Friday 30 August 2013

A Taste of the Antwerp Outgames

Two and a half weeks after the close of the 3rd World Outgames in Antwerp here is my review of the games to conclude my chronicle of the Outgames. This provides just a little taste of the games and shouldn’t be seen as a comprehensive record.
The human rights conference kicked off events on 31st July. It carried the title of “From Safe Harbours to Equality”. In it’s introduction to the conference programme it says : “Changes in the positioning of international LGBT rights in recent months, including marriage in France, the USA, Uruguay, New Zealand and Argentina; changes in African Commonwealth countries as well as in Eastern Europe – all of this has provided some breathing space for LGBT people. A conference in this new context cannot simply focus on the past: it must become a gathering which proposes solutions for people fighting and struggling everywhere in the world.”
The conference was less about educating the lgbt world about the various communities and their problems and more about working with them. Various exhibitions and meet-and-greet sessions provided informal networking opportunities. Present were several asylum seekers from Africa, and Amnesty International who highlighted the problems encountered in Russia since the recent introduction of anti-gay laws there. Speakers and panellists through the 3-day conference included several serving and past international MP’s, Olympic archer Karen Hultzer, and an impressive collection of other activists, politicians and speakers from more countries than ever before at an Outgames conference.
Running concurrent with the conference was the cultural festival. This included Mr Gay World 2013. The entrants, which included the newly-crowned Mr Gay Europe, Robbie Obara of Ireland, and the outgoing Mr Gay World, Andreas Derleth, attended the Outgames opening ceremony. The Mr Gay World finals were held the next day, with Chris Olwage of New Zealand being crowned winner.
The opening ceremony itself, in Antwerp’s historical docklands area, included the traditional entry of the athletes. The biggest and most enthusiastic welcome was for the Russian team. Performing at the ceremony were 2 of the Outgames Ambassadors, singer Kate Ryan who wrote the official games song, and junior world champion archer Ivan Denis (if shooting an arrow can be called a performance). In an echo of the Barcelona Olympic opening ceremony Ivan fired an arrow into a target to signal the opening of the games.
Other cultural events included poetry, film and music festivals, and boat trips and city tours. Exhibitions were mounted across Flanders and a Rainbow Village was set up in the shadow of Antwerp’s fairy-tale Het Steen castle with various information booths and performers.
Jumping ahead, the Outgames concluded with a closing ceremony where the Outgames flag was handed to the next hosts of the World Outgames to be held in 2017 in Miami Beach. Banners were also presented to the hosts of the 3rd Asia Pacific Outgames to be held in Australia next year. Events were rounded off with Antwerp Pride.
As for the sports themselves there is so much to cover that I’ll have to be selective (sorry if I miss your favourite sport). The first medals to be awarded were in synchronised swimming, one of the sports where the International Olympic Committee still discriminates against men. Waving my metaphorical Union Jack, congratulations to Team UK who won the team event, and especially to team-member Derde Luis Exposito Gutierrez who also won gold in the solo contest (even though he’s Cuban he lives and works in London).
Archery attracted 3 competitors of note. One was Outgames Ambassador Ivan Denis, a hopeful for Rio 2016. He won a bronze in his category. Olympian Karen Hultzer won gold in her category. The list of entrants included Rev. Denver NaVaar. Longtime followers of this blog may remember him from my article on the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Its always pleasing to see names recurring from games to games, whether Outgames, Gay Games or EuroGames, or all 3. There were lots of returning athletes from previous games. Here’s a couple of them.
The pool saw school teacher Elizabeth Bellinger win several medals and break the UK Masters record in the 50m butterfly. Elizabeth has been breaking records for several years. In 2003 she was the first woman to break British Olympian Sharon Davies’s 11-year record in the same distance. Lizzie won 7 gold medals at the 2010 Gay Games.
Respect goes out to Russell LaMar Jacquet-Acea who came 4th in the decathlon. Just a few months ago his mother Elizabeth died at the age of 77 (I must write an article on his amazing ancestry). Linking with this year’s science theme I mention Russell also because he’s an amateur astronomer and taught astronomy in Seattle. He has now won over 25 gold medals in Gay and Outgames since 1990.
The only athlete present who has also taken part in the Olympic torch relay was Trevor Burchick. He is founder of Manchester’s Pride Games which is the UK’s largest lgbt sport festival. He was awarded the MBE by the Queen in 2007 for services to the community, and carried the Olympic torch in June last year. Trevor is also a UK representative on GLISA, the governing body of the Outgames.
The football contest was of particular interest to me because my local gay team, Nottingham Ball Bois, was playing. Having won bronze at the 2011 EuroGames I was hopeful of them medalling in Antwerp. But Scott and the lads still did Nottingham proud by finishing 6th (out of 12) in their division.
Reading through this article I seem to have mentioned a lot of British athletes. Sorry about that, I’m probably still buzzing from last year’s UK Olympic successes. Space restricts me from saying more, so I’ll end expressing my congratulations to all the participants.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Extraordinary Lives - Derek Jackson

Today we meet a man who was a decorated war hero, and atomic physicist, a jockey, a Fleet Street magnate, one of the “fathers” of the MRI scanner, and a “rampant bisexual” (in the words of his biographer). I could have included Derek Jackson in my physics articles next month, but you'll see why I've included him in my Medicine and Health month.

Derek Ainslie Jackson was born in 1906, one of twin sons of Sir Charles Jackson, an art historian and chairman of the recently disgraced and defunct “News of the World”. On the death of both parents before he was 18 Derek inherited their fortune and part ownership of the “News of the World”. Having the freedom to spend as much money as he wanted on his personal and academic goals allowed him to be fiercely independent at a young age.

