Lawrence of Arabia was born Thomas Edward Lawrence in 1888, the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Chapman and a governess. A bright student from the beginning, he became a great British scholar, archaeologist, military strategist and author. His reputation is flawless, except for rumors about his questionable sexual orientation: despite the magnificent stories of his bravery and valor during the war and the accolades he acquired as a strategist, politician and author, his life was tarnished by tale-tellers wondering whether he was homosexual, bisexual or asexual.
His heroic exploits in the Middle East before and during World War I earned him the title of Lawrence of Arabia. His work as an archaeologist brought him to the Middle East early in the 20th century, where he learned the Arabic language and customs in order to better fit into Middle Eastern society and learn more about the history he was studying through his archaeological work.
A “Miss Fareedah” taught Lawrence to speak Arabic. Through their lessons, she became well-acquainted with Lawrence. Rumors have been told that Miss Fareedah and Lawrence struck up a romance, however Miss Fareedah denied all accounts that they were romantically involved. In fact, she stated, “T. E. never fell in love with any woman. He could not…”
In 1910, Lawrence escorted the famed archaeologist David George Hogarth to Asia Minor. While on a dig in southern Turkey, Lawrence encountered a 14-year-old water boy named Salim Ahmed. The two became close friends, and Lawrence referred to him as Dahoum (“little dark one”). Dahoum taught Lawrence colloquial phrases and ways of life, and Lawrence taught him about literature and other worldly things. Eventually, the two men moved in together, and Lawrence carved a nude statue of Dahoum, which was placed on top of their home. Dahoum inspired Lawrence to fight in World War I and defend Arab rights. Lawrence was quoted as saying, “I liked a particular Arab, and thought that freedom for the race would be an acceptable present.”
Lawrence’s relationship with Dahoum is often reported to have been romantic in nature, in addition to the strong bond of friendship the two obviously shared. The possibility that Lawrence and Dahoum were lovers is strengthened when looking at Lawrence’s dedication poem in his book, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. His poem reads: “To S.A.: I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands… that your eyes might be shining for me when we came.”
During World War I, Lawrence served as a British spy. He had infiltrated the Arab lands, wearing their robes and living their ways, and became immersed in the world of Arabian nights. He created maps, shared information and supported all efforts for freedom for the Arabs. In 1916, he joined forces with the Arabian Sheik Feisal al Husayn to fight the Turks. Shortly after dedicating his service, he was captured by the Turks and allegedly subjected to some sort of sexual abuse by the Turk governor of Deraa. The governor had many escort servants who were routinely subjected to similar behavior at the hands of their leader. Lawrence managed to escape and cross the desert to safety, which was his legendary trek to freedom.
The time he was imprisoned had quite an impact on him, and others tell that the time he spent abused caused him to develop a masochistic side. Fellow soldiers tell stories about how they were paid by him to deliver a dominating escort service of flogging him.
Even though Lawrence’s sexuality was questioned by those he served with, there was never a question of whether they respected. Lawrence was the first to lead the charge, the last to leave the battle field, he would seek out a lost soldier and rally the troops. He encountered dozens of bullet and shrapnel wounds during the time he served in the Middle East. Eventually, he formed an alliance with Auda abu Tayii (the leader of the Howeitat tribe) and continued to fight until it was clear that the ideals of independence he shared with the Arabs have been betrayed: the English and French removed the Ottoman rule not to free the Arabs, but to become their new masters.
Later in life, Lawrence refused knighthood and the awarding of the Victorian Cross for his valor. He served as a political advisor at the invitation of Winston Churchill and became a research fellow at Oxford. To avoid fame and recognition, he changed his name and re-enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman, which was the lowest rank possible.
He wrote The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which many consider to be a masterpiece, and dedicated it to Dahoum, who was claimed to be Lawrence’s escort or lover for many years.
At the age of 46, Lawrence died after a motorcycle crash, in which he tried to save the lives of two young boys.