22 Queer Couples Through History From Ancient Egypt to the White House
It may be the love that once dared not speak its name, but it has always existed. Here are some of the same-sex or otherwise queer couples who have figured significantly in our history.
One of the earliest same-sex couples to be identified, these men were royal servants in Egypt around 2400 B.C. When their tomb was excavated in 1964, archeologists found their bodies intertwined and their faces nose-to-nose -- the way married couples were buried.
Alexander, king of Macedonia (in present-day Greece) and conqueror of many lands, considered cavalry commander Hephaestion his most trusted confidant, and some historians believe they were lovers. Aristotle called them "one soul abiding in two bodies," and after Hephaestion died in 324 B.C., Alexander lost his will to live.
When they met in 1532, Michelangelo was 57 and dei Cavalieri 23. The artist found the young Italian nobleman to be the epitome of male beauty and dedicated drawings and poems to him. The letters they exchanged show their love for each other.
The great American poet Whitman and streetcar conductor Doyle began their long-lasting romance in 1865. "We were familiar at once -- I put my hand on his knee -- we understood," Doyle recalled 30 years later.
Wilde, an acclaimed Irish poet, playwright, and novelist, met the young aristocrat Douglas in 1891. They began an ardent but stormy relationship even though Wilde was married to a woman. They ran afoul of Douglas's father, resulting in Wilde's arrest and imprisonment on charges of "gross indecency."
The two British writers encountered each other at a dinner party in the 1920s and began a passionate relationship that lasted 10 years and ended amicably; it even had the support of both their husbands. Sackville-West inspired the gender-shifting protagonist of Woolf's novel Orlando.
The Prop. 8 decision wasn't the only landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2013. That year the court also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which kept the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The case resulting in that decision was brought by Edie Windsor, who owed $363,000 in estate taxes after the death of her partner of 42 years, Thea Spyer -- taxes she wouldn't have owed had their marriage been recognized.
Tyler and Olson were litigants in the case that made marriage equality legal in Calfornia. Then in November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution and nullified the state court ruling that had established marriage equality. These three couples sued (cases were all adjoined later) and eventually brought down Prop. 8, with a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. were two of the first couples to wed when it was legal.
Elbe, assigned male at birth, is one of the first people to have undergone gender-confirmation surgery. She and Wegender met as art students in Denmark and married in 1904, while Elbe still officially identified as male. After Elbe began a series of operations in 1930, courts invalidated their marriage. Elbe died in 1931.
These American expatriates hosted a salon in 1920s Paris that defined the era, seeing everybody who was anybody pass through -- Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and more. Stein was a notable writer who mentored many others, Toklas her devoted partner for more than 40 years. Though Toklas was the recipient of Stein's estate, the latter woman's relatives stole all their artwork and Toklas died in poverty.
Baker, a Black American actress and dancer who lived in Europe for many years, met the Mexican artist Kahlo in 1939 when the latter traveled to Paris for an exhibit of her paintings. The two bisexual and socially active women found kindred spirits in each other.
In 1959, Hansberry became the first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway with A Raisin in the Sun. At an opening night party, she met Kaplan, and they had a two-year romantic relationship and remained friends until Hansberry's death in 1965.
Jim Obergefell was just one of several plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that brought marriage equality to the entire U.S. in a 2015 Supreme Court decision, but he was the named one, and his story was particularly poignant. He married longtime partner John Arthur in Maryland when Arthur was terminally ill, and their home state of Ohio wouldn't recognize their marriage, leading Obergefell to file his historic suit.
DeGeneres famously came out on her TV sitcom and in real life in 1997, had a high profile relationships with Anne Heche and Alexandra Hedison (who has since married Jodie Foster). DeGeneres has gone on to a career as a popular talk show host and part of one of the highest-profile lesbian couples in show business. She and Australian actress de Rossi married in California in 2008.
De Acosta, a writer and out, proud lesbian, boasted she could have any woman she wanted, and she certainly wanted Garbo, one of Hollywood's greatest and most beautiful stars. They had an off-and-on affair during the 1930s, with Garbo fearful of being outed, but they continued corresponding for years afterward.
Jordan was the first Black woman to be elected to the Texas Senate, to be elected from the South to the U.S. House, and to be the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Her decades-long relationship with Earl, an educational psychologist, wasn't acknowledged publicly until after Jordan's death in 1996.
Murray was a lawyer, Episcopal priest, and activist for racial and gender justice. Assigned female at birth but now believed to have been gender-fluid, Murray had a long relationship with Barlow; they met while working at the same law firm in the 1950s.
These two brilliant dancers and choreographers met in 1971 and began creating and performing dances together. They formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in New York City in 1982 and continued to make groundbreaking art. Zane died of AIDS complications in 1988, but Jones, who lives with HIV, has carried on their work for decades.
Martin and Lyon were activists and lovers from the 1950s on. They founded the San Francisco lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis and the publication The Ladder. When same-sex marriage was legalized in California in 2008, they were one of the first two couples to marry in the state, the other being Robin Tyler and Diane Olson.
Pete Buttigieg didn't get the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, but he got a Cabinet position as President Biden's secretary of Transportation in 2021, making him the first Senate-confirmed out gay Cabinet member. His husband, Chasten, a former teacher, has been at his side throughout, and they are fathers of twins, making Pete the first gay dad in the Cabinet.
This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 History issue, which is out on newsstands August 30. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.