We do, at least when it comes to these enduring love stories.
From ancient Greece to 1920s Harlem, LGBTQ people have made history with their chaotic and compassionate romances. After profiling these 17 legendary queer couples, we present our second installment in this series.
One of the most iconic bisexual women in history had an iconic love story to match. While married to fellow artist Diego Rivera, Kahlo was openly bi and had several extramarital affairs. Her lovers included yonic painter Georgia O’Keeffe plus actresses Dolores del Río and Paulette Goddard. But it was dancer and international sensation Josephine Baker who won her heart.
Baker’s son has confirmed that she had several affairs with women. Fellow performer Maude Russell once said, “Lesbians weren't well accepted in show business — they were called bull dykers. I guess we were bisexual, is what you would call us today.” Her known lovers include Bessie Allison, Clara Smith, and Colette.
After separating from Rivera in 1939, Kahlo traveled to Paris for an exhibition of her paintings. It’s rumored that there she met Baker at a nightclub. The two, who had both suffered multiple miscarriages, sought unusual ways to become mothers. Kahlo would portray her unborn child through her art, while Baker adopted 12 children. The two artists were politically engaged and outspoken activists; Kahlo offered refuge to ousted Soviet leader Leon Trotsky, and Baker became a French spy during World War II and also fought for black civil rights.
Speaking of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, while she didn’t find true love with Josephine Baker, she had a long relationship with French noblewoman Mathilde de Morny. In 1948, the novelist was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature but in 1907, an onstage kiss between the two nearly provoked a riot.
Colette, who was married to Henry Gauthier-Villars, followed him into avant-garde intellectual artist circles, where she dove into a number of same-sex romances. But her relationship with him turned sour when she sought to have her name on her increasingly well-known writing; her work has been published under his name. He refused and "locked her in her room until she produced enough pages to suit him,” according to Autostraddle, leading to their split in 1906.
With the copyright to her successful semi-autobiographical Claudine book series given to her ex, Colette had no access to the sizable earnings of her words. So she pursued a theater career in music halls across France and struggled to feed herself. There she shared the stage with Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf (who went by Missy). Missy and Colette moved in together, allowing the author to pick up her pen again. Missy became a character in her novel Le Pur et l’Impur, where she described her lover “in dark masculine attire, belying any notion of gaiety or bravado… High born, she slummed it like a prince.” They lived together for six years, during which Missy (who would later identify as a man, having a hysterectomy and her breasts removed) would play male characters beside Colette.
Onstage in a pantomime at the Moulin Rouge, Missy portrayed an Egyptologist who discovers, unwraps, and kisses Colette, dressed as a mummy. As soon as their lips met, a riot began in the theater and the police threatened to close the joint. Missy’s noble family was so humiliated by the act that they cut her off and hired thugs to disturb her performances.
Missy could no longer foot the bill for her and Colette to live together. Colette went on to marry the editor of the newspaper Le Matin and worked as a journalist throughout World War I. During the German occupation of France in the next war, Missy took her own life.
Queen Christina, who ruled Sweden in the 17th century, marched to the beat of her drum since she was a tot. Her father, King Gustav II Adolph, lost his life in battle when she was only 6 years old, but his fondness for his daughter followed her throughout her life after he requested she be raised not as a princess, but a prince.
Adhering to the fallen king’s wishes, the court educated and treated Christina like a boy. She dressed androgynously and even when she took the throne at 18, she refused to marry or become a mother. As a monarch, she established the first Swedish newspaper and country-wide school ordinance, but as a woman, she found love in her lady-in-waiting Countess Ebba Sparre.
The queen wrote often about the countess’s beauty, nicknaming her Belle and referring to her as a bedfellow. “It was actually quite normal for women to have intimate relationships at the time, because all the men were at war. So I think it was tolerated, but it wasn’t recognized as a lesbian relationship,” said Mika Kaurismäki, who directed the 2015 film The Girl King on Queen Christina’s life.
"I do not intend to give you reasons, [I am] simply not suited to marriage,” Christina told her officials. She went on to behead nobles who accused her of being a "jezebel," losing much of her popularity. In 1654, the queen announced her plans to abdicate. Having thrown away her throne, she fled Sweden for Denmark, dressed as a man and taking most of the country’s treasures in her luggage. As she sought new homes in Italy and France, Christina continued to exchange passionate letters with her former lady-in-waiting, telling Sparre she would always love her.
