Saturday 18 July 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 14 - A Mutiny

LAST TIME : 39) Emperor Mikhael III of Byzantium (840-867) adopted his lover 40) Emperor Basileios I (d.886) as his son and successor even though he wasn’t of imperial birth, or “porphyrogenitos”, “born in the purple”, a term derived from the imperial robes dyed in a colour only obtained from the shells of sea snails on the island of Kythira, one of the main centres for the veneration of 41) Eros.
I don’t believe in coincidence, so its remarkable that today’s article, scheduled for this date last December, is so topical on so many levels. Fortunately I review my articles a day or two before publication so I can do any appropriate rewrites.

41) Eros is one of those gods whose role and image has changed over the centuries. His modern depiction is often the same as that of his later Roman counterpart Cupid, and our image of the Valentine Cupid as a chubby babe with bow and arrow (a health and safety hazard if ever there was one!) comes from Renaissance art.

I need not remind regular readers that the Greek Eros was not a cute Valentine Cupid but a muscular young man who presided over gyms and gay sex. His importance to the Greek soldiers training in the gyms, indulging in the customary practice of having a younger same-sex partner, was an accepted part of their culture.

Because Eros and Aphrodite had major shrines on the island of Kythira the Greeks began to imagine the island as one of peace, love and tranquility, an earthly paradise. This idea spread across Europe during the Renaissance. In fact, the reputation of Kythira as a paradise island was uppermost in the mind of the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bourganville when he landed on a Pacific island in 1768 and found it so perfect that he named it Nouvelle-Cythère, or New Kythira. Our idea of a Polynesian paradise comes from Bourganville’s account of his visit. Today we know the island as Tahiti.

Twenty years after Bourganville’s visit another group of Europeans arrived. Their ship was called “The Bounty”, and I probably don’t need to say what happened to them. The details aren’t that important to us today, but some of the mutineers are, and what they did are directly linked to events of recent months.

The Bounty mutineers settled on several Pacific Islands, though most of them remained on Tahiti. Many of their descendants still live there, including descendants of Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny (one of his descendants is currently involved in promoting the lgbt heritage housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

In 1790 some Mutineer descendants settled on what is regarded as the world’s smallest nation (as opposed to sovereign state), the Pitcairn Islands. A month ago the governing council announced that they had legalised same-sex marriage. What is remarkable is that the Pitcairn Islands have a total population of only 48 – and not one of them is lgbt.

In 1856 the Pitcairn Islands was granted control over a former British penal colony in the Pacific called Norfolk Island. This, too, now has a huge percentage of Bounty mutineer descendants in its 1,800 inhabitants, including another descendant of Fletcher Christian called 42) Cam Christian.

Although he was born and raised on Norfolk Island, Cam Christian lives in Brisbane, the nearest main city on the Australia mainland (nearest! – its 900 miles away). Norfolk Island was a self-governing overseas territory of Australia with its own elected 9-person parliament. Last year the Australian government decided it would remove its self-governing status in the face of its increasing burden on the Australian economy. Naturally, the Norfolk Islanders are staunchly independent in spirit and opposed this. It wasn’t long before the media was referring to this defiance as another mutiny.

This is when 42) Cam Christian stepped into the limelight. Australia bans same-sex marriage. As a self-governing territory Norfolk Island was not covered by this. In an attempt to highlight the discrepancy Cam decided he was going to marry his partner Paul Gilmore on Norfolk Island before it became banned when Australia resumed control. A private members bill went before the Norfolk parliament in September 2014.

Unfortunately, in March this year the Australian government passed their bill abolishing Norfolk Island’s parliament and Cam Christian’s dream of marrying Paul on his native island was dashed.

Cam Christian isn’t the first lgbt person to take action against Australia’s same-sex marriage ban. One person actually declared independence and created the world’s first lgbt micro-nation. His name is 43) Dale Parker Anderson (b.1965), and he’s another Bounty mutineer descendant.

It was the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 that led Dale and a group of supporters to sail to the Coral Sea Islands off the north east coast of Australia and declare an independent kingdom on 14th June 2004. The Rainbow Pride flag became its national flag. However, no international recognition from other governments was received, but it brought a lot of publicity to the campaign for same-sex marriage.

The Coral Sea Islands are in Dale’s genes, because his Bounty ancestor, William Purcell, was the last surviving mutineer, stopped off at the islands in 1789. And Dale has another, more specific connection to him. William Purcell had twin sons, and Dale is the 4xgreat-grandson of one of them and is also a twin. He’s an identical twin, in fact, and his brother is straight.

Research into twins where one is gay and the other straight has been going on for many years. A new study began last month at the University of Essex. But it would be wrong to assume that gay-straight twins were not known about before our modern society and our modern concept of homosexuality. Gay-straight twins were known about in the 19th century, and one gay twin with a straight brother belonged to a very well-known family. His name was 44) Modest Tchaikovsky (1850-1916).

Next time we learn how the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a very gay family affair.

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