Tuesday 30 July 2013

On Track to the Outgames - Part 10

Tomorrow the 3rd  World Outgames begins in Antwerp with the lgbt and human rights conference. To celebrate I’m continuing my history of the Outgames with a concluding look at the 2nd North American Outgames of Vancouver 2011 and some of the sporting events.

Space restricts me covering all of the sports but here are a handful of notable performances. Dean Koga, who was injured in the bomb attack at the Copenhagen Outgames in 2009, won 6 gold medals in his age group on the running track. The oldest athlete at the games, 86-year-old Len Trisch, won 2 golds on the track, knocking 3 seconds off the world record in the 100m in his age group.

One trans athlete deserves a mention. A. J. Stachelek of the New York FrontRunners club won 6 gold medals (with a bronze to go with them, I think A. J. won the most medals by an individual at these games). A. J. was competing internationally for the last time as a woman, and her medal haul and other achievements made her the New York FrontRunner’s Athlete of the Year. On New Years’ Day 2012 he became registered as a male athlete. Since transitioning A. J. has become more confident as a person and as an athlete, and has since competed in triathlon and Ironman competitions. And behind every successful athlete is a supporting partner, in this case his girlfriend Rachel Cutler, who won gold in 10k run ahead of A. J.’s bronze.

The women’s 15-23 handicap golf tournament was won by Corrine Hunt. How’s this for a unique sporting moment – Corinne was presented with the gold medal, which was designed by … Corrine Hunt! A First Nation artist and designer, Corrine’s work often incorporates native design and symbolism. Her medal for the Outgames included elements of the Outgames theme – land (wolf’s head), sea (orca) and sky (raven).

Corrine is no stranger to sporting medal design. She designed the medals for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics as well. Below are both medal designs (I plan to cover the Olympic medal in more detail next year).

I’ll end by taking you back to the start of the Vancouver Outgames. Lgbt sport doesn’t really have anything as iconic as the Olympic torch. What it does have, however, is the Rainbow Pride flag. Like the Olympic flag this has been raised at all the lgbt sports festival around the world. And like a torch it can be carried aloft with pride.

One pre-games run involving the Rainbow flag has taken place prior to some of the Gay Games – the Rainbow Run – created and organised by Brent Nicholson Earle. For the Vancouver Outgames a new relay was created called “Running of the Flags”. Flag-running is an age-old tradition in many countries around the world. The relay was divided into 3 geographical sections, each one representing part of the Outgames theme of “land, sea and sky”.

Each leg of the relay consisted of 3 runners carrying 3 flags – the Rainbow Pride flag, the Vancouver Outgames flag, and the flag of the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (North America chapter). The first runners assembled at Vancouver’s city hall. There the city’s mayor Gregor Robertson officially proclaimed the beginning of Pride Week. After the raising of the main Rainbow flag and a welcome and rallying call from the First Nations the first runners were whisked away to their starting points. The land team went to Simon Fraser University, the sea team to the University of British Colombia, and the sky team to the top of Whistler Mountain.

Over 70 runners carried the 9 flags from their starting points back into Vancouver to converge on the art gallery. Using various methods of transport – train, helicopter, bike, and foot – the Running of the Flags provided a spectacular sight as they passed through the city streets.

At the art gallery all the flags and runners congregated to herald the start of the official opening ceremony. The climax of the ceremony was the lighting of the cauldron. This was performed by the youngest and oldest athletes at the games – the above-mentioned Len Trisch, and a 15-year-old softball player (whose name I cannot find, perhaps someone out there does, let me know).

I began these two articles on the Vancouver Outgames by mentioning sporting legacy. I’ll end with a legacy from the Outgames. In 2011 at the 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames in New Zealand a fund was set up to help smaller nations and communities within that region to create their own sport and human rights festivals. The first of these was held in 2012 – the 1st Philippine Outgames. My next “On Track to the Outgames” article will feature that event, and will be posted during the run of the 3rd World Outgames in August.

LEFT : One of Corrine's several hundred individual designs for the Vancouver 2010
Olympic Games medals. RIGHT: Corrine's design for the Vancouver 2011 Outgames.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Pride Connections

Today is Nottinghamshire Pride just down the road in Nottingham’s Arboretum. This year’s theme is “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”, featuring a character I mentioned in one of my “Star Gayzing” articles, the March Hare. Even at this late stage I’m not sure if I’ll dress up for it. Mind you, several years ago I went in my denim cowboy gear with big cowboy hat. My old mate Leon Unczur, then the Sheriff of Nottingham,  opened Pride that year, and we joked about who had the silliest hat!

Last year I mentioned how the whole Pride march idea was brought to the UK by Nottingham-born Bob Mellors. To celebrate today’s Pride here is a progression of connections which takes in Pride, the Nature or Nurture gay debate and an American Senator.

1)         Today’s Nottinghamshire Pride takes the theme of The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

2)         The first Gay Pride in the UK took place on 1st July 1972. It was co-founded by Bob Mellors, a Nottingham man who got the idea from the American Gay Liberation Front’s Pride march in New York in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots.

3)         Bob Mellors wrote an unpublished biography of Dr. Charlotte Bach, an evolutionary theorist who believed that humans are naturally being pulled towards becoming the opposite sex. The early Gay Lib movement to which Bob Mellors belonged was attracted to this idea, as it implied that homosexuality was pushing evolutionary change in the human species. In those days before proper research was done, this theory provided a “reason for being” in the gay community. When Dr. Bach died she left her entire library to Bob. But what Bob or anybody never knew in her lifetime was that she was actually a non-op transgendered person.

