Wednesday, 21 October 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 23) From France to Fern-atics

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 61) Hélène van Zuylen (1863-1947) was a pioneering female motor racer in a male dominated sport, and 62) Roberta Cowell (1918-2011) was a pioneering transgender motor racer, and she was also an lgbt pilot, as was 63) David Charlebois (1962-2001), a victim of the 9/11 terror attacks, who was born in a city that was once named after 64) Hubert Lyautey (1854-1934).

64) Hubert Lyautey was appointed Resident General of Morocco in 1907. The French were already well-established in Morocco, though they switched from being a foreign trading nation with a number of bases in the country to a colonial power at the beginning of the 20th century.

Local rebels and declining economy led Lyautey, in command of French troops in North Africa at the time, to move into Morocco to “protect” French interests in 1904. Morocco came under direct French military control in 1907 after rebels killed a prominent French doctor in Marrakesh, which led to Lyautey being appointed Resident General. In 1911 a power struggle between the Sultan and his brother led to further rebellions. France then declared Morocco to be a French Protectorate.

Unlike other French colonies Morocco was allowed to keep its distinctive character and laws. The Sultan of Morocco was allowed to remain as Head of State instead of the French President and the country remained a sovereign state.

Lyautey strengthened the infrastructure of Morocco, building railways, roads, bridges and ports. Kenitra was one such port. It was a small settlement before Lyautey turned it into a French military base in 1912. In 1933, after Lyautey had returned to France after being replaced in 1925, Kenitra was renamed Port Lyautey. It returned to its former name when France abolished the protectorate in 1956.

Although married to Inés de Bourgoing, a remarkable person in her own right, Lyautey was widely regarded as being gay. Gay men being married was not unusual for that period. There’s no actual proof Lyautey was gay. He never admitted being so, through it seems it was not a secret, and even the French Prime Minister was aware of it.

Lyautey’s may have provided inspiration for a literary character who brings us back to someone I mentioned several “80 More Gays” ago. Today he joins the chain in his own right – 65) Marcel Proust (1871-1922).

Although we’ll never know for sure, Proust based the character of the Baron de Charlus in his 7-volume novel series “À la Recherche du temps perdu” (Remembrance of Things Past) on Lyautey. It’s also likely that the Baron was based on another gay Frenchman, Count Robert Montesquiou (1855-1921). Marcel Proust had met them both – Lyautey in 1887 and Montesquiou in 1893. Both could easily been the inspiration, Proust selecting specific characteristics from each.

Baron de Charlus makes his first appearance in Proust’s novel series in volume one, “Swann’s Way”, which was turned into the film “Swann in Love” by 60) Nicole Stéphane. The main character, Charles Swann, falls in love with Odette. The first physical realisation of their attraction occurs in a scene inside a carriage. After a sudden jolt a flower, a cattleya, a type of orchid, becomes loosened from Odette’s dress. Swann leans over and pins it back in place and as they lean towards each other they kiss. From then on they adopt a private saying, “Do a cattleya” to mean any sexual contact between them.

It’s very apt that the cattleya (pronounced cattley-a rather than cattle-ya) plays such a large part in their relationship. It was Odette’s favourite flower. It was also Marcel Proust’s favourite flower. Every day he would buy a fresh cattleya for his buttonhole.

Detail of “Portrait of Marcel Proust” by Jacques Emile Blanche, 1892,
showing Proust wearing a cattleya orchid.

Orchids were very fashionable during Proust’s lifetime, even a craze. It even had a name, orchidelerium. This was one of several floral manias. There was also a craze for ferns, which was also given a name, pteridophilia. Although the height of the orchid and fern manias was over a century ago there’s still an appeal for them, as can be seen in the success of a fern nurseries, including one in southern England called Fernatix (pronounced like “fanatics”) created by 66) Steven Fletcher (b.1959) and 67) Kerry Robinson (b.1965).

