Wednesday, 29 March 2023

(Not Quite) 80 Gays Around the World: 2) The Violet Quill

Previously: The Roman Emperor 1) Hadrian (76-138) commemorated the death of his lover 2) Antinous (c.111-c.130) by creating a constellation to show him as the new 3) Ganymede, the boy lover of the god Zeus written about by the author 4) Felice Picano b.1944).

“An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede” is 4) Felice Picano’s novel which retells the mythical love story by introducing other Greek gods, such as Ares and Hermes, as Ganymede’s previous lovers. The book, which was first published in 1981 by the publishing house Picano had founded, Seahorse Press.

At the time Picano was a member (probably the least known today, but the most well-known at the time) of a group of gay writers calling themselves The Violet Quill Club. There were seven members, who met in New York City during 1980 and 1981 to share and critique their writings. The club included several writers who became well-known in the niche world of US gay literary history.

Before I go further with the Violet Quill I must say that during my research for this “Gays Around the World” series I kept coming across floral connections. Violet was the first. This wasn’t intentional or deliberate. As you follow this series you’ll understand what I mean. Now, back to the Violet Quill Club.

The group was informal and had no set constitution. In fact, they only met 8 times as the Violet Quill, though all of the members met and socialised often outside the meetings.

Perhaps the most well-known member to the few who read gay literature is 5) Edmund White (b.1940). I suppose his most famous work wasn’t written during the short Violet Quill period. It was called “The Joy of Gay Sex”. Published in 1977 and co-authored by his psychotherapist, “The Joy of Gay Sex” didn’t really tell the gay community what the majority already knew and do, but it did give them the feeling, now that their activities were described in print, that what they were doing wasn’t “dirty”, as society at the time often told them it was. A sequel called “The New Joy of Gay Sex” was published in 1993, co-written by Felice Picano.

The original, which was revised and expanded in 2006, was partially dedicated to Edmund White’s partner at the time it was first published, and a fellow Violet Quill member, 6) Christopher Cox (1949-1990). Cox was not a prolific writer like White and other Violet Quill members. After the group split up, and after he split up from White, Cox went into publishing and ended up as editor of Ballantine Books. Like several other Violet Quill members, Christopher Cox died from AIDS-related causes.

Just 17 months before Cox’s death was that of 7) George Whitmore (1945-1989). Prior to the Violet Quill Whitmore was a contributing editor and hen literary critic on the lgbt+ newspaper The Advocate. Like most of the Quill members Whitmore wrote extensively about life during the early AIDS epidemic. His personal life made news in 1988 when he successfully sued a New York dentist for refusing to treat him because of his HIV+ status. The dentist was forced to close down due to the fine imposed upon him.

The last meeting of the Violet Quill club occurred as a result of Whitmore’s reading of his work “Getting Rid of Robert”. Specifically, it was the reaction of 8) Andrew Holleran (b.1944) that led to a realisation that the Violet Quill club had, perhaps, strayed too far from its original purpose, to offer constructive criticism and not ridicule. A lot of tension had developed among the seven men as one couple after another split up and paired with another member, and the writers began using this as inspiration for their works.

Andrew Holleran is, with Felice Picano and Edmund White, the most prolific members of the club. Like all of the members he wrote about the privileged gay scene, culture and opportunities in a big city, something which most US gay men had no access to in the 1980s.

And now we come to the final two members of the Violet Quill, and they are the couple who will lead us further on our trip with “Gays Around the World”, where we will encounter more floral connections and a war. The couple in question are 9) Robert Ferro (1941-1988) and 10) Michael Grumley (1942-1988).

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Star-Gayzing: Cervantes is a Real Star

In the past I’ve written a lot about minor planets (or asteroids, as they are also known) that are named after members of the lgbt+ community. I’ll be publishing another list in June. Some of the major and dwarf planets have names with lgbt+ associations (Jupiter/Zeus and Ganymede, for example). Further afield there are billions of stars waiting for us to give a name to.

For about 30 years astronomers have been discovering that a lot of stars have planets orbiting them. These are called exoplanets. Like every other object in the night sky that is discovered, whether they are stars, planets, asteroids or comets, they are given reference designations made up of letters and numbers. Not many of them have been given names, so today I’d like to concentrate on one of those stars and its exoplanets that have lgbt+ connections. This is the star system with the astronomical designation of Mu Arae.

