If you’re struggling with coming to terms with yourself and your sexuality, here are some lessons you can learn from Oscar Wilde’s unrepentant attitude.
By Ricci Jones • 2nd February 2022
Photo by Laura Chouette
Inclusivity Advocate & Freelance Writer
Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright whose most famous work would be his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. This scandalized Victorian England when it was first published. Part of the reason was a possible homosexual theme where Lord Henry was more than just a role model to Dorian — this was eventually used as evidence against Wilde when he was convicted on the grounds of homosexuality.
Nicholas Frankel writes in The Unrepentant Years how Wilde was given a two-year prison sentence. He slowly lost everything. His name was removed from theatre programs, his plays were boycotted, and his books were withdrawn from bookstores. He was also legally deprived of the right to see his family. By his release, his literary and social reputation was already in ruin. Despite this, he was determined to rebuild his life while still being unapologetic about what sent him to prison.
If you’re struggling with coming to terms with yourself and your sexuality, below are some lessons you can learn from Oscar Wilde’s unrepentant attitude.
Oscar Wilde wasn’t explicit about his sexuality. However, if you pay attention to his works, you will find plenty of hints. Aside from The Picture of Dorian Gray, you can also closely read one of his most notable plays, The Importance of Being Earnest. This is a whimsical romantic comedy that’s also a satire of Victorian society. Like other oppressed minorities through the years, gay Victorians had a coded language that Wilde integrated into the play. In the title alone, ‘earnest’ could mean a man’s name or be an adjective that means being your authentic self. Aside from this, the word was a London catchphrase for "being gay" in those days.
Similarly, you can also use your creative passions to get you through your struggles. It can be as subtle as Wilde in his works. Or you can be more open about your sexuality in your art — such as the case with artists like Zanele Muholi and TM Davy.
It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it...
Oscar Wilde’s biggest scandal was his trial on homosexuality, and graphic testimonies were presented by men he had sexual encounters with. When he was read two sonnets by his lover Alfred Douglas, he was asked what the line “Love that dare not speak its name” meant. To this, he simply replied, “It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. . . The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.”
As Wilde said, there’s nothing wrong with love outside of the heteronormative expectations. As he defended his own person, you should also embrace who you are. Marc Svensson writes that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is a continuing one. The community has been challenging and breaking norms, and it’s important to also help those who are struggling because of their sexuality. We should make them feel visible and accepted within the community, to let them know they’re not alone.
To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
Wilde’s ideas of love would be accepted in our modern society. For one, he believed that “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” And perhaps self-love was what allowed him to rebuild his life unapologetically after his imprisonment. Another thing he connected with love is the idea of sacrifice. As seen in his short story The Happy Prince, both characters sacrifice something for love. The Prince, for instance, sacrifices his treasures to help the citizens of the city he reigns over. Meanwhile, the Swallow helps the Prince distribute those treasures and eventually dies from the cold.
Though you may have experienced discrimination because of your sexuality, it’s important to always remember that you’re worthy of love — and you should begin with self-love. After all, at the end of the day, you’ll be spending the most time with yourself. And when you love other people, whether romantically or platonically, you also deserve to receive love, the same way you should give them your love as well.