100 Heroes: T. E. Lawrence

The gay man who was Lawrence of Arabia.

100 Heroes: T. E. Lawrence

Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British archaeologist, army officer, military theorist, diplomat, and writer. He was renowned for the liaison role that he played during the First World War - particularly during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, as well as the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia, a title used for the 1962 film based on his wartime activities.

Early life

Lawrence was born in 1888, in a small village in Wales. The family moved to Oxford, where Lawrence went to school and went on to study history at college.

In 1910, he began working as an archaeologist for the British Museum - a role that took him to Syria. During this period, he travelled extensively throughout the Middle East and learned Arabic.

World War I

Soon after the outbreak of war, Lawrence volunteered for the British Army. He was stationed in Egypt.

In 1916, Lawrence was sent to Arabia on an intelligence mission. He was the liaison between the British Army and the Arab forces - the British were supporting the Arabians in their revolt against the Ottomans.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

After the war, Lawrence joined the Foreign Office and remained enlisted in the military.

During this period, he published Seven Pillars of Wisdom - a memoir of his experiences during the Arab Revolt.


There is debate about Lawrence's sexuality. Some biographers have concluded that he had significant relationships with two men -  Selim Ahmed - known as Dahoum - who worked with him at a pre-war archaeological dig in Carchemish, and fellow serviceman R. A. M. Guy.

The dedication to his book Seven Pillars is a poem titled "To S.A." which opens:

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.

It's assumed that this poem is written to his lover Dahoum.

Although he lived during a period where homosexuality was taboo, in his writing he made a number of references to encounters between men.

"I've seen lots of man-and-man loves: very lovely and fortunate some of them were..." he wrote in one letter to a friend.

In the Seven Pillars, he refers to "the openness and honesty of perfect love" when discussing relationships between young male fighters in the war.

Also in Seven Pillars, he wrote:

"In horror of such sordid commerce [diseased female prostitutes] our youths began indifferently to slake one another's few needs in their own clean bodies - a cold convenience that, by comparison, seemed sexless and even pure. Later, some began to justify this sterile process, and swore that friends quivering together in the yielding sand with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace, found there hidden in the darkness a sensual co-efficient of the mental passion which was welding our souls and spirits in one flaming effort [to secure Arab independence]. Several, thirsting to punish appetites they could not wholly prevent, took a savage pride in degrading the body, and offered themselves fiercely in any habit which promised physical pain or filth."


In 1935, Lawrence was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident in Dorset. He was 46 years old.

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