On his tours, art historian reveals ‘Gay Secrets’

Historians in the News
tags: LGBT, Martin Duberman



The annual LGBT pride celebrations taking place in June are, above all, defiant shows of visibility. But for gay historian Andrew Lear, who offers engaging and informative LGBT-themed art and history tours, often what’s most fascinating about gay life in the past is how much is hiding in plain sight.

On a recent visit to New York City, I participated in one of the Boston-born Lear’s regular “Gay Secrets” tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lear offers a similar tour by appointment only at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts as well as multi-day guided art tours in Europe. His two-hour Met tour started at the statue of the Diadumenos by the sculptor Polyclitus, a Roman marble copy of a Greek bronze from 430 BC and an example of the ancient Greeks’ idealized representations of young male athletes.

Ancient Greece is Lear’s specialty, with particular expertise in gender and sexuality and male-male love in poetry and art. So it makes sense that his appreciation and knowledge is often more illuminating than the art itself. The Met’s collection of ancient vases and wine vessels are just utilitarian pottery until Lear gives context to the drawings of bearded men with younger pupils. Quoting from one of his students, he describes the relationships as “tutoring with benefits.” Renderings of men far outnumber women, not surprisingly, but there are pots (only seven survive) with drawings of women with women.

Lear earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard and has taught at Columbia, Pomona College, and New York University. When his academic career met a crossroads, he decided to start a tour company, and in 2013 launched Oscar Wilde Tours.

“I had done tours for 15 summers during college and grad school, so I knew the tour industry pretty well, and I decided to try to put together tours focused on the kind of gay history issues I work on as a scholar. But people kept asking if I couldn’t do tours in New York City, so I started running local tours as well,” he says.





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