Historical Homos: Reimagining Queer History in a Digital World
By John Kregler, StartOut
The Roman philosopher Cicero once said:
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”
And as LGBTQ+ people, our history is seldom thought of as a time that existed before Stonewall. But Sebastian Hendra wants that to change. Sebastian, a gay man with a background in Classics, is on a mission to to share the untold stories of humanity’s queer past by combining his love for history with his passion for the LGBTQ+ community.
Introducing Historical Homos.
Back in 2017, Sebastian decided he was tired of seeing the queer figures and stories he was reading about overshadowed or downright ignored by historians. He kept noticing how again and again, historical narratives weren’t honestly dealing with the reality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer identities or behaviors throughout history.
“This idea was born because I thought, ‘We deserve to see ourselves reflected in history.’ There are all these figures — poets, politicians, musicians, artists, scientists — who were undeniably queer. But we’ve been taught never to look at them that way. There are documented stories of gay and bisexual men in the ancient world, and lesbians in 19th-century England. But they’re so often not recognized. I wanted to make them more visible, but also make it fun and accessible, so people would actually sit with it.”
With the help of his graphic design sister Lucy, Sebastian created Historical Homos with the original intent of publishing a coffee table book. The two immediately saw that while coffee table books look lovely, they needed to grow an engaged audience on Instagram first. The Historical Homos Instagram page has nearly 12,000 followers today, and is packed with stories of unique queer figures.
“I wanted to develop a centralized platform to give people access to all the secrets of our shared queer history. A digital presence was obviously the best way to create that kind of access.”
To support their online efforts, Sebastian and Lucy held pop-up events in London and New York to get the name out. Across the world, people were interested in Historical Homos — which was finally putting queer people of history at the forefront.
Along with their punchy message and mission, Historical Homos grabs attention with striking visuals and an unapologetic attitude.
When you first scroll through the Historical Homos feed, you’re instantly pulled into a brand that’s bold and bright, with a hybrid visual appeal of ‘pop-art meets Renaissance.’ Sebastian admits that history can often be dry, so the two developed a unique aesthetic and tone that mixes real stories with imagination and fantasy. The result is a more appealing brand that brings in a wider audience beyond the queer community. Their tagline says it all: Historical Homos is the Internet’s one and only “no-f**ks-given guide to LGBTQ+ history.”
This imaginative streak serves a more immediate purpose as well. Since we often don’t have pictures and statues for every figure in queer history, the pair often has to create new images to tell their stories. One collage honoring a 13th century genderqueer sex worker from London, Eleanor/John Rykener, known to us only through a medieval court transcript, is the perfect example.
For Sebastian, the decision to approach their platform with this “no-f*cks-given” mindset was natural from the start.
“Lucy and I both have a bit of a punk spirit. We don’t shy away from a fight, and this narrative requires a bit of an edge, if we’re to reclaim history through a queer lens. In the academic world, people often tiptoe around the issues by saying things like, ‘they exhibited same-sex desire’ or ‘they would be considered bisexual today’. I want to strip all of that away. It requires a no-f**ks-given and creative approach, because no one can tell us that our imagination is wrong. We recreate these lives and images so that people today can see themselves reflected in the narrative of human history. That’s what really matters at the end of the day.”
When looking ahead, the pair believe the future of Historical Homos is unlimited. Sebastian says the brand is currently working on a podcast which will jumpstart future goals of developing a TV docuseries. They also have an ambition to create a more kid-friendly version of Historical Homos, so that younger audiences can connect with queer stories of the past and see themselves reflected in history.
All in all, Sebastian’s well on his way to making Historical Homos the “multimedia queer history empire” that he and Lucy envision. The pair will continue to enlighten, educate and inspire all of us with the stories of queer history-makers, showing the world that we have always been here — and always will be. And according to Sebastian, that coffee table book is still in the works.