Is Harry Potter Gay?

by emu Nugent



It would be nice to break a story that turned out to be highly prescient, but alas, this one is more likely to be just plain out-of-date wrong, or worse, silly. But, I can’t help telling you anyway. I am fascinated to the point of obsession almost with boys’ secrets, and this one is a goody.

       Is Harry Potter doing it with Ron Weasley?1

       You might well ask. As I write this, author JK Rowling’s latest Potter book has hit the streets with nothing more salacious rumoured about it than the death of one of its characters.2 Pity, because I’d like to think that having brought Harry Potter and his mates to the edge of puberty Rowling is about to tell us, at last, that Harry is gay. This might even have explained why the book seemed to be interminably still-born. (Let’s blame it on a squeamish publisher.) But... I’m afraid not.

        Of course Harry is gay. He grew up in a closet under the stairs; only allowed out to be useful around the house, and certainly never when visitors came. Poor orphaned Harry was destined to go to Stonewall High3 until an invitation from Hogwarts School of Wizardry allowed him to realise his true self — to practice pooffery (or magic then, if you like) — every suburban gay boy’s dream; dispense with your parents I mean,  and then run away with the fairies. At school Harry learns to fly, and meets the lovely red-headed Ron Weasley; fairy-boy and tight companion.4 Harry seems doomed to court the clever if manipulative Hermione, but don’t be fooled, his true love is for Ron.

        And if you are not convinced, compare Harry’s story with the Greek myth of Orestes.5 Orestes, like Harry, was born at Lammas6, sent away to be reared by relatives, had a lightening-flash birthmark on his forehead, caused the death of his parents, fought unending magic battles, had a marriage of convenience with Hermione, and was life-long lover of his childhood boyfriend Pylades. In ancient times the Orestes-Pylades story was regarded as the paradigm of masculine love, they were the perfect poofs, and given the continuing coincidence with Harry’s story JK Rowling cannot be ignorant of this.
 
        But will she, or her publishers, or any author for that matter dare tell the kids? There is something about sex, especially homosex, which makes it way off-limits in so called children’s literature. We take this unspoken rule so for granted that it seems no one notices, let alone dares to question it. But why?
 
        For Christmas of my twelfth year my parents gave me a copy of Peter Pinney’s travelogue ANYWHERE BUT HERE. I suppose they never realised that the book contained what then seemed to me gloriously blatant descriptions of Pinney’s numerous sexual adventures. Mind you, by today’s standards his stories are very bland. But I was transfixed. The book went to bed with me every night for a year. It was my first encounter with sex in literature. Though I had been indulging in sexual adventures myself, it hadn’t yet occurred to me that you could read about these things. But then, it was a grown-up’s book. The Famous Five never got up to tricks like this.
 
        The first book that I ever truly owned, that I chose and bought myself, was Enid Blyton’s ADVENTURES OF
THE WISHING CHAIR,7  purchased with a book voucher given to me on my seventh birthday. Oh the book was sexy enough, that is why I bought it. I was entranced by the yellow cover and the illustrations of Chinky the pixie, becoming ever more deeply in love with him as I read the stories.
 
        Enid Blyton had the same cachet in those days as Rowling does now. Not surprisingly, her books were promoted with the same commercial savvy that Bloomsbury has applied to the HARRY POTTER series. They are replete with erotic appeal.
 
        Like the 1950’s suburban Australia of working-class people on the make that I grew up in, Blyton’s oppressively middle-class fictional world makes clear and frequent distinctions between clean and dirty, good and bad. Clean is something to aspire to and dirty is morally wrong, but, in the world of black, sandy backyards and uncouth grubby boys that I inhabited, dirty was also exciting. Just so the two children in ADVENTURES OF THE WISHING CHAIR, who go to buy their mother a birthday present; something old, which characteristically they can only find in “a small narrow street whose houses were so close that there was hardly any light in the road! And there, tucked away in the middle, was the shop with ‘Antiques’ printed on a label inside a dirty window”.
 
        Whatever her faults as an author, Blyton knows how to get down. Within the first two paragraphs of the book she has established her obedient children of cosy if absent parentage, sent them out on an adventure into a strange world with exotic, medieval allure and dirt. As a kid I lapped it up. The Wishing Chair adventures were like the big boys’ dunnies at school, dark and secretive, but without the danger. Blyton’s stories always end happily.

        I think, what was attractive to me about THE ADVENTURES OF THE WISHING CHAIR, and the later Blyton books I read, was that the world of magic and adventure was taken for granted. Ordinary children, like me, could walk out of our everyday lives straight into an extraordinary land which otherwise only existed in dreams. It was a land where my child’s desires were given some acknowledgement and free reign.

        Blyton’s fantasy children always had adventures and the adventures always happened somewhere dark and dirty - in castles, secret passageways, tunnels and the woods; or were brought about by dark and dirty children – chimney sweeps, Gypsies, ragamuffins, orphans and waifs.

        When I was nine, I went to a Sunday school fancy-dress ball as the Saucepan Man; a character pinched from Enid Blyton’s THE MAGIC FARAWAY TREE. My family ribbed me for my clutter-buckled costume, but now when I re-read the stories I wonder if perhaps my nine year old self didn’t recognise that I might one day grow into just such a character. Or, was I then only intrigued by the idea that the Saucepan Man might be stark naked underneath his ironmongery.

        Enid Blyton; school teacher, mother, do-gooder and children’s author with a public reputation for adoring children, though it seems that she was poor at mothering her own family and led a driven existence, writing up to 37 books a year, obviously with little time for more than her own fantasies.8 And why not. But I wonder just what those fantasies were? She said, many times, that when she sat down to write she would begin by closing her eyes, then let her imagination run free till a story just popped into her head. Pop! Blyton claimed that she started writing a story with no idea of where it was going to go. Her unplanned, almost stream-of-consciousness method tapped into darker and more interesting themes than most of her critics allow. They condemn the overt and insufferably middle-class cosy English snobbery that smothers the home-lives of her child characters. But it was the escape from these homes that made her stories exciting for me. I think that Enid Blyton reassured me that I was not mad; that my perception of being forced to live a boring life was real.

        I don’t know that I had ever experienced the transcendence of an orgasm at the age of nine, but books and stories affirmed my aching belief that there was something... something else, something bigger, something fantastic beyond the drabness of my existence. When Blyton’s children climbed into the magic wishing chair with their very sexy pixie friend and soared into the sky, I went with them. Magic is a pretty old and pervasive metaphor for sex and transcendence. Flying is its obvious corollary.

        My parents had only a very small library of books for me to ransack; TRAINS OF THE WORLD, Lucy Mabel Atwell’s OMNIBUS, A FAMILY MEDICAL COMPANION with rude pictures, H Rider Haggard’s KING SOLOMONS MINES, THE LITTLE WORLD OF DON CAMILLO, Robert Louis Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND, Baden-Powell’s SCOUTING FOR BOYS and the short stories of ‘Saki’ and GK Chesterton. Baden-Powell didn’t think it was healthy for boys to do unclean things, so for a while I washed my hands before going to bed. But TREASURE ISLAND has fascinated me since I was very young. It was the map at the front of the book with all its secret coves and hide-a-ways that first grabbed me. And the pirates! Oh yes the pirates. But what of the relationship between James Hawkins and Long John Silver? If it is true, as Lloyd Osbourne later claimed, that Stevenson wrote the story out of his love for 12 year old Lloyd, then what was Stevenson leaving out...? Unfortunately, in 1883 Stevenson could only complain to a friend of not being able to let the pirates swear; frolics in the fo’c’sle were not to be thought about.9

        Almost thirty years earlier Thomas Hughes might have felt more able to write obliquely about sexual shenanigans between boys in his classic TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS, but even then only to condemn the activity as degenerate.10 And in 1884 when Huckleberry Finn rafted naked 150 miles down the Mississippi with his equally naked black friend, they still never did it.

