Monday 31 December 2012

On the 7th Gay Day of Christmas ...

… my blogger gave to me …


With 2012 being the 25th anniversary of Matthew Bourne’s “Adventures in Motion Pictures” dance company it seems natural that this Christmas I celebrate by taking inspiration for his most famous innovation into classical ballets – the all-male “Swan Lake”.

Here are 7 gay male dancers who glided swan-like across the world’s stages with grace and elegance, including some who have passed away recently. I’ll start with Matthew Bourne himself.

1) MATTHEW BOURNE (b.1960)
Bourne was artistic director of Adventures in Motion Pictures for fifteen years. At his helm ballet became more accessible to the general public, especially through his innovative use of male swans and other twists to traditional roles. Bourne has also choreographed many musical revivals in the West End.

2) SIR ROBERT HELPMANN (1909-1986)
Robert will always be remembered as the Child Catcher in the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, but he is also Australia’s most famous and prolific ballet dancers and choreographers, although he started his career as a burlesque dancer. After his peak years he became a successful actor on stage and screen as well as choreographer.

3) ALEXANDER GRANT (1925-2011)
A great character dancer from the golden years of the Royal Ballet. He worked closely with Sir Frederick Ashton, who created character parts specially for him, and brought new energy to “older roles” for male dancers in the 1960s. Grant also became leader of the National Ballet of Canada.

4) RUDOLF NUREYEV (1938-1993)
Perhaps the most famous male ballet dancer of the last 50 years. While Principal Dance with the Kirov Ballet he defected to the west, becoming a celebrity in the process. His partnership with Dame Margot Fonteyn has entered legend. He turned to acting, famously appearing nude in “Valentino” in 1982, and was one of the first big names to announce he had AIDS shortly before he died.

5) RICHARD CRAGUN (1944-2012)
An American ballet dancer who partnered ballerina Maria Haydée for thirty years. They became lovers for a while until Richard came out as gay, though they continued to dance together successfully for many years afterwards. In 2000 he moved to Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian boyfriend to form a dance project in the Rio slums.

6) WAYNE SLEEP (b.1948)
Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet, and one of the first British male ballet dancers to move from dance to acting to celebrity. With Alexander Grant he danced in Sir Frederick Ashton’s film “The Tales of Beatrix Potter”. He starred in his own dance series on tv, and now seems to spend most of his time on reality and celebrity shows.

7) NIGEL CHARNOCK (1960-2012)
Co-founder of the contemporary dance company DV8. Nigel often courted controversy with his innovative dances and energetic performances, often by appearing naked. He pioneered the use of all-male dancers in sexually inspired plots. He choreographed pieces for many contemporary dance companies and performed solo.

Sunday 30 December 2012

On the 6th Gay Day of Christmas ...

… my blogger gave to me ..


Goose was the staple diet of most Victorian families on Christmas Day. Goose has also another association with this time of year. The traditional pantomime season is well under way and one of the oldest and most popular panto is “Mother Goose”. It is also the only panto in which the dame character has the title role and, because of this, is generally regarded by actors who play dame, as the best dame role of all.

At first sight it seems that the panto dame is totally different from drag cabaret, but it’s surprising how many cabaret acts have tried their hand at panto. The list below contains performers from both cabaret and panto.

1) Douglas Byng (1893-1987)
Nottingham-born Byng was the biggest cabaret drag act between the two World Wars and into the 60s. His reputation for creating outlandish dame costumes has influenced all Dames to this day. Douglas’s first panto was in 1921 in “Aladdin” at the London Palladium. His first dame roles was as Eliza the Cook in “Dick Whittington” in 1924.

2) Jack Tripp (1922-2005)
The Crown Princess to Douglas Byng’s Queen of Dames. Tripp appeared in over 50 pantomimes, many of them as dame. He once said that Mother Goose was the “Hamlet of Pantomimes”, and it was as Mother Goose that he made his last appearance in 1996. Like Douglas Byng, a Brighton bus is named after him.