4)         Charlotte Bach was born Karoly Hajdu in Hungary. He married and had children, but eventually spent his entire life dressed as a woman. Her evolutionary theories became the basis of a new science of Human Ethology. Bob Mellors wrote the 4-volume work “An Outline of Human Ethology”. Apart for the Gay Lib movement the theories became popular with some eminent academics and writers, among them writer-philosopher Colin Wilson, who featured Charlotte’s life and work in his book “The Misfits”.

5)         Colin Wilson’s interest in Charlotte Bach was centred more on her status as an “outsider”, a social and geographic term he used as the title of his major book in 1956. In “Misfits” Wilson explored the sexual “outsiders” in various communities. In the 1970s Wilson, who was thrown out of the RAF by claiming to be gay, began writing about the occult, mysticism and the paranormal.

6)         Wilson’s books on the occult and the paranormal were popular in the era of the New Age revolution of the 1970s and 80s. People like Uri Geller became well-known celebrities due to their alleged psychic abilities. In the 1980s a counter-psychic revolution began, as scientists and, more prominently, magicians began to show that the psychic and paranormal powers were performed by trickery.

7)         Even though many psychics and their powers, whether telepathy, faith healing or spoon-bending, were proven to be trickery there remained many people who were willing to overlook scientific explanations and believe in the psychics. These people came from all parts of society, even the highest levels of influence. One person who was a firm believer in psychic powers, in spite of the evidence that disproved them, was the Senator of Rhode Island, Claiborne Pell.

8)         During one performance deliberately set up to expose the trickery of some psychic powers, Senator Pell (whose lesbian daughter Julia came out last year) still believed in the powers of the paranormal. The person who unsuccessfully tried to persuade him otherwise was one of America’s leading magicians, James Randi.

9)         James Randi is a leading authority on magic and paranormal “debunking”. One of his most famous confrontations  was with the afore-mentioned Uri Geller. Just as Uri Geller turned spoon-bending into  a “spectator sport” so James proved many times how it can be done by trickery. Several law suits flew between Geller and Randi over claims of defamation, but they came to an end in a mysteriously secret out of court settlement. What Randi, who came out in 2010 at the age of 81, has shown in that many tricks of the psychic’s trade have long been performed by magicians.

10)       James Randi is one of my favourite magicians. I’ve been an amateur magician most of my adult life (I may even post some YouTube videos of me doing some tricks sometime). In recent years there has been a resurgence of street magic and large-scale illusions. Gone are the days, it seems, of the traditional magician in the mould of Paul Daniels, David Nixon, Channing Pollock and the old masters of close-up magic. But still the mention of a magician still conjures up images of a deck of cards, a white rabbit, and a top hat ….

All of which bring me back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and today’s Nottinghamshire Pride.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

On Track to the Outgames - Part 9

Whether the 2012 Olympics will help London’s bid to host the 2018 Gay Games remains to be seen, but in 2011 the 2nd North American Outgames got a significant boost from the Olympic legacy of the Vancouver Winter Olympic games.

Vancouver was chosen as host city of the 2nd North American Outgames in 2007. The Vancouver Olympics were held in 2010 and the British Colombia provincial government had put a lot of money into those games. Thanks to the games’ success the provincial government recognised the value and importance of supporting another international multi-sport festival. In June 2011 the British Colombia sport and culture minister announced a $75,000 grant to the  Vancouver Outgames. This provided a much welcome last boost to the Outgames that were to start on 25th July – 2 years ago tomorrow.

Because the Vancouver Outgames were the most recent big continental games there’s still a lot of information available. To give proper justice to these games I’m doing what I did with the 2009 Copenhagen World Outgames and splitting the article into two.

The Vancouver organising committee managed to produce an Outgames that was traditional yet innovative at the same time. The human rights conference as pretty much the same as previous ones, though, of course, there was a North Americans core to the programme. It ran for 3 days in the middle of the sports competitions. This could have provided a problem for those delegates of the conference who were hoping to compete as well. Even more so for speakers who were competing, I expect. Fortunately, the main speaker for the official opening session, Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup, had a full day after the conference closed to prepare for his gold medal-winning run in the 10k.

Quite a few sessions were centred on age – both old and young. Sessions on homophobia in school and universities, and coming out were organised, while another session was entitled “Engaging the Aging Athlete”. The British Colombia government offered funding specifically to young and senior delegates wishing to attend the conference.

The conference attracted several prominent speakers. As well as Blake Skjellerup, a leading writer on women and sport, Pat Griffin, spoke at several sessions.

The art and culture section of the Outgames included Vancouver Pride Week ending with the Pride parade the day after the official closing ceremony. The culture events included a week-long Queer History project, special performances of “Confessions of a Mad Drag Queen” and the 23rd annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

The opening and closing ceremonies were fantastic events full of fun, pride and celebration. The official Vancouver Outgames anthem “Come on Out” was written and performed at both ceremonies by lesbian duo Sugarbeach. The day-long closing celebrations also had appearances from Ace of Base and stars of “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” leading a flash mob dance.

