Considering today is
Hallowe’en there’s a noticeable absence of decent horror films on British
television tonight. And I’m not referring to modern slasher/zombie films. I
mean proper horror films like those made by Hammer. Hammer’s first horror film
“The Curse of Frankenstein”, was shown on Monday. Next time you see it take
more time to listen to the music. It was composed by one of the most prolific
horror film composers, James Bernard (1925-2001).
An Oscar winner and a
wartime code-breaker James Bernard’s fame rests on his long association with
the Hammer films, and the Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing
Dracula/Frankenstein films in particular.
Before going into detail
about his Hammer work I’ll take a few minutes to look at his musical
background. Born in the Himalayas into a British military family James was sent
to England to live with his aristocratic grandparents. It was a typical
“Downton Abbey” childhood, with a piano in the nursery on which he began to
play when he was about 6 years old.
Through his mother James
claimed he was descended from Thomas Arne, composer of “Rule Britannia”. I
haven’t had time to check this, but it’ll make a good “Out of Their Trees”
article in the future.
At school he met Benjamin
Britten who was visiting a schoolmaster, and who encouraged James to compose.
They stayed in touch when James left school and served in the army during World
War II. During the war James met his first life partner Paul Dehn, a major in MI6
who went on to write the screenplay for “Goldfinger” (among many other famous
and popular films). After the war James enrolled at the Royal College of Music.
On graduating he was asked by Britten to copy out his new opera “Billy Budd”
for his publishers. James attended the opera’s premier with E. M. Forster.
James’s wartime work on
the Enigma machine with Alan Turing, and his Oscar-winning screenplay, are best
left for another time. Let’s return to his Hammer horror film music.
James had been composing
for stage and radio productions for several years before he was approached by
the chief music director of Hammer films. He was impressed by James’s score for
the BBC radio production of “The Duchess of Malfi” and asked him to compose the
music for Hammer’s “The Quatermass Xperiment” (1955) – one of my favourite
Readers may be familiar
with the music from the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. The
use of violins to produce a harsh, discordant, almost screeching sound which
the “Psycho” shower scene best illustrates was actually pioneered by James
Bernard in his two Quatermass films. Violins were generally used to provide a
romantic or soothing emotion and James used the discordant technique throughout
his films. Horror films have copied this musical technique ever since.
Hammer moved into the
serious horror genre with the afore-mentioned “The Curse of Frankenstein”.
James had been a life-long fan of horror and suspense, so he had the right credentials
to write for horror films. You can often feel his enthusiasm fro writing a
horror score in a lot of his work.
In 1958 Hammer made its
first Dracula film, and in total James wrote the music for 9 Frankenstein and
Dracula films for Hammer. He also wrote for other Hammer horror classics such
as “The Gorgon” and “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires” (his last Hammer
James was fortunate enough
to compose the music for the film versions of three of his favourite boyhood
books – “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, “She” and “The Devil Rides Out”. “She”
was my introduction to Hammer films. It was shown on tv when I was a young
teenager and I’ve never forgotten the impact it made on me (I had nightmares
about that lava pit!). It was also the music which stuck in my mind. The main
theme sounded very eerie and atmospheric. None of the subsequent Hammer films
that I’ve seen have ever given me the same feeling, so I suppose the music for
“She” must be my favourite James Bernard score.
James wasn’t even 50 years
old when he “retired” and went to live in the Caribbean. He continued to
compose for documentaries and to horror programmes, including two episodes of
“Hammer House of Horror”.
For a few years Hammer
horror films lost their popularity following the rise of American slasher and
monster films like “Hallowe’en” and “An American Werewolf in London”. But the
cult status of Hammer revived at the end of the 20th century and
James found himself a popular contributor to documentaries and conventions.
I’ll end at the beginning
– the beginning of horror films. In 1997 James was asked to compose a score for
the classic early silent horror film “Nosferatu” (1922).
