Sunday, 3 June 2018

Take pride in your queer ancestors!

It's June, and Pride Month!

How does Pride Month relate to genealogy, you say? Well, first of all because all of us have living family members - close or distant - who belong somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and need our love and support. However, secondly and most importantly, it is a fact that all of us (at some point in our family histories) have LGBTQ+ relatives in older generations, and even LGBTQ+ ancestors. These people were homosexuals who were forced into heterosexual marriages, bisexuals who had to suppress a significant part of their sexuality, transgender people who never got to express their real selves, and other kinds of queer people who were forced to conform. LGBTQ+ people have always existed; we just haven't always been allowed a legitimate place in society.

Uncle Ivar
My great-grandmother Gunvor was the younger sister of the accomplished singer Ivar Cederholm (1902-1982) (for more about his career, read the articles about him in the Great Norwegian Encyclopedia, on Wikipedia, and on IMDb). "Uncle Ivar," as he is still known within the family, was a gay man. However, during most of his life, male homosexuality was illegal in Norway (until 1972) and defined as a mental illness (until 1973). Uncle Ivar had at least two male partners that are known, but they kept quiet about the true nature of their relationships. The fact that Ivar was gay was an open secret within the family and among his colleagues in the world of art, but as far as I understand, it was never spoken about openly until after he had passed away. In those days, it was "don't ask, don't tell".

My grandmother - the niece of Uncle Ivar - also speculates that one of her great-great-grandmothers might in fact have been a lesbian. Petrine Christense Berg, née Pedersen, was born in 1837 in Gildeskål, Nordland county, Norway, and married a successful and locally important man, Christian Fredrik Berg (1838-1908), a farmer who also served as the local sheriff as well as a Member of Parliament. Petrine - known as Trine, or Mamma-Tina to her family - was a remarkable woman. She was an accomplished woodcarver, and several of her works have been preserved in our family to this day. She also played the fiddle, but as this was not seen as suitable for a young lady of her standing, she was forced to play secretly, hiding in the attic. We can, of course, only speculate on her sexuality, but it is by no means impossible, as my grandmother has guessed, that she was either a lesbian or bisexual.

Some of Mamma-Tina's works.

In my family, we certainly have many other LGBTQ+ relatives and ancestors whose stories will never be known. That is the case for all other families as well. We, their descendants, owe it to them to continue to fight for everyone's right to live and love freely.

Happy Pride Month.


  1. I guess it's no different than gays today having families. One day their children and grandchildren will be talking about this as if it's no big deal.

    I'm so very thankful that in my culture we don't view anything but a man-woman relationship as abnormal despite westerners coming in and saying how it was wrong.

    And yet we're still here generations later!

  2. I think the interesting thing is that in the future people will have actual openly gay couples in their family trees. Think of all those children and kids nowadays that have been adopted by gay couples, are surrogate children, etc.

    It's a whole new type of family that nowadays is considered something "new" and "modern", but think in 50-100 years from now, it will common to have an actual gay couple as ancestors! People would be like "Yes, my great-grandparents were a male gay couple".