Sunday 15 December 2013

The 12 Gay Birthdays of Christmas : Part 2

Today’s Christmas birthdays are all celebrated today, 15th December, the 3rd Sunday in Advent.

William Dorr Legg (1904-1994)
In the world of lgbt studies and archives the name of W. Dorr Legg stands high. Legg gave up his career as Professor of Landscape Architecture to become a leading member of the early gay rights movement in the USA. He was a member of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights groups to be formed, and in 1952 he and his partner helped to found ONE, Incorporated. In 1953 this organisation began publishing the first widely distributed gay publication in the US called “ONE”. It fell foul of US postal regulation in 1954 when they refused to distribute what they considered this “lewd, obscene, lascivious, and filthy” magazine through it’s postal system. As business manager of ONE magazine Legg was involved in the long battle in the courts to challenge the postal service. The case ended over 3 years later in the US Supreme Court with victory for ONE, Incorporated. ONE Magazine continued to be published until 1969 when competition form newer magazines made production unprofitable. The key to ONE, Incorporated’s mission was education. ONE Magazine provided one method of disseminating ideas and knowledge. Another was a ground-breaking series of lectures and courses at the ONE Institute of Homophile Studies which began in 1956. Under Legg’s leadership the Institute continued and grew, reaching a high point in 1981 when California granted it a charter to establish master’s and doctoral degrees. Legg became it’s first Dean. The large archive and library accumulated by the ONE Institute merged with the International Gay and Lesbian Archive in 1995 after Legg’s death and is now the largest lgbt archive in the world.

Muriel Rukuyser (1913-1980)
Today marks the centenary of the birth of this Jewish-American poet. Always advocating progressive social politics throughout her life Muriel often incorporated themes of social justice, feminism and equality into her poems. This led to critics either consistently loving or hating her work. Early in her career she also wrote for various periodicals, often covering social issues upon which she based some of her poetry – “Breath-in experience, breathe-out poetry”, she once wrote. An example of this is her poem “The Book of the Dead” which was inspired by her presence at the hearings on miner’s deaths from silicosis, an illness caused by breathing in rock dust. Muriel wasn’t afraid to speak out and take the consequences. While writing for a student newspaper she was arrested while covering the trial in the Scottsboro Case. This was a trial in which 9 black teenagers were wrongly accused and convicted of rape (the last of the group to be pardoned posthumously was only done last month). Muriel was arrested twice, the second time was during an anti-Vietnam protest. As well as her experiences influencing her poetry, so did her Jewish background. She also wrote plays, screenplays, biographies, and translations of European writers. Her sexuality was never acknowledged though she sis accept an invitation to take part in a Lesbian Poetry Reading in 1978. A stroke prevented her from attending.

Mutsuo Takahashi (b.1937)
This poet has been a leading figure in Japanese homoerotic and gay literature for over 50 years. Predominantly a poet, Mutsuo has produced works of prose, memoir, novels, libretto and traditional Japanese verse and plays. In 2000 he received the Kunsho award for his contribution to modern Japanese literature. His memoirs “Twelve Views From the Distance”, published in 1970, described how he recognised his homosexuality as a schoolboy in rural Japan. In 1962 he moved to Tokyo and worked in an advertising agency until his retirement in the 1980s. During all this time he wrote prolifically, including homosexual themes and gay sex in most of his work. His 1964 anthology “Rose Tree, Fake Cover” gained him national attention and critical praise. He sent a copy to Yukio Mishima, the famous Japanese writer obsessed with masculinity, male body image and military discipline.  Mutsuo became Mishima’s protégé and they became close friends, a friendship which ended with Mishima’s ritual suicide.  Mutsuo became more widely known outside Japan in the mid 1970s when he began incorporating his experiences abroad in his poetry. He continued this international element by dedicating poetry to foreign writers like Ezra Pound, Jean Genet and Jorge Luis Borges.

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