Regular readers will already have sinned with me on this blog with Anger and Gluttony. We sin again today with Greed. As with the other sins greed is represented in Medieval Christian folklore by a colour, on this occasion yellow. So let’s put Greed on our Rainbow Sins flag.
Before we look at sinful
Greed in lgbt heritage let’s look at how it has been defined. In some lists
Greed is replaced with Avarice or Covetousness, but they mean much the same
thing. The concept hasn’t changed much since Greed first appeared on a list of
Christian sins in the 4th century as “philargyria”. This translates
as “love of money” and is, perhaps, the most common definition of Greed. It is
only later that the love of power, possessions and assets was included.
Greed has also been
defined as the non-distribution of personal wealth, however much or little you
have. This includes not giving to charitable causes, and I’m sure everyone has
given some money to one charity or another.
One of the most despicable
manifestations of Greed is blackmail. There are hundreds of known instances of
gay men being blackmailed because of their sexuality. Many hundreds, if not thousands,
of others have gone unreported. During the pre-Stonewall era many unscrupulous
people took advantage of the laws that existed prohibiting homosexual behaviour
and demanded huge amounts of money, or valuables and property, to “ensure” that
the authorities weren’t informed. Some men were blackmailed into spying on
their country and revealing secrets of national security.
If there was any blackmail
case which made a significant impact in the UK it is a fictional one. In 1960
film makers began planning a film about a gay man who is being blackmailed.
Although it didn’t become a blockbuster it is regarded as one of the most
influential films made in the UK between the Wolfenden Report of 1957 which
recommended the decriminalisation of homosexual activity and the Sexual
Offences Act 1967 which implemented it. The film was called “Victim”.
“Victim” was significant
for several reasons. First, it was the first British film in which the word
“homosexual” was spoken. Second, it was the first British film to feature
homosexuality in a contemporary setting. Third, it was one of the first films
to depict gay men in a sympathetic leading role.
It was also significant in
that a well-known romantic actor took the leading role. Many actors turned down
the role before matinee idol Dirk Bogarde accepted it. But more important than
his acceptance of the role was his desire to see the film depict gay life
realistically. He later wrote that he insisted from the start that “there’s no
point in half measures. We either make a film about queers or we don’t”. It was
only years later when it became apparent that Dirk, Sir Dirk from 1992, was
There are reports of many
closeted gay men going to see the film when it was released, creeping into the
cinemas in darkness after it started and sneaking out before it ended, keen to
keep their identities a secret. Many of these men may have been victims of
blackmail themselves. It may also have encouraged some of them to stand up to
To end on a lighter not,
here’s a story of Greed involving a gay man which isn’t about his sexuality.
Nottingham-born Douglas Byng was hugely successful drag and cabaret act in the
UK. By World War II he had become one of the country’s best pantomime Dames. He
had learnt to design and make his own outrageous costumes, most of which
parodied the popular fashions of the time. In the 1930s one of the most popular
fashion items any respectable woman had to have was a short fox-fur cape or wrap
with several fox tails (I remember my grandmother having one – it gave me the
Douglas Byng parodied this
fox cape by creating one for his pantomimes in which the fox tails were
replaced by loofahs, a very common object found in bathrooms throughout the
country. After the war broke out loofahs became more and more scarce. They were
imported from Asia and, like a lot of other foreign imports, stopped arriving.
The desire for bathroom loofahs didn’t diminish and it wasn’t long before their
Black Marketeers took
advantage of this situation and soon discovered that people would be prepared
to pay anything for a loofah. Douglas Byng knew that these greedy people would
stop at nothing to get their hands on any loofah they could find and make a
profit out of it. Consequently, Douglas realised his loofah cape was a prime
target for theft. So we have the rather strange situation of Douglas Byng
locking his loofah cape in safes in theatres, hotels and banks everywhere he
And that is Greed. Once
again we have seen the lgbt community being a victim of a Deadly Sin rather
than a perpetrator. But take heart, because according to medieval Christian
folklore those guilty of Greed will all get their punishment on Hell by being
boiled alive in oil for eternity – and only the best oil, of course.