The Romantic Life of Hans Christian Andersen

Millions of people recognize Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) as the author of over a hundred famous children’s tales, but only a few people know the man behind the stories. The true Andersen was certainly not a writer of the happily-ever-after variety. Throughout his life, he was often very lonely–traveling around the earth and meeting hundreds of fascinating people, but never truly finding a person to share his life with.

Andersen considered himself to be an ugly duckling. He was abnormally tall and quite awkward, with sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, and a long, protruding nose. Like the duckling, he was sometimes teased and humiliated as a child, especially for his effeminate demeanor. As one story goes, the other children at the factory where heworked found him to be so girlish that they ripped hisclothes off to see if he was actually female. The writer’s problems with ladies later on in life may have had more to do with his sexual repression than his unattractiveness or effeminacy. Danish scholar Johan de Mylius hypothesizes that this repression may stem from Andersen’s childhood. When the boy’s mother remarried in 1818, de Mylius asserts that, for 13-year-old Andersen, seeing his mother in an intimate relationship with a strange man may have been one of the factors which laid the foundation for HCA’s later tendency to avoid . . . contact with women.

Though Andersen was never married, he did attempt to court some women. What he claimed was true love, however, is now characterized by scholars asinfatuation. His first victim was Riborg Voigt, who he met in 1830. Unfortunately, the young woman was already engaged to another man, and Andersen was plunged into great heartache. He expressed, in his diary and letters, the resulting despair: Almighty God, you are all I have, my fate is in your hands. I must submit myself to you! Grant me a livelihood! Send me a bride! Myblood craves love, as does my heart.

Thus, in 1843, a new infatuation began–this time, with Jenny Lind, a soprano nicknamed the Swedish Nightingale.Andersen’s deep devotion to Jenny Lind lasted for several years, and he spent copious amounts of time with her in Copenhagen and Weimar. They parted ways, however, and when he next saw her perform in 1854, she was married and had a young daughter. The ungainly, disturbed writer was thwarted again.

There is no evidence that Hans Christian Andersen ever crossed the line of platonic love with his female acquaintances. He often found lust for a woman to be a foreign feeling. For instance, after reading Mathilde Fibiger’s sexually charged novel, Minona, he confided to a friend that he found it to be wretched: “Here, love becomes animal-like, and love between man and woman–I know this myself–is pure in its flame; at least there is no consciousness of the sensuous element.

In Andersen’s male relationships, however, he was much less reserved, and the question has been raised: was Hans Christian Andersen simply sexually repressed, or was he actually bi- or homosexual? Now, his name can be found on a hundred lists of Famous Gays and Lesbians in History, but until recently, this information was meticulously covered up or omitted–perhaps by the very conservative nation of Denmark. In the 2001 novel, Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller, Jackie Wullschlager uncovered previously censored material that almost unarguably proves that the great Danish writers deepest relationships were indeed with other men. It is clear from coded entries in his journal that he frequently fantasized about other men, and that his relationships with these men occasionally shocked society. For example, in the early 1860s he had a very passionate relationship with a ballet dancer, Harald Scharff, about whom Andersen wrote in his diary, I long for him daily. His relationship with Carl Alexander, Grand Duke of Weimar was also extremely intense, and Andersen wrote that they kissed and publicly held hands. However, all of this necessarily closeted information was, presumably, quite frustrating for Andersen. This frustration can be seen vividly, if metaphorically, in his tales in which the protagonist endures great conflict and despair.

Sadly, the fact remains that unlike the “ugly duckling“, he never metamorphosed into a swan and lived happily ever after. Hans Christian Andersen died alone in 1875, but perhaps, the true Andersen, who has only begun to see the light of day, will be fully revealed as the amazing–if troubled–writer and fascinating man that he was.

Hans Christian Andersen’s Sexuality

My book about Disney’s Victorians includes a chapter about Hans Christian Andersen, locating him among other eminent Victorians (including Dickens, the Brownings, Eliot, and Yonge) and exploring the relationship between biography and adaptation. Among the most intriguing aspects of Andersen’s life, as nearly all biographers point out, is his sexuality, and this week I’m thinking about two quite different approaches to nineteenth-century sexuality. The first is Helena Michie and Robyn Warhol’s Love among the Archives, and the second is Eve Sedgwick’s “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl.” The latter was among the readings for V21’s 2018 summer reading group, and part of this post is inspired by conversations in the Nashville area group.