Cavalry commander Hephaestion knew Alexander long before anyone called him great. A childhood friend who studied with the conquerer under Aristotle, he is believed to have been Alexander's lover.
While Hephaestion served in Alexander’s army, he was known as the leader’s most important confidant. They were both of noble birth and had received an elite education; Aristotle described the two as “one soul abiding two bodies." The couple traveled the world together, making sacrifices at the shrines of heroes lost at Troy.
When Hephaestion died in 324 B.C., Alexander was in a catatonic state and unable to eat for days. He held an elaborate funeral in Babylon and sent a note to the shrine of Ammon pleading for Hephaestion to receive divine honors. Although the priests had previously acknowledged Alexander as a god, they refused to declare his companion a divine hero. Soon after receiving the news that his request was denied, Alexander died, apparently no longer caring for his own health.
The two lesbians behind Chicago’s Hull House, which provided social services and innovative educational program to srecently arrived immigrants, first met in 1877 at Rockford Female Seminary. Though Starr was forced to leave school due to financial problems, their romance endured.
Starr joined Addams on a tour of Europe in 1888, where they observed the English settlement movement in London. Determined to bring the same resources to Chicago, the cofounded the now-500-house-strong charity. The original Hull House included a kindergarten, a day nursery, an infant care centre, and a center for continuing education for adults.
The ladies lived together and we partners in advocacy and life. Starr joined the Catholic Church in 1920, when she felt it was seriously teaching social justice, though the church would go on to fight her when she campaigned against child labor. "Let's love each other through thick and thin and work out a salvation,” Addams wrote to Starr.
The first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature, Chile's Gabriela Mistral was known for her lyrical love poetry. But she should also be known for her complicated bond with Doris Dana, who married or not stood by her in sickness and health.
Dana, who was born into a wealthy New York family, lost all her family money in the Wall Street crash of 1929. She met Mistral in 1946, an event only she remembered. Two years later, they began writing letters, one of which was an invitation for Dana to join the acclaimed poet at her Santa Barbara, Calif., home. After that they traveled the world, visiting Mexico and Italy, until Mistral fell grave;y ill.
When Minstral was suffering from pancreatic cancer, Dana moved them to Long Island, where she cared for her life partner until her final days. After that, Dana remained the executor of the poet's works and guarded them closely, refusing to let them be published in Chile. She even declined an invitation from President Ricardo Lagos Escobar.
Committed to the richness of Mistral's work, Dana published a final volume of her poetry, Poema de Chile, after the poet's death in 1957.
Ruth Ellis, the longest lived-known lesbian in history, was 100 when she died in 2000. Raised in a pseudo-accepting family, Ellis came out in 1915, four years before she graduated from high school.
"I think [my father] was kind of glad that I had a woman instead of a man because he was afraid I'd come home with a baby. If you had a baby in those days, you'd have to leave home. And he wanted me home," Ellis explained in 1997.
She did leave her Springfield, Ill., home in 1937 for Detroit, where she met the love of her life, Ceceline "Babe" Franklin. Ellis's "one real girlfriend" promised her, "If you ever leave Springfield, I'll come where you are," and remained true to her word.
Ellis became the first woman to own a printing business in Detroit and turned their home into a refuge for the black queer community. They frequently hosted parties that people would come from out of state to attend.
"On weekends, that would be the place to come because there weren't many places unless it was in someone's home. So they'd come down, and we'd play the piano and dance, and some of them would play cards," Ellis said in 1998.
Franklin and Ellis were different in temperament but stayed together for over 30 years. "We were just two opposite people. Sometimes opposites attract. That was our case," Ellis asserted. "She liked to drink, go to bars, gamble. I never did all that. Mine was concerts and things like that, going to church and church things."
Franklin died in 1973 and Ellis remained an LGBTQ advocate. Now the Ruth Ellis Center honors her life by protecting homeless LGBTQ youth.
Hall, a prominent lesbian writer, fell for the sculptor Troubridge in the most reckless of ways.
In 1907, the writer met Mabel Batten, a married singer with adult children and grandkids, in a spa in Germany. Despite a 30-year age gap, the two fell in love, setting up house after Batten's husband died. Batten gave Hall the nickname John, which she kept even after their relationship went up in flames.
The cause of fire? Batten's cousin Una Troubridge, whom Hall met in 1915. Batten died a year later and Hall ran to her cousin. The two began living together in London.
