Credit: Alexander Barattin/Xtra
History Boys
3 min

The History Boys lesson: we can be kings, queens, spies, pirates, murderers or popes

And a look back on the illustrators whose work breathed new life into our revered queer dead

My colleague, Michael Lyons, and I have decided to stop writing our “History Boys” column.

We’ve been writing about queer history in this regular feature for Xtra (and before it, Fab magazine) for about five years. It’s been great and glorious, and a brilliant experience for both of us, and we’re thankful to our readers for helping to make that happen.

It was always meant to be a learning experience for both us and our readers: we slog through the books and articles, learning what we can, and then distil it down for you.

For my part, I learned that we’ve been everything — kings, queens, spies, pirates, murderers, popes. I found out that there were gender outlaws going way back (and that it’s not always easy to determine the gender of historical figures). I learned that history is full of marvelous queer women, but we won’t know just how many until a lot more work is done on women’s history.

For a little more history on the column, here’s a piece I wrote last year to mark having reached our 100th article.

But it’s time for us to step back now, so this is my final column for “History Boys” (Michael’s next piece will be our last).

This is a brief tribute to all of the wonderful artists we’ve been lucky enough to have illustrate each column, helping to breathe new life into our revered queer dead, and even providing inspiration for Michael and myself along the way.

I’ve done my best to pick my favourite illustration from each artist (though not an easy thing to do — they’re all so good).

Eric Williams

Credit: Eric Williams/Xtra

Eric, our first and longest-running illustrator, has a sexy, fun style, and we loved how frequently he included us in his pictures. The image for Michael’s article “Wavering Walt Whitman” is touching, with Michael and I looking on as Walt spends time with a young man.

Jori Bolton

Credit: Jori Bolton/Xtra

You can clearly see Jori’s polished, spot-on, New Yorker cover–worthy style in this image for my column on Oscar Wilde’s time in Canada: “Wilde in the North.”


  Credit: Sissydude/Xtra

With his photo-altering and blending magic, Sissydude’s style is certainly unique and his images were always surprisingly apt. This is his striking picture for Michael’s column on Da Vinci’s little boyfriend Salaì, called “Da Vinci’s little devil.”

Yigi Chang

Credit: Yigi Chang/Xtra

Yigi is a bit of a chameleon, altering his style whenever the subject matter seemed to required it. This one for Michael’s “Gay sex secrets from the animal kingdom” was a big hit.

Stephen McDermott

Credit: Stephen McDermott/Xtra

I almost wish I had some of Stephen’s attractive pictures on my wall. I think you’ll see what I mean with this illustration for Michael’s “Lesbian love in historic China.”

Alexander Barattin

Credit: Alexander Barattin/Xtra

Alexander, our final illustrator, is an insightful artist and a joy to work with, and it was very difficult narrowing down which of his excellent pictures is my favourite. But it has to be this playful image that really brings Joe Carstairs to life, for my article “How a crossdressing lesbian playboy ruled a Bahamian kingdom.”

And that’s my sign-off — for now, anyway. If I can express myself like a villain for a moment (gays have so often been depicted as villains in fiction and occasionally in real life — the Netherlands in 1730 comes to mind — so why not): you haven’t heard the last of us!

Unfortunately, I don’t know the Polari word for “goodbye,” but, with the help of m’colleague’s article on the lost slang language of gays (and subsequent lexicon), I can at least say “goodnight.” So, this is bona nochy.