( 11 ) Northern Europe - Part 1
The early tribes of northern Europe were polytheistic and worshiped a wide range of gods, goddesses and nature spirits. Included among such tribes were the Celts of Britannia and northern Gaul, the Germanic Teutons of the Central North, and the Norse or Vikings of Scandia, Iceland and the Jutland Peninsula (Denmark).
The traditional beliefs and practices of the Norse were not written down until approximately 800 A.D., several centuries after their conversion to Christianity. Nevertheless, a good amount of information still exists about this early indigenous culture. In Norse narratives, several prominent gods change their sex and engage in homoerotic behavior. In one popular account, Odin, the king of gods and ruler of the underworld, is accused of being an ergi (effeminate homosexual) after practicing the womanly magic taught to him by Freya, the Norse sun goddess. He also has homoerotic relations with his brother, Loki, the god of mischief and cunning. Loki himself spends twelve years as a woman and in one narrative takes the form of a mare to mate with a giant stallion. The god bears a foal from the union that later becomes known as Sleipnir, the eight-legged steed of Odin. In the underworld kingdom of Valhalla, Odin is served by the Valkyries—masculine warrior goddesses that escort fallen soldiers into the afterlife. The Norse goddess of love and beauty, Freya, is sometimes portrayed as a hermaphrodite with masculine features. Freya’s priests were typically ergi and twelfth-century Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus, scorned them and the “effeminate gestures” they used in their rituals. Known as seidskratti, the third-gender priests of Freya practiced women’s magic wearing female clothing and hairstyles. Freya’s brother, Frey, is often portrayed sporting with both women and men. Represented by a phallic symbol, Frey is the Norse god of fertility, agriculture, peace and prosperity. Several Icelandic heroes were also known to engage in transgender and bisexual behavior such as Helgi Hundingsbana, who in one saga disguises himself as a maiden; and Grettir the Strong, who is described having intercourse with nearly everyone in town including the farmer’s sons, deans, courtiers and abbots.
Male prostitution was reportedly prevalent in early Scandinavia with the fixed price set very low, and several small gold foil plaques, known as goldgubbers, have been found depicting same-sex couples locked in embrace, both male and female. Ancient Norsemen viewed homosexuality in much the same way that other early cultures did—bisexuality and dominant homosexual behavior were accepted as signs of virility and strength, but excessive feminine behavior and passive homosexuality were typically disparaged. Men who avoided women were known as fuoflogi (he who flees from the vagina) and women who avoided men were known as flannfluga (she who flees from the phallus). The term ergi, along with several others, referred to passive homosexuals, effeminate men and cowards, and it was one of the most insulting words that one warrior could use against another. In the brutal world of Viking warfare, defeated enemies were often homosexually raped or castrated as a gesture of humiliation. The term ergi also referred to people that were sexually neutral—such as young boys or old men—and a well-known Scandinavian proverb states, “Everyone becomes an ergi when they grow old.”
Diodorus Siculus, a Roman historian of the first century B.C., documented one of the earliest known references to homosexuality among the Celtic tribes of Britannia and northern Gaul. In a historical account describing early Roman contact with Celtic tribes in the fourth century B.C., Diodorus wrote: “Despite the fact that their wives were beautiful, the Celts abandon themselves to a passion for other men. They usually sleep on the ground on skins of wild animals and tumble about with a bedfellow on either side. Paradoxically, they do not regard this as a disgrace; rather, whenever their freely-offered gift of sexual gratification is not received favorably, they regard it as a dishonor.”
Beginning in the second century A.D., various tribes throughout northern Europe launched a series of expeditions and invasions that extended southward to Spain, eastward to Russia and as far west as Britain, Iceland, Greenland and the North American continent. Lasting for about eight hundred years, the excursions changed the face of Europe and succeeded in bringing down the Roman Empire. Germanic Visigoths defeated most of Western Europe, settled in the regions they conquered and were quickly converted to Christianity. In the seventh century A.D. they implemented the Visigothic Code, a compilation of Roman and Biblical laws that strongly punished homosexuality by castration and death. These harsh penalties persisted in many European nations and former colonies around the world, well up until the mid-nineteenth century.
The Anglo-Saxons of Jutland invaded the Roman Diocese of Britain from the fourth to the sixth century A.D., and the Normans invaded and settled in northern France and England in 1066, establishing a powerful monarchy that quickly gained prominence in the latter country. During this time, homosexuals and transgenders were persecuted under the Visigothic Code and relegated to the shadows of medieval English society. One of the earliest examples of an English homosexual is King Edward II, who ruled the nation from 1307-1327. As a prince, Edward had little interest in fighting battles and found more pleasure in arranging royal theatrical and musical events. He fell into a deep relationship with Piers Gaveston, the Earl of Cornwall, but his father, King Edward I, was displeased with the union and had the earl exiled. When Edward called Gaveston back after his father’s death, the royal court had the earl executed under contrived charges. Edward then developed a relationship with Hugh Despenser, a son of the earl of Winchester, but when the court similarly threatened him with exile, Edward II challenged the order. The king was subsequently imprisoned and later executed in a particularly grotesque fashion—a red-hot plumber’s iron was inserted through his anus so that the inner portions of his abdomen were burned beyond the intestines.