        Almost like an eleventh birthday present, the Osborne Park Public Library opened in July 1960 not half a mile along the road from my home, and soon I was bicycling down there twice a week. It was Pandora’s Box, never to be closed again.
 
        Perhaps Blyton wasn’t unaware of the secrets she was sharing with her readers. In her later life she admitted that the character of George (Georgina) in her Famous Five novels was based upon her own childhood self. George is a tomboy. An androgynous and alluring mix of tough, angry, assertive boy with a graceful tousle-headed girl. George is the one character in the Famous Five books who invents and advances the children’s adventures. And George wasn’t alone. In FIVE FALL INTO ADVENTURE, Jo is a working-class mirror of androgynous George. She/he develops a crush on Dick, one of the Five after the two of them have a fight on the beach, just as we the readers fall in love with her/him. Is it really only a Freudian slip that androgynous Jo falls for the dick?

        The first of the Five books that I read was FIVE GO TO BILLYCOCK HILL. The title itself was enough to intrigue me, in private at least; I found the word ‘cock’ somewhat embarrassing in public. But then, reading, like sex, was for me a very private occupation.

        Along with a whole generation of certain English women Blyton evinced a determined blindness to rude innuendo, and I can’t help wondering if these funny words weren’t her own (unconscious?) rebellion against straight-laced Victorian morality. Not a book goes by without Blyton pointing out the “queer” folk to us. Obviously she was more than a little attracted to a bit of rough.

        As was I. And along with the erotic, it was the independence from adults that Blyton’s children enjoyed that entralled me. But all those hidden secrets also reinforced my guilt about my sexuality. Like Enid Blyton, my true desires only slipped out by accident. I didn’t even notice the spots staining my sheets until my mother inexplicably asked me if it hurt when I did wees. She thought I was diseased. As I suppose I was, in a literary way.

        The exciting fairytale worlds that Blyton explores are not so much of her own invention as adaptations of much older British, Indo-European and world-wide myths and legends. And these same myths were a staple of my nightly reading. Long-limbed, long-haired heroes11strode through the dreams of my childhood. Now in my middle-age I can recognise the hidden gay and sexual subtext, but even as a child I was aware of the sexual attraction aroused by these characters and stories.

        Joan Kiddell-Monroe’s taut illustrations for the Oxford Myths and Legends series advanced my interest not only in myths, but also in the possibilities of licentious art. I find it hard to believe that I didn’t, in part, construct my own sexuality around her pictures of the naked boys that illustrated the adventures of Oisín,12 Böldur, Baldur and Loki,13 Androcles,14 Blondel15 (Richard the Lion-heart’s lute player), the young King Arthur16 and a host of others. Not to mention any influence on my future profession as storyteller and children’s animateur. When not naked these boys were dressed in the skimpiest of rags or sexy medieval costumes. And they endured trials that I now know were symbolic of sexual initiation. During lazy afternoons I dug tunnels to the otherworld in our backyard and fought with dragons wearing only my tiny Y-fronts, always with goo-ey feelings in my belly that were soon to erupt into first orgasms.

        As a boy, fighting my paper dragons, I was not aware of those other battles going on, the ones for control of my sexual and moral being. For although there might have been a secret supply of sexual material in even the most seemingly innocuous of books, their very same silence on sexuality hit me with the even harder message that sex should not exist, that sex was dirty, that good children did not have sex, that sex was BAD. And I was aware of that. After every exhilarating orgasm I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and remorse. I promised myself, every time, that I would never masturbate again.17

        This might seem very contradictory. It was. And it only reflected the mixed and contradictory messages about sex that I was receiving from books, my family, school and the world around me. The tyranny of silent, complicitous double-messages about children’s sexuality was tearing me apart. To teach a child to hate their own sexual feelings is a crime of such enormity that it takes my breath away still. It is the root of homophobia and the direct cause of rape.

        Luckily, the breathless Anne of Green Gables maintained her optimistic outlook despite endless setbacks from the adult world. My mum read us the stories each night before we went to bed and I adored them. But Anne too was being taught shame.

“This is a nice way for you to behave, Anne! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
“She hadn’t any right to call me ugly and red-headed,” retorted Anne, evasive and defiant.
“You hadn’t any right to fly into such a fury and talk to her the way you did, Anne. I was ashamed of you - thoroughly ashamed of you. I wanted you to behave nicely to Mrs Lynde, and instead of that you disgraced me. I’m sure I don’t know why you should lose your temper like that just because Mrs Lynde said you were red-haired and homely. You say it yourself often enough.”
“Oh, but there is such a difference between saying a thing yourself and hearing other people say it,” wailed Anne. “You may know a thing is so, but you can’t help hoping other people don’t quite think it is.... When she said those things something just rose right up in me and choked me. I had to fly out at her.” 18
        If you read “red-headed” for sexual and “ugly” for wrong, the incident becomes an instructive moral fable. Anne had plenty to complain about. Like George, she is uncomfortable in the adult world of constraint and good behaviour. Anne is fostered to a childless couple in mistake for a boy, and like George she constantly rebels against the straight-laced role expected of her. Unlike Blyton, Montgomery presents her readers with a complex world, and allows us a little intelligence of our own. Montgomery consciously shows us an Anne being forced to devour herself, or choke in the trying. It could be a fable for anyone’s coming out. Unlike George, Anne is allowed to have a real personality, to grow older and eventually to fly. Which gives us hope for Harry Potter. But books like these were in short supply in my childhood and the strictures that Blyton complied with affect us still. Needless to say, Anne does not actually have any sex in the book; if she had my mother would never in a fit have read it to us.

        Alan Marshall’s autobiographical story of his struggle with childhood poliomyelitis has the advantage of an apparently authentic child’s voice.19 A contemporary of Blyton, Marshal wrote I CAN JUMP PUDDLES in his 50’s with all the skill and hindsight of a lifetime’s writing. His child character is subject to different strictures to Blyton’s, but Marshall is still silent on the subject of sex. Almost. Marshall unlike Blyton was a very popular author with the political Left; his books were reprinted in the old communist bloc and read by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. The boy Alan’s unconscious insistence on being treated as a whole person, regardless of his crippled legs, must have struck a chord with many people struggling under the yoke of many different handicaps; be they physical, political or moral. As a gay boy with a club foot I was in love with young Alan, and probably old Alan too, the book had me in tears.
 
        The universal metaphor of the crippled child can hardly have escaped most adult readers’ notice.20

        Alan Marshall, a generation older than my own father, wrote of an era that had passed by the time I was a boy, but the tough and self-reliant masculine ethos of his time was still the one that I and everyone I knew aspired to. Marshall’s was the Gallipoli generation where (anglo) Australian mateship reached its apogee.

        Writing after the Second World War about his turn of the century childhood, Marshall had the liberty to poke gentle fun at the prim Victorianism of some of the people in his little country town.  He was an Elder of the Church and saw the hand of God behind misfortune. On the other hand he suspected the devil of being behind most of the things people enjoyed.

        And if you were to walk the straight and narrow, your legs had to be set right. The young, paralysed Alan enjoys life, and is determined to prevail. He ponders his chances while lying in a hospital bed awaiting an operation to correct his legs.

        I looked at the white ceiling and thought of the puddle near our gate that always came after rain; I could jump it easily but Mary couldn’t. I could jump any puddle.