I wasn’t sure which of
James’s scores I wanted to let you hear. In the end I’ve chosen the main theme
from “Dracula” (1958), where you can almost sing along to the music with the
blood-thirsty count’s name.
Back in July I wrote about
lgbt drummers and briefly mentioned the jazz drummer Ruby Lucas. It seems
appropriate to write more about her today, during Black History Month UK and immediately
after my piece about the Harlem Renaissance.
Ruby Lucas was born and
raised during the Harlem Renaissance. She grew up in to become a member of a
small all-female jazz/swing band and, with the partner Tiny Davis, founded a
popular lesbian and gay bar in Chicago.
Much of what we know about
Ruby’s life comes from her position as Tiny Davis’s partner. There’s very
little information which tells us about Ruby as an individual in her own right.
Most of her story is told in relation to her place in Tiny’s life.
Ruby grew up in Kansas
City. Whether that is where she was born or not is uncertain. I’ve tried to
track her down on the US censuses for 1940 and 1930 without success, so I
cannot tell you the year of her birth or her family circumstances. It is almost
certain, though, that Ruby was raised in poor surroundings.
Ruby learnt to play the
piano as a youngster, and this leads me to suspect that there was music in her
family background. Perhaps her parents were musical entertainers of some sort
during the Harlem Renaissance years. Ruby’s musical talents were obviously
encouraged by someone and she also learnt to play the drums and bass.
As a performer Ruby used
the stage name Renei (or Renée) Phelan. I have seen a couple of references
which indicate it was the other way rough – Ruby being her stage name and Renée
her real name. I have also listened to interviews where Tiny Davis uses the
name Renée for Ruby which might be supportive of this. Again, a search of the
US census reveals nothing definite.
It was in Kansas City that
Ruby met Tiny. Ernestine “Tiny” Davis was a member of the International
Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-female, inter-racial, jazz/blues/swing band which
toured America during World War II. Tiny was in Kansas City performing with the
Sweethearts in 1948 and was organising refreshments at the after-show party
when she met Ruby. There must have been an instant connection, because shortly
afterwards Tiny left her husband and children and lived with Ruby.
Soon after the war the
International Sweethearts disbanded and work for female black musicians was
difficult to find. Ruby not only became part of Tiny’s personal life after that
but also a member of a new all-female band called Tiny Davis and the Hell
Divers. This was a smaller band than the Sweethearts, just 3 or 4 members which
would find work in many more smaller venues than the dance hall. Tiny was band
leader and trumpet player and Ruby played the drums. The Hell Divers undertook
small tours of the US and Caribbean.
Ruby and Tiny moved from
Kansas City to Chicago shortly after forming the band. Tiny hinted in a 1988
documentary that they left Kansas because of their relationship (they were
“thrown out” of Kansas, in Tiny’s words).
In Chicago the Hell Divers
performed in clubs and bars, some of them gay and lesbian clubs. But tastes in
music were changing. The swing and jazz sounds of the 1930s and 1940s were
being replaced at the top of the music charts by rock’n’roll. With tour dates
diminishing Ruby and Tiny decided to open their own club in the early 50s,
“Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot” on Wentworth Avenue in Chicago. It soon became a
well-known venue for gays and lesbians to gather and hear Tiny and Ruby perform
The Gay Spot could have
gone into the 1960s had it not been for the ubiquitous urban redevelopment in
many cities. In 1958 Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot was demolished to make way for a
new road, the Dan Ryan Expressway.
With their own venue gone
Ruby and Tiny returned to performing in other venues around Chicago. They had
acquired something of a cult following by then. In the end it was the progress
of time that stopped them performing. Tiny developed arthritis which prevented
her from standing for long periods on stage. Even so, it was 1982 when they
last performed professionally – that’s nearly 30 years after Tiny and Ruby’s
Gay Spot first opened.