Various laws prescribing death by burning, torture, castration and public humiliation in the pillory were enforced against homosexuals in England until King Henry VIII revised the English penal code in 1533. The new code included the infamous Buggery Act, which declared sodomy a felony punishable by hanging until death and forfeited all of the convicted felon’s property to the crown. Like most sodomy laws, the Buggery Act was primarily used for blackmail and intimidation, and only a handful of convictions were ever actually carried out. A year later, the Church of England separated from Rome. This ended Roman Inquisitions but also abolished the English monasteries that had afforded refuge to many third-gender Christians.
In Renaissance England, homosexual subcultures flourished within the artistic, literary and theatrical communities of densely populated towns such as London. Many discreetly bisexual personalities such as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and admitted homosexuals such as John Wilmot, Christopher Marlowe and others, became well known for their literary accomplishments during this time. As homosexual subcultures grew, so did the terminology surrounding them. In the late seventeenth century, the English word “hermaphrodite” replaced the medieval term “eunuch” as the nomenclature of choice for homosexuals. John Garfield’s scandalous periodical, The Wandering Whore (London: 1660), described such people as follows: “There are likewise hermaphrodites, effeminate men given to much luxury, idleness, and wanton pleasures, and to that abominable sin of sodomy, wherein they are both active and passive in it, whose vicious actions are only to be whispered among us.” In England’s urban slang, homosexual men became widely known as “mollies” while homosexual women were called “tommies.”
England joined with Scotland in 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain and became an important world power by establishing global trade, foreign colonies and a strong naval fleet. Great Britain’s emergence as Europe’s first industrialized nation further consolidated its position as the world’s premier superpower. Whereas many European nations abolished their sodomy laws after the Enlightenment, Great Britain remained persistently draconian throughout the nineteenth century. Its revised penal code of 1860, enforced in colonies around the world during the Victorian Era (1837-1901), succeeded only in changing the penalty for sodomy from death by hanging to life imprisonment. One infamous victim of the new law was Sir Hector Archibald Macdonald (1853-1903), a celebrated British soldier who committed suicide when his homosexuality was uncovered while stationed in India.
Great Britain declined as a world superpower after World War II and in 1967, sodomy was finally decriminalized in both England and Wales—nearly two hundred years after France (Scotland decriminalized in 1980 and Ireland in 1993). Throughout the next several decades, attitudes toward homosexuality and gender diversity improved greatly in the United Kingdom and modern gay communities thrived in cities such as London and Birmingham. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, civil protections were afforded to Britain’s third-gender citizens, civil unions granted in 2005 and gay marriage in 2014.
The Netherlands harshly persecuted homosexuals in the name of religion during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as described in the beginning of this chapter. At the same time, the Dutch sailed around the world and established lucrative colonies in Southeast Asia, the Americas and Africa. In 1795, the country was invaded by France and consequently adopted the Napoleonic legal code in 1811, thus ending the Netherlands’s brutal sodomy laws. Four years later, the country became an independent monarchy. There were calls at this time to reinstate sodomy as a crime but they were left unanswered—the new Kingdom of the Netherlands had become irreversibly influenced by French liberalism. In 1830, Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands and became a separate state. Although religious backlashes and social discrimination continued well into the twentieth century in both countries, homosexual subcultures and organizations persisted from the nineteenth century onward. In the early twentieth century, Dutch homosexuals were inspired by the third-gender theories being advanced in Germany. During World War II, however, occupying Nazis enforced anti-homosexual laws on the Dutch and Belgians but with no permanent effect. After the war, homosexual subcultures flourished in large cities like Amsterdam and Brussels from the 1950s forward and were accompanied by a general acceptance from the public. In 1973, openly gay men and women were allowed to serve in the Dutch military and transsexual operations were legally recognized in 1978. Civil protections were extended to homosexuals in 1993 and civil unions granted in 1998. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize homosexual marriage, followed by Belgium in 2003.
The early Germanic tribes of central Europe were similar to the Norse but converted to Christianity while invading the Roman Empire between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. King Charlemagne (742-814) united the Frankish realms of Western Europe at the beginning of the ninth century, thus laying the groundwork for the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire in 843. Since the adoption of Christianity, homosexuals had been driven underground throughout the Germanic region and were persecuted under the Visigothic Code and by Inquisitions from Rome. In 1517, the German monk, Martin Luther (1483-1546), initiated a rebellion against the Roman Church later known as the Reformation, which divided Christians into Catholics in the south and Protestants in the north. This greatly weakened the Holy Roman Empire and led to the creation of several self-governing German states.
