Friday, 29 November 2013

The Gallae - Ancient and Modern : Part 2 - Modern

In this second article on the religious movement centred on the ancient Mother Goddess Cybele and her transsexual priests we look at its modern reinterpretation was practised today in parts of the trans community.

As I mentioned last time, established religions evolve over centuries, but the worship of Cybele was outlawed in the Roman Empire when Christianity became the official state religion. To worship Cybele today exactly as the ancients did would not truly represent the spiritual needs of the modern transgender community, and probably also include several  practices which are illegal!

The current status of Cybele and Gallae worshippers is small compared to that of other lgbt faiths. It can be argued that it may not exist at all if it hadn’t been for the internet. What was known about the ancient cult was restricted to academic publications and a few historical journals. With the explosion of information created by the internet and worldwide web this knowledge of Cybele became available to everyone, and it came at the right time.

In the 1990s several feminists and transgender people began their own research into ancient religions, beliefs and cults that had some affinity with their modern lifestyles. In the world of the Modern Gallae the women credited with being the founders of the revival of Cybele include Laura Lansberry (1939-2002) and Laura Seabook (b.1957).

Laura Seabrook encountered Cybele and the Gallae for an art project on the Tarot card deck during her studies at Newcastle University, New South Wales, Australia. From then she became more involved in the Gallae movement and set up a website which features many comic strips and artwork on gallae and transgender issues. Recently Laura became the custodian of the Transgender Day of Remembrance Webcomic Project.

Perhaps the most significant centre of the Modern Gallae movement is the Maetreum of Cybele Magna Mater in the Catskill Mountains, New York State. I say this because the sisterhood there established the first Phrygianum, a convent housing the priestesses. The ancient Gallae lived in Phrygianums/Phrygiana, and these were all destroyed when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity. This made the Phrygianum in New York the first one to be established in over 1500 years.

The Catskill Phryiganum was established in 2003 though the priestesses held their first public ritual on 24th March (the old New Year’s Eve) 1999. Since then it has become the focus of a small group of world-wide priestesses, including Laura Seabrook in Australia.

One problem with a small religious group that doesn’t belong to an established faith is that the authorities may not recognise the spiritual nature of its places of worship. This has been the case with the Catskill Phrygianum.

Several years ago the Catskill Gallae applied to their local authority to obtain tax exemption of the Phrygianum because of it’s use as a place of worship. The authorities turned them down on the grounds that not all of the property was for religious use, and because several of the Gallae lived there, making it a residential property. The Gallae appealed, and earlier this year their attempt to get tax exemption failed again. No doubt the battle will go on for a lot longer.

There are other small groups of Modern Gallae around the world, some of whom are sole worshippers with no physical access to any established convent because of distance. Again, this is where the internet provides vital support and contact.

To end this look at the Modern Gallae her is one flag designed by the faith by Laura Seabrook. This is a black flag with the Rainbow Pride colours on a central disc. A black pentagram is placed in the centre, and in the centre of that is the white symbol of the Gallae. This flag was designed in 1997. In 2006 Laura modified  the design by removing the gallae symbol. In this form it was first displayed in public at the 2006 Sydney Mardi Gras on the Bi-Bachanalia float. Laura interprets the design as representing the intersection of Queer and Neo-Pagan communities, and is intended as the general flag of Queer Paganism.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Queer Achievements - Pelican Briefs

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

Two for the price of one today.

One thing I love about heraldry is its use of puns. The animal world has always provided heraldry with a wide-ranging source of these puns. In medieval days when few people could read the only way to remember or recognise whose coat of arms you were looking at was by puns on the owner’s name. For instance, many families called Lyon have lions in their coats of arms.

Today I’m presenting 2 different lgbt achievements using a pun based on a bird – the pelican. In both of these you can see the heraldic pelican. Medieval Christian legend says that the pelican fed its young by pecking at its breast until it bled. The bird is pictured like this in many manuscripts, stained glass windows and the like. In this form it is referred to as a “pelican in her piety”.

The Queer Achievement above belongs to Lt. Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton (1840-1870). The 3 pelicans on his shield are puns on the name Pelham. Arthur’s father was the Duke of Newcastle, the owner of Nottingham Castle, and you can still see the family coat of arms carved over the castle gatehouse today. In 1865 Arthur was elected MP for Newark just up the road from Nottingham. At the time he was in a relationship with a stage female impersonator called Ernest Boulton, who often styled himself Lady Stella Clinton. Unfortunately, Ernest also often wore female attire in public (an offence at the time) and was arrested. Before the trial love letters between Ernest and Arthur were found. Arthur was called to give evidence against Ernest, and rather than face this prospect Arthur is said to have committed suicide.

Lord Arthur’s paternal ancestry is the Clinton family. Their coat of arms can be seen in the 1st and 4th quarters of the shield. It was the marriage in 1717 of Arthur’s ancestor the 7th Earl of Lincoln to the heiress Lucy Pelham which brought the name and arms into the family.

The remaining quarter on the shield, the white belt buckles, also belongs to the Pelhams. Legend says that this is an “augmentation of honour”, as it is known, granted personally by the king in recognition of some great service. The specific service here was performed at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 by Sir John Pelham, who was one of the captors of the king of France. The buckles may represent the French king’s sword belt given in surrender. While this legend has been in the family for generations, it’s use in heraldry can’t be traced that far back, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

The Pelham motto “Vincit Amor Patriae” means “The love of my country prevails”.

The Queer Achievement below belongs to a more recent member of the lgbt community, Julia Pell (1953-2006). Again, you can see the pelican being used as a pun on the family name. In the UK her arms would be shown on a diamond-shaped lozenge with a bow, but American arms don’t show any sexual differentiation. This is another coat of arms which dates back to the medieval period, and Julia’s male-line ancestry goes back over 600 years to the county of Lincolnshire. Her distinguished ancestry begins with her father Claiborne Pell, a Rhode Island Senator.