The main innovations to the Outgames came in the sport. For the first time in an lgbt multi-sport festival there was no swimming competition. Like the field hockey, mountain biking and bowling competitions, swimming attracted a surprisingly low number of entrants. All of these sports were dropped from the schedule. Track and field events almost followed them at the last minute. The athletic club who was to have hosted the track and field events pulled out of the Outgames a week before they began, claiming that not enough interest has been shown. There were 89 registered athletes for the events and frantic efforts were made to ensure they went ahead. A new club and venue was contracted and the track and field events were saved.

In Vancouver’s bid for the games an emphasis was made on the wider sporting arena, not just city venues but sea and mountain as well – the theme of the games was “Land, Sea and Sky”. Several sailing and mountain bike events had been held in previous Outgames but Vancouver came up with the new Eco-Challenge, a gruelling 3-hour-plus challenge involving hiking, running, swimming, orienteering, canoeing and biking on Whistler Mountain. Greg Larocque was one of the gold medal winners – just a day before the start of the conference of which he was Co-Chair! Fellow conference committee member Gordon Dunbar won silver.

For those a little daunted by the Eco-Challenge but still quite adventurous was the 6k Vertical Challenge. This is an established annual race called the Grouse Grind where athletes hike up Grouse Mountain. The fastest athlete was Tin Vo from Niagra who completed the challenge in 61 minutes (he also won silver in the 10k run).

Next time I’ll mention a handful of notable achievements in the sport competition, including the most unique medal ceremony in history – ever!!

Sunday 21 July 2013

Holding the Torch High for the Community

On this day last year lgbt sports campaigner and member of the London 2012 Diversity Committee, John Amaechi, was standing on top of the North Greenwich Arena holding aloft the Olympic torch (and holding aloft gymnast superstar Nadia Comaneci as well!). The UK was fired up with Olympic fever as the London 2012 games approached. It was the torch relay that fired up the enthusiasm more than anything else as it made its way around the country.

I’d never given the torch relay much thought in past years, but this began to change when I realised that the torch would be in Nottingham on my birthday! And I was even more pleased to see Torvill and Dean light the community cauldron in the Old Market Square with my old friend Leon Unczur (the first openly gay Lord Mayor in the UK), dressed in his best civic finery, looking on.

After doing a bit of digging around I realised that the torch relay is relatively under-researched. I tried to find out how many lgbt torch bearers there have been but there are actually very few published complete lists from previous relays to research. Last year I gave a list of lgbt torch bearers I had identified up to London 2012. Since then I have managed to identify more.

One thing which surprised me was the number of HIV+ torch bearers there have been, and how many years ago. In fact, HIV and AIDS have been a big cause for many torch bearers over the years and in December I’ll cover this in more detail. For now I’ll leave you with my most recent list of lgbt Olympic torch bearers. They are grouped according to year, with their name and occupation, and lastly the date and location of their leg in the relay. Two of them, astronaut Sally Ride and Olympian Mark Tewksbury, have carried the Olympic torch twice. Runners who are HIV+ are marked - 
1984 Los Angeles
Sally Ride, America’s first woman astronaut; possibly New York City, 8 May 1984.
George Takei, “Star Trek” actor and amateur athlete; Los Angeles, California, date uncertain.

1996    Atlanta
Vicky Galindo, Olympic silver medallist 2008 (USA, softball); Winters, California, 4 May 1996.
Gail Marquis, Olympic silver medallist 1976 (USA, basketball); location and date uncertain.

2002    Salt Lake City
-Paul Harris, journalist with POZ magazine; location uncertain, December 2001.
-Mark Nowak, of Avalon Apparel; Buffalo, New York State, New Year Eve or Day 2001-2.
-Jim Valiton, of Tuscon Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network; Tuscon, Arizona, 13 January 2002.
Lance Bass, singer with boyband N’Sync; Newport Beach, California,15 January 2002 (runner 075)
Sally Ride, America’s first woman astronaut; San Diego, California, 15 January 2002 (runner 106)
Doug Jack, Director of Choreography for 6 Olympic ceremonies 1992-2002; Los Angeles, California, 15 January 2002 (runner 222)
-Dennis J. Lee; 8 February 2002; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

2004    Athens
Daniel Kowalski, Olympic gold medallist (swimming); Melbourne, Australia, 5 June 2004.
-Shaun Mellors, founder, National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS; Cape Town, South Africa, 12 June 2004.
-Prudence Mabele, founder, Positive Women’s Network; first South African bi woman to declare HIV status; Cape Town, South Africa, 12 June 2004.
Ellen Degeneres, comedian and talk show host; Los Angeles, California, USA, 16 June 2004.
Anthony Angelico, Delaware University student, future member of New York gay soccer team; New York City, 19 June 2004.
Mark Tewksbury, Olympic gold medallist (swimming); Canada, 20 June 2004.
Conchita Martinez, tennis champion and Olympic medallist (silver 1992, bronze 1996); Barcelona, Spain, June 1994.

2006    Turin
Giorgio Armani, fashion designer, designer of Italian Olympic 2006 team uniform; Milan, Italy, 24 January 2006.

