The male competitive spirit is, often times, thought to be related to repressed homo-erotic tendencies and thoughts. Whether hyper aggressive behavior is used as a front for hiding repressed urges to kiss another dude, or whether it’s just to have an intimate embrace with your best bro who you love but, like, not in a gay way or anything, is up for debate. It was all so much simpler back in the day. One minute you’re throwing some dude to the ground, next minute you’re throwing that fellow in bed.

Let me preface this by saying that I am no expert on history. I am merely using what I’ve read of Gilgamesh, Stephen Mitchell’s introduction, and other myths from around the world, coupled with internet scouring and Wikipedia. If I’ve got the wrong idea somewhere, feel free to offer your own insights in the comments

The ancient Greeks get a lot of flack for their incredibly gay sports, but I think that by focusing on this one culture, we’re missing something bigger. It seems like ancient cultures all over the place were, simply, less sexually repressed, and that, as a result, sexual orientation was not really the oh-so-important (sarcasm) identifier it has become today. In ancient Greek society, the important thing was what role one played in the sexual act. Whether one was the active or passive participant seems to have indicated who would be considered normal to their fellows. Like the Greeks, the ancient people at the time of Gilgamesh’s writing seem to have a more lax attitude about sex in a general sense. There has been, as far as I can tell, some evidence that certain later versions of Gilgamesh’s story have been altered subtly to reduce some of the homosexual elements, though they still survive in one form or another. This coincides with later mandates regarding homosexual acts in law codes. What we’ve got in the story now is enough to make one think.

Near the beginning of the story, Gilagmesh and Enkidu face off in combat. Enkidu, enraged by the tyranny Gilgamesh inflicts on his people, is fighting to dethrone the king and become top dog (presumably a kinder, more friendly dog). The fight doesn’t last long and ends up with Enkidu the loser. Suddenly, the whole thing goes from aggressive fighting to some kind of…semi-repressed gay love. Enkidu and Gilgamesh become fast friends, and through his love for Enkidu, Gilgamesh becomes a better man. He is no longer a tyrant, no longer out to repress and take advantage of his people. His heart is still restless, still after fame and immortality for his name, but he is undeniably a better man. There are allusions to Gilgamesh “loving” and “embracing” Enkidu “as a man does a woman” in a dream that he has about a rock. Later, the anguish he feels when he loses Enkidu is incredibly similar to that of a man losing his soul mate. Nothing overtly homosexual is stated in the text itself, there’s no sex scene, no discussion of seven days of lovemaking like the bit about Enkidu and the priestess, Shamhat, but do we really need it? The guys are clearly into each other.

It’s kind of cute, when it comes down to it. Two gigantic men, aggressive, monolithic, combative and all they need is one another. D’awww!

All of this is lying just under the surface of the poem, and while it isn’t meant to be a major plot point, it’s something sweet and also a lot of food for thought, especially nowadays in America. While other places may be a bit more forward-thinking about the rights of other human beings, folks in the States seem to get hung up on silly shit like who gets to love who. The fact of the matter is that people, gay or otherwise, are just people. We are all entitled to love who we want, how we want, as long as it isn’t hurtful. Homosexual love is just love, and it should be admired and respected just like heterosexual love. It all comes from the same place. Love simply makes us better people. If Gilgamesh can go from tyrant to hero simply because he’s open to the love of another man, that’s an incredible thing and we should respect that concept.

Because when we start to ridicule and hate love, there’s something deeply wrong with our society and ourselves.