Our journey will begin in Prehistory, and will take us all the way to ancient Greece and Rome, where we will see the largest number of exhibits. The world of Classical Antiquity has left us numerous visual and written testimonies of some of the sexual practices and gender expressions that we would nowadays identify as queer or LGBTQ. This wealth of material evidence will enable us to spend more time exploring these parts of the museum.
But, why are we stopping there? Was there no sexual and gender diversity in the Middle Ages or in the Early Modern period? Many people did indeed have homosexual relationships or identified with genders other than those imposed on them by society well beyond the fall of the Roman Empire. However, the visual testimonies of this diversity are unfortunately scarce. This scarcity should serve us as a reminder that many forms of human diversity have been persecuted, condemned, and invisibilised in many cultures and historical periods. The history of rejection, persecution, and invisibilisation is also a key part of queer history.
Why do we include Prehistory and Protohistory in the itinerary then? Because it is also important to remember that, despite all obstacles, diversity has always existed, and we must take it into account for producing good-quality research in history and archaeology.
Since we will be talking about very distant times, we will avoid using modern terms and labels. Thus, we will not refer to past individuals as ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’, or ‘transgender’, because these are categories that, while important in our society, can limit our understanding of the nuances of the past. Instead, we will talk about same-sex love and attraction, about complex and fluid expressions of gender, and about research on sex and gender relations.
It is worth noting that the categories of ‘heterosexual’ and ‘cisgender’ are equally inadequate for understanding the past, yet they have dominated, implicitly and explicitly, historical research since the nineteenth century, and continue to carry enormous weight today. Queer history and archaeology have been concerned precisely with challenging these assumptions and preconceptions, and with doing rigorous research on the richness of human experience throughout history.
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