At Cambridge University Derek took a degree in natural sciences and was invited by Ernest Rutherford to do research into nuclear physics. Derek turned him down in favour of joining Professor Frederick Lindemann in his research into spectroscopy. Derek bought all his own very expensive equipment and arrived at Lindemann’s Clarendon laboratory in 1927.

It wasn’t long before Derek, at the age of 22, made the “first spectroscopic determination of a nuclear magnetic spin”, as many sources say vaguely. I don’t claim any knowledge of this phenomenon, but basically this refers to how protons in the nucleus spin like tops in all directions. This idea was only theorised two years before.

The idea that the nuclear spin can be aligned inside a magnetic field was instrumental in the development of the MRI scanner. A few protons, though, align in the opposite direction to the majority, and a radio frequency can switch them all in the same alignment. When the frequency is turned off these few protons turn back. The energy created by them turning back can be calculated in a computer to create an image on the screen. However, it took over 40 years before computer technology and magnetic spin physics reached a stage where the first MRI scanner could be designed. Derek’s work helped to visualise how nuclear spin works.

Derek’s expertise in spectroscopy led to him being appointed lecturer in spectroscopy at the Clarendon laboratory in 1934. However, he spent most of his time hob-nobbing in aristocratic and artistic circles and the high life. Among his friends were the gay composer George, Lord Berners, the “Brideshead” family of the 7th Earl Beauchamp (mentioned here), the literary Mitford sisters, and the painter Augustus John, whose daughter Elizabeth “Poppet” he married.

Derek spent many hours at race meetings and fox hunts. Inspired by his love of steeplechase racing he became a jockey in 1935 in the Grand National, the UK’s most famous horse race. He fell, and didn’t complete the course, but entered twice more in 1947 and 1948, both equally unsuccessfully.

When was broke out Derek worked for the Admiralty, but was soon moved to the RAF on Churchill’s intervention. After flying in 60 sorties as a navigator with Fighter Command, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross, he became Chief Airborne Radar officer. This was on a project known as Windows. Derek was ideally suited to this eccentric-sounding project. It was so eccentric that the RAF delayed using it, mainly because it was so simple that they didn’t want the Germans to start using it on British aircraft.

The idea was to drop hundreds of tin foil strips from aircraft, which would interfere with enemy radar. As Chief Airborne officer he was in charge of the airborne trials (known as Jackson’s Air Farce). By experimentation Derek worked out how much foil should be dropped and how to improve radar so that you could see through the interference.

Once deployed these tin foil drops were credited with saving about 100 British aircraft in the first week of its operation. For this work Derek received further awards and the US Legion of Merit.

During the war Derek showed some contradictory qualities. He had expressed anti-Jewish views before the war, and his 2nd wife was Pamela Mitford, whose sister married Britain’s fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley. The Mosleys were detained during the war and lived with Derek on their release.

With war over Derek became Professor of Spectroscopy at Oxford. He then became tax exile in Ireland, France and Switzerland. He continued his spectroscopy research in France and was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur for his work.

By this time Derek was on wife number 5 out of a total of 6. He continued his research almost to the time of his death in 1982, and was survived by wife 6.

A man of enormous independence, both financially and personally, Derek Jackson could easily have been given a British knighthood had he not become a tax exile. Thanks to his work dropping tin foil out of planes and understanding nuclear magnetic spin Derek has helped to save the lives of many.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Heraldic Achievement - Sophia Jex-Blake

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

You may have noticed something different about today’s coat of arms. Instead of a helmet on top of the shield there’s a pretty bow. There’s 2 reasons for this – first, the subject’s sex, and second, her marital status. Unlike Eleanor Roosevelt, who could display her arms beside her husband’s on his shield, Sophia Jex-Blake never married.

In English heraldry unmarried women show their coats of arms with a bow and sometimes a garland, like I’ve shown here. Women don’t have helmets because they are not appointed as knights. A spinster’s arms should also be shown on a diamond-shaped lozenge because, again, it is knights (or married women who use their husband’s) who use a shield. However, I think Sophia Jex-Blake’s arms look cramped on a lozenge and have gone against the rules and shown them on a shield, and even then some parts are difficult to make out clearly.

Now I’ve got the technical bit over with, just who was Sophia Jex-Blake?

Sophia Jex-Blake was a contemporary of Florence Nightingale, but whereas Florence was content to concern herself with the training of nurses, Sophia wanted to go further and become a doctor. Both women came from the same social background where women were not expected to earn a living (a view which Florence Nightingale agreed with). In fact, Sophia’s father refused to give her his permission to become a doctor because it meant she was paid a salary. Sophia persisted, however, and applied unsuccessfully to several universities for acceptance onto doctor training courses.

The breakthrough came in 1869 when she became one of 7 women accepted into Edinburgh University, becoming one the first female medical undergraduates in the UK. After several years studying there and elsewhere, Sophia became registered as the third female doctor in the country with the General Medical Council.

It was Sophia, with opposition from Florence Nightingale, who pushed for equality in medical courses and  examinations, enabling women to be treated the same as men. Sophia co-founded Schools of Medicine for Woman in London (1874) and Edinburgh (1886). She had her own private practice in Edinburgh and retired in 1899.

Sophia inherited her coat of arms from her father. The shield shows 2 different arms in what are called quarters (obvious, I know, but some people can inherit dozens or arms and show them all, and they’re still called quarters). Just like reading a book quarters are “read” from left to right, top to bottom. So, in the 1st and 4th quarters are the Blake coat of arms. In the 2nd and 3rd quarters are the Jex arms.

Just as Florence Nightingale’s father adopted the arms of the Nightingales, as heir to that family, so Sophia’s grandfather William Blake added the Jex name and arms to his own on the death of the last Jex in 1837. My research hasn’t found any record of Sophia’s family having a coat of arms before 1837, so I assume they were designed specifically for him.

