Tuesday, 23 May 2023

(Not Quite) 80 Gays Around the World: 3) Atlantis, Bigfoot and Awards

Previously on "80 Gays": A retelling of the myth of 3) Ganymede was written by 4) Felice Picano (b.1944), member of the Violet Quill Club with 5) Edmund White (b.1940), 6) Christopher Cox (1949-1990), 7) George Whitmore (1945-1989), 8) Andrew Holleran (b.1944), 9) Robert Ferro (1941-1988), and 10) Michael Grumley (1942-1988).

9) Robert Ferro and 10) Michael Grumley met in 1967 when they were both studying creative writing at the University of Iowa. Michael Grumley was an Iowa native though had studied at several universities before landing back. Although a member of the Violet Quill, which was primarily concerned with writing gay fiction, Michael had a secondary interest outside the lgbt+ community.

The 1960s and 1970s saw an explosion of interest in esoteric topics such as ancient astronauts, mystic faiths, and the paranormal. While not having any extreme beliefs himself, Michael became a notable contributor in two of the more popular subjects – Atlantis and Bigfoot.

Michael Grumley only collaborated with his partner Robert Ferro on one work, “Atlantis: The Autobiography of a Search”, published in 1970. Officially marketed as non-fiction there are some critics who regard the book as being semi-fact.

What is contained in “Atlantis: The Autobiography of a Search” is the odyssey taken by the Ferro-Grumleys (as the couple were called from their Iowa university days) from Italy to the Bahamas, following a trail of clues and prophecies that led them to the Bimini Road, an underwater ridge of natural rock which has been clamed as the road to Atlantis. There may be elements of literary license and elaboration on the Ferro-Grumley’s part, but their book has become part of the Atlantis mythos itself.

Robert Ferro didn’t collaborate on Grumley’s 1975 book “The Are Giants in the Earth” about Bigfoot, the American forest-dwelling Yeti. Several years ago I included Michael Grumley in my piece “Queer Cryptids”. “There Are Giants in the Earth” expands Grumley’s take on Atlantis to include other ideas such as a hollow earth and lost races of humanity.I shall be returning to these ideas in another episode of “80 Gays” later this year. Although I am highly sceptical of such ideas I am fascinated by them and how they develop, or can develop, if you let your imagination run free. For instance, by combining some ideas in “There are Giants in the Earth” with others from a book entitled “Santa Claus: the Last of the Wild Men” by Phyllis Siefker, I can make a claim that Santa Claus is not based on St. Nicholas but is actually based on a Scandinavian Bigfoot called a Stallo.

Despite being such an enigmatic and elusive creature, Bigfoot ranks as one of the most internationally well-known cryptids. It’s no wonder books about him become best-sellers. When it comes to fiction cryptids provide ready-made fantasy creatures (the Harry Potter books rely primarily on established cryptids). One recent novel about Bigfoot gave a new spin on the creature. The novel is called “Pamela Wants To Cuddle”, and is written by 11) Samantha Leigh Allen.

Spoiler alert: The following paragraphs contain plot details about “Pamela Wants To Cuddle”. If you are currently reading it, or intend to, I advise you to skip to the last paragraph below so that your enjoyment of the novel won’t be spoilt.

Samantha has worked primarily as a transgender journalist, writing for such publications as The Daily Beast, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Out, and CNN, amongst others. She has a PhD in Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and wrote “Real Queer America: LGBT Stories From Red States” in 2019.

Just before that Samantha thought about writing a novel. From a germ of an idea grew a novel that has been described as “bizarre” and “bonkers”. In effect, what she came up with was a slasher-movie/dating-show combination.

“Patricia Wants To Cuddle” is set in Washington state, USA, where stories of Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, seem to be common. The Patricia of the novel’s title is a female Bigfoot. Like all creatures who live in the wild, Patricia is very protective of her territory, so when a television cast and crew arrive to film a dating show Patricia “despatches” these intruders, one by one, in her own inimitable style. It’s all very tongue in cheek and satirical, like “Slumber Party Massacre”, the slasher novel by Rita Mae Brown (number 57 in that first “80 Gays” series). But “Patricia Wants To Cuddle” has one last twist, which I’m not going to reveal.

