Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 9 - A Contest

LAST TIME : 23) Johanna Sigurdardottir became the first openly lesbian Head of Government after the 2008/9 Icelandic revolution led by 24) Hordur Torfason who had previously campaigned for African refugees, many of whom are lgbt asylum seekers fleeing from countries where homosexuality is regarded as “un-African”, a claim proved wrong by ethnologists like 25) Lydia Cabrera.

Just like the lgbt refugees from Africa 25) Lydia Cabrera (1899-1991) found herself fleeing from the political ideologies of her home country, in her case Cuba in the 1960s. She was born into a prominent and wealthy family who employed several Cuban servants and nannies descended from the slaves brought from West Africa. It was from them that Lydia first heard the folklore and traditions of the old African cultures, in particular the Yoruba of the Nigeria region. These fascinated Lydia and as she grew older she thought about this African influence on the Caribbean and South American beliefs such as Voodoo in Haiti, Candomblé in Brazil and Santeria in her native Cuba.

All of these beliefs have their origin in the religions brought by the slaves from the Yoruba culture in the 18th century. They soon developed their own traditions due to their enslaved lives being dominated by the (mainly Catholic) owners. Their deities evolved into new ones as the new Yoruba-Caribbean culture developed.

Lydia Cabrera studied in Paris where African art was a popular subject at the time (the late 1920s), and she saw how this also influenced Cuban art. This, with her childhood memories of Yoruba-Caribbean folklore, led her into the deeper study of the influence Yoruba culture had on Cuba. In particular she studied the Santeria faith.

Many of the Santeria deities, all evolving from the traditional Yoruba gods, developed lgbt traits leading Lydia to look at the sexual diversity which existed in West Africa long before the Europeans arrived, and she argued against the claim that homosexuality is a “white man’s disease”. Lydia’s many books on Santeria and its folklore have been instrumental in helping to understand the place of the lgbt community in Cuban culture.

One example of the evolving deities is the Santeria god of archers and the hunt, 26) Ochossi. Santeria, Candombl√© and Voodoo all have their own variations of his legends, and one common element is Ochossi’s homosexual encounter with Ossain (or Osanyin), the god of plants.

Ochossi is always portrayed as a masculine macho deity of extraordinary beauty, while Ossain is portrayed as an androgynous young man. Quite simply, Ochossi falls in love with Ossain and they have sex. A variation of this story tells how Ochossi thought Ossain was a woman and raped him.

The Santeria and related beliefs were influenced by the Christian culture spread by the European empires. All throughout history cultures have absorbed some of the beliefs of the cultures they conquer. The Roman Empire assimilated Greek gods into their own beliefs, and the Christian church assimilated elements of earlier faith. So too did Santeria. In Brazil 26) Ochossi’s counterpart, Oxossi, is often associated with St. Sebastian because both are patrons of archers. Modern lgbt culture has often adopted St. Sebastian as a gay icon and Medieval art often portrayed him in sensual, homoerotic poses while being impaled by arrows. Through this association the Brazilian Oxossi is often seen as a patron of gay men or male sex workers.

St. Sebastian is an example of the earlier cross-cultural assimilation dating back to the early Christian church in Greece who saw him as the equivalent of their old god 27) Apollo. All three deities – Ochossi, St. Sebastian and Apollo are patron of the hunt and archers. Apollo was also patron of medicine and plague victims, as is St. Sebastian, and this patronage has not gone unnoticed in parts of the lgbt community in connection with HIV/AIDS.

27) Apollo has also had his share of gay patronage throughout history. Going back to the first years of this blog in 2012 I told how his love for the Greek prince Hyakinthos was important to the ancient Spartans, sport and gay sex. Of the other patronages of Apollo is that of music. Which brings us quite neatly onto a celebration of an event which is taking place next week – the 60th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest.

You could say that the first song contest of this type took place back in mythological times when 27) Apollo was challenged by 28) Pan. Pan is another of those Greek gods who had a famous gay relationship, this time with Daphnis. This relationship is told in one of my Stargayzing articles.

28) Pan believed his pipes could make more melodious music than Apollo’s lyre. So convinced, in fact, that a contest was arranged between the two gods, complete with judges and audience. Pan performed first and his tune was favourably received, but once Apollo had struck up on his lyre the judges unanimously voted him the winner.

As with the Eurovision Song Contest where some of the jurys’ decisions are questioned Apollo’s victory was challenged. King Midas (sometimes named as one of the judges) favoured Pan’s music. Apollo responded by saying that Midas’s ears are no more musically atuned than those of a donkey, whereupon Midas’s ears turned into exactly that – donkey’s ears.

This is just one of several song contests in which Apollo competed – and won. They make good stories for another time.

With these two gods with same-sex partners competing in a music contest it seems there’s nothing new in having lgbt contestants in something like the Eurovision Song Contest. It seems appropriate, therefore, to celebrate the contest’s 60th anniversary by looking at its many lgbt entrants. This I’ll do next week, but to continue our journey Around the World in 80 Gays we’ll move on to the first known gay Eurovision contestant in 1959 who represented Belgium, 29) Bob Benny (1926-2011).

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