Hänschen Rilow and Ernst Röbel

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Hänschen Rilow and Ernst Röbel, two characters in Frühlings Erwachen, an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind translated in English as Spring Awakening (or variations, such as The Awakening of Spring), are a same-sex teenage couple who – in a reversal of later conventions – have the most optimistic storyline in the production. Röbel is a mediocre student on the verge of failing his classes; Rilow, the more apt and sexually forward pupil who seduces him. (Rilow may also be read as bisexual given a scene in which he masturbates to an image of a woman.) The final scene in which they appear takes place in a vineyard and concludes with a declaration of love; remarkable, given that two of the other children end up dead and one on the run after breaking out of a reformatory.

For its frank discussion of sexuality Frühlings Erwachen has been repeatedly censored, including an incident in New York where an injunction had to be sought in order to put on a single matinee performance. (Ironically, Frühlings Erwachen was adapted as a Broadway musical in 2006.)

Historiography Saturday: Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde

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In Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a Victorian parable so integrated into popular culture that its adaptations alone have their own Wikipedia page, the titular Dr. Henry Jekyll devises a drug that allows him to become an alter ego not restricted by expectations of respectability. The two halves coexist until the Hyde personality begins to take over and commits murder; facing discovery, Hyde commits suicide, ending both their lives.

Although the novella is clearly an allegory, Stevenson resisted applying a specific meaning to the Jekyll-Hyde duality. However, scholars have suggested that one possible interpretation might be that Jekyll creates Hyde as an outlet for his homosexuality, an attraction that would be unthinkable for a respectable physician to act upon.It is important to note that while many adaptations add a female love interested (or at least lust interest) for Jekyll, the original only contains two women, neither of which is even given a name. In 1885, the year before Strange Case was published, the Labouchere Amendment was passed, criminalizing sodomy and leaving homosexuals vulnerable to blackmail; the repeated references to a fear of blackmail could be read as references to the Amendment. One critic has gone so far as to suggest that the character is a stand-in for Stevenson’s own attraction to men, though her textual evidence is spotty. Regardless of authorial intent, the tale does take on a different spin when read as a tragedy of the repression of same-sex attraction.

Paul Körner

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As much a public interest piece as a movie, Anders als die Andern (“Different from the Others”), a film co-written by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and famed director Richard Oswald, was the first to offer a positive portrayal of homosexual characters. Paul Körner, a skilled violinist terrified of Germany’s anti-homosexual law, falls in love with a male student of his. As the two grow closer, a blackmailer who had caught them walking together in the park (and who had previously attempted to extort money from Körner during his school days) becomes increasingly aggressive, driving himself and Körner into a mutually destructive court battle. Despite the judge’s sympathy, Körner is sentenced to a week in prison; resigned to the fact that his privacy and career have been destroyed, Körner then commits suicide.

Although the film has not survived in its entirety due to the destruction of most copies, a viewing with live music has been recorded and is available on YouTube here.

Mizi Xia

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“The pleasure of the bitten peach,” a flowery Chinese slang term for homosexuality, comes from the cautionary tale of Mizi Xia, semi-legendary courtier to the Duke Ling of Wei. Mizi Xia earned the Duke’s favor through his beauty and was consequently given leeway to break rules (such as borrowing the Duke’s carriage without permission so he could visit his ailing mother) that would have resulted in brutal punishment for anyone else. On one occasion Mizi Xia was praised for sharing an especially delicious peach he had already started eating with the Duke, giving rise to the above euphemism. Tragically, as Mizi Xia grew older the Duke’s attraction to him faded, and his old acts of filial piety and generosity that had won him approval were spun as evidence of wrongdoing. The moral of the story? Fickle rulers must be handled with care.

Mizi Xia may or may not have existed, but his story captured the imaginations of generations of Chinese writers. As the cultural context around courtiers changed his name gradually became associated with male prostitutes, finally shifting into a taboo as China’s opinions on homosexual relationships grew more disapproving.

Vivien Pentreath

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Vivien Pentreath, artist and attempted murderer, held the honor of being the first obviously queer character in a video game. In the early text-based detective game Moonmist she is the villain in one of four possible plot arcs. Furious at what she believes is the suicide of her former lover due to cruelty from the lover’s husband (said lover actually fell down a well by accident), Pentreath seeks revenge on the husband and his new wife by dressing up as a legendary ghost. The player’s character discovers that she is the culprit responsible for terrorizing the house by reading a “tear-stained page” of her diary in which she describes her anguish at the death of her late lover and desire for revenge. She is then arrested after pulling a blow dart gun on the player’s character.

Moonmist‘s 1986 release date landed around the time its publisher’s competitor Nintendo released quality control guidelines that effectively barred the inclusion of homosexual content, which was standard behavior given the homophobia of the time. While it is not explicitly stated that the two characters were in a same-sex relationship, the implication is strong enough for Pentreath to be included here.

 

Chuck Palahniuk

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Gay American transgressive fiction author Charles Michael “Chuck” Palahniuk is best known for his novel Fight Club (which is difficult to describe due to the prohibition on talking about it), but his full canon lists over a dozen books at the time of this posting, along with a pack of short stories and three film adaptations. He will occasionally do public readings, often of a chapter in the book Haunted called “Guts,” and he keeps a running tally of the number of listeners who faint due to its gore. As peculiar as their subject matter often is, his works are, as he puts it, “about a lonely person looking for some way to connect with other people”.

His Twitter page can be found here; his Facebook page is here; and his fan-made website is here.

Caitlín R. Kiernan

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Atheist transsexual lesbian genre writer Caitlín R. Kiernan started off as a directionless geology student. After graduating she went into paleontology and helped with the discovery of a new type of mosasaur by pinning down its location based on the nanoplankton remnants found in its skeleton. When she grew tired of dusting off dinosaur bones, Kiernan quit and started writing genre fiction full-time. Her novels, comic books, and short stories, which have an impressive list of awards to their name, include: Silk, her first novel, which features copious numbers of spidersThe Drowning Girl, a semi-autobiographical magical realist fictional memoir; and contributions to The Dreaming, a spinoff of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics. She is also a musician who has played in several grunge bands.

Kiernan’s website is available here; here Livejournal can be found here.