Ryan Grant Long's education encompassed graphic art and design, LGBT studies, anthropology, and sociology. It all comes to bear in his MFA project from 2009. Below, Long writes on the project:
For my MFA thesis show, I designed a calendar that explores same-sex affection throughout history. I chose the calendar format for several reasons, not least of which is that the calendar is one of the most ubiquitous art forms on the planet. In contrast, LGBT people are often cast as the abnormal, subversive or abject "Other," even (or especially) in academic "queer theory" discourse. This work stands to correct that, inasmuch as homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality, and gay people have always existed and contributed to society. At the same time, this work intentionally overcorrects and almost takes on the form of hero worship, in its focus on great historical figures, and compositions and poses that echo those of conventional romantic images found in romance novels, movie posters and storybook fairy tales.
All of these depictions are based on real people (with the possible exception of David and Jonathan, who may have been legendary). Most of these historical figures are widely accepted to have been homosexual or bisexual. Some of them, such as Saints Sergius and Bacchus, are known for their unusual closeness, but scholars disagree on whether or not they were romantically involved. History isn't an exact science, and all too often truths are hidden or rewritten after the fact by people who wish to erase gay people from history.
This project wasn't about proving without a doubt whether or not a certain historical figure was gay; but rather exploring same-sex affection when enough evidence existed to at least consider it a reasonable possibility. Some scholars are quick to dismiss the love between men like David and Jonathan as merely "platonic," but ask yourself, if the love between a man and woman were described with as much passion and endearment, would anyone doubt that they may have been romantically involved?
I invite you to ponder these issues as well as appreciate the depth and breadth of same-sex affection among human beings. Homosexuality has existed in all human cultures throughout time; and men who love men have stood among those who have made the greatest contributions to human civilization.
Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were ancient royal servants who shared the title Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of King Niuserre. The two men are depicted on their joint tomb in one of the most intimate poses allowed by Egyptian artistic conventions: face to face, with their noses touching. Niankhkhnum means "joined to life" and Khnumhotep means "joined to the blessed state of the dead"; together their names mean "joined in life and death." They are believed to be the first same-sex couple in recorded history. — R.G.L.
After killing the Philistine giant Goliath, the young hero David was brought before Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul's eldest son, Jonathan, instantly fell in love with the handsome young warrior and stripped off his own robe and armor and placed them upon David. When Jonathan was killed by the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, David mourned and said, "Greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." The story of David and Jonathan is told in the Old Testament of the Bible, in books 1 and 2 Samuel. —R.G.L.
Chinese emperor Ai of Han fell in love with a minor official, a man named Dong Xian, and bestowed upon him great political power and a magnificent palace. Legend has it that one day while the two men were sleeping in the same bed, the emperor was roused from his sleep by pressing business. Dong Xian had fallen asleep across the emperor's robe, but rather than awaken his peaceful lover, the emperor cut his robe free at the sleeve. Thus "the passion of the cut sleeve" became a euphemism for same-sex love in China. — R.G.L.
Hadrian deemed Antinous to be the most beautiful young man in all the Roman Empire. Sadly, Antinous drowned mysteriously in the Nile River. Hadrian deified the youth after his untimely death, and Antinous was worshipped as a god; whole cities were founded in his name. As a result of his popularity and statues created in his likeness, the face of Antinous became one of the most recognizable faces in antiquity. A statue of Antinous and what's believed to be his tomb reside in Hadrian's luxurious Hellenistic-inspired villa. —R.G.L.
Sergius and Bacchus were Roman soldiers honored as martyrs. They were discovered to be Christians when they refused to worship the god Jupiter. Bacchus was beaten to death first, but according to legend he appeared to Sergius the next day in his prison cell and promised him, "If I have been taken from you in body, I am still with you in the bond of the union." Sergius was tortured and killed soon after. The two men had been united in a rite called "adelphopoiesis," which some scholars believe may have been a type of same-sex union. —R.G.L.
There is evidence of same-sex couples in the Americas, and several Native American cultures are known to have tolerated or even revered sexual and gender diversity. Yet there is much we do not know and cannot know about homosexuality in the New World. When Christian Europeans conquered the Americas they imposed their values on the indigenous peoples and destroyed records of same-sex relationships, which they identified as "the sin of the heathens." Knowledge of the lives and loves of many has been lost forever. —R.G.L.
One of the greatest Arab poets of all time and widely considered the greatest poet of Islam, Abu-Nuwas was also a notorious troublemaker. He was a master of satire and often wrote about topics forbidden by Islam to shock his readers, which led to his arrest on several occasions. His homoerotic poems ranged from sweetly romantic to downright lecherous: "In the bath house, the mysteries hidden by trousers are revealed to you … feast your eyes without restraint." Abu-Nuwas was immortalized in The Thousand and One Nights. —R.G.L.
Mahmud of Ghazni founded the Ghaznavid Empire and ruled as a sultan. He fell in love with Malik Ayaz, a Turkish slave, and their relationship became the epitome of idealized love in Islamic legend and Sufi literature. As the story goes, Ayaz asked Mahmud who the most powerful man in the kingdom was. When the sultan replied that it was himself, Ayaz corrected him, claiming that in fact Ayaz was the most powerful, since Mahmud was his slave. The "slave to a slave" became a favorite trope in Persian literature. —R.G.L.
The Renaissance master artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci must have loved his studio assistant Gian Giancomo Caprotti da Oreno (nicknamed Salai, which means "little devil"). After living with the young hellion for a year, Da Vinci listed Salai's vices, calling him "a thief, a liar, stubborn, and a glutton." Salai stole money and valuables, and his art was inferior, yet clearly something about Salai endeared him to Da Vinci, since he kept him around for 30 more years and featured him in several drawings and paintings. —R.G.L.
The samurai practiced age-structured homosexuality, which was called shudo. Ordinarily a samurai served his daimyo with honor and was expected to follow his lord in death. However, Mitsushige disliked the custom and asked his beloved samurai Tsunetomo to reject it upon his own death. Ironically, this break with tradition led to the samurai code being written down. Tsunetomo lived to retire into the mountains, where he dictated to a young visiting samurai. His commentary would become the Hagakure, a seminal guide to samurai culture. —R.G.L.
Walt Whitman is one of the most celebrated poets in the history of the United States. With his book Leaves of Grass he aimed to write the great American epic, and he worked on revisions of it throughout his life. The homoeroticism in the book caused some to label it obscene, but others were deeply inspired by his sensual, earthy poems celebrating human sexuality, the material world, and ethical humanism. Whitman met bus conductor Peter Doyle, who said of their first encounter: "We were familiar at once — I put my hand on his knee — we understood." —R.G.L.
Bayard Rustin was the heart and soul of the black civil rights movement in the United States. He was Martin Luther King Jr.'s chief organizer, a pioneer of nonviolent resistance, and the man behind the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which Dr. King delivered his momentous and influential "I Have a Dream" speech. Rustin's open homosexuality was a source of contention, and to this day his impact on the American landscape is all too often overlooked. Walter Naegle, Rustin's partner until he died, is executor of the Bayard Rustin estate. — R.G.L.
Long on the exhibit: "This is what the pieces looked like in the gallery. As you can see, they were very large (60 inches tall), and the information was featured below the image. I had to rearrange the compositions in order to sell the calendar through DeviantArt's print service, which uses a rectangular format rather than a square."
"This is an unused image that didn't make it into the final project. The story here was of Kukai, the legendary monk who supposedly brought homosexuality to Japan." —R.G.L.