Diaries of gay men hold a particular fascination for me, and I've been following one on Facebook called Mr Lucas. Follow it - it's fascinating.
As the pinned post at the top of the page says :
"Mr Lucas has been buying sex since the 1950s. An unremarkable man, he led a rather remarkable life. Born in 1926 in Romford, he lived a quiet unassuming life as a civil servant in the department of trade (I think he did something with contracts, but that’ll become clearer as we go on). But, by dint of his sexuality, he also lived a very active life in the sleazy streets of 1960s Soho. That is, when he wasn't cottaging. Or paying guardsmen for sex. Or pining for a normal life."
They are a treasure trove of a side of gay life largely gone from most Western countries, but still, I imagine, very similar to the lives of gay men in some places. Repressed. Dangerous. Lonely. Mr Lucas is Roman Catholic and definitely a Tory. No intersectionality for him.
The curator of these diaries is doing something wonderful bringing these too light. A mid-century civil servant in London, out looking for sex and companionship, but also tinged by what today we'd call his own internalised homophobia and other personal hangups.
It paints a picture of a world that is familiar if only through stories of older friends and men I met a long time ago. I'm glad the world has changed for us, but I read each new entry of his with curiosity and affection.
There are two other diaries of gay men out there that I also revisit from time to time.
The infamous "Black Diaries" of Roger Casement. Casement was one of the first people to expose the horrors of the Belgian Congo, where Africans were enslaved by the King of Belgium, to produce rubber mainly, and brutally tortured with beatings, amputations, and worse.
His reporting brought this to light for the first time, and he is rightly seen as one of the first fighters for Human Rights. He kept what became known as "White Diaries" and "Black Diaries". The white ones were filled with his official records of the torture and slavery he witnessed and was reporting on.
He was also gay, and recorded scraps of his sexual encounters in his "Black Diaries", for example,
28 March 1910 "Deep screw and to the hilt! 18 and glorious, biggest since Lisbon July 1904"
27 May, 1910 "Met J. McG, 4/6 (that's what he paid him) Huge and Curved"
Casement's black diaries were used against him hs treason trial. Even thought he'd been in the Foreign Office, and served as a Consul for the British Empire at one time, he supported the Irish Republican movement and was actively working for them as WW1 broke out, and he was hanged for treason in 1916.
Jeb and Dash is more similar to Mr Lucas, in that there is not so much joy, but a lot of angst and desire. Another civil servant (there's a theme here...) but in Washington DC, his diaries run from 1918 - 1945.
Jeb, the author, is deeply in love with his friend Dash, but this never comes to anything. He was extremely shy in ordinary life, and his diaries were his outlet.
All of these diaries show us what it was like for gay men not that long ago. We have made incredible progress in so many ways, but it seems to me that a lot of people don't know or don't care where we came from or what it was like.
These men all loved sex, fucking and sucking and having fun, and, I believe, wanted to love and be loved by other men, but that seemed a ridiculous idea back then, impossible. As much as some queer activists like to deride us getting marriage equality as pandering to heterosexual social norms, the opportunity, and the right to love and be loved is something these men would, I imagine, have cherished.
They are clearly identifiable gay men, but the world around them was hostile in ways we can't imagine today. It would be fascinating to go back and visit their worlds for a few days, but hell to be trapped there.
I guess I recognise myself in each of them, and that's what makes reading their stories so powerful
for me, and so moving. A few decades difference and it could have been me - or any of us.