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Pride 2021 Guest Blog: Reflections on Literary Representation

1st June 2021

Katie Bastiman (2016, French and Italian) is currently studying for an MSt in Modern Languages and is one of the Somerville MCR’s LGBTQ+ Officers. Here she joins us to consider the resonant contributions made by LGBTQ+ voices to the canon of Western Literature.

Pride month is a celebratory occasion with a serious history, originating as it did as a tribute to those who were involved in the Stonewall Riots. Today being the first day of Pride Month 2021, it seems like a good moment (before our celebrations begin in earnest) to reflect on the work that has been done by incredible figures throughout history to represent LGBTQ+ voices. It is also an opportunity to look around us and see the impact of that work on our lives today.

Historically, LGBTQ+ voices have often been concealed or erased. And yet they are still out there, contributing to the rich tapestry of our shared cultural heritage. During the four years of my undergraduate degree in French and Italian, I only encountered one body of work in which I found representation of same-sex desire which really resonated with me. This was in Michelangelo’s lyric poetry: despite being best known for sculptures such as the “David”, Michelangelo was also a poet, and many of his rather amorous works are addressed to another man, Tommaso da’ Cavalieri.

I read a large number of books during my undergraduate degree, ranging from medieval texts to the modern day, and whilst there may have been gay characters in other works that I studied, or biographical evidence suggesting that certain authors experienced same-sex attraction, Michelangelo’s poetry stood out to me. When he writes lines like “Heaven does not exist where you are not” (“che ‘I ciel non edove non siate voi”) in a madrigal which we know was sent to another man, it gives me as the modern-day reader the opportunity to see a little of my community’s history, right there on the page.

It’s a reminder that we have always been here and have contributed enormously to the developments of history and culture. This LGBTQ+ History month, I am grateful for the contributions of those who have come before us, and for the hard work and dedication from incredible individuals which have resulted in great steps forward for the LGBTQ+ community.

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