Steven Fletcher’s horticultural career began with growing orchids in the 1980s. For a while he was Chair of the Cambridge Orchid Society. At the regular orchid shows Steven would use ferns to place around the pots to disguise them. He noticed people began to take as much interest in the ferns as they did in the orchids. This got him thinking about growing ferns and led to his decision to open Fernatix with his partner Kerry.

Steven and Kerry met on a blind date arranged by a friend and they connected instantly. When they first began displaying their ferns they attracted attention – they looked like bikers in leathers and piercings, not like gardeners at all. Nonetheless, they were accepted into the horticultural world and Fernatix soon became a successful business.

The first Fernatix display at the premier flower show in the UK, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, earned them a gold medal, and many more have followed over the years, right up to this year.

Ferns may seem underwhelming to most people but their popularity and the success of Fernatix and other fern nurseries prove they are still popular. The fern fever of the 19th century originally centred on their aesthetic value, but it led to them being studied to improve cultivation. Eventually, the study of ferns became a science in its own right called pteridology.

There may be many lgbt pteridophilists besides Steven Fletcher and Kerry Robinson, but there’s one who became a significant figure outside botany. His main area of study was in phytocytology - plant structure. If these scientific terms are a bit too technical we can be grateful to this particular pteridological phytocytologist for coming up with a short name for a new disease. This man’s name was 68) Bruce Voeller (1834-1994).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: A new disease acquires a new name, and names come together to raise awareness with a glass of wine.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

The Godmother of Egyptology

Today is International Archaeology Day. Arguably the most influential archaeological subject is Egyptology. The names of ancient pharaohs and gods are household names. It has influenced everything from Napoleonic furniture to Hallowe’en costumes. Hundreds of films and books based on ancient Egypt are highly popular.

Last Hallowe’en I revealed how the curse of the Egyptian mummy was created by the most popular Victorian novelist, the bisexual Maria Correlli (1855-1924). The establishing of Egyptology as a separate science owes a great deal to another Victorian queer novelist, the openly lesbian Amelia Edwards (1831-1892).

Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards was the only child of Thomas and Alicia Edwards, a retired army officer and the daughter of an Irish barrister. Amelia was home-schooled by her mother and governesses and was a prodigious child, writing poetry and stories before she was 14 years old. She was also a very talented artist, a skill she would later utilise to illustrate her popular travel books.

Amelia’s popularity as a writer began long before her interest in Egyptology. Her fiction – novels and short stories – made her a celebrity to rival Maria Correlli (both outsold Charles Dickens). I’ll return to Amelia’s fiction writing in December, specifically her ghost stories, but for today let’s concentrate on her “Egyptian period”.

Amelia came from an era and social background in which well-educated, reasonably well-off ladies like herself would travel around Europe with a female companion. One year, 1873, she and a companion were in France during a particularly miserable wet summer, so they decided to head south to warmer climes and Egypt. Amelia was instantly entranced by the whole Egyptian culture. She sailed up the Nile with a group of fellow travellers to Abu Simbel (in its original location before being relocated block by block in the 1960s).

Amelia discovered a small chamber buried in the sand and proceeded to records its contents and draw the vivid wall paintings in her sketch book. Amelia wrote up her Egyptian experiences in published them in “A Thousands Miles Up the Nile” in 1877, containing many of her own drawings, including the one below of Abu Simbel. This book is probably the biggest best-seller she ever wrote.

As with the majority of European travellers to Egypt Amelia collected and bought many ancient artefacts, including several mummified hands. It wasn’t long, however, before she realised the danger of this popular “hobby”. In her book she wrote that many Egyptian site were being spoiled or destroyed by the actions of travellers and tourists and the neglect of local authorities.

At that time in Egypt’s history the country was in economic decline and couldn’t afford to pay for serious excavations and research. In 1882 Amelia banded together with Reginald Stewart Poole, the Curator of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, to found the Egypt Exploration Fund. Both were elected honorary joint secretaries. Donations trickled in and by January 1883 the fund was able to send its first expedition to Egypt.

