Wednesday, 19 February 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 5) Tourists and Taurus

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 9) Polycrates of Samos (d.522 BC) lent his name to a psychological complex exhibited by 10) Paul Morphy (1837-1884), who played a game of chess during “Norma”, an opera which inspired 11) Marion Bradley Zimmer (1930-1999) to write an Arthurian novel, a genre popularised by the Victorians including 12) Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942).

12) Charles Robert Ashbee was an architect and designer though he also wrote several novels. One of these was an Arthurian Utopian fantasy, “From Whitechapel to Camelot”. Ashbee founded the Essex House Press after William Morris’s more famous Kelmscott Press closed. Many books were published by Essex House and Ashbee created the type faces called Endeavour and Prayer Book.

With William Morris Ashbee was the major player in the Arts and Crafts Movement. He established several Arts and Crafts School in London which produced furniture, jewellery and metal work.

On several occasions Ashbee was asked to design buildings. After renovating the country home of Col. Thomas Shaw-Hellier in the 1890s the colonel invited Ashbee to design and build him a villa in Taormina, a popular tourist destination on Sicily. It was especially popular with gay men.

Oscar Wilde sampled the delights of Taormina and a gay photographer, Wilhelm von Gloeden, a friend of Shaw-Hellier, spent most of his life there building up a large portfolio of photos of young male nudes. A lot of British men visits the town escaping the anti-gay-sex laws in the UK. One of them, Sir Harold Acton, once described Taormina as “a polite synonym for Sodom”.

It is assumed that Col. Shaw-Hellier was homosexual. He married very late in life (at the age of 63) and was friends with many of the gay men who visited Taormina. Charles Ashbee was certainly gay, even though he tried to uphold Victorian respectability by marrying and having four children.

The site of Shaw-Hellier’s new villa in Taormina was on the site of an old temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis. The villa was built in 1907 and became known as the Villa San Giorgio. Shaw-Hellier died in 1910 and his villa is now the Hotel Ashbee.

Ashbee and Shaw-Hellier had a mutual gay friend on Taormina, 13) Robert Hawthorn Kitson (1873-1947). Kitson had just built his own villa in the town, the Casa Cuseni, in 1905. It became a magnet for visiting celebrities – Chanel, Picasso and Garbo, amongst others. Roald Dahl is said to have got the idea for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” when he stayed there.

Today Casa Cuseni is an Italian national monument and museum. In 2018 one of the original frescoes was “revealed” to the public as part of a tour of the town. It depicts a real event in Kitson’s life. In 1908 an earthquake hit Messina, half an hour’s drive up the coast, killing around 80,000 people and creating many orphans. Kitson and his lover, an artist called Carlo Siligato, decided to adopt one of the orphans. The depiction in the fresco is the first known example in art of gay adoption. This website includes a YouTube video which gives a detailed look at this fresco.

As mentioned earlier Charles Robert Ashbee’s villa, now the Hotel Ashbee, was built on the site of an ancient temple. So was the town’s main church. It was built on the site of a temple to a Greco-Egyptian god who was created through the deliberate merging of Isis’ husband Osiris and the chief Greek god. The new deity can be called 14) Zeus-Serapis.

Zeus-Serapis was “created” by the Ptolemys of Egypt in the 3rd century BC in an attempt to unit the Egyptians and Greek communities. It became a popular cult and lasted for 700 years and a sacred bull had an important influence on it.

In Egypt there was a cult to Apis, a sacred bull who was transformed into the god Osiris when it was sacrificed – Osiris-Apis (a name which developed into Serapis). The Ptolemys, being Greek, knew that their Greek subjects wouldn’t worship an animal god, or even a mixture of bull and man like Osiris-Apis. So they depicted the bull god in the form of their own chief god Zeus, and Zeus-Serapis was “born”.

Zeus has strong links to bulls himself, most famously in the story of Europa. I wrote about the multiple bull connections in the Europa myths in my article on Taurus back in 2012. Being immortal Zeus was actually Europa’s great-great-grandfather, she being descended from his lover Io who was transformed into a cow to keep her a secret from his wife Hera. It’s interesting to know that Zeus was also great-great-grandfather to his male lover, Ganymede.