In 1988 Ruby and Tiny were
featured in the documentary mentioned above, “Tiny and Ruby: Hell Divin’
Women”, in which they performed together and with Tiny’s family. This documentary
is featured on the DVD release of “Before Stonewall”.
Tiny Davis died in 1994.
Ruby Lucas survived her. Nothing is recorded of Ruby after this, perhaps
someone out there can let me know.
I’ll leave you with this
clip from the 1988 documentary.
Following on from my
article last Sunday on lgbt Renaissance composers here’s a look at a more
recent group of lgbt Renaissance musicians, those in the Harlem Renaissance of
the 1920s and 1930s.
It is something of a
misnomer to call the movement a true Renaissance. There was no consolidated or
focussed cultural or artistic past to be reborn, unlike the medieval
Renaissance which saw the rebirth of learning and art resulting from the rediscovery
of long forgotten and ignored Ancient Greek writings.
The Harlem Renaissance
began quietly and was a consolidation of many cultural influences from
African-American communities as they converged on New York City in what is
called the Great Migration at the end of the 19th century. The
consolidation of these influences began to be noticed in the 1920s when many
African-Americans began publishing their writings and new musical experiences
of modern cabaret, blues and jazz were being created.
When we look back at the
Harlem Renaissance we see many names emerging as pioneers of black American
culture. Many of these names are of women. But we must remember that the
culture of 1920s USA, even though it seems close to ours, was different. In her
recent undergraduate thesis “Women-Loving Women: Queering Black Urban Space
During the Harlem Renaissance” Samantha C. Tenorio points out that within the
black community of the period the term “women-loving women” “…implied a
particular intersectional identity of race, gender, sexuality, and often class,
due to the systemic impact of racism that produced wealth inequality, wherein
the woman-loving woman’s identity as a black, often working-class, woman of
non-normative sexuality located her at the lowest position of almost all social
hierarchies in the United States…” Today the contributions and influence of
women to the Harlem Renaissance is seen as equal to that of the men, but it
wasn’t thought so at the time.
The fact that the
majority of those involved were of the first generation of black Americans not
born into slavery is very important. Despite their lack of wealth and property
they were able to find a self expression which their parents and grandparents
This new self expression
included the freedom to meet and socialise in public. Nowhere can this be more
evident than in the music and entertainment venues whose influence spread
throughout the rest of the 20th century.
Jazz and the blues are
both seen as deriving from the music of the slaves and the southern states. The
blues continued the slave-music convention of expressing a desire and hope for
an improvement in the singer’s life. The desire to be free from slavery turned
into a desire to be happy, wealthy or accepted in society. Acceptance included
sexual orientation, and many of the famous female blues singers of the Harlem
Renaissance sang about same-sex acceptance.
No-one expressed this
same-sex acceptance in blues more openly than Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (1886-1939),
who is known as “the Mother of the Blues”. She was one of many female
performers who began their career on the American vaudeville stage of the
southern states. It was on that circuit that Rainey first heard the blues.
Using influences from both southern country and northern urban sounds Rainey
developed the blues into a medium which became popular with all audiences and
became commercial enough for record producers to start marketing the blues to
Americans of all heritages and social groups.
Sexuality was a large
element in both Rainey’s performance and lyrics, using this in her most
well-known song, “Prove It On Me Blues” in which she challenges the listener to
catch her with anther woman. It was performed with a knowing look, and it is
generally accepted that Rainey was indeed bisexual.
During a tour of
Tennessee another influential blues singer joined Ma Rainey’s show. She was the
“Empress of the Blues”, Bessie Smith (1894-1937). To say Bessie led a colourful
life is an understatement. Hers is also a genuine “rags to riches” story of how
a woman from a poor black family used her talents to amass wealth. Most of this
was achieved through a recording contract. In 1923 Bessie’s recording of
“Down-Hearted Blues” sold over three quarters of a million copies in America in
Bessie’s private life
was hardly private at all. She never his her tempestuous, sometimes violent,
temper, nor her sexual preferences for both men and women. She led the sort of
life to which legends attached themselves, though one story may be true. It is
said that she once shouted at a female lover that she had 12 women in her show
and she could sleep with one every night if she wanted.