3) Danny La Rue (1927-2009)
Better known as a glamorous female impersonator and cabaret star than a panto dame. His first dame role was as an Ugly Sister in “Cinderella” in 1956, a role he played for the next 14 years. He first played Mother Goose in 1984, and repeated the performance for the next three years.

4) John Inman (1935-2007)
Best known  for his role as Mr Humphreys in the camp comedy series “Are You Being Served?”, John was one of many dames to prefer Mother Goose to all other dame roles. He played the role 15 times.

5) Christopher Biggins (b.1948)
Probably the UK’s most famous currently active pantomime dame. His first dame role was as Mother Goose in 1971 at the Civic Theatre in Darlington.

6) And finally – me.
As a girl my mother performed in wartime panto and revue and was a magician’s assistant with family links to the last days of the Music Hall. I’ve played dame several times on the amateur stage but not yet as Mother Goose. But then I don’t think I need to because I’m descended from her! Not the real one, of course. My mother’s grandmother was Sarah Elizabeth Foster Goose. She came from a farming family in the Lincolnshire fens. So she is my grandmother’s “Mother Goose”.

Saturday 29 December 2012

On the 5th Gay Day of Christmas ...

… my blogger gave to me…

Obviously, five rings reminds us of the Olympic Games earlier this year, and gold reminds us of Olympic champions. I think it would be unfair to single out just 5 of this year’s lgbt champions, so I’ll list them all (as known so far) and use the Olympic rings to represent our Christmas gift of 5 gold rings.

Nicola Adams
GB : women’s 51kg boxing
Instantly entered the record books as the first champion in Olympic women’s boxing

Seimone Augustus
USA : Women’s basketball

Carl Hester
GB : Equestrian team dressage

Megan Rapinoe
USA : women’s football

Marilyn Agliotti,
Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel,
Kim Lammers, and
Maartje Paumen
Netherlands : women’s hockey

And a special mention goes to:

Lee Pearson
GB : paralympic equestrian team dressage
This 10th gold paralympic medal for Lee puts him at the top of the Olympic/Paralympic lgbt champions list.

Friday 28 December 2012

On the 4th Gay Day of Christmas ...

… my blogger gave to me …


When I was growing up this verse always went “4 colley birds”. I couldn’t understand why people kept singing “4 calling birds”, and still don’t. Colley is a traditional English word meaning “black”, and a colley bird is another name for the common blackbird. My mother often used to refer to blackbirds as colley birds when she saw them in the garden.

Colley birds – blackbirds – were a delicacy at Christmas time and can also be found in the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence”.

There are other regional, dialect and slang words for the blackbird. So, on this 4th Day of Christmas I bring to you 4 lgbt people whose names are different names for the blackbird, my 4 gay colley birds.

FRANK MERLO (1922-1963)
(Merlo – the name for blackbird in Galician and Esperanto)
Long-term partner of playwright Tennessee Williams. They met in 1947 and became a couple a year later with Merlo becoming his personal assistant. Merlo is recognised as the key stabilising factor in William’s troubled life. During their time together Williams had his greatest successes. Merlo was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and Williams cared for him until his death in 1963.

MERLE WOO (b.1941)
(Merle – blackbird in Old English and Old French)
American-born activist and lecturer of mixed Asian heritage. Merle is often an outspoken critic on the portrayal and perception of Asian women. She has also written poetry and prose on the subject. Merle was twice fired from her post as lecturer at the University of California Berkeley, and both times was reinstated after winning free speech lawsuits.

MERYL COHN (b.1962)
(Meryl – 17th and 18th century variant of “merle”)
“Agony aunt” and advice columnist writing as Ms Behaviour. Her column is syndicated to several US lgbt newspapers and magazines. In 1995 Meryl published “Ms Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette”, and has written several plays and many articles.

DARYL COLLEY (1971-2001)
(Colley – traditional English name for the blackbird)
Australian drag queen by the name of Rosie. Diagnosed HIV+ he also believed he had a brain tumour. He asked his lover Raymond to help him commit suicide because he didn’t want to be remembered as a “dribbling mess”. It was ruled that Daryl died from a self-administered drug overdose before Raymond attempted to suffocate him.