Let’s get back to Michael Grumley and Robert Ferro. After the deaths of both partners from AIDS in 1988 their estates were used to set up the Ferro-Grumley Foundation. In 1990 the foundation created the Ferro-Grumley Award, an annual prize given to the best lgbt+ fiction of the year. Three fellow Violet Quill members have won this award – 4) Felice Picano in 1996,8) Andrew Holleran in 1997, and 5) Edmund White in 2001. The winning author received $1,000 and a two-week residency at the Art Workshop International in Assisi, Italy, which was founded by 12) Bea Kreloff (1925-2016) and 13) Edith Isaac-Rose (1929-2018).

Next time on “80 Gays”: We turn our attention to art, activist, and botany.

Monday, 8 May 2023

Game of Gay Thrones 8: Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Byzantium, Murcia, Dai Viet and Anhalt

To mark last Saturday’s historic coronation of King Charles III here is another batch of lgbt+ people who were prevented from becoming sovereign, or who unlawfully declared themselves to be one.

We’ll start with a man who was born into the British royal family but was deprived of his titles by the king.

Prince Hubertus von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1909-1943) – heir apparent of the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

In 1826 the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was created. The title of duke eventually passed to the children of Prince Albert von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the husband of Queen Victoria of the UK. By 1917 the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was Victoria and Albert’s grandson, Prince Charles, Duke of Albany.

During World War I Charles (I suppose I should use his German name Karl) fought for Germany against Britain. This prompted the UK to pass the Titles Deprivations Act 1917. This stripped British royals who were fighting for Germany of all their British titles, and the loyal British royals dropped their German titles. This is when the UK Royals adopted the family name Windsor and the Princes of Battenburg became the Mountbattens.

After the war the German Weimar Republic abolished all royal titles, though many remained in use unofficially, as they are still today. The ex-reigning royals became the titular heads of their dynasties. Karl’s eldest son renounced his rights to succeed as head of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty in 1932. The heir became Karl’s second son, Prince Hubertus.

Like his father Prince Hubertus became a high-ranking Nazi officer, but unlike his father Hubertus was actually anti-Hitler. Surprisingly, there are reports that Hitler would have appointed Prince Hubertus governor of the UK after a successful invasion, making him third in rank in the entire Nazi party. It has become apparent through research carried out in the last decade that Prince Hubertus was a closeted gay man. He never married, had no known relationships, or an interest in getting married.

During World War II Hubertus was a Luftwaffe pilot. He was killed when his plane was shot down by the Soviet Air Force in 1943. His father outlived him and died in 1954 and Hubertus’s nephew became head of the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family.

Staurakios (d.800) – attempted to become Emperor of Byzantium

Staurakios was one of the many eunuchs who held high positions at the imperial Byzantine court. However, Byzantine law forbad eunuchs from occupying the throne. This didn’t stop Staurakios from trying.

Staurakios was the chief minister and most powerful man in the empire during the reign of Empress Irene, who favoured giving top positions to eunuchs. This was mainly because she distrusted the officials who had been appointed by her predecessor, her late husband Emperor Leo IV. This also meant that those officials distrusted the eunuchs, Staurakios in particular.

Staurakios’s career rose and fell on a regular basis. Irene appointed him her foreign minister (in 781); he was captured by Sultan Harun-al Rashid (782); after his release he gained Byzantine control over Slavic Greece (784); was sacked, flogged, and exiled by Irene’s son Co-Emperor Constantine (790); and then recalled back to Byzantium and reinstated (791).

When Constantine died Staurakios found that he had a rival. He and Aetius, another eunuch appointed to a high position by Empress Irene, began a power struggle to ensure control of the empire after Irene’s death. Aetius accused Staurakios of trying to usurp the throne. Although Irene believed this, all Staurakios got was just a metaphorical slap on the wrist and told not to do it again.

But it does appear that Staurakios was indeed plotting to become emperor when Irene died. In 800 Irene decided to limit his authority over the army, which he was bribing, to prevent him from organising a military campaign against Aetius. However, Staurakios was becoming ill at around this time. His advisers and doctors assured him he would recover and become emperor. So he continued his campaign against Aetius. He should have ignored his advisers and rested. He died a few weeks later.

Muhammad ibn Ammar (1031-1086) – self-proclaimed Emir of Murcia, Spain.

This poet was the lover of Abbad III al Mu’tamid (1040-1095), the Emir and Caliph of Seville, who was also a poet. The two met when they were teenagers and a close bond developed quickly though their love of poetry and each other. However, al-Mu’tamid’s father, Emir Abbad II, was suspicious of ibn Ammar’s influence and banished him. Needless to say, when Abbad II died and al-Mu’tamid succeeded as Abbad III, ibn Ammar was recalled, and he was appointed Vizier.

