Last year I was all about Pride and learning the darker sides of LGBT history (which apparently gets lost as soon as you mention anything that touches upon people who really go into eugenics, which means a lot of people in the early twentieth century unfortunately).
But today I found out another person that makes learning about Queer History so fucking important. Today I found out that Wilfred Owen loved men. I’m not going to claim he was gay, for all I know he was bi or pan or more likely some other label he had for himself. He’d have likely recognised Queer as a slur but thanks to it’s generality of meaning I can at least say he was a Queer Person in history without getting lost into the weedy details.
I have loved Owen’s poetry since I was first exposed to it, in Primary school when we were learning about evacuees and confusing World War One with World War Two.
We didn’t learn about Sigfried Sassoon’s poems. That’s relevant to why we learnt about Wilfred Owen’s. We didn’t learn about Sassoon because he was very openly, obviously gay. We learnt Owen’s because his family, notably his brother, edited his poetry so that anything particularly overt was erased. After all, you can’t have homosexuality known about. Ok, being fair to his brother, it was very illegal at the time and the brother may not have been a homophobe so much as trying to keep the poetry known and popular in a time when if Owen hadn’t been dead he could easily have ended up imprisoned for his homosexuality.
It’s stuff like this that pisses me off, it’s this idea that we (as queer people) suddenly popped up out of no where or that we’re terribly rare and unusual and we’re really, really not. The art of gay men has been taught in schools for fucking ever it’s just that no one is saying that they’re gay so it becomes this shameful thing that mustn’t be spoken of and it just feeds and feeds into it.
An American (former Republican) friend of mine has opined to me on several occaisions that she doesn’t mind what people want to do in their bedrooms she just doesn’t want to hear about it, and to be fair to her I do believe she means that entirely literally. It’s just that that doesn’t work. When we are not spoken of then that becomes the excuse for bigots to destroy us in the dark. I hate, hate, hate respectability politics. I hate the idea that kink at Pride should be something to be ashamed of, no, when things are done in the dark because ‘think of the children’ that is when the bigots and the dangerous people attack us or hide themselves among us (PIE I am looking directly at you). We need to be open and we need Kink at Pride so that we know what is good and what is not. Does it make you uncomfortable looking at the Pups? Looking at the Bears or the Leather Daddies? Good. Ask yourself why? Ask yourself why damned hard because people feeling uncomfortable is why Wilfred Owen’s brother took out the letters or the rhymes that made it obvious he was gay. People feeling uncomfortable is why people end up attacked, tortured by their own existence and killed. It’s not a good enough reason.
Kink at Pride isn’t Wrong. When we start questioning what people should wear then we end up with a sanitised version of Pride and that is not what we are about. It can’t be. We need to have this all out in the open because it’s in the dark that we are all hurt.
Wilfred Owen loved men. He met Sigfried Sassoon one afternoon and fell in love with him. I never knew. I was taught by inference that Sassoon was somehow lacking because of his homosexuality but because Owen’s brother hid the parts of Owen that could be seen to be gay, he wasn’t seen as lacking. Don’t ask, Don’t tell, be a hero.
I am so angry right now.
The old lie might be that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country, but there’s another lie that wraps itself around that old one, it blooms and withers and blooms in turns. That lie is that My being makes me responsible for Your feeling. That My Being, that Owen’s Being must be hidden lest You Feel bad. Never mind that Your Feeling bad might get Owen imprisoned for his love (he was born only thirty years after he could have been hanged for it), never mind that Your Feeling bad encourages people to claim we popped into existence in 1967 and had never been seen cross any culture previously.
WILFRED OWEN LOVED MEN, and I never knew.
I’ll end with what he had to say about Sassoon.
Know that since mid-September, when you still regarded me as a tiresome little knocker on your door, I held you as Keats + Christ + Elijah + my Colonel + my father-confessor + Amenophis IV in profile.
What’s that mathematically?
In effect it is this: that I love you, dispassionately, so much, so very much, dear Fellow, that the blasting little smile you wear on reading this can’t hurt me in the least.
If you consider what the above Names have severally done for me, you will know what you are doing. And you have fixed my Life – however short. You did not light me: I was always a mad comet; but you have fixed me. I spun round you a satellite for a month, but I shall swing out soon, a dark star in the orbit where you will blaze.
– Wilfred Owen