Thursday, 5 May 2016

Olympic Alphabet : N is for ...

NUMBERS AND NOSTALGIA.

Hopefully, readers will have recovered enough from the number crunching in my previous Olympic article to put up with another.

Today the number crunching concerns numbers themselves – the numbers of lgbt athletes who competed at each Olympic Games (again, the Paralympics will be covered in a separate article).

The table below gives a straight-forward record of the Olympic Games in which lgbt athletes have competed. I do not include the Youth Olympics in this table. Each games has one square next to it for each identified lgbt athlete. The Winter Games have always been smaller than the Summer Games, and this is reflected in the numbers of lgbt Olympians.

Not immediately noticeable is that since the 1956 Winter games in Cortina d’Ampezzo only one Olympics has no known identified lgbt athlete – the 1960 Winter games in Squaw Valley. For me, this is a very significant fact. I was born during the Olympic torch relay that led up to the 1960 Rome Olympics and I was 2 months old when those games began. Rome had one known lgbt athlete, the Canadian equestrian rider Norman Elder, so I can say with certainty that in my lifetime there has never been an Olympic Games without an lgbt athlete.

I don’t want to speculate on how much an event like the Olympics, the largest event in the media at the time, had on a 2-month-old baby, but they say that we’re all influenced by what goes on around us at that age. More of nostalgia later. Back to the numbers.

What I haven’t done is indicate how many athletes were open about their sexuality while competing. This is because there is still not enough information available on when, and if, athletes come out. Also quite a few living Olympians have been openly lgbt without declaring it to the media. Karen Hultzer is an example of this. Karen, a South African archer, was openly lesbian before competing at the London 2012 games. There’s no evidence that she would have mentioned anything about it if someone else hadn’t mentioned it to the media. Just because she hadn’t told the media, it didn’t mean she was closeted. Indicating athletes who were openly lgbt would not, therefore, be entirely accurate.

NOSTALGIA

Even if the 1960 Rome Olympics had no effect on my subconscious I know that the 1976 games had the most significant effect on my future enthusiasm, and I’m celebrating my own 40th anniversary of both 1976 Olympics. I don’t remember having any real interest in the 1972 Munich games, but by the start of the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck I was hooked. The enthusiasm was influenced by the popularity of the UK figure skater John Curry who had taken UK sport by storm in a way that was echoed by that of diver Tom Daley in 2012.

Below are the front covers of the very first Olympic scrapbooks I compiled (yes, I know I’ve spelt Montreal wrong). At the time I also made a medal chart which I put on the kitchen door. I updated this every day and it’s something I did for many later Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

With hindsight both scrapbooks hold records of historical significance because of one athlete from each games who came to represent the best in lgbt sport – John Curry and Caitlyn Jenner. Both hold significant firsts in lgbt Olympism as I have written in several previous articles. John Curry was the first openly gay Olympic champion, although for many years he was reluctant to talk about it. He was outed the day after winning his gold medal, and performed at the closing ceremony as an (albeit reluctant) out athlete and was the openly gay reigning Olympic champion until 1980.

I want to give an update on the article on John Curry’s ancestry I wrote in 2014. In that article I mentioned his ancestry Benjamin Wigley and wondered if there was a connection to the Wigley ancestors of my ex-partner. In March this year I found the connection. Benjamin was born in Nottingham and was indeed descended from the same family as my partner.

Caitlyn Jenner became Olympic champion at the summer games in Montreal. She is the fist Olympic champion to become transgender.

Finally, one of my treasured items in my scrapbook is an original page from a British newspaper the day after John Curry became champion which addressed the question of the “outing”. In it the writer wondered why someone’s private life should be used to judge a person’s athletic skills and speculates if there’ll be a time when it wouldn’t matter. It’s a question which is still a large part of sport today, 40 years later.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Xtremely Queer : Pole to Pole

Every year has its own fair share of anniversaries. Some are widely celebrated while others are remembered more modestly. One anniversary which I think needs to be widely celebrated this year is the 30th anniversary of the first woman and first lesbian to reach the North Pole.

The 8-person expedition set off 30 years ago in March to try to become the first to reach the North Pole over the ice by dogsled and foot without being re-provisioned on the way. The only female member of that team was Ann Bancroft (b.1955). It was the first of several expeditions that put her in the record books.

Rather than go over the expedition itself, just as I have done with several other adventurers (Cason Crane, Sarah Outen, Larry Jacobson) I want to concentrate on Ann Bancroft herself today and look at her achievements.