Hans Christian Andersen statue in Kongens Have, Copenhagen (image from Wikimedia Commons)But first, a bit about Andersen’s sexuality, for those not familiar with the romantic life of the fairy tale author. Andersen never married and, if his own account is to be believed, he died a virgin. But his diaries make clear that he did have sexual urges. In 1834 he recorded, “My blood is churning. Huge sensuality and struggle with myself. If it really is a sin to satisfy this powerful urge, then let me fight it. I am still innocent, but my blood is burning” (Diaries 80). This is typical of the diaries, which reveal Andersen’s struggle between his sexual desires and his compulsion to suppress them. Entries like this appear throughout the diaries, often followed by a small drawing of a cross, a symbol indicating masturbation – which he regularly recorded in his diary.

The diaries are simultaneously salacious and chaste, a paradox that makes biographers curious about Andersen’s relationships. He had intimate friendships with both men and women, and his life can seem to be a series of infatuations. Some biographers – including Jackie Wullschlager and Alison Prince – are convinced that Andersen’s of homosexuality. Others, like Jens Andersen, refuse to label his sexuality, but make clear that it was outside the normative expectations of 19 th-century Denmark. All of the recent biographies make his sexuality a central focus, and even the travel writer Michael Booth, in a memoir following the itinerary of Andersen’s travels, feels compelled to dwell on it.

What are we to make of this obsession with Andersen’s sex life? How do we begin to categorize Andersen’s sexuality, and what drives us to do so?

In their biography of George Scharf, a relatively unknown Victorian bachelor, Helena Michie and Robyn Warhol combine a rich archival record with their own affective responses to that record, demonstrating how a biography is constructed as much by the interpretive desires of the biographer as by the records left by their subject. Among the desires motivating Michie and Warhol’s investigation of Scharf is what they refer to as “the ubiquitous and hegemonic marriage plot,” which in modern culture generally (and the Victorian novel in particular) functions as a biographical imperative (Michie and Warhol 67). Even in their slightly amended phrase “romance plot,” they recognize two expectations: first, that biographers explore the love lives of their subjects; and second, that those love lives fit certain parameters: perhaps not heterosexual, but at least diachronic rather than momentary, emotional as well as physical, and monogamous rather than polyamorous. That Andersen fits uncomfortably into such parameters motivates his biographers’ interest in his sexuality.

Michie and Warhol identify two possible partners for Scharf: Jack Pattisson and Freeman M. O’Donoghue. The romance plot they reconstruct thus resists a Victorian norm in the gender of Scharf’s lovers, but in other ways it is “legible in the terms of the literary and cultural romance plots that make agitation for gay marriage so compelling for many” (Michie and Warhol 111). His homosexual relationships seem to have been sequential, non-overlapping, emotional, and monogamous. But Michie and Warhol are careful to note that this conclusion arises both from the limited evidence available and from their own training as readers (especially as readers of the Victorian novels). Scharf may well have had other desires and other sexual experiences that left no trace in the archive.

Michie finds “archival consummation” in a close reading of a letter from Pattisson to Scharf, announcing the former’s engagement (Michie and Warhol 92), and Andersen’s biographers seek similar details that might betray his sexuality: Karl Gutzkow’s accusation that Andersen is a “half-man” (Andersen, 245), or Andersen’s love letter to Edward Müller (Wullschlager 111), or Theodor Collins’s warning about his relationship with Harald Scharff (J. Andersen 475). Jens Andersen’s supposition that Andersen’s friends destroyed or returned letters evidencing his relationships (171-2) implies that those relationships existed. But in all these cases tacitly assume that if he engaged in a homosexual relationship, it would be with one person at a time: the potential relationships with Edvard Collin, Edward Müller, Henrik Stampe, and Harald Scharff are non-overlapping. In this sense, then, the biographers bring their own normative assumptions about Andersen’s desires.