First of all, where is Mu Arae? Its one of the stars in the little known constellation of Ara the Altar. This is a constellation immediately below the “tail” of Scorpius and can be seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It appears in the traditional sky lore of communities as far afield as the Mediterranean, China and Australia. None of Ara’s stars are particularly bright, and it doesn’t help that the Milky Way cuts straight behind it. In the star map below I have circled Mu Arae in red.

Now that we know where Mu Arae is, what is its new name? After a highly successful campaign the star was given the proper name Cervantes in 2015, after the great Spanish poet and author Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).

In the late 20th century there was a lot of questioning into Cervantes’ sexuality, largely based on his writings inspired by his experience in 16th century Algiers and its atmosphere of sexual freedom. Decades later there is still no definitive consensus among historians. I have an open mind on the subject.

Even if the sexuality of Cervantes is open to debate, that of the astrophysicist who led the campaign to have Mu Area named after him is not. His name is Javier Armentia (b.1962), and he is the Director of the Pamplona Planetarium in northern Spain. He is also a leading populariser of science, a broadcaster, and a member of 500 Queer Scientists.

The campaign to name Mu Arae (which will also retain this scientific designation) after Cervantes was a joint venture between the Pamplona Planetarium, the Cervantes Institute, and the Spanish Astronomy Society. The campaign was called Estrella Cervantes.

Two events prompted the Estrella Cervantes campaign. First was the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) NameExoWorld project in 2015. This was aimed at encouraging public organisations to submit names for a selection of the many discovered exoplanets and their stars. The second was a double anniversary. The year 2015 was the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second part of Cervantes’ famous work “Don Quixote” (to give it its most common name), and it was also the approaching 400th anniversary of the death of Cervantes in 1616.

The Estrella Cervantes project appealed for support and votes. On 15th December 2015 the campaign was successful and the IAU officially announced that the star Mu Arae was to be given the name Cervantes. But that’s not all. We’re also talking about exoplanets. So what did the project proposed for the names of the four known planets orbiting Cervantes? They proposed names of characters from Cervantes’ work. Consequently, the IAU also officially announced that the names Dulcinea, Roxinante, Quijote and Sancho were to be given to the four planets.

There are many more stars and exoplanets that have been named over the past eight years. Many more are being discovered. A few years ago I wrote about three lgbt+ astronomers who are searching for them. Who knows what other famous lgbt+ names will end up out there in the future.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Queer Achievement: Arms For A Price

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

It’s been a while since I did an in-depth look at the heraldic achievement of a specific individual, so I’ll rectify that today with a look at the full coat of arms of the British actor Dennis Price (1915-1973). His arms are these –

It’s more than 30 years since I began researching and drawing the coats of arms of famous people. Dennis Price was one of the first ones I did (at about the same time that I did Jeremy Brett’s). I didn’t know at the time that they were both bisexual.

The arms shown above are scanned from my original artwork, which was made before I had access to a computer, which I’ve “tweaked” and tidied up.

Dennis’s full name was Dennistoun Franklin John Rose Price. All except the name John were names of families that feature in his ancestry. I won’t go into the full genealogical profile today but skim through it to tell you where the names came from. Through his paternal grandmother Dennis is descended from the Dennistoun’s of Colgrain near Argyll in Scotland. Franklin is the family name of his paternal great-grandmother (sister of the explorer Sir John Franklin). Rose was the name of the family from whom Dennis’s ancestors inherited Rose Hall on Jamaica (yes, we have to acknowledge that both the Price and Rose families were slave owners). Even though the Dennistoun, Franklin and Rose families all have a coat of arms, none of them were passed down to the Prices through heraldic heirs. This leaves us with just the Price coat of arms.

The Price family is of Welsh origin. Dennis can trace his male line ancestry back with certainty to Capt. Francis Price who was the first member of the family to settle in Jamaica in 1655 after Oliver Cromwell (the Putin of Britain during the, thankfully, brief period when we were a republic) decided to invade Jamaica. Capt. Price probably descended from the Prices of Brecknock in Wales, or at least claimed some family association because the coat of arms granted to Captain Price’s grandson are very similar to theirs. Here are some of the arms known to belong to Price families in the Brecknock area. The earliest, on the left, dates to 1546.