2008    Beijing
-John Caldera, San Francisco Veteran Affairs Commission member; first Mr International Bear 1992; San Francisco, USA, 9 April 2008.
Helen Zia, former executive editor of “Ms” magazine, journalist; San Francisco, USA, 9 April 2008.
Andrew Heslop, founder of Australia’s national Neighbour Day; Canberra, Australia, 24 April 2008.
Jonothon Welch, choral conductor, 2008 Australian of the year; Canberra, Australia, 24 April 2008

2010 Vancouver
Nancy Drolet, Olympic silver medallist (ice hockey); Drummondville, Quebec, 6 December 2009.
Brian Orser, Olympic silver medallist (figure skating); Pickering, Ontario, 17 December 2009.
-Tom Hammond, Executive Director, AIDS Committee of Guelph and Wellington County; Owen Sound, Ontario, 20 December 2009.
Danielle Peers, Paralympic bronze medallist (wheelchair basketball); University of Alberta campus, Edmonton, Alberta, 13 January 2010.
Mark Tewksbury, Olympic gold medallist (swimming); Taber, British Colombia, 17 January 2010.
-Eric Sawyer, founding member of ACT-UP, Civil Society Partnership Adviser UNAIDS; Calgary, Alberta, 20 January 2010.
Marion Lay, Olympic bronze medallist (swimming), past Chair of Vancouver 2010 Bid committee and member of the Organising Committee; Pemberton, British Colombia, 6 February 2010.
-Tiko Kerr, artist and AIDS activist; Vancouver, British Colombia, 10 February 2010.
Dean Caten and Dan Caten, identical twins, international fashion designers DSquared2, and designers for the main performers at 2010 opening and closing ceremonies; Vancouver, British Colombia, 10 February 2010 (they ran separately rather than together)
Angus Praught, President of Gayvan.com Travel Marketing, member of International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association; Vancouver, British Colombia, 12 February 2010 (he brought his torch to a special event at the Vancouver Pride House on 17 February 2010).

2010 Vancouver (Paralympic relay)
Rick Mercer, broadcaster and comedian; 3 March 2010, Ottawa, Ontario.

2012 London
Andy Stonehill-Brooks, founder of Support U, a network of nationwide lgbt support centres; Combe Martin, Devon,  21 May.
Vincent Jackson, charity fundraiser; Cardiff, 25 May.
Tara Mifflin, youth leader volunteer with Stonewall; Y Felinheli, Wales, 28 May.
Colin Renshaw, volunteer in the lgbt community, Manchester Pride and 2002 Commonwealth Games; Bolton, Lancashire, 31 May.
Kevin Bartlett, amateur rugby coach; former recording artist; 1990 Gay Games gold medallist (athletics); Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, 3 June.
Heather Davidson, cerebral palsy sufferer; student; volunteer with lgbt support groups in Manchester; Trafford, Lancashire, 24 June.
Trevor Burchick, MBE, founder of the Pride Games; representative on the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association; Stockport, Lancashire, 24 June.
Lorna McArdle, past Chair of Reading Pride, member of local marching band; Reading, Berkshire, 10 July.
Clare Balding, former jockey and BBC sports broadcaster; Newbury, Berkshire, 11 July.
-Peter Hellawell, Chairman of Trustees of Positive Action; marathon runner, competitor at Gay Games 2006; Bridport, Dorset, 12 July.
Jason Saw, head of MINDOUT, lgbt mental illness charity; Arundel, Sussex, 16 July.
Gideon Meade, founder, Brighton Lesbian and Gay Sports Society; Brighton, Sussex, 16 July.
Colin Bentley, nursing assistant on HIV ward, marathon runner; Brighton, Sussex, 17 July.
Gavin Owen, marathon runner, volunteer with Brighton and London Prides; Eastbourne, Sussex, 17 July.
John Amaechi, OBE, former NBA basketball star, member of London 2012 Diversity and Inclusion Group; Greenwich, London, 21 July.
Tim Sullivan, Chairman of Kings Cross Steelers, the world’s first gay rugby club; Haringey, London,  22 July.
Mark Healey, founder of 17-24-30, set up to mark the anniversary of the 1999 London Nail Bomb attacks, founder of Vigil Against Hate Crime; Lewisham, London, 23 July.
Chris Basiurski, Chair, Gay Football Supporter’s Network; member, Diversity Panel of the Football Association; Hammersmith, London, 26 July.

Friday 19 July 2013


A lot of research into the origin of homosexuality has been concentrated on twins. There is one set of twins – James and Daniel Kelly – who may be unique in the UK. One is gay, one is straight, but also one is black, and one is white. AND both of their parents have a set of twins by former partners!

Most studies have looked at homosexuality which appears in both identical and non-identical siblings. Having identical DNA, the result of one fertilised egg dividing into 2 early in development, should give each identical twin the same personal and physical traits – they are clones, after all. Non-identical twins, being the result of 2 separate eggs being fertilised at the same time, don’t have identical DNA and are genetically like any other pair of siblings.

Having one black twin and one white twin isn’t as unusual as you might think. In fact, the BBC found 5 sets of black/white twins, including the Kellys, for a programmes called “Twincredibles” in 2011. The Kelly twins are a good example of just how complicated inheritance and genetics can be, but when you get down to it, the colour of a person’s skin is inherited in the same manner as the shape of that person’s nose. How many times have you looked at a baby and said “He’s got her mothers nose” or “she’s got her father’s ears”? Skin colour is produced in the same genetic manner.

Out of the 7 children Erroll and Alyson Kelly have between them only one, Katie, isn’t a twin or a boy. The only identical twins are the middle pair, Charles and Jordan.