One of the archaeologists to benefit from the Fund was Flinders Petrie, who would go on to become Britain’s greatest Egyptologist and founder of modern archaeological methods. He and Amelia became firm friends and in her will Amelia ensured that Petrie would be the first person to be appointed the first ever Professor of Egyptology.

The appointment has a very interesting back story. Amelia, being a woman in Victorian England, found it difficult to get support from the male-dominated academic and scientific establishment. She got no help from the British Museum other than the voluntary assistance from Reginald Poole. At the time of her death University College London was the only institution which offered and gave the same degrees to woman as it did to men. Amelia laid down in her will that £2,500 should go towards setting up a chair in Egyptology there – as long as it wasn’t held by anyone from the British Museum. Shortly before her death, when she became seriously ill, she added a clause stipulating that the post should not go to anyone over the age of 40. Flinders Petrie was 39 and the only experienced archaeologist who fit the criteria.

Apart from being hugely popular for her Egyptology, travel writing and ghost stories Amelia also enjoyed an equally hugely successful lecture tour of the USA in 1889-90. This raised a lot of money for the Egypt Exploration Fund.

Amelia spent her last years in a little village called Westbury-on-Trym with her partner and companion Ellen Drew Braysher (1804-1892). They were buried together in Henbury near Bristol, their graves later being designated Grade II listed status. Historic England, the country’s leading heritage organisation, placed the grave on their Pride of Place list of significant lgbt sites in 2016.

As well as leaving £2,500 to University College London for the chair in Egyptology Amelia also left them her personal collection of artefacts and library. They formed the basis of what is now called the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Obviously, it is named after Flinders Petrie, or Sir Flinders Petrie as he became, but the museum would not exist at all if Amelia Edwards hadn’t given her collection to found it. It annoys me that the museum isn’t named after her.

The Petrie Museum has long been a place I have wanted to visit. Back in 2010 it produced a special museum trail called “Beyond Isis and Osiris: Alternate Sexualities in Ancient Egypt”. Although comparatively small in area the museum has thousands of items on display and the trail picked out 14 of them that illustrate the variety of sexual and gender attitudes among the Egyptians, from their ancient gods to Alexander the Great.

The trail originated in a series of talks given in February 2008 for LGBT History Month UK by John J. Johnston, who was a teaching assistant at University College London while studying there for a PhD in Egyptology. The talks proved so popular that Johnston formed them into the “Beyond Isis and Osiris” trail. Below is a video of Johnston talking about his trai. Johnston became Vice-Chair of the Egypt Exploration Society (to which the Egypt Exploration Fund had been renamed in 1919) shortly afterwards and held the position until 2015.

Perhaps when covid restrictions are lifted and we can move around freely once more I’ll finally make it down to London and visit the museum founded by Amelia Edwards, the woman known as the Godmother of Egyptology.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 22) Action on Land, Terror in the Sky

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 58) Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954), Spanish dramatist, chose not to write during the first years of the Franco regime because of state censorship of the theatre overseen by 59) Luis Escobar (1908-1991), an aristocratic actor and theatre director, as was 60) Nicole Stéphane (1923-2007), a Rothschild baroness and cousin of 61) Hélène van Zuylen (1863-1947).

Before her marriage 61) Hélène van Zuylen was Baroness Héléne Betty Louise Caroline de Rothschild. She inherited the theatrical talent of her family by writing plays, as well as poetry, novels and short stories. Under the pen-name Paule Riversale Hélène probably collaborated with her partner Renée Vivien on several works.

Hélène was married to Baron Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar. They had two sons. Whilst still married she began a relationship with Renée Vivien, and Renée is said to have considered herself to be married to Hélène as well. But Hélène’s claim to fame is far removed from her writing.