Andersen in 1869 (image from Wikimedia Commons)My goal isn’t to uncover Andersen’s “true” sexuality (I don’t read Danish, for one thing), but rather to consider how understandings of his sexuality have changed over time, and how they might inform the production and reception of adaptations of his works. And in this sense, Sedgwick’s “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl” has led me to rethink Andersen’s sexuality, and especially his (only slightly encoded) recording of his own masturbation in his diary. Andersen’s physician Emil Hornemann described Andersen’s sexuality as “ascetic” (J. Andersen 525-6). Such a conclusion underscores Andersen’s chaste conversations with prostitutes and his series of emotionally intense but nevertheless platonic relationships with both men and women.

But accepting that conclusion means accepting some assumptions about sexuality. Calling Andersen’s sexuality “ascetic” makes sense only if we assume it was externally focused. But Sedgwick posits another “sexual identity”, recognizable in the nineteenth-century culture in which both Andersen and Austen lived but no longer identified as such. In the intervening centuries, “The identity of the masturbator was only one of the sexual identities subsumed, erased, or overridden in this triumph of the homo/hetero calculus” (Sedgwick 826). Because Andersen’s biographers focus singularly on his relationships they perhaps miss an equally intriguing conclusion. Certainly Andersen’s erotic energies were centered on other people, but he may have physically expressed that energy by himself. In this sense, his sexuality was far from ascetic.

For Sedgwick, considering masturbation as a distinct sexuality lets us see “so powerful a form of helps us to see — is that sexual identity exists along multiple intersecting axes, including not just the biological sex or gender assignment of one’s self and one’s partner, but the number of partners (including zero), whether sexual expression is physical or emotional, the cultural and historical communities in which one exists, and other factors that no list could exhaust.

Works CitedAndersen, Hans Christian. . New York and London: Routledge, 2005.

Hans Christian Andersen’s Sexuality

Han Christian Andersen was a gay virgin, says new biography

Han Christian Andersen was a gay virgin, says new biography

A new biography of legendary kid-lit author Hans Christian Andersen says the writer was gay but died a virgin, reports Deutshe Presse-Agentur. The author of a new book that is being published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Andersen’s birth, says Andersen fell in love with both men and women during his life but most likely never had sex with anyone. Andersen’s biographer says that Andersen channeled his sexual energy into such classic stories as „The Ugly Duckling“ and „The Little Mermaid“–the latter being written soon after Edvard Collin, who may have been the love of Andersen’s life, married a woman. Despite Andersen’s infatuations and romantic friendships with men, it is thought that none of these relationships were consummated. Notations in Andersen’s diaries, however, do indicate that he was an ardent masturbator. The debate regarding the author continues, however, with some scholars insisting that Andersen was simply an unhappy heterosexual.

 Han Christian Andersen was a gay virgin, says new biography

The Little Mermaid Was Originally a Metaphor for Unrequited Gay Love

The Little Mermaid Was Originally a Metaphor for Unrequited Gay Love

Writer Hans Christian Andersen longed to be a part of another man’s world…

Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid adaption broke the internet last week when it was announced that grown-ish star Halle Bailey has been cast as Ariel. Critics and complainers don’t believe that Ariel should be played by a black woman and many cited the original fairy tale’s Danish origins to back up their racism. Ariel is European, so she must be white! Right? 

Applying that logic to a fictional cartoon is obviously idiotic, but boy, have we got news for them! If we really want to get historically accurate, perhaps Ariel should instead be Aaron. Or Adonis? Andre? 

The original fairy tale was written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837 as a love letter for a man named Edvard Collin. Anderson, who biographers believe was bisexual, crushed hard on Collin. 

„I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench… my sentiments for you are those of a woman,“ Andersen wrote in a letter to Collin. „The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.“

Collin did not feel the same way. In his own memoir, Collin wrote, „I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering.“

Seems like Andersen longed to be a part of Collin’s world. And when Collin later married to a woman, Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid, which „displays himself as the sexual outsider who lost his prince to another,“ notes literary critic Rictor Norton.

According to , the prince in the original story marries the new woman, „leaving the mermaid so saddened that she turns into sea foam after crying her heart out from grief.“ Andersen never sent the story to Collin.