Even though some inherited traits, like eye colour, are determined by parts of the DNA called alleles, skin colour seems to be one of those traits which are generated “randomly”. I say randomly because skin colour is affected by more than one gene (unlike eye colour) and a combination of all of these skin colour genes produces a wide range of tones. It’s not like mixing paint, where every drop of the paint effects the final mix. DNA doesn’t work like that. There are other genetic factors, such as the allelles, dominant and regressive genes, and epi-marks.

With non-identical siblings, like James and Daniel Kelly, each gene is slightly altered in each of them. James Kelly just happens to have inherited more dark skin genes from his father than light colour genes from his mother. The reverse is the case with Patrick. Both of their parents pass on the same amount of skin colour genes, but the other genetic factors determine how many will be part of the children’s DNA so that he/she will have the same number of skin colour genes and not double.

The lives of many mixed-race children is still dominated by prejudice. This raised it’s head for the Kelly twins when their mother placed them in a nursery school. Because their father was black, and James was black, the school insisted on having Daniel registered as black too. Even though Daniel was quite obviously not dark-skinned and his mother was white the nursery still insisted Daniel be registered as black. Since then Daniel has always refused to tick any of those “ethnic origin” boxes you see on official forms (you can hear what he puts instead in the video below).

The question of James’ homosexuality is one which, again, highlights the question of whether it is Nature or Nurture. Recent research has suggested that homosexuality may be the result of yet a third part of DNA – the epi-mark. To remind you about epi-marks – these are kinds of switches on DNA that determine the development of various genes.

During development the foetus will detect which gender the embryo has determined to follow (in my article on gender testing at the Olympics I explained how gender is formed in more detail) and the sex-specific epi-marks switch on to ensure that the female foetus does not become affected by high levels of male hormones that may sometimes occur. They ensure the reverse for the male foetus, ensuring high female hormones don’t affect it. Epi-marks are not usually passed from parent to child because new ones are created for each generation. Sometimes epi-marks survive to be passed only from father to daughter or mother to son. In these cases, for example, a woman who inherits the sex-specific epi-marks from her father is more susceptible to the influence of male hormones during foetal development, because her own new epi-marks won’t be created in their place. And since some epi-marks can influence sexual preference this may also (but not necessarily always) mean that the women grows up a lesbian. With men, of course, the epi-marks passed from their mother will tend to make them gay. However, this epi-mark evidence doesn’t explain bisexuality or an other sexualities.

I think more research into identical twins in particular will one day make everything clearer. Until then, we still have to look at twins like James and Daniel Kelly and say “One twin in gay, the other isn’t, is it nature or nurture?”

Here is the BBC documentary about the Kelly twins. It can explain their situation and the problems they encounter in life much better than I can.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Flower Power - the Original Hyacinth

A year ago today I recounted the legend of Prince Hyakinthos, the young mortal lover of the god Apollo who was accidentally killed. His blood was turned into the plant that was named after him. The hyacinth is a popular flower in modern gardens, though the original plant which the Greeks named after the tragic prince may not be the same one we call hyacinth today.

Several of the surviving written accounts of the legend, even though they were written in the 1st to 3rd centuries and many centuries after it originated, recall that Apollo cried out in grief when Hyakinthos was killed. The ambrosia and nectar of the gods couldn’t resuscitate him, so Apollo decreed “A new flower you shall arise, with markings on your petals, close imitation of my constant moans” (Ovid, “Metamorphoses”).

The markings on the petals resembled the Greek letters A and I, the vowel sounds which symbolise cries of grief and despair. The flower we today call the hyacinth has no such markings, but another flower does – the larkspur or delphinium, another popular flower in modern gardens.

The larkspur acquired it’s name because the flowers look like that have a spur that resembles that found on some bird’s feet. The name delphinium also comes from the flower’s shape. It resembled the nose of dolphin – “delphis” in Greek. Yet another explanation of the name features Apollo again, this time referring to his temple at Delphi.

And yet a 4th legend gives an origin of the flower which mirrors that of the hyacinth legend quite closely and may indicate the spread of a folk motif through parts of Ancient Greece that was attributed to several plants in different areas.

Ajax was Prince of Salamis. He joined the Greek side in the Trojan War, fighting alongside other legendary heroes like Achilles and Odysseus. By all accounts young Ajax was a giant of a man – not literally a giant – but with a huge, powerful body to rival that of Hercules. He was also self-confident and very brave. Unfortunately, this didn’t make up for a lack of intelligence.

Whether Ajax had the customary younger male lover is not recorded. He doesn’t seem to have been in a loving relationship that characterised that of Achilles and Patroclus during the Trojan War.

What led to Ajax’s downfall was the death of Hektor of Troy at the hands of Achilles. Achilles then had to decide which soldier was worthy enough to inherit Hektor’s armour. Ajax thought it should be him, since he considered himself to be a great warrior. But the armour went instead to Odysseus.

Ajax was furious and felt dishonoured by the snub. Instead of venting his rage on Achilles and Odysseus he charged out into the meadows and started killing sheep, claiming to be fighting the Trojan enemy. After a while he realised the error of letting his emotions get the better of him and descended into despair. Despair turned to shame and he thought the only honourable way out would be to kill himself. He impaled himself on his own sword.

