Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Xtremely Queer Club

This afternoon the second LGBTQ Outdoor Summit comes to an end. As its name suggests this was a meeting of members of the lgbt community who have some involvement with the great outdoors. This could be anything from camping and hiking to climbing Everest or rowing across the Pacific. The summit was also a meeting of minds to discuss and develop outdoor activities and involvement for openly lgbt adventurers and environmentalists.

The keynote speaker was Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, an openly lesbian mountaineer whose record-breaking feats are mentioned below. Silvia is one of several lgbt climbers who have completed the Seven Summit challenge (as completed by Cason Crane here). In recent years the activities of openly lgbt adventurers and extreme athletes have been more widely reported. Some of these have entered the record books. Below is a selection of Xtreme lgbt record-breakers, firsts and notable achievers who are proud members of an Xtremely queer club (in alphabetical order).

David Alviar (b.1986) – first (and, therefore, the fastest) to row across the Atlantic in a crew of 3, 2016. David and crewmates Mike Matson and Brian Krauskopf took part in the 2016 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (see also Gavan Hennigan below). They took 49 days and 14 hours to row from Tenerife to Antigua. The first thing David did when he set foot on dry land was propose to his partner Stanley (who said “yes”).

Ann Bancroft (b.1955) – first woman to reach the North Pole on foot, 1985; first woman to reach the North and South Pole, 1993; leader of the first all-female east-to-west crossing of Greenland on foot, 1992; with Liv Arnesen the first women to ski across Antarctica, 2001. More information is here.

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) – member of the first expedition to climb the world’s second highest mountain, Chogo Ri (or K2), 1902; leader of the first expedition to climb the world’s third highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, 1905. Both expeditions failed. This famous occultist was an enthusiastic mountaineer in his youth, and he developed the use of crampons. You can read more about his mountaineering here.

Keith Culver (b.1947) – the first man over 60, and first openly gay man, to complete the Seven Continents marathon challenge, 2007. The Seven Continents is the running equivalent of the Seven Summits, in which athletes run in at least one official marathon on each continent. Keith completed his last Seven Continents marathon just after his 60th birthday. He also competed in the marathon at the Gay Games in San Francisco 1986 and Sydney 2002.

Marty Filipowski (b.1963) – the 100th person to swim the Cook Strait separating the north and south islands of New Zealand, 2017. The 14-mile wide Cook Strait is one of the Oceans Seven, the long-distance swimming equivalent of the Seven Summits and Seven Continents. The swims include the English Channel which Marty swam on his 50th birthday. His most recent Oceans Seven swim was across the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland last month (in honour of his father who died the week before). Marty has also competed at the Gay Games. He has only one more Oceans Seven swim to complete before he joins the exclusive club of just 11 people to have done all seven to date.

Bruce Gallipeau, Rob Jagano and Jonny Rosenfield – the first all-gay team to summit Aconcagua, the highest mountain in western hemisphere, and the first all-gay team to climb one of the Seven Summits, 2005. Bruce had climbed Aconcagua before but was not openly gay at the time.

Richard Haliburton (1900-1939?) – the first person to swim the Panama Canal through the locks, 1928. Although not the first person to swim the canal he was the first to go through all the locks taking him a total of 50 swimming hours over 10 days. Most of the time was taken up waiting for the locks to operate. Even though some have questioned whether he was gay his own great-niece has said that there’s no doubt in the family that he was. A renowned traveller and adventurer, Richard disappeared with his crew during a trans-Pacific voyage in a Chinese junk in 1939.

Greg Healey – first known openly gay man to summit Everest, 2012; 20,000 mile solo cycle around the world, 2013. When Cason Crane, the second openly gay man to summit Everest, was making his bid Greg was halfway through a 20,000 mile solo cycle ride. Greg was in Peru when Cason reached the top of Everest (exactly 51 weeks after Greg was there).

Gavan Hennigan (b.1982) – fastest solo row across the Atlantic (east to west), 2016. This was the second record broken by an lgbt rower during the 2016 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (see David Alviar above).

Stephen Junk (b.1960) – the first Australian to complete six of the Oceans Seven swims (see Marty Filipowski above). Stephen has only to swim the North Channel from Scotland to Ireland to be the first Australian to complete the Oceans Seven. Will he beat Marty Filipowski to the title of first lgbt swimmer to join the 11-member Ocean Seven club? Steven has competed in swimming in 2 Gay Games, winning 2 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze at the 2002 Sydney games.