Neither the Blake nor Jex arms have any medical symbolism, except perhaps the motto, which I’ll come to later. Unlike other arms I’ve presented (e.g. Elton John, or Lord Browne) the Blake and Jex arms were not brand new original designs but were based on those of families with the same or similar surnames. This often happens. Where no proof of a relationship to a family with a coat of arms can be proved the heralds (the only people allowed to so) design something new that looks similar.

Sophia’s Blake arms are based on those of a Cornish Blake family of the 17th century – a black chevron with 3 wheat sheaves. The change made for Sophia’s grandfather was the addition of a black border with 8 fleurs-de-lys. For Jex the heralds looked at a family whose names sound similar - Jacques. The Yorkshire Jacques have 3 shells on a central stripe, again dating back to the 17th century. The heralds changed this for Jex to include the red bands.

The Latin motto, which seems to have been created specifically for Sophia’s grandfather in 1837, is highly appropriate for Sophia herself. In translation it says “A heart well prepared”, a perfect motto for someone involved in medicine and healthcare. That’s why I’ve put little hearts on the motto scroll instead of my usual pink triangles.

Sophia’s own heart was given to Margaret Todd, a Glaswegian doctor who was 19 years younger than herself. When Sophia retired the couple moved to Rotherfield. Sophia Jex-Blake died in 1912, and in 1918 Margaret wrote and published a biography of her.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Out of Their Trees - Florence Nightingale

There’s a lot of speculation about the sexuality of Florence Nightingale. Was she a closet lesbian? Was she asexual? She’s often high on the list of famous lgbts issued during LGBT History Month in the UK. I’m not going to concentrate on that aspect of her life today – that can wait for another time.

So what’s Florence Nightingale’s ancestry? It’s only a fluke of circumstance which led to her being called Florence Nightingale in the first place. She was born when her parents were travelling around Europe and they chose the city of Florence as the place they wanted their child to be born and named after (it’s a good job they didn’t choose Frankfurt!) Or course they didn’t know Florence would be a girl, and this was the first time the city’s name would be given to a girl. However, the common boy’s name Florens had been used in the Low Countries for centuries. It would not have sounded unusual if Florence Nightingale had been born a boy!

Florence’s father William wasn’t even born with the surname Nightingale, but Shore. In 1815 he inherited the estates of his cousin on condition that he adopted the Nightingale surname.

A lot of Florence’s immediate ancestry is covered in many of her biographies so I needn’t repeat it here, except to point out that her aunt married into the Bonham-Carter family and became the great-great-grandmother of actress Helena, making her one of Florence’s closest living relations.

Most of Florence’s ancestors were from Derbyshire and the surrounding area. The Nightingales came from Lea near Ashover, Derbyshire, where Florence spent her final years, and the Shores came from Sheffield at the northern end of the Peak District. But I want to concentrate on the ancestors of Florence’s great-grandmother Mrs. Anne Evans. She was the daughter and heir of Peter Nightingale, through whom Florence acquired her surname and home.

Anne was married to George Evans (1726-1808) of Cromford and Matlock, Derbyshire. Even though the name sounds more Welsh than English the Evans’s had lived in Derbyshire for many generations. George’s grandmother, Mrs. Hannah Evans (née Fern), could trace her ancestry back to the bow-bearer of King Henry V. In the Tudor period one of her ancestral uncles lived at Temple Belwood in Lincolnshire, just a couple of miles from where I was brought up, and became ancestor of Prince George of Cambridge (through Diana Spencer).

George Evans’s mother was Mrs. Rebecca Evans (née Gell). The Gells were another big Derbyshire family and had lead mining interests throughout the Peak District. I got a big surprise a couple of years ago when I was tracing my friend/partner Mark’s ancestry. The name Gell appeared. Could Mark be related to Florence Nightingale I wondered? Yes, he was, I found. Mark’s mother is descended from Rebecca’s sister Anne. It was the first famous name I’d found in Mark’s family tree and I discovered it, quite literally, the night before I was going to meet his parents for the first time. What a surprising bit on news I had to tell them!

Further research has found that the Gells were descended from the unfortunate Sir John de Blackwell. In 1308 the knight was attending the king’s coronation. The crowds were enthusiastic because it was the crowning of a popular prince. Unfortunately the crowds were quite lively and poor Sir John got trampled to death.

The coronation in question was that of King Edward II. This person was also significant in the ancestries of myself and Mark, as explained last year, and for Nottingham Castle. King Edward II loved Nottingham Castle and went there a lot. I am descended from him. Edward’s lover, Piers Gaveston, was appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle, and Mark is descended from him. At Edward’s coronation he paid more attention to Piers than he did his new 12-year-old wife Isabella. It wasn’t a very good start to the marriage, and it ended with King Edward being deposed and Piers being beheaded.

It would have been perfect to find a long line of doctors, nurses and medical men in Florence Nightingale’s ancestry, but, alas, there isn’t. So instead let’s return to Nottingham Castle. Florence has 2 lines of descent from the Beresford family. Through several female lines they are descended from William de Peverel, a Norman knight who may have fought at the Battle of Hastings. In 1068 he was appointed as the first Constable of Nottingham Castle.