As with Hyakinthos, the blood of Ajax seeped into the ground and from if sprang the flower we call the larkspur or delphinium.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Out Of Their Tree - Clare Balding

In this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list Clare Balding received an OBE for her services to broadcasting. In this look at Clare’s ancestry we’ll see how much horses play a part in her family tree as well as discover links to Robin Hood, 9/11 hero Mark Bingham, and the architect of Henry VIII’s sodomy laws.

Clare first shot to fame as a champion female amateur jockey but she is more well-known today as a sports commentator and presenter. She and her partner Alice Arnold are the most famous lesbian couple in the UK.

Horses have always been part of Clare’s life. Her father Ian is a horse trainer for the Queen and former polo player, while her grandmother, Priscilla Hastings-Bass, was Director of Newbury Racecourse. Following the Balding family line backwards there is an unbroken line of horse dealers back 150 years. Other horsey connections are found in the aforementioned Priscilla’s ancestry – her grandfather’s great-grandfather, the 12th Earl of Derby, founded the famous horse race named after him (which is quite remarkable, because Clare Balding now commentates on that race for Channel 4!). On a more sad horsey note, Priscilla’s great-grandmother Louise, Duchess of Devonshire, died of a seizure while attending Sandown races.

Clare’s mother Emma is the sister of the 16th Earl of Huntingdon, William Edward Robin Hood Hastings-Bass. Yes, there IS a real Robin Hood after all! The Hastings family is one of the oldest noble families in England, and they got the title of Earl of Huntingdon from their position as heirs of Prince Robert of Huntingdon, one of the many real people put forward over the centuries as the original Robin Hood and, as we all know, Robin Hood was sometimes known in more recent times as the Earl of Huntingdon. The Hastings family became earls in 1529, though it wasn’t until 1818 that they began to use Robin Hood as a family name, at about the time the legends really became famous.

Prince Robert of Huntingdon died young and childless leaving 2 sisters as coheirs. From one sister the Hastings family inherit the Huntingdon title. From the older sister descends King Robert the Bruce of Scotland – the real historical Braveheart. King Robert the Bruce’s step-brother was the father-in-law of Sir William Neville, Constable of Nottingham Castle and Keeper of Sherwood Forest. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog my theory of the origin of the oldest surviving Robin Hood ballad. Basically, I believe it was written by Sir William’s other partner, Sir John Clanvowe, who used lots of family background of both Sir William and his wife as the basis of new stories of a famous hero - the legends we all know today. Clare Balding descends from Sir William’s brother.

There is a lot of noble blood in Clare’s veins (as well as working class blood, I might add). Through families like the Earls of Huntingdon and Derby, as well as the Dukes of Manchester, Hamilton and Gordon, Clare has many royal lines of descent. In fact, the Earls of Huntingdon were heirs to the Royal House of York, while the Earls of Derby were bloodline heirs of Queen Jane Grey.

Perhaps the most surprising family connection comes through Clare’s other grandmother, Mrs. Ellie Hoagland Balding. She was a member of one of America’s most distinguished families. The Hoaglands descend from a Dutch settler in New York (while it was still known as New Amsterdam) called Christoffel Hooglandt. His direct descendants rose to become leading citizens and legislative members.

In 1828 Clare’s ancestor Andrew Hoagland married someone with the same surname, but they were not related. She was Jane Hoagland, who was also descended from a totally different early Dutch settler. This  other settler was also ancestor of Alice Ann Hoglan (the surname has been spelt many ways down the centuries), the mother of 9/11 hero Mark Bingham, the gay amateur rugby player after whom the gay rugby world cup is named.

To complete this little roll-call of heroes, horses and homophobes in Clare Balding’s family tree I’ll end with the Cranmer connection. Through her grandfather she is descended from the Cranmers of Aslocton, just a few miles from where I live in Nottinghamshire.

The most famous member of the Cranmer family is Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury. In England the first law that specifically targeted homosexuality was in 1533. It was passed in order to give King Henry VIII extra ammunition in his battle to close the monasteries (which had always had a reputation as being hot-beds of gay sex, whether true or not). Henry enlisted the help of two men to formulate and enforce the act. First was Thomas Cromwell, the King’s Secretary, who drew up the Act. The other man was Thomas Cranmer. His support for Henry and the Act gave the monasteries no hope of calling upon him for help. Most of today’s homophobia has its roots in the 1533 Act. Before 1533 punishment for homosexual acts were predominantly aimed at the clergy. After 1533 it included punishment for everyone.

Clare Balding descends from the archbishop’s brother, as do other famous people like Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, the Duchess of Cambridge, Christopher Reeve, Todd Eldridge, Anthony Trollope and Gene Roddenberry. Among the lgbt descendants of Cranmer’s brother are Lord Byron, Cole Porter and Hart Crane.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Nature or Nurture

“We do not even in the least know the final cause of sexuality. The whole subject is hidden in darkness”. So wrote my relative Charles Darwin. Over a century later and we’re no closer to knowing. One of the hardest questions to answer when someone begins to realise their sexuality is different to others is “Why am I like this?” As recently as last year the “Nature or Nurture” debate was still receiving attention in scientific circles.

For this very brief historical overview I’ll try to go through various studies and theories from recent decades in chronological order. All have been summarised as briefly as possible without going into scientific detail because they’d take up too much room. Think of this as a summary of research rather than a scientific analysis of the evidence.

