History’s 100 All-time Gay Greats

by Adrian Gillan for Bent

Bent’s Adrian Gillan selects his very own personal hundred top queer historical figures of all time! In alphabetical order!

LGBT people surround you today. Yet they also form a vast and exciting part of your past. Just take this famous one hundred, all now dead, variously reputed to have been gay or at least bi. Plus: spare a thought for the doubtless countless others, still – perhaps forever – stuck firmly in the historical closet.

  1. Alexander the Great (general, imperialist) – had to be pulled off his dead lover’s corpse!
  2. Marie Antoinette (queen) – lusty lesbian; or mere victim of homophobic anti-royalist spin?
  3. Aristotle (philosopher) – broad-minded big-thinker, not atypically Ancient Greek!
  4. Anthony Asquith (director) – English film director, son of UK PM.
  5. H. Auden (poet) – life-long queer, collaborated with Christopher Isherwood.
  6. Marcus Aurelius (emperor) – serious-minded Roman Stoic homosexual intellectual.
  7. Francis Bacon (artist) – string of male lovers, most famously, the suicidal George Dyer.
  8. Sir Francis Bacon (philosopher and scientist) – revolutionary English Renaissance experimenter.
  9. Samuel Barber (composer) – most famous for Adagio for Strings, used in the film Platoon.
  10. Simone de Beauvoir (writer) – in open relationship with Sartre, but liked to play away with women.
  11. Leonard Bernstein (musician) – musical genius and closeted bisexual.
  12. William Blake (poet, artist) – whacky visionary and complete one-off.
  13. Dirk Bogarde (actor, writer) – closet star, but played many gay characters.
  14. Benjamin Britten (composer) – one of the 20th Century’s greatest musicians, partner of Peter Pears.
  15. Lord Byron (poet) – liked to roam, with either gender.
  16. Julius Caesar (emperor) – infatuated with Nicomedes, King of Bithynia.
  17. Caravaggio (artist) – enjoyed young men, both in paint and in flesh.
  18. Catullus (poet) – shameless queer Roman muse whose poems tell all!
  19. Cervantes (novelist) – the great humanist Don Quixote-author, obsessed with male-male bonding!
  20. Montgomery Clift (actor) – smouldering “method” star of silver screen.
  21. Aaron Copland (composer) – tuneful American, with lots of male lovers.
  22. Noël Coward (actor, playwright, composer) – complete one-of-a-kind queer sophisticate.
  23. Salvador Dali (artist) – liked men but self-declaredly compulsively masturbated.
  24. James Dean (actor) – big screen heartthrob with lost-rebel persona who liked his men.
  25. Marlene Dietrich (actress) – female trouser-wearing mega-star.
  26. Christian Dior (fashion designer) – influential French fashion designer.
  27. Disraeli (politician) – political outsider and novelist who still became our PM, twice!
  28. Domitian (emperor) – not an untypical Roman emperor.
  29. Donatello (sculptor) – most famous for his camp, effeminate work, David.
  30. Edward II (king) – met gruesome end with a red-hot poker.
  31. Eisenstein (film pioneer) – Russian cinema pioneer most famous for his montage editing technique.
  32. Flaubert (novelist) – French 19th Century writer who liked to have fun, not least when abroad.
  33. Foucault (philosopher) – wrote about the history of sexuality, including his own.
  34. Yuri Gagarin (cosmonaut) – possibly killed-off by Soviets in air crash before the US could out him.
  35. Vasco da Gama (explorer) – Portuguese navigator reputed to have “indulged” on long voyages.
  36. Greta Garbo (actress) – sexy sultry recluse, apparently best left alone.
  37. Frederick the Great (king) – Prussian imperialist with a claimed-penchant for men.
  38. John Gielgud (actor) – fine-voiced thesp caught cottaging in Chelsea.
  39. Goethe (writer) – German intellectual, author and “grand tourist” who may have dabbled in Italy.
  40. Hadrian (emperor) – beloved of Antinous.
  41. Gerard Manley Hopkins (poet) – Victorian bard obsessed with the male form.
  42. E. Housman (poet) – most famous for verse collection, A Shropshire Lad.
  43. Rock Hudson (actor) – yet another Hollywood star, kept in the closet.
  44. Christopher Isherwood (writer) – author whose works inspired the musical Cabaret.
  45. Henry James (novelist) – great Victorian writer who had intimate relationships with young men.
  46. James I (monarch) – several lovers, both high- and low-born.
  47. John Maynard Keynes (economist) – still-influential economic theorist who loved his men.