Before meeting Renée, Hélène gained celebrity status as a pioneering female motor racer in the era when racing was more Chitty Chitty Bang Bang than Formula 1. Helene’s husband founded the Automobile Club of France in 1895. Three years later he organised the Paris-Amsterdam motor race. It also included a tourist car section in which Hélène, the only female, participated. As such she would be better described as the first female participant of a motoring event rather than a race. Below is a remarkable photograph of Hélène in her car at the start of the section that began at Champigny.

Photo: Rijksmuseum
Several years later Hélène competed in an actual race, though her car developed mechanical problems and she pulled out. With her contemporaries Camille du Gast and Anne, Duchess d’Uzès, Baroness Hélène van Zuylen is regarded as a pioneer of female racing. Motor racing is still very much male dominated. There are very few openly lgbt racing drivers, but one pioneer of female and transgender racing made her name in the mid-20th century - 62) Roberta Cowell (1918-2011).

I have written about Roberta Cowell twice, so you could read them first for more detailed information. The articles are here and here.

At the end of the war in Europe, the 75th anniversary of which we commemorated in lockdown this year, Roberta was a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft I. After being liberated and later demobbed she returned to motor racing. This was also the beginning of the period in her life when she began to recognise her true gender and she became the first woman in the UK to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

Roberta also tried to continue flying. She bought an old de Havilland Mosquito plane in 1958 in which she hoped to set a transatlantic crossing record. However, the plane needed a new engine and none could be found. The flight was abandoned and the plane was scrapped.

Roberta Cowell was a Spitfire pilot during the war, one of few known lgbt pilots of the 20th century. Today there are many more, including my friend Rob, and many are members of the National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA). Although US-based the NGPA has chapters in Canada, Australia and the UK. One notable lgbt pilot and member of the NGPA was 63) David Charlebois (1962-2001).

In the lgbt community several names are remembered more than others in connection with the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001. Father Mychal Judge is remembered as a victim at the World Trade Centre as he administered to another victim, and Mark Bingham is the passenger of Flight 93 who took part in the heroic rebellion against the hijackers. These heroes often overshadow the other lgbt victims, such as David Charlebois.

David was the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 which hit the Pentagon on that bright, sunny morning. His flying career began after he graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Datona Beach, Florida, and he joined American Airlines in 1991.

Although never fully closeted as a gay man David decided to be more open about his sexuality when he joined the NGPA. The final stage in this pubic coming out process was his participation in the NGPA contingent in the March on Washington in 2000. He helped to carry the association’s banner. When their section came to the end of the march he and several colleagues dashed further back to join the American Airlines own lgbt group, GLEAM, to finish the march twice.

One the morning of the 9/11 attacks David woke at 6 a.m. and made coffee and bagels for guests who had stayed overnight after a party he hosted the night before. We’ll never know his precise role in the aftermath of the hijacking of his plane three hours later. In his memory the NGPA set up a scholarship named after him.

David Charlebois had the air in his blood, so to speak. His father was US Air Force Reservist, later a CIA agent, and travelled the world. This explains why David was not born in the USA but in Morocco in the city of Kenitra where there was a US naval base. This had been established there in 1942 when the city had a different name.

Before being renamed Kenitra after Moroccan independence from France in 1956 it was called Port Lyautey, named after one of France’s most important colonial administrators, 64) Hubert Lyautey (1854-1934).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: Morocco helps us to remember things past as we return to Marcel Proust and a worldwide mania.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

The Name's the Games: Answers

I hope you enjoyed the quiz I set yesterday. Here are the answers. 

