Review: A Little Gay History


A Little Gay History by R.B. Parkinson with contributions from Kate Smith and Max Carocci
Pictorial survey is short, bittersweet and very entertaining

Human history is a whirlwind kaleidoscope of personality and activity. This delightful and well presented little book is almost equally as colourful.

Structured around pictures and accounts of artefacts in the British Museum collection, it romps through a global past of sexual and gender diversity.

Beginning with a sculpture from 9000BC it dances through the centuries, taking in glimpses of cultures including the Sioux, the Japanese and the Romans.

There is lots of happiness in this little book. It looks back to times when sexual relationships between people of the same gender could be tenderly depicted on prestige objects.

There is academic soundness too. If it is not certain whether an image does or does not represent a same sex relationship, the authors clearly say so. This frees this book from accusations of revisionism.

For Christian readers there is also sadness. European images of Gay men being eaten by dogs and burning in hell testify to the persecutions carried out in the name of Jesus.

The big lesson is that diversity in gender and sexuality is everywhere in world history, and that the Church has done much to make us forget it.

“A Little Gay History” is an excellent place to start if you want to read up on sexual and gender diversity in the past.

Fascinating figures include an 18th-century French diplomat who lived as a woman and a man, Shakespeare’s master-mistress, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and the British MP William Bankes.

If I have one criticism of this book, it’s that among its forays into gender diversity it doesn’t include the fascinating history of European women living as men.

I only say that because a book reviewer has to present at least one quibble to her readers. Really I think “A Little Gay History” is perfect.

Claire George