Thursday 27 December 2012

On the 3rd Gay Day of Christmas ...

… my blogger gave to me …


There’s no clear reason why the hens given on the 3rd day of Christmas should be French. But, as the national bird of France is the cockerel, I can find no other reason than to present you with three French women.

1) COLETTE (1873-1954)
One of France’s most popular authors who had affairs with men and women, and who fictionalised her experiences in several books. Her husband encouraged her lesbianism for his own enjoyment, and Colette left him at the start of her lesbian affair with a French aristocrat. Her most famous novella “Gigi” was turned into an Oscar-winning musical film.

2) MARIA SCHNEIDER (1952-2011)
Actor whose most famous (and notorious) role was opposite Marlon Brando in “Last Tango in Paris” in 1972, an experience which led her to work for improvements in the treatment of female actors in the film industry. Maria continued to appear in films until 2008, and in 2010 became a Chevalier of the Ordre des Artes and des Lettres for services to the Arts (the French equivalent of Dame).

In 2004 Amélie became the first French tennis player to reach No. 1 ranking in the world without winning a Grand Slam title. She earned a reputation for losing finals matches due to nerves, but she proved to the world she was a great champion by winning the World Championships in 2005, and the Wimbledon and Australian Open titles in 2006. As a junior player she was also a Wimbledon and French Open champion in 1996. Amélie won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

On the 2nd Gay Day of Christmas ...

… my blogger gave to me …

A pair of turtle doves have been a symbol of love for centuries. In several countries around the world this year one of the main topics debated by politicians has been gay marriage. In the UK December is the month in which lgbt couples were given the right to register civil partnerships in 2005.

When the first civil partnerships were held there was intensive media coverage, and most (if not all) of the local tv stations around the country featured at least one ceremony in their news broadcasts on that day, interviewing the happy couple. Quite a few of the actual first civil partners did not want the media coverage and publicity and their privacy was respected.

Even though the Civil Partnership Act came into force officially on 21st December 2005 there was confusion over the rule regarding a waiting period between giving a notice to register and the actual registration ceremony. Because of this in Northern Ireland and Scotland partnerships were registered before the 21st (19th and 20th respectively).

However, the first legal civil partnership actually took place on 5th December 2005. A special dispensation was given to Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp of Worthing, and it is this couple who I present as my Two Turtle Doves. And it’s a love story with special significance for today, Boxing Day.
Matthew (left) and Chris

Matthew and Chris met in 1993 in a Brighton nightclub. They hit it off immediately and became friends. However, they didn’t become a couple until 5 years later because Chris wasn’t sure of his sexuality and regarded himself as straight. Matthew persevered, and every now and then raised the subject of a gay relationship.

In 1998 both Matthew and Chris were going to spend Christmas Day on their own, so they decided to celebrate it together. With no expectations other than companionship both men felt the time was right, and in the early hours of Boxing Day 1998 they made love for the first time.

On St. Valentine’s Day 2005 things started to test their love. It wasn’t the fault of any person. Matthew complained of a stomach pain. It went on for several weeks and doctors couldn’t find anything wrong at first. They even suggested Matthew take an HIV test.

It wasn’t until October that an inoperable cancer was found beneath Matthew’s liver, and it would only be a matter of time before it took his life.

Matthew and Chris had discussed marriage of some kind several times, but gay marriage wasn’t, and isn’t, legal in the UK. The Civil Partnership had been passed and was due to come into force so they planned a ceremony for 2006 or 2007. But Matthew’s health deteriorated quickly and it looked as if he wouldn’t see the New Year.

Time was not on their side. They put their case to the local register office who confirmed that there were means put in place for partnerships to be performed without the waiting period in exceptional circumstances. They realised that these were indeed exceptional circumstances and arranged for the ceremony to take place on the day the act came into force without going through the waiting period – 5th December 2005.

It was a historic moment. The first civil partnership in the UK. Even the registrar showed great pride when remarking on the occasion. It was truly a great moment for Matthew, Chris and their family and friends.