WELL-KNOWN NAME

ALTERNATIVE NAME

1) Boy George

V) George O’Dowd (b.1961), singer

2) Dana International

I) Sharon Cohen (b.1972), Eurovision winner

3) Dick Sargent

M) Richard Stanford Cox (1930-1994), actor, the second “Darren” in the tv series “Bewitched”

4) Divine

T) Harris Glen Milstead (1945-1988), drag entertainer and actor

5) Duke of Buckingham

H) Sir George Villiers (1592-1628), royal “favourite” of King James I of Great Britain

6) Dusty Springfield

Q) Mary O’Brien (1939-1999), singer, famous for her beehive hairstyle

7) Elegabalus

C) Varius Avitus Bassianus (c.204-222), Emperor of Rome

8) Freddie Mercury

W) Farroukh Bulsarra (1946-1991), singer with musical links to Barcelona and Bohemia

9) George Michael

U) Giorgios Panayiotou (1963-2016), singer who wrote a hit song as a result of being arrested for cruising in a public toilet

10) Hadrian

P) Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus (74-136), Emperor of Rome

11) Horace Walpole

Y) 4th Earl of Orford (1717-1797), gothic novelist

12) Jake Shears

R) Jason Sellards (b.1948), lead singer of Scissor Sisters

13) Lady Gaga

F) Stefani Germanotta (b.1986), singer

14) Little Richard

N) Richard Penniman (1932-2020), rock’n’roll singer

15) P. L. Travers

S) Helen Lyndon Goff (1899-1996), creator of Mary Poppins

16) Pope Alexander VI

K) Rodrigo di Borgia (1431-1503), Roman Catholic pontiff

17) Rock Hudson

J) Roy Scherer (1925-1985), Hollywood heart-throb

18) Rudolf Valentino

L) Rodolfo di Valentia d’Antonzuella (1895-1926), Hollywood heart-throb

19) Sir Elton John

O) Reginald Dwight (b.1947), Oscar-winning singer-songwriter

20) Stella Walsh

G) Stansisława Walasiewicz (1911-1980), Olympic sprinter, Anglicised her name when became US citizen

21) Tab Hunter

X) Arthur Andrew Gelien (1931-2018), American pop teen idol

22) Tom of Finland

D) Touko Vallo Laakionen (1920-1991), erotic artist

23) Tom Waddell

E) Thomas Flubacher (1937-1987), pre-adoption birth-name of Olympic athlete

24) Tsar Dmitri I of Russia

A) Yuri Otrepyev (1581-1606), royal imposter

25) Virginia Woolf

B) Virginia Stephen (1882-1941), writer

Monday, 5 October 2020

The Names's the Game

It’s a while since I did a history quiz, so here’s one for LGBT History Month USA.

Below are 50 names. In the column on the left are well-known names of 25 people in the lgbt community, past and present. In the column on the right are alternative lesser-known names of the same people, some of which are their real or original names, but not in the same order.

Your task is to match the names on the left with the correct names on the right. You may find some easy, but I’ll give hints in the alternative name column to help you eliminate the wrong names. I won’t give hints for all of them – that would be too easy!

There are no prizes for getting them right. It’s just a bit of fun, and perhaps something you can entertain your friends with if you celebrate a socially distanced LGBT History Month get-together – I’ve noticed that online quizzes have become popular. 

WELL-KNOWN NAME

ALTERNATIVE NAME

1) Boy George

A) Yuri Otrepyev (1581-1606), royal imposter

2) Dana International

B) Virginia Stephen (1882-1941), writer

3) Dick Sargent

C) Varius Avitus Bassianus (c.204-222), Emperor of Rome

4) Divine

D) Touko Vallo Laakionen (1920-1991), erotic artist

5) Duke of Buckingham

E) Thomas Flubacher (1937-1987), pre-adoption birth-name of an Olympic athlete

6) Dusty Springfield

F) Stefani Germanotta (b.1986), singer

7) Elegabalus

G) Stansisława Walasiewicz (1911-1980), Olympic sprinter, Anglicised her name when she became a US citizen

8) Freddie Mercury

H) Sir George Villiers (1592-1628), royal “favourite” of King James I of Great Britain