George Mallory (1886-1924) – member of the first expedition who intended to reach the top of Everest, 1922; the first known lgbt mountaineer on Everest, 1922; the first lgbt Olympic medallist and first lgbt gold medallist, 1924. At the closing ceremony of the first ever Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924 Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern games, awarded gold medals to all members of the 1922 Everest expedition, which included George Mallory, in recognition of their (failed) attempt. At the time of the ceremony George was heading back to Everest on the expedition that would take his life later that year. He never got to see or touch his medal.

Angela Madsen (b.1960) – (take a deep breath!) – the first woman to complete three ocean rows (Atlantic 2008 and 2011, Indian Ocean 2009); the first woman (in a mixed team of 8), the oldest woman, and first open lesbian to row across the Indian Ocean (in a record time that still stands) 2009; the first woman with a disability to row across the Atlantic Ocean, 2007; member of the fastest unsupported team (and first all-female crew) to row non-stop around the British Isles, 2010. All of these are Guinness World records. On top of all that Angela is the oldest lgbt competitor at the Paralympic Games (Rio 2016), older than any lgbt Olympian, competing in rowing (obviously) and athletics.

Diane Nyad (b.1949) – first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark protection cage, 2013; world record for the longest non-stop swim without a wet suit, 1979; world record for longest open water swim without a shark cage (102 miles), 1979. A multiple long-distance swimmer.

Sarah Outen (b.1985) – the youngest woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean (at the time also the youngest person), 2009; the first and only person to row solo across the mid-Pacific Ocean from America to Asia. Also rowing across the Indian Ocean at the same time as Sarah was Angela Madsen (above), meaning that the youngest and oldest women to row the Indian Ocean were doing so at the same time. Angela, in a team of 8, finished 5 weeks sooner in a world record time. In 2011 Sarah began her London2London challenge, which I wrote about here.

Rainbow Skydivers – largest skydiving vertical (dead-down) freefall formation, 2012. Rainbow Skydivers is probably the world’s only lgbt skydiving group. In August 2012 fifteen members of Rainbow Skydivers joined 123 others, including many of the world’s top skydivers, over Ottawa, Canada, to perform the largest vertical skydiving formation. A video of the jump is here (don’t forget, it’s head-down, so the ground is at the TOP). The record has been surpassed several times since then.

Sally Ride (1951-2012) – first American female astronaut and, retrospectively, the first lgbt person to go into space, 1983. Going into space is the ultimate adventure. Sally was openly lesbian to her family, friends and colleagues, but her sexuality was not generally known until after her death. See here for her story.

Ben Smith (b.1972) – ran 401 marathons in 401 days. Ben ran marathons all around the UK to raise awareness of bullying, something which he suffered himself while at school not far from where I was living at the time in North Nottinghamshire. The first marathon started on 1st September 2015 and the last was on 5th October 2016. He ran a marathon in North Nottinghamshire in May 2016.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (b.1975) – the first Peruvian woman, and the first openly lesbian woman, to reach the summit of Everest, 2016; the first Peruvian citizen, and first openly lesbian woman to complete the Seven Summits, 2017. Silvia is founder of Courageous Girls, an adventure and outdoor organisation that supports female victims of sexual abuse.

There are many, many more lgbt adventurers and endurance athletes who could have been included. All of their achievements and records are worthy of being collected together in a book, one of the dozens of projects buzzing around in my mind at the moment. I hope, at least, I’ve given you a feel of the adventurous and fearless spirit that exists in the lgbt community.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Connections 40 : It's In The Can

On this day in 1978 the BBC broadcast the first programme in a series called “Connections”. This had a remarkable effect on me. It gave me a glimpse into the way that history, culture and technology are all linked. I still have the Radio Times tv listings cover promoting the series (above). I had just left full-time education that summer, and had never been really academically minded. “Connections” changed that.

Regular readers will know I’m well into the second half of my own version of “Connections” called “Around the World in Another 80 Gays”. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Connections” I’ve written this separate article as a self-contained chain of links which begins with a member of the lgbt community. It's adapted from research I did over 20 years ago – before Google, and before I had internet access – all researched using books.

There’s much in the news about plastic waste. Recycling waste has always been an issue in the modern world. When I was young the materials that we were most persuaded to recycle were paper, glass and aluminium drinks cans.

Even though aluminium is the most abundant metallic element on earth’s surface it doesn’t occur naturally. Most of it is locked up in clay-earth mineral ore. Today the biggest source of aluminium ore is bauxite, a mineral first identified by Pierre Berthier (1782-1861 (below).
Berthier (who died in Paris, as mentioned here), was a leading geologist and discovered that clay minerals near the French town of Les Baux were rich in this aluminium ore, which be named after it. With other aluminium-rich clay minerals bauxite was used in the manufacture of a highly popular imitation of a luxury earthenware called fiaence.

