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We have always been here: Queer love through the ages

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Though you may not have learned about Queer love through the ages in history class, it has always been around. From secret lovers of the 1920s to those free to love openly in antiquity, LGBTQ+ relationships, like life, always find a way.

Knumpotep and Niankhkhnum, ancient Egyptian lovers
Niankhkhum and Khnumhotep embrace in a scene in a small offering room in their joint tomb  

Knumpotep and Niankhkhnum, ancient Egyptian lovers

In ancient Egypt, married couples were often buried together to show that their love would remain intertwined forevermore. When the tomb of Knumpotep and Niankhkhnum was discovered by archaeologists in 1964, they found these humble servants to the pharaoh intertwined in each other's arms, nose to nose. Historians first speculated that the two, despite their marital burial status, were brothers. Artwork on the tomb shows Knumpotep in the position often reserved for wives, and modern scholars assume the two were lovers.

Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle find love late in life
Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, circa 1869  

Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle find love late in life

In 1865, Walt Whitman was at the height of his career, an American poet laureate, and a renowned writer. Despite his success, he was very lonely in his personal life — until he met a young streetcar driver named Peter Doyle. The two were soon inseparable.

Some historians would call them "good friends," but as more have come to acknowledge Whitman as Queer, the story has shifted to recognize them as lovers. Whitman would disguise Doyle's initials in his work with the number "16.4," representing the sixteenth and fourth letters of the alphabet, P and D.

Whitman and Doyle remained dutiful companions for the rest of Whitman's life, though the poet did become a recluse toward the end. They exchanged letters throughout Whitman's mental health decline, and friends of the poet acknowledged Doyle as Whitman't greatest love and the inspiration behind some of his final works.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas: A quiet life together
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, 1923 — Photo by Man Ray / Courtesy of Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library  

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas: A quiet life together

Gertrude Stein was a pioneering writer in feminist literature — and an openly Queer woman at a time when public displays of same-sex affection could be a crime in the United States. In 1903, Stein moved to France, where she met and fell in love with Alice B. Toklas, a promising concert pianist. The two remained devoted lovers for the next 40 years, often accompanying each other on long walks. On a stroll in Normandy in 1908, Stein got down on one knee and proposed to Toklas, even though the marriage of two women was not legal in France or the United States.

They lived a quiet life together in the Parisian countryside with their dogs, until the Nazi occupation of France. Following Stein's and Toklas's deaths, historians discovered drawers full of letters between the two, cementing their love for eternity with some of the most romantic words between lovers. In one, Stein wrote, "Because I didn't say good night and I miss it so, please know now how much I love you."

Gerda Gottlieb and Lili Elbe: A love beyond gender
"Lili y Gerda"  

Gerda Gottlieb and Lili Elbe: A love beyond gender

At the turn of the 20th century, Gerda Gottlieb met Lili Elbe at the Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Though when they met Lili was still identifying as a man, she had been struggling for years with gender dysphoria.

They married in 1904. Both were artists and complemented each other with their different styles. Lili focused on the big picture, creating breathtaking landscapes, while Gerda paid attention to detail, crafting masterful portraits.

After a model failed to show up and sit for one of Gerda's portraits, she asked Lili to dress in women's clothing and model for her. After transforming into Gerda's model, Lili shined. It became clear that Lili felt like herself for the first time. After decades of living as a woman in private, Lili finally sought out gender-confirmation surgery.

She traveled to Germany and spent two years undergoing various surgeries until her transformation was complete. Throughout the process, Gerda remained by her side.

Lili was the first person to receive gender-confirmation surgery and became a star following her coming out. Unfortunately, due to the lack of proper antibiotics, she passed away in 1931 due to infections from her surgeries. Following that, Gerda continued to keep her legacy and memory alive.