Ibn Ammar led the conquest of the neighbouring kingdom of Murcia, deposing its emir in 1078. He told the Murcian people that they deserved a better emir, and he decided that this better emir was himself. This displeased Abbad III, who had not given him permission to declare himself emir. The two poets exchanged sarcastic poems, not meant to be malicious, but they both took them personally and their friendship deteriorated. Not only that, but ibn Ammar’s reign as self-appointed emir also deteriorated and eventually he was deposed.

Returning to Seville as a prisoner ibn Ammar misjudged Abbad’s attempts at a reconciliation and, reluctantly, Abbad ordered his execution. Nonetheless, Abbad gave ibn Ammar a sumptuous funeral.

Prince Lê Tuân (1482-1512) – heir presumptive of Dai Viet.

Dai Viet was a medieval kingdom in what is now northern Vietnam. Prince Lê Tuân was the eldest son of King Lê Hien Tong. In 1499 the king was persuaded by his high ranking courtiers to name his successor to ensure the stability of the kingdom.

The king thought Prince Lê Tuân, was unsuitable. He was too hot-heated and often dressed as a woman, so he chose his youngest son as his successor instead. An even bigger reason to overlook Prince Lê Tuân than his cross-dressing was because he had plotted to drug his own mother.

Both of Lê Tuân’s younger brothers became kings of Dai Viet in succession. The first was very popular, but the second was a murderous maniac, disposing of many other royal princes. Lê Tuân thought it best to hide away to avoid the same fate as them.

Lê Tuân’s penchant for wearing women’s clothing didn’t hinder his marriage, and he has many living descendants, all, technically, the senior bloodline heirs of the Lê dynasty of Dai Viet. When Lê Tuân died he was declared as god by the people of the Biansia commune of Dai Viet, which is now part of China.

Prince Aribert von Anhalt (1864-1933) – heir apparent to the Duchy of Anhalt

I briefly wrote about Prince Aribert’s involvement in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 (spoiler alert – next month I’ll be writing about another European gay prince who was even more heavily involved).

The duchy of Anhalt was a small sovereign German state within the German Empire, just as the above-mentioned duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Prince Aribert was the last heir apparent before the Weimar Republic abolished all royal titles.

Actually Anhalt was not abolished by the Weimar Republic with the others. In 1918, the final days of the German Empire, Anhalt saw the year of three sovereigns. Aribert’s eldest brother, the reigning Duke of Anhalt, died childless in April 1918. Aribert’s next oldest brother, Prince Eduard, succeeded but died in September 1918. Eduard’s 17-year-old son Prince Joachim-Ernst then became duke. Prince Aribert was appointed regent for his nephew until Joachim-Ernst became 21. Until a time when Joachim-Ernst married and had children, Prince Aribert was heir to the title.

The day after the Armistice of 11th November 1918 was signed, which ended World War I, Prince Aribert announced the abdication of his nephew and the self-abolition of the duchy of Anhalt. As with Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Joachim-Ernst lost his royal title but became the head of the dynasty. Prince Aribert lost his place as heir when Prince Joachim-Ernst married and had children.

Sunday, 23 April 2023

Marathon Efforts

When Pheidippides finished running what is now regarded as the first marathon in 490 BC he dropped dead from exhaustion. Just imagine, though, what he would have thought about the prospect of running the 26 miles every day for 106 consecutive days, or even 401 days.

To celebrate today’s London Marathon, and the feast day of our patron saint, St. George, here are the feats achieved by two British lgbt+ runners from my region.

The first of these was the 401 Challenge to run 401 marathons in 401 days set by Ben Smith.

Ben was born into a Royal Air Force family, which meant being stationed in a succession of RAF bases around the world. When Ben was 10 his parents decided to place him in a boarding school in England. Ben went from one school to another over the next few short years, including one near Retford, a town I know well not far from Nottingham.

Sadly, Ben’s school experiences were not all good ones. Having come from a close loving family he felt isolated and withdrew into himself. He began to realise he had sexual feelings towards other boys. Becoming more introvert and being bullied, and confused by his sexuality, Ben attempted suicide twice. After school he fell into depression even though his family had now returned to England and were close by.

In 2012 Ben took up running. He was instantly hooked and began training for long distance racing. In 2014 he entered his first marathon. From this experience he developed his 401 Challenge to raise awareness and funds for vulnerable youngsters who were being bullied for whatever reason. The charities he chose to fundraise for were Stonewall, the biggest lgbt+ charity in the UK, and Kidscape, a charity specialising in providing help to tackle child bullying.