        What metaphor the rain and puddle? Having had to use crutches myself at the same age as Marshall, I know that going to the toilet was one of the first obstacles to be conquered, it was that or make a puddle on the floor. Like nearly all children in books, Alan never goes to the toilet. But the puddle test returns later in chapter 21 when Alan becomes the first boy in his town to learn to swim across a forbidden “hole” in the local lake. Like the puddle (which Mary the girl can’t jump), the lake is men’s territory where presumably they all swim naked, and the blatant sexual metaphor is no doubt completely unintentional. Although Marshall is able to admire a boy’s “bare behind” glowing a delectable “rosy pink”, Alan never notices the men’s or even the other boys’ penises. His lack of interest is hard to credit. To my certain knowledge it is a major topic of boys’ attention and conversation. But secret, you see.

        Alan has an affectionately close relationship with his father, is “devoted” to boyfriends from school, and friendly — to a point where modern parents would panic — with both the working-men and swagmen from his surrounding countryside. But there is no analysis of masculine sexuality. Alan “feels sick” when he learns that he came from his Mother’s belly. And, while teaching himself to swim, the word ‘breast-stroke’ is “faintly distasteful” to Alan “because I always associated the word ‘breast’ with a mother feeding her baby”. This is typical boys’ fear and hatred of sex and women, learned at a very young age, which Marshall doesn’t question. His father tells him “Men never kiss” and Alan “regarded displays of affection as a weakness.” Which is all depressing enough, but it is Alan’s attitudes to sissies21 that truly muddies the puddle.

        When his mother tells him that one of his friends is a “good boy”, Alan “hoped he wasn’t too good. ‘I don’t like a siss, do you?’ I asked him later. It was a searching question.” Getting a kiss from his mother was “sissy”. Curly hair was “sissy”. Boys who didn’t fight were “sissy”.  But when Alan cuts his leg and badly needs a bandage he is happy to take a handkerchief off Perce the school “sissy”, which is typical poofter-bashing behaviour; Harry Potter shows how sissies are always useful when you need them. This is the only mention of the unfortunately named (by Marshall) Perce in the whole book.

        Of course, in 1955, at the height of the anti-communist, anti-gay, stranger-danger hysteria, an enormously admired Australian writer could not mention or analyse male sexual feelings, except in a derogatory and condescending manner. All the other characters in the book are sympathetically described, even the ones that Alan, or the adult Marshall, probably didn’t admire; the drunks, the bible-bashers, the pompous and the rich. He reserves his scorn for the maliciously cruel and the “sissies”. I think I was eleven when I read this story.
I could have called out ‘barley’ and given them the victory. But if I had done these things I would never have been able to preserve an equality with them. I would always have been an onlooker, the victim of an attitude they reserved for girls.
 
        Gay boys did not have the chance to call out ‘barley’. Like the girls, we remained onlookers to the ‘real’ world of boys, although without the possibility of returning to our own group. We didn’t have one, we didn’t know who we were, and the girls too would have shunned us if they’d known.

        Are boys’ secrets about sex really too secret to expect women authors (who have made the major contribution to children’s literature) to really understand what has been going on all this long long time? Well, they should. Gay men have been writing about our childhoods since ever.22 Though anyway, I can’t help feeling that it is straight male writers who need to get their act together. JD Salinger’s singular boyhood classic THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (published only a few years before Marshall’s autobiography) also contains its own little warning against poofs.

        A boy’s David and Goliath struggle to come out was searingly described in 1963 by the Danish writer Anne Holm.23Twelve year old David is trapped in a dark metaphor, his night-time world lacking any colour, and where each glimmer of light represents the hope of freedom.

         This story of a child in a concentration camp could easily be the description of a boy caught in the sexual nightmare of being gay. Escape is a double-edged sword. Will David hide from his sexuality, as he has been taught, or does he escape to sexual freedom, as the inevitable older man has advised? His enemy is the nameless ‘they’ of course.

        The boy lies waiting in darkness, he must escape tonight, the signal will be the “strike of a match”, all the men around him are nameless, David must “hide”, he must stay “hidden”, he must “hide his feelings”. The man gives him a compass but he doesn’t know what it is. He hates the man. All that David has asked for is a bar of soap, to be clean at last. He is “seized with a nightmare... nothing pleasant ever happened... Yes, he must try” to escape. Can they see him “in the dark”? All around are “buildings outlined against the dark sky, like an even darker smudge of blackness. ...David’s eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness”. And all that mattered now was the “freedom of the night that lay ahead... Every night he ran, and he ran all night long”.

        I am reminded of my own desperate midnight runs through dark suburban streets of undeclared desire, and the longing, oh the longing to be able to run away from... from what? I would throw off my clothes and run naked, faster and faster, running til I was breathless. Away from what? Towards what?

        David had no idea what the countryside looked like: for him it was only a place where he must run through the night and hide by day... He caught sight, in the moonlight, of .... the embers of a burned down fire. Food. ...The compass was directing him to cross a road. He dared not disobey it; it was almost as if some part of the man himself were travelling with him. ...David knew that he must not think. ...He gave his mind to hurrying along as fast as possible during the night, to stopping as soon as the darkness began to lift. ...Why had they not caught him the night he crossed the bridge? ...there had been lights in the houses but no-one had seen him... And now he was on his way... It was pitch-dark inside the van. He felt locked in, doubled up in the inky blackness without being able to move, without being able to die... (and he must) fight against the flood of memory that poured over him, the terror, the hatred, the frightening questions that burned like fire within him.

        If only there had been someone I could have talked to. Like Anne of Green Gables I knew, and I dreaded knowing, dreaded being told, and yet ached to be told, to be accepted, to be loved. And in the end, without any person, any book, any web-site to help me, completely beyond my depth I wallowed in ignorance as much as misery. It seemed safer to stay closeted. Would I dare to take the final terrible step myself, alone?
At first David was anxious to discover if there were any windows down there, but then he realised that he was now below the water-line and so of course there weren’t any... The time had now come for him to open the last of his treasures, his box of matches... He found a corner ... where he could stay hidden... All the coldness and darkness and infinite loneliness of the world filled David’s mind until it seemed ready to burst.

        When at last he was discovered, he was taken completely by surprise: he woke up to hear a voice just above his head saying “Mamma mia, what are you doing here?”

        And isn’t that just the way! When it happens it is so surprisingly easy. Those strange, foreign, poofy men turn out to be motherly dears, queens every one, and only too keen to help... Well, it is a struggle, but it is also possible, and the struggle to come out is worth much more than the fight of remaining closeted.

        The Italian had brought the lifebelt, however, and a piece of bread as well. David stumbled, staggered, crawled... Then opening his eyes he sat up and looked. He did not know how long he stayed there... sitting motionless, just gazing... only when everything grew strangely misty did he discover that he was crying.
 Far below him lay the sea, a sea bluer than and sky he had ever seen. The land curved in and out along its edge: in and out, up and down, all green and golden, with here and there the red of flowers too far off to be clearly seen. Down by the sea a road ran along the foot of the mountain, and near it lay villages whose bright colours gleamed dazzlingly. There were trees with many changing tints of green, and over it all shone the warming sun – not white-hot and spiteful and scorching, as the sun had shone on the camp in summertime, but a warm golden loveliness.

        Beauty. David had once heard Johannes24 use the word. It must have been something like this he meant.

        Holm is well aware that coming out is only the beginning of the story. The rest of her novel takes David all the way from Italy to Denmark (incidentally one of the first countries in the word to decriminalize homosexuality), where he finds love and family. Her novel is about the escape of a boy from communist Europe into the free West, but it is also the story of all people looking for acknowledgment, freedom and dignity.

        Another hero, young Sparrowhawk, the motherless son of a village bronze-smith on the isle of Gont, must also make an initiatory journey, travelling the lands of Earthsea, to discover his true self. Like both David and Harry Potter, he is imprisoned within the narrow island of his boyhood, and like Harry, gains his freedom by winning entry to a school for wizards. This is pretty straightforward rites-of-passage stuff, brought alive by Ursula le Guin’s compelling prose.25
 
        In a much earlier book for adults Le Guin had written gamely about homosexuality,26 but in her Earthsea series she eschews almost any mention of sexuality at all until the fourth book,27 when the main protagonists are old and ready, it seems, to acknowledge a patient if belated tide-spring of nature. In that book the story revolves around the awful abuse of a young girl; it is only against this backdrop that Sparrowhawk discovers his sexual being. A cautionary tale for us all, perhaps. And if the Earthsea books are read as sexual fable, then they take some very dark turns.

        The interweaving of old stories with the creative moral interplay of an author’s choosing is a skill as old as storytelling itself, and probably none do it more knowingly, more craftily than Le Guin. In her first Earthsea book the boy runs wild, named by his friends for the little birds he tames, but caught in the grip of a nascent and unpredictable power of control over nature. Unalarmed by this power on an island famous for its wizards, his father sends the boy for tutoring to the village witch. She however recognises that her women’s magic is not what the boy needs to learn, he is beyond her teaching.

        Sparrowhawk is baptised by the mage Ogion, and taken to be his apprentice. But the boy chafes under the old man’s slow and gentle tutelage. Sparrowhawk wants to make magic now and attempts to decipher a spell from Ogion’s books, accidentally letting loose a “shadow’ into the world. Sparrowhawk is only saved from the “shadow” by the fortuitous intervention of the mage.

“...listen to me now. Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light? This sorcery is not a game we play for pleasure or praise. Think of this: that every word, every act of our Art is said and done either for good, or for evil. Before you speak or do you must know the price that is to pay!”28
        Ogion’s29 words could be those of a father chastising his son for a casual sexual liaison. I do not make this connection casually. Sexuality is the wellspring of all religions, although those of us who live in cultures where religion is more about power than worship might find the idea of sex as a religious act hard to understand. The closest most of us ordinary humans come to a transcendental experience is at the moment of sexual orgasm. The practice of religion is the art of learning or acquiring transcendence. All pagan religions use sexual acts as part of their ritual. Sexual abstinence for religious purposes is about conserving and enhancing sexual power. It is the three great Mosaic religions that have perverted and spread the religious practice of abstinence into an anti-sex dogma. The word worship is likely related through its Indo-European roots to the word whore (which anyway originally meant adultery, and that was once celebrated at religious festivals) and to the Latin word carus meaning dear or cherished or worshipped.30 Prostitution (or whoredom) might have grown out of the ancient religious institution of sexually active temple priestesses and the acknowledgement that sex was holy. It was Mosaic law and zealotry that drove the priestesses onto the streets. Tantric yoga, Satanism, and traditional indigenous Australian religions are all living examples of sexually promiscuous worship. Magic (as different to prestidigitation or stage magic) is the practice of pagan ritual, and the reason for fundamentalist Christian attacks on the Harry Potter books as works of the devil.

        The ancient myths and settings that Le Guin has drawn upon in the Earthsea books have come from religious stories, rituals and beliefs. This is in common with much of modern fantasy writing. Sparrowhawk’s initiatory journey and adventures in later books all find their roots in traditional lore. The boy gives up his childhood identity and is spiritually cleansed in water before receiving his adult name. This ritual survives almost unchanged in some modern Christian churches. Like Finn of Ireland or Jesus of Nazareth, Sparrowhawk is apprenticed to a mage. Like King Arthur he travels to a magic isle. Le Guin’s “Immanent Grove”, a magical stand of trees, derives from the tree-worship of the Druids. The “shadow” that dogs Sparrowhawk throughout the first book rises from the underworld Hell of Norse and Greek myth. The labyrinth and its priestess in the second book31 is a retelling of the Theseus and Ariadne story, complete with the unhappy abandonment of Ariadne (or in this case Tenar) on an island. Most happily, and intriguingly, Le Guin revives the relationship in the fourth book, but more of that later. The power of stones to hold a man’s soul is from Celtic belief. The magic ring that spans the series echoes the ring of the Nibelung from Germanic legend. The dragons that Sparrowhawk fights in the third book32 are the winged beasties, worms, and serpents of pan-continental Europe and Asia.

        And all of these old stories are based upon a religio-sexual allegory as much as drawn from any historical fact.  For instance, the Greek legend of Theseus and his hunt through the labyrinth to confront and defeat the Minotaur, helped by the princess Ariadne, is a marriage ritual celebrating spring and the union of the sun and moon, as much as it is based upon the actual annexation of Crete by Athens. The labyrinth probably represents an erotic dance. Theseus was accompanied by gay warriors and was probably gay himself (although not in the modern sense). And Ariadne was left behind on his return to Athens because as queen-goddess she could not leave matriarchal Crete without losing her status. Like Tenar of the second book, Ariadne has many sons to the local king.33

        Le Guin has said that to the unlearned, any skill appears to be magic.34 And of course her books are open to a reader’s own interpretation. But she has also written again and again about the abuse of women by men, so I find it easy to believe that she had the consciousness of sexual metaphor somewhere in her mind when writing this series. And my belief is only reinforced by her later addition to the Earthsea trilogy in 1990 with a fourth book TEHANU. Here, Sparrowhawk meets again with Tenar and together they coax a small abused child back to some semblance of life, leaving her scarred but with hope for a future. At the same time, Tenar and Sparrowhawk consummate their relationship in a way which was not previously possible for them, and which surely reflects Le Guin’s own very concerned and humanist view of the current state of affairs between women and men.

        The abused child, Tenahu, does come into her own in the fifth Earthsea novel.  Perhaps not quite solving all the world’s sexual problems, she escapes from the Earthsea paradigm to live with her own kind, the primal dragons.35

        So, is Sparrowhawk’s plea to practice magic now, not just the cry of any child to have their sexuality recognised now, not later when they are married or have crossed some arbitrary ‘age of consent’ or learned how to do it properly? By then it is too late. Children are sexual beings and, like all of us, practice their sexuality, but by refusing to see, to recognise, to remember even, adults are destroying a child’s confidence in their most sacred inner being.

        Le Guin has also said that “to find the moral, the message, the meaning of a folktale ...is a risky business; it is like stating the meaning of a fish”36 and with this strictly in mind, if Le Guin’s series is read as a sexual cautionary tale, what is my complaint? That there are no poofs? Well, not everyone is a poof and why not leave it to the gays to write about them anyway. But her Earthsea books, as an examination of masculine power, cannot properly work without examining the pervasive and dreadful fear that males have of their own sexualities, of the celebration of their own bodies; namely in the sexual attraction between men and men. This fear is as deeply rooted as the fear and hatred of women, and I wonder if it is more basic even because a boy first learns to hate himself before needing to transfer that hate onto the “other”, be they women or gays. I don’t suggest that Le Guin is unaware of all this.

        What is the “shadow” that follows Sparrowhawk and threatens his existence? No matter where he turns or how far he runs, the shadow is there. It saps his strength, leaving him unable to use any magic against it for fear that he will be completely overwhelmed.  The “shadow” first appears when he is showing off his magical skills as a young lad to a wilful (Le Guin’s term) girl. It returns in more powerful form in his teenage years when he is competing with a rival (male) student. This time, the young sorcerer is struck down, held silent for the turn of a year, like a monk in a cloistered world, until he recovers. Sparrowhawk spends his early adulthood tracking down the “shadow” and it is only with the help of a male friend that he finally faces up to it, discovering that the “shadow’ is actually an aspect of his own self. Which is not a bad lesson to learn about sexual power, especially when boys and men are usually encouraged to be irresponsible.

