Saturday, 21 April 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 13) From the Ghetto to Hollywood

Previously : 23) The Harper Road Woman (c.60 AD) may have been a witness to the destruction of Roman London by Boudicca, whose name, according to 24) Judy Grahn (b.1940), was the origin of the term “bull-dyke”, a derivation also investigated by 25) SDiane Bogus (b.1946), whose poetry was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in the same category as 26) Irena Klepfisz (b.1941).

26) Irena Klepfisz’s “A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Poems Selected and New (1971-1990)” was one of five nominations in the Lesbian Poetry category of the 3rd Lambda Literary Awards in 1991. His collection of poems gives just a glimpse of Irena’s development as a poet. In particular it is a semi-autobiographical examination of the role of language in its power to unite and divide. Through her poetry, and “A Few Words in the Mother Tongue”, Irena presents past and present atrocities as a connected sequence of events. The politics and regimes may be different, the mechanics of persecution may be different, but divisions based on culture, race, belief and language remain.

Perhaps there has never been a period where language could mean life or death than during the Nazi Holocaust of the 20th century. Irena Klepfisz knew this herself as a Polish Jew in Warsaw. Irena’s father was an active member of the Jewish Labour Bund, an organisation which campaigned for the rights of Jewish workers and their families and the opposition of anti-semitism. He helped to get many Jews out of the Warsaw ghetto as World War II began to grow in momentum. The bund party went largely underground following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and some of its leaders were executed. Jews were forced into ghettos and the Warsaw ghetto was the largest with over 300,000 people. The Nazis then began to transport them to the Treblinka extermination camp in 1942. Almost the entire 300,000 Jews were killed at Treblinka before anyone in the ghetto discovered the truth – they were not being sent to labour camps, but to their death.

The remaining Jews in the ghetto began an armed revolt in January 1943 and Irena Klepfisz’s father was killed on the second day. Before the uprising Irena’s father had smuggled her and her mother out of Warsaw, and afterwards they fled into the countryside. In order to escape capture they posed as Christians. Because of this Irena was not exposed to the Yiddish language that her family spoke.

After the war Irena and her mother migrated to the USA. As a teenager Irena felt that she had “no language in which I was completely rooted”. Her native language was Polish, and she began to learn Swedish after fleeing Poland to Sweden, and a little Yiddish as a child after the war, and now she had to learn a fourth language, English. Together with the turmoil of her cultural heritage having been attacked by the Nazis Irena realised that language could be divisive as well as a unifier. English is the language which helped her to express her Yiddish heritage most personally in her poetry. By the 1970s Irena Klepfisz was a well-known Yiddishist and campaigner.

The immediate post-war years were ones of establishing stability and unity in countries around the world in the aftermath of the war. Being “different” to the rest of society was not encouraged. I would suggest that once nations had begun to re-stabilise and a new generation was growing up minority groups felt overlooked and often victimised. Feminist groups, civil rights groups, and gay rights groups grew during the mid 1950s onwards. So too did other cultural and ethnic groups.

Yiddish was among the many diverse cultures which began to emerge from the shadows. A new generation of Jews who had hardly heard any Yiddish, except from elderly relatives, began to use the language widely. Irena Klepfisz was just one of many who began to teach Yiddish and produce Yiddish literature.

It was in more recent decades that there has been a growth in the lgbt Yiddish community, Queer Yiddishkeit. In the 2000s it seemed that a large proportion of lgbt Jews in America were embracing their Yiddish heritage.

One of the leading figures in Queer Yiddishkeit has been 27) Eve Sicular (b.1961). She is mainly associated with a style of traditional Yiddish music called klezmer, a style mostly associated with celebrations. Like Yiddish itself, klezmer regained popularity in the 1970s and was adopted by many members of the Jewish lgbt community. Eve Sicular has formed several klezmer bands since 1994. Her most successful band, Isle of Klezbos, won a Grammy award in 2007.

