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Hands be Bound with Ropes and Shame

San Sebastian

Christian church history is filled with those who would be considered "outside the norm" with regards to their sexuality.  Joan of Arc was sentenced to death for transvestitism, yet was later canonized a saint.  Sts. Bacchus and Sergius, male Roman soldiers who were also lovers,  were martyred for their Christian faith.  St. Uncumber, a female, grew a beard as a result of her prayers. St Anselm of Canterbury, St. Apollinaria/ Dorotheos,  St. Paulinos of Nola, St. Symeon of Emesa and John  would all  be clearly considered "queer" in one way or another.  There are numerous accounts of female saints who either lived as a man in a monastery or lived in a committed relationship with another woman.  And almost as many accounts of male saints who were openly gay, often in a committed same sex relationship.


However,  Saint Sebastian is possibly the earliest gay icon. His strong and shirtless physique, symbolic arrow-pierced flesh, and rapturous look of pain combined have intrigued both gay and straight artists for centuries. This interest launched the first explicitly gay cult in the 19th century. Journalist Richard A. Kaye wrote, "contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case." Because Saint Sebastian is a gay icon, Tennessee Williams chose to use that name for the martyred character Sebastian in his play, Suddenly, Last Summer. The name was also used by Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde (as Sebastian Melmoth) when in exile after his release from prison. Wilde was about as "out of the closet" as was possible for the late 19th century. 

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