Was T. E. Lawrence of Arabia Gay ? Part 2

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



Labeled "eccentric." Lawrence was assumed to have joined the RAF to escape the publicity of his Arabian legend, perhaps in guilt and dismay at how the revolt had turned out so badly for the Arabs, Whatever his reasons, he stayed in the RAF for 10 years, working on aircraft and seaplanes. Then, 10 weeks after his release to civilian life, aged 47, Lawrence died in a motorcycle accident.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No: Many take Lawrence's homosexuality as a matter of record. It is known that he was never engaged or married, though he did propose to a childhood friend, Janet Laurie, in 1909. From his writings one can see that he didn't hold either women or heterosexual love-making in high esteem; he seemed to view the latter as alternately repugnant and trivial.

On the other hand, in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his book about the Arab campaign, he wrote about Arab homosexuality as something "pure" and "clean," even "sexless." But he never wrote about it as his own experience, and he professed personal ignorance of sex in other writings and letters. However, it is known that when he was captured by the Turks in November, 1917, he was "homosexually brutalized before he was able to escape."

Some point to Lawrence's close relationship with Dahoum, the Arab workman, as evidence of his homosexuality. Lawrence reserved his fondest words for a mysterious "S.A."--dedicating his book to this person with a love poem--and many believe S.A. stands for Sheikh, or Salim, Ahmed, i.e., Dahoum. These sources call Dahoum the love of Lawrence's life and say part of his disillusionment with the desert war was due to the fact that it caused the boy's death.

But Lawrence's brother insisted that Lawrence died a virgin, a sexual puritan, consciously hardened since youth to withstand pain and what most men consider pleasure. Perhaps because he had seen what passion did to his parents' lives, Lawrence in this view renounced it completely, substituting intellect and will. And friendship. Living in all-male societies from school through the RAF, Lawrence formed certain deep relationships with males, according to his brother, as a substitute for sexual love.

In any case, enigmatic in this as in so many other things, Lawrence left no direct evidence regarding his sexual experience, or lack of it.

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