As well as traditional Yiddish music Eve Sicular has made her name as an expert on Yiddish film history. Inspired by “The Celluloid Closet”, the popular ground-breaking book by Vito Russo which chronicled the many lgbt references, influences and allusions in film, Eve produced a study called “The Celluloid Closet of Yiddish Film”. This was first published in “The Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review” in 1994 and quickly developed into a video lecture. In 1986 Eve actually went to one of Vito Russo’s lectures, long before the documentary film of the same name was produced (1995), and later in 1989 she invited him to give the lecture in Seattle.
Eve used her knowledge and experience as a curator of the Film and Television Archives at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in the 1990s to create a project which is as ground-breaking as Russo’s original. It has grown and developed and remains popular. Eve is still presenting her video lecture 25 years later.

The original “The Celluloid Closet” by Vito Russo was published in 1981 and been reprinted and revised several times. Gay characters have appeared in film since the silent black and white days and were portrayed often as the “sissy” and “nancy boy” that Hollywood later preferred.

Next year is the centenary of an early silent film featuring a gay lead character. “Different From the Others” (“Anders als die Andern” in its original German) is a black and white silent film released in June 1919. It has been described as the world’s first pro-gay film. The plot is similar to that of the much later British 1961 film “Victim” in that the lead character is blackmailed because of his sexuality.
The film has a deliberate social message. At several points in the film one of the supporting characters, a doctor, gives speeches which are aimed more at the viewer (and the authorities) than the characters in the film. He describes homosexuality as normal and not to be suppressed. The film ends with the words “Paragraph 175” being crossed out in a book. Paragraph 175 was the anti-gay laws introduced into Germany in 1871 and which was the catalyst for the Nazi persecution that followed.

The doctor in the film was not an actor but a real doctor. No ordinary doctor, but one who was uniquely qualified to speak on homosexuality. He was the pioneering German sexologist and gay right campaigner 28) Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935).

Next time : We learn why most people weren’t able to see the film in full, and how the legacy of Magnus Hirschfeld takes us to Africa, Tonga and the Galaxy.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Diamonds Are A Gay's Best Friend

When I was putting together my “Around the World in Another 80 Gays” project I did a bit of research into diamonds. Some of that found its way into the articles on CecilRhodes and Alexander the Great. There were several other directions I could have taken to continue the connection of “80 Gays”. One was the James Bond connection I mentioned in that Cecil Rhodes article.

Apart from Bond’s “Diamonds Are Forever” title there’s another famous phrase in common use, and another song title – “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. Over the centuries many men have had diamonds close to their heart (and wallet). Here are three owned by some gay/bisexual men.

One of the rarest of all diamonds is a pear-shaped pink diamond called the Le Grand Condé. Its discovery and original owners are unknown, but by 1643 it was in the possession of King Louis XIII of France. It is said that the king gave the diamond to his cousin Prince Louis II de Bourbon, Duke of Condé (1621-1686) in recognition of the duke’s great victory against the Spanish at the Battle of Rocroi. The problem with that story is that King Louis died the week before the battle took place. It’s more likely that it was the king’s son, King Louis XIV, who gave him the diamond much later.

However the duke acquired the diamond it quickly acquired his name. He was known as Le Grand Condé, and the diamond is still known by that name today. The duke was a magnificent military leader. While his achievements on the battlefield were lauded his string of close male companions, some of them lovers, led to him being satirised and criticised. He was a typical prince of the Enlightenment, a patron of arts and science.

I’ll write more about Prince Louis, Duke of Conde later in the year in “Around the World in Another 80 Gays” when I write about his abortive attempts to become King of Poland. For now, let’s return to Le Grand Condé diamond. It remained in the Condé family until 1886 when it was bequeathed to the French government. There was a proviso attached, that Le Grand Condé should never leave the family home, the famous Chantilly château. And there it was kept until 11th October 1926 when it was stolen.

The police began an international manhunt for the thieves. Several days later a maid in a Paris hotel was searching the room of a couple of guests who had been acting suspiciously. As she searched she found an apple and, because she was hungry, she took a bite. She bit into something hard, and found that hidden inside the apple was the famous pink diamond which all of France was looking for. Today Le Grand Condé diamond is back at Chantilly safely locked way while a replica takes its place on display.