Julia was a civil rights activist and served on the board of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and as President of the board of the Rhode Island Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.

The Pell crest shown here is one of several variations I’ve found. Each is an interpretation of the official description (the blazon). Sometimes the garland is shown as if it encircles the top of the helmet. Sometimes the pelican stands directly in front of the erect garland. My interpretation is based on the oldest depictions. One element missing from Julia’s coat of arms is the motto. I can’t find one for the Pell family. This isn’t unusual, as motto’s aren’t compulsory.

In one of those quirks of history that brings 2 apparently unconnected people together, Lord Arthur and Julia have more in common than pelicans.

Julia’s ancestor John Pell (1610-1685) inherited a large estate next to the modern-day Bronx area called the manor of Pelham and the Pells lived there for several generations. The Pell coat of arms is still seen in Pelham today. The manor was given that name by the aforesaid John Pell’s uncle Thomas, the first Pell to emigrate to America. Thomas named the manor after his childhood tutor Pelham Burton, and Pelham Burton’s great-grandfather was Sir William Pelham, the direct ancestor of Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton. It’s a small world.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Birds Do It, Bees Do It ...

I don’t think Cole Porter realised when he wrote the song which contains the lyrics in the above title that he might be saying something that has a grain of truth in it in respect of his own sexuality. But it couldn’t be more perfect, because it’s back to the “Nature or Nurture” debate on homosexuality today. The biggest evidence for the “Nature” side comes from the animal world.

The Wikipedia entry “Homosexual behaviour in animals” gives a long list of a whole variety of animal species where some form of same-sex activity has been recorded. But, as that article points out, there is an intellectual difference in the homosexual behaviour of humans and animals. We humans have also established a distinct identity and community based around same-sex attraction, but animals display no capacity to form such communities. To the animal world there is no understanding that what they’re doing in any different to any others in their species – it is part of their natural sexual “repertoire”.

Among the scientific research on the subject there is no agreement on the universal causes or reasons for homosexuality in animals. Each species may have different causes. Some scientists say it is due to hormones in individual animals rather than present across the whole species, while other scientists have found no difference in hormonal levels between members of a different species which displays such homosexual behaviour.

The Wikipedia article mentions the particular instances of same sex activity in domesticated sheep, where “homosexual” rams refuse to mate with ewes. If you’ve got a good memory and have followed my blog for a long time you may remember an early “Star Gayzing” article which I published in relation to the constellation of Aries the Ram on this subject.

Going back to Cole Porter’s song, just how much of his lyrics can be applied to homosexual behaviour in the animal kingdom? Do birds it? Do bees do it? Do even educated fleas do it?

The instances of homosexual behaviour in birds is well documented. In fact one pair of birds acquired a kind of celebrity status as a same-sex couple for several years. They’re a couple of penguins called Roy and Silo. They weren’t the first male penguin couple, but their story went on to create a nationwide controversy.

In 1998 these two penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York began showing sings of behaviour towards each other that was usually displayed by mating pairs. It wasn’t long before they had established a nest together and had started trying to hatch a stone. Zoo-keepers substituted an egg from an “overlaid” nest for the stone and Roy and Silo succeeded in hatching it. The chick was named Tango.

This penguin family became a tourist attraction, and in 2005 their story was turned into a children’s book called “And Tango Makes Three” by gay couple Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. While stories of evil and murder are accepted in the children’s sections of American libraries (in books like “Oliver Twist” or “Harry Potter”), the story of two male penguins raising a chick created a big stir, with calls for it to be banned in many states. In fact, between 2006 and 2010 it was the most controversial book in US libraries (or second most, in 2009). Despite this, “And Tango Makes Three” has won several awards.

So birds do it. What about bees? There’s no specific research into the sexuality of bees, but there’s plenty with regards to other insects. Research into damsel flies and dragonflies has shown evidence of same-sex activity based on the pincer marks made by males on females during mating. Up to 80% of males in these species show mating-related pincer marks. Fruit flies show genetic evidence for homosexual behaviour.

Even educated fleas do it, so Cole Porter wrote. Perhaps he should have written “even educated bed bugs do it”. The males of the species Cinex lecturarius are sexually attracted to others in their species which have recently fed, this includes male bed bugs as well. Evolution’s answer to this (implying they did it long before humans invented beds!) is for the males to produce pheromones to put off other males – they generate such a foul odour that it puts other males off (I bet we’ve all experience much a similar thing ourselves!).

“Let’s do it, let’s fall in love” with the idea that homosexuality wasn’t invented by gay men and it isn’t perverted. Until society accepts that same-sex attraction occurs in animal species then we can’t say that the “Nature or Nurture” debate will ever be resolved.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Out Of Their Tree - Benjamin Britten

Today marks the centenary of the birth of British composer Benjamin Britten. As with last year’s Alan Turing centenary many events are being held across the country. And, as also with Turing this year, Britten supplies the theme for the UK’s LGBT History Month in February 2014 – music. A special pre-launch event is taking place next Thursday at the University of Birmingham. The event will feature music in all it’s forms, as will my blog which follows the theme throughout 2014 – opera, classical, rock, punk, country, cabaret, film, rap, ethnic, contemporary, dance, pop and more.

For my own little celebration for today of Britten’s centenary I have looked at his ancestry to see what musical influences have been passed down through his family.

Many biographies have been written about Britten with several new ones being published this year. All of them mention the influence of his mother and her family, the Hockeys. Benjamin’s childhood was spent surrounded by music. His mother, Edith Rhoda Hockey, was an amateur singer, being also secretary of the Lowestoft Choral Society. Benjamin showed an early talent for music, often providing piano accompaniment to her mother at little musical soirĂ©es attended by family and friends. He was also encouraged by his mother’s brother who was an organist in near-by Ipswich, and who gave young Benjamin musical scores and books.