Though the two were involved until death, Hall had affairs with a number of other women, including Russian Evguenia Souline. However, their matching dachshunds remained faithful.
These two lovers from ancient Athens were known as the Tyrannicides after they assassinated Hipparchus, who had seized power and ruled outside the constitutional law.
Harmodius originally wanted to be with Hipparchus romantically. Instead of politely turning Harmodius down, the ruler invited Harmodius's younger sister to carry the ceremonial offering basket at a festival, then publicly chased her away for not being a virgin as the role required. This public shaming put a stain on Harmodius's family, so when he moved o nto his new lover Aristogeiton, they resolved to kill Hipparchus.
Note: Aristotle said it was Hipparchus's half-brother who actually shamed Harmodius's sister, but nevertheless Harmodius was on a mission to kill.
Their plot was meticulously planned out; they were to murder the tyrant with daggers hidden in ceremonial wreaths for the Panathenaic (ancient Olympic) Games. But when the couple saw one of their co-conspirators warmly greet Hipparchus's brother Hippias on the day of the attack, they scrapped their plans and rushed into action.
They did indeed manage to stab the tyrant to death, but Harmodius was killed on site by the spears of the ruler's guards. Aristogeiton was arrested and dragged away.
Aristogeiton was tortured but refused to reveal the names of other conspirators. Feigning willingness to betray his comrades, he offered to shake Hippias's hand as a guarantee of safety. As soon as Hippias offered his hand, Aristogeiton mocked him for shaking the hand of his brother's murderer. As soon as he made the comment, Aristogeiton was struck dead.
In the heat of the 1920s, these flappers were addicted to style, jazz, and each other. Waters started out as a jazz singer and later became a history-making actress as the first black woman to star on her TV show in 1950 and be nominated for an Emmy in 1962. But dancer Williams brought the bisexual Waters on a whole new routine.
After being married off to Merritt Purnsley at only 13, Waters found love with Williams. They began performing together as “The Two Ethels” and living together offstage.
The Harlem Renaissance was an era when jazz was overflowing with queer performers like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Lucille Bogan. But Waters and Williams were one of the most unapologetically open couples in the bunch.
A great poet, Auden fell for a fan of his work. Chester Kallman was a student at Brooklyn College when he heard Auden read an elegy. The next day he called the writer's apartment.
In 1939, the two fell in love. Together, they wrote a number of librettos, translations, and lyrics. The summered in Italy and lived together in New York and Austria. Auden wanted to make their relationship as close to marriage as possible, but Kallman was unable to stay faithful. The couple split in 1947.
Rather than going through a messy breakup, they remained friends and collaborators, living in the same house until Auden's death in 1973.
Few know that Spelman, the historically black college for women, was founded by a lesbian. Sophia B. Packard met Harriet E. Giles while teaching at Connecticut Literary Institution in Suffield. Later the two moved to the South intent on opening a school for African-American women and girls in Georgia. With only $100 from a Massachusetts church and a promise of support from the Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society, the couple opened a school in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church.
There they were not just teachers but held prayer meetings and sewing lessons. Impressed by Packard's vision, John D. Rockefeller made a down payment for a permanent site for the school in 1884, naming it Spelman in honor of his wife and her parents.
Packard went on to become the treasurer and Giles worked as the president of the college until she died in 1909. The two are buried together.
Born in 1864, Fannie Johnston received her first camera from George Eastamn, the founder of Kodak. With it she shot portraits of those closest to her and the era's most famous people, including Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Roosevelt.
Surrounded by impactful people, Johnston met the woman who would impact her the most, Mattie Edwards Hewitt, the wife of another photographer. With her own passion for art, Hewitt worked in her husband Arthur's darkroom. Immediately she was enamored of Johnston's acclaimed work, and mutual admiration evolved into a deep, dangerous romance.
"Ever since you told me that I was indeed worthwhile, I have felt like another woman, and now if I have been able to make you truly care for me, well, I am very very happy over it. You do not know the wealth of tenderness there is in my heart for you, and shall I tell you why I have needed you so much and seemed so longing for love and affection?" Hewitt wrote in one of the many love letters exchanged between the ladies. "When I married that nice little man, I thought of course I should get all the love my heart had yearned for, but somehow he has always seemed too busy to stop long enough for such nonsense, as he calls it."