But it’s not only wannabe kings like the Duke of Condé who didn’t get to wear a crown (the crown of Poland as I’ll write about later in the year). Some real kings didn’t get to wear theirs either.

The famous King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) never wore his. One of the unusual facts about the kings of Bavaria is that they got to wear their royal crown, not even at their coronations. When Bavaria was raised from a princely electorate into a kingdom in 1806 a new set of crown jewels were made. Included in the crow itself was a fabulous blue diamond. It was named the Wittelsbach Blue after the family name of the Bavarian royal family. It came into the family’s possession from the Hapsburg emperor through a royal marriage in 1722.
The coronation portraits of the Bavarian kings including Ludwig II (pictured above) show the crown, with the Wittelsbach Blue diamond on the top, resting beside them on a table. After the collapse of the Bavarian monarchy the royal family removed and sold the Wittelsbach Blue. Today the Wittelsbach Blue is owned by an Arabian prince and has been recut and renamed the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond.

Another diamond owned by a king and worn conspicuously on several occasions is the Saucy Diamond. This pale yellow diamond takes its name from the Seigneurs de Saucy who owned it. They sold it to King James I Stuart of Great Britain (1566-1625) in 1605. Unlike other diamonds that have reputations for bringing bad luck King James considered the Saucy Diamond as a lucky charm and wore it often.

Just like the Union Jack and the name Great Britain the Saucy Diamond became a symbol of the union of the crowns of England and Scotland. It was set in a large brooch with three other diamonds and a ruby to form what became known as The Mirror of Great Britain. It was listed as part of the British crown jewels. Several portraits of King James (one shown below) depict him wearing the Mirror of Great Britain in his hat.
You probably know of the fate of the later Stuart kings of Great Britain. It’s as if the Saucy Diamond had skipped a generation and provided bad luck to King James’s descendants. James’s son King Charles I was beheaded, his grandson James II was deposed, and two of his grandchildren, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Cardinal York, failed in their attempts to regain the throne.

The Saucy Diamond followed the failed Stuarts around Europe until they were forced to sell it to Cardinal Mazarin in 1657 to pay debts. After passing through the ownership of several families to Saucy diamond, now separated from the Mirror of Great Britain, was sold to the Louvre in 1978.

There are several other diamonds that have been owned by other queer royals, and they have often crossed paths in time and location with those described above. It would be interesting to see a “diamond lattice” showing the paths of all those diamonds through lgbt hands. Perhaps I’ll design it myself one day.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 12) Roman Dykes and Daggers

Previously : 20) Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (1911-1956) defied male expectations of femininity in sport by winning an Olympic gold medal in 1932, as did 21) Stella Walsh (1911-1980) who hid her intersexuality for her entire life, unlike 22) Favorinus of Avelate (c.85 AD-c.160 AD), a Roman intersexual who escaped the customary fate of being killed at birth, as did the anonymous 23) the Harper Road Woman (living c.50 AD-70 AD).

Whether the 23) Harper Road Woman hid her intersexuality during her lifetime is one of the mysteries that surround her. Her remains were discovered in 1979 by an archaeological team excavating a plot of land in Southwark, south London, just a stone’s throw from the Elephant and Castle tube station.

The woman’s skeleton was found in a wooden coffin with various burial items which indicated that she was of high status. There was a necklace at her feet and a bronze mirror, an object not possessed by lower ranks of Roman society. From the bones of the pelvis archaeologists determined that the skeleton was that of a woman, as would be consistent with the burial objects. It was also suggested that she died between the ages of about 26 and 35. Nearly forty years later DNA analysis revealed another fact about her that was a surprise.

The Harper Road Woman was one of four Roman Britons whose DNA was analysed in 2015 by scientists led by the Museum of London. Samples were taken from the teeth of all four skeletons, which were discovered from various parts of London over the years. We are probably all familiar with the idea that a lot of physical traits are contained with the DNA sequences, so more personal information was obtained for all four.