Benjamin’s father Robert had less musical talents. A dental surgeon by profession Robert was outwardly the typical middle-class Victoria father – distant from his children and allowing his wife and servants to interact with them. But this was only part of the reality. Robert loved his children, but worked hard and let himself slip into alcoholism. He took and interest in his children’s education and realised his wife’s greater musical abilities in this.

The Britten family show no real musical talent at all in the generations prior to Benjamin. They had lived at Laysters in rural Herefordshire for several centuries before Robert’s father moved the family to Bray in Berkshire. From there they moved to Lowestoft in Suffolk where Benjamin was born.

Most of Benjamin’s paternal ancestry worked on the land. The Brittens were farmers, though Benjamin’s grandfather dabbled in drapery and silk on Merseyside for a time. Benjamin’s grandmother’s family, the Ginders, were land agents for Lord Talbot, an influential land-owner in the East Midlands where they lived.

The Ginders were owners of a lime kiln and flint mill in the heart of the Potteries which, as it name suggests, was centre of the pottery industry in England. Flint mills didn’t grind wheat for flour but flint for use in the pottery industry.

The only hint of a musical connection in Benjamin’s paternal ancestry appears in the Myott family. In 1753 Richard Myott, a churchwarden in the village of Horton, Staffordshire, had the distinction of having his name cast onto one of the new bells being installed into the parish church. Richard Myott is Benjamin’s 5-times great-grandfather.

So does all of Benjamin’s musical talent come through his mother’s family? From her immediate family perhaps. Who they inherited it from is not easy to discover. If anything, Benjamin’s mother’s family were more artistic than musical. In her biography of her brother, Beth Britten also wondered where the musical gene came from. She speculated that it might have come from their grandfather William Hockey’s unknown father. He was illegitimate, and Beth speculated on William being the result of an indiscreet fling between William’s mother and the son of an aristocratic family she worked for. It’s possible. If only we knew for sure which family this was. I’m still digging around to find out.

The artistic gene in Benjamin’s maternal ancestry stretches back several generations. Benjamin’s aunt, his mother’s sister, was an accomplished painter and lithographer who exhibited in local galleries in Suffolk. And their mother’s family, the Niblows, were more known as manufacturers, though their skills were artistic in their own way. Benjamin’s great-grandfather was a fancy box maker, and his great-great-grandfather was a blacksmith. Fancy boxes, by the way, were a thriving Victorian industry before the mass production of cardboard boxes. They were all made from scratch from wood, and were used for packing anything from lace to chocolates (I used to work in the boyhood home of William Rose in Gainsborough, who invented a packing and wrapping machine, thus helping to end the fancy box industry – his invention was so good that Cadbury’s named a brand of chocolate after him).

So my quest to find Benjamin Britten’s musical roots comes to a dead end. Apart from a church bell with his ancestor’s name on it there’s little to show beyond his mother’s talents. As Benjamin’s sister suggested, perhaps a clue lies in the untraced ancestry of William Hockey’s father. Who knows, by this time next year on Britten’s 101st anniversary either myself or someone else may have discovered where his musical heritage originated.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Forgotten Trans Pioneer

Remembrance is a time when we bring forward in our minds our knowledge of the lives and deeds of people no longer with us. It can also be about people who have been truly forgotten and then rediscovered. This is the subject for today’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. As we remember the victims of transphobia who have lost their lives solely because of who they are it is important to remember the pioneers whose stories are vanishing.

One such forgotten transgender pioneer was brought to my attention by one of my brothers who read an article about Roberta Cowell. It wasn’t a name on my database or on major trans lists. It may have taken many months before I stumbled on her story. A quick Google search revealed Roberta has had a Wikipedia page since 2006, though there was little information on it.

Outside motor racing Roberta Cowell is remembered by few. So few, in fact, that her death in 2011 wasn’t noticed until this summer. After 1980 she withdrew from public life and lived as a regular pensioner. She had a handful of friends and she died alone at the age of 93. Only 6 people attended her cremation. Even her 2 daughters were unaware of her death until October.

This autumn the Vintage Sports Car Club found out about Roberta’s death and ran an obituary in their quarterly magazine. In October the Independent on Sunday newspaper picked up the story and published an article on her. From there Roberta’s story spread across the internet.

Roberta was one of the 3 children of Maj.-Gen. Sir Ernest Cowell, a distinguished surgeon. Registered and baptised as Robert she realised from an early age that she felt more comfortable in the company of girls than boys. At school she joined the motor club and spent a lot of spare time in local engineering workshops.

Roberta’s experiences on an actual race track sounds like something from a comedy spy film. At Brooklands track she walked up to the gates in dirty overalls, carrying a bucket of water, and walked straight past the guard who didn’t ask for ID. Roberta spent several days working with any engineer who needed help. No-one challenged her, and she wasn’t even old enough to drive legally.

In 1935 Roberta joined the RAF. Unfortunately she was air sick every time she flew and was quickly invalided out of the force. Not all that concerned, Roberta was glad of the opportunity to start her motor racing career. Her first race was at Brooklands in 1937 when she was just 18 in a single seat Austin, followed the next years in a 2-litre sports Alta.

When World War II was declared Roberta joined the Royal Army Service Corps, though she was eager to become a fighter pilot, despite her earlier experiences. Shortly after being commissioned Roberta married Diana Carpenter, whom she had met while studying engineering at London University in 1936.

Roberta was transferred to the RAF, combating her airsickness by sheer will power, and she saw active duty over the skies of England. I’ll leave the rest of her war service for next years in my Remembrance series.