Back to Sicily and the town of Taormina, the location of a temple to Zeus-Serapis. The town’s name actually translates roughly as “I stay with the bull”, and a mythical creature, half woman, half cow, called a bucentaur, appears in the town’s coat of arms (below) which was adopted in 1928. And the town itself sits in the shadow of Monte Tauro – Mount Taurus.
Taurus is, of course, one of the major constellations. Within the constellation is a group of stars called the Pleiades. I also wrote about them a couple of years ago, of their link to drag queens, and their connection to Dionysus, the god of wine and cross-dressing who is also known as the Bull God (there’s that animal again).

The Pleiades, representing a group of sisters, have provided the inspiration behind an initiative within astronomy aimed at improving the status and inclusion of women. There is also a set of awards which accompany the initiative called the Pleiades Awards. These was given to organisations, universities or observatories which champion female equality within astronomy.

The initiative and the awards were launched in 2014 by the Women in Astronomy Chapter of the Astronomical Society of Australia. The Chair of the chapter at the time was 15) Dr. Lisa Harvey-Smith (b.1979).

Next time of “80 More Gays”: We meet the Rainbow Serpent of the southern skies and celebrate the millennium with a centenary.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Queer Achievement: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

As today is the commonly observed St. Valentine’s Day (even though, as I’ve explained before, it’s the wrong date) it would seem appropriate to talk about hearts in heraldry.

First of all, let’s look at the armorial achievement of a member of the lgbt community which features hearts prominently. Below is the achievement of St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) as depicted in a window at the refectory of Oriel College, Oxford, where he was a Fellow. He’s the latest to join a group of lgbt saints, having been canonised in November last year.
 The arms were granted by the College of Arms to John Newman of London on 15th February 1664, an appropriately close date to today’s modern observance of the wrong St. Valentine’s Day. There’s no record of any connection between either the date or St. Valentine to the Newman family, except one we invent ourselves.

When the new St. John Henry Newman became a cardinal the College of Arms failed to find any genealogical link between him and the John Newman of London and couldn’t confirm to the cardinal that he was entitled to use this particular coat of arms. However, as a Roman Catholic cardinal St. John Henry Newman was also subject to the separate heraldic rules and practices of the Vatican who could.

Even though the original meaning and significance of the original Newman hearts is lost to us the Christian interpretation that followed St. John Henry Newman’s appointment as a cardinal gives us an insight into the minds of medieval heralds.

The three hearts were interpreted as symbolic of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They also symbolised Christian love - charity. The yellow background symbolises the glory of God. Medieval heralds would interpret designs in this way to reflect the owner’s profession or calling.

The meaning of the heart as a symbol of love has been established for several centuries. The heart shape, however, has some very different sexual meanings that predate that of romance.

Quite often sources on the internet and in print will say that the familiar love-heart shape is nothing like that of a real heart. It’s not supposed to be accurate – it’s symbolic, like lots of other shapes. For instance, how many real stars have points on them like those on the American flag? The heart shape has evolved over the centuries, and early representations (as a symbol of love) do show it more anatomically accurate. Over the centuries the shape has changed to suit artistic styles. Even today there are many different styles with fat hearts, hearts with very pointed bases and some that are highly stylised or abstract.

The early heart shapes were “upside down”, the points were at the top. In the 14th century they turned around, so, technically, today’s hearts are upside down, not the original ones.

The shape of the modern love-heart can be traced back to ancient times. The first recognisable heart shape appears on coins and weights from Attica in Greece in the 6th century BC (one is pictured below).
 Historians have established that this shape doesn’t represent a heart but the seed of a plant called silphium, or silphion. This was a very common herb related to parsley and carrot. There was a thriving trade in this plant and its seeds in the ancient world because it was thought to be both an aphrodisiac and a contraceptive. I can just imagine the ancient Greek athletes and soldiers munching on a mouthful of silphium seeds before they had sex with their boy-lovers.

If you want to conduct a “scientifically controlled experiment” to test out its properties I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. Silphium was so popular that it was consumed into extinction in ancient times.

Like so many things there’s no recorded continuity of use to link the silphium seed to the love-heart. Only the similarity of shape makes us assume there is. It’s a common shape after all, as is seen in the coat of arms of the Denmark (below).
The Danish design was adopted way back in the 11th century. It forms the senior component of the current arms of the kingdom and as such was used by King Christian VII of Denmark (1749-1808), a troubled king with a history of mental health problems who has been identified as bisexual in recent decades. The earliest records mention that the heart-shapes in the Danish coat of arms represent water-lily leaves.