The first of the 401 marathons was on 1st September 2015 in Plymouth. Sadly, the page which listed all of his run on the 401 Challenge website is no longer available. However, searching the internet I have found what I think is a list of the marathons Ben ran in my home county of Nottinghamshire. Here they are:

27 December 2015 – Newark

28 December 2015 – Nottingham

29 December 2015 – Nottingham

5 May 2016 – Retford

13 August 2016 – Clumber Park, near Worksop.

Everything was going to plan. Then, during his Aberdeen run in June 2016 Ben suffered an umbilical hernia and had to take ten days rest to recuperate. Sadly, this meant that he could no longer aim for 401 marathons in 401 consecutive days. An alternative plan was devised to ensure that by the end of his challenge he had run the full equivalent to 401 marathons in 401 days. For his subsequent marathons Ben ran an extra 2 and a half miles to make up the distance.

The climax of the 401 challenge came on 5 October 2016 in Bristol. There to cheer him over the finish line of his 401st marathon were hundreds of spectators, supporters, family, friends, and his partner Kyle, not to mention a lot of media. He had raised £250,000 for his charities.

Ben may not have made it into the records books because of his injury, but he won the admiration of the public. In October 2016 he won Fundraiser of the Year at the Pride of Britain Awards. In December he won the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony. This last award is named after a very popular sports presenter who died of cancer at the age of 43 and in awarded to athletes who have made an “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity”.

Even if Ben didn’t enter the Guinness Book of World Records, another runner from my region did. Her name in Kate Jayden (b.1987). Kate lives with her wife in Hartington, a village in rural Derbyshire about 35 miles from Nottingham. She was already an experienced marathon runner and triathlete with over 230 finishes.

Overcoming difficult experiences or health issues is often a spur for the athletically-minded person. Kate’s youth was bedevilled with anorexia and bulimia. It was to raise funds for a charity which helps sufferers of eating disorders that was the start of Kate’s marathon running.

The challenge to run 106 marathons on 106 consecutive days began as a joke with a friend, but Kate thought “why not?” The chosen charities for which the challenge would raise funds were the Refugee Council, the Trussell Trust and the Hygiene Bank. The two latter charities provide food banks and hygiene products respectively to people on a low income.

Kate’s challenge began on 31st December 2021. Unlike Ben Smith, Kate also had a full-time job while taking on her challenge. Not all of her marathons were run outdoors. Some of them were on a treadmill.

Kate often ran in the early morning before leaving for work, sometimes running in the cold and dark of a British winter. This may have brought back an unhappy memory of competing in a 24-hour run in 2014. During the night-time stage when she was several miles ahead of the rest of the runners Kate was grabbed from behind by a stranger and sexual assaulted. Kate fought off the assailant, and ran back several miles to find the next runner to raise the alarm. The race was suspended while the police carried out their initial investigation, then the race resumed, and Kate won.

On day 46 of the 106 challenge (15th February 2022) Kate experienced pain in her knee which slowed her down on subsequent runs. Only after the last marathon was it discovered that Kate had a fractured knee.

Kate’s challenge didn’t have as much of a high-profile as Ben Smith’s, but she had a solid fan base and interest picked up as she neared the final marathons. The 106th marathon was completed on 15th April 2022. Kate was now a Guinness World Record holder and had raised £25,000 for her charities.

Because Kate completed some marathons on a treadmill she shares the record with a Scottish couple, Fay Cunningham and her partner Emma Petrie, who ran 106 road marathons on 106 consecutive days. They began their challenge on 19th February 2022 and submitted their record attempt of running 100 marathons on 100 consecutive days. Having discovered that Kate Jayden was already attempting 106 marathons they added 6 more to their schedule to equal the record attempt. Fay and Emma now hold the record for the most consecutive road marathons, and Kate holds the record for the most consecutive road/treadmill marathons (as of todays’ date).

With more and more ultra and extreme sport challenges being created it should be a matter of pride that there are many lgbt+ runners who are representing our community and receiving recognition for their achievements.

Monday, 10 April 2023

The First Queer Evangelist?

At this Easter time, or Passiontide, as non-English-speaking nations call it, millions of people are thinking about the teachings of Christ – some good thoughts, and some bad thoughts. There are more Christian denominations with more interpretations of scriptures than there are gender identities or political ideologies, so there are bound to be differences of opinion and doctrine which offend.