What surprised the scientists was that the DNA of the Harper Road Woman contained male Y chromosomes. Females typically have XX chromosomes and men have XY chromosomes. The new evidence seemed to indicate that Harper Road Woman may have been either intersex or had a condition similar to androgen insensitivity syndrome, a condition that still causes much controversy in modern sports gender verification processes.

It is known that Roman London was a melting pot of cultures but the revelation that it could also have included gender and sexual diversity adds a new angle to historical research of the period.
The remains of the Harper Road Woman in display at the
Museum of London 2015.
Other information revealed in the Harper Road Woman’s DNA was that she had northern European ancestry. She had dark brown hair and brown eyes, indicating an ancestry that excludes Scandinavia. It is believed that it was her parents who came to London and that Harper Road Woman was a first-generation Londoner, being born in the city and living around 50 AD to 70 AD. This means that she could easily have been a witness to one of the most important events in Roman Britain, the revolt of the Celtic leader Boudicca in 60 AD.

Boudicca is seen as a pioneering example of the power of woman in the ancient world. She was the wife of the chief of the Iceni tribe in modern East Anglia who had accepted Roman supremacy in exchange for peace. However, on his death the Romans took over in full force and had Boudicca flogged and raped her daughters. This spurred her into armed revolt. While the majority of the Roman army was over in Wales Boudicca led successful attacks on the major Roman settlements on Colchester, London and St. Albans. London was burnt to the ground.

The Harper Road Woman was buried south of the Thames outside Roman London so it if difficult for archaeologists to determine if she was laid to rest above or below the recognised destruction layer that marks Boudicca’s burning of the city north of the Thames. Dating evidence only suggests she was buried sometime in the ten years either side of 60 AD.

Boudicca’s reputation as a strong female leader reached its height in the Victorian period. She became a role model for strong female leadership, echoing that of Queen Victoria herself. Ironically, Boudicca would have been a more appropriate role model for the opposition to colonial occupation than for a colonial power.

In the 20th century Boudicca re-emerged as a role model in feminist movements, and her name became associated, wrongly, with the origin of a slang name for a lesbian – dyke.

In 1984 the writer 24) Judy Grahn (b.1940) published “Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds” in which she suggested that the word “dyke”, through it’s earlier form “bull-dyke”, comes directly from colloquial American accent renditions of Boudicca (e.g pronounced as Boa-dyka). Grahn had heard the word “bull-dyke” pronounced as “boa-dyke” and claimed an origin in Boudicca’s name. Linguists don’t support this theory, though it is more than possible that Boudicca could have been used to refer to a strong masculine lesbian.

Grahn also makes the assumption that a strong Celtic woman like Boudicca must have been a lesbian. There’s no evidence of this and Grahn came up with a theory about the worship of bulls and Celtic queen-priestesses for which there is no archaeological, documentary or social evidence.

So, if “bull-dyke” didn’t originate with “Boudicca” where did it come from? It is generally accepted that “bull-dyke” comes from the same origin as “bull-dagger”. They both seemed to have emerged as slang terms for a lesbian in 1920’s America. They were particularly prevalent in the black American culture around Harlem and the Harlem Rennaissance. Their ultimate origins are uncertain. Another writer, 25) SDiane Bogus (b.1946) suggested an origin in the American cattle farms where bulldagger was used to describe a bull who attempts to mate with another bull. It is probable that the contraction “dyke” became more popular than “bull-dyke” very early on. Another derivation that emerged was the term “Queen B”, short for “Queen Bulldagger”. This term was used more specifically to designate a black lesbian.

SDiane Bogus wrote an essay in “lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions” in which she traced the presence of Queen Bs in black literature in the 20th century. Through this essay and other writings SDiane became a leading figure in the study of black lesbianism in American culture. She earned her PhD from Miami University by writing a dissertation on Ann Allen Shockley, the novelist SDiane credits with being the first black lesbian writer to include a modern black lesbian character in American fiction.

As an educator SDiane has written books, essays and papers covering black lesbian history and culture, and was the founder of a New Age feminist publishing company called Woman in the Moon. She published various genres under the Woman in the Moon title, including some of her own poetry.