Monday 19 August 2013

Flower Power - The Power to Heal

The most important power any flower can have is to save a life. Today’s article looks at some of the flowers I’ve featured in my Flower Power series so far and at their medicinal uses in folklore and modern medicine. Nothing in this article, however, should be taken as an official recommendation to use any of these flowers for medicinal use yourself. Only a qualified medical doctor can recommend that.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans had several medicinal uses for this plant. Being big party-goers where excess was expected when it came to the consumption of alcohol, violets were often used to decorate the banqueting tables and was considered a cure for hangovers. Rather than eat the flowers a wreath of violets was worn around the head. Another name for the wild violet is heartsease because the petals are heart shaped. In folklore a plant’s healing properties were said to be indicated by its shape or colour. Because of the heart-shaped petals heartsease was said to cure ailments of the heart. The Roman used violets in love potions and aphrodisiacs as well as medicines to treat heart disease, and in my previous article on violets I recounted how lesbians showed their love for each other by giving violets. Violets contain salicylic acid, which is one of the ingredients of aspirin. Because of this is it frequently used in modern homeopathy to treat acne and other skin conditions.

Living in the world’s biggest producer of these flowers it is strange to think that they may provide hope to sufferers of Alzheimer’s. In the past daffodils have been considered poisonous, or at the very least capable of giving humans and animals a serious case of the “runs”. This had good effects in some cases, where extracts from daffodils and narcissi have been used to create numbness. They have even been used over the centuries in cancer treatments. But the most recent medical benefit comes from one of the drugs contained in daffodils called galanthamine. This has been used commercially for treatment in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. It’s use was first discovered in the 1950s but it is only in more recent years that it has been used. However, production of the drug has been on a small scale. That’s why the UK has begun research into large scale production of daffodils for medicinal rather than decorative use. Ironically, it is a research centre in Wales, where the daffodil is the national flower, that is leading the field (in more ways than one).
This species of the crocus has been used for many centuries in food as a spice and as a dye. It has also been used medicinally as a sedative, an asthma treatment, an aphrodisiac and in liver disease, amongst other ailments. Recent medical trials of saffron crocus extract have been carried out to assess the effectiveness of its use in a similar wide variety of illnesses. Clinical tests on animals have shown that saffron extracts can reduce blood pressure, leading to studies being carried out for its use in heart disease. Other studies are being carried out into cancer treatment, depression and eye disorders. Saffron’s use as a dye has also been useful to stain tumour cells for study under the microscope.

Despite it’s name the passion flower seems to produce the opposite effect. It’s main use in medicine has been as a homeopathic remedy for anxiety and as a sedative. Scientific trials have supported this in both humans and animals with the same sedative results. One species of passion flower has shown tranquilising properties, and there is one reported instance of it’s effective use in combination with other drugs to sedate a patient prior to surgery. Future uses for the passion flower could be in the production of drugs for asthma, high blood pressure, insomnia, and cardiac arrhythmia as well as anxiety. Perhaps the most exciting possibility is the passion flower’s anti-bacterial properties and the presence leukaemia cell toxins. It is hoped that further research also reveals its effectiveness against cancer and AIDS.

Friday 16 August 2013

The Life of Dr. Tom - Part 2

This article charts the medical influence of Dr. Tom Waddell after his involvement in the Olympics as an athlete and team doctor finished in 1976.

In 1980 Tom saw, just by chance, television coverage of the Gay Men’s Bowling Tournament. He was excited that images of gay men were being portrayed as real athletes. It sparked his vision of a multi-sport festival like the Olympics in which lgbt athletes from across America and around the world could compete together. It would show the world that gay men and lesbian women did not follow the stereotypes that the straight world had given them.

It was a vision aimed at the lgbt community itself as much as the wider world. Tom wanted to change the stereotypes of gay people not being fit enough to do competitive sport. And so the Gay Olympics came into Tom’s mind. He hoped that all groups, genders, ages, races and nationalities would come together and achieve great personal goals.

The controversy and subsequent battle with the US Olympic Committee over the use of the word “Olympic” is mentioned briefly here. My purpose here is to look at Tom’s association with the Gay Games/Olympics and the promotion of health.

The success of the first Gay Games in 1982 gave Tom the motivation to inspire and develop his idea further. A new organisational structure was set up to spread the work load across committees to relieve some of the pressure from Tom and the original committee members. But a deadly cloud began to cast a shadow.

The spectre of AIDS was becoming known around the world, and if previous stereotypes weren’t enough to overcome a new one appeared – the misguided belief that gay men were a deadly health risk to the rest of the world. Tom’s medical knowledge and the support he got from the Gay Games committees was fundamental in keeping the games alive during this dark period. Tom’s determination to show the world a healthy gay image was now to be promoted to the gay community itself. Many parts of the community was pessimistic about it’s future, and Tom hoped that his message of healthy living, safe sex and responsible behaviour would be heard. It was in this background that the second Gay Games went ahead in 1986.

Tom wrote a column in a popular gay magazine. Using his medical knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and his understanding of AIDS he wrote regularly on the news and research that was being carried out, and explained in layman’s terms what it meant. He urged the community not believe every claim and sensationalist scare story being published in the mainstream media. What’s more, Tom was not afraid to tell the gay community to change it’s attitude to sex.

The Gay Games were among the few non-medical organisations to outreach to people with HIV/AIDS. Tom had seen the misery of alienation that illnesses can cause in communities already marginalised – he has seen it in the black community in Alabama and among prisoners in New York. Even though people with HIV/AIDS may not have been able to compete fully as athletes, the Gay Games also encouraged them to take part on committees, as performers at ceremonies, or as stewards. This ethic of inclusion has been seen most prominently in recent Olympics where volunteers have been acknowledged as major factors in the success of the games.

Gay Games II was held in 1986. The number of athletes was more than double that of the first, and with more international athletes than ever. It also attracted attention from national media. However, the main emphasis of the reports were more on the spread of AIDS than sport. Athletes themselves expressed time and time again to the media that they were capable of taking responsibility for their health, even those who had AIDS who (in those days when few survived) were determined to “live” as long as possible.

