Italian fascists exiling gay people created an accidental queer haven

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Picture this. It’s the 1930s in Italy. You’ve perfected color-mixed outfits right down to the white, pointed-toe boots that are now en vogue, and you walk out of the house looking like a dapper dandy every morning.  Life’s not too bad except for little Benny Benito and his plan to round up and sequester all the “degenerates” and, man oh man, are you ever sitting on a secret.

The island of San Domino, part of the Isole Tremiti

Or rather, you were sitting on it last night, and it’s making sitting at work a little tricky today! Mussolini isn’t exactly known for being super tolerant about, well, anything. His answer to most problems was a little stabby stab. Seriously, he was expelled from school twice for stabbing his classmates. This man was the opposite of chill.

Eventually, you get rounded up under suspicion of being one of these “degenerates” and sent to the island of San Domino. When you get there, you realize that it’s… kind of a paradise, actually. In 1938, around 45 men (mostly from Catania) arrived on this Mediterranean island as part of Mussolini’s morally bankrupt campaign against homosexuality. Marked by pink triangular badges, they probably wore them with more style than any Boy Scout ever could.

The island of San Domino in Puglia became one of the biggest middle fingers to Italy’s leader during Mussolini’s reign. It was already inhabited when the gays arrived. They just made it infinitely more fabulous. Gay-tanamo Bay, if you will.

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Leyendecker: It’s all about the gaze

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J.C. Leyendecker was one of the most successful American illustrators of the early 1900s. His covers for The Saturday Evening Post were a great inspiration to Norman Rockwell, and he is credited with popularizing the modern images of Santa Claus and the New Year Baby.

But he is most well-known for illustrating The Arrow Collar Man, a dashing, sophisticated mascot for shirt collars, who was so adored he received love letters. What his fans didn’t know was that Charles Beach, the model for the advertising celebrity, was also Leyendecker’s lover who lived with the artist until his death. Read more…

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Germany’s naked truth: How nudism was co-opted by the Nazis

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German socialists saw nudism as a weapon of class struggle. George Hull investigates how nudist movements grew out of the crowded, dirty cities of the late 19th century before being co-opted by the Nazis in their quest for racial purity. From History Extra

Art by Kirill Fadeyev

On a hot summer day, it isn’t just at nudist beaches on the Baltic coast or in designated zones beside bathing lakes inland that naked sunbathers are to be found. Take a stroll in Frankfurt’s Grüneburgpark or Munich’s Englischer Garten and there they’ll be, a stone’s throw from the traffic and bustle of the city centre, nonchalantly applying their sun cream. Visit a German sauna in winter and, likely as not, you’ll be asked to remove your towel. Go for a dip in the Berlin municipal baths and you may discover it’s naked swimming day.

Beyond noting that the Germans are decidedly comfortable with nudity, the British tourist might be tempted to see in this phenomenon the legacy of an atavistic Romanticism or even the reactionary ‘folkish’ currents in German culture on which the kitsch paganism sponsored by the Nazis drew. This wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but it is only part of the truth. For one thing, far and away the most successful organised nudist movement in German history stemmed from the progressive left. For another, one of the first things the Nazis did upon being elected into office was to ban nudism.

The colourful history of nudism in Germany encompasses the best and worst aspects of this complex nation. Read on…

Wakashu: The gender benders of Edo era Japan

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In a world that keeps trying to fit us into neat little boxes, let me introduce you to the trendsetting wakashū of Edo-era Japan (1603–1867), a group that decided the societal norms were as appealing as a three-week-old sushi roll. #

The wakashū, which translates to “young companions,” were adolescents known for their unique gender presentation and their significant social and cultural roles. They emerged as a distinct social category, a “third gender,” separate from men and women.

Japan was seriously ahead of the contemporary dialogue on gender. These Japanese youths transitioned smoothly into a recognized third gender, unlike their Western counterparts, who often grappled with the awkwardness of adolescence.

Wakashū held a unique role in Japanese society, balancing delicacy and strength, aesthetics and practicality. They studied arts, including music, dance, tea ceremony, and martial arts. That’s right, these chaps were as comfortable wielding a samurai sword as a calligraphy brush.

The youths lived the golden life within Japanese society. They were well adored and admired by fans across the gender spectrum, like teen pop idols that the entire family could get excited about. Both men and women found the wakashū alluring. Their charm was in the fluid way that they lived and dressed between Edo-era conventions of masculinity and femininity.

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Aleister Crowley: Sex & Magick

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Bisexual sorcerer Aleister Crowley is celebrated by magicians today but was widely disliked during his lifetime for being an open queer occultist. Born in England in 1875, Crowley was the son of two devout Christians, a belief system he started questioning at a young age. Historians have described him as “a self-indulgent and flamboyant young man.”

By 21, he had abandoned Christianity completely and purportedly had his first gay sexual experience with a Scottish salesman. After that, he was sold — pun intended —  and even developed a romantic relationship with a different man the following year.

Several years later, Crowley developed a romantic relationship with yet another man, this time a student of his named Victor Neuburg. The two spent years traveling and experimenting with sex magick, a practice fusing sex with acts of occultism.

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The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Sex and Scandal

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“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” As his most popular work, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, hints at, Oscar Wilde’s life was a complicated one. Perhaps the most famous gay martyr in history, Wilde is often presented as a sacrificial victim destroyed by a bigoted and puritanical establishment.

But the story of how Wilde came to prominence, and eventually sued his lover’s father for libel, is one as surprising as it is complex. Join Tom and Dominic as they explore Oscar Wilde’s journey from the heights of brilliant success to the depths of notoriety and suffering.