In 1990 SDiane Bogus published “The Chant of the Women of Magdalena and the Magdalena Chants” which was nominated in the Lesbian Poetry category of the 3rd Lambda Literary Awards. She didn’t win (the winner was Marilyn Hacker’s “Going Back to the River”), but neither did another poet whose ethnicity is major influence of her poetry, 26) Irena Klefisz (b.1941).

Next time : From the Ghetto to Hollywood.

Monday, 9 April 2018

A Hundred Years on the Wing

Last week the UK celebrated the centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918. It was formed by the unification of the army’s Royal Flying Corps with the navy’s Royal Naval Air Service.

There have been many lgbt aircraftmen and women who have served in the RAF. Since 2007 the RAF has been listed in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index. In 2011 it joined the Top 100. This is a far cry from the years before 2000 when being openly lgbt in any of the armed services in the UK meant an immediate discharge.

There were lgbt personnel in the pre-RAF air services. Most notable was the singer-songwriter Ivor Novello (1893-1951). He is most famous for writing the sentimental song popular during World War I, “Keep the Home Fires Burning” (more of which in a few months time during the “Around the World in Another 80 Gays” series). On the outbreak of the war he joined the Royal Naval Air Service. He trained as a pilot but crash-landed on both of his first two solo flights. Because of this he was transferred to the Admiralty as a clerk. From there he seems to have been transferred to the new Air Ministry when the RAF was formed.

As I wrote last year I have had a number of RAF personnel in my family, more than in any other of the defence services. In celebration of the RAF centenary and the contribution of lgbt pilots and ground crew I’ve put together the chart below. It lists selected lgbt RAF personnel from the past 100 years in descending order of military rank. I have yet to identify appropriate personnel for all ranks, particularly the top ranks. The individuals listed as placed in the highest rank they achieved.
Other RAF personnel I have previously written about include Wing Commander Derek Jackson, and Wing Commander Ian Gleed. My representation of Air Commodore Lionel Charlton’s coat of arms is here.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

A Common Wealth of Sport

The year of big multi-sport events continues. Hot on the heels of the Winter Paralympics comes the Commonwealth Games which have just begun in the city of Gold Coast, Australia.

For most nations with British heritage (and now several nations with none) these are our very own Olympics. Unlike other sporting events, such as the Pan-American games, there has never been any involvement from the International Olympic Committee. It has a character of its own.

In a few sports the Commonwealth Games offers some athletes the only chance to compete in a major international multi-sport festival, a chance that doesn’t occur in the Olympics because their sport is not included. Squash, netball, powerlifting and lawn bowls are just a few sports in the Commonwealth Games that don’t appear at the Olympics. Also, para-athletes compete at the same games and don’t have a separate games.

While some critics put down the Commonwealth Games by claiming that the top international athletes aren’t present (by which they mean there aren’t any US athletes) there’s still many Olympic champions and top athletes who do compete. One third of the world’s population live in Commonwealth nations. A high proportion of the top Commonwealth athletes are also lgbt Olympic medallists. Of the 46 known lgbt athletes who have competed in the Commonwealth Games 34 are Olympians, and 18 of those have won Olympic medals. There is no evidence that the Commonwealth Games don’t feature the best in the world.

Here is my list of known lgbt Commonwealth Games athletes. This is list is far from complete as I have a lot more research to carry out.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/130Nv8FmhfCUyGWqj1RbKtWYiaOXsjfeK/view?usp=sharing

There are 11 openly lgbt athletes competing this week (all mentioned in the list), including the first ever transgender athlete, Laurel Hubbard, competing in weightlifting for New Zealand. Transgender athletes have often had a difficult time being accepted into their sport. The inclusion of Laurel Hubbard was challenged by the Australian Weightlifting Federation, but the Australian Commonwealth Games association accepted her and gave her official accreditation to compete.