1957    Karen Hooper carries out a psychological test on gay and straight men. She says that homosexuality does not effect the IQ or development of gay men. Because of this the American Psychological Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

1980    Michel Foucault speculates that the modern concept of a gay man did not really exist before the word “homosexuality” was invented in the 1800s. He states that the word created the concept.

1987    A study finds that 14% of a sample group of gay men are left handed compared to 9% of a sample group of straight men. A later study finds similar results between lesbians and straight women.

1991    Research on twins found that there were 52% of identical twins, 22% of non-identical twins, and 5% of adopted brothers, who were both gay. It also found that more gay men usually have gay brothers than lesbians sisters, and lesbians have more lesbian sisters than gay brothers.

1991    Simon Le Vay studies the brains of gay and straight men and woman. He finds that the hypothalamus (the organ largely responsible for emotions and sexual drive) in gay men and straight women have a smaller cluster of specific cells (called INAH-3) than straight men. However, all the brains of gay men were of AIDS victims and may not have accurately represented the whole community.

1993    Dean Hamer looked at 114 families of gay men. He found that same-sex orientation was higher on the maternal side of the families. Hamer looked at part of the X chromosome called Xq28 which we all inherit from our mother. This is a gender marker. From Hamer’s research came the popular notion of a “gay gene”. His research has since been questioned.

1995    A colleague of Hamer’s continues research on the Xq28 gender marker and finds that is was present in families of gay men but not that of lesbians.

1997    A study of siblings shows that the more older brothers you have you are 33% more likely to be gay.

1999    More research on the Xq28 marker indicates that gay brothers are no more likely to have this marker that a set of straight brothers.

2005    A further study looks at Xq28 in the light of the recently catalogued human genome. It finds other markers on DNA which gay men inherit from their mother, but also finds that similar markers are inherited from their father.

2006    Research is made on X-inactivation. Women have 2 X chromosomes (men have one X and one Y – male – chromosome). One X is inactivated when female gender is determined in the embryo. Some parts on the inactive X can still be active – this is skewed X-inactivation (its what causes tortoiseshell cats to have different coloured patches – the light patches are caused by skewed X-inactivation). The research shows that women with high skewed X-inactivation are more likely to have homosexual sons.

2012    The Quarterly Review of Biology publishes a paper which claims homosexuality may be caused by epi-marks, genetic switches on DNA that helps the embryo to develop but “die” when their job is done (like the “male switch” on the Y chromosome in men). When sex-specific epi-marks survive and pass from parent to child they may influence the emergence of same-sex attraction.

2013    Neil Whitehead claims that all the studies on twins, where one is gay and the other not, proves homosexuality is not inherited or genetic. However, Whitehead is a Christian-based writer with a known anti-Nature-not-Nurture and transphobic bias.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

On Track To The Outgames - Part 8

The Outgames moves back Down Under in this latest instalment of the games’ history. Hosting the 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames in March 2011 was the city of Wellington, New Zealand.

Two natural disasters overshadowed the start of the games. First was an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, 18 days before the games, killing 185 people. It disrupted plans by teams from around Christchurch on the south island to attend the Outgames 200 miles away on the north island. A tsunami hit Japan on the day before the games began and there were worries for the small contingent of athletes, delegates and visitors from Japan who were expected in Wellington.

Undaunted by these events around 1,300 athletes attended. Although it was billed as the Asia Pacific Outgames a large number of athletes and delegates with no Pacific coastline took part – including Armenia, Germany, India and the UK. This is not unusual for an lgbt event like this. The EuroGames often have teams from Australia and the USA.

The Wellington Outgames was made up of the usual 3 components – sport, conference and culture festival. And as before the whole event was timed around an established local lgbt festival. In Wellington this was Out in the Square.

Out in the Square began in 1986 as a fund-raising event for local lgbt organisations during the final months before homosexuality was decriminalised in New Zealand. The event grew in size and popularity over the years to include other charities and performers. The fair moved to Wellington’s civil square in 2008 and became linked with the city’s Pride. The Outgames gave an opportunity for bigger and more varied artistic and cultural events to take place – art, drama, comedy, dance, guided tours and street performers. There was a special performance of the show “Queen of the Whole Universe”, won by Miss Russia Tzarina Cheyshose Titzelot (aka Vaughn Meneses, who also spoke at the conference on health issues).

The opening ceremony held earlier that evening welcomed athletes the 26 nations and was officially opened by the Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Anand Satyanand. He pointed out New Zealand’s pioneering position as being the first country to allow votes for women (for some reason he omitted to mention Georgina Beyer as being the world’s openly trans MP).

There were 16 sports on offer. Among the world records broken was the 800m women’s freestyle relay swimming event for the 35-39 year age group. Because the swim meet was officially sanctioned by its international governing body (as several other sports were) all results and records was official even outside lgbt sport. Kristen Cameron, a Wellington resident and straight athlete, knocked a massive 3½ seconds off the previous world record to win gold in a time of 9 minutes and 9.12 seconds.

Swimming often produces the top individual medal winner at multi-sport events, but in Wellington this record went to a dancer. Clinton Brooks won 9 gold, and 4 silver medals in the dancesport competition.

The Asia Pacific region has a long tradition of gender variance not seen in the West. As a result there was a massive attendance in the sport and conference from over 40 people who identified as transgender or traditional Pacific gender. One delegate at the conference commented that if every recognised gender and sexuality in the Pacific region were added in the lgbt label it would be lgbtqimvpfaff.

