Like @Art! – Militant Eroticism: The Art+ Positive Archives – An LGBTQ+ History Book Recommendation

Inspired by the theme of last month’s LGBTQ+ History Month – ‘Medicine – #UndertheScope’ – I have decided to highlight a book in the Art Library’s collections that I feel very enthusiastic about.

Front cover of the Art Library’ Militant Eroticism. Image credit Ashley Parry

That book is the exhibition catalogue Militant Eroticism: The ART+Positive Archives. The exhibition which it documents – curated by Dr. Daniel S. Berger and John Neff – took place in Chicago in 2015 and combines ephemera and art-pieces from Art+Positive. That collective formed in 1989 as an affinity group of the famous ACT UP / New York.

Sheet of Art+ Positive protest chants on page 5 of Militant Eroticism

There is an understandable reticence to discussing the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s as it is very easy for such discussions to focus solely on tropes of fatalism and tragedy. However, it is my belief that focusing down on the specifics of the lives and works of activists – ‘under the scope’ – reveals examples of resilience and strategies for care that can inform discourses on health and art today – relevant not only within LGBTQ+ communities, but potentially to us all. The Militant Eroticism exhibition provides many such examples, blending as it does, ephemera, such as lined sheets of scribbled notes and protest chants, with artworks by the likes of Ray Navarro and David Wojnarowicz. As John Neff, one of the exhibition’s curators, describes it, ‘Art+Positive’s project was irreverent, hysterical, pleasurable, and deeply serious.’[1]

In particular, it was Navarro’s piece Equipped, which was a centrepiece of the exhibition, that spoke to me most strongly. This triptych of photos features various prosthetic devices with cheeky, innuendo-laden captions – an upside-down wheelchair entitled Hot Butt, a walking frame on its side called Studwalk and an upside-down cane dubbed Third Leg. I was struck by how the piece manages to succinctly convey a powerful message about disabled queer life, which its humour serves to enhance. The fact that queer disabled people not only exist but have active sex lives should not still be a radical statement in 2024, but, even though awareness is growing it is something that is often forgotten. For evidence of this forgetfulness one only need look at examples of inaccessible queer-friendly venues and Pride events.[2] [3] [4]


The Equipped triptych from pages 26-27 of Militant Eroticism.

But, there is even more to be understood about this piece and this book, and some further enlightenment can be found in Debra Levine’s essay on pages 37 to 51. In the essay, Levine explains not only the story of how Navarro’s piece was made, but also how it fits into its wider context.

Ray Navarro photographed at the 1989 “Stop the Church” demonstration in New York City, from page 36 of Militant Eroticism.

She describes how, as Navarro was, at that time, blind and unable to walk, he called upon Aldo Hernandez and Zoe Leonard to be his amanuenses, and recounts how Leonard described this not as a collaborative effort, but ‘understood [herself] as a prosthesis for the disabled body.’ Levine tells this story as just one concrete example of what she calls ‘prosthetic politics’ – a practice which she argues was a key feature of AIDS activism and which ‘enabled members disabled with physical complications from HIV and AIDS to retain their own creative, sexual, and political identities.’[5] Through her vivid evocation of the creation of Equipped, it is easy to see how valuable this ethos could be in other settings and crises. Indeed, Levine herself briefly brings up similarities between this practice and Haitian responses to AIDS,[6] but it might also be useful to think about prosthetic politics in responses to, for instance, those suffering from Long COVID.


However, Levine highlights how, despite these positive aspects, ACT UP was still a predominantly white and male movement, and so those who did not fit that demographic often felt side-lined or as if they had to work harder to make their voices heard. She points out how the frames of the photos in Equipped made of ‘wood sprayed to a high-gloss finish with Crayola “flesh”-colored paint to simulate plastic prosthetic material’, show how this work was an extension of Ray’s previous collaborations with Catherine Gund. Through that work, ‘as a lesbian and a gay Chicano male, they highlighted the price minority subjects pay by joining a predominantly white gay male movement.’ Levine points out how through using ‘pinkish-coloured’ medium for the frames, ‘Ray’s metonym for his brown body is both circumscribed and supported by this artificial white flesh.’