        My worry is that Le Guin’s solution appears not much different to Baden-Powell’s or other Victorians’; sex is dangerous, so just don’t do it, yet. It is a seductive solution (for adults but hardly for children), especially to those who have been hurt by sex, but it is neither practicable nor in my view sensible. Boys need an example of hope! And in a world of children’s literature that remains steadfastly silent on the subject, gay boys need more than metaphors, they need writers who will spell out that gay sex is ok.

        I think it was in one of Ivan Southall’s books that someone eventually went to the toilet; had a pee; and after something like 200 years of children’s literature it was about time. That poor kid must have been busting! Michael, the thirteen year old protagonist of one of his later books, went much further. BREAD AND HONEY is the kind of book that I wish I could have read myself at 13.37 It deals explicitly with the agony of a boy coming to terms with his sexual being.

        Michael wakes one Anzac Day, that day of the year when Australia officially recognises a sacred national day – to mourn the war dead — wakes in dread of being late for school. It takes him some time to remember that it is a holiday. Michael’s mother is dead, his father is away working, and his brothers have all grown up and left home. He lives alone with his stubbornly deaf (she won’t put her hearing-aid on) grandmother. This is Southall’s setting for an examination of male sexuality; Anzac day is both an overt celebration of macho culture and a day for contemplating that culture, which parallels the dilemmas facing Michael. The males in his family are all (irresponsibly) absent, leaving him nothing to celebrate, and the women are either (sexually) dead or deaf to his need to talk. The holiday from school gives him a holiday from social norms, a chance to discover himself.
 Michael runs naked into the world. It is an orgiastic leap, a romp in the grass and mud and warm rain, and a desperate cry for recognition. Michael is only vaguely aware of his own motives. Mrs Farlow next door is quite likely to see him and complain to his grandmother who will complain to his dad who will tell him to grow up... but Michael also knows that he needs to run naked. He takes off, dressed now, without waking his grandma, out into the street to follow the Anzac parade.

        He had wanted to be one of the crowd. He had wanted to stir to the music of the Salvation Army Band. It didn’t matter what Dad said about glorifying force; it was terrific stirring to the band, feeling strong enough to punch someone in the eye. He had wanted to walk along the footpath to the rhythm of the band, perhaps matching his stride for a few modest moments to the strides of the men who had fought in the wars. Other kids could do it out in the open with their dads; he had to sneak in quietly behind the crowd; not over doing it, because he was big now.

        Like anyone else, Michael wants to fit in, but he can’t, he has a secret, and there is no salvation down the macho road for him. The school bully frightens him away from the parade and he escapes to the privacy of the beach. Here Michael meets a younger girl. She is a witch, she says so, and is able to lead Michael through his rites-of-passage trials. The two children argue and Michael is humiliated by the girl, losing all sense of self, as he must if he is to enact the ‘Great Vigil’, and is dunked in the ocean. An initiation of sorts.38

        Through his encounter with the witch-child, Michael comes to an understanding of his urges to run naked in public; realises that not all sexual feelings can be responsibly acted upon; beats off the bullies who come to the beach to threaten him, learning that some violence is responsible, and goes home... wiser and happier and reconciled within himself and with his family (or his grandmother at least).

        This story, told mostly with the voice of Michael, was a ground-breaking radical treatment of boys’ sexuality. More than thirty years later it still stands as one of the few mainstream novels for children that dares to speak. It is interesting to realise that the book was not universally welcomed.

        BREAD AND HONEY, regardless of its prize-winning status, is a disappointment. Is Michael questioning Anzac Day and the conflicting values of the two preceding generations? Is he striving to understand his adolescent self? The blurb indicates that the theme is of that nature and the year of publication indicates a reflection of national soul searching over conscription. At any rate, Michael fights Flackie, the bully, and appears to have found personal peace at the end of the book. It would be a blurb-oriented reader who drew any conclusions, since the text itself is so understated as to be obscure. There is a great emphasis on clothes, on or off. Michael’s are frequently off. He reacts with horror to young Margaret’s disrobing, just as others have reacted to his. Margaret is another of Southall’s delightful, unselfconscious pre-adolescents, but even she can shed no light on BREAD AND HONEY.

         “It was confusing, Dad hiding his medals but keeping a polish on them, Grandma saying she loved everything but laying down poison in the vegetable cupboard to kill mice.”

        Confusing too is BREAD AND HONEY.39

        This reviewer has obviously missed the point completely, or obstinately, deliberately, like the adults in the novel. Of course, if the matter of a boy’s sexuality remains secret, then no wonder that people don’t or can’t understand. We all have a responsibility to write and talk about this subject instead of brushing it off as “confusing”. Nor is it good enough to say “Oh, but back in those days...” Ivan Southall was born the same year as my father, in 1921; he lived back then... and understood! It is a specious argument. Oscar Wilde was born at the time of TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS, and he too understood, went to gaol for understanding. Although, despite his radical treatment, Southall does not mention homosexuality. Oh dear.

        Nor does one of my personal all time favourite children’s writers, Patricia Wrightson. Oh dear again. Wrightson takes up environmental issues, and more importantly, indigenous ownership of the land, with intuition and skill, but she won’t poke a barge pole at sex, which is a great shame. A whole generation of writers are going to their graves with no more than hints to us of their understanding on the subject.

        Wrightson’s THE NARGUN AND THE STARS40 was another of those books that I fell for. Her storytelling had more than a formative impact on my own work. A city boy is orphaned and goes to live in the country with a distant older uncle and aunt. (By now you must be recognising the genre.) There, lonely and estranged in the mountains, Simon discovers a magical teacher, the Aboriginal spirit Potkoorok, who helps Simon through many trials to a final integrated adulthood. Simon plays in the forest, swims in creeks, crawls through long dark tunnels, fights a monster of the night (...the Nargun of the title, which, like Sparrowhawk’s “shadow”, has the hero’s name engraved upon it), but never never thinks of sex. This is so unreasonable. I despair of these endless allegories of sexual initiation, yet not one explicit word of what it is all really about. No wonder that after such a childhood we adults grow into sexually dysfunctional old croaks. What are we doing to the kids?

        My point, restated, is that we have generation after generation of writers pouring out, sometimes with great literary talent, allegories on the importance of homosexual initiation of youth, and yet, at the same time remaining so silent on the explicit subject of homosexuality that we continue as a culture to repeat, wittingly or not (because, some moral fundamentalists do consciously take up the fight to suppress and pervert sexual education), all the sins of our fathers; we condemn our boys to ignorance and mindlessly traditional sexual irresponsibility, fear, guilt, and all the social problems that go alongside.

        Generation after generation of boys are hiding under the school shed wanking with their mates, untutored and happy, but they are also learning to hate their sexual desires because of adult silence, a silence driven by the shame and fear that adults themselves have learnt as children. It is a nasty circle that goes around and around and around. Stop it.

        “Will it ever get out again?” Simon asked the Potkoorok. It had been into the mountain by its secret road to peep.
        “There is no road for the Nargun,” it said.
        “Will it ever?”
        “How long is ever? When the mountain crumbles; when a cave opens; when a man or a river breaks down the rock; is that ever?”
        Simon shivered, thinking about it. “It is ever,” he said at last. “But not now.”
        “Not now”.
        “Poor thing...”
        Poor thing indeed. The Nargun is an elemental force, trapped it seems till ever, because no one knows how to deal with it.

