The Origin of Love

Roy Ward

Gay Love

It’s February – and it’s LGBT History Month again. It is a time to celebrate the history of the LGBT community across the world. This year is themed around maths, science and engineering. However, I’m an arts graduate and maths makes my eyeballs itch, so I’m disregarding that theme (brilliant though it is), and looking at my favourite things – books. The Guardian reading group is currently asking for suggestions for their book this month – books which “say something about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender history”. Buried amongst the usual culprits (Winterson, Hollinghurst, Brokeback bloody Mountain) is a work of Ancient Greek philosophy – Plato’s Symposium. Admittedly, it’s not quite as racy as The Line of Beauty or as emotionally devastating as A Single Man, but it’s an incredibly important text which speaks profoundly of human love, no matter what your gender or sexual orientation.

The text consists of seven men (including doctors, lawyers, politicians and poets) getting sloshed at a symposium, which was effectively an Ancient Greek drinking party. Each man delivers a speech in praise of Eros, the Greek god of love and sex, and as was pretty commonplace in Greek society back then, they talk fairly openly about same-sex relationships. Some of their observations are uncannily applicable to the debates and controversies of 21st Century LGBT life. Take, for instance, Phaedrus’s insistence that the love between homosexual couples like Achilles and Patroclus brought a strong military advantage along with it – “A handful of such men, fighting side by side, would defeat practically the whole world.” Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

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But it’s the playwright Aristophanes who really steals the show with his fantastical creation myth to explain what love really is, and where it came from. He explains how humans originally had huge round bodies, with two sets of arms and legs, and two faces on one massive head, and we rolled around the planet like great big weird-looking spacehoppers. We also had three sexes – the all-male beings, the all-female ones and the ones with one male and one female half. Whilst you might think that in this rotund form with such limited mobility, we would be about as intimidating as a pug guard-dog, we tried to scale Mount Olympus and overthrow the gods. Pesky spacehoppers. Logistically, I’m not sure how this would happen, but apparently it totally did.

The consequence of our attempted rebellion was one very pissed off Zeus, who decided to split us down the middle, into two. Bye bye spacehoppers, hello bipedal homo sapiens. But we are always desperately trying to make ourselves whole again, as we search for our soulmate, a literal ‘other half’. This desire to be reunited with our other halves manifests itself in that most bizarre of emotions, love. Sexual intercourse is how we attempt to put ourselves back together again. Whether or not you believe in the idea of predestined soulmates, it’s a beautifully weird little tale with an important, universal message straight from the 4th Century BCE – love is love, regardless of the gender of the participants.

I leave you with a fantastic little video from the cult movie Hedwig and The Angry Inch. An East German transwoman with a Farah Fawcett hairdo sings a song based on a work of Ancient Greek philosophy, complete with animated spacehoppers. What more could you ask for this February?

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About Roy Ward

When Roy was 7 a girl tied him to a tree and tried to set him on fire. He now lives in Leeds with his boyfriend. These facts may be connected. Vada's Deputy Editor, he loves pop culture in all its forms, plus feminism; drag queens and Nigella Lawson. Find him on Twitter @badlydrawnroy.