The lives of many historical figures, including Socrates, Alexander the Great, Lord Byron, Edward II, Hadrian, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, Vita Sackville-West, Alfonsina Storni and Christopher Marlowe are believed to have included love and sexual relationships with people of their own sex. Terms such as gay or bisexual have often been applied to them; some, such as Michel Foucault, regard this as risking the anachronistic introduction of a contemporary construction of sexuality foreign to their times, though others challenge this.
Some contemporary studies have found that same-sex relationships can be broadly grouped into at least three categories, though there is no consensus regarding the categories, nor empirical metric which has, or could potentially be applied to strongly validate their existence:
||Features two partners belonging to the same generation and adhering to the same gender role associated with their sex (irrespective of their preferred sexual role(s)). This type of same-sex relationship is prevalent in modern Western societies. Egalitarian same-sex relationships are the principal form present in the Western world. As a byproduct of growing Western cultural dominance, this form is spreading from Western culture to non-Western societies although there are still defined differences between the various cultures.
||Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures, Gender binary, Same-gender loving
||Entails each partner assuming an opposite gender role. One partner is cisgender, while the other is androgynous or transgender, and thus the couple superficially bears some resemblance to a heterosexual (heteronormative) couple. This is exemplified by traditional relations between men in the Middle East, Central and South Asia, non-postmodern Latin America and Southern Europe, as well as Two-Spirit or shamanic gender-changing practices seen in native societies. In the western world, this is best represented by the butch–femme dichotomy.
||Two-Spirit, Hijra and Travesti
||Involves partners of different ages, usually one adolescent and the other adult. This type of relationship is exemplified by the institution of pederasty among the Classical Greeks or those engaged in by novice samurai with more experienced warriors; southern Chinese, and Congolese, male youth marriage rites; traditional sex - involving masculinity training in parts of the South Pacific, and pre-colonial Central Africa; and ongoing Central Asian and Middle Eastern practices.
||Shudo, Pederasty, Baccha, Twink
Often, one form of same-sex relationship predominates in a society, although others are likely to co-exist. Historian Rictor Norton has pointed out that in ancient Greece, egalitarian relationships co-existed (albeit less privileged) with the institution of pederasty, and fascination with adolescents can also be found in modern sexuality, both opposite-sex and same-sex. Age and gender-structured same-sex relationships are less common (though they are still significant and coexist with the postmodern egalitarian form in Latin America, where male heterosexuals and "butch" i.e. macho, active/insertive bisexuals and pansexuals can even share a single identity).
In armed forces
A few ancient and medieval societies, such as Greece and Japan, fostered erotic love bonds between experienced warriors and their apprentices. It was believed that a man and youth who were in love with each other would fight harder and with greater morale. A classic example of a military force built upon this belief is the Sacred Band of Thebes. However, other ancient and medieval cultures such as the Saxons and Vikings did not engage in this practice openly; therefore, these examples should not be regarded as a general rule for ancient cultures.
The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century and subsequent predominance of Christianity led to a diminished emphasis on erotic love within military forces. By the time of the Crusades, it was widely held that carnal relations between males were sinful; accordingly, such relations were felt to have no place in an army fighting in the service of God. One reason that the Knights Templar, a prominent military order, was abolished was that accusations of widespread sodomy had been levelled against the order; these allegations were probably fabricated.
Examples in art and literature
Young men sipping tea, reading poetry, and having sex
Individual panel from a hand scroll on same-sex themes, paint on silk; China
, Qing dynasty
(c. 18th–19th); Kinsey Institute
, Bloomington, Indiana
The record of same-sex love has been preserved through literature and art. Male homoerotic sensibilities are visible in the foundations of art in the West, to the extent that those roots can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Plato's Symposium also gives readers commentary on the subject, at one point considering the claim that male-male love is superior to male-female love.
The European tradition of homoeroticism was continued in the works of artists and writers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Shakespeare. Since the Renaissance, both male and female homoeroticism has remained a common, if subtle and hidden, theme in the visual arts of the West.
In Iranian (Persian) societies homoeroticism was present in the work of such writers as Abu Nuwas and Omar Khayyam. A large corpus of literature, numbering in the hundreds of works, fostered the shudo tradition in Japan, together with a widespread tradition of homoerotic shunga art.
In the Chinese literary tradition, works such as Bian er Zhai and Jin Ping Mei survived the many purges to record the homoerotic climate of their time. Today, the Japanese anime subgenre yaoi centers on gay youths. Japan is unusual in that the culture's male homoerotic art has typically been the work of female artists addressing a female audience, mirroring the case of lesbian eroticism in western art.
In the twentieth century, entertainers such as Noël Coward, Madonna, k.d. lang, and David Bowie have brought homoeroticism into the field of western popular music. It is through these and other modern songwriters and poets that female homoerotic work by women, rather than erotic art by men with lesbian themes, has had its greatest cultural impact in the West since the ancient Greek poet Sappho.
In the 1990s, a number of American television comedies began to feature themes on same-sex relationships and characters who expressed same-sex attractions. The 1997 coming-out of comedian Ellen DeGeneres on her show Ellen was front-page news in America and brought the show its highest ratings. However, public interest in the show swiftly declined after this, and the show was cancelled after one more season. Immediately afterward, Will & Grace, which ran from 1998 to 2006 on NBC, became the most successful series to date focusing on male-male sexual relationships. Showtime's Queer as Folk, running from 2000 to 2005, was noted for its somewhat frank depiction of gay life, as well as its vivid sex scenes, containing the first simulated explicit sex scene between two men shown on American television.
Playwrights have penned such popular homoerotic works as Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Same-sex relationships have also been a frequent theme in Broadway musicals, such as A Chorus Line and Rent. In 2005, the film Brokeback Mountain was a financial and critical success internationally. Unlike most same-sex couples in film, both the film's lovers were traditionally masculine and married. The movie's success was considered a milestone in the public acceptance of the American gay rights movement.
Same-sex relationships in video games were first made available as an option to players in the 1998 game Fallout 2. Beginning in the 2000s, this option was increasingly included in leading role-playing game franchises, pioneered among others by the BioWare series Mass Effect and Dragon Age.