QUEER COINS: LGBTQ RULERS THROUGH HISTORY
National Numismatic Collection museum specialist Kelsey Wiggins' June 20, 2018 O Say Can You See? blog article is
headlined, "Queer coins: LGBTQ rulers through history". Here's an excerpt. See the online article for more. -Editor
With Pride Month celebrations recognizing LGBTQ history and culture throughout the country this June, what better way to highlight the occasion
than by studying historical LGBTQ rulers with coins?
Throughout history, there are many examples of world leaders who for their gender expressions and sexual orientations would today be seen as
members of the LGBTQ community. In some regions or eras, a range of expressions of gender and sexuality were accepted and even encouraged. In regions
where certain forms of self-identification and expression were unwelcome, some individuals were still true to their own identity in their own ways.
Chief among those who had the privilege of living and loving as they saw fit were historic rulers we would today describe as LGBTQ. It should be
emphasized that although we would describe these rulers as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer today, that identification may not have been
the way they would want to be described. These terms are modern constructs and are used as aides in telling these human stories.
These historic LGBTQ rulers, like so few other LGBTQ people, have been immortalized through coins from their eras. The National Numismatic
Collection has several examples of such coins that represent a wide range of LGBTQ rulers throughout history.
Emperor Elagabalus, 203–222 A.D.
As an emperor, Elagabalus lived a privileged life that allowed for open expression. Beyond applying cosmetics and wearing women’s clothing,
Elagabalus was known to have used self-referencing terms such as queen, lady, mistress, and wife. Indeed, Elagabalus is even said to have publicly
married the male athlete Zoticus in a ceremony in Rome. Despite having many affairs, Elagabalus loved one man above all others, the chariot driver
Hierocles, whom Elagabalus referred to by calling him husband. Though Elagabalus was assassinated in 222 A.D., the leader’s likeness—depicted as a
traditional male emperor—is captured in the coinage minted during Elagabalus’s reign, such as on the gold Aureus pictured above.
Queen Cristina of Sweden, 1626–1689 A.D.
Queen Christina of Sweden’s father raised and educated the young heir like a boy. Christina ruled for 10 years, from the age of 18, before
ultimately deciding to abdicate the throne in favor of a cousin, Charles X, so that Christina did not have to marry and could convert to Catholicism.
Christina shocked many courts in Europe, including the Vatican, by wearing men’s clothing and acting in the manner of a man. Christina loved and had
relationships with many women, including with Ebba Sparre, who was also a Swedish noble. Christina lived a long and interesting life and was later
buried in the grotto at the Vatican. Many of the portraits and likenesses of Christina such as the silver taler above show the former leader in a
more feminine light. Christina may have dressed differently than described for these portraits, or artists may have changed the portrait’s appearance
to conform to social norms of the period.
However these historic LGBTQ rulers would have described themselves, what is apparent is that they were true to themselves, and to their love.
LGBTQ history may be harder to uncover than other histories, but sometimes if you follow the clues and look closer at the written sources and objects
from their eras, such as coins, their stories may slowly start to emerge. These coins help tell LGBTQ history in an unexpected way and convey the
modern message: “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”
To read the complete article, see:
Queer coins: LGBTQ rulers through history
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