With more than 2,000 years of history behind it, Christianity has much that has been forgotten or deliberately ignored. So, it may surprise you to learn that one of the first black, gender-variant evangelists appears in the Bible. He is venerated by many established Christian denominations to this day.

Whether you think the New Testament of the Bible is history or fiction at this point is irrelevant. Even as an apocryphal tale the story, in theological terms, was an attempt by the early Christians, still worshipping in small, or secret, isolated groups, to show that people of any race, nationality or identity could be accepted as a convert, and go on to be an evangelist.

The tale in question centres on an Ethiopian eunuch, as he is generally called. The Bible doesn’t give his name. In the early centuries people liked to give names to anonymous characters in the Bible. The Three Wise Men of the Nativity are a well-known example. They were given the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar several centuries later. The Ethiopian eunuch has been given different names in different denominations – Qinaqis, Actius, Djan Darada. In western Christianity his most common name is Simeon Bachos, probably first used in 180 AD by St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the person who was probably also responsible for coming up with the names of the New Testament book in which the Ethiopian features, the “Acts of the Apostles”.

Here’s the story. The evangelist St. Philip the Deacon had a vision of an angel who told him to travel down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Before he set off he spotted an Ethiopian eunuch, a treasurer to the Candace (a rank similar to Queen Mother) of Ethiopia, who was reading aloud part of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The eunuch seemed confused by what he was reading, so St. Philip went over to help him. They discussed the passage while they rode along to Gaza. Then the Ethiopian stopped their chariot next to some water, a river perhaps, and asked Philip if there was any reason to stop him from being baptised there and then. Philip said there wasn’t if he truly believed in Christ’s teachings, to which the Ethiopian said he did. So Philip he baptised him in the water. Upon doing so St. Philip suddenly vanished into thin air, transported by the “Holy Spirit” according to the Bible, back to Jerusalem. The Ethiopian, who didn’t seem to very concerned about the sudden disappearance, continued on his way home.

Later traditions say that he evangelised the Ethiopians. There’s no written evidence of this, but it is a fact that some of the oldest surviving Christian Churches, largely unaltered in terms of doctrine and practices, are based in Ethiopia.

“The Baptism of the Eunuch” by Rembrandt, c.1626, Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, Netherlands.

The term “eunuch”, as applied in the Bible, is used for several different other terms that appear in the original Hebrew texts. One such definition is the word “saris” (using the Roman alphabet instead of the Hebrew). This was applied to any man who hadn’t shown any heterosexual sexual maturity or drive by the time he was 20 years old. There was no indication that these men had any difference, or absence, of sexual organs like we recognise today with the term “eunuch”, though some may have been forcibly castrated because of their lack of sex drive. In this respect a saris was like the ancient Greek agamoi. Like the agamoi, the saris was seen as a deviant and banned from places of worship.

On the other hand, a eunuch was often held in high regard. I’ve written before how some eunuchs were priests and holy people. Even the Three Kings mentioned above have often been referred to in recent decades as eunuchs or gender-variant.

The most commonly accepted origin of the Greek word “eunuch” is from a phrase which means “guardian of the bed”. This usually referred to the private royal bedchamber, the innermost living quarters of the king or emperor and his family. These “guardians” were the most trusted of servants. There was an equivalent in the UK Royal Family until the mid-20th century, the Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber which was held by senior courtiers, not eunuchs. Sir William Neville and his partner Sir John Clanvowe were appointed Gentlemen and Knights of the Chamber by King Richard II in 1381.

Over the years, the original highly trusted eunuch “guardians” came to be appointed to higher offices of state, such as treasurer or chamberlain (the man who organised the chambers of the court). It is these positions, eunuchs who held high office, which was the usual translation of the Hebrew saris in the Latin Bible. In the “Acts of the Apostles” the Ethiopian eunuch is explicitly referred to as the treasurer to the Candace of Ethiopia. He was a high ranking courtier.

I was going to go into a deep explanation about other aspects of this story, such as why the Ethiopian questioned his suitability to be baptised, because it feels too much like I’m back in my days as a Methodist lay preacher and I don’t want this to turn into a sermon. So, I’ll just leave it at that. If you want to know more, there are many sites online that cover it.

What I will say is that the Ethiopian eunuch, Simeon Bachos or whichever name he is given, is used in the Bible to signify that anyone with gender variance and of whatever race was welcomed in early Christianity.

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.