        In 1977 Eleanor Spence broke down a few of those rocks and might have been one of the very first mainstream (i.e. heterosexual) children’s writers to tackle homosexuality in A CANDLE FOR ST ANTHONY.41 But before we cheer, let us put her novel into the context of gay literature. The Brazilian author Adolfo Caminha published BOM CRIOULO, his frank novel of a black sailor’s love for a white cabin-boy, way back in 1895, the year of Oscar Wilde’s trials, although it was not published in English until 1982. Marcel Proust’s DU CÔTÉ DE CHEZ SWANN and Thomas Mann’s DEATH IN VENICE, both dealing with boys and homosexuality, appeared in 1913, André Gide’s THE COUNTERFEITERS in 1926, and Jean Cocteau’s LE LIVRE BLANC in 1928. Australian writer Kenneth Seaforth Mackenzie published his (gay?) novel dealing with adolescent homosexuality THE YOUNG DESIRE IT in 1937. The almost ‘coming out’ short story by Denton Welsh When I was Thirteen was published in HORIZON magazine in 1944. Yukio Mishima’s autobiographical CONFESSIONS OF A MASK appeared in 1949. The Italian writer Umberto Saba’s explicit sexual adventures of young ERNESTO was written in 1953, but probably not published in English until 1975. GIOVANNI’S ROOM by the black queen of American writing, James Baldwin, hit the streets in 1956. Angus Stewart’s love story set in a boys choir-school, SANDEL, came out in 1968. Mary Renault added THE PERSIAN BOY to her Greek novels in 1972. David Malouf’s AN IMAGINARY LIFE of the poet Ovid meeting a wild boy was published in 1978, the same year as Tony Duvert’s WHEN JONATHAN DIED. These are just some of them.

        And Spence’s novel is very coy compared to all of these. It might seem hard to criticise a writer for not being bolder. Why did EM Forster not allow his gay novel MAURICE (begun in 1913 and finished around 1958) to be published until after his death? In 1975 the Franco-Chinese writer Han Suyin, speaking in Perth Australia, was able to say that she was unaware of the situation of homosexuals in China. (The real point being, I suppose, not that she couldn’t answer, but that the question could be asked.) Even in 1975 my parents were unaware (at least so it seemed) that they had a gay son, despite my gay liberation badges and my T shirts with ‘poofter’ hand-printed across them. Perhaps the problem was not with the writing but in the publishing, in finding an audience. There is no doubt that publishing is driven by commercial constraints, but Spence surely could have gotten away with writing a stronger story.

        St Anthony of her title was the original Christian monastic. He spent 20 years in rigorous religious seclusion and a lifetime of sexual abstinence around the turn of the third Century in the deserts of Upper Egypt, and is subject of the 1873 composition St Anthony Variations by Brahms.42 So is Spence suggesting that monasticism is the answer to a boy’s homosexuality? I suspect she might be.

        Fifteen year old, popular, well-to-do Justin takes an instant dislike to the new boy at his private Sydney college. Inexplicably (to his friends and to the reader) he has a sudden about face, falling for the intelligence and charms of Rudi.43 An exclusive friendship develops between them. At no point does Spence entertain the thought that there is any latent or growing sexual attraction, although Justin’s mates are suspicious. In fact, the two teenagers are curiously devoid of any sexuality at all, at least not one that I could recognize. (A colleague has pointed out to me that perhaps all these ‘boys’ described by women writers are actually girls, not boys at all. Now that makes sense.) Spence’s story comes to some kind of clunky climax on a school excursion to Austria when the boys uncover a ruined chapel to St Anthony during, you guessed it, a rain storm, encouraging Rudi to declare his love for Justin. The reader, like Justin, is under-whelmed. Heterosexual Justin returns to Sydney and homosexual Rudi stays in his native Vienna, presumably to lead a monastic life of music and study. But they stay friends, isn’t that cute.

        Whether the missed opportunities are a failing in Spence’s writing (she tends to tell us about the story rather than letting the characters and narrative develop it for her), or a matter of prudery, or just pig-headed ignorance on her part is hard to determine.44 The book was ‘highly commended’ at the Australian Book of the Year Awards in 1978. This might reflect the conservatism of the Australian library and publishing world, more than any illumination by Spence of teenage sexuality.

        Schoolboy Aaron Fricke did a much better job in his 1981 autobiographical coming-out novel REFLECTIONS OF A ROCK LOBSTER.45 The book is long out of print but I remember it well; the story of Fricke taking a boyfriend to his High School ball and the fuss he caused. Good on him. Did he have as much to lose as other older writers? Did he have more to gain?

        The eighties heralded a whole rush of coming out novels. David Rees’ THE MILKMAN’S ON HIS WAY is typical.46 Fifteen year old Ewan lusts after his straight friend Les, not a completely wasted exercise, though he has to leave his tiny Cornish village for London before he can really come out. This novel reads like a primer for gay boys, which is of course its biggest strength, and weakness. Written before law reform, designer drugs and AIDS changed the face of gay culture, both closeted and out, Rees’ book still carries a useful message for gay kids. Ewan learns how to deal with his straight male friends (Les — who does it but won’t speak about it, and the others — wholly intent on proving their superiority to queers), and the embarrassing string of girlfriends he is compelled to date. He has a mad summer fling with a gay tourist and is devastated when he is dumped at the end of the holidays. He comes out to his girlfriend who is very supportive, and to his parents who are horrified. And finally finally escapes to London where he learns to deal with homophobia in the workplace, with gay bars and casual sex, being second string to a broken relationship, living with and losing a lover, until, by the end of the novel he can bravely take his black boyfriend home to meet his parents and lives, if not happily ever after, at least with some dignity, understanding and hope.

        Sometimes Rees’s story bogs down in the endless didactic lessons that he feels obliged to cram into the book, but then, given the dearth of literature for gay boys, Rees was no doubt trying to cover the scene in one crazy leap. And he doesn’t do too badly. I wish this had been the book I’d got to read for Christmas at twelve. The sad thing is that even twenty years after the book’s publication, boys of Harry Potter’s generation still don’t have access to such novels. And not because the books don’t exist. They do.

        Mainstream publishers, with whatever excuse, still rarely touch gay popular literature. Gay authors must go to gay publishers to sell their books. Gay publishers, in turn, do not have the same access as their straight cousins to mainstream distribution networks, and so gay books are generally not available in mainstream bookshops or public libraries.47 Straight parents and their sons do not enter gay bookshops, if they even know they exist. Public libraries in Australia do not buy from gay distributors and do not stock gay books. Oh I can hear the howls of protest from librarians, but go and look at your shelves. There are now hundreds of gay books for children and young people and almost none of them are readily available.

        While writing this article I asked at my local library; they do not have a reading list of gay books for children, or for teenagers, and could only find one novel in stock.48 Checking their web-site under gay I found eight novels and five non-fiction books listed. This is a library that caters for 25 thousand inner-city  residents with a higher than average gay population. Of course they have many other books by unacknowledged gay authors, but young people are not likely to realise this. It seems just like the old days at Osborne Park Library when I had to browse through every book on every shelf in the hope, the desperate and shameful hope, of finding something sexy.

        Kate Walker’s young Peter, 49 finds someone sexy in her sturdy little book (“for readers aged 14 and up” — I didn’t know they still put that in books?) about a gay boy, but her final message is that Peter must wait until he is eighteen before having sex, which is a silly and very patronising thing to say. I wonder if Kate Walker wants to spend the next three years of her life celibate? And even if she does, that is no reason to lay it on other people, or is it a necessary moral rider to get her novel published. Oh dear.