After the war Roberta dabbled in business before returning to the motor track for a while. It was in these years that she realised her marriage was not a happy one and it ended in divorce in 1952. Roberta didn’t recognise the reason for this unhappiness and subsequent depression until she underwent therapy. This brought to light her unconscious mind as being predominantly female. She has somehow felt this, and resisted it, all her life. It was time to stop resisting.

The first step to reassignment was hormone treatment. After two difficult years Roberta went to specialists who declared that she was undoubtedly female and she immediately began  the process of having her birth certificate legally re-registered. She also began a series of final gender reassignment operations.

In 1954 Roberta “went public” by writing her autobiography, chronicling her life and emotions during her extraordinary journey through life. Legally female, she was denied the opportunity to return to Grand Prix motor racing, though she was able to continue in other races, winning the 1957 Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb.

In 1958 Roberta began plans to fly across the Atlantic in a De Havilland Mosquito. Unfortunately, she was declared bankrupt and nothing came of the project. After an aborted attempt at another book in the 1970s Roberta largely withdrew from the public eye and lived her remaining years as an ordinary pensioner.

Roberta’s life is one of the forgotten stories in early transgender heritage.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Star Gayzing : Out Of This World 3

Continuing my series of asteroids named after lgbt people I list those discovered after I was born and into the 1970s. Again, I have given quotes from the official Minor Planet Centre bulletins and some additional information.

(1812) Gilgamesh      Discovered 24 Sept. 1960. Name published pre 1 Nov. 1979. “Named after the hero of an old Babylonian saga.” Gilgamesh had a close homoerotic, if not homosexual, relationship with his former enemy Enkidu.

(2940) Bacon             Discovered 24 Sept. 1960. Name published 29 Sept 1985. “Named for the English scholar Francis Bacon (1561-1626), thought by some to have been the author of Shakespeare's plays.” Sir Francis Bacon was also a courtier to King James I, both of whom were partial to young toy boys.

(5450) Sokrates         Discovered 24 Sept. 1960. Name published 1 Sept 1993. “Named after the Greek philosopher Sokrates (c.470—399 BC), who taught that one should always say the truth. He was forced to drink hemlock, because the state was afraid that Sokrates influenced the youth and denied the official religion...” This “influence” included having sex with his pupils.

(12148) Caravaggio              Discovered 24 Sept. 1960. Name published 11 Nov. 2010. “Michelangelo Merisa da Caravaggio (1571–1610) was an Italian artist of the Renaissance. He was almost forgotten after his death, but in the 20th century his importance was rediscovered because of his great influence on the Baroque style during the Counter Reformation.”

(1859) Kovalevskaya                        Discovered 4 Sept. 1972. Name published 1 Nov. 1979. “Named in honour of Sophie Kovalevskaya (1850-1891), the first Russian woman mathematician, associate member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, widely known for her researches on differential equations … and the rotational motion of solid bodies.”

(4005) Dyagilev         Discovered 8 Oct. 1972. Name published 19 Oct. 1994. “Named in memory of the Russian impressario Sergej Pavlovich Dyagilev (1872-1929). He is mainly known as the patron of art and literature and the founder of the travelling Russian ballet company.” His name is more often spelt “Diaghilev”.

(4007) Euryalos         Discovered 19 Sept. 1973. Name published 11 Mar. 1990. “Named for the commander of the troops from Argos during the siege of Troy.” This young warrior was the boyfriend of Nisus and both fought with the Trojans. They were killed during a daring night-time raid on a Roman camp.

(4877) Humboldt        Discovered 25 Sept. 1973. Name published 12 May 1992. “Named after the scientist Friedrich Heinrich Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt (1769-1859), who made extended expeditions to Siberia and South America to study the flora and geology of each region...”

(7446) Hadrianus       Discovered 29 Sept. 1973. Name published 16 Oct. 1997. “Named for Publius Aelius Hadrianus (76-138)... Hadrian stopped the expansion of the Roman empire, putting his energy instead into the construction of excellent roads, aqueducts and new cities. He also fortified the borders of the immense empire, notably with the wall between England and Scotland...” His lover Antinous does not yet have an asteroid named after him.

(2226) Tchaikovsky               Discovered 12 Nov. 1974. Named after the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). A new film biography of Tchaikovsky to be made in Russia deliberately leaves out all references to his homosexuality, and President Putin even denies Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality.

(2476) Andersen        Discovered 2 May 1976. Name published 2 July 1985. “Named for Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), great Danish writer of fairy tales.”

(4753) Phidias            Discovered 16 Oct. 1977. Name published 16 May 1992. “Named for the famous Greek … architect, a sculptor in bronze and a painter … his work is said to have included sculptures for the Acropolis…”. Phidias (c.500-432 BC) produced the statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the World which played a role in the ancient Olympics. While working on the Parthenon his young lover Pantarkes became Olympic wrestling champion.

(2810) Lev Tolstoj     Discovered 13 Sept. 1978. Name published 15 May 1984. “Named for the great Russian writer Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoj (1828-1910).” Recent biographers have pointed out Tolstoy’s homosexual tendencies.

(9917) Keynes           Discovered 26 June 1979. Name published 9 Feb 2009. “British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946) set down the foundations of macroeconomics with his ‘General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’ (1936) … his ideas … were widely revived in 2007-8 as a cure for the worldwide recession.” Keynes surprised all his friends when he announced his marriage to a ballerina – he had been actively gay until then.

(3306) Byron              Discovered 24 Sept. 1979. Name published 2 Apr. 1988. “Named for the great English poet Lord George Noel Gordon Byron (1788-1824).” His daughter Ada, Countess of Lovelace also has an asteroid named after her (no. 232923)


(4294) Horatius          Discovered 24 Sept 1960. Name published 8 July 1990. “Named for the Roman poet Horatio (65-8 BC), whose main poems are collected in ‘Sermones’, ‘Carmina’ and ‘Epistolae’.” Horatio, or Horace, wrote often about same-sex love.