One man can be said to be the epitome of this self-belief – Tom Waddell himself. He was diagnosed with AIDS before the start of Gay Games II but decided to wait until after the games ended before he announced his status. It would have created a distraction from the games if he revealed it earlier. As he said himself, “The Gay Games are not about AIDS. They are about health”.

Tom’s final years were mixed with joy and anguish. Joy at the success of the Gay Games and it’s continuation. Joy are becoming a father to Jessica, whose mother Sara Lewenstein was a member of the Gay Games I Women’s Outreach committee. Joy at Sara becoming his wife. But anguish over the US Olympic Committee’s legal challenge over the name “Gay Olympics”. Anguish at the court case dragging on while his health deteriorated. Anguish that the USOC had placed a lien on his home depriving his daughter of an inheritance.

But let’s not finish on a sad note. Tom Waddell died on 11 July 1987, leaving a sporting legacy that flourishes. Without it would we have seen such interest in lgbt athletes at London 2012 or a Pride House? Would anyone else had fought so hard through the AIDS crisis, bearing in mind him medical background, to continue his dream? The lien placed on his home was lifted after Tom’s death. Sara and Jessica continue Tom’s legacy with their involvement in the Gay Games. Even though the organisation of the Federation of Gay Games has changed a lot since the first games in 1982, Tom Waddell can join Baron Pierre de Coubertin as being called the father of a global sporting movement that has influenced and continues to inspire athletes for more than a generation.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Star Gayzing - Interstellar Fag Hags and Drag Queens

For those of you who aren’t sure, a “fag hag” is a straight woman who spends a lot of time in the company of gay men, especially out clubbing and partying. There is one group of stars which, according to some authorities, have been associated with homosexuality since Ancient Rome, but I prefer to think of them as the “Interstellar Fag Hags”. This group of stars are the Pleiades in Taurus.

The Pleiades of Ancient Greek legend were 7 sisters, daughters of Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione. There are several legends regarding their transformation into stars. First, one says how they mourned the deaths of their half-sisters the Hyades and committed suicide en masse. Zeus turned them all into stars. Another legend says the Pleiades killed themselves after their father was doomed to carry the weight of the sky on his shoulders. Yet a third says that Zeus turned them into stars to escape the attention of Orion. In the night sky, the constellation of Orion appears to chase the Pleiades across the sky.

Many astrologers say that the Pleiades were associated with homosexuality in ancient times, but as yet no-one has discovered why. One clue, however, can be found in the 1st century poem called “Astronomica”. The poem’s author, Manilius, was writing in an era when astronomy and astrology were indistinguishable. In contrast to today’s astrology, Manilius wasn’t interested in the planets and their influence, only the constellations (both zodiac and non-zodiac).

What Manilius wrote about the Pleiades was : “Under their influence devotees of Bacchus and Venus are born into the benevolent light, and people whose carefree and irresponsible behaviour runs free at parties and banquets and who strive to provoke good humour with biting wit. They will always take pains over personal adornment and elegant appearance. They will set their long hair in waves or curls or confine their tresses with ribbons, building them into a big topknot, and they will transform the appearance of their head by adding hair to it; they will smooth their hairy limbs with pumice, loathing their masculinity and craving for sleekness of arm. They adopt feminine dress, footwear worn not for practical use but for show, and an affected feminine walk. They are ashamed of their sex; in their hearts dwell a senseless passion for display, and they boast of their malady, which they call a virtue. To give their love is never enough, they will also want their love to be seen” (adapted from the translation by G. P. Goold, 1977, Loeb Classical Library edition).

Manilius was writing during the Roman period and used the Roman names of the gods. Bacchus was the Roman equivalent of the Greek god of wine, dance and theatre, Dionysos. Dionysos was considered a bull-god, the bull being an important symbol of power and male virility. This may be the reason who the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters are in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. Taurus may represent Dionysos the bull-god, and the Pleiades and Hyades were said to have been his nursemaids and teachers. Taurus has other bull-related symbolism, as told in an earlier Star Gayzing article in March 2012.

Dionysos was also regarded as a god of sexual opposites – a fertility god who was never shown sexually aroused, a powerful male god who dressed as a woman, a god of equal masculine and feminine qualities. Many sources called Dionysos “womanly”, yet his myths always represent him as quite definitely butch. Only very early representations of his show him as a long-haired androgynous beardless youth.

What helps to understand why Dionysos should wear woman’s clothes is one of the myths about his childhood. Rather than be brought up by the Pleiades and Hyades, Dionysos, who was an illegitimate son of Zeus, was put in the care of King Athanus who was told to raise the boy as a girl to hide him from the wrath of Hera, Zeus’s wife.

The adult Dionysos didn’t need to be shown sexually roused as he was often surrounded by spectacularly well-endowed satyrs and attendants. Being sexually aroused was seen as being bestial, not godly. Besides, Dionysos’s own son, Priapus, is the epitome of perpetual sexual arousal!

The Bacchae, the wild parties held as part of the worship of Dionysos/Bacchus, are characterised by their  descent into orgy. In Ancient Greece these often involved same-sex activity, as was accepted in their society.

Reading Manilius’s text again it would appear that he was not so much describing cross-dressers but drag acts – the female attire, the effeminate manners, the over-the-top personality, and the “strive to provoke good humour with biting wit”. He appears to be describing the Pleiades as a gods who influence men to turn against the usual male stereotype and to act and dress as women. Perhaps we could call the Pleiades a constellation for fag hags and drag queens. And, of course, drag queens refer to each other as “sisters”.

