Kelly Sans Culotte

Gay Mundo

Ukraine's Ancestral Literary Queers
From lesbian poets to gay Socratic philosophers.
By Tomek Kitlinski

Hrihoriy Skovoroda

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JAN. 28, 2005. Homosexuality is a strong presence in Ukrainian culture. A thousand years of silence, understatement and misrepresentation have not managed to erase it.

Hrihoriy Skovoroda, Ukraine's eighteenth-century national philosopher, poet, and itinerant teacher walked the country with a group of his male disciples, like a Socrates of the enlightenment. He even wrote a Socratic dialogue, "Narcissus or a Dialogue About Knowing Thyself." His "philosophy of the heart" was driven by a humanistic homoeroticism. He fought tyranny and was an early champion of democracy.

A major poet, Lesya Ukrayinka (1871-1913) was a lesbian, a fact that it is just now being acknowledged, following scholar Svetlana Saliy ground-breaking analysis of her biography, her poetry and her last letter to her female lover from Egypt, where she had travelled seeking a cure for tuberculosis.

And then there was Russia's own towering Nicolai Gogol (1809-1852). He was actually born in the Ukraine when it was part of the Russian Empire. Gogol's Ukrainian childhood filled with Cossacks, serfs and folk demons permeates his writings. The author of The Inspector General, The Overcoat and Dead Souls has been regarded by traditional literary critics as "asexual," but in his book The Sexual Labirynth of Nikolai Gogol, Berkeley scholar Simon Karlinsky credibly demonstrates that he was a homosexual.

Another Ukrainian born and bred writer seen by traditionalists as "asexual" was the Polish Romantic poet Juliusz Slowacki (1892-1941). A consumptive dandy obsessed by narcissism, Byronic youths, and nationalist tragedy, Slowacki wrote digressive poems, dramas, and letters to his mother, who had remained in the Ukraine. The Slowacki museum in his Ukrainian place of birth makes no mention of the homoeroticism in his work.

From the Web

Nash Mir (Our World) Gay and Lesbian Centre, Kiev (Ukrainian, English)

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