That night a double bed was wheeled into Matthew’s room in the hospital and he and Chris spent their first night together as civil partners. In the morning Matthew didn’t wake up. The families quickly gathered at his bedside as he slipped away.

In the words of Chris “For Matthew and I, getting married wasn’t about gay rights – it was about equal rights to be with someone you want to be with”.

On this 2nd Day of Christmas I hope that the symbolic turtle doves give hope that everyone can be with the one they love.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

On the First Gay Day of Christmas ...

... my blogger gave to me -


Sir Nick Partridge (left) is Chief Executive of the Terence Higgins Trust and one of the UK’s leading AIDS campaigners. He was knighted for service to healthcare in 2009.

A partridge was a traditional game bird at Christmas, but if we dig up Nick’s Partridge roots we’ll find he has another seasonal game birds sitting in his family tree.

The family link is still remembered in Nick’s full name – Nicholas Wyndham Partridge. The name Wyndham descends through his mother’s family, the Wilders. The Wilder family come from Wallingford in Berkshire. They earned a fortune during the Industrial Revolution by starting up an iron foundry. There are still iron structures in Wallingford today which were cast at Wilder’s foundry. The business is still in existence as Lister-Wilder, a leading agriculture and garden machinery manufacturer, though the family sold the business in 1998.

Sir Nick’s grandfather, Richard John Wilder, a partner in the foundry, was married to Crystal Elsie Stride. It is her family which provides the seasonal game bird connection though it is probably one which Nick might not be too keen to publicise!

Crystal Elsie Stride was the daughter of Herbert Wyndham Stride, the head gamekeeper to Sir Walter Gilbey at Elsenham Hall in Essex. Stride’s father was also a gamekeeper and farm steward, and Herbert himself entered the gamekeeping profession as soon as he left school. By the age of 27 Herbert was head gamekeeper to Sir Walter, living in a cottage on the Elsenham estate. In 1900 he and his family moved out of the cottage and rented a neighbouring farm at Little Henhan. That’s when things started to happen.

As head gamekeeper it was Herbert Stride’s responsibility to ensure that there was plenty of game for the landowner and his guests to hunt. This included pheasant. On Sir Walter’s estate the pheasant lived freely among the woods rather than in special pens.

In 1906 Sir Walter discovered that Herbert Stride had been selling thousands of pheasant’s eggs to another gamekeeper in north Wales for several years. Stride was prosecuted for the theft of some 9,000 eggs. In his defence Stride claimed the eggs came from pheasants living on his own farm and were not from Sir Walter’s estate. The court didn’t believe him and he was found guilty. The judge sentenced him to one year’s hard labour.

Stride appealed against his conviction but it was upheld, so presumably he had to undergo his one year’s hard labour. That seems rather harsh punishment to me – people get less than that these days for queer-bashing!

By 1911 Herbert Wyndham Stride was living as a farmer at Britwell Priory in Oxfordshire. He died in 1919 at the age of 55 leaving an estate worth over £25,000.

So, from pheasants to partridges. Herbert’s granddaughter Patricia married Ernest Partridge in 1948 and they were the parents of Sir Nick Partridge.

Perhaps today’s heading should have read “A Pheasant in Partridge’s Family Tree”.

Thursday 20 December 2012

In Remembrance

2012 has seen the passing of many members of the lgbt community who influenced the world around us. Here is just a short list of some of them.