In 1909, Hewitt divorced Arthur and moved to New York, where she and Johnston worked and lived together. They opened a joint photography studio and spent their lives in harmony.
"Ah I love you, love you better than ever you know. ... Yes my dear we will turn over a new leaf and stand together in time of weakness," Hewitt declared.
In 1901, this pair made a mark on history for becoming the first same-sex couple to marry in Spain. Ibeas met Loriga while the two were training to be teachers, sparking a “friendship” that led her family to send her away to Madrid to complete her studies. However, fate prevailed when they were placed to teach in neighboring rural parishes. Soon, they began to live together as lovers.
Loriga began took the identity of her cousin Mario, who had died in a shipwreck, and began presenting herself as a man, greatly reducing the threat’s to the couple’s safety. She claimed that she was raised by atheists, so Father Cortiella, a parish priest, baptized Loriga under her new identity. He later married Mario to Ibeas, 100 years before Spanish law permitted same-sex marriage, in a church in St. Jorge.
When news broke that Loriga was born a woman, it made the front pages of newspapers. The two lost their jobs and a warrant was issued for their arrest. Outraged, Father Cortiella requested that a doctor inspect Mario’s genitals to determine if the couple must be excommunicated. Mario agreed, attempting to pass as a hermaphrodite whose condition was diagnosed in London. The two were excommunicated, but their marriage was never officially annulled.
The couple fled to Portugal and Argentina, where Loriga, under another false name, married a man, with whom she set up a home where Marcela could live with her once again. This new marriage was never consummated, and the husband discovered that the pair were queer.
In 1909, Loriga died by suicide. Ibeas’s fate is still unknown. Marriage equality became law in Spain in 2005.
When young 19th-century French poet Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud searched for mentorship, he wrote to many poets but received no replies. Then his friend, office employee Charles Auguste Bretagne, advised him to write to Paul Verlaine. The rest was (poetic) history.
After Rimbaud sent Verlaine two letters filled with several of his poems, Verlaine replied, "Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you," with a one-way ticket to Paris. In September of 1871, Rimbaud arrived at his soon to be lover's home. Rimbaud was a few weeks shy of 17; Verlaine was 27.
Although Verlaine's 17-year-old wife was pregnant, the two began an affair filled with booze and drugs (e.g., hash, opium, absinthe). Still writing poems, the two moved to London. Verlaine abandoned his wife and infant son; before that, he had abused them both frequently while in drunken rages. Living in poverty, the two men got by from teaching and an allowance from Verlaine's mother.
Bitter, poor, and drunk, the two fell out of love. Desperate to win his partner back, Verlaine telegraphed Rimbaud in 1873, asking him to meet at the Hotel Liège in Brussels. That reunion became a vicious argument — afterward an intoxicated Verlaine brought a revolver and ammunition. He fired two shots at Rimbaud, one of which hit him in the wrist. Fearing being shot again, Rimbaud reported his mentor to the police, who arrested Verlaine for attempted murder and subjected him to a humiliating medical examination.
Rimbaud withdrew his charges after the bullet was removed, but Verlaine was sentenced to two years in prison for wounding with a firearm. Once he was released from jail, the two moved back in together for three months and began writing again. They'd see each other once more in Germany, before Rimbaud died at the young age of 37 (after having his leg amputated). Verlaine, deep into drug addiction, received some recognition from the public in his later years, but would die at age 51.
Though June was best known for being married to American writer Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn), some believe her true love was French-American scribe Anaïs Nin, who found fame writing novels, essays, and non-fiction.
In 1931, while visiting Henry in Paris, Miller met his colleague Nin, who quickly saw her as a muse. Throughout their flirtation (that Nin claimed was not sexual), Nin used June as inspiration for a number of her characters. Descriptions of their relationship in Miller's diary makes it hard to imagine their relationship wasn't sexual; Nin seemed fixated to the point of obsession with June.
Henry & June — a 1986 book culled from Nin's unedited diaries, and published after Nin's death — again stoked talk of the women's affair. A 1990 movie, starring Maria de Medeiros as Nin and Uma Thurman as June, brought more attention to their relationship.
After their encounters in the 1930s, Nin would eventually reunite with her husband and live out her final years in Los Angeles. June was in and out of psychiatric wards during the 1950s, where she received electric shock treatments. During one, she fell off the table, breaking several bones. She never fully recovered.