Among these achievements, as well as being the first woman to reach the North Pole in 1986 Anne also Led the first all-female east-to-west crossing of Greenland (1992), became the first woman to have reached the North and South Pole (1993), and with Liv Arnesen became the first women to ski across Antarctica (2001).

The Minnesota-born polar adventurer was often taken on camping trips by her father and enjoyed canoeing in Boundary Waters Canoe Area next to the Superior National Forest in the north of the state. It gave Ann the enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits. Diagnosed as a child with a form of dyslexia Ann found physical activity less of a struggle and she acquired a determination to overcome any limit to he abilities.

Having developed a love of physical activity Ann went to the University of Oregon to study for a Bachelor’s degree in physical education. She then became a teacher of physical education in several schools. In 1983 Ann and a friend climbed up Mount McKinley Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America, and one of the Seven Summits (the 7 highest mountains on the 7 continents – see here).

Two years later Ann got the call to join the North Pole expedition which celebrates its 30th anniversary today. The expedition leaders were Will Steger and Paul Scharke. Ann was the only female member of the 8 person team. Ann gave up her teaching job and polished up on her photography skills as “National Geographic”, one of the expedition sponsors, had chosen her to take photos of the trek. Some of her photos and excerpts from her expedition journal were published by “National Geographic”.

The tram, reduced to 6 members due to illness, reached the North Pole 30 years ago today. This success made them all huge celebrities in America at the time, and they were even invited to meet President Reagan at the White House.

With this boost to her reputation as a prominent female adventurer was also invited to give talks and presentations. She turned down an invitation to join an expedition to climb Everest. But she had her mind set on her own challenges. The next one was an al-female trek across Antarctica, called the American Women’s Expedition. Fundraising proved a little frustrating as not many sponsors were interested unless there was at least one man on the team. Also, as an open lesbian, corporate sponsors were reluctant to contribute. Ann admitted in an interview, “They don’t know what to do about that. That’s certainly not an image they want to portray … I can’t lie to get corporate money.”

With the Antarctic expedition on hold until full funding was acquired Ann continued to train for it. As part of this she organised the first all-female expedition to cross Greenland (east to west) in 1992. Later that year Ann took the decision to go ahead with the Antarctic crossing despite not having the full funding. Arriving there on 9th November 1992 the four women in the team set off in the all-day-round sunshine of an Antarctic summer and took 67 days to reach the South Pole. In doing so Ann Bancroft became the first woman in history to reach both the North and South Poles over the icecaps. The team continued on across the continent to complete their expedition but were delayed by the weather and had to abandon their trans-continental trek.

Back in Minnesota Ann had to clear all the debts caused by the delay and shortfall in expenses. Once that was done she was already planning her next venture, a renewed effort at the Antarctic crossing. This time there would just be two team members, Ann herself and Liv Arnesen. Liv had already become the first woman to ski to the South Pole. The expedition was successfully completed in 2001.

Since then Ann had helped to award and grant scholarships to recognise and encourage the achievements f women and girls. She and Liv also founded Bancroft Arnesen Explore, an organisation which encourages women to follow their dreams.

A trek by Anna and Live across the Arctic Ocean in 2007 to highlight the problem of global warming had to be abandoned.

In 1995 Ann Bancroft was inducted as an Honorary Member into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

“I’m in love with these cold, faraway places” Ann told “Runner’s World” magazine in 1994, and her determination and pioneering spirit has pushed her to the limit and placed her at the top of the world of female exploration.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Duck, Rabbit? Rabbit, Duck?

I’m sure you’ve all seen the illusion below before. It’s a duck’s head. Or is it a rabbit’s head? It has been reproduced in so many books and magazine, even since it first appeared in 1892.

But how does this illusion help us to understand the philosophical ideas about reality, interpretation and language?

The duck-rabbit was used by the gay philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) to illustrate just that. Basically, what he said was that the duck-rabbit can be interpreted in the mind as two different things – a rabbit or a duck – but never as both. To do so would mean coming up with a new interpretation of the image in our mind that is neither, a new image called a duck-rabbit. All we are doing by using the new name “duck-rabbit” is creating a new way to describe it, but the image itself hasn’t changed.

Until “duck”, “rabbit” and “duck-rabbit” can all define the image perfectly, none of them can. So, according to Wittgenstein, it is pointless trying to describe it at all. That’s what he originally believed about philosophy itself. It can’t be described perfectly, so that it encompasses all philosophical beliefs. That means there’s no point in philosophising. Yes, he talked himself out of his own job! Later he modified his views to concentrate on language and logic.