(14310) Shuttleworth            Discovered 7 Aug. 1966. Name published 6 Aug. 2006. “South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth (b.1973) was the first citizen of a country in Africa to venture into space. A civilian cosmonaut on a Soyuz mission in 2002… where he participated in experiments involving AIDS and genome research.”

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Gallae - Ancient and Modern : Part 1 - Ancient

The growth of wicca and neo-paganism in the late 20th century had an effect on the lgbt community. Christianity, even that of the lgbt churches such as the Metropolitan Community Church, didn’t offer what some people were seeking. Other established religions and faiths were also perceived to be too non-lgbt inclusive and people began to look to the past to find inspiration for modern beliefs. Long-established beliefs like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhist, etc., have the benefit of centuries of evolution and development, but newly-formed beliefs like Wicca have had to rebuilt from the past to reflect the present. This is the case with the transgender faith of the Gallae of Cybele.

The original Galli were male priests of the Mother Goddess, Agdistis (whom the Greeks called Kybele and the Romans called Cybele) and her associated deity Attis. The cult of Agdistis dates back several thousand years to Phrygia, the central region of modern-day Turkey. The cult expanded across the Mediterranean, and in 2-4 BC it became recognised as an official cult by the Roman state.

The significance of the cult of Cybele to the trans community originates in the legends of Agdistis and Attis. The legends evolved as it spread across to Greece and then Rome, but remnants of the original Phrygian version are still traceable.

Cybele’s earliest cult is associated with mountains. Her first incarnation was as Agdistis (a later Greek version of her Phrygian name), the hermaphrodite deity of Mount Agdistis in Phrygia. She was the daughter of the Sky God and the Earth Mother, and from this parentage she acquired the role of Mother Goddess in the Greek and Roman pantheons.

It seems that it was colonists from Greece who reinterpreted Agdistis as Kybele. The Greeks brought the hermaphrodite into their pantheon, adapting her cult to align it with their own social attitudes at the time. Agdistis belonged to a tradition of double-gendered gods and goddesses of ancient Turkey that was largely alien to the Greeks. To make Agdistis less alien the Greeks developed the legend of how their own king of the gods, Zeus, fathered this hermaphrodite. The Greek gods feared this strange new double-gendered member of their family and as Agdistis slept they castrated her. From that moment Agdistsis became known as Matar Kubileya and later Kybele. The name means Mother of Mountains, keeping reference to original her Phrygian role as a mountain or earth deity.

The severed genitals fell into the soil and from them grew an almond tree. A daughter of the local river god gathered some of the almonds and one impregnated her. The resulting child was called Attis.

Attis was also originally a Phrygian deity, though not as ancient as that of Agdistis. Their cults were closely associated and the Greeks worshipped the two together in several of their colonies. Later Attis’s cult became secondary to Kybele’s and the Greeks developed legends to explain this.

Following his almond-birth Attis grew up into a beautiful young man. Kybele fell in love with him, though by the time this legend originated Kybele had been well removed from her Agdistis origins (otherwise the relationship would have been incestuous). At Attis’s wedding to a local princess Kybele appeared to him in all her divine glory, and it sent him mad. In his madness Attis castrated himself. In like madness Attis’s prospective father-in-law also castrated himself.

This myth also served to explain the priests of the Phrygian cult of Attis and Agdistis/Kybele. The priests in both cults were eunuchs who went through ritual castration in a ceremony held near the Spring equinox. When the cults spread into Greece these eunuch priests acquired the name “galloi”, probably named after the River Gallus in Phrygia whose waters are reputed to drive people mad, or from the region of Galatia. Although eunuchs were not unknown in Greek or Roman cultures the Galloi, or Galli to the Romans, were seen as subjects of derision. Whereas eunuchs were castrated, the Galli completely removed all male sexual organs, thus removing themselves totally from all masculinity. This complete emasculation went further with the Galli cross-dressing and behaving as women, and in some recorded instances offering themselves to men as prostitutes. This behaviour was far in excess of what Roman society accepted and eventually, in the 1st century, genital mutilation was declared illegal.

Along with other pagan religions the cults of Cybele and Attis were banned in the Roman Empire when Christianity became the state religion. Where these banned religions existed outside the empire they remained as local cults for several more centuries.

During the neo-pagan resurgence in the 20th century members of the transgender community began searching for a faith that reflected their lifestyle and spiritual needs. Several activists researched religions of the Mother Goddess, and Cybele stood out as being a fitting spiritual focus.

In Part 2 of Gallae – Ancient and Modern in two weeks time I’ll write about the modern revival of Cybele and her Gallae priestesses.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Real Gay Batman

I suppose any zoologist who studies bats will inevitably earn the nickname Batman or Batwoman. One such zoologist has an exalted place in the lgbt community as THE Batman. This nickname extended from the pure zoological world and into the leather worship world to leave a legacy that thrives today.

I’ve already written an article about Tony DeBlase (1942-2000) in relation to his creation of the Leather Pride  flag. Today I concentrate on his persona as “Fledermaus” (German for “bat”), as he was known in the publishing world of the leather community. It was a pseudonym he adopted in around 1975 when some of his DBSM (Domination, Bondage and Sado-Masochism, actually not as violent or distasteful as it implies) stories were first published. I’ll return to that later.

But first, when and why did bats enter Tony’s life?

Tony studied for a PhD in zoology at Oklahoma State University. In 1969 he moved to Chicago to complete his degree research at the Field Museum of Natural History. This museum housed a large collection of bats, the subject of Tony’s dissertation.

