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
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, Candomblé 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
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.
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).