We end our look at the 7 Deadly Gay Sins today with Vanity. In some sources vanity is replaced with Pride, but as Pride has acquired a new meaning within the lgbt community I didn’t want to use it for today’s Deadly Sin.
Christian tradition makes Vanity the oldest of all the sins. Lucifer’s vanity was the cause of him being expelled from Heaven with all the Fallen Angels.
I’m sure we all know someone in the lgbt community who is often referred to as “vain”, but the sin of Vanity is much more destructive than the desire to look good or praise your own achievements. Don’t confuse Vanity with arrogance or boasting. These belong to what the Medieval world regarded as the sing of Vainglory, one of the Deadly Sins that was dropped from the list a few centuries ago. Definitions have changed slightly over the centuries. An early definition of “vain” was “futile”, which survives in sayings such as “all his efforts were in vain”. The added meaning of “proud” and “narcissistic” came much more recently.
Which very neatly brings us on to Narcissus himself. This Greek man was so full of his own Vanity that he fell in love with his own reflection.
Vanity can really become deadly to others in the wrong hands. The gay serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer killed his many victims because he didn’t want them to leave him. This was a symptom of deadly Vanity, the desire to have your own feelings and needs dominate those of others who suffer as a consequence.
But let’s not dwell on those horrors and lighten things up. Vanity can be said to be the trait of the dandies, the impeccably dressed, sometimes over-dressed, men who attract attention. The most famous dandies in the lgbt community is Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron. Both dressed to impress.
There’s one story I like about Byron from his days in Constantinople. He was invited to the Sultan’s palace and got dressed up in the most elaborate Turkish costume. He was ushered into the throne room, whereupon the sultan just uttered a greeting and Byron was quickly ushered out again. Naturally Byron assumed his fame as a renowned poet was going to get him a more meaningful audience. Needless to say his own pride was pricked and he stormed out of the palace in a suitably Byronic huff.
Another example of someone dressing to impress and getting a put-down as response comes with Douglas Byng (1893-1987). He was one of the UK’s leading drag and cabaret performers in the first half of the 20th century. I’ve referred to him already in this 7 Deadly Sins series in relation to the sin of Greed.
Long before he became a performer he lived in Nottingham as a boy and young man. One of the traditional activities for a Sunday afternoon in Nottingham after morning church and Sunday lunch was for people to dress up in their finery and walk up and down Mansfield Road, the main road into Nottingham. This earned the name the Sunday Parade. One year young Douglas decided he’d join the Sunday Parade.
Having bathed himself in milk Douglas donned his best suit, a wig, a purple overcoat, tall cane, and tons of make-up and strolled up Mansfield Road like some Georgian dandy. He waved to imaginary friends, and his proud bubble burst when he was recognised by some neighbours and he sloped back home. “Was my face red!” he wrote in his autobiography, “Needless to say, it was, courtesy of Max Factor”.
One animal most associated with Pride rather than Vanity is the peacock. Earlier this year I mentioned the embarrassing situation of an American mistaking the rainbow-coloured peacock logo of NBC as the corporation’s support for same-sex marriage.
Another animal associated in the Medieval world with Vanity was the horse – I’m not sure why. They also gave Vanity the colour violet, and that means we can complete our 7 Deadly Rainbow Sins flag.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this 6-part series on the 7 Deadly Gay Sins. But wait! What about the 7th, you’ll be wondering?
The last of the sins is Sloth – the sin of indifference, neglect, boredom and laziness. The Medieval world gave Sloth a colour as well – light blue. But as light blue isn’t on the Rainbow Pride flag I couldn’t be bothered to do any research into Sloth!
However, I hope to redeem myself next year when I look at the opposites of the 7 Deadly Sins and look at each of the 7 Heavenly Queer Virtues.