        And then, at the turn of this new millennium, the WAYRBA committee reportedly censored Euan Mitchell’s autobiographical novel of his feral youth from its list of the year’s most popular youth novels eligible for their annual award, because of a (perfectly legal) sexual encounter between 16 year old Euan and an older man.50

        Best selling author John Marsden does not seem to have wanted to tackle homosexuality in his series that started with TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN,51 although I suspect that the young man who commits suicide early on might be gay. If that is the case it would be disappointing, given Marsden’s otherwise sensible treatment of heterosexual teenage sexuality and his avowed interest in secret boys’ business, but then...

        Perhaps Marsden is himself scared by homosexuality, or the inference that he might be gay? Which I am not suggesting at all. In his book of advice for the young mums of boy babies, Marsden’s only mentions once, and very obliquely, that some baby boys grow up to be gay boys.52 And in his disappointing SECRET MEN’S BUSINESS he touts a very old-fashioned and offensively heterosexist view of sexuality, declaring that being sexually excited by other males or playing sex games with other boys “has got nothing to do with being gay.” Well, my dears, I thought that that was exactly what being gay was about! Trying to protect boys from the fear of being gay (i.e. homophobia) by telling them that their desires are not homosexual is a lie, and only encourages poofter bashing.53

        When I looked through the collection of ‘Young Adult’s’ fiction in my local library I came across the pertinently named LOVE AND SEX54, an anthology of 10 short stories about young people and sex. Two of the stories are about gay boys. In A Cure for Curtis a boy learns from his girlfriend that homosexual desire is ok, although I am wary of the fact that the only sex that actually happens is heterosexual. Is the young reader being told that gay dreams are ok, but the sex... well? Gay writer Michael Lowenthal’s The Acuteness of Desire is probably the sexiest story in the book, reflecting the sexual openness of modern gay writing, as opposed to sleaze in heterosexual pornography. A gay boy lusts after and eventually has sex with a schoolmate. But, like the Scarlet Woman in horror movies, the gay boy learns that sex doesn’t pay. In a different collection, one that included more varied gay stories and happier endings to sexual encounters, Lowenthal’s story would be about the irony of falling for straight boys; however, in this collection which encourages caution and abstinence, the story maybe reinforces the point that sex is hazardous. This might be true for many people, but gay boys need hope. I cannot stress this too much. Please! (The one lesbian girl in the book falls for another girl who turns out to be a boy! ...okay, a transsexual, but the effect on the girl is the same.) LOVE & SEX is an intriguing and intelligent collection, it is only a pity that this kind of book is so rare; it means that individual stories carry too heavy a weight of reader expectations; a message for publishers more than the writers of the stories.

        There is always hope for Harry, however. All us poofs out here are rooting for him. We don’t expect miracles, just for a few writers and publishers to realise that homosexuality has got more to do with the whole of humanity than the genre straight-jacket that is usually provided for our literature to wear would indicate. Gay literature is everybody’s literature, all boys need to read about homosexuality, and children and young people have as much right to read and hear what they want as anyone else.55 Harry Potter and Ron Weasley will not always have to crawl through dark tunnels, wade across bitter streams, swim oceans, fight monsters or deceive their girl friends. Gay kids’ books, like gay boys, are on their way out of the closet.
 

Footnotes
 

1 JK Rowling HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHERS STONE Bloomsbury 1997 and sequels. The best selling children’s books ever.

See also:

www.scholastic.com/harrypotter
www.harrypotter.com
www.mugglesforharrypotter.org
www.theblanchards.com/hp/index.html
www.davean.com/CRN/Harry-Potter.html  etc.
2 The fifth book in the sequence was originally due out in 2001, it appeared 21st June 2003.

3 Remember Stonewall Inn? Perhaps the most famous gay bar in the world, and where the modern gay rebellion began in 1969.

4 Ron’s red hair can’t be an accident. Fairies are red-headed; see the story of the Fairy Boy of Leith immortalised by Sir Walter Scott, and found in SCOTTISH FAIRY TALES Senate 1994. The word scarlet derives from the Latin sigillatus meaning adorned with images, or worshipped, as queens rightly are.

5 Try the version in Robert Graves GREEK MYTHS Penguin 1960, or the Oresteia Trilogy of Aeschylus (AGAMEMNON, CHOEPHOROE, EUMENIDES).

6 Lammas is the season of harvest festival, Lammas Day is Ist August, and no doubt equates with the Jewish Succoth or Feast of the Tabernacles, which originally, like the corresponding Athenian grape festival, was presided over by homosexual priests. (See Graves ibid.) A propitious time for Harry to be born. Orestes birth-date is more difficult, but Lammas seems the right time for an agriculture goddess, Clytemnestra his mum, to drop him.

7 First published in 1937 by Newnes, the book has remained in print ever since.

8 See Bob Mullen THE ENID BLYTON STORY Boxtree Limited 1987, or almost any other examination of her life.

9 See Frank McLynn ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON Pimloco 1993.

10 Thomas Hughes TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS, first published in 1856.

11 This, remember, is in the days of regulation short back and sides for all males. The Beatles and the swinging sixties were another decade away. Long hair for boys was not on the horizon, except, curiously, in American cowboy movies.

12 Part of the cycle of the Irish hero Finn McCool stories; Oisín is bard to the Fianna, the son of Finn and Sabdh, abandoned as a child, taught by a mage, and later found running naked, wild and mute on the heath by his father.   A version can be found in Kathleen Lines (ed) MAGICAL TALES Faber.

13 From the Norse Eddas; Böldur and Baldur are gay twins confounded by the transsexual trickster god Loki.

The definitive children’s edition might be A and E Keary THE HEROES OF ASGARD Macmillan 1979 (first published 1930).

But also see www.luth.se/luth/present/sweden/history/gods/johannes/

14 Androcles, like St Francis of Assisi and Hagrid from the Harry Potter books, loved and tamed wild animals, or in other words, the wild beast within. More pertinently, he is the boy who tames male sexual aggression with love.

See Bernard Shaw’s ANDROCLES AND THE LION.

15 According to legend Blondel de Nesle accompanied Richard 1 on his crusades to the Holy Land and effected Richard’s rescue from the castle of Dörrenstein in 1193 by means of a love song they had composed together.

For the children’s story (sans sex) see Charles Tritten RICHARD THE LIONHEART Golden Pleasure Books Ltd 1967.

16 Arthur’s birth at mid-Winter, abandonment, apprenticeship to a mage, and initiation at the Spring rites is a story common to all Indo-European agricultural god-kings (compare with Osiris, Hercules, Pralad, Jesus and others). For an enchanting story of the Arthur–Merlin relationship read gay writer TH White THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING William Collins Sons and Co 1958.

17 Curiously, sex with other boys never brought on these feelings of shame. It is evidence of how learned guilt creeps surreptitiously into our lives from the outside.

18 LM Montgomery ANNE OF GREEN GABLES Angus and Robertson 1961, first published in 1908.

19 Alan Marshall I CAN JUMP PUDDLES Longman Cheshire 1955, and republished almost every year since. In its time it was probably the best known book ever written by an Australian author.  It has appeared in over 30 languages.

20 The crippled child in the story of THE PIED PIPER is perhaps the most famously recognised, but for me the most remarkable is the Scottish tale told by Duncan Williamson about a crippled boy who rips a thornbush growing from his father’s foot, in; Duncan and Linda Williamson A THORN IN THE KINGS FOOT: FOLKTALES OF THE SCOTTISH TRAVELLING PEOPLE Penguin 1987.