The similarities (spearheads, chevron and black background) do not necessarily indicate a family blood relationship but are frequently adopted and granted with changes, even today, where there is a geographical connection or the same family name.

The specific coat of arms that Dennis Price inherited were granted to an ancestral uncle, the grandson of Capt. Price mentioned above. He was Sir Charles Price (1708-1772), Speaker of the Jamaica House of Assembly, who was created a baronet (hereditary knighthood) in 1768.

The arms were granted to Sir Charles on 13th August 1766 by the College of Arms and included a special limitation, a clause which indicates if other members of the family are allowed to inherit it. This is now common practice. If I were granted a coat of arms it could be extended to include all descendants and heirs of my paternal grandfather. Sir Charles had only one child, a son, who died childless. So, Sir Charles’s youngest brother, John, inherited this coat of arms and passed them down to his descendants, which included his 3-times great-grandson Dennis Price.

Usually, there are other symbolic explanations for every object in a coat of arms. The shield, as I’ve said, is probably to indicate some sort of connection to the Brecknock family. The dragon’s head in the crest was granted specifically to Sir Charles Price and his heirs. It may have been symbolic of the family’s Welsh ancestry. The bloody hand may indicate that Charles was a baronet, as a red hand is the badge of this particular order of knighthood and often appears on a little shield placed somewhere on the main shield.

Next we come to the star and the bird. These are both cadency marks, something placed on a shield to indicate which son in the family you are. I am the third son of my father, so I would have a star. Dennis descends from the third son of the above-mentioned John Price. Added to this, Dennis is descended from that third son’s fourth son (confused?), so he places a special bird called a martlet on top of the star. Technically, new cadency marks would be added generation after generation, but in practice they are often reduced to just one or omitted altogether to stop the arms from becoming cluttered with cadency marks.

Usually, if a husband and wife (now also same-sex married couples) both have a coat of arms they place them side by side on one shield, the husband’s on the viewer’s left (each person in a same-sex marriage can put their own arms on the left and their partner’s on the right). During his brief marriage to Joan Schofield (1920-2017) Dennis Price could have displayed his marital coat of arms as below. Joan’s family name was Temperley, and arms she could have used are those shown on the memorial plaque to her paternal uncle Rev. Canon Arthur Temperley. If there are cadency marks both the husband and wife can omit them, as I’ve shown.

Lastly there is the motto. This is in Welsh and translates as “All Depends on God”.

For heraldry fans, there's my annual Heraldic Alphabet to look forward to in June.

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

(Not Quite) 80 Gays Around the World: 1) Love in the Stars

This time last year I began researching for the next edition of my “Around the World in 80 Gays” series. It was my intention to have it complete and ready for serialisation this year. However, the Beijing Winter Olympics and Birmingham Commonwealth Games slowed down that research because of an explosion of interest and inclusion in competing lgbt+ athletes at both events. Between them these games provided almost a hundred new names to research and catalogue.

By the end of last year I decided that I had done enough research on “80 Gays” to produce a shortened version, “(Not Quite) 80 Gays Around the World” Not every part of the serialisation has been written, and I am trying to expand it with more names as I go along, so I can’t say for sure how many names I will end up with.

The format will remain the same as in previous editions. Each individual will be numbered so that you (and I) can keep track of how far through the list of names we are. The first three names are of people we’ve encountered before on this blog and they are all connected by love relationships, which is quite appropriate considering yesterday was what is popularly and mistakenly celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day (see here to discover why it’s the wrong St. Valentine and the wrong date). So without further ado, here’s the new “Around the World in (Not Quite) 80 Gays.

1) The Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138) is one of the more well-known of the gay emperors. Last year we celebrated the 1900th anniversary of his visit to Britain and the construction of the famous wall named after him.

It was on his continuing travels around his empire after laving Britain that Hadrian is believed to have first met the young 2) Antinuos (c.111-c.130) in Claudiopolis (now called Bolu, a city in northern Turkey). It is assumed that Antinous was born in the area.