19th      Rudi van Dantzig, choreographer, aged 78
21st      Emmanuel Cooper, potter, aged 73
23rd      Harry Loen, journalist, aged 67

10th      Steve Walker, artist, aged 51
20th      Robert K. Martin, gay studies academic, aged 57

7th        Cris Alexander, photographer and actor, aged 92
25th      Bettie Naylor, activist, aged 84
25th      Dan Luckenbill, archivist and researcher, aged 67
27th      Adrienne Rich, poet and essayist, aged 82

9th        John Golding, art historian, aged 82
12th      Mark Frankland, MI6 spy and journalist, aged 77
21st      Charles Higham, biographer, aged 81

8th        Maurice Sendak,  children’s author, aged 84
25th      Rosemary Curb Keefe, author and editor, aged 62
30th      Dudley Clendenin, journalist, aged 67

19th      Victor Spinetti, actor, aged 82
24th      Gerhard “Gad” Beck, Holocaust survivor, aged 88
28th      Dr. Richard Isay, psychiatrist and gay rights activist, aged 77

23rd      Sally Ride, first female American astronaut, aged 61
31st      Gore Vidal, writer and political commentator, aged 86

4th        Michael Neale OBE, engineer, aged 85
5th        Chavela Vargas, Mexican singer, aged 93
5th        Jack Fertig, astrologer, Sister Boom Boom, aged 57
6th        Richard Cragun, ballet dancer, aged 64
9th        David Rakoff, humorist, aged 47
12th      Dominic Hibbard, academic and biographer, aged 70
14th      Ron Palillo, actor, aged 63
20th      Daryl Hine, poet, aged 76
31st      Allan Horsfall, gay rights pioneer, aged 84

18th      PC Fiona Bone, officer shot on duty, aged 32

1st        Sgt. Donna Johnson, killed by an Afghan suicide bomber, aged 23
21st      Steve Paul, New York club owner, aged 71
26th      Mark Richards, Broadway producer, aged 80
27th      Hans Werner Henze, composer, aged 86

4th        Robert Marlowe, producer of traditional British seaside shows, aged 83
7th        Richard Robbins, film composer for Merchant-Ivory, aged 71
9th        William Brandon Lacy Campus, activist and writer, aged 35
14th      Howard Wallace, AIDS activist, aged 76
24th      Gray Foy, artist, aged 90

14th      Kenneth Kendall, first on-screen BBC newsreader, aged 88
17th      Laurier LaPierre, Canadian senator, aged 83
18th      Spencer Cox, AIDS activist, aged 44

There won’t be another post for several days. I’m having a little break and will be back on Christmas Day with the first of my 12 Gay Days of Christmas bonanza. So, until then, have a Merry Christmas.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Flower Power - For the Love of a Lad

This month’s flower is not exclusively connected with gay men but to all men generally. However, given the special properties the flower is said to bestow, and the apocryphal reputation for gay men being obsessed with sex, it only seems natural to mention it.

The flower’s name says it all – lad’s love.

All through history this plant (botanical name Artemisia abrotanum) has been recognised as a great help to men in demonstrating their masculinity. And by that I don’t just mean in the bedroom. Young men in ancient Roman times thought that rubbing fresh leaves of this plant on their faces would help them grow a beard faster, thereby reaching full manhood quicker.

Lad’s love is one of the common English medieval names for this plant, as is another name use since those times – Maid’s ruin! From this its no surprise to learn that it was used by men to help improve their sexual prowess, and what women thought about it! Both the ancient Greeks and Romans put sprigs of it under their beds to help their love-making, though whether it was just the men who placed it there without the women’s knowledge isn’t recorded.

It wasn’t long before medieval men were making or buying love potions made from it, and sprigs of lad’s love were often included in bouquets given by men to the girl of their desire in the hope it would encourage romance. This is rather strange, because according to medieval lore women also used to carry posies of lad’s love with them into church to stop them falling asleep! So perhaps the young men used lad’s love to stop their girlfriends from falling asleep in bed as well! It seems that the plant has always had a more beneficial effect on a man than a woman.

But, then again, the celebrated 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that lad’s love would help women at a certain time of the month as well.

Bearing this in mind it would have been a natural plant to use by gay men – a plant that increases your virility and appeal. It would have the same effect on the man’s partner – and stop him from falling asleep as well perhaps!

Scientifically speaking, lad’s love isn’t known to have any proven effect on the hormonal activity of either men or women, but it is said that if included in salads and pastries it can help digestion.

If it can be proved that lad’s love can improve a man’s virility we may have found a cheaper alternative to viagra!