A stark change from Disney’s 1989 film, where Ariel exposes the prince’s new lover as a sea witch and marries him herself. 

Taking into account the unrequited same-gender love story behind The Little Mermaid and that „Part of Your World“ was written by a gay man, we decree the song an official gay anthem!

 The Little Mermaid Was Originally a Metaphor for Unrequited Gay Love

Hans Christian Andersen Gay Pride Celebration Plan Sparks Row In Denmark

A controversial effort to honor the life of fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen with a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) festival in his native Denmark has sparked a row between local politicians and advocates.

As The Telegraph is reporting, the gay-themed, week-long Andersen celebration was the brainchild of Trine Bramsen, a member of the country’s parliament, who believes the LGBT literary gala would attract more visitors to the town of Odense on the island of Funen, where the author was born in 1805. „There is so much palaver about Hans Christian Andersen’s sexuality, and I think we should use it,“ she said, noting that she believed the event could also capitalize on the country’s marriage equality law. „It should be a week where gays from all over the world can come to the island of Funen.“

Still, Bramen’s opponent Merete Riisager seemed unlikely to warm to the idea, noting that the rival lawmaker should not „come out with such silly suggestions at this time,“ according to Pink Paper.

Best known for his beloved stories „The Little Mermaid“ and „Thumbelina,“ Andersen is widely believed to have experienced unrequited love for both men and women in his life; children’s literature experts occasionally cite the dark, original ending of „The Little Mermaid,“ which was not maintained in the 1989 Disney adaptation, as symbolic of Andersen’s outlook on his relationships.

As Pink News notes, Andersen wrote to the Grand Duke of Weimar in 1847: „On that cool evening, when you took your cloak and threw it around me, it warmed not only my body, but made my heart glow still more ardently.“ Similarly, in a letter to a friend in 1835, he wrote: „I long for you as though you were a beautiful Calabrian girl.“

Interestingly, Vivi Jelstrup, the head of Denmark’s National Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender People, told local newspaper Fyens Stiftstidende that while she supported the idea of a gay week in Denmark, she believes Andersen was actually bisexual rather than gay, according to Queerty: „You can’t say that Hans Christian Andersen lived in the closet. The word ‚homosexuality’ did not exist back then — ‚bisexuality‘ even less. It came first with Freud. So it’s not a question that Andersen would not stand by his sexual orientation, he just had no chance to live it out.“

Hans Christian Andersen Gay Pride Celebration Plan Sparks Row In Denmark

Hans Christian Andersen Gay Pride Celebration Plan Sparks Row In Denmark

A controversial effort to honor the life of fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen with a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) festival in his native Denmark has sparked a row between local politicians and advocates.

As The Telegraph is reporting, the gay-themed, week-long Andersen celebration was the brainchild of Trine Bramsen, a member of the country’s parliament, who believes the LGBT literary gala would attract more visitors to the town of Odense on the island of Funen, where the author was born in 1805. „There is so much palaver about Hans Christian Andersen’s sexuality, and I think we should use it,“ she said, noting that she believed the event could also capitalize on the country’s marriage equality law. „It should be a week where gays from all over the world can come to the island of Funen.“…


– Since in 1901 the Danish homosexual writer, Carl Albert Hansen Fahlberg, under the name of Albert Hansen published an article in Magnus Hirschfeld’s journal Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen entitled: „Hans Christian Andersen: Beweis seiner Homosexualität“, the theory that Andersen was homosexual has surfaced from time to time. The most thorough descriptions of Andersen the man and analyses of his work that have their origin in the theory of homosexuality is Heinrich Detering’s chapter on Andersen in his book Das offene Geheimnis. Zur literarischen Produktivität eines Tabus von Winckelmann bis zu Thomas Mann (Göttingen, 1994. The book has one of Andersen’s paper cuts on the front of the cover!), Allison Prince’s biography Hans Christian Andersen. The Fan Dancer (London 1998) and Jackie Wullschlager’s biography, Hans Christian Andersen. The Life of a Storyteller (London and New York 2001, Danish ed. 2002). This book in 2002 gained the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen prize of Odense City of 50,000 euro.