Italian fiaence became fashionable with the French aristocracy during the reign of King Louis XIV (1638-1715) because it replaced the luxury item that was rapidly disappearing – silver tableware. The reason for this was because silver was being melted down to help King Louis pay for the War of the Spanish Succession.

The war began after the king of Spain died. His successor and nephew was also a grandson of King Louis XIV. Europe was appalled at this turn of events because between them King Louis and the new King of Spain would own the majority of the American continent. It was the source of the European economy at the time, which was run by an early example of an international currency – silver pieces of eight made in Spanish America. Europe wanted to stop the kings of France and Spain from controlling this American silver trade.

South American silver-producing colonists wanted luxury goods from Europe in return for their silver. Since most luxury goods came from the east – silver, spices and porcelain – the colonists decided to get it direct (and cheaper) from Asia and established the trans-Pacific trade routes.

Fortunately, there was a market in Asia desperate for silver, and that was the Ming dynasty in China. China was rapidly running out of their own silver because they were using it to prop up their main currency which was being devalued through inflation. What was this other currency that caused the demand for American silver in China? It was paper money.

The Chinese had invented paper money and the woodblock printing that produced it. Through the Silk Road the Europeans were introduced to both, but rather than print money the Europeans began producing highly popular manuscripts and books with woodblock illustrations. In an effort to produce finer illustrations woodblocks were replaced with metal plates and engravings.

The Italians produced the best engraved illustrations, particularly one man called Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1480-c.1534). Unfortunately, he was imprisoned for producing pornography with his illustrated book on the sex lives of the gods. A toned down version of this book was produced by Rosso Florentino (1495-1540), who founded the Fontainbleau School. This school led a renaissance of French art and influenced a group of poets called La Péiade.

La Pléiade aimed to combine poetry with music, but one of their followers, Jacques Gohory (1520-1576), wanted to include philosophy and nature. To this end he created a garden in which poets could sit for inspiration. He also used the garden to experiment into the medicinal uses of plants.

This idea was taken up by King Louis XIII of France (1601-1643), who created his own garden for medical research, the Jardin des Plantes, still a popular tourist site in Paris today. The Jardin soon became a leader in medical research. One scientist working there was Christopher Glaser (c.1615-c.1672). He was the King’s Apothecary, but he was imprisoned for supplying arsenic to the serial killer Marie, the Marquise de Brinvilliers (c.1630-1676).

Arsenic was a popular poison because it was undetectable at that time. However, a later French serial killer, Marie, Madame Lafarge (1816-1851), was sent to the guillotine because proof of arsenic in human tissue was produced at her trial by chemist Matthieu Orfila (1787-1953).

Orfila is called the Father of Forensic Toxicology. Very soon many chemists were flocking to Paris to study this new science, including Sir Robert Christison (1797-1882). He published an article in the British Medical Journal in which he described experiments with a new plant from America called Erythroxylum which he said was invigorating if eaten.

An American pharmacist, John S. Pemberton (1831-1858), read Sir Robert’s article and began making a tonic drink from Erythroxylum syrup. He sold his tonic formula to Asa Griggs Candler (1851-1929) who marketed it so well that it’s still one of the biggest-selling products in the world today.

The tonic drink was named after the plant it was made from. The plant’s full botanical name is Erythroxylum coca. Pemberton’s drink was called Coca Cola.
I hope you recycle your aluminium drinks can. If it wasn’t for a gay French geologist discovering bauxite aluminium would still be a rare precious metal and not a common waste product.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Homohoax : False Tales From China

A hundred years ago very little was known in the west about China. Apart from tales of explorers and diplomats, and romanticised hearsay, much of Chinese culture was a mystery. There wasn’t really anything you could describe as China studies, or sinology. Few scholars had actually travelled there. As a consequence scholars who did travel there became the authoritative sources.

Sadly, a lot of the early academic writings about China in the 20th century which were taken as fact turned out to be a catalogue of lies. The man responsible, particularly for his alleged accounts of the last years of the Qing dynasty, was Sir Edmund Backhouse, 2nd Bt, (1873-1944).

Whether Sir Edmund set out to deliberately mislead the academic world is still a matter of debate, but his most influential books, acclaimed as valuable sources for information, have turned out to be based on forged or non-existent documents.