Wittgenstein said that that some sentences can be interpreted differently at different times by different people in different circumstances, just like the duck-rabbit can be interpreted differently. He used the duck-rabbit image to represent philosophical concepts such as consciousness, morality, justice and equality. Our mind interprets these differently depending on the context in which we use them. For instance, justice for some may be vigilantism to others, depending on the context. Neither is adequate to define justice with ultimate precision.

In another little puzzle Wittgenstein asks us to imagine a group of people carrying one box each. Inside each closed box is an object which the carrier refers to as a beetle. But how do we know that each person uses the word “beetle” to describe what is in everyone else’s box? Only a common consensus on the definition of “beetle” which agrees with what is contained in their own box can make them all say that they all have beetles in their boxes, even if they can’t see them. Once the definition of “beetle” has been agreed they can all imagine a beetle in every box.

Wittgenstein used these language-games, as they are called, and others, to explain how he believed concepts cannot be described if there are no precise words to describe them. He emphasised the role of context. If I say “rose” you’ll immediately imagine something in your mind which you perceive as “rose”. Is it the same thing as I am imagining? Without knowing what context I imagine “rose” to be it is impossible for everyone to know what I mean. Actually, “rose” is the colour of the table-top I’m sitting at as I write this. Were you right? Wittgenstein would say that it doesn’t matter whether what you imagined was the same as mine, because your definition is still correct as far as you perceive it.

Language-games are the stock in trade of comedy, and thanks to Wittgenstein we realise how good jokes work. In the end it doesn’t matter, for example, if the duck-rabbit is just a duck or just a rabbit. The concept behind comedy, particularly double-entendres and puns, is that we perceive jokes differently in different contexts. Unlike Wittgenstein’s early views on philosophy, we can define the joke to make it understandable to all.

This leads me on to one of the classic sketches in British comedy. In fact, it was voted the best comedy sketch of all time by BBC viewers. It explains Wittgenstein well in that it displays how our perception and definition shifts as the context of the words change. This sketch may be difficult to understand if English isn’t your primary language. But that in itself explains Wittgenstein. Comedy, like philosophy, only works if there is a universally accepted logic behind the use of words.

This sketch pays tribute to one of the men in it. Ronnie Corbett, one of the UK’s greatest and best-loved comedy actors died recently and was buried last month. He’s the shopkeeper in this sketch. The other man is another much-missed comedy great, Ronnie Barker, who wrote this sketch.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A Feast of Firsts for Passover

We’re coming to the end of the Jewish festival of Passover right now, so today we look at lgbt Jewish culture. Perhaps more than any other faith Judaism has become a form of secular cultural identity. Many Jews don’t think of themselves as having any belief at all but embrace their Jewish ancestry and heritage with pride.

As with other faiths there is a multitude of different denominations within Judaism with different doctrinal attitudes to the lgbt community. These differences range for the Orthodox Jewish opinion based on the much-quoted and even greater misinterpreted scriptural verse, as it is with extreme Christian groups, from Leviticus. The verse was translated into English many centuries ago as “do not lie with a man as you would with a woman, since this is an abomination”. Many extreme believers and atheists alike have misinterpreted, often deliberately to justify their bigotry, the word “abomination” which doesn’t even appear in the original scriptural texts.

While the debate about ordaining lgbt clergy is still going on in many faiths Judaism in one of the first to appoint openly lgbt clergy of all genders. Needless to say, it is in the newer, more liberal denominations that this has occurred. The traditional Orthodox Jewish denomination does not ordain openly lgbt rabbis though some have come out after ordination.
Among the first achieved by lgbt rabbis are the following, arranged by denomination.

ORTHODOX JUDAISM
1999    (USA) Rabbi Steven Greenberg comes out, the person most often referred to as the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi.
2009    (Israel) Rabbi Ron Josef comes out, the first openly lgbt Orthodox rabbi in Israel.
 
CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM
2011    (USA) Rachel Isaacs, the first open lgbt woman to be ordained a Conservative rabbi.
2014    (USA) Mikie Goldstein, the first openly lgbt man to be ordained a Conservative rabbi.

REFORM JUDAISM
1981    (UK) Rabbi Lionel Blue comes out, the first openly lgbt Reform rabbi.
1984    (UK) Sheila Shulman and Elizabeth Tilvah Sarah, both openly lgbt, ordained as Reform rabbis.
2006    (USA) Elliot Kukla, the first transgendered rabbi of Reform Judaism.
2014    (USA) Rabbi Denise Eger, the first openly lgbt President of a Reform conference.