If estimates of Antinous’s birth are correct he would have been no more than 12 years old when he and Hadrian met 1900 years ago in 123. Hadrian, who was in his 40s, was a big fan of Greek culture, so taking Antinous as a boy lover would not strike him as being questionable, unlike it would today. Even so, there were many critics of Hadrian’s lifestyle who thought the relationship was morally wrong. One of the theories concerning Antinous’s mysterious early death in the River Nile is based on this criticism, that it was a murder to ensure the relationship stopped for good. Other theories include accidental death, political assassination, ritual sacrifice, and suicide.

Hadrian’s grief at the death of his young lover, who was not yet 20 years old, was overwhelming. Back in 2011, in the first of my “Star Gayzing” series (was it really that long ago?) I mentioned some of the tributes Hadrian created for Antinous. In that article I concentrated on the constellation Hadrian “created” and how this was to show Antinous as a new 3) Ganymede.

Ganymede was also a youth who became the lover of an older man, in this case the god Zeus. He became a very popular subject in art during ancient and classical Greece, and also from the Renaissance through to the present day. Both Antinous and Ganymede were immortalised as constellations, with Ganymede becoming Aquarius. Both young men have been inspirations for gay men’s organisations and brotherhoods, and both were deified after their deaths by their lovers. Because of Ganymede’s greater and longer significance he has more statues and images than of Antinous. He remains more prominent in modern gay male culture.

There are many directions I could take from Ganymede in our “Not Quite 80 Gays” journey, but the one I have chosen is through literature, after all, the Greek myths are only known to us through ancient writings.

The modern publication which will take us further is called “An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede” by an American author called 4) Felice Picano (b.1944), and we will learn more about him and his works in a few weeks’ time.

Friday, 3 February 2023

20 for '23

My apologies. I’m a couple of days late with this because I’ve been without internet access for a couple of days.

To celebrate this month’s annual LGBT+ History Month in the UK here are 20 queer facts for 2023.

1. A Knight of the Golden Grummet is a colourful British slang term from the early 20th century for a gay man. A grummet was the name the Royal Navy gave to a rope hoop or ring. Gold was a slang word for excrement. Thus, golden grummet was a slang term for anus. You can probably work out what a Knight of the Golden Grummet means.

2. On a similar slang vein, “Prick Up Your Ears” (prick up your rears) was the title of a biography of the gay British author and playwright Joe Orton (1933-1967). It was written by John Lahr, son of Bert Lahr who played the cowardly lion in the classic film “The Wizard of Oz”.

3. The late, openly gay, Kevin Conroy (1955-2022) has played Batman more times than all other Batman actors combined. He voiced the iconic superhero in the animated television series, films and video games. He began voicing Batman in 1992 and his final performance was for the forthcoming film “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League”. An estimate of the separate programmes and films in which he voiced Batman exceeds 400.

4. On 1st April 2022 Paolo Rondelli (b.1963) became the first openly gay elected Head of State in history. He was elected as one of the two Captain Generals by the parliament of the republic of San Marino, an independent land-locked nation within Italy. His fixed term of office lasted six months, and he cannot be re-elected until April 2025.

5. If you find a joke or comment to be in bad taste, blame Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Alban (1561-1636). In 1597 this gay statesman, scientist and philosopher wrote about “tasting” books. This idea became popular among other writers and critics and soon they were talking about books that tasted bad. From there we get “good taste” and “bad taste”.

6. IsiNgqumo is a slang language used by the lgbt+ community in Zimbabwe and South Africa, especially by those who are native Bantu speakers.

7. The gay French poet and dandy Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921) is descended from Jean de Montesquiou, Seigneur d’Artagnan (1555-1608), grandfather of Charles de Batz-Montesquiou who was immortalised as d’Artagnan in the novel “The Three Musketeers”.

8. Openly gay Australian entomologist Dr. Bryan Lessard has named at least 50 new species of flies and insects, including ones named after Beyoncé and Ru Paul.

9. “Black Carnation” was a derogatory name for the gay community used in Latvia during the 1920s and 1930s. It seems to have been invented by a tabloid newspaper in 1926 which claimed that gay men would recognise each other by the wearing of a black carnation, or by attending venues called Black Carnation. The term became popular in Latvia’s press.