9) George Michael

I) Sharon Cohen (b.1972), Eurovision winner

10) Hadrian

J) Roy Scherer (1925-1985), Hollywood heart-throb

11) Horace Walpole

K) Rodrigo di Borgia (1431-1503), Roman Catholic pontiff

12) Jake Shears

L) Rodolfo di Valentia d’Antonzuella (1895-1926), Hollywood heart-throb

13) Lady Gaga

M) Richard Stanford Cox (1930-1994), actor, the second “Darren” in the tv series “Bewitched”

14) Little Richard

N) Richard Penniman (1932-2020), rock’n’roll singer

15) P. L. Travers

O) Reginald Dwight (b.1947), Oscar-winning singer-songwriter

16) Pope Alexander VI

P) Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus (74-136), Emperor of Rome

17) Rock Hudson

Q) Mary O’Brien (1939-1999), singer, famous for her beehive hairstyle

18) Rudolf Valentino

R) Jason Sellards (b.1948), lead singer of Scissor Sisters

19) Sir Elton John

S) Helen Lyndon Goff (1899-1996), creator of Mary Poppins

20) Stella Walsh

T) Harris Glen Milstead (1945-1988), drag entertainer and actor

21) Tab Hunter

U) Giorgios Panayiotou (1963-2016), singer who wrote a hit song as a result of being arrested for cruising in a public toilet

22) Tom of Finland

V) George O’Dowd (b.1961), singer

23) Tom Waddell

W) Farroukh Bulsarra (1946-1991), singer with musical links to Barcelona and Bohemia

24) Tsar Dmitri I of Russia

X) Arthur Andrew Gelien (1931-2018), American pop teen idol

25) Virginia Woolf

Y) 4th Earl of Orford (1717-1797), gothic novelist

Tomorrow I’ll give the correct answers.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Vexed Pride

Rawpixel/Stock/Getty Images Plus
Today’s title doesn’t imply anger or annoyance at Pride (I’m not sure if many people still use the word “vex” in that way). I mean something else entirely. Long-time readers know I’m a vexillologist – a flag studier (deriving from “vexillum”, the name of the square flags the Romans used), and today is World Vexillology Day, a day to celebrate the world of flags. Today is also the start of LGBT History Month USA, so what better way to start the month by proudly waving your lgbt flags.

In the 21st century people have been defined more diverse genders and sexualities. Most express their diversity with their own flag, and there’s a growing number of these all the time. The Unity Pride Flag Project is endeavouring to display all known diversity flags in one huge flag. The project began in the USA after a group of friends thought about an all-inclusive flag containing all the colours of every gender and sexuality flag. Very quickly it became apparent that there were too many colours (breaking one of the “principles” of flag design, see below). Instead it was decided to have every diversity flag joined together in one long flag.

If you want to know more about this project you can visit their website here. If you want to know what each flag represents you can visit their Facebook photo page here.

The principles of flag design were formulated by vexillologists around the world and published by the North American Vexillological Association in 2006. These aren’t legal requirements but are guidelines for good design. Here are their recommended principles:

1) KEEP IT SIMPLE. It should be easy enough for a child to copy from memory, and instantly identifiable when seen high up on a flag pole. The back of the flag should be an exact mirror image of the front.

2) USE MEANINGFUL SYMBOLISM, whether in the colours, layout or symbols.

3) USE FEW COLOURS, preferably 2 or 3 contrasting colours from the standard colour set (red, yellow, green, blue, black, white).

4) NO LETTERING OR SEALS. No words. State seals are designed to be seen close-up on paper, not high up on a flag pole.

5) BE DISTINCTIVE OR RELATED. Don’t copy existing flags. If expressing a connection to an existing community make the design distinctive enough so that a difference can be seen when it is on a flag pole.

I would add two more principles:

6) BE AWARE OF PROPORTIONS. Most designs look best on a rectangle. Don’t be afraid to use square or triangular flags if it suits the design, as long as it can still be flown on a flag pole. No curved edges.