  48. Kierkegaard (philosopher) – Danish thinker who thought a lot about his fellow males.
  49. E. Lawrence (writer, soldier) – Lawrence of Arabia; an epic life, ending in a motorbike crash.
  50. Leonardo da Vinci (artist, musician, scientist, engineer) – loved to draw, and sleep with, men.
  51. Abraham Lincoln (US president) – US Republican president, wrote letters betraying same-sex love.
  52. Lorca (poet, dramatist) – executed in Spanish Civil war, still tragically young.
  53. Thomas Mann (novelist) – author of Death in Venice.
  54. Christopher Marlowe (dramatist) – lived fast, died young, stabbed in the face in Deptford.
  55. Freddie Mercury (musician and performer) – closet dazzling rock performer, AIDS-related death.
  56. Michelangelo (artist, sculptor, poet) – divine drawer of men.
  57. Mussorgsky (composer) – Russian musical giant.
  58. Nehru (statesman) – Indian PM who reportedly had early homosexual encounters.
  59. Isaac Newton (mathematician, scientist, alchemist) – asexual or homosexual? Discuss!
  60. Nietzsche (philosopher) – German who loved his “supermen”.
  61. Florence Nightingale (nurse) – never slept with a man but oft describes her closeness to women.
  62. Nijinsky (dancer) – affair with impresario Diaghilev, died in English asylum.
  63. Rudolf Nureyev (dancer) – Russian defector, died of AIDS-related illness.
  64. Octavian (emperor) – yet another Roman homosexual.
  65. Laurence Olivier (actor) – at least rumoured to have had an affair with Danny Kaye.
  66. Joe Orton (playwright) – young writer of raucous farce, bludgeoned to death by jealous lover.
  67. Wilfred Owen (poet) – killed a mere week before WW1 ended.
  68. Pasolini (director) – mysteriously murdered in 1975, 17-year old rent boy subsequently imprisoned.
  69. Peter the Great (tsar) – rumoured, by some men, to have been “great” in bed.
  70. William Pitt the Younger (prime minister) – became our youngest ever PM, aged just 24!
  71. Plato (philosopher) – loved young males, not least students.
  72. Edgar Allan Poe (writer) – American author of the macabre.
  73. Cole Porter (composer) – one of the 20th Century’s great song-writers; alcoholic.
  74. Poulenc (composer) – French and gay.
  75. Proust (novelist) – French writer most famous for À la recherche du temps perdu.
  76. Raphael (painter) – lived with two young students in Rome, to whom he left all his money.
  77. Terence Rattigan (dramatist) – one of England’s most popular 20th C dramatists, pre-kitchen sink.
  78. Michael Redgrave (actor) – bisexual actor, spawned theatrical dynasty.
  79. Richard I (King) – crusader and Lion Heart.
  80. Christina Rossetti (poet) – feminist and/or lesbian? Discuss!
  81. Yves Saint Laurent (fashion designer) – Algerian-born French fashion designer.
  82. Saint-Saëns (composer) – perhaps most famous for his mighty Organ Concerto.
  83. Sappho (poet) – now well-nigh synonymous with lesbian love.
  84. Siegfried Sassoon (poet) – war poet with string of affairs, including with actor Ivor Novello.
  85. William Shakespeare (writer) – all things to all men? Read Sonnet 20!
  86. Socrates (philosopher) – male lovers inspired his thoughts.
  87. Tchaikovsky (composer) – allegedly indirectly took his own life to avoid gay scandal.
  88. Michael Tippett (composer) – great British composer and queer.
  89. Tolstoy (writer) – epic novelist with self-confessed attraction to men.
  90. Alan Turing (mathematician) – WW2-code-breaker, committed suicide after chemical castration.
  91. Mark Twain (writer) – back-to-nature author, obsessed with male camaraderie.
  92. Rudolph Valentino (actor) – Italian silver-screen idol known as the “Latin lover”. Married but alleged.
  93. Verlaine (poet) – tempestuous affair with young Rimbaud.
  94. Virgil (writer) – Aeneid author, back in Ancient Rome.
  95. Visconti (director) – Italian director and screenwriter, best known for 1971 film Death in Venice.
  96. Andy Warhol (artist) – iconic “pop artist” with more than just 15 minutes of fame.
  97. Walt Whitman (poet) – American poet who loved getting back to bracing, butt-bare nature.
  98. Oscar Wilde (writer and one-off) – iconic, despite denying gay affairs in tragic trial.
  99. Ludwig Wittgenstein (mathematician, philosopher) – über-intellectual questioning queer.
  100. Virginia Woolf (writer) – glorious Bloomsbury writer, into some women’s bloomers.

Do you agree with these 100 All-time Gay Greats?

Team Bent