Thursday 13 December 2012

Olympic Epilogue

As a farewell to London 2012 I’d like to round up new research and information I didn’t have space for in my Olympic Countdown series.

First, the list of lgbt athletes has increased. For some reason I left out Graeme Obree. This British cyclist was at Atlanta in 1996 and came out last year. Perhaps he’ll always be remembered for the controversies surrounding the design of his cycles rather than anything else. And an omission from the torch relay list is Mark Tewksbury, who carried the torch in Canada for the Athens 2004 relay.

Back with Atlanta I mentioned the bombing but not a dispute between the organisers and the lgbt community over the venue for the volleyball competition. The local council passed a resolution in 1993 denouncing homosexuality as “incompatible with the standards” of their community. Groups within and outside the lgbt community objected to having the volleyball staged there. The Olympic committees hoped that doing nothing would make it go away. Diving champion Greg Louganis, who had just come out, decided to use his acceptance speech at the US Olympic Festival’s Robert J Kane Award ceremony in 1994 to raise the issue in front of a public microphone, which slapped the Atlanta committee into action. Three weeks later the volleyball competition was moved to another venue.

American figure skater from Turin 2006, Matt Savioe, ended years of rumour by announcing his marriage to partner Brian Boyle in October. Orlando Cruz becomes the 2nd Olympic boxer after Mark Leduc to come out. He competed for Puerto Rico in Sydney 2000 and turned professional afterwards. He is currently ranked 4th in the featherweight division in the WBO and is the only out professional competing boxer.

Another Olympic boxer was outed last month when the Independent on Sunday newspaper published its annual Pink List of the most influential lgbt people in the UK. This year’s list included all of Team GB’s out athletes and placed Nicola Adams in the No. 1 spot. Nicola was the first female British boxer to win a gold medal. Also in the Pink List was the captain of Team GB’s female football team, Casey Stoney. She joined coach Hope Powell on the list. However, Casey’s sexuality has been doubted on several blogs and social media networks.

One winter Olympian to add to the list is Barbara Jezeršek, the Croatian cross-country skier. She competed at Vancouver 2010 and has been out since 2008.

Last month I gave a brief life story of Kathleen Rose Winter, the first identified lgbt Paralympian. I received a wonderful email from Kathleen’s partner Elandria thanking me, and passing on more information. Kathleen was also a keen campaigner for children’s education, a reason why she enjoyed being a supply teacher. Kathleen’s Paralympic career also took her to Athens in 2004, and dreamt of one day seeing Paralympians and Olympians competing together.

Among the volunteers at this year’s Paralympic opening ceremony, floating around the stadium at the beginning, was Miro Civin (he’s in green with a yellow umbrella if you want to spot him on the dvd!). Miro is a Gay Games and Eurogames athlete, was Mr Leather Holland 2001 and Mr EuroDeaf Phwoar 2007.

London 2012’s overall Creative Producer, Stephen Daldry, personally directed the sequence of David Beckham transporting the flame along the Thames. In my opinion the ceremonies were poorer without the input from carnival designer Peter Minshall and choreographer Doug Jack, perhaps the two gay men who have shaped the look of western Olympic ceremonies more than any others. Both won Emmys for the Salt Lake City 2002 winter games, and Doug’s giant “skier” segment in Turin 2006 will always be one of my favourite moments.

One element introduced by Doug and his team was to lift the ceremony off the stadium floor. Attempts were made to fill the air before – doves, balloons and jet packs – but Doug introduced performers on wires. This was used briefly this year with the entrance of 30 Mary Poppins’, and reached its pinnacle with the arrival of the Paralympic flame. Doug Jack has actually worked on 12 Olympic ceremonies, more than anyone else in a creative role. He also took part in the Salt Lake City torch relay.

I was reminded of Salt Lake City during the catwalk sequence in London’s closing ceremony. With Barcelona 1992 and Turin 2006, Salt Lake also had a sequence featuring special designs from famous fashion houses, including Versace and Dolce and Gabbana.