These insights are an important look at the intersections between healthcare, disability, race, and queerness – not only during global health crises, but in daily life – and that is extremely important, because the truth is that all people will become ill at some point in their life, and many will experience some form of disability. Time and again, queer communities have shown how to meet the specific needs of individuals and groups dealing with illness and disability, and I think that this exhibition catalogue provides a compelling example. I think it would be wonderful if, as the curators wished this, book could be ‘a vehicle for […] knowledge, elation and rage.’[7]


But, of course, this is only one of the LGBTQ+ history-related items available in the Art Library and Bodleian Libraries’ collections. For a place to start, I recommend checking out LGBTQ+ History Month blog posts from previous years.

Ashley Parry, Library Assistant
Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library, Bodleian Libraries

[1] D. S. Berger and J. Neff. Militant Eroticism : The Art+Positive Archives, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017, p. 10.

[2] G. Coi and A. Hernández-Morales. Disability rights activists fight for access to cities’ Pride events – POLITICO. POLITICO. 22-06-16. (Accessed 2009-08-24).

[3] Gwenyth Withers. Why are there so few accessible LGBTQ+ venues. Leonard Cheshire. 22-01-13. (Accessed 2009-08-24).

[4] Alaina Leary. If Your LGBTQIA+ Pride Event Isn’t Accessible to Disabled People, You’re Missing Out.. Rooted in Rights. 18-06-19. (Accessed 2009-08-24).

[5] Debra Levine, Another Kind of Love: A Performance of Prosthetic Politics, in Militant Eroticism : The Art+Positive Archives, 42. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017, p. 42

[6] Ibid. p.47

[7] Ibid. p.10

Like @ Sac! – LGBT History Month Book Display

Starting in 2005, LGBT History Month has been celebrated in the UK each February.  For many in the LGBTQ community, it is a dedicated opportunity to reflect on and raise awareness of their history and heritage.  Here at the Sackler Library we marked the beginning of 2018’s LGBT History Month (and launch of the Sackler’s blog) with Helen Worrell’s  LIKE @ SAC! post focusing on R. B. Parkinson’s A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, published by the British Museum in 2013 as part of the effort to increase access to LGBTQ-related objects in the museum’s collections.

To follow on from this post, and to continue marking LGBT History Month, Sackler Readers Services staff have put together a Sackler book display showing some of the LGBTQ-related works held by the library.  Entitled LGBT History Month at the Sackler, the display brings together, from across the Library, a selection of publications with an emphasis on the long history of LGBTQ people, communities and themes, and their representation through word and image.

The aims of the display are twofold. Firstly, we hope it will provide a chance for readers to encounter a theme they may not have explored in depth before and to reflect on LGBTQ representation in the library space, visual culture, and the wider world.  In addition, we hope to raise awareness of the diversity of the Sackler’s collections and how many different aspects of the collection can be read with, or against, each other in interesting or new ways.

As well as being visually striking, the items on display are intended to be picked up and read too.  Readers may wish to start with the National Trust’s book Prejudice & Pride: Celebrating LGBTQ heritage, as its inside cover features an introductory timeline of key moments in legal and literary LGBTQ history.

From there, the display can be explored chronologically through books on, for example, homosexuality and society in the ancient and medieval worlds.  Alternatively, the display can be read thematically, as it showcases many different aspects of LGBTQ life past and present, such as desire, censorship and misunderstanding.

Anyone looking for a broad overview of the LGBTQ theme in the visual arts can turn to Gay and Lesbian Studies in Art History.  There are also books on Renaissance artists Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, and how they and their works have been interpreted over time, as well as publications on 20th century American artists such as Charles Demuth, Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe.