Sunday 11 August 2013

The Body of a God - Part 1

At this time of year there are millions of people on beaches across the northern hemisphere wishing they had the toned, fit body of the person sunbathing next to them, with a personal resolution to hit the gym themselves before the next summer. The image of a well-proportioned muscular body as an indicator of health and fitness (and desire) has been around for centuries. As I mentioned in this month’s introduction I’d be writing about the perfect body and bodybuilding. What I don’t want to do is just give a list of lgbt bodybuilders and champions (though some will be mentioned next time), but look at the ideas behind achieving the perfect body. This 2-part article will give a short history of why (mostly) men have striven to acquire the body of a god, and how the image of a firm, toned body has affected society and the lgbt community.

First of all, congratulations to Chris Olwage of New Zealand, who was crowned Mr. Gay World last Sunday during the Antwerp World Outgames.

There is a continuity throughout history of the desire of men to develop the body of a god since Ancient Greece. It was there, about 2,500 years ago, that the first free-standing statues of the human body are found – statues of naked muscular men. These statues have the generic name of kouros (plural kouri) and may have originally represented Apollo. Some kouri were of specific athletes, or given as trophies to athletes at one of the many sacred games they held.

Apollo was considered to have the most perfect body of any god, even Zeus. It was the mission of young Greek men to emulate Apollo’s body in a type of muscle worship which led to the creation of gymnasia, where male soldiers and athletes trained naked. Ever since them the phrase “the body of Greek god” has become synonymous with a perfect male body, and with it the idea that it represents of the most healthy of men. One of the most famous bodybuilding contests in the world today, Mr. Olympia, is even named after the home of the ancient Olympic games. Even though sculptural styles changed to show the more muscular body we would class a bodybuilders today (e.g. statues of Hercules), the ideal was still for a sleaker, toned, body as seen in athletes, such as the famous statue of a discus thrower represented here. This is the body-type which is seen in contests like Mr. Gay World.
Even in Ancient Greece they had male “beauty” contests.  There were several different contests, just like we have different types of contest today – Mr. Universe or Mr Gay World. They were called the euandria, euexia and kallisteia. Exact details of the way in which each contest was held and what the contestants were required to do to win are very patchy. From various academic sources I have come up with the following descriptions.

1) KALLISTEIA. This contest seems to have been the most sacred of the 3. It was held in the sacred precincts of temples and was purely a beauty contest. Both men and women had kallisteia contests, and the winner/winners were required to take part in a particularly sacred part of the festival or ceremony for which it was held. One well documented female kallisteia contest took place on the island of Lesbos. The winners of this contest were referred to as the Lesbiades who sang and danced in chorus in the sacred precincts. Among them, apparently, was one Sappho, the famous Lesbian poet noted for her poems of female love. There is little information about male kallisteia contests, though it is probable that they were not part of the sporting festivals like the Olympic or Panathenaea Games and had little or no relevance in the gymnasia, unlike the next two contests.

2) EUANDRIA. Like the following euexia contest, this was organised by the gymnasiarch, the organiser of the training sessions, or coach, and were usually held during the major sacred sport festivals and probably held in the gymnasia itself. In Athens at the Panathenaean Games each of the city’s clans/boroughs chose 24 of their most handsome men. These would compete against a couple of other clans/boroughs for the right to take a leading part in the ceremonial procession. The main judging criteria for the euandria was physique, athletic prowess and grace. The athletic abilities may have varied between city states and seem to have been competitive displays of synchronised gymnastic movements. In Athens there were several euandria contests – one for the 13-30 age group, one for the over 30’s called the thallophori, and another for the under 13’s called the euoplia. The euandria is perhaps the nearest of the 3 contests that most resembles Mr Gay World in that it represented the best in “manly beauty and excellence”.

3) EUEXIA. Perhaps this is the closest we get to an Ancient Greek bodybuilding contest. It didn’t feature the huge, bulked-up bodies we see today, but the euexia was judged on muscle tone, definition, symmetry of form, and a display of fitness. Some kind of “athlete of the year” element was included. Being judged by the gymnasiarch, the euexia was held annually at the end of each year, in some cities it was held monthly. There doesn’t seem to be any religious or sacred significance to the euexia, so it was a contest held purely for athletes and gyms.

So that’s the ancient world’s view of male beauty and body image and it’s legacy in the present world. Next month I’ll move into the Renaissance and modern times and look at the history and development of bodybuilding.

Thursday 8 August 2013

The Life of Dr. Tom - Part 1

While the Outgames are still in progress I thought it would be a good idea to look at the life of the founder of these lgbt sport festivals, Dr. Tom Waddell. It was his vision of a multi-sport festival to celebrate the health of the lgbt community at a time when AIDS was affecting so much of it that led to the eventual acknowledgement around the world, and within the community itself, that “gay men can do sport”. This 2-part article looks specifically at Tom’s medical career in relation to this.

Tom Waddell was always a keen sportsman. From an early age he excelled in gymnastics (his adoptive parents were acrobats). He made his college (American) football team and scored a decisive touchdown in an inter-college tournament which earned him a little fame. Further fame as a footballer was not for him, however, and he turned to track and field.

In 1960 Tom competed at the US decathlon championships and national trials for the Rome Olympics. He didn’t win a place on the national team – this time. In any case his intention at this stage was to become a doctor and he entered the New Jersey College of Medicine. During that time he continued to compete but found it, and his political activism, were getting in the way of his medical studies, and he was eager to become a practicing doctor.

That chance came in 1965 when he was accepted as an intern doctor at the Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn. Later that year he volunteered for the Medical Committee for Human Rights in Alabama. This was where he began to talk to groups on health issues, including sexually transmitted diseases. What the experience taught him was a determination to fight for the healthcare of the more disadvantaged members of society and for human rights. This he began by returning to New York and working in detention centres and prisons.