Tony took part in a field expedition to Iran to make a proper study of that country’s native bat species. On his return to America it took a couple of years to complete his dissertation because of other work commitments because he had taken on some teaching and museum administration posts which took up most of his time.

In 1971 he wrote “New Distribution Records of Bats From Iran” for the Field Museum journal “Fieldiana: Zoology”. Eventually, in 1977 his full dissertation was completed and he submitted it to the journal for publication. All of the 38 bat species of Iran were described in detail by and were mapped to show distribution. Tony even identified a new native Iranian species that had only been known previously in other countries, and 5 species were removed as not being native. This made Tony’s dissertation the most comprehensive study on Iranian bats ever written. If you're batty about bats and want ot read Tony's dissertation it is available online here.

Tony has also contributed to other zoological publications, such as “A Manual of Mammalogy” (currently in its 3rd edition, 2011), and the section of bats in “Encyclopedia Iranica” (1988).

It was while he was working on his dissertation that Tony had his first bondage fiction published. He had been writing fiction for a while, and it was Larry Townsend (1930-2008), a pioneer in the publication of leather fetish erotica, who thought the stories were good enough for publication. Tony was asked to adopt a pen-name, something often done to protect the writer’s identity from criticism within their profession, and he chose Fledermaus. “I was doing my dissertation on bats, and the [first published] story was set in a German castle, it seemed like an appropriate name”, Tony said in an interview in 1996.

In 1982 Larry Townsend published a collection of Tony’s stories in “The Fledermaus Anthology”. Through Larry and his Fledermaus stories Tony became heavily involved in the Chicago leather and bondage scene, quickly becoming one it it’s leading figures. In 1979 Tony began publishing “Dungeon Master”, a DBSM magazine he largely wrote himself. It became popular and soon turned into a thriving small business.

When Tony’s partner Andrew took early retirement from medical practice the couple moved to San Francisco to take over “Drummer”, the ailing leather/bondage magazine that had the biggest circulation in America. With it went the Mr Drummer contest. Under Tony’s direction both the magazine and the contest regained its popularity and iconic status before he sold both in 1992.

After a long illness Tony DeBlase – Fledermaus – died in 2000. The legacy of Fledermaus survives. In 1989 Tony created the Leather Pride flag which is recognised worldwide, and in 1991 he founded the Leather Archives and Museum.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance of Next Year

Next year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II. Many commemorative events are being held around the world throughout the year and I will mark the events myself with a secondary theme which will run concurrent with the main theme for 2014 (news of which later this month).

Like most people of my age I knew several generations in the family who served in the World Wars. Many of us have lost family members (both my grandmother and step-grandmother lost their first partners in the First World War, for example).

My father, who served with the Royal Signals in Burma at the end of World War II, never spoke about his war service, as most survivors didn’t. But he did “encourage” me and my siblings to recognise the realities of war. I remember vividly as a teenager watching a landmark television series called “The World at War” with my parents. We also watched the annual Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph and attended our village’s  remembrance services. It was often pointed out by my grandmother that one of the names on the memorial was her first husband, Harry. He has no grave, as he was lost on HMHS Britannic in the Mediterranean.

My mother had more of a living connection to the First World War with her father, being invalided at the Battle of the Somme, the same conflict which took the life of his friend and future wife’s fiancĂ©. Mother diligently placed poppies on the graves of her father and two uncles every year, and it’s a family tradition still upheld by my sister and cousin.

It is only relatively recently that armed forces have acknowledged the contributions made by lgbt service personnel. On Remembrance Day last year I gave a short list of lgbt soldiers who lost their lives in conflict. The growth of the lgbt community in the 1970s was instrumental in bringing to light many stories and the full extent of the persecution of gay men by the Nazis and, of course, the legacy of this was the adoption of the pink triangle by the lgbt community which is still in use today.

This part of lgbt history was revealed largely through the work of activists such as Peter Tatchell and his campaign group Outrage! Yet there has yet to be an official contingent of lgbt servicemen represented in the official ceremony of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in London organised by the Royal British Legion, mainly because there is no official national organisation that represents them. In 1980 Outrage! decided to mark the sacrifices made by the lgbt community by holding their own ceremony at the Cenotaph after the official one had ended. They called it Queer Remembrance Day. One of the key speakers at this and several later Outrage! ceremonies was Sharley McLean. She fled to Britain as a lesbian teenager to escape the Holocaust which claimed the lives of her parents and gay uncle.

Outrage! claims that the Royal British Legion denounced their various remembrance ceremonies as “distasteful” and “offensive”, but extensive research has yet to confirm this (it was probably isolated remarks from individual Legion members rather than an official statement). It should be pointed out that the national Cenotaph ceremony is not organised by the government but by the Royal British Legion and participation and wreaths are there only by their invitation (not unlike the Olympics where only official sponsors are allowed to promote the games).

At the 1999 Queer Remembrance Day ceremony Outrage! received a more welcome reception than before from the crowds who had remained after the official service. The public and Outrage! supporters applauded a group of lgbt veterans and Holocaust survivors. Again, it had no official status, but the wreaths of pink roses were permitted to be placed with the poppies laid by the national organisations. (The photo at the head of this article is from this event on 14 November 1999 - © John Hunt/Outrage!, taken from the Outrage! Website.)

Next year, when I produce my display for LGBT History Month, I hope to include a section on lgbt war victims. To illustrate the life of one war hero I am constructing a plastic kit model of a Hawker Hurricane aircraft, pictured below. This was a plane flown by Flight Lt. Ian Gleed of the RAF. It is one of several models of planes that he flew during World War II – not just models of general war planes, but models of the actual planes flown by Gleed with his personalised markings. Ian Gleed became a Wing Commander and was killed in action at the age of 26 in 1943. I’ll post photos of the completed Hurricane model next year when I cover Gleed’s life more fully.