There’s another heraldic heart shape which represents something very personal to half of the world’s population and is seen in the coat of arms of the Italian Colleoni family (below). You’ll notice that the hearts are point upwards, as the earliest hearts were depicted. That’s because they don’t represent hearts at all.
 These arms belonged to the family of an Italian soldier called Bartolomeo Colleoni. He was a great hero in Venice in the 15th century and had a statue erected in his honour. It’s still there. At the base of the statue is Colleoni’s coat of arms. While the modern rendition, as above, invariably depicts three inverted hearts the statue shows them as they were originally intended (below).
Yes, each of the inverted hearts actually represent testicles! A spurious urban legend explains this by claiming that Bartolomeo had three testicles. It is more likely that they are a soundalike pun on his name - coglioni is the Italian slang word for testicle.

So, that’s my contribution to St. Valentine’s Day, a look at hearts. Though, after that last example you may never see a love-heart in the same way again.

Monday, 10 February 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: 4) From a Complex to a King

Previously on “80 More Gays”: 7) Athena, who appeared as a man to act as a mentor, had a huge statue in her honour made by 8) Phidias (5th century BC), the creator of a statue of Zeus, one of the Wonders of the World, both statues being among the greatest construction projects in Greece, to which also belong lesser-known projects by 9) Polycrates of Samos (d.522 BC).

9) Polycrates was the ruler of the Greek island of Samos. He made Samos the home of culture and science with people like Pythagoras and the poets Anacreon and Ibycus living on the island. Anacreon and Ibycus were among the most pederastic of poets. That is, they had many boy lovers and wrote poems about them. It is said that Polycrates could easily be Anacreon’s equal in the number of boy lovers he had, but Ibycus could out-number them both.

Among Polycrates’ huge construction projects were a fortified wall around the island, a temple to Hera, and a tunnel through Mount Castro. Its no wonder Aristotle specifically named him in his criticism of such costly projects.

Polycrates’ name has become applied to a psychological complex; as one medical website puts it, “the paradoxical despair over too much good fortune”. Even though the complex is named after Polycrates it isn’t he who displayed it. One of his allies, the Egyptian pharaoh, wrote to Polycrates saying that he felt the gods might become jealous of his success and he advised him to throw away something he valued in order to avoid their punishment. This Polycrates did. He threw his most precious jewelled ring into the sea.

Several days later a fisherman caught a huge fish and thought it was a worthy gift for Polycrates (you can see where this is going, can’t you). The tyrant’s jewelled ring was found inside it (this tale may be apocryphal as similar versions appear in many other cultures).
Cover illustration from around 1890 of an edition of “Der Ring des Polykrates”, a lyrical balled written by Friedrich Schiller in 1797.
A couple of years later a provincial governor in Syria invited Polycrates to rescue him from an imminent Persian invasion. However, he should have listened to his daughter’s warnings after she had nightmares of seeing him dead. When Polycrates visited the governor he was promptly assassinated. It was a trap. This allowed the Persians to take over Samos.

There are many examples of the Polycrates complex in history. One often mentioned in text books is the story of 10) Paul Morphy (1837-1884).

Paul Morphy was a chess prodigy and considered by some to have been the greatest chess player of his era. At the age of 12 he played three games against a chessmaster and won them all. At the first American Chess Congress in 1857 he became the US champion. In Europe he beat all of the chessmasters he played against.

Back home in New Orleans Morphy laid down a challenge to play against anyone in the world. No-one took him up on the offer because everyone knew he couldn’t be beaten. This led to Morphy into giving up chess for good. He considered he had become too successful and became riddled with guilt.

Morphy was found dead in his bath in 1884. His celebrity status led to many fake stories being circulated, such as the spurious story of him arranging dozens of women’s shoes around his bath before he died. Naturally, this kind of story fuelled talk about his sexuality. Like so many people, we’ll never know for sure. Morphy’s sexuality was first questioned in 1931 in “The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis”. At the centre of this was a letter written by his European tour manager who referred to himself as “…a lover, a brother, a mother…” to Morphy.

Whilst it is true that Morphy had a somewhat feminine personality and never married or had any serious relationships with women (except one in a novel) it is best to say “possibly”. The whole question was also covered in issue 2 of a short-lived magazine on lgbt chess called “Chess Pride” in 1998.
One of Morphy’s matches became legendary. It is often called the Opera Game because it took place in the private box of Prince Karl II, Duke of Brunswick, at the Italian Opera House in Paris. The duke had previously invited Morphy to a performance of “Norma”, an opera Morphy was keen to see. However, they spent the whole time playing chess with Morphy with his back to the stage.

