October is LGBT history month, and while there is increasing awareness about historical figures like Harvey Milk and Alan Turing, stories of great gay loves are still in short supply.
To help remind us that queer love has always been with us, we celebrate five gay love stories for the ages.
Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum
Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were Egyptian servants found buried together in the tomb of King Unas. Their bodies were intertwined and their faces were nose-to-nose—funereal gestures usually reserved for married couples.
The two, who lived around 2400 B.C. in the ancient city of Saqqara, were manicurists to the royal court and among the few people allowed to touch the pharaoh.
Their tomb was uncovered in 1964, and early reports referred to them as brothers or “twins.” But by the late ’90s egyptologist Greg Reeder was convinced they were a romantic couple.
Niankhkhnum’s wife was depicted sitting behind him in a banquet scene in the tomb, but her image was obscured. In other scenes, Khnumhotep occupies the place normally associated with wives.
In some hieroglyphs, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep’s names are strung together in a way that could mean “joined in life and in death.”
Said Reeder, “same-sex desire existed just behind the ideal facade constructed by the ancients.”
Hadrian and AntinousBritish Museum
When Emperor Hadrian took the throne of Rome in 117 AD, he had already been ceremonially married to a 13-year-old girl for political purposes.
But his heart went to the younger Antinous, who entered the emperor’s circle around 123 and by 128 was accompanying Hadrian as his closest confidant.
At the time, sexual relationships between older and younger men were common but the elder man was generally expected to parted ways when his young lover reached manhood.
Hadrian was so taken with Antinous that he maintained the relationship until 130, when Antinous drowned under mysterious circumstances.
The emperor was so devastated, he remained in official mourning for eight years and deified his young paramour, filling his home with statues in Antinous’ likeness and naming stars and flowers after him.
Vita Sackville-West and Violet TrefusisWilliam Strang
Sackville-West, a noted English poet and novelist, was married to writer and politician Harold George Nicolson, but both carried on same-sex relationships throughout their marriage.
Sackville-West’s most famous paramour was Virginia Woolf, but she was deeply involved with Violet Trefusis, a friend from childhood, for much of her life.
Though both married to men, the two ran off together several times to France, starting in 1918. While there, Sackville-West dressed as a man when they went out together.Wikipedia Commons
Pressure from their families, society gossip and Sackville-West’s affairs with other women took their toll on the relationship, but it was Vita learning Trefusis was still having relations with her husband that ended things.
Though their romantic relationship was over, they remained devoted friends until Sackville-West’s death in 1962.
Sackville-West’s novel Challenge began as a collaborative effort—in fact, the male character’s name, Julian, was Sackville-West’s alias when passing as a man in Paris with Trefusis.
“She fought for the right to love, men and women, rejecting the conventions that marriage demands exclusive love, and that women should love only men, and men only women,” said Vita’s son, Nigel Nicolson, in 1973.
“For this she was prepared to give up everything… How could she regret that the knowledge of it should now reach the ears of a new generation, one so infinitely more compassionate than her own?”
Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas
Noted American writer, mentor and art collector Gertrude Stein had had a string of lesbian relationships before with Alice B. Toklas who was to become her partner for nearly four decades.
Gertrude Stein met Alice B. Toklas on September 8, 1907, Toklas’ first day in Paris, and the two swiftly became constant companions. Their salon attracted some of the greatest artists, writers and thinkers of Europe and America—Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, Picasso, Matisse, included.
Stein and Toklas became famous cultural figures with the 1933 publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas a somewhat fictional memoir.
They were a rare example of an out couple—as out as one could be in the 1920s and ’30s, anyway—and remained devoted to each other until Stein’s death in 1946.
The depth of their relationship was laid bare in the 1980s, when a previously locked cabinet at Yale University was opened: Inside was a trove of hundreds of love letters the two women had written each other.
Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears
Provocative composer Baron Benjamin Britten met tenor Peter Pears in 1934 and the two collaborated professionally for the first time three years later at a concert in London.
They became colleagues, mutual muses and lifelong partners.
Britten was a pacifist and unapologetically gay, factors that limited his fame in his lifetime. But he is now considered one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
Pears said Britten’s strong ethical center informed all his work.
“I think the key to [Bejmain’s] music lies in his moral point of view combined with his craving for lost innocence brought on by his increasing disillusionment with man.”
Britten turned down a knighthood (Pears accepted), but later became the first composer to receive a life peerage, as Baron Britten. The two are buried side by side at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Suffolk.Britten/Pears Foundation,
The Red House in Aldeburgh, where Britten and Pears lived and worked together from 1957 until Britten’s death 19 years later, is now the home of the Britten-Pears Foundation, established to promote their musical legacy.
It was made a national landmark this year as part of an effort to spotlight historic LGBT venues in England.