Shortly after finishing the final draft of this article I learnt of the death of Sharley McLean on 26th October at the age of 90.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Paws For Science

Since the demise of the International Mr Bear contest in 2011 there hasn’t been a world-wide focus for the celebration of the bear community. So, to celebrate the bear community’s contribution to science (yes, they have one) I’m writing this article as the San Francisco Bear Pride festival is taking place. San Francisco was the birthplace of the International Mr Bear contest so this is an ideal date to chose.

When I was planning my year of science the San Francisco Bear Pride festival was one of the reasons why I chose zoology for November’s Ology of the Month – bears, you see!

To begin with I should point out that not all scientists who may be physically suited to be called a “bear” may like, or want, me to do so. This article deals with 2 scientists who have publicly declared their “bear” status by being openly active in the bear community.

I’ll start in San Francisco itself and with a pioneer of the early years of the bear community. His name is Chris Nelson (1960-2006). If you had to sum up both his professional and personal life in as few words as possible it would be “Creator of Images”.

Chris worked at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley laboratory as a microscopist. Starting out as a technician with the National Centre for Electron Microscopy he became proficient in the use of the atomic resolution microscope and the one-angstrom microscope. Chris’s expertise led to many researchers and scientists coming back time and time again to ask for his help to produce images for their research. A big bear of man with a big bushy beard, Chris resembled a young Father Christmas and his personality seemed to match. He knew how to make people feel at ease.

In 2005 he received the Outstanding Technologist Award from the Microscopy Society of America, and was appointed to take on the responsibility of the new Transmission Electron Aberration-Corrected Microscope in 2007. Sadly, Chris died from an unexpected heart attack in 2006.

Chris’s other role as “Creator of Images” revolved around his hobby as a photographer. His partner, Richard Bulger, is said by many to have been the first to popularise (though probably not invent) the term “bear” for the big and hairy community. Two years later, in 1987, Chris and Richard produced the first edition of “Bear Magazine”, a photocopied publication which they distributed around San Francisco. It contained some of Chris’s own photos of “leather bears” from around the city. Very quickly the magazine grew into a national publication, and except for a few years in the 1990s has remained so. Chris’s photos of the bear community formed the backbone of “Bear Magazine” and provided the growing bear community with an identity.

As the bear community grew members began to move away from the leather/biker community in which most them moved, and separate bear clubs began to emerge. All of this culminated in the creation of the International Mr Bear contest.

One prominent bear who served as a judge for several International Mr Bear contests was Michael S. Ramsey (not to be confused with Michael Ramsey-Musolf featured in September). Michael S. Ramsey is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a founder member of the Phoenix Bears club when he was studying for the PhD at Arizona State University. During the 1990s he contributed to the “American Bear” magazine and used his extensive experience in computers to co-ordinate the Resources for Bears website between 1996 and 2002.

Michael’s scientific career is based mainly on geology and, in particular, vulcanology. When he arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 2000 he set up the Image Visualisation and Infrared Spectroscopy laboratory and currently serves as webmaster on its website. He began using infrared spectroscopy, which hasn’t been used in this way before, to look at the chemical and structural changes in rocks and minerals that are heated beyond their melting points. This research could help to understand the processes involved in lava flows and magma within volcanoes. Michael has also been heavily involved in research at NASA and has done research into Martian volcanoes and impact craters.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Trans Science

Going through my database of over 20,000 lgbt people of note I was quite surprised to see how many trans people there are in science and technology. The majority of them transitioned after starting their careers and have encountered prejudice to some degree. What I hope this article will show is that there are transgendered scientists who have risen above the prejudice and have established themselves as respected members of the science world.

Deciding who to mention has been difficult as there are so many different fields in which trans scientists work. I have produced this short list (in alphabetical order) giving just a brief snap-shot of the careers of some transgender scientists and technologists. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough space to recount the various transition stories, which may be more suitable for specific articles on the individuals in the future.

Ben Barres, currently Professor and Chair of the Neurobiology Department at the Stanford University School of Medicine : Ben has studied in both the US and London. He became Professor of Neurobiology in 1993. His main area of research is in the function and development of glial cells in mammals. These cells in the central nervous system supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells and destroy pathogens and remove dead neuron cells. One of the world’s most prominent male trans scientists Ben has written and spoken often about the prejudices and challenges faced by female scientists.

Lynn Conway, currently Professor Emerita of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor : Lynn is regarded as a leading trans campaigner and her website is the biggest trans site by an individual. She is one of several lgbt computer scientists whose work helped to create the computer age. While working at IBM in 1965 Lynn invented Dynamic Instruction Scheduling, the means by which a central processing unit can perform multiple operations simultaneously, something we take for granted today. Lynn’s work also led to the increase in the number of transistors on a microchip from thousands to millions.

Alan Hart (1890-1962), Director of Radiology at Tacoma General Hospital, Oregon, and later a Director at the Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission : Alan was a pioneer in trans history as the first to have his case recorded in medical literature in 1920. After qualifying as a doctor Alan began to specialise in radiology, particularly in relation to the treatment of tuberculosis. He worked as TB consultant in Washington, Idaho and Connecticut. Alan wrote many medical articles, including on the use of x-ray detection of TB, and also 4 novels. His first marriage ended in divorce after several stressful years moving from one town to another when his gender became the subject of concern to his patients. His second marriage in 1925 lasted until his death.

Caitlin R. Kiernan : Caitlin was mentioned earlier this year when the Ology of the Month was geology. She is primarily a palaeontologist, though her expertise as a geologist was used in the 1990 film “Tremors”. Also an award-winning science fantasy writer Caitlin’s latest novel “Blood Oranges” was published earlier this year under her fiction-writing name of Kathleen Tierney.