The moral behind the myth is suspect, but a crippled child (usually a boy; surprise surprise) is often accredited with a wisdom or power denied his peers. Perhaps the struggle to transcend a burden may bring insight into the human condition, but the myth also smacks of an “if it hurts then it’s good for you” mentality, which, as an excuse for punishing children (or anyone else for that matter) I firmly reject.

21 “Sissy” was the only word in my 1950’s childhood that referred to gay boys and men. Homosexuality was such a taboo subject that even though I had long been having sex with my mates, I was 13 before I realised that “sissy” might refer to me and what I was doing. And then I was thunderstruck! My conscious struggle with my gay sexuality dates from that dreadfully remembered moment.

22 For instance read Plato, Ovid, Virgil, Petronius, Farid u-Din Attar, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Boccaccio, Cellini, Ameng of Wu, Ihara Saikaku, Marquis de Sade, Balzac, Flaubert, Oscar Wilde, Adolpho Caminha, Fyodor Sologub, Robert Musil, Sigmund Freud, André Gide, Thomas Mann, Sandro Penna, Umberto Saba, Costas Taktsis, Yukio Mishima, José Lezama Lima, Michael Davidson, Gerard Reve, Augustín Gómez-Arcos, Evgeny Kharitonov, Tony Duvert, Michel Tournier, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, Roberto Calasso, Jean Cocteau, James Purdy, William S Burroughs, Coleman Dowell, Roger Peyrefitte, Rudi van Dantzig, Edmund White, Samuel R Delaney, or our own Australian writers Matthew Goldenberg, Sumner Locke Elliott, Timothy Conigrave, Neal Drinnen, David Malouf, Frank Moorhouse, Kieren McGregor, Seaforth McKenzie, Peter Robb, Ian Roberts, Sasha Soldatov... to mention but a few. And of course those women who have noticed; Mary Renault, Marguerite Yourcenar, Bron Nicholls, Anne Rice, Marion Zimmer Bradley.

And perhaps, Gregory Woods A HISTORY OF GAY LITERATURE Yale University Press 1999, for the whole stretch of not really so secret literature.

23 Anne Holm I AM DAVID Methuen and Co Ltd 1965. The boldly definitive statement of the title is appropriate. The original Danish title is DAVID.

24 Johannes was David’s one adult friend in the camp. And perhaps it is not too much to conjecture that Holm was well aware of the metaphorical connections... David cries his love on the death of Jonathon (in SAMUEL book 2 chapter 1 lines 26-27).

I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan:
Very pleasant hast thou been unto me:
Thy love to me was wonderful,
Passing the love of women.
How are the mighty fallen,
And the weapons of war vanquished...
…although of disputed interpretation, this verse must be one of the great icons of gay literature. For the argument about the Biblical David’s homosexuality see Colin Spencer HOMOSEXUALITY: A HISTORY Fourth Estate, London 1996.

25 Ursula Le Guin A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA Puffin Books 1984.

26 Ursula Le Guin THE DISPOSSESSED Harper and Rowe 1974, and somewhat more circuitously in THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS Macdonald and Co 1969.

27 Ursula Le Guin TEHANU Atheneum 1990.

28 Ursula Le Guin A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA Puffin Books 1984.

29 This is just a game I can’t help playing: oggin is nautical slang for the ocean, which is appropriate enough, but Ogma was an Irish sorcerer, the mythical inventor of the ancient Gaelic ogham script.

30 The Oxford Dictionary.

31 Ursula Le Guin THE TOMBS OF ATUAN Victor Gollancz 1972.

32 Ursula Le Guin THE FARTHEST SHORE Victor Gollancz 1973.

33 See Robert Graves GREEK MYTHS Penguin Classics 1960.

34 Ursula Le Guin Where Do You Get Your Ideas From? in DANCING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD Grove Press 1989.

35  Ursula Le Guin THE OTHER WIND Harcourt 2001.

36 Ursula Le Guin Italian Folktales in DANCING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD Grove Press 1989.

37 Ivan Southall BREAD AND HONEY Angus and Robertson 1970, won the Australian Children’s Book of the Year award in 1971.

38 The Eastertide ‘Great Vigil’ of Christian churches is that time when youths are admitted as adults into the Mysteries, given a new name or self, and (rarely now) dunked in water. Anzac Day is 25th April, close to Easter time, co-incidentally.

39 Maxine Walker WRITERS ALIVE! Westbooks Pty Ltd 1977.

40 Patricia Wrightson THE NARGUN AND THE STARS Hutchison Publishing Group 1973.
41 Eleanor Spence A CANDLE FOR ST ANTHONY Oxford University Press 1977. I do not mean to imply that Spence might be heterosexual, just that her work is published within a heterosexual paradigm which she obviously supports.
42 Or more accurately; Variations on a theme by Haydn, Op 56a and 56b.
43 The name is unfortunate, or is it. Poofy Rudolph is teased with allusions to a red nose, but none of his teenage tormentors seem to notice that his name is close to ‘rude’, which is inexplicable, unless Spence is being as wilfully blind as dear old Enid Blyton.
44 Spence is quaintly obsessed with proper behaviour; telling us that Justin was “illegally” taping music from the radio, that some things are “too private to discuss” even when the reader is screaming out for more information on what in the hell is going on, or that Justin and a mate were “illegally” sharing the same bus seat for gods sake. Her swearing gets no more imaginative than “rude comment” until Rudi says “damn” and his sister “gaped at him in open-mouthed amazement”. Justin notes that “a guy would get knocked for doing that” but Spence can never tell us what “that” is; she means poofy behaviour presumably. And she tells us even the bus driver meticulously keeps “his eye on the road” although the novel is so pedestrian one wonders why the characters bothered taking a bus. This is not a book you would want to give your nephew to read.
45 Aaron Fricke REFLECTIONS OF A ROCK LOBSTER Alyson Publications 1981.
46 David Rees THE MILKMAN’S ON HIS WAY Gay Men’s Press 1982. British writer Rees was the author of many gay books for young people. He won the Carnegie Medal in 1978 for THE EXETER BLITZ.
47 The main distributor of gay books in Australia is Bulldog Books, who can be found at PO Box 300, Beaconsfield, NSW 2014 Australia. And every city has more than one bookshop selling gay books; can’t librarians use the web?
48 Jonathan Ames THE EXTRA MAN Scribner 1998.
49 Kate Walker PETER Omnibus Books 1991, was short listed for an award by The Children’s Book Council of Australia.
50 Euan Mitchell FERAL TRACKS Mitchell Wordsmithing 1999, was voted by young readers to be one of the most popular, but excluded by the West Australian Young Readers Book Awards committee of adult librarians and teachers from the final judging for the 2001 prize.
51 John Marsden TOMOROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN Pan Macmillan 1995, and its five sequels.
52  John Marsden THE BOY YOU BROUGHT HOME Pan Macmillen 2002.
53 John Marsden SECRET MEN’S BUSINESS Pan Macmillan 1998.
54 ed. Michael Cart LOVE & SEX Simon and Schuster New York 2001. Editor Cart quotes Margaret A Edwards, a Young Adult librarian speaking more than 30 years ago, as an inspiration for his anthology “...many adults seem to think that if sex is not mentioned to adolescents, it will go away” and “too many adults wish to ‘protect’ teenagers when they should be stimulating them to read of life as it is lived.”
55 Unfortunately not even the law recognises the right of young people to determine their own reading material, which is a right accorded adults in the preamble to the (rather cynical, perhaps) first principle of the National Classification Code, in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1975. One of the excuses for censorship given in the Act is to protect children. From books?


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