Was T. E. Lawrence of Arabia Gay ? Part 1

About the writer T.E. Lawrence of Arabia and the debate over whether he was a homosexual.



Person in Question: The man who became "Lawrence of Arabia" was born Thomas Edward Lawrence, in Tremadoc, Wales, in 1888. His father, however, was named Chapman. Though Lawrence's parents set up a household and raised five sons, they could never marry; Lawrence was an assumed name. Thomas Chapman had a wife in Ireland who wouldn't divorce him (and who had borne him four daughters).

From a childhood interest in knighthood and castles, Lawrence later focused on the Crusades and the Middle East under his mentor at Oxford, David Hogarth. This was at a time when Turkish control of the Middle East was collapsing after 400 years of domination. Since Professor Hogarth had governmental connections as well as expertise, it was no accident that he led an archaeological dig in Carchemish in 1910. It just happened that Carchemish was near the Baghdad-Berlin Railway, then under Construction, in what is now Iraq. British leaders, and Hogarth, were keeping their eyes open; they wanted to make sure Britain would fill a large share of the power vacuum when the Turkish Empire fell.

Lawrence worked on and off at Carchemish until 1914, perfecting his knowledge of Arabic and increasing his understanding of the Arab peoples. He was often accompanied on exploratory trips by a teenage Arab boy named Dahoum, or Salim Ahmed. These trips included information-gathering for British authorities.

When W.W. I broke out, Lawrence went into military intelligence work at Cairo, and two years later he became immersed in the cause that brought him his fame, the Arab revolt.

Legend has it that "El Aurens," as the Arabs called him, was the Robin Hood of the desert, leading the Arab tribes to freedom and independence from the Turkish oppressors. A more hardheaded view is that as Britain's liaison officer to Emir Faisal, military leader of the Arabs, Lawrence's job was to make sure the tide of the revolt ran in Britain's favor. Wearing Arab garb helped gain him trust and authority.

After the war, and a stint in the Colonial Office under Winston Churchill, Lawrence severed all ties with the government. In 1922 he enlisted in the ranks of the tank corps under the name John Ross. When he joined the Royal Air Force two years later, he changed his name again, to T. E. Shaw. (Although he said the name was picked at random, Lawrence had a close friendship with the aging George Bernard Shaw and, especially, with Shaw's wife, Charlotte.)

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