One of the earliest known German homosexuals was Frederick II the Great (1712-1786), an influential Berlin-born king who established Prussia as a major European power in the eighteenth century. Frederick the Great ignored his wife, kept many male lovers and had a well-documented interest in European homosexual culture and literature. Frederick was a much-respected king who not only doubled the size of Prussia but also set the stage for Berlin’s prominence as the future German capital. Twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great, the Holy Roman Empire collapsed at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte of France. A German Federation of different states then emerged in the north, each with their own set of sodomy laws. Several German states, such as Bavaria and Hanover, adopted the Napoleonic Code and decriminalized sodomy at this time. Bavaria’s king, Ludwig II (1845-1886), was a well-known homosexual during this period. The king had several male lovers, refused to take a wife, and nearly bankrupted the country by building several highly extravagant castles. Arrested by the German court and declared insane, Ludwig II was found drowned in a lake under mysterious circumstances along with his psychiatrist. Despite his eccentricities, the Bavarian king was popular with most of the citizens and his death was greatly mourned.
In 1871, King Wilhelm of Prussia established a new German Empire and revised Germany’s legal code. Although some German states had previously abolished their sodomy laws, the revised code copied the Prussian model and reestablished sodomy as a crime throughout the new nation. Known as Paragraph 175, the law was initially seldom enforced or taken very seriously. During the same time period, sexology emerged as a new science in Germany and psychiatrists began analyzing and cataloging various types of men with different sexual natures. For the first time in modern history, scholars began to consider that homosexual attraction might be innate and biological. New concepts and terms emerged during this period such as “the third sex” (das dritte Geschlecht), “sexual intermediates” (sexuelle Zwischenstufen), “transvestites” (Transvestiten) and “psychic hermaphrodites” (ein Zwitter im Geiste). In the 1860s, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) coined the term Urninge (“Uranism”), which referred to people of a third sex that were born with inverted male and female natures. Ulrichs argued that since Uranism was innate it should not be stigmatized or criminalized and wrote many articles to that effect, calling for the repeal of Paragraph 175. The modern term “homosexuality” (homosexualitat) first appeared in an 1869 German pamphlet written by Karoly Maria Kertbeny putting forth the same argument. Although Ulrichs initially limited his description of Uranians to effeminate homosexuals only, he later widened the definition to include masculine types (Mannlinge), feminine types (Weiblinge), lesbians (Urninde) and bisexuals (Uranodioninge), distinguishing them from “circumstantial” or pseudo-homosexuals (Uraniaster).
By the 1880s, sexology was fashionable in psychiatric circles throughout Europe and every important psychologist published books and articles on the topic. While most doctors considered homosexuality a psychopathy or mental disorder, many were willing to entertain the idea that same-sex desire could possibly be innate. Krafft-Ebing, for example, an influential German psychiatrist and author of Psychopathia Sexualis, conceded one year before his death that homosexuality was indeed inborn and not pathological per se, as he had earlier claimed. In 1897, Magnus Hirschfeld founded the very first modern homosexual movement known as the Wissenschaftlich-Humanitare Komitee. Hirschfeld was the main defender of homosexuality as an innate third sex and argued for the repeal of Germany’s sodomy laws. In 1899 he published the first annual journal for homosexuals, Jahrbuch Fur Sexuelle Zwischenstufen, which ran until 1923, and in the same year he sent a petition to the German Reichstag requesting that Paragraph 175 be removed from the German criminal code.
Turn-of-the-century Wilhelmine Germany (1870-1918) developed a significant homosexual subculture that included many prominent Germans such as Kaiser Wilhelm’s own second-born son, Eitel Fritz. This prompted the government to enforce Paragraph 175 more strictly during the Great War, which in turn lead to further protests against the law. The world’s very first demonstration for homosexual rights took place a day before Germany’s surrender in 1918, when Magnus Hirschfeld appeared with other speakers before a Berlin crowd of five thousand to demand the decriminalization of homosexuality throughout the German nation.
After the Great War, Berlin became one of the most liberal cities in Europe in regard to its burgeoning homosexual subculture. Although Paragraph 175 remained on the books during the all-too-brief period between World War I and II, third-gender citizens were largely tolerated and homosexual bars, nightclubs, organizations and societies flourished throughout much of Germany. There were backlashes, however, and homosexuals soon became scapegoats along with Jews for the country’s many problems. When the Nazi political party rose to power in 1933, homosexuals were persecuted and their bars and clubs shut down. Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science was raided and its contents publicly burned in front of the Berlin Opera House. Nazis requested and received lists of known homosexuals from the police and Paragraph 175 was expanded to include all types of homosexual behavior no matter how subtle. Over 100,000 citizens were arrested for homosexuality during the Nazi years; of these, approximately 50,000 served time in prison and about 15,000 died in concentration camps (the exact figures remain unknown). Homosexuals were forced to wear inverted pink triangles and endure hard labor, castration, hormone treatments and various types of medical experiments.
After World War II, homosexuals were left uncompensated for their tribulations during the war. Most were obligated to serve out their prison sentences under Paragraph 175 and the Nazi revision of the law remained in West German books until 1969. In the early 1970s, modern gay subcultures emerged in West Germany and were prominent in cities such as West Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. A reunified Germany abolished Paragraph 175 for good in 1994 and various civil rights were granted soon thereafter, including civil unions for gay couples in 2000.
[Continued in Part 12...]