History’s Bad Gays. With all the negativity that usually abounds about the LGBT+ community, do we really need something focusing on the bad aspects of our history?
There is a podcast for every subject you can imagine these days. With everything from Irish mythology to dentistry represented in the cloud, the potential to feast your ears on unusual and extremely specific information is absolutely limitless.
There are also no shortage of LGBT+ focused podcasts, with topics ranging from sex to ex. Dublin even has its own Lesbian History Podcast. But maybe the most unusual is a podcast about the Bad Gays of history, run by author Huw Lemmey and writer and researcher Ben Miller. Its subheading, which runs “A podcast about evil and complicated gay men in history,” poses the question: “Why do we remember our heroes better than our villains?”
The podcast has been running since March 2019, and is already well into its second season. Each episode focuses on a figure from history who was a gay man, whether or not that was known at the time. The hosts repeatedly note that the show so far is about the bad gay men of history, because “men are definitionally the most bad.”
So why are these men considered bad? What makes them evil enough to be on the podcast list?
The first season discusses relatively well-known figures such as Nazi leader Ernst Rohm and Lawrence of Arabia, along with lesser-known figures such as Oscar Wilde’s lover Alfred Lord Douglas, or “Bosie” – ‘bad’ because of his “sort of evil twink energy..” – and erstwhile British hero Ronnie Kray. The final episode dubbed Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man, as “The Polestar of Human Evil” for his part in the US’s Lavender Scare.
The second season continues with more delving into the deepest not-so-secrets of several more Bad Gays. Pim Fortuyn, “the fairy godmother of the new European far-right,” is a more modern candidate from the reaches of history, who represents a strand of white liberal gay politics that focus on anti-immigration.
It also branches out with a recent episode on The Stonewall Colony, exploring the 1970’s effort to establish a “gay nation” in rural California and the problems that came along with such an ambitious endeavour.
Despite the topics being potentially very sensitive, the podcast was dubbed by Vox as “accessible and a joy to listen to”. The hosts deal with the topics with humour and sensitivity, employing a nuanced understanding of the intersections of historical context, power, trauma, race and class. Each episode ends with a TV-style snap judgement of “bad gay or not bad gay?”
The pair have emphasised that the idea is not to perpetuate the idea of good or bad role models, but to “use the idea of the “bad gay” to talk about things that …focusing on activist heroes or artists or authors might not allow you access to.” Lawrence of Arabia is one such example.
“By looking at gay villains [as well as heroes], we can learn a lot about how today’s gay identities were built… how their gayness intersected with race and class. For some of our villains, the way they were treated due to their sexuality was a key part of what led them down a dark path.”
Interviewer Tim Williams questions, “[does] learning about the bad gays of history offer any defence against repeating these mistakes in the future?”
Definitely, is the response, and the answer seems to be to respond to the stories with more questions. Miller summarises the questions they posed at the end of Season One: “What route out of heterosexuality do we take? What kind of a life do we make for ourselves? [Those] questions are always informed by knowing the decisions that people have made in the past.”
With all the dirt to be discovered on bad gays known and unknown, we would highly recommend you check it out.
© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
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