Wullschlager, who speaks of Edvard Collin (of all people!) as Andersen’s „lover“, maintains the following in a long footnote (p. 382): „The silence of Danish commentators, from Andersen’s own time until the present day, on the subject of his homosexual relationships, is remarkable. Andersen’s diaries leave no doubt that he was attracted to both sexes; that at times he longed for a physical relationship with a woman and that at other times he was involved in physical liaisons with men [JdM’s italics].

Nevertheless, the matter has been discussed several times in Denmark, for example in Elias Bredsdorff’s biography of Hans Christian Andersen (1974) and in Johan de Mylius’s H.C. Andersen. Liv og værk 1805 – 1875 (H.C. Andersen, Life and Work) (1993, new edition 1998 with the title H.C. Andersens liv. Dag for dag (H.C. Andersen’s Life. Day by Day). The latter has furnished documentation for things that speak for very warm feelings indeed from Andersen for Henrik Stampe and Harald Scharff (on a poem by the latter, see also the introduction to Johan de Mylius’s edition of Andersen’s Samlede digte (Collected poems) 2000). Andersen’s very strong (but altogether platonic, also entirely asexual and, in addition, unreciprocated) feelings in his youth for Edvard Collin and Ludvig Müller are well-known.

It must be stressed that there is no evidence to support the idea that Andersen should ever have had what Wullschlager calls „physical liaisons“ with men. It is likewise doubtful whether he ever had physical contact with a woman – in spite of several visits to brothels.

It might be said that Andersen’s feelings did not have any gender. His sexuality indeed did (as appears from many passages in almanacs and diaries, for example in the diary from 11 July 1842: „Sensual, a passion of the blood, which was almost animal, a wild urge for a woman to kiss and embrace just as when I was in the Mediterranean“, an exclamation, which no homosexual would make). To a large extent, Andersen was a spiritually androgynous person or, as Søren Kierkegaard put it in Af en endnu Levendes Papirer (1838; Early Polemical Writings 1990): he is „like those flowers where the male and the female sit on one stalk“).

To conclude, it is correct to point to the very ambivalent (and also very traumatic) elements in Andersen’s emotional life concerning the sexual sphere, but it is decidedly just as wrong to describe him as homosexual and maintain that he had physical relationships with men. He did not. Indeed that would have been entirely contrary to his moral and religious ideas, aspects that are quite outside the field of vision of Wullschlager and her like.

Was Hans Christian Andersen’s ‚The Little Mermaid‘ a metaphor for unrequited gay love?

When it was announced last week that Disney had cast Halle Bailey in the titular role of the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, the news set the Internet ablaze.

While many supported Disney’s choice of casting a person of colour, there were others who spoke out against it claiming that Ariel should only be played by a Caucasian. Some tried to prove this by outrageous „Mermaid Science,“ Yep, that seems to be a thing now. While others claimed it was an outrage to gingers all over the world, then there were those that referenced the fairy tale’s Danish origins, saying that Ariel (who didn’t have that name in the original story btw) was European and must be white.

Applying such logic to a fictional cartoon character who is part human and part fish, seems all kinds of idiotic, but this has actually become a massive thing on the Internet in the last week, especially with full grown adults. There’s something to say about how privilege has a lot to do with the debate, but what I’m about to share with you is also bound to make a ripple in the discussion.

I’ll be straight up, I love the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen and Disney’s 1989 classic, but both are so different to each other especially their endings, that the one thing they share the most in common is really just the name The Little Mermaid. However, if people really want to go hard with being „historically accurate,“ perhaps it’s time to change Ariel to Adam.

According to Hans Christian Andersen biographers, who also believe he was bisexual, claim that the author penned the original back in 1837 as a supposed love letter to a man named Edvard Collin.

„I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench… my sentiments for you are those of a woman,“ Andersen wrote, „The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.“

As the story goes, the feelings were not mutual, with Collin writing in his own memoir, „I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering.“

When Collin later married a woman, Anderson wrote The Little Mermaid, in which sees the prince in the original marrying another woman. After refusing to stab the prince so she could return to her Mermaid self, heartbroken she throws herself off a ship, and her body dissolves into foam. Because of her selflessness, rather than ceasing to exist, she turns into a luminous and ethereal earthbound spirit forced to remain on the earth doing good deeds for mankind for 300 years earning her own immortal soul.