10. The first novel currently acknowledged as being the first in the genre of gothic horror is “The Castle of Otranto”, written by Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717-1797) and published in 1764.

11. The 2021 census of England and Wales recorded that 1,536,614 people over the age of 16 (of those that answered the voluntary question) identified as something other than heterosexual, with 3 and a half million not answering the question.

12. The first person to undergo gender-reassignment surgery was Karl Meir Baer (1885-1956) in 1906.

13. “Doctor Who”, the longest running science fiction television series in the world, began on 23rd November 1963. The first story and episode was directed by the 24-year-old Waris Hussein (b.1938). He is the first of the many lgbt+ people who have made significant contributions to the programme. I’ll mention more of them in November when I celebrate its 60th anniversary.

15. The world’s most expensive painting sold at auction is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, which sold for $450,312,500 in 2017. Since then, doubts about its authenticity have been raised.

16. In January 2023 Ellen Lascelles (b.1984) became the second member of the outer British Royal Family (popularly referred to as “Minor Royals”) to become engaged to a same-sex partner. Ellen is, on the date this is posted, 74th in line of succession to the throne. The first same-sex marriage was that of Lord Ivar Mountbatten, who is way down in the 700s in line of succession. So don’t hold your breath in the hope of an lgbt+ monarch of in the UK just yet!

17. Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron (b.1966) became the second politician to have a rainbow incorporated into his coat of arms in recognition of him leading the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government instigating and passing into law the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013. The first rainbow was granted to former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow (b.1963) in 2011.

18. The official royal monograms for the new King Charles III reminded me that the openly gay graphic designer and professional violinist Øyvind Rauset (b.1952) designed several official royal monograms for members of the Norwegian royal family in the 1990s.

19. Mercury, despite its relatively small size, is the most cratered planet in our solar system. Among its many craters are those named after people in the lgbt+ community, including composers Aaron Copland and Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and authors Marcel Proust and Arthur Rimbaud.

20. People usually leaves flowers at the graves of their heroes and loved ones, but people leave potatoes at the grave of Friedrich II the Great, the gay King of Prussia (1712-1786) because he saved his country from starvation and famine (more of less) by encouraging people to grow potatoes. How he did this will be explained in an article I will publish on World Potato Day (23rd August).

Sunday, 15 January 2023

William and John: 7) Pirates and the Last Crusade

This is the final part of the life stories of Sir William Neville, Constable of Nottingham Castle, and his partner Sir John Clanvowe, poet. In Part 6 we looked at how I believe the lives and connections of both Sir William and Sir John created some of the most familiar plots and characters from the legend of Robin Hood. Today we conclude with their final adventuring years.

For the last eighteen months or so of their lives, Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville spent a lot of time abroad. Some of this was on official though unspecified "royal business". This was probably some diplomatic or messenger service but no actual details survive.

In March 1390 Sir John and Sir William made plans to travel to the island of Rhodes. Rhodes was the base of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also called the Knights Hospitaller. These knights were originally monks whose aim was to found hospitals for sick pilgrims in the Holy Land. Later assuming an additional military function as protectors of pilgrims, the Hospitallers played a major part in the defence of crusader settlements. The Hospitalllers became a major sea power and guardians of Christian sea travel in the eastern Mediterranean which at the time was being ravaged by Muslim pirates based on the North African Barbary coast.

If Sir John and Sir William were intending to go to the Holy Land they would have needed the help of the Hospitallers who knew which routes and locations were currently the safest. At this time there were attacks on Christian bases by the Ottoman Turks as well as the Barbary pirates.

After their visit to Rhodes Sir John and Sir William returned to England. Apparently they were at a jousting tournament in Calais in May 1390 when they heard of a crusade against the Barbary pirates. They may even have heard about it on the journey back from Rhodes or at a spectacular Garter Tournament at Windsor held that year at which they were also present.

For years the Barbary pirates had been attacking shipping throughout the Mediterranean. The Genoese in particular were desperate to rid the trade routes of this menace because, due to their geographical location, their shipping and trade routes were at greatest risk. The Genoese appealed to the French for help which, as there was a truce with England in the Hundred Years War at the time, they freely gave.

Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville made their way down to Genoa. On or about 3rd July 1390 they joined the assembled crusaders and set sail for the North African coast. They had an experienced and capable leader in Prince Louis II de Capet, Duke of Bourbon, so it seemed somewhat foolhardy for him to decide to harbour his fleet at an off-shore island near Tunis for as long as nine days. This gave the Muslims in Tunisia and the Barbary pirates plenty of time to gather their own forces and they were waiting for the crusader fleet when it finally arrived at the port of Mahdia.

The crusaders besieged Mahdia for sixty-one days. There was at least one skirmish in which many soldiers were killed, but for the most part there was a lot of sitting around and waiting. This may seem frustrating to us, but medieval siege warfare was often a long, drawn-out affair, more a question of patience than fighting.

Just how much Sir John Clanvowe, Sir William Neville and the other crusaders knew of secret negotiations being conducted by the Genoese at the time is unknown. Genoese agents had managed to negotiate a renewal of an earlier treaty they had with the Tunisians and a new truce was called. Prince Louis was unable to do anything to prevent this. In effect, the crusade achieved little if anything. The crusaders returned to Genoa, and by October Sir John and Sir William were back in England.

The final journey of Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville began on 10th May 1391. Officially it was on "royal business", again unspecified. Their actual destination is also unknown, but it may be that on completion of their "royal business" they went to Constantinople. There were many English knights undergoing private pilgrimages throughout the decade and there was a growing fashion for combining this with crusading. Perhaps that was why Sir John and Sir William were there.

y the beginning of October 1391 Sir John and Sir William had arrived in Constantinople, the capital city of the waning Byzantine Empire and the home of the Greek Orthodox Christian faith. The Greek Orthodox Church had (and still has) different ecclesiastical liturgies, rites and practices to those of the Latin Catholic west which is subject to the authority of the Pope in Rome. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches lived side by side in Constantinople - literally. There was an uneasy relationship between them and the Pope would hardly approve of western Latin crusaders and pilgrims living among Greek worshippers, whom the Pope officially considered to be heretics.

To avoid major contact with the Greeks crusaders like Sir John and Sir William would stay in a suburb of Constantinople just across the Golden Horn where there was a Genoese trading colony called Pera. Whatever their reasons for visiting Constantinople, neither knight proceeded further. Sir John Clanvowe died in his lodgings in Pera on 6th October 1391. The cause of his death is unrecorded. Plague has been suggested, but no plague in Pera is mentioned in contemporary records for 1391. However, there was plague raging in Morea, Greece (modern-day Peloponnese) that summer. Any number of travellers could have brought the plague to Constantinople, and perhaps Sir John and Sir William had stopped off in Morea or travelled overland from Greece to Constantinople. It is known that a serious outbreak of plague did descend on Pera the following year.

Sir William Neville's death occurred four days later on 10th October. The Westminster Chronicle, written from witness reports, says William was devastated by his partner's death and refused to eat or drink, dying of malnutrition. This is a romantic, and probably true, story, though Sir William's death also from the plague cannot be discounted.

The loyal knights were buried together in Pera in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Sir William may have begun arrangements for his partner's burial before his own death. Their travelling companions completed the task by interring Sir William with Sir John. They also arranged for an inscribed marble slab to be placed over their graves. It is this grave slab which provides visual evidence of their relationship.

Some of the retinue and companions of Sir John and Sir William returned to England, where the partners' deaths were reported by January 1392. With them they brought what possessions the partners took with them, and they also took back with them the story of the last days of Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville and how, right at the end, they were "faithful unto death".

Saturday, 31 December 2022

Happy New Year, Baby

Now that we’ve come to the end of another year we are bombarded with babies! New Year babies, that is. There’s actually a gay connection between the New Year baby and Santa Claus, and it comes in the work of artist J. C. Leyendecker (1874-1951).

A couple of years ago I wrote about how J. C. Leyendecker was responsible for making our modern image of Santa Claus the one that prevailed over the many others that were around at the beginning of the 20th century. As a leading cover illustrator for the “Saturday Evening Post” he also helped to popularise the New Year baby.