RESTRUCTIONIST JUDAISM
1985    (USA) Deborah Brin, the first openly lgbt to be ordained a Restructionist rabbi.
2007    (USA) Rabbi Toba Spitzer, the first openly lgbt President of a rabbinical association.
2013    (USA) Rabbi Jason Klein, the openly lgbt male President of a rabbinical association.
 
RENEWAL JUDAISM
2005    (USA) Eli Cohen, the first openly lgbt man to be ordained a Renewal rabbi.
2006    (USA) Chaya Eisfield and Lori Klien, the first openly lgbt to be ordained Renewal rabbis.
 
OTHERS
1963    (USA) Sherwin Wine, and openly lgbt rabbi, founds the Humanist Jewish denomination.
1998    (USA) Malka T. Drucker, the first open lgbt rabbi ordained by a cross-denomination seminary.
2012    (USA) Emily Aviva Kapo, the first transgender rabbi ordained by “Conservadox” Judaism.
 
As a prelude to an article I’ll publish next month, there is also a Jewish humanist movement. It was founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine (1928-2007) and is the only major Jewish denomination founded by an openly gay man. Humanist Judaism is not specifically an lgbt denomination but is the most lgbt-friendly of all of them. Although a non-religious organisation it still uses the title of rabbi for its leaders and teachers.
 
There are many other lgbt Jewish religious and secular organisations and a list of them can be found on the JQ International website here.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Romeo and Charlotte

It’s one of those quirky synchronistic facts that would be difficult to believe if it appeared in a work of fiction, but today we celebrate both the birthday and death of William Shakespeare. What makes it even more quirky is that he was born (as far as we can determine) and died on the national saint’s day of the country in which he lived, the feast day of St. George of England (the UK is still the only country in the world that doesn’t celebrate it’s national day with a public holiday).

On several occasions I’ve written about Shakespeare, particularly here where I explain why I don’t believe any theory that he might have been lgbt. Here I looked at the coat of arms of one of his lgbt namesakes and possible relatives. Today we look at a Shakespearean character and actor.

Many actors have made their names and reputations playing Shakespearean roles. Such great lgbt actors as Lord Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ian McKellen and Fiona Shaw have all received plaudits for their roles as leading Shakespearean characters. On a little quirky sideline here, the name Hamlet is forever associated with Shakespeare, but it is an actual name. One of my ancestors was called Hamlet Marshall who was 8 years old when Shakespeare died, and there were others in the family called Hamlet.

In my “Around the World in 80 Gays” series I wrote about Shakespeare’s first tragedy “Titus Andronicus” and how it influenced the modern genre of slasher films. While Titus Andronicus is still a relatively unknown character to most people another is very well known, Romeo.

Just like my “80 Gays” series I’m pulling several different elements together to connect “Romeo and Juliet” with Nottingham and an American actress.

Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876) was one of the most celebrated actresses of her time. As you can see, this is her bicentenary year. In 1845 Charlotte began appearing in “Romeo and Juliet” in London and later went on a national tour, which included two nights in Nottingham in February 1847. Below is the actual bill that was posted up at the theatre. You may not notice it as first, but look who’s playing Romeo. It’s Charlotte Cushman herself. Playing Juliet was her younger sister Susan.
Women taking the leading male Shakespearean role isn’t new. Some recent female actors have played male leads, most notably Fiona Shaw as King Richard II. But even Charlotte wasn’t doing anything new. Sarah Siddons played Hamlet in the 1770s but it was well received. Charlotte Cushman, however, made a huge step forward by not playing a tragedic character. Audiences were more receptive to a woman in a romantic lead, even though Romeo dies in the end. A love story was more acceptable.

Charlotte’s vocal talents helped her to be convincing. She had a wide vocal range, and her “unfeminine appearance”, as one Shakespearean historian puts it, made her portrayal of Romeo very convincing and it was a smash hit. It is said that she brought the character out of its then portrayal as a young love-besotted sop into a more heroic and tragic young man. In a way Charlotte Cushman made it possible for Leonardo di Caprio to portray Romeo without dragging the character down to the level of a soppy drip of a teenager.

A few years later Charlotte followed Sarah Siddons’ lead and took on the role of Hamlet, and her final role was as Lady Macbeth, the role which made her famous in the 1830s. Throughout her life Charlotte sought female companionship, and her last partner, the sculptor Emma Stebbins, looked after her in her finals years of illness.

