Last Sunday was the annual Gay Pride Parade here in West Hollywood, the city with the highest percentage of openly homosexual citizens in the world. And in the midst of all the continued controversy over gay marriage, as well as this recent brouhaha over including historical figures' sexual preferences in school textbooks, I thought I'd pay a little tongue-in-cheek tribute to the cause by listing who I think might just be the nine gayest men through the ages.
- Plato. Sexuality in ancient Greece was a lot more fluid than it is today; it was not seen as a taboo for an Athenian gentleman to cavort publicly with teenage boys. So while it's a toss-up between choosing between Socrates and Plato as the "gayest" man from this era, I'll go with Plato. Many of his writings are based on his theories of homosexual love, and even to this day, for a man to love a woman platonically means that he has no sexual interest in her.
- Hadrian. Ancient Rome also had more tolerance for same-sex attraction than later societies, but while the sexual preferences of most Roman emperors remain matters of dispute (the general belief was that most were, in modern parlance, straight - with a boy on the side), it's universally accepted that Hadrian, a kindly ruler, was first and foremost a lover of men. His relationship with the young Antinous was openly celebrated. After Antinous' untimely death, the lad became a legend throughout the empire. Hadrian even had him named a god. Now that's pretty gay.
- Michelangelo. The problem with the past is that nobody remembers it very well. So while there remains only murky written evidence as to the sexuality of the great bachelor artist Michelangelo Buonarotti (slightly more for Leonardo da Vinci), the answer is in his work: after all, could a heterosexual have possibly made that particular statue of David? It's believed that Michelangelo so disliked women that, when forced to include a female in his work, he typically opted to employ a male model, adding breasts later. (One look at his paintings' rather masculine women and it's hard to disagree.)
- Christopher Marlowe. Another great Renaissance figure, Marlowe, whose modern use of tragedy and blank verse paved the way for his contemporary William Shakespeare (whose own sexuality is debated), is also widely accepted as having been gay: one of his plays, Edward II, about England's doomed gay king, was the first English play to openly deal with homosexuality, and many of his other writings contained homoerotic elements. It is said that he was due to be arrested for sodomy before he was murdered during an argument.
- Caravaggio. Art's other great Michelangelo. Caravaggio's paintings, despite their dark and frequently violent themes, include celebrations of the male nude that were perhaps too sexual to be convincingly painted by a straight man. Again, reaching this far back into the past - Caravaggio died in 1610 - unearths few quantifiable facts, and some historians still doubt that the painter was gay. (Of course, some also doubt that Marlowe and Michelangelo were gay.) All I can say is, look at the work.
- Oscar Wilde. Academics will point out that the first five men on this list aren't technically "gay", since homosexuality as a sexual preference wasn't defined until the mid-1800s. Before that, one never identified as "gay", "straight", or "bisexual"; there were only varying degrees of homoeroticism. That flies in the face of today's increasingly accepted notion that one is born gay. But there's no room to debate that here. Let's agree that "gayness" became defined in the 19th century, and thus it's possible that writer Oscar Wilde almost single-handedly invented contemporary gay male culture, with his love of theatre and poetry, his dandyish wardrobe, and especially his bitchy commentary. He was also among the first notable artists to be publicly outed as a homosexual, during a time when this newly-defined "condition" was considered a crime against both nature and the law. Wilde went to jail for sodomy, and his career - and life - were ruined.
- Cole Porter. Who best to represent early 20th century gay maleness - Noël Coward? Jean Genet? Christian Dior? James Whale? The list goes on and on, but I'll choose songwriter Cole Porter, not only for his voracious homosexual appetite and talent for throwing "decadent" parties, but for writing lines like "Kick her right in the Coriolanus" in Kiss Me Kate - I mean really - and also for writing musicals with winking titles like Fifty Million Frenchmen, Gay Divorce, and Something for the Boys.
- Liberace. If there were a contest for Gayest Man Ever, the honors would inarguably go to Wladziu Valentino Liberace - "Lee" to his friends. In retrospect, it's astounding that the campy pianist managed to win a libel suit against a gossip magazine that outed him in the '50s. How could anybody not believe that Liberace - with his spectacular stage shows, his elaborate, jewel-encrusted costumes, his mincing demeanor, and his swimming pools full of naked boys - was as gay as a birthday cake?
- Freddie Mercury. Of all the British pop stars of the '70s and '80s to choose from - Elton John? George Michael? Boy George? - I have to go with Mercury as the gayest, even if he self-identified as bisexual. But I choose him to end this list because of his flaming stage name (he was born Farrokh Bulsara), his macho-man mustache, his chest-exposing leotards, his love for opera and cats, the fact that he called his band Queen, for crying out loud, and finally - and sadly - for succumbing to AIDS, which took the lives of so many gay men in the '80s and '90s.