LGBTQ responses to and influences on architecture and shared spaces, such as library space, are also represented in the display, for example through the article “Locating the Library as Place among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer Patrons” by Paulette Rothbauer, open on the table and ready to read.  This also serves as a reminder that many journal articles and book chapters explore LGBTQ themes in the visual arts and can be found using SOLO or other bibliographic databases such as Art Full Text (accessible via SOLO or OxLip+).

We hope LGBT History Month at the Sackler highlights a new way of thinking about and engaging with our collections, by a broad theme rather than narrow historical period, school of art, or medium.  Look for the display opposite the Ground Floor Circulation Desk, next to the Self-Issue Machine, in the perfect place for readers to stop by on their way in or out of the library.  The display itself will run until the end of LGBT History Month, but the list of books on display will remain accessible after that via this blog post.

We welcome (and encourage) suggestions for future book displays.

Emily Pulsford
Graduate Trainee Librarian



Display list

Betsky, A., 1997. Queer space: architecture and same-sex desire, New York.

Boehringer, S., 2007. L’homosexualité féminine dans l’antiquité grecque et romaine, Paris.

Cook, M. & Oram, A., 2017. Prejudice & pride: celebrating LGBTQ heritage, Warrington.

Davidson, J. N., 2007. The Greeks and Greek love: a radical reappraisal of homosexuality in ancient Greece, London

Davis, W., 1994. Gay and lesbian studies in art history, New York.

Dover, K. J., 1978. Greek homosexuality, London.

Parkinson, R. B., 2103. A little gay history: desire and diversity across the world, London.

Mapplethorpe, R., Martineau, P., & Salvesen, B., 2016. Robert Mapplethorpe: the photographs, Los Angeles.

Mapplethorpe, R., Terpak, F., Brunnick, M., Smith, P., & Weinberg, J., 2016. Robert Mapplethorpe: the archive, Los Angeles.

Meyer, R., 2003. Outlaw representation: censorship & homosexuality in twentieth-century American art, Boston.

Mills, R., 2015. Seeing sodomy in the Middle Ages, Chicago.

Rorato, L., 2014. Caravaggio in film and literature: popular culture’s appropriation of a baroque genius, London.

Rothbauer, P. Locating the library as place among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer patrons, in eds. Buschman, J., & Leckie, G. J., 2007. The library as place: history, community, and culture, Westport; London.

Spike, J. T., Brown, D. A., Joannides, P., De Groft, A. H., Rogers, M., & Bisogniero, C., 2015. Leonardo da Vinci and the idea of  beauty, Williamsburg, Virginia.

Warhol, A., Feldman, F., & Defendi, C., 2003Andy Warhol prints: a catalogue raisonné: 1962-1987, New York.

Weinberg, J., 1993. Speaking for vice: homosexuality in the art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the first American avant-garde, New Haven; London.

Weinberg, J., 2004. Male desire: the homoerotic in American art, New York.

Williams, C. A., 1999. Roman homosexuality: ideologies of masculinity in classical antiquity, New York; Oxford.


Like @ Sac! – A Little Gay History

Welcome to the Sackler Library blog!

This, our first post in our ‘LIKE @ SAC!’ series, marks LGBT History Month 2018 and highlights a favourite item in the Sackler Library’s collections:

R. B. Parkinson
A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World
(London: British Museum, 2013)


“All too often, written history is monolithic and not multiple, and it quietly suppresses aspects of life that are not considered ‘normal’ by the governing culture.” (Parkinson, 2013, p. 118).


My choice of ‘LIKE @ SAC’ item in the Sackler Library is Richard Bruce Parkinson’s A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World.  Published by the British Museum, where Parkinson was a a curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the time, this book is one element of a wider project to make LGBTQ objects and histories more accessible at the British Museum.  A trail aimed at uncovering LGBTQ stories and interpretations relating to objects housed at the Museum was launched eight years ago, during LGBT History Month 2009.  It drew attention not only to objects with obvious, or explicit, links to LGBTQ history, but also to those whose connections are more implicit or unrecorded.  Since then, items have been coming out of the closet and into the display cabinets, marking a change in the practice of locking such objects away, such as was practised by the British Museum until the 1950s.