The success of the Pride Houses in Vancouver and London has led to others being planned for Rio and other international sporting events. The judicial ban on a Pride House at Sochi 2014 has been countered by calls for individual competing countries to set up their own lgbt space in the Olympic village.

There’s still so much more to tell you, but I’ll leave it there – but except a final golden flourish later this month in my 12 Gay Days of Christmas.

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

Monday 10 December 2012

Queer Achievement - Michelangelo

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

This month’s Queer Achievement is different in that it is the first one in this series that was inherited. The previous two (Elton John and John Bercow) were granted to each man personally because they had no known entitlement to inherited arms from a family of their name.

The first of the queer inherited arms belongs to the great artist Michelangelo. He claimed descent from an old noble family from Florence, the counts of Canossa, but there is no documentary evidence to prove it, only family tradition.

The coat of arms which Michelangelo is known to have used himself is the main one I’ve produced above. I have been unable to verify a crest or motto used by the family so is only half of a heraldic achievement so I haven't been able to incorporate the rainbow and pink triangles as before.

The original coat of arms of the Buonarroti Simoni (Michelangelo’s family) was blue with 2 diagonal yellow stripes near the bottom of the shield. The symbolism of this design is unknown, but it was often the case that families adopted the same colours of their local lord or ruler. In this case it may be possible that the Buonarroti Simoni adopted the colours of their traditional ancestors the counts of Canossa (who had a yellow dog on a blue shield as their coat of arms). There were additions made to the design which point to the family’s rise in importance in Florence.

At some time during the 14th century the family received what is called an augmentation of honour. This means that some ruler gave them a special new addition to their coat of arms in commemoration of some important event. For the Buonarroti Simoni this event was their support for Charles d’Anjou, King of Naples. Sometimes the augmentation is based on the coat of arms of the ruler giving it. You can see from the picture of King Charles of Naples’s coat of arms (right) which part of Michelangelo’s arms came from his family’s support for Charles. A lot of other Italian families adopted this part of King Charles’s coat of arms (at the top of the shield, called the chief) and it even has its own name in heraldry – the “capo d’Anjou” or “chief of Anjou”.

Even during Michelangelo’s lifetime another augmentation of honour was granted to the family, this time by Pope Leo X. In 1515 Leo created Michelangelo’s brother a count. As a special mark of honour the pope granted a new augmentation to be placed at the top of the existing arms rather than over it (below left). The new augmentation was influenced by the family arms of Pope Leo, the Medici (below right). L and X stand for Leo X.

Pope Leo himself has been the subject of speculation into his sexuality. Though this is perhaps better dealt with individually in a later post.

Friday 7 December 2012

Christmas Preview

Those of you who read my blog last Christmas may remember my series called “The 12 Gays of Christmas”. This year I’m going to go one better and follow the lyrics of the famous Christmas song more closely and bring you “The 12 Gay Days of Christmas”.

For each of the gifts mentioned in the song I’ll give a queer interpretation by linking it to people in the lgbt community. As the song says, on “the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …” a total of 78 gifts. By the end of the series I’ll have listed 78 people to go with them (actually I’ll list more, but you’ll have to wait and see exactly how many!).

You’ll see what I mean when we get started, which will be on Christmas Day itself and will continue every day until 5th January 2013, when the twelfth and final gifts are given. I won’t give an introduction to the whole series every day, just an introduction for the gifts given on that day.

To whet your appetite here’s just a hint of what to expect. Among the Christmas people will be :
viral investigators,
an Esperanto blackbird,
a cavalry officer who preferred giraffes,
and my great-grand-Mother Goose.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Star Gayzing - One Man and his Snake

Almost exactly 17 years ago there was quite a bit of fuss in the British newspapers about the “discovery” of a 13th sign of the zodiac. In a BBC television series called “Heavenly Bodies” a member of the Royal Astronomical Society revealed that between the constellations of Scorpio and Sagittarius was another that crossed the ecliptic (what I like to call the zodiac line), the line that marks the sun’s progression through one constellation to the next. That extra zodiac constellation is Ophiucus.