The question of gender verification is also still a difficult process for some athletes. One of the most high profile cases of a currently competing athlete was that of South Africa’s Caster Semenya a decade ago. She had been subjected to a very public scrutiny of her gender. Despite this she went on to win a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She makes her Commonwealth Games debut this week. Caster has the honour of carrying her national flag at the opening ceremony, a duty she has undertaken at both of her Olympic opening ceremonies, such has been the support the South African athletic federation has in her. She is the only lgbt athlete to carry her flag at an Olympic and a Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

On the subject of flags, the Commonwealth Games, like the Olympics, has its own flag. Last time, in Glasgow 2014, one of the athletes given the honour of carrying it into the stadium was Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe. This was just a few months after he came out publicly as gay, and he received one of the loudest and longest cheers when his name was announced.

Recently Ian Thorpe’s place at the top of the lgbt Olympic medal table was pipped by Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst. Ian’s place at the top of the lgbt Commonwealth Games medal table is unlikely to be beaten in the foreseeable future. He has 10 gold medals. The athletes in 2nd and 3rd place retired long ago and will never overtake him. Diver Tom Daley in 4th place is the highest placed multi-gold medallist still competing. Tom has 3 Commonwealth gold medals, and only if he wins all gold medals currently available to him (men’s platform, men’s synchro platform and mixed synchro platform) at every Commonwealth Games up to 2026 when he’ll be 32, will he overtake Ian Thorpe’s record.

In second place on the medal table with 7 gold medals is another Australian, track athlete Raelene Boyle. Like Ian Thorpe Raelene has taken place in an opening ceremony. In 1982 when the Commonwealth Games were held in Brisbane she was the final runner in the Queen’s Baton relay. Raelene has also taken part in an Olympic opening ceremony, bringing the torch into the stadium at the Sydney 2000 games.

The Queen’s Baton relay is the equivalent of the Olympic torch relay, and the final runner is the equivalent of the Olympic cauldron lighter. The baton relay celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, and usually begins at Buckingham Palace and sets off on its journey to the opening ceremony. The Gold Coast baton left the palace in May 2017. In the crowd watching the ceremony was a spectator at the entrance to the Mall with a Pink Jack draped over the barrier. Once again, Ian Thorpe gets a mention now, as he held the baton aloft on the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge at the beginning of January.

Unlike the Olympic torch relay the Queen’s Baton relay has included one section that was specifically organised to honour the local lgbt community. On 1st May 2014 the Queen’s baton was in Toronto as part of the Glasgow games relay. The main section was called the Relay of Inclusion. It was 1½ kilometres long and ended at the Toronto Pride House with a large reception. Those who ran on the Queen’s Baton Relay of Inclusion included:

Michelle DuBarry (Russell Alldread), a legendary drag queen,
Rev. Dr. Brent Hawks, Metropolitan Community Church minister,
Toni Greaves, para-athlete,
Tedd and Garry Kónya, lgbt sports and community activist,
E. J. (Anikay-Keesic) Kwandibens, fitness instructor and Two Spirit activist,
Kinnon Ross MacKinnon, transgender powerlifter,
Junic Wokuri, Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda.

Elsewhere in the Commonwealth lgbt rights are a big problem. Many countries still use the old 19th century legal system an laws introduced by former European colonial powers that criminalised homosexuality.

One nation that was part of the French colonial empire, Cameroon, joined the Commonwealth in 1995 (two other non-British Empire nations have also done so, Rwanda and Mozambique). Thierry Essamba was one of Cameroon’s top athletes, winning a gold medal in the hurdles at the 2013 Central African championships. One month before the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games he was suspended from his national team because of rumours of his homosexuality. As a result his family disowned him and he became depressed and attempted suicide. The worldwide athletics community was largely supportive of Thierry. It was hopes that he would compete at the Gay Games held in Cleveland just after the Commonwealth Games finished but the Federation of Gay Games refused to fund his travel expenses because they didn’t want to put him at the head of a long waiting list of other lgbt athletes. Thierry’s gold medal time at the Central African championships would have earned his a gold medal at the Gay Games as well.

While Thierry Essamba was denied the chance to compete for his country at the Commonwealth Games, Laurel Hubbard has succeeded. The presence of lgbt athletes, and a Pride House, at international multi-sport events will only be a positive step towards full inclusion and a good influence on those nations who still discriminate in sport.