylady (Dora) said...

I hope more things are brought out in open, the broom closet needs to be open as well.
Coffee is on and stay safe

Mike said...

It's a good thing two generations AGO ... I hate typos. Why won't blogger let us fix them?

Parnassus said...

Hello Debra, If you read old books with an open mind and sometimes between the lines, it is amazing how many gay and lesbian references are found. I don't know if anyone is collecting these, but perhaps a Gender Studies program at some university should be.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Parnassus (Jim) -- Oh, I'm sure some grad student somewhere is doing a thesis on coded gay imagery even as we speak, LOL! You're right, you must have an open mind and be able to read subtext ("between the lines") to understand these coded references. Many straight scholars will still deny their queer meaning though, like they do (for example) with the (quite frankly obvious) gay relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael in "Moby-Dick."

This N That said...

Sad..We have come a long way but have farther to go!!

Linda said...

A moving post. It's unthinkable that people were jailed once (not so long ago!) simply for loving someone. Sad isn't it. The quote of E. M. Forster reminds me of his novel Maurice, I read it at age 16 I think, along with other literature about gay relationships. I learned a lot about the suffering that gay people had to go through in the past, it made me sad and angry. When I see how in some, even European, countries, gay people are still being judged and even punished by governments or so called "religious" people, I think that there still is a lot of work to be done. But, the positive thing is that there is a lot of improvement too. :)

Onevikinggirl said...

Thank you Debra, all this love makes me happy!

NanaDiana said...

What a wonderful compilation of letters and memories and notes. I love it. My very best friend here is a gay man about my age. He and I share so much of our likes and loves and thoughts. We would probably both fall in love with the same man. lol. xo Diana

Kirk said...

There are straights, claiming to be nonhomophobic, who will say things like, gays got what they want, so why do they still need to wave the rainbow flag, march in parades, and go on about "pride"? That kind of comment in itself is reason enough to continue doing those things. Frankly, I think if the LGBTQ community ever declared victory and decided that Pride Month was no longer needed, all the old prohibitions would come back by nightfall. Sorry to be a pessimist, but I think this is a cause that requires constant vigilance.

Adam said...

Which makes me very selective to tell anyone about my bisexuality.

Ur-spo said...

yes yes yes
we tend to think there was nothing before Stonewall; this is not true.
The brave folks prior had it even more difficult more than we can imagine.

Bohemian said...

I find it Interesting that a lot of Indigenous Cultures had no problems with acceptance and made every Member of their Tribe feel valued, even elevated, by who they just were. My Dad was considered Two Spirit, off the Reservation of coarse he knew Society was quite different. Perhaps because of the Cultures my Parents came from, it was a non-issue with us... and still is. My Grandson is Trans and it does concern me how dangerous Society can be against those like him, he's had so many Hate Crime experiences, since the Age of 12, he is Brave just to be Himself so boldly... but it makes me Weep sometimes that I cannot protect him enough from those who Hate and are violent.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ Bohemian -- I'm glad your grandson has such a supportive grandmother on his side and a cultural tradition that can help sustain him too! The world is a hard place indeed for those who just want to be themselves.

Magic Love Crow said...

Peace and love for all. Live your life! Makes me so sad to think about the past and even what is going on today. It's a lot better, but there is still so much hatred! Love you Deb!!

yellowdoggranny said...

and yet there are still some who remain in the closet because of fear they will be hated by their family, lose their job or just plain ole fear..breaks my heart.