7) DO YOUR RESEARCH. Make sure your flag doesn’t already exist. Check the meaning of emblems and symbols - don’t risk abuse by designing a flag with, say, neo-Nazi symbols (take note, Extinction Rebellion).

There are many good flags that have exceptions to these principles (e.g. Rainbow Pride flag and the South African national flag), as do many flags designed before these principles were formulated.

You may not realise that international law regards flags as belonging unconditionally to the people. There are a few emblems and symbols (including the Red Cross, the Olympic rings, corporate logos, coats of arms) that are protected by law and should be avoided and not used without permission. Many young lgbt flag designers assume they own the copyright on their design. They retain credit as designer and can, if permissible, register copyright in their own country on any new symbols or emblems, but as soon as they make their flag public it becomes public property – anyone can produce their flag.

Something that really does get me “vexed” in the meaning of “annoyed” are the many examples of bad flag designs on the Unity Pride Facebook page. Many are designed by young inexperienced flag designers. Of course, not everyone can be a graphic designer and I have no quarrel with their gender identities, but very few of their flags are “distinctive”. Others are a mash-up of existing flags. It would be difficult to distinguish any of them on an actual flag pole, which makes the design (not the gender identity) pointless. The biggest failure is the long Unity Pride Flag itself. Being composed of hundreds of smaller flags makes it impracticable. If you can’t fly it on a flag pole it’s not a flag, simple as that. It’s a quilt.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore what the people at Unity Pride are doing. Anything that promotes the awareness and cultural importance (and dangers) of flags is a good thing. But, from a vexillologist’s point of view, the end result is brave but disappointing.

Another flag that has me vexed is the Unity Pride infinity symbol. The idea behind it was to show many colours of lgbt flags on the left loop. On that point alone it breaks the 3rd principle, even if it’s not compulsory. It’s the presence of the infinity symbol that is more problematic. The infinity symbol had been used as the emblem of the ethnic Métis people of Canada since 1816. In 2014 the Canadian government gave the infinity symbol protected status. It can only be used by the Métis people, or to represent them, or used in mathematics. By implication it applies to any nation outside Canada where Métis people live. Its use since 2014 by anyone else (including Unity Pride) isn’t illegal, but it IS cultural appropriation. Some places may ban the Unity Pride infinity flag because it can be seen as an abuse of the Métis emblem.

Several other uses of the infinity symbol pre-date 2014 (e.g. autism awareness and some bisexual flags) but the law is not retrospective. There are thousands of other symbols in the history of the planet that can be adopted for a flag, and many more can be created, why use one that’s already in use?

Finally, here’s a community flag designed in 2016 containing the infinity symbol that was used before it became protected. It’s an example of a good flag design. It was designed by Twainbow, an American organisation which supports lgbt people on the autism spectrum, like myself, and made its first appearance at Houston Pride. The infinity symbol was first adopted for autism awareness in 2004 by the Aspies For Freedom group in the USA.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 21) Stage, Screen and Censorship

Last time on “80 More Gays”: Mathematician 55) Sofya Kovalevskaya (1850-1891) is buried in the same cemetery as 56) Mauritz Stiller (1883-1928), who directed several films based on novels by 57) Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940), the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909 and who nominated the winner of the 1922 prize, 58) Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954).

58) Jacinto Benavente was a leading figure in Spanish theatre in the first decades of the 20th century. His plays were often satirical and humorous, and it was this style which was remarked upon in the citation of his Nobel Prize.

As with Sofya Kovalevskaya, Jacinto’s sexuality is a question of interpretation and opinion. Jacinto himself shrugged off all rumours of his sexuality, but as far as I can tell, he neither confirmed nor denied them. In Spanish theatrical circles he is widely regarded as having been gay.

