And so our Estonian Literature class turned its attention to the curious case of Kristjan Jaak Peterson, an Estonian born in Riga in 1801 who, by virtue of his linguistic genius and well-kept journals and homespun poetry, made a lasting contribution to Estonian national consciousness before his untimely, TB-caused death in 1822.
During his student days in Tartu, Kristjan Jaak would parade around in Estonian folk costume much to the consternation of his more conservative friends. Indeed, Kristjan Jaak was ahead of his time; a hip gentleman who would have been more at home in the Estonian national awakening of the 1860s than the tsarist winter of the Napoleonic era.
And there is something else you should know about Kristjan Jaak: he dedicated much of his work to some person or thing named 'Alo.' Alo is a male Estonian name -- a derivative of Aleksander. The fact that the flamboyant dresser and poet was pouring his heart out to some guy named Alo raised eyebrows in our class. Could Kristjan Jaak have ... been playing for the other team?!
"No, no, no!" says the Estonian Lit teacher. As tempting as it is to expand gay iconography to include any possible historical hint of same-sex affection, we have no evidence of kreeka armastus on Kristjan Jaak's part.
Besides, guys back then loved nothing more than writing letters laced with erudite homoeroticism. The correspondence of many well-known men from the 18th and 19th centuries could be used to subtitle foreign softcore pornography films these days, argue the experts. And isn't President Ilves another foreign-born Estonian who likes to parade around Eesti in folk costume? He seems pretty straightlaced. Why, I even saw him kiss Proua Evelin on TV.
All too quickly, our ultramodern mosaic of Kristjan Jaak the gay icon falls to pieces. Just as Queen Christina of Sweden had her ladies in waiting, she had her Cardinal Azzolino. Sure, David Bowie dithered with Lou Reed, but he also dallied with Iman. Human sexuality, like humans themselves, is a complex thing. I am sure Alo would agree.