The following year Tom got the call-up to join the US army. By this time he had accepted his homosexuality though kept it secret – this was pre-Stonewall. It was the era of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy whereby active servicemen would be discharged if proven or known to be gay.

Tom loved the military training and even volunteered to train as a paratrooper. It was the kind of macho lifestyle he always believed gay men were as equally capable of having as much as any straight man. He was no admirer of the camp, effeminate lifestyle that all gay men were depicted as being in the 1960s. This belief was pivotal in his creation of the Gay Games many years later.

Pursuing medicine was a bigger pull for Tom and he was accepted into the army’s course in global medicine outside Washington DC. What began to bother him when he got there was the knowledge that the course ended with a tour of duty in Vietnam during the height of the war there. Like a lot of Americans at the time, Tom registered as a conscientious objector. He was reassigned and, more significantly, assigned to the US Army’s Olympic Training Program.

Tom served as both team doctor and member of the US track and field team that began training for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He was 30 and the oldest member of the team, but he performed well at the Olympic trials, coming 3rd in the decathlon and earned his place as an Olympian. He went one better in Mexico City, moving up to 2nd place in the national rankings, though he only made 6th place in the Olympic decathlon final.

In an interview for an American magazine the next year he said he doubted he would make the 1972 Munich Olympics in Munich when he would be 34. As it happens, a knee injury stopped him from competing in the US Olympic trails. Instead Tom became an Olympic “official” as medical adviser to the US Olympic Committee. He had left the army, a decision taken partly because his open support of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s Black Rights salute on the medal podium in Mexico City. Tom Waddell took up a senior residency at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.

In 1974 he was offered the post of medical director at the Life Sciences Division of the Whitaker Corporation in Saudi Arabia. Being gay in an Arab country in the 1970s could be very dangerous, but Tom managed his personal and professional life to such a fine balance that he was later invited to become personal physician to a Saudi prince.

This royal connection and his setting up of the nation’s first sports programme led to Tom being appointed as the Olympic team doctor again, but this time for the Saudi Arabian team at the 1976 Montréal Olympics.
As far as the official games were concerned this was Tom’s last Olympic involvement. But it was his creation of an unofficial Olympics – the Gay Olympics – that was to bring such great joy and great trouble to him personally in the following decade. This will be chronicled in Part 2 of “The Life of Dr Tom” later in the month.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Rainbow Summits - the Final Climb

In June I chronicled the challenge that Cason Crane set himself to climb all of the highest mountains on 7 continents - the Seven Summits – and become the first openly gay mountaineer to do so. My last post about him was on 30th June when he was half-way up Mount McKinley Denali in Alaska making his 2nd attempt to reach it’s summit and successfully complete his challenge.

Did he make it?

Cason’s expedition (which included Pearl Going, a leading female adventurer from New Zealand) set off on 15th June. The team had a good start and were already making their way from base camp up the Kahiltna Glacier in less than 5 days. Before moving 4½ miles up the glacier to the next camp they went half-way to store some supplies in the snow (called cacheing). This is usual practice on a climb and the reason was that rather than carry all their supplies up at the same time they could cache half at a midway point and take the rest to the camp. They were going to spend a couple of days at the camp, so they could return for the cached supplies later. It also helped to acclimatise the climbers to the altitude (the next camp was at 11,200 feet). As it happens they took an extra day to sort out some other problems before moving higher.

The weather during the climb was certainly more favourable than it was on Cason’s first summit attempt there in 2012. On that occasion the winds were ferocious for much of the climb and several teams had to turn back, including 2 that Cason joined.

The sun, however, can cause its own problems on a mountain. Climbing early in the day (up near the Arctic Circle there’s only a couple of hours darkness at night) meant that the snow is still frozen and less likely to melt and create rockfalls or even avalanches. Cason’s team climbed mostly through the night or early morning from the 11,200 feet camp up to what is called Windy Corner. As it’s name suggests, Windy Corner can be a difficult section to climb in usual Alaskan weather, so it is fortunate that the weather was good.

Having safely negotiated Windy Corner the team ascended along the West Buttress. As they progressed up to High Camp the weather began to deteriorate. They had to wait a day before the snow and wind subsided enough to allow them to climb up to High Camp, which they reached in time for Independence Day, July 4th. Windy Corner lived up to its reputation and strong winds prevented other expeditions from getting past it, either up or down.

Cason’s team then split into several groups. One member had frostbite and was being taken back down the mountain by one of the guides. Fortunately, having climbed to the top of Everest only 6 weeks beforehand Cason’s body was still pretty much acclimatised and was of benefit to him. He joined another small team of 1 climber and 1 guide to make an attempt on the summit. The rest of the team, including Pearl Going, decided to wait for the weather to improve. Pushing through the high winds Cason’s new team made their way out of High Camp.

On 6th July Cason dug his ice pick into the snow on top of Mount McKinley Denali and unfurled his Rainbow Pride flag. After 1½ years (5, if you include his Kilimanjaro climb before his Rainbow Summits project was formed), Cason Crane had become the first openly gay mountaineer to climb all Seven Summits (8, if you include both of the disputed Oceania/Australia peaks). This also meant that the Rainbow flag, in its 35th anniversary year, was flown from the highest point on 5 continents (excludes Kilimanjaro, and Mount Elbrus in Russia).

With his challenge over Cason has raised thousands of dollars for the Trevor Project in support of bully victims. He intends to go to Princeton, but it is certain that his celebrity status will now take up a lot of his time.

Without taking anything away from Cason’s remarkable achievement, I have come across the names of other lgbt mountaineers whose stories and achievements are just as interesting, including the gay mountaineers who were the first to fly the Rainbow Pride flag from the top of one of the Seven Summits in 2005. Their story, and that of the first openly lesbian mountaineer to attempt the Seven Summits, will be included in a series on climbers next year.