With celebrations around the UK to commemorate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary there seems to be no end to the popularity of England’s premier playwright, and even if most people never read a Shakespeare play his characters remain in our cultural consciousness and will continue to inspire artists, actors and film-makers for generations ahead.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Olympic Alphabet : M is for ...


MEDAL COUNT

Team LGBT has been remarkably successful at the Olympic Games (I’ll deal with the Paralympics in a separate article in June). Considering my list of lgbt athletes (as of today's date) now numbers 224 that is a small number compared to the 128,420 Olympians (excluding the Youth Olympics) listed by the International Olympic Committee.

The full list of lgbt medallists, which will be made available on the opening day of Rio 2016, is long, much too long to reproduce in full today, but to give you an idea of how successful they are, out of the 224 listed Olympians 113 have won at least one medal. That’s over half of them! And of those 113 medallists 44 have won more than one.

Between them the 44 multi-medallists have 131 medals in total. Almost a third of these were won by 15 Winter Olympians. Again, there isn’t room to list them all today, so here are the Top Ten Medal Winners.

 
Name
Gold
Silver
Bronze
Total
1
Ian Thorpe
5
3
1
9
2
Ireen Wüst
4
3
1
8
3
Karin Büttner-Janz
2
3
2
7
4
Anja Pärson
1
1
4
6
5=
Greg Louganis
4
1
0
5
5=
Jayna Hefford
4
1
0
5
7
Marnie McBean
3
1
0
4
8=
Daniel Kowalski
1
1
2
4
8=
Blyth Tait
1
1
2
4
10
Robert Dover
0
0
4
4

NOTE: This table counts the total number of medals won by each athlete. Other 10 athletes have won 2 gold medals each. I haven’t placed them higher than Pärson, Kowalski, Tait and Dover because they won fewer medals than those four overall. The top 6 multi-gold-winning lgbt champions all make it into the top 10.

Since the early years of the modern Olympics all top 8 finishers in every event have received Olympic Diplomas. The top 3, of course, also win gold, silver or bronze medals. Only 60, just over a quarter of the 224 lgbt Olympians, have not placed higher than 9th position. The following table shows how many lgbt Olympians have finished in the top 8 and received Diplomas.

Gold
Silver
Bronze
4th
5th
6th
7th
8th
83
60
61
27
27
37
19
16

What we can see immediately is that most lgbt athletes have achieved the top placings. The figure of 83 Olympic champions in a group of 224 is phenomenal. It would seem natural to expect larger numbers in the lower placings, but you can see that when it comes to top places lgbt athletes are very successful. A similar analysis of non-lgbt-identified Olympians would be a major task considering how many thousands of them there have been, so I don’t want to make any comparisons.

But which nation has won the most medals? Of course, the nation with the most athletes is likely to come top. Generally speaking, that is exactly what we find. Below is a table of the top 10 lgbt medal placings according to nation.

 
Nation
Gold
Silver
Bronze
Total
1
USA
29
11
11
51
2
Canada
13
8
6
27
3
Netherlands
10
10
11
27
4
Australia
10
12
4
26
5
Germany (including East & West)
3
8
1
11
6
Norway
4
1
4
9
7
Great Britain
3
0
4
7
8
Denmark
6
0
0
6
9
Sweden
1
3
2
6
10=
Poland
2
1
1
4
10=
Czechoslovakia/Republic
1
2
1
4
10=
New Zealand
1
1
2
4

Now, the top 10 medal placings arranged by sport.

 
Sport
Gold
Silver
Bronze
Total
1
swimming
8
6
6
20
2
ice hockey
9
5
4
18
3
track & field
8
7
3
18
4
football
7
0
10
17
5
equestrianism
2
3
11
16
6
hockey
8
1
5
14
7
speed skating
5
6
1
12
8
figure skating
3
4
3
10
9
handball
8
0
1
9
10
diving
5
2
2
9
NOTE: I place ice hockey higher than track and field because more gold medals were won. Likewise with handball and diving.

There is further analysis according to team and individual events, but I’ll leave that for another time. Analysis of medals won by athletes who were openly lgbt compared to those who weren’t is more difficult because of incomplete information of when some athletes came out.

I hope all the number-crunching hasn’t been too much of a statistical overload. I know for a fact that these statistics will change before the end of Rio 2016 as more lgbt Olympians compete and more are identified.

More number-crunching next time, I’m afraid, when I number-crunch the numbers of lgbt competitors at individual games, and I take a trip down memory lane.