The UK has only one royal family. The USA has 44! Well, perhaps not “royal” but certainly treated like royalty. The families of each US president, not to mention those of most other republics, acquire a special status. Think of the Kennedys. Gossip columns relish the tittle-tattle of presidential families. One US presidential family that has died out, the last dying in 1972, has deprived modern gossip-mongers and celebrity-chasers of covering the life one of the most extraordinary lgbt people. He was named after his father and Presidential grandfather and was called Chester Alan Arthur III, but he chose to go by the name of Gavin Arthur (1901-1972).
Gavin Arthur was born with
a silver spoon in his mouth. He was the heir to his Presidential grandfather
and his millionaire father. This year’s Irish Rebellion (briefly described in
my article in April about Sir Roger Casement) links Gavin to the Irish
Republican Movement. Even though he was only 15 at the time the Rebellion had a
lasting effect on Gavin. He went to Ireland after leaving college in 1922 and
spent four years campaigning for Irish independence, buying arms and providing bail
for jailed rebels.
During his Irish year
Gavin travelled across to England to meet someone whose writings he had come to
admire while at Columbia University, Edward Carpenter, one of the pioneers of
the gay rights movement before that term existed. Carpenter was to become
Gavin’s mentor. They ended up bed together (despite some academics who have
tried to disprove it and fail).
In the early 1930s he and
his wife (he was married 3 times) moved back to the US. Gavin’s second wife was
Esther Murphy Strachey, the ex-wife of a cousin of Lytton Strachey the gay
Bloomsbury writer. In California Gavin co-founded Moy Mell (the Gaelic for
“Pasture of Honey”), an anarchistic utopian arts commune. It became an enticing
retreat from the Great Depression. This commune attracted many bohemians,
free-thinkers, mystics, drop-outs and rebels to its dunes (it was a shoreline
settlement of tents and shacks).
Influenced in part by his
mother, who had a keen interest in eastern spiritualism (in the 1920s they both
belonged to the Tantric Order of America), Gavin’s interests began to turn to
the stars. After working as a gold prospector, teaching in San Quentin State
Prison, selling newspapers and finishing his bachelors’ degree Gavin before
finding fame as an astrologer.
Whether you believe in it
or not, there is no question that Gavin’s part in the gay liberation movement
of the 1960s and his astrology are indivisible.
Think of the popular
social changes of the 1960s. The Swinging 60s, the hippie culture, and sexual
freedom developed alongside the gay and civil rights movements. Gavin Arthur
had a role in all of them. The Summer of Love in San Francisco developed from
the “Human Be-in” held at Golden Gate Park in 1967. Gavin produced an
astrological chart to help the organisers to determine the date to hold the
vent so that it would have the most lasting effect. It was a huge success.
The Human Be-In was a
catalyst for many other civil and community rights events. You could argue that
it was the fore-runner of lgbt Pride events.
Gavin is also said to have
used astrology to predict the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a prediction
that brought him to the attention of the Human Be-In organisers and sealed his
reputation as an astrologer.
Gavin’s part in the gay
right movement also included a theory about sexuality. I’ll write more on this
in the future in more detail. For now, here’s a brief description of what Gavin
called the “Circle of Sex”.
Gavin knew Alfred Kinsey,
the American sexologist who devised a 7-part scale of human sexuality. Gavin
used this, and advice and ideas from Kinsey, Edward Carpenter and German
sexologist pioneer Magnus Hirschfeld, to come up a 12-scale circle of
sexuality. Gavin placed his sexual types in a clock-face, and just as the hands
of a clock more round in continuous circles, Gavin said sexuality was the same
with each type having another on either side which is more heterosexual or
homosexual. It was an idea which first came to Gavin when he was living in
Ireland in 1924. He and his first wife placed the names of 300 of the friends
and acquaintances on cards and arranged them into the first Circle of Sex based
on their interpretation of their friends’ sexualities. It wasn’t until 1967
that he published his theory.
Gavin Arthur died in 1972
in a veteran’s hospital in San Francisco. From his silver spoon heritage to his
Golden Gate twilight years Gavin sought to find his own way that wasn’t
dependent on his illustrious family. He succeeded. Today he is known more for
his gay rights and sexology activism, and his Presidential ancestry has become