Spanish theatre was, naturally, centred in the nation’s capital, Madrid. The major theatre in the city at that time was the Teatro de la Princesa – the Princess Theatre. By 1908 the theatre was owned and managed by a renowned actress Maria Guererro. In the first year under her management it premiered one of Jacinto’s plays, and did so again in 1913, 1914 and 1919. In 1931, three years after Maria Guererro’s death, the Princess Theatre was renamed in her honour.

Jacinto Benavente became a reluctant supporter of General Franco’s regime after the Spanish Civil War of 1936-9. He regarded Franco as the lesser of two evils (fascism and socialism). However, Franco imposed strict censorship on the performing arts and Jacinto decided not to write for many years after it was introduced.

Franco set up the National Propaganda Service. One of the new state censors was 59) Luis Escobar Kirkpatrick (1908-1991). On his father’s death in 1954 Luis inherited the title of Marquess de las Marismas del Guadalquivir. Like Jacinto Benavente Luis Escobar would probably have described himself as a liberal monarchist. Neither were very enthusiastic in their support of Franco’s regime. A friend of Luis because Head of the National Propaganda Service and it was he who appointed Luis as Head of the Theatre and Music Department in 1938. However, neither stayed in their position very long. Both were suspected of non-compliance in their duties and dismissed. In his memoirs Luis admitted that he would usually “okay” each page of a submitted script without reading it.

During his year-long stint as a state censor Luis Escobar was also given the task of setting up what became the National Theatre of Spain. He established a core set of plays from what the Spanish termed their Golden Era, which included those of Jacinto Benavente. In 1940 Luis was appointed director of the Maria Guerrero Theatre.

Luis Escobar was also an actor. He appeared in many television dramas and series, and in a handful of films. He also directed several films, including “La Honradez de la Cerradura” by Jacinto Benavente in 1950 which was nominated for the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Luis wasn’t the only aristocrat to be an actor and director. 60) Nicole Stéphane (1923-2007) was one also. Something else that links the two is a common feature in their coat of arms. Below left is the shield from the coat of arms of Luis Escobar. On the right is the shield from Nicole Stéphane’s.

The common feature isn’t apparent without some knowledge of heraldry. Both coats of arms are what are called allusive. They allude to the owner’s names. Luis Escobar’s ancestors adopted brooms was their arms because the Spanish word for a broom is “escoba”. The allusive nature of Nicole Stéphane’s arms in less apparent until you learn that her full name was Baroness Nicole Mathilde Stéphanie de Rothschild. The name Rothschild translates as “red shield” or “red badge”, and this is alluded to by the little red shield in the centre of their arms.

Nicole Stéphane belonged to the French branch of the Rothschild family. Her father, uncle and cousin were also actors, writers and directors. Nicole was nominated for a Bafta (British Oscar) as Best Actress in a Foreign Film for her second film “Les Enfants Terribles” (1950). Nicole’s last acting role was in “Carve Her Name With Pride” (1958).

A serious car accident left her unable to walk and speak for a while and she never fully recovered. It was for this reason that she turned to film production and direction. Although she made several successful films her dream was to film Marcel Proust’s novel series “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” (Remembrance of Things Past). She acquired the film rights in 1962 and many in the profession thought it was unfilmable. After many struggles over funding and scripts the first film in the series, “Swann In Love”, was produced in 1984. No others were made.

I had originally thought of continuing this “80 More Gays” sequence with Marcel Proust himself, but before I do that I want to take a little detour.

Through Nicole’s family connections she managed to arrange for part of a future film in her “Remembrance of Things Past” series to be filmed at a family mansion, the Château de Ferrières. This belonged to another branch of Nicole’s family and was built for her 3-times-great-uncle James. One of James’s grandchildren, who was very familiar with the château, was Baroness Hélène de Rothschild, known by her married name of 61) Hélène van Zuylen (1863-1947).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We race across northern France and soar into the skies with a couple of heroes before landing in Morocco to return to Marcel Proust.