Parkinson’s book highlights objects from c.9000 BCE to 2000 CE, taking into account cultures ranging  from Japan to Greece, and including objects in the British Museum’s collections as well as elsewhere.  Starting with a Sculpted figurine of two lovers  (10000BCE, approx.), excavated near Bethlehem, Parkinson, now Professor of Egyptology, University of Oxford, highlights the assumptions that are made when interpreting the past.  Why do we assume that the sculpted figures are male and female, instead of showing same-sex desire?


I am particularly drawn to busts of Hadrian and Antinous, both represented on the book’s front cover.  A Newcastle native, I have a natural interest in Hadrian and his nearby, eponymous Wall.  In our school history lessons, however, we never covered the effect of the death of Antinous on Hadrian, the subsequent deification of Antinous, and the founding of a city, Antinopolis, in his honour.


Roman. (ca. 130 CE). Portrait of Hadrian, quarter view. [portrait bust]. (Image: © Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; IAP Artstor) Retrieved from, 06 February 2018

Crucially, this book also includes more recent objects from LGBTQ culture, with artworks and badges from Pride marches and campaigns, giving an insight, perhaps, into what future curators will look at when considering the histories of the current era.


For me it is important to celebrate not only the objects themselves, but the changing heritage discourse this book represents.  Museums are reflecting on their roles in representing and constructing society, and adapting their displays and policies accordingly.  John Vincent (2014) discusses the importance of the LGBTQ community in seeing themselves reflected in museum and heritage collections.  The work that has gone into exploring and elaborating on LGBTQ identities shows an important shift in the cultures of participation and inclusion of under-represented communities.  Sandell (2017) highlights the role museums can play in countering prejudice.  As LGBT History Month becomes more widely known, there is also an emerging interest in recognising and noting LGBTQ histories.  The V&A, the National Trust and the British Museum have all held recent LGBTQ exhibitions.  In addition, a major funder, the Heritage Lottery Fund, is currently seeking proposals based on LGBTQ histories (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2017).


A Little Gay History has inspired further projects exploring LGBTQ histories.  After hearing Parkinson deliver Oxford University’s LGBT History Month Lecture in 2016, Beth Asbury was inspired to apply for funding to put together an LGBTQ Trail across Oxford’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (also known as ‘GLAM’).  The result of this was the Out in Oxford Trail, launched during LGBT History Month 2017.  The Trail celebrates the diversity of Oxford’s collections, and uncovers queer stories associated with these objects.  This project continues today with a recently launched app.



A Little Gay History represents an important shift in the cultural heritage establishment, not just because of the objects highlighted within it, but also because it illustrates the important step in the study, inclusion and representation of LGBTQ identities as an essential part of our culture.  Our history is no longer closeted, our stories are no longer hidden.


“We are (always have been, always will be) integral parts of human history: and so our histories must not be marginal.” (Parkinson, 2012, para. 16.)


Helen Worrell
Archaeology & Tyler Anthropology Librarian
Bodleian Libraries



Heritage Lottery Fund, 2017. South East England focus on LGBT+ heritage – tell us your story!  [online] Available at:–-tell-us-your-story [Accessed: 05/02/2018]

Parkinson, R. 2012. A ‘Great Unrecorded History’: Presenting LGBT History in a Museum for the World. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 05/02/2018]

Parkinson, R.B., Smith, K. & Carocci, M., 2013. A little gay history: desire and diversity across the world, London.

Sandell, R. 2017. Making heritage part of society’s conversations about equality. [online] Available at [Accessed: 05/02/2018]

Vincent, J., 2014. LGBT people and the UK cultural sector : the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950, Farnham.