It wasn’t a new suggestion, but it upset a lot of the tabloid newspapers because they relied on daily horoscopes to help keep regular readers and an extra star sign mucked things up! Ever since 1933 when the present constellations were made “official” anyone with a star map could see that Ophiucus crosses the zodiac line for themselves quite clearly (as can be seen in the accompanying map).

I won’t go into the slagging match that went on between astronomer and astrologers over the matter, so we’ll turn to the constellation itself.

Generally speaking, Ophiucus is represented on old star maps as a Greek man holding a snake in his hands – the constellation Serpens, divided into 2 (Serpens Caput, the serpent’s head, and Serpens Cauda, the serpent’s tail). Quite often this man is identified as Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, son of last month’s star subject Apollo. The snake entwined around Asclepius’s walking staff is still used as a symbol of healing (the 2 snakes entwined around a winged staff that you often see is a symbol of Hermes and has nothing to do with healing).

But if we go back to the origin of the name Ophiucus and its earliest depictions we’ll discover why I believe that identifying the constellation with Asclepius is wrong, and that it actually represents one of Apollo’s many male lovers.

The word Ophiucus means “snake bearer”. It seems that this area of the sky has had snake connections since the ancient Babylonians. In the 4th century BC the constellation is described as a man wrestling with a giant snake around his waist, grasping it’s head and tail in his hands. Pictorial versions also show him like this. This means that the constellation representing the snake – Serpens – is divided into 2 with Ophiucus in the middle (see the map again – Ophiucus is in pink, Serpens in light green). So we must consider both constellations together.

In the legends of Asclepius there is no story of him wrestling or battling snakes, only observing them.

The most likely origin of Ophiucus and the snake comes from the Mediterranean island we now know as Rhodes. Legend says that the island was overrun with giant snakes or dragons. The people of Rhodes called their island Ophiussa, the Lands of the Snakes (“ophi” means “snake”). The dragon-snakes killed many people and soon the island was virtually uninhabited by humans. In their desperation the remaining islanders called upon Apollo to send them a hero who could kill the monsters.

Apollo sent young Phorbas of Thessalia. The legends say he was one of Apollo’s young lovers but they don’t go into any other detail. On his arrival on Rhodes Phorbas set to and killed all the giant dragon-snakes. In gratitude Apollo asked Zeus to put Phorbas in the night sky as the snake-battling Ophiucus.

To me this seems the most likely origin of Ophiucus and Serpens than the Roman-based Asclepius version. And as far as the 13th sign of the zodiac is concerned – according to modern astrology we’re right in the middle of it now.

Saturday 1 December 2012

World AIDS Day

Photo by Neil Page. Courtesy of Neil Page Creative.
Perhaps no other disease has been misunderstood, researched or argued over in the past 30 years as much as AIDS. Thankfully, a lot more is known about it than even 10 years ago and the chances of living with AIDS in less pain is greater than ever before.

The Health Protection Agency released figures this week which reveals that rates of HIV patients in the UK has risen to about 96,000, with new diagnoses among gay men reaching an all-time high in 2011 at 3,010. This figure means that 5% of gay men in the UK are HIV+. The figure for London is higher, at 1 in 12 men.

These figures show that we must not get complacent about HIV and AIDS.

At first I though of compiling a brief timeline of the main events in HIV and AIDS research for today’s World AIDS Day, of how doctors and scientists discovered what it was, what it did, how it spread, and how to treat it. But the more I did my research the more confusing the task became. Not least of all were the medical terms that were difficult to understand without being in the medical profession, which I’m not.

Instead, I’m directing you to the Avert website. Over the past year I haven’t come across another history of HIV and AIDS research that treats the subject chronologically rather than retrospectively – only on rare occasions does it mention something happening in, say 1985, if it wasn’t discovered until 2005. I find it easier to follow the development of AIDS research as it unfolds, with no “spoilers”, just as the scientists were detectives  discovering key evidence to help solve the puzzle.

The Avert history of AIDS is the most comprehensive and readable version I have found. I hope you find it informative and useful.