According to history, Andersen never sent the story to Collin, but there’s no denying that the similarities of unrequited love can be seen within the original text. Literary critic Rictor Norton goes on to explains that Andersen „displays himself as the sexual outsider who lost his prince to another.“

Quite a bit different to Disney’s happy ending, don’t you think?

It’s interesting when you take into account Andersen’s supposed unrequited gay love story behind the beloved tale and also remember that the song ‚Part of Your World‘ was written by a gay man, it seems The Little Mermaid, has always been a lot gayer than we thought.

Imagine a gay mermaid of colour? Now that would really get people in an uproar lol

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Apparently, when Hans Christian Andersen was asked whether he would write an autobiography he replied that “The Ugly Duckling” did the job.

Perhaps Hans Andersen was writing about himself. Everyone interprets the fable in [their] own way, for the story has an echo in everyone. As a fairy tale it is, like many of Andersen’s, very odd. The happy climax is so long delayed that it almost does not happen, unlike Cinderella (with the same plot) where we know the heroine is favoured and only unrecognised by an odd quirk that magic will soon put right. The long suffereings of the lonely duck are alien to the setting which (Orwell always excepted) from Chaucer to Hepzibah Hen is usually gay and superficial. The moral is the one about appearance and reality, expressed by birds so memorably and wonderfully that there is no need to call the story a Parable from Nature; these simple symbols have expressed universal truth as only a story teller of genius can do.

One of the well-known fairy tales that ends happily is The Ugly Duckling. The poor duckling is mocked and humiliated because he is so ugly, but he finally turns into a beautiful swan. On closer examination, what does this story say? It has been usually interpreted as follows: after many hardships, patience and perseverance will be rewarded. But if we stop to think about it, the ugly duckling has turned into a swan only bcause he was hatched from a swan’s egg. If he had been a real duckling, he would have grown into a duck. What does Andersen mean by his tale? Some biographers believe that Andersen was not the son of a washerwoman and a cobbler, but the illegitimate child of a nobleman, perhaps even the king of Denmark. There is no direct evidence for this, but the indications are strong. Perhaps The Ugly Duckling is the author’s way of saying, “I have achieved fame and wealth only because I am in fact of noble birth.”

Another possibility is that Andersen himself believed that he was of noble birth, even if it was not true. In this case, Andersen was suffereing from an obsession, a psychotic condition, traces of which we see in his fairy tale. This is an example of speculative biographical approach. It would perhaps be unwise to apply it as a consistent critical method, but it does illustrate the possibility of using literary works to illuminate the author’s life. However, this approach has little to do with the study of literature. If the focus of psychoanalysis is on the author, then the literary text is used merely as any narrative the patient may tell to the analyst.


The Queen places a pea under the many mattresses to check whether the intruder girl with princess pretensions will feel it or not. If she can feel it, she’s definitely a princess for real. Presumably the Queen herself was once a Princess, and knows what it takes to find one.

But what is the pea under mattresses a metaphor for, exactly? We go to so much trouble to signal which group we belong to, but no one spends more time (and money) in that pursuit than those at the top of the pecking order. In order to curate the accoutrements, clothing and manners of the most powerful class, one must actively reject those of the less powerful classes. Even when ensconsed inside the powerful classes, women hold the more precarious position, and so women must be especially careful to ‘act like’ it.

Women are then blamed for being too particular, of course. I don’t believe Andersen is making any gendered commentary here. He is commenting on class. The Prince of Andersen’s story is as fastidious about his woman as the Princess is of her bedding situation. I even wonder if Princesses are his orientation. Andersen’s biography comes into play here: Andersen was a gay man stuck living in a hetero-compulsory time and culture. I deduce the author would have himself been familiar with the experience of meeting plenty of beautiful, eligible women and finding none of them attractive (and not being able to explain in words why, because of the centuries-long hermeneutic injustice of deliberate LGBTQIA+ invisibility).