The lgbt conference took place towards the end of the Outgames and ran for 3 days. It centred on issues associated with the region with several Asia Pacific lgbt politicians speaking at various sessions, as well as several sessions on personal testimonies and histories and advice on writing lgbt histories. There was a session given by Sunil Babu Pant, the first openly gay politician in Nepal and several others featuring Nepali activists. There were also speakers from Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands (who were a major conference sponsor and gave travel scholarships to some delegates). The Dutch Ambassador to New Zealand, Arie van der Wiel, spoke at the conference as well as compete in the games (gold medal in the men’s 5 km run for the 60+ age group).

But perhaps just as significant was a meeting of around 100 people who gathered for a convention for trans and intersex Asian Pacific Islanders. It was the first such gathering ever to take place.

The 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames in Wellington ended “on a high” as athletes, delegates and visitors gathered for the closing ceremony. As is now customary at these ceremonies the Outgames flags (sometimes called the Melbourne flag because it was first raised at the previous Asia Pacific Outgames in 2008) was handed over to the hosts of the next Outgames – the 2nd North America Outgames in Vancouver to be held just 4 months later. And they will be the subject of my next “On Track to the Outgames” post in 15 days time.

Friday 5 July 2013

Star Gayzing - Fly Me To The Moon

Rather than gaze at the stars today, let’s gaze at the Moon.

I’ve always been fascinated by legends and stories of fantastic travels, whether it’s the Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Gulliver’s Travels. One story which I think should become more well-known is one by Lucian of Samosata, a 2nd-century Greek writer from Syria, called “True History”.

Even though it is fantasy literature rather than history, “True History” gives us an interesting example of early, if not the first, science fiction. What makes it relevant to this blog is Lucian’s description of two all-male communities living on the Moon’s surface and how they reproduce without women.

When I first read “True History” I was amazed how imaginative it was compared to ancient Greek stories like the Odyssey. It was more akin to reading Gulliver’s Travels. It exaggerates some of the ideas found in Greek myths and satirises warfare.

Only part of “True History” deals with the Men on the Moon, or Selenites. Lucian describes how he was sailing across the Atlantic when a huge waterspout carried his ship up to the Moon. There he and the crew are welcomed by the King of the Moon, Endymion. He enlists the help of Lucian and his fellow adventurers in his was against Phaeton, King of the Sun, over the occupation of the Morning Star, or the planet Venus as we now call it. The war ends in a truce and a treaty allows joint colonisation of the Morning Star.

It is after describing the war, with its many strange combatants – including the hippomyrmices (horse-ants) and lachonopteri (giant birds with lettuce leaves for wings) – that Lucian describes the Selenites themselves and their culture.

It’s what happens next that makes it topical, with recent laws regarding same-sex marriage being approved in various countries. After the victory banquet King Endymion is so grateful for the help of the adventurers that he offers his son in marriage to Lucian. There are no women on the Moon so he can’t offer a daughter. Which begs the question, where do baby Selenites come from?

Lucian writes that the Selenites have no knowledge of women, they don’t even have the word in their language for woman. Though King Endymion was, according the Greek myth, once a human mortal and knew all about them. A Greek myth says that the goddess of the moon, Selene, saw Endymion sleeping one night and fell in love. She asked Zeus to keep him in a state of eternal sleep and beauty so that she could see him every night. Zeus complied and Endymion became immortal. Though in a state of perpetual sleep he somehow managed to father 50 daughters by Selene, which is ironic considering Lucian places him on the Moon surrounded by men with no knowledge of women.

When the Selenites want to marry they marry another male. This is where the Ancient Greek idea of same-sex attraction is most clearly encountered on the Moon. The young men, those under the age of 25, become the “wives” in the marriages. After 25 they take a new younger spouse and take the husband’s role. There’s no mention of divorce or separation before this second marriage so I assume there’s more than two people in the marriage. Fortunately the Selenites aren’t immortal, otherwise there’d be an infinite succession of increasingly older husbands in one marriage. No, when a Selenite dies he just disappears in a puff of smoke!

When children are born, all boys of course, they do not develop in the female belly but in the calf of the man’s leg. When the baby is born the calf is cut open and the lifeless baby is held up in the air with its mouth open. In this way the wind blows into the baby’s mouth and he begins to breathe.

Lucian also mentions another all-male community on the Moon called the Arboreals who have an even weirder method of reproduction. As their name suggests these men have some kind of connection to trees. This is why. After sex Arboreals remove their right testicle and plant it into the ground like a seed. This “seed” slowly grows into a tree made of human flesh, the trunk of which is shaped like a huge erect penis. From the branches grow big acorns. When the acorns are ripe they are harvested and split open. From each acorn springs a young Arboreal. Presumably the Arboreals can only be a parent once, because Lucian doesn’t mention their right testicles growing back again.

There are several other parts of the trip to the Moon in “True History” which struck me immediately when I first read it. Firstly it mentions the Selenites having a large mirror in which you could see people far away on the Earth as if they were next to you – did Lucian invent the reflecting telescope? Secondly, the Selenites have a pouch lined with fur in their bellies into which their young could crawl for warmth – has Lucian predicted the discovery of marsupials from Australia 1,500 years in advance? Lastly, and of more personal interest to me, it says that bald men are considered the most beautiful people of all – how I wish the Selenites were real, I could happily live among them!