When did Sir Edmund’s fascination with China begin? It wasn’t in his family background. He came from a wealthy Quaker family to which he never really had any genuine emotional connection. At Oxford University Edmund accumulated debts and spent more time on socialising with various homosexual aesthetes than his studies. However, he did find that he had a talent for languages and began studying various European languages privately.

On leaving Oxford with no degree Edmund was declared bankrupt and he travelled around the world for a while. By 1898 he was learning Chinese, probably with the intention of going to China, which he did at the end of that year.

By this time his family had broken off all contact with him. His homosexual exploits at Oxford and his bankruptcy had become an embarrassment to this Quaker family and it is said that they gave him an ultimatum – leave England for good. Edmund did, however, receive an allowance from his father, and after his father’s death in 1918 he inherited his title and was allowed to keep his family estates, even though he never set foot in England after 1898.

Edmund arrived in China hoping to get work in the customs service. Instead he found unpaid work as a translator for the prominent Times correspondent, George Morrison. Morrison spoke or wrote no Chinese so he relied on Edmund Backhouse to translate documents for him. This seems to have been the start of Edmund’s life of lies. He gave background information of life at the imperial court for news reports Morrison was sending to The Times. Most of this information wasn’t based on any personal experience of the court itself.

Through Morrison Edmund got to know another journalist, John Bland, with whom he published his first volume of forgeries, “China Under the Empress Dowager”, in 1910. What the book claimed to be was an accurate account of the life and death of Empress Tz’u Hsi, or Cixi, and the Chinese court following the anti-British Boxer Rebellion. The “insights” provided by Edmund Backhouse were supplemented by the personal diary of a court official which Edmund has discovered and translated.

“China Under the Empress Dowager” was an instant success with the academic world. However, suspicions over the authenticity of the official’s diary were raised by George Morrison, but Edmund’s reputation earned by this book was enough to have these suspicions overlooked. But many years later, long after Edmund Backhouse had died, Australian academics looked at the diaries more closely.

In 1991 Dr. Lo Hui-min of the Australian National University published proof that the diaries, and consequently most of “China Under the Empress Dowager”, were faked and that Edmund had created it himself.

From the positive reception his book received on its original publication Edmund Backhouse was encouraged to write another with John Bland, “Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking” (1914). Edmund hoped that his new-found reputation as a leading sinologist would be enough to secure a professorship at Oxford. To this end he began donating thousands of books and manuscripts to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Even though the library greatly acknowledged these gifts the professorship in Chinese Studies was given to someone else.

By this time Edmund Backhouse had become a serial fraudster. He was employed as an agent for the British legation in Peking to sell battleships. He sold 6 non-existent battleships, and invented a whole flotilla of imaginary ships carrying imaginary military weapons, reporting on their transportation down the Chinese coast to the British Foreign Office. He invented contracts, and sold 650 million non-existent banknotes to the American Bank Note Company. When the ship magnates, banknote company and the Foreign Office came looking for their goods Edmund Backhouse had escaped to Canada.

Perhaps his most fantastical hoax came at the end of his life. In the late 1930s he sought refuge from the Sino-Japanese War with the Austrian legation in Peking. Now almost reclusive, Edmund was befriended by the Honorary Swiss Consul, Dr. Reinhard Hoeppli.

Sir Edmund regaled Hoeppli with tales of his supposed exploits, mostly about his supposed gay sexual exploits and the homosexual underworld in old imperial Peking. He even claimed to have had sex with the Dowager Empress herself. Hoeppli was captivated by these stories and persuaded the aging Sir Edmund to write his memoirs. What resulted was two volumes that were unpublished until this decade.

In the 1970s the British historian Hugh Trever-Roper, Lord Dacre, used the unpublished memoirs to help write a biography of Sir Edmund. Bear in mind that this is the same historian who verified the Hitler Diaries. Also, to Lord Dacre the memoirs were excessively homosexually pornographic for his own taste. Lord Dacre’s brother, by the way, was Patrick Trevor-Roper, the gay rights pioneer.

Lord Dacre’s biography was damning of Sir Edmund’s reputation as a scholar. Many of the stories recounted in the memoirs may well have been based on a little truth but it seems certain that the details had been elaborated and the famous individuals named by Sir Edmund as his sexual partners were not true.

With the final publication of the last part of Sir Edmund’s memoirs last year it seems certain that the public is fascinated by this man and his many falsehoods. Rather than dismiss him completely from academic studies of China academics can look again at this hoaxer and his influence on early 20th century scholarship and examine the nature of the use, accuracy and interpretation of source material.