Saturday 3 August 2013

On Track to the Outgames - Part 11

With the official opening ceremony of the 3rd World Outgames in Antwerp tonight I continue my series on the Outgames history by looking at the most recent and least known – the 1st Philippine Outgames.

The Philippine Outgames in February and March 2012 were a legacy of the Asia Pacific Outgames held in Wellington, New Zealand, the previous year. The Outgames’ lgbt and human rights conference had dealt with many issues that affected the community around the Pacific rim and east Asia.

There are many variations in the cultures in attitudes and treatment to lgbt issues and rights in the area. One question that was raised at the conference was how to outreach to members of the lgbt community who experience additional problems associated with disability, poverty or access to support. To help address this the Wellington Outgames created a specific fund to offer grants and support to Pacific and Asian countries to help create outreach programmes featuring sport and human rights education.

The Philippine Outgames, titled “Levelling the Playing Field”, was the first event to materialise. It was different in format to the World and Continental Outgames. It was much smaller, of course, but was also spread across several weeks with no continuous sporting activity throughout the period. It was also not centred on one specific host city.

The Philippines isn’t blessed with a wide variety of lgbt groups, but the few that are present in that country gave their support and their time to help organise the Outgames. These organisations were Rainbow Rights Project Inc. (also called R-Rights), ProGay Philippines, Gabriela Women’s Party, and Outrage, the country’s only lgbt magazine. Several other organisations helped to organise specific events, which I’ll mention in due course.

The official launch was held on 11th February 2012 in Caloocan City in north Manila. Rather than a spectacular opening ceremony the launch was a smaller, low-key, yet still joyous, occasion. After the welcoming speeches the first sporting event took place. This was a volleyball tournament held at the launch venue. Even though competitors were small in number compared to other Outgames the competition was still intense and, as well as medals for participants, trophies were awarded.

The next event took place nearly 4 weeks later on 10th March. It was something different. It was called the “Love Dive”, a dive into the sea around the Aujanar Beach and Dive resort. The purpose was to look at the environmental problems associated with the coastal areas of many populous countries. Even though there was no lgbt issues surrounding it, this ecological “Love Dive”, which was open to those who had dived before or not, served as a social and educational experience for members of the lgbt community.

The last main event of these Philippine Outgames was a small conference called “Deaf Talks”. Prompted by issues raised at the Wellington Outgames a year earlier, the needs and concerns of various disability groups within the lgbt community were addressed. A relatively new organisation, Deaf Rainbow Philippines, joined R-Rights and the Commission on Human Rights in hosting the forum.

The problems encountered by lgbt people with disabilities have often been overlooked even within the lgbt community itself. As the president of Deaf Rainbow Philippines pointed out at the forum, deaf people often have difficulty in finding a job and even a partner so feel more isolated and marginalised. The “Deaf Talks” forum provided those in the Philippines with access to support groups and international support through the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Throughout the 1st Philippine Outgames the various lgbt organisations provided advice to groups and individuals and encouraged people to connect with each other and push for political change within the country for better lgbt human rights.

By the end there was a feeling of a successful venture, and even of hope for the future. Perhaps this hope is summed up in the fact that the whole event was promoted as the 1st Philippine Outgames, implying that future ones were possible.

During the current Antwerp World Outgames I’ll collect together some facts and figures for a fitting conclusion to this history of the Outgames, to be produced several days after the closing ceremony. And good luck to all the athletes, in particular the Nottingham Ball Bois, whom I know, in the football/soccer competition.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Ology of the Month - Medicine and Health

I’ve been trying to think of an ology that sums up all of the scientific areas I want to cover this month, but couldn’t think of one. There are plenty of ologies that cover parts of it – human biology, immunology, virology, psychology, pharmacology – but it would have been a cluttered title. I think the words I’ve chosen sum up everything. What I’ll leave for now, however, is AIDS research and the development of its drugs and treatment. They will be covered n December.

So this month is all about the sciences that keep us alive and healthy – everything from drugs to diet, and from microbes to musclemen.

You’re probably thinking to yourself “what has bodybuilding got to do with science? It’s a sport”. And quite right, but when you think about it bodybuilding relies these days on the right combination of diet and exercise, and the careful measurement of what goes into the body. Some bodybuilders prefer to use drugs to achieve the look they want. What has been increasingly more important in recent decades is the emergence of sports science and technology. This is the same with all sport. There’s a team of doctors and technicians behind every successful athlete.

I’ll be looking at bodybuilding in a more general way (unfortunately, no bodybuilders have volunteered to let me have a closer look!) and look at the male body and why European cultures have placed such a high value on good body image – from the ancient Greek male beauty contests to this week’s Mr Gay World contest at the World Outgames.

The main purpose for Ancient Greek men to perfect their body was as an act of devotion to Apollo, god of sport. He was also god of medicine, thereby uniting all 3 disciplines into 1 – muscle worship, sport and medicine.

To cover the medical sub-theme of Doctors and Nurses I’ll be having a look at several medical practitioners with lgbt connections. These will include Florence Nightingale, Sophia Jex-Blake and Tom Waddell – and I’ll expose some myths surrounding one of them! I’ll also be looking at the Extraordinary Life of the man who can be called the Father of the MRI scanner. One person I won’t be covering, though, is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She has been the subject of several articles in the past, and her introduction of inoculation of smallpox into the UK has been covered.

Another subject this month is drugs obtained from plants. I’ve covered this subject before in an article about Professor Jay Keasling and the malaria drug artemisinin. I’ll be looking at some of the other subject in my Flower Power series and the drugs and medical uses obtained from them.