Tuesday, September 17, 2013

September 17

George Cecil Ives

Englishman George Ives (1867-1950) was the most famous gay activist you’ve never heard of. He formed a secret society for homosexuals called the Order of Chaeronea, named after the battle site where the Sacred Band of Thebes (an army of male lovers) met their annihilation in 338 BC. Members dated letters and other materials from the year of that battle, so that 1950 would be written as C.2288.

Ives believed that since homosexuals were not accepted openly in society, they needed to have a means of underground communication. The Order’s rituals were based on the writings of Walt Whitman, and the society took on issues beyond the realm of homosexuality, making efforts to reform laws affecting STDs, birth control, abortion and other repressive sex related statutes. This was in 1897! The Order, which promoted what Ives referred to as "The Cause," soon attracted members worldwide.

The Order of Chaeronea’s manifesto:

"We believe in the glory of passion.
We believe in the inspiration of emotion.
We believe in the holiness of love."

According to Ives, the Order was to be "A Religion, A Theory of Life and Ideal of Duty", although its purpose was primarily political. Ives stressed that The Order was not to be a means for men to meet other men for sex. It is estimated that, under Ives, the society numbered about 300 participants, the same as the number of soldiers of the Sacred Band of Thebes, but the Order’s secrecy meant that no membership lists were in circulation. The Order of Chaeronea was resurrected in the United States in the late 1990s and today has chapters in South Africa, France and the United Kingdom, as well.

When he was in his mid-twenties, Ives met Oscar Wilde, who was attracted by his youthful good looks. Through Wilde, Ives met Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas, with whom he had a brief affair. Although Ives recruited both men to join his "Cause," neither chose to join him. Their acquaintance, however, did provide Ives with an important entry into the Victorian literary scene. Ives figured prominently in the published diaries of Oscar Wilde.

In 1914 Ives became a co-founder of the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, which in 1931 became the British Sexological Society. Ives was the archivist for this society, whose papers are now housed at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin.

Ives was also a noted authority on prisons who wrote several books and lectured about English penal methods. A true polymath, Ives thus had multiple careers as a poet, penal reformer, writer and gay rights activist.

Sources: "Queers in History" by Keith Stern and "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde" by Neil McKenna.

With a side of legs:

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