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Same-sex desire and gender identity
The evidence for same-sex desire has often been overlooked in the past, but museums and their collections can allow us to look back and see the diversity of human desire and gender throughout history.
Evidence for sexual love between members of the same sex through time
- Gender identity
Fluid ideas of gender from the ancient to the modern world
- Changing attitudes
From persecution to the struggle for equality
‘Homosexuality’ as a way to describe a single category of behaviour is a modern European term, but same-sex desire is not a modern western invention (as has sometimes been claimed).
The British Museum has a large number of objects that provide evidence that desire between members of the same sex and fluid ideas of gender have always been aspects of human existence and experience, although they are culturally constructed in a variety of ways.
Much of the historical evidence is centred around men and their concerns and often what survives is partial, fragmentary or ambiguous. This is even true of evidence from modern times. Such things have often been hidden in history, and obscured by censorship, but now we realise the past is much ‘queerer’ than we have often thought.
This theme is based on an original web trail published on the Untold London website: www.untoldlondon.org.uk.
Some objects featured here are not on permanent public display for conservation reasons.
Some images in this theme contain explicit scenes, though these are too small to see in detail unless you click through to larger versions.
More information about the object featured here: