Sunday, 23 September 2018

Queer Achievement : Harvest Heraldry

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

On almost every Sunday at this time of year many churches and chapels are holding harvest festivals celebrating natural products. It’s not based on an ancient festival as you might think. The first harvest festival was created in Cornwall in 1843. It’s most popular in rural areas, like the one in north Nottinghamshire where I was raised. The harvest festival was one of my favourite events and the village chapel was decorated in spectacular form with flowers, fruit, vegetables, and all sorts of natural products. In recent years chapel attendance has dwindled and the decoration is less spectacular but it still reminds me of those old days. Below is a photo of my old chapel from the harvest festival of a couple of years ago.

The centrepiece of the harvest display has always been bread in the shape of a wheatsheaf. The wheatsheaf appears a lot in heraldry. There is it termed a garb, a once-common name for it. To celebrate this harvest time we’ll look at examples of garbs in two heraldic achievements that belong to the same man. They illustrate both his family heritage and the origin of his family name. That man is Barnaby Miln (b.1947), whom I featured in an article several years ago.

Not many people have more than one coat of arms, but Barnaby Miln has inherited two very distinct yet connected heraldic achievements (pictured below). The one on the left was granted by the College of Arms (England) and the one on the right by the Court of Lord Lyon (Scotland).

First, let’s look at the origin of the name Miln. It will help us to understand why certain objects appear in Barnaby’s achievements. It is generally believed that Miln originated as a name given to a miller, or someone who lives near one. In medieval documents, which were often written in Norman French or Latin, the name Miller was written as Moleninarius (Latin) or Molendino (Norman French).

Over times, as Norman French and Latin fell out of use, the name was written as Miller, or sometimes Milner, Milne or Miln, depending on local preferences. The older version of the names have survived, however, in the names Molyneux and Mullins.

Let’s look at how Barnaby Miln’s family name is represented in his coats of arms. On both of the armorial achievements above you can see squares with strange curved “antennae” sticking out of them. These are known as millrinds. They represent metal supports that were fastened onto the upper of two grinding stones. Fastened to this upper stone by a millrind was the beam which turned it, leaving enough space for the grain to fall through the hole in the centre to be ground into flour. The millrind is one allusion to the name Miln.

Another object which derives from the millrind is the type of cross you can see in the crest of Barnaby’s English achievement (left). Behind the ears of wheat and buckle you can see a blue cross in the form know as moline. Remember those names from above? Moline is another word that derives from the Latin for mill, related to the old Latin name Molenarius. The curved points to the ends of the cross represent the curved parts of a millrind.

Several obvious allusions to milling are the garbs and ears of wheat. You can see them on both achievements. Apart from being another clue to his name, indicating some connection to mills, they have a significant place in Barnaby’s more recent family heritage.

Barnaby Miln developed the first variety of wheat to be granted exclusive breeding rights to his company, Garton Agricultural Plant Breeders. The variety is called Garton Apex wheat. But that’s not why wheat features so prominently in his armorial achievements. They were included in the original grants of these achievements to his father and great-uncle.

The English achievement was granted to Barnaby’s great-uncle David Leslie Miln, the founder of another seed company, Miln and Co. As his great-uncle’s heir Barnaby inherited the achievement on his own father’s death in 1998.

Barnaby’s inheritance of the Scottish achievement is slightly different because Scotland has different rules governing its heraldry. The arms were originally granted (or matriculated, to give the official term) to Barnaby’s father, William, in 1967. On his father’s death the achievement went into limbo and Scottish heraldic practice dictates that Barnaby had to apply to the Court of the Lord Lyon to have the whole thing re-matriculated for himself as heir. This he did in 1998.

Other parts of both achievements also hold symbolism for Barnaby Miln and his heritage though they are not “harvest” related and I don’t have space to go into them. Don’t worry, because there’s a chance that I’ll collect all of my “Queer Achievement” articles together in a book next year. There I’ll be able to expand on all the symbolism.

In the meantime, if you celebrate it, have a happy harvest time.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

De-flowering the Pansy

Aarr, Jim lad! Shiver mi timbers! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day! No, I’m not kidding. Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day.

In recent decades there has been a reinterpretation of some of the ways of the pirates. No longer do historians believe that pirates were the lawless, indiscriminate marauders of legend but had an organised set of rules and regulations, ranging from the distribution of captured booty to the time all pirates must be in bed every night.

Part of that reinterpretation has been to rethink the gender and sexual stereotypes that pirates have been given over the centuries. The famous female pirates Anne Bonny (c.1700-c.1782) and Mary Read (c.1690-1721) have gone from being female mavericks to same-sex lovers.

Another pirate who caught the attention of lgbt historians in the 20th century was an acquaintance of Anne Bonny who has come to be known as Pierre the Pansy Pirate.

The Pansy Pirate’s real surname is uncertain. Various sources give it as Bouspeut, Bosket, Delvin, or variations of any one of them. What little we know about him comes from stories about Anne Bonny. However, what concerns me about Pierre is why, when, and by whom did he start to be called The Pansy Pirate? And what does the name mean? If, as I suspect, it means he was an effeminate gay man then it is one of the most disgraceful attempts to put a modern, out-dated, stereotype onto a historical character ever. I can find no use of “the Pansy Pirate” being applied to Pierre before the year 2000. I’ve spent five years trying looking.

In my first “Flower Power” article way back in 2012 I looked at how the word “pansy” came to be associated with effeminate gay men. I’ve looked again for earlier uses and still can’t find any source printed before the 1920s.

So why do people call Pierre the Pansy Pirate? To me it looks like a very clear case of “gay-washing” – putting modern stereotypical interpretations and a derogatory name onto one individual with no historical foundation. It’s a modern fake name. It appears all over the internet, with everyone copying each other when it comes to describing who he (allegedly) was.

Pierre lived on the pirate paradise of New Providence on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas. The internet tells us that he owned a coffee shop, a hairdressing salon and dressmaker’s shop. From this information someone has assumed that owning these makes a man a “pansy” or effeminate. Why? There’s nothing effeminate about these occupations except what was created by the often offensive stereotypes popular in film and television in the last century (and in many so-called comedies the US still make).

Let’s look at what Pierre was more likely to have been and we’ll start with his hairdressing salon. Hairdressing salon? They didn’t exist in his lifetime, at least not as we would recognise today. Pierre would have owned a regular barber-surgeon’s shop just like any other, and probably made wigs as well. He didn’t sit his customers in front of a mirror to clip and style someone’s hair, and he would certainly not have used shampoo and conditioner. The life of a barber in Pierre’s day is well documented and can’t be termed a “pansy” profession by any standard.

Next there is Pierre’s dressmaker’s shop. In reality he would have been a tailor. Most of his clothes were made for men. He would have made dresses as well, but so did all tailors. Again, at the time and place in which Pierre lived women didn’t make clothes (trust me, I worked in a costume museum for a while, I know these things). Women often span yarns into cloth, and some on New Providence may even weaved them into fabric. Tailored clothes were for rich people, and only men made them. Poorer people made their own clothes at home from whatever fabric they could afford - they were basic and easy to make, unlike the fancy men’s fashions of Pierre’s time.

Which brings us to the only story of Pierre being involved in piracy. It’s an apocryphal story and who knows if it is based on fact. Anne Bonny got to hear of a French merchant ship carrying rich fabrics and silks heading for the Caribbean. She persuaded Pierre to join her on a raid on the ship. To Pierre the prospect of getting him hands on lots of free fabric must have been heaven-sent.

The story goes that Anne used one of Pierre’s tailor’s dummies, dressed it up and put it at the helm of her ship. Two problems with that are that Anne had no ship of her own, and that tailor’s dummies weren’t invented until after Anne was imprisoned and “retired”. It is more likely she used an abandoned ship and made a dummy figure herself. Anne covered the dummy in blood and stood over it brandishing an axe. When the French ship saw this they surrendered and handed over their cargo.

There’s no actual evidence that Pierre was on Anne’s ship. As a tailor he probably stayed in his shop and waited for her to bring the cloth to him. There’s no evidence that he was ever a pirate, but that’s the whole mystique about pirates – their legends are more exciting than facts.

Anne Bonny was closely associated with the famous Calico Jack Rackham. There have been rumours, again first mentioned only recently, that Pierre was Jack’s lover. There’s nothing to indicate this in the large amount of factual information there is about Calico Jack. Although it is well known that he was a flamboyant dresser, which is how he got his nickname, that doesn’t make him camp or effeminate. It was a fashion of that time. It’s likely that Pierre the Non-Pansy Non-Pirate made all his clothes for him.

Pierre Bouspeut/Bosket/Delvin has become a victim of a misunderstanding of historical society. The person who first put the Pansy Pirate label on Pierre does not seem to have had any knowledge of past attitudes and social conventions. He/she put a modern version of a hairdresser and dressmaker onto a barber/tailor.

That’s my opinion. You may have your own. Further research may well prove me wrong. Until more evidence surfaces about Pierre I cannot see how he can be considered to be anything like a “pansy” or a pirate. Nothing about his known life indicates he was either.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays: Part 27) From Records to Records


Previously on “Another 80 Gays” : 53) Dame Carol Ann Duffy (b.1955) is the Poet Laureate, reminding us that the Ancient Greeks awarded laurel wreaths to winners of poetry and song contests as written about by 54) Theocritus of Syracuse (c.300 BC-c.260 BC), with modern-day contests making stars out of singers like 55) Clay Aiken (b.1978), who recorded his first professional album in the studio bought by 56) Richard Grossi.

The Larrabee West studio in which 55) Clay Aiken recorded “American Idol Season 2: All-time Classic American Love Songs” was located in a building at 8811 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. It was originally a bank built in 1922. It became a recording studio when it was bought by the singer-songwriter Gerry Goffin. In 1969, Gerry sold it to Jackie and Dolores Mills, and when their son Ken later took over business it was renamed the Larrabee West studio.

Many famous singers recorded albums and singles at Larrabee West, including Cher, Patti Labelle, Massive Attack, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Paul McCartney, Dru Hill, Peter Andre, and many more.

In 2004 the Larrabee West studio closed down as the main centre when the Larrabbee sessions moved across town to another studio. The property stayed unoccupied for a year, and then 56) Richard Grossi arrived. Richard was already known in West Hollywood as the manager of California’s oldest gym, Easton’s Gym. With his business partner Sid Krofft he had decided to reopen the premises as an lgbt nightclub. Using part of the building’s address as its name the nightclub opened in 2007 as “Eleven”.

As well as being the main fundraiser for the project Richard also organised many fundraising events in the club for various causes, such as Freedom to Marry and local concerns. The highest profile of the campaigns Richard was involved in was the protest against Russia during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Along with many other bar owners in the area Richard showed his opposition to the Russian laws against the “promotion of homosexuality” by refusing to sell or stock vodka. He was photographed by the media with other bar owners pouring the vodka down the street drains.

Richard’s business partner, Sid Krofft (b.1939) was responsible for coming up with the initial promotion and entertainment for their new club. He got “People” magazine to host the opening party. The club was a success, despite the world economic downturn in 2008 onwards. Business did decline in the following years, but Eleven survived, though its restaurant wasn’t quite as successful. There was a boost after a revamp of the bar but by 2014 Richard felt the stress of running a nightclub was overwhelming and he sold Eleven to the owners of a gay New York Country and Western bar. Eleven became Flaming Saddles.

Sid Krofft was well qualified to come up with entertaining promotions. Entertainment was his life. He was the creator of some well-known puppet characters from television in the 1960s. The most famous of them was “H. R. Puffnstuff”. I remember the series well, especially the talking flute.

With his brother Marty, Sid created Krofft Puppeteer School in Sun Valley, California, in the 1980s. Managing the school was a television production specialist called 57) Michael Mealiffe (b.1940).

I mentioned Michael Mealiffe a few years ago when I wrote about Gay Games multi-medal winners. The most significant achievements in Michael’s swimming career are the records he has broken, not only as a masters swimmer but as a youngster, when he broke the world record in the 110 yard butterfly.

Michael left competitive swimming for a couple of decades and only returned to the sport after he had realised his true sexuality. He heard about the West Hollywood Aquatics Club (WH2O) and how they were in training for the 1990 Vancouver Gay Games and he decided to join. The club president at the time was Tom Reudy, the “Man From Atlantis” swimming double for Patrick Duffy whom I mentioned a few days ago. They were members of the same relay team that broke the world masters record.

At the Vancouver Gay Games Michael Mealiffe made headlines when he broke two world masters records in the 50m and 100m butterfly. This was a significant moment in lgbt sport. In 1990 when the AIDS crisis was still at its height, gay men were still stereotyped as not being athletic. It was the reason the Gay Games were created, to break that stereotype. Michael’s world record showed the world that gay men were every much the equal of professional heterosexual athletes.

This achievement might not seem much to us today when many lgbt athletes are visible and break records in the Olympics and elsewhere, but it is still significant enough to be featured with Michael Mealiffe himself, in a new documentary aired in July on Logo TV called “Light in the Water”. I won’t show a clip from that documentary, but I’ll show the clip below from the old Network Q series made in 1994.

In recent years Michael has become quite a philanthropist, donating to and supporting many lgbt causes and charities. In this he is supported by his husband, Oscar-winning song writer 58) Dean Pitchford (b.1951).

Next time : We find Fame by being Footloose, and Welcome the world to the Olympics in the lair of a James Bond villain.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

My Ancestor Was A Mermaid

That’s an extraordinary statement to make, but according to medieval legend I’m descended from a mermaid, and so are millions of Europeans and North Americans. More of that later. A couple of weeks ago I wrote “Queer Cryptids”, an article about legendary beasts. I mentioned mermaids briefly, and today we’ll look at some of the numerous lgbt connections of these citizens of the sea.

Mermaid is a term that encompasses many half-human, half-fish beings from just about every culture in the world. Whether it’s called a mermaid, naiad, merrow, siren or rusalka the common link is the traditional representation as seen in the Disney version of “The Little Mermaid”.

“The Little Mermaid” was a story written by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) in 1837. Recent research has uncovered the circumstances behind the story. Hans was bisexual. For several years he had harboured a crush on Edvard Collin, and when he found out that Edvard was going to get married he incorporated his own loss into the ending of “The Little Mermaid”. In the original story the mermaid does not marry the prince but leaves him.

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”, Ariel, has a desire to live in the human world. She sings a song entitled “Part of Your World”. In the lgbt community most of us have felt the same feeling, whether it is the right to marry or just the desire to be accepted and not persecuted for being different. The lyrics were written by Howard Ashman (1950-1991), whose first big success was “Little Shop of Horrors”. With song-writing partner Alan Menken he wrote songs for “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast”. Sadly Howard died from AIDS-related causes in 1991 before he could finish his songs for “Aladdin”. If you watch “Beauty and the Beast” you’ll see a dedication to him at the end of the film. The title song from that film won the 1992 Oscar for Best Original Song. His partner Bill Lauch accepted the Oscar at the ceremony.

Unlike the Andersen and Disney mermaids traditional mermaids didn’t trade their voice for legs. When they went onto dry land their tail turned into legs automatically, and changed back again when they came into contact with water. One legend which illustrates this comes in the folk legends of medieval France. There are many variations but all centre around the same mermaid called Melusine.

A French nobleman called Raymond was wandering alone in a forest when he came to a magic fountain. Standing beside it was the beautiful Melusine, the water spirit who guarded it. She promised Raymond if he married her they would become the founders of a royal dynasty. She gave one condition however. Under no circumstances was Raymond allowed to see her on Saturdays. Raymond agreed, they got married and went to live in Lusignan Castle. They had ten sons.

After many years Raymond’s suspicious brother persuaded him to look into Melusine’s chamber on a Saturday. The sight he saw horrified him. Melusine was in her bath in her natural form – each human leg had changed into water-serpent’s tail. Melusine shrieked in surprise when she saw Raymond and leapt out of the window, never to be seen again.

Even if that’s just romantic fiction the Lusignan family were very real. They were an influential French dynasty who rose to become Crusader Kings of Jerusalem. They have left many millions of descendants, including myself. My nearest ancestor is Countess Jeanne de Lusignan (d.1232).

You may have seen a picture of Melusine without realising it. In 1971 a company in Seattle, USA, was looking for a logo which symbolised the sea routes that early traders used when transporting their product around the globe. They chose a depiction of Melusine, with her two tails, as a representative of the sea trade, from a 15th-century printed version of the legend. They still use a modified version of that picture today. The company is called Starbucks.
The stories of Melusine and Ariel both show the importance of physical change to the characters. As such the mermaid became a symbol of some transgender groups. One of these is Mermaids UK, a transgender and gender-nonconforming youth network formed in 1995.

As well as on coffee cups pictures of mermaids appear in many places. One gay man who works for the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, Greater London, has built a career out of looking for them. Sacha Coward is the museum’s Community Participation Producer and is responsible for getting the public interested in maritime history. He’s been collecting images and depictions of mermaids, and mermen, from different cultures and has produced exhibitions at Greenwich in celebration of them.

To end with I’ll ask you a question. Do you remember the series “Man From Atlantis”? Would you class this character as a mermaid/merman? It made a star out of Patrick Duffy, but did you know that most of his underwater swimming scenes were done by a body double called Tom Reudy?

Tom Reudy went on to become a multi-medal-winning swimming champion at four Gay Games from 1986. In some of the relay races a team member was a man I’ll mention in my next “Around the World in Another 80 Gays” article, Michael Mealiffe. Today Tom Reudy is Head Coach at San Mateo Masters Swimming club.

So, from cryptids to coffee, and from Denmark to Atlantis, mermaids have a multitude of connections in the lgbt community.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Saving the Nation's Heritage

The UK is celebrating its annual Heritage Open Days this weekend. This is an occasion where historic sites who normally charge an entrance fee, or are in private ownership and not open to the public, open their doors free to all visitors.

Unfortunately, there are many sites that have long been demolished. An example of this is my own Nottinghamshire, Clumber House. This was the main country residence of the Dukes of Newcastle. Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, son of the 5th Duke, lived there for a time.

The 1930s in the UK saw a change in the fortunes of the landed gentry and aristocracy. Many men from these families had been killed in World War I and left estates with no-one to inherit them. Various death duties and inheritance taxes rose astronomically and people who inherited a stately home couldn’t afford to keep them. That’s what happened to Clumber. The Duke of Newcastle couldn’t afford to keep the house so he had it demolished in 1938. Fortunately, the chapel, stables, stately entrance gates and the longest lime tree avenue in Europe survive, as do the extensive grounds, and they form the present Clumber Park. My family spent many happy days out at Clumber Park when I was young, and my sister worked in the garden nursery for a few years. We are also fortunate in having lots of photographs of both the inside and outside of Clumber House, so it’s possible to create a scale model, as you see in the video below.

Many more stately homes were demolished in the early 20th century. Thankfully a lot have survived and most are in public ownership, either with the National Trust or English heritage, or belong to charitable trusts. Many people have had pivotal roles in the preservation of these buildings, and of many, more ordinary buildings. Here are two men from the lgbt community who are celebrated as saviours of our nation’s heritage.

First of all there is James Lees-Milne (1908-1997). He was an architectural historian who has been described by Hugh Montgomery Massingberd, a renowned historian and genealogist, as the man who “almost single-handedly saved what we now take for granted as the national heritage”.

James was himself a member of the landed gentry, the son of a self-made cotton baron who bought Wickfordham Manor in Worcestershire which James inherited in 1949. After graduating from Oxford with a history degree (and a string of gay lovers, including the young John Gielgud), James went to work as political campaigner for his relative Sir Oswald Mosley. During that time James met another lover, Harold Nicolson of Sissinghurst. It was Harold who was instrumental in getting James a job at the National Trust.

The National Trust was formed in 1895. Its main focus was on preserving open spaces and parkland. In 1936 they formed the Country Houses Committee which aimed to preserve buildings as well, and James Lees-Milne was appointed at is first secretary. With his family, social and sexual connections he got to visit many private stately homes. From the moment he took up his post James embarked on a mission to save as many building from demolition as possible. He was too late to save Clumber House. He hoped to persuade owners to donate their houses to the National Trust when they inherited them, free of any death duties.

There were successes and losses. He was unable to persuade the Marquess of Bath to donate Longleat House to the Trust, but years later the Marquess’s son opened the house to the public in 1949.

One of James’s successes was Cliveden House, which is now a National Trust hotel. Also, like a lot of other stately homes around the country, whether owned by the National Trust or not, Cliveden has been used as the setting for films and television dramas. My favourite use of Cliveden is in “Carry On, Don’t Lose Your Head”.

But heritage is more than stately homes. Even as James Lees-Milne has been credited with saving hundreds of stately homes from the bulldozer there are other people who were looking at urban and ordinary buildings. One of these men died just a few weeks ago and he has been credited with helping to save the urban landscape of Georgian London.

Colin Amery (1944-2018) was also an architectural historian. He held many appointments, including being an advisor to the Prince of Wales and Director of the World Monuments Fund in Britain. Colin’s career began with the Town and Country Planning Association, from which he progressed to being an editor of the “Architectural Review” and a prolific writer of ooks on architecture.

Activism was also one of Colin Amery’s fortes. During the 1960s and 1970s towns and cities across the UK were demolishing large areas of “old” buildings to make way for redevelopment and new concrete block buildings. Colin was appalled at the loss of many perfectly good pre-modern buildings. In London’s East End Colin joined other leading architectural historians in campaigning against redevelopment of the historic Spitalfields area.

Colin co-founded the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust. In 1977 he joined a sit-in at two 18th-century weavers’ houses and saved them from demolition. In 1981 he joined another sit-in at a Flemish-style building in Spital Square. Other buildings were saved and Spitalfields is now seen having one of the most significant collection of Georgian houses in Greater London, saving the architectural past of the weaving industry for future generations.

Colin was also keen to renovate buildings for himself, which was the reason he appeared in a television series called “Location, Location, Location” in September 2012. The premise of the programme is to take a couple who wish to move house and take them round three other houses selected by the programme’s presenters. The couple then had to chose one to buy, or not, if they don’t like any of them.

Colin Amery and his partner Robin Balance had lived apart for a few years and decided to buy a new house together which they could live in and renovate. Colin and Robin didn’t feel any of the houses the programme’s presenters selected in Cuckfield, Surrey, were what they were looking for. Fortunately, they found another house themselves and moved in. They married in 2014.

Many more people have helped to maintain the UK’s heritage. Whether historians, landowners, members of the public donating to charity, or the Heritage Lottery Fund, there is so much around us that people regard as worthy of keeping. Sites important to the lgbt community are no exception. They have joined thousands of other sites to which the governments in the UK and USA have given special protected status. The Stonewall Inn in New York received protected status a few years ago, and so are a couple of historic gay pubs in London.

Even though the Heritage Open Days are free to the public let’s hope that a new generation, or even an older one, can see hidden parts of our heritage that are worth saving and which remind us all that the past is the only way we have got to the present.