“Norma” isn’t a very well-known opera. The title character is a druidic high priestess in Roman Gaul in love with the Roman proconsul. Despite its obscurity “Norma” inspired a novel by 11) Marion Zimmer Bradley (1930-1999).

Marion Zimmer Bradley is best known for her historical fantasy and science fiction novels. “The Forest House” is her take on “Norma”, transferring the action from Gaul to Roman Britain. The novel was published in 1993 and was a prequel to her previous novel “The Mists of Avalon”. It was actually the first novel Marion began writing when she was 17. She didn’t finish it until she was in her 60s.

Although Marion’s novels are still popular her personal reputation was tarnished after her death following accusations of child abuse against boys and girls with her husband.

“The Mists of Avalon”, published in 1983, is probably Marion’s most famous novel. It was her first to have an Arthurian theme. She also wrote several novels with an Atlantis theme, and I’ll return to that subject in July.

Perhaps the reason why “The Mists of Avalon” became so popular was because of its feminist slant. The 1980s were a time of radical feminism and the legends of King Arthur, being distinctly macho and masculine, were revived by a new feminist angle that reflected the mood of society at the time.

This revival wasn’t the first. King Arthur has always been a major heroic character but every now and then, such as the feminist angle in the 1980s, society feels to need to breathe new life into him. This is what happened in 19th century Victorian England. With the industrial revolution changing the world some people felt that progress was too quick and that a return to the ideals of the past should be revived. The old folk tales and heroes of England were seen as role models for this revival.

In the forefront of this revival, and using the Arthurian legends as their main themes, were the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts movement. Both groups had members and associates in the lgbt community. At the head of these was Simeon Solomon, a painter whose reputation was virtually destroyed because of his homosexuality. In recent years his neglected grave has been restored.

There was also May Morris, daughter of William Morris, the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement. And there was also Sir Edmund Gosse, a Pre-Raphaelite associate and poet. But to continue our “80 More Gays” sequence let’s look at an Arts and Crafts designer and Arthurian novelist called 12) Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We talk a lot of bull about an Italian hotel, and let it take us halfway round the world to see Seven Sisters.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

20 Queer Facts for LGBT History Month UK

Happy LGBT History Month UK. Here’s 20 more queer facts you may or may not know. Ideal for quiz questions at your History Month celebration.

1) The agamoi were unmarried Spartan men over the age of 30. The Spartans claimed they showed no interest in fathering children and spent too much time in each other’s company. Even though Spartan men followed the cultural norm of having boy lovers as well as wives they considered the agamoi to be perverted because they didn’t have wives as well. Because of this the agamoi were banned from attending the regular naked sport festivals, but were allowed to compete in their own – in the middle of winter, also naked.

2) L. Craig Schoonmaker (1944-2018), the person who first came up with the term “gay pride”, ran for President of the USA in 2000 as an independent candidate.

3) “Star Trek” legend and lgbt activist George Takei (b.1937) is also an athlete. He joined the Los Angeles Frontrunners (an lgbt athletics club) before he came out publicly in 2005. In 2006 he won a gold medal at the Gay Games in Chicago in the 4x100 meters relay. His team was called the Trekeys.

4) Openly lesbian British Olympic BMX cyclist Shanaze Reade (b.1988) entered the Guinness Book of World Records live on British television on 28th March 2016. She became the fastest person to cycle round a “Wall of Death” at a speed of 26.8 miles an hour.

5) A cinaedus was a male dancer in the Roman Empire who twerked! The erotically-charged shaking of the back side during the dance led to the association of that name cinaedus with passive sexual male partners.

6) The world’s first ever variety/light entertainment programme on television was “Looking In” on the BBC on 23rd April 1933. It was produced by Eustace Robb (1899-1985) who went on to produce one variety programme a week for a year. He was an openly gay ex-army officer who lived on a country estate in Oxfordshire where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex once rented a house until hounded out by paparazzi.

7) In the 2nd century BC King Alexander Balas of the Seleucid Empire (modern Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and bits of Pakistan) consulted an oracle who told him to “beware of the place that bore the two-formed one”. Alexander was later assassinated in Abrae in Greece. Abrae was the home of a male warrior called Diophantus, who had been born female.