Leyendecker didn’t invent the New Year baby. In fact, its roots seem to go back to ancient Greece and another queer character I’ve written about a few times on this blog – the Greek god Dionysos.

There’s no real continuity of use to prove that Dionysos was the original New Year baby. Other cultures and faiths have similar New Year traditions associated with the new-born that developed independently. In the end, all these various traditions may simply be a universal concept in humanity, simply associating babies with rebirth of the year or seasons.

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote that Dionysos had two forms, an ancient one and a later one. Consequently, there are different versions of his birth and childhood. The ancient Dionysos was the son of Zeus and either Persephone or Demeter. In this form he was also called Zagreus, and it was in this form that he distracted Prometheus from his creation of humanity. You can read what consequences this had on humanity’s gender here. This Dionysos claimed the throne of Zeus and the Titans tore him to pieces. Zeus then took the dismembered body and put it into a drink which he gave to Princess Semele of Thebes. Semele became pregnant and consequently she gave birth to the second Dionysos.

In this second incarnation Dionysos was raised as a girl to hide him from Hera, Zeus’s wife. As a result Dionysos was often depicted in adulthood dressed as a woman. Members of the cult which developed around him included the Pleiades, the patrons of drag queens.

So, the death and rebirth of Dionysos became symbolic of the death of the Old Year and birth of the New Year. Greek towns would parade a new-born baby through the streets every New Year in commemoration of Dionysos. Whether this is the direct reason why the New Year Baby is so popular today is unknowable. As I said earlier, it may be common throughout history. It is an obvious concept, after all. Anyone, anywhere, anytime could have thought about it. One particularly unsettling aspect of these Greek New Year babies, however, is the common practice in Greek culture of abandoning any physically deformed new born baby to die.

The 19th century seems to have been the period when the New Year Baby acquired its current popularity. Before then it appeared sporadically. With the invention of Christmas cards in 1842 the baby became more visible. The figure of Old father Time was already more well-known in the UK, so it was a natural process of pairing him up with the New Year Baby on Christmas and New Year greetings cards.

In the US the New Year Baby became more popular through the “The Saturday Evening Post”. This is solely down to the work of J. C. Leyendecker. He was the most prolific front cover artist for the Post and was always trying to find ways to celebrate various special occasions, hence the Santa we know today. In 1906 Leyendecker designed the first of 37 consecutive New Year covers, all featuring a baby or winged cherub. You can see here an article which shows all of them in sequence. At the top is his cover for 1923, this New Year’s centenary cover.

One of the fashionable traditions which occurs from place to place is the celebration of the first baby to be born after the chimes of midnight on New Year’s Day (particularly in places where January 1st is New Year’s Day). Needless to say, there are many of them around the world, and the lgbtq community has quite a few. So, to end with, here’s a selection of lgbtq New Year babies.

Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503).
Maurice Béjart (1927-2007), French dancer and choreographer.
C. Jay Cox (b.1962), US film director and screenwriter.
Eloy de la Iglesia (1949-2006), Spanish film director.
E. M. Forster (1879-1970), UK author and novelist.
Lafe Fowler (1959-2002), Deputy Sheriff of San Francisco, USA.
J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), Director of the FBI.
James Hormel (1933-2021), US Ambassador and philanthropist.
Michael Howells (1957-2018), UK film and tv production designer.
Magdalen Hsu-Li (b.1970), US singer-songwriter and activist.
Michael Kearns (b.1970), US actor and activist.
Frans Kellendonk (1951-1990), Dutch novelist.
Peter Lankhorst (b.1947), Member of the Dutch parliament.
Albert Mol (1917-2004), Dutch actor and dancer.
Joe Orton (1933-1967), UK playwright and author.
Akil Patterson (b.1983), former US athlete, youth advocate.
Katherine Philips (1631-1664), English poet.
Austin Scarlett (b.1983), US fashion designer.
Ellen Shub (1948-2019), US photographer.
Joey Stefano (1968-1994), US gay porn actor.
W. Scott Thompson (1942-2017), US political scientist.
Nahum Zenil (b.1947), Mexican artist.
Richard Zimler (b.1956), US historical novelist.

So, Happy Birthday to everyone whose birthday is on 1st January, and to everyone else Happy New Year.