History Lesson

symonds.jpg

We know the we’d be nowhere without the gays of yore, so from time to time we take a look back at our forefathers. Today we’re taking a look at John Addington Symonds. A Brit born in 1840, Symonds used his writing to critique the injustice of economic and sexual divisions. He explored homosexuality before homosexuality even existed as a concept, arguing for a deeper understanding of man-on-man action.

Not surprisingly, Symonds loved a little homo action himself and used his memoirs as a platform for his own tortorous coming out saga. We’re particularly intrigued by his love for a lad named Willie Dyer. While obviously this ardour roused more than a few arched eyebrows, it came under even more fire due to Dyer’s lower social standing. Some of the most vocal criticisms came from Symonds’ father. Symonds writes:

When my father learned the truth about my romantic affection for Willie Dyer, he thought it right to recommend a cautious withdrawal from the intimacy… At that important moment of my life, I could not understand, and I’ve never been able to understand, why people belonging to different strata in society – if they love each other – could not enter into comradeship. But my father made me see that, under the existing conditions of English manners, an ardent friendship between me (a young man, gently born, bred at Harrow, advancing to the highest academical honours at Balliol) and Willie (a Bristol chorister, the son of a Dissenting tailor), would injure not my prospects only but his reputation.

Though heartbroken, Symonds did, in fact, end things with Dyer. While he went on to have more lovers, the most notable details of his life come from his work in furthering societal acceptance of gay.

We can’t help but wonder how Symonds would react to the controversies surrounding gays today. While we’ve increased our standing, there’s still so far to go. Still, had it not been for pioneers such as Symonds, you wouldn’t be reading this and we’d be out of a job. And nobody wants that.

Follow the links for more on Symonds, his work, and his life.