8) In 2011 Dr. Bryan Lessard (b.1988), an openly gay entomologist, named a species of fly Scaptia beyonceae after the singer BeyoncĂ© because it has a prominent “bootylicious” rear end. Bryan is something of a celebrity in entomology circles and is known as “Bry the Fly Guy”. He works at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organisation in Sydney, Australia, and in 2019 organised a group of colleagues to take part in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

9) Fans of the 1980s series “Man from Atlantis” may like to know that the majority of the underwater swimming scenes were not done by the show’s star, Patrick Duffy, but by an openly gay, national swimming champion called Tom Reudy (b.1955). Tom has also won over a dozen medals at the Gay Games since 1986.

10) The Byzantine Empire created several high-ranking and influential positions at court for eunuchs. These eunuchs could be either castrated men (called ektomiai) or naturally-born intersex (called spadones, or thladai). There were even noble ranks created for them. Several of them became Patriarchs, heads of the Greek Orthodox Christian Church, equivalent to an archbishop.

11) The famous line “Me Tarzan, you Jane” from the iconic 1932 film “Tarzan the Ape Man” starring Johnny Weismuller didn’t appear in any of the 26 Tarzan books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was a line created by gay songwriter Ivor Novello (1893-1951) during his short time as a scriptwriter for MGM studios.

12) Ganymede is the biggest moon in the solar system, bigger than the planet Mercury. It is one of over 70 known moons that orbit Jupiter. Those that have been named are named after sexual partners and female descendants of Jupiter/Zeus – except Ganymede. He is the only male lover of Jupiter after whom a moon is named.

13) The iconic Union Flag (or Union Jack, its makes no difference – trust me, I’m a member of the Flag Institute) is based on the original flag of the union of the thrones of England and Scotland in 1601. That original was chosen by the gay “Queen” James I who wanted a new flag to be flown from ships of the unified navy. He asked for a design which combined the flags of England and Scotland so that neither had precedence. Despite this, the finally accepted design gives the Scottish flag precedence in heraldic terms (James was Scottish), being the blue base on which the English cross is placed.

14) Figures from the Ministry of Justice of England and Wales published in November 2019 revealed that more than half of the prisons in England and Wales (62 out of 121) had at least one transgender inmate. This does not include inmates who had received a legal Gender Recognition certificate.

15) The influential queer statesman, philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Alban, (1561-1626) was a pioneer in experimental research. His final experiment was to see if snow would preserve a dead chicken. Conducting the experiment on a cold and snowy Sunday in April he caught a chill and died of pneumonia three days later.

16) Despite popular belief Harvey Milk was NOT the first openly lgbt person to be elected to public office in the USA. He was, at the very least, the 4th. Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGriek were elected to the Ann Arbor city council in Michigan on 3rd April 1972. They both came out as lesbian and gay respectively four months later. They didn’t stand for re-election in 1974 but supported Kathy Kozachenko in her successful campaign to become the first openly lesbian elected official on 2nd April 1974. Harvey Milk wasn’t elected to public office in San Francisco until 1978.

17) Modern democracy was founded in response to the murder of a gay couple, Harmodius and Aristogeiton. They were lovers in ancient Athens during the tyranny of Hipparchus and Hippias. During the ceremonial procession at the Panathenaic Games in 514 BC they killed Hipparchus. Harmodius and Aristogeiton were then murdered by Hippias in retaliation. Hippias was then overthrown and the new rulers created the first modern democracy. They erected a statue in honour of the murdered gay couple.

18) Carl Austen-Behan (b.1972) holds an interesting combination of honours and titles. As an RAF firefighter he won a Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal for rescuing a pilot from a crashed military aircraft in 1992 (he was dismissed in 1997, when it was illegal to be gay in the RAF). In 2001 he was voted Mr Gay UK. In 2016 he became Lord Mayor of Manchester (he was host to the national service of commemoration for the Battle of the Somme centenary). In 2020 he was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for services to charity, the lgbt community and Manchester. He was also appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester by the Lord Lieutenant (the Queen’s representative).

19) Spintry is an old word for a male prostitute and gay sex. The word was used in England during the 17th century. It originates from a Greek work for a bracelet. The allusion is that a hand goes through the bracelet – I’ll leave you to guess why it became used for gay sex and prostitution.

20) Lt. Robert Jones (c.1740-after 1780) of the Royal Artillery popularised figure skating, if not even inventing the modern sport. He designed the first modern ice skate, which had the blade attached to the boot (previously blades were strapped onto ordinary walking boots). In 1772 his book “A Treatise on Skating” was published - during his trial for sodomy. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, King George III must have been a skating fan because he granted Jones a royal pardon – on condition he left the UK for good.