Barbara Nash, currently Professor of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah : Barbara has directed the university’s Electron Microscope Laboratory since 1970, which analyses mineral specimens as small as 100th the size of a grain of sand. Barbara has also undertaken field work in the Colorado Plateau, and using the electron microscope extensively to analyse the chemical structure and physical properties of many minerals, including several new ones. Just 6 months ago Barbara had the honour of having a new mineral named after her – nashite, a mineral of complex chemical composition that has properties unique in it’s mineral group.

Femke Olyslager (1966-2009), Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics, Ghent University : The late Professor Olyslager made outstanding contributions in the fields of computational and theoretical electromagnetics. In 1994 Femke became a laureate of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Literature and Fine Arts of Belgium. In 2004 she became a laureate of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium. That same year she contacted Lynn Conway for advice on transitioning, and it was the start of a collaboration into a study of the prevalence of transsexualism. Femke died unexpectedly in January 2009.

Joan Roughgarden, currently an Adjunct Professor at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology : Joan’s main contributions to science is her work on evolutionary biology and ecology. In her book “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan put forward an alternative to Darwin’s sexual selection theory, giving many instances of animals which don’t follow conventional sex roles, and giving examples of many species where unexpected sexual behaviour is present. Joan has also written on the compatibility of evolution and the Bible. In 1993 she became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

How the Leopard Got Its Mathematical Spots

According to Rudyard Kipling the leopard got it’s spots because an Ethiopian pressed his finger tips all over the cat’s fur. But for zoologists the biological origin of leopard spots, or even zebra stripes, has been a much more difficult question to answer. Heredity, genetics and evolution play roles in how these features are passed from one generation to the next, but no-one knew how they were created in the first place. I mean, one cell is much like any other in an embryo. So how, when and why does a cell decide it is going to form part of a leopard’s spot? Part of the answer came from another scientific direction – mathematics.

Alan Turing’s last major project, after being a war-time code-breaker and formulator of the theories of modern computer science, was on the matter of morphogenesis, the term used for the way in which both animals and plants develop their different parts.

As a child Alan stared at daisies and wondered how they knew when and where to grow a petal or a leaf. Later in life he began to wonder how a leopard’s spots formed, or patterns on a bird’s feather. Alan believed that chemicals must be the answer, but to explain how these chemical created patterns was another puzzle. Alan tackled it with maths.

Today we know that these patterns (sports, stripes and swirls) and shaped (ears, leaves, antlers) are determined in DNA. Alan used mathematical models to show that hormones were also responsible. Some chemical and hormones inhibit the production of certain cells, while others promote them. In this way one cell affected by a colour-producing hormone would divide and multiply quicker than the other cells around it, producing a patch. Using mathematical models to simulate the creation of these hormones and the division of cells Alan showed how numbers could help explain how animal spots are formed.

During his work Alan would show colleagues and friends papers covered with hundreds of chemical notations and mathematical formulae, some of them connected in shaded areas, and he’d say to them, “Don’t you think that looks like patches on a cow?” They must have looked back and thought “What planet are you living on, Alan?”

Since his day morphogenesis and the understanding of animal markings has progressed, all of it built on Alan’s maths and theories. He realised that his models of the process were simplifications of nature and hoped that it would be useful for future research.

Alan published his theory in 1952. Sadly he didn’t expand on his research. His house was burgled the same year. After admitting that the culprit was a former gay partner he was arrested and later convicted of gross indecency. In one of the tragic ironies of history, Alan chose to undergo treatments with hormones as his sentence rather than have time in prison. He was regulated injected with oestrogen. This hormone was known to cause men to grow breasts and inhibit sexual drive. For Alan it was living, physical evidence of the way hormones change cells, a process happening to his own body which he would have now been able to calculate mathematically.

Oestrogen also leads to anxiety and depression when injected into men, and this could have been the major factor in Alan’s decision to commit suicide in 1954, just a few weeks short of his 42nd birthday.

Friday, 1 November 2013

A Trip to the Zoo

This month my science subject is zoology. However, it will not cover human biology as I’ve covered aspects of this in other months. Putting it simply, November is my month of animals. I cover plants a lot already in my Flower Power series so I won’t be covering them this month.

November contains two remembrance days – the Remembrance Day in honour of victims of war, and the Transgender Day of Remembrance. In the absence of a single international Transgender Pride Day I’m using November to celebrate the trans community.

To start the trans celebration it seems the perfect time to mention a new exhibition that opened recently in Liverpool. “April Ashley: Portrait of a Lady” is the first major exhibition in the UK to centre on an individual transgender person. April Ashley is well-known in the UK as was one of the country’s first transgender people to become famous. The year-long exhibition is housed at the Museum of Liverpool and runs until September 2014.

There are a number of good trans websites to visit. My personal favourite is this site created by Dr. Lynn Conway. The site covers every aspect of transgender life, from the legal aspects, social issues and advice to lists of successful transgender people.

November also sees the pre-launch of next year’s UK LGBT History Month. The theme for 2014 is music. This was chosen to commemorate this centenary year of the British composer Benjamin Britten. His centenary takes place on 22nd November but the pre-launch event in Birmingham takes place on the 28th. I’ll be producing an article for both days. Music will also be my major theme for 2014 as well, and I’ll say a bit more about that later in the month.

Another preview article will appear on 11th November, Armistice Day. 2014 will see the centenary of the start of World War I and the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II. Next year I hope to post articles on lgbt war heroes (including those who survived the wars) on the 11th day of each month.

I’ll leave you with these teasers of what is to come in November :

We’ll meet some bears;
Dig up a trans mineral;
Look at a leopard’s spots;
And meet the real Batman.