Evil twinks and gay gangsters

emHistory & People 5 Comments

From Alexander the Great to Ronnie Kray, the hosts of the Bad Gays podcast reveal the most villainous LGBTQ+ figures ever – and explain why it’s important to discuss the problematic alongside the good.

n February, season two of HBO’s teen drama Euphoria reached a climax. “Well, if that makes me a villain,” proclaimed an unrepentant Cassie Howard, “then so fucking be it.” This much-memed line encapsulates popular culture’s preoccupation with baddies, from Netflix’s endless scammer series to Disney’s villain origin stories. Social media is pretty much a conveyor belt of villainy, too, with different echo chambers picking their own adversaries. Meanwhile, famous young women such as Britney Spears, who were once demonised, are now being reappraised as victims. And with hindsight’s perfect vision, it’s clear that plenty of characters in TV and film were not the “actual villain” either.

We seem to be more accepting of some baddies than others. History is littered with famous probably-gay villains, from Alexander the Great to Roy Cohn, Senator McCarthy’s chief counsel and Trump’s favourite lawyer. But unlike LGBTQ+ heroes such as Alan Turing or Audre Lorde, they are seldom remembered or claimed as gay. The question of why that should be the case is the starting point of Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller. The book’s central argument is that, if we are to fully understand how today’s gay identities evolved, the lives of villains – the most deceitful, criminal, manipulative and power-hungry gay people – are just as important as those of gay heroes such as Oscar Wilde.

Bad Gays is a continuation of the duo’s podcast of the same name, which profiles the “evil and complicated queers in history” – such as Ernst Röhm, the world’s first out gay politician – a Nazi – and J Edgar Hoover, the FBI director who helped harass political dissidents and gay government employees and was posthumously outed by his friend, Broadway star Ethel Merman.

“We want to address our history and how gay identity came to be,” Lemmey says. “But if we’re ever going to understand our sexual identity in a way that is based around solidarity and friendship, we need to discuss gay people who were devious and ruthless, too.”

Read on…

Comments 5

  1. This is a great podcast. Very well researched and discussed. I didn’t know about all this other side of these well-known or lesser known historical figures through the ages. I highly recommend it.

  2. When considering history’s greatest movers and shakers, like this podcast excerpt about King Alexander III “The Great” of Macedon, we tend to focus on the person (a tree) and miss the inexorable progress of history (the forest).

    There is a life cycle to everything. Just as people come and go, so do ages, eras, and ‘times’ in general. And when times change, they usually go out with a bang, not a whimper. It was time for Persia and orientalism to go, and it was time for Hellenism and western civilization to ascend. These things seem to be decided in the Infinite, far above the mere mortals assigned to make them happen. Something like 2 million souls perished on the points of Macedonian swords, but that doesn’t make King Alexander III a “bad gay.” He was a product of his times, and as “bad” as he was, he was nothing like the “bad” inflicted on Asia Minor and the Middle East by the Assyrians – now they were really, really, “bad.”

    The drama of the Romans, from village in Latium to ruling 143 nations and 1/3 of the world’s population also ended in catastrophe. The Empire fought the barbarians and Parthians for 300 years in a true ‘world war’ across three continents along a 7000 mile frontier before the Western half finally succumbed. The Eastern half would soldier on for yet another thousand years. I would like to see any modern state, pressed that hard, survive that long. So calamitous was the “Fall” that the ten centuries to come would be called the Dark Ages, relieved finally by the Reformation and the Renaissance.

    This next “great age” was blown away, along with 4 million soldiers, sailors and civilians, by the guns of Emperor Napoleon. The world he created would only last a century, to be drowned, along with the great empires of continental Europe in the bloodbath of World War I. The new world that followed would survive for only 21 years. WW2 and its aftermath drove a final stake through the heart of colonial empires, the last one – Russia – collapsing and fragmenting at the end of the Cold War.

    How long the world we’re now in will last nobody knows, nor do we know the “bad” guy or gay who will be tasked to bring it down. What we can be sure of though, is it will be a very messy affair. Sadly, blood is the universal lubricant of change.

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      1. I think it was the whole podcast, I meant “excerpt” to mean it was one out of the series on the subject of Bad Gays. Sorry for the confusion – my bad.

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