Bessie’s untimely death,
like so many others of legendary performers, is also surrounded by legend. The
plain truth is that she died from injuries she sustained in a car accident in
1937 at the age of 43.
From these influential
pioneers, and from other female performers of the Harlem Renaissance, blues and jazz
disseminated across the whole of American society and established itself as a
timeless genre which still has many fans and performers to this day.
As a sort of prequel to
my article on composers of the Baroque period here is my look at some from the
preceding period, the Renaissance.
The term Renaissance has
been used many times over the past 600 years to denote a rebirth of culture,
though in a couple of days I’ll write about a more recent Renaissance which was
more of a cultural explosion.
The Renaissance period
spans the 15th and 16th centuries. It saw huge
developments in art and culture which are still familiar to us today through
art, literature, architecture and music.
I’ve said many times
before that we should be careful not to picture the past with a modern mind.
Attitudes and societies change. The very development of the Renaissance is
testimony to that. So we have to forget modern sexuality labels. None of the
people I mention today would have considered themselves as gay or bisexual.
There are several
Renaissance composers I want to mention today. Their sexuality has been queried
and looked at by musicologists and historians in recent years.
The first composer is Dominique
Phinot (c.1501-c.1556), a popular composer in his own time. He was an early
pioneer of a form of music that was particularly influential among the next
generation of composers, including one I’ll mention later.
Music was pretty bland
in the early Renaissance compared with the myriad of styles we have today. An
innovation which was an early experiment in stereo sound was pioneered (though
not invented) by Phinot. In the large cathedrals of medieval Europe the sound
of 4 male singers would reverberate around the naves and chancel. People like
Phinot thought “what if we split the choir into 2 and have them stand in
different parts of the cathedral and sing alternately”. This was known as
polychoral music. The experience of hearing voices echoing around a cathedral
from first one side and then the other, of being surrounded by music, was
something worshippers had never heard before.
Most of Phinot’s career
was spent in Italy and southern France though, thanks to the development of
printing and musical notation, he and other composers found their works
distributed throughout Europe. No-one is sure when Phinot died. The generally
accepted story, first recorded in 1560, was that Phinot was found guilty of
sexual behaviour, sodomy, with a choirboy and was executed shortly after 1555.
There were other
composers who wrote polychoral music beside Phinot. A contemporary of his had a
very similar polychoral style. He was called Nicolas Gombert (c.1495-c.1560).
Gombert developed the style by increasing the number of singers. Four male
singers was usual for the early Renaissance choir. Gombert increased this to 8,
and sometime to 12, singers. This was also new. I suppose it was the start of
the male voice choir and gay men’s chorus that have become so popular.
Gombert’s use of another
technique, counterpoint (the singing of 2 different harmonic melodies at the
same time), was also among the most accomplished of his time. Perhaps too
accomplished, because the Council of Trent (1545-63), which laid down the
artistic ideals of the succeeding Baroque period, required more clearly
distinguished texts to be sung in church music. As a result Baroque composers
wrote fewer and simpler choral works in counterpoint.
Like Phinot Gombert is
said to have been charged with sodomy against choirboys. He was employed in the
Imperial chapel of Emperor Karl V as “maitre des enfants”, the “master of the
children” in the choir. This meant he travelled with the emperor around the
Holy Roman Empire acting as choral manager and composer. In 1540 he was
replaced in this office. According to a later report Gombert was found guilty
of sexual contact with boys in his charge. He managed to escape execution but
was sentenced instead to several year’s hard labour on the galleys.
Just how much hard
labour he endured is difficult to determine but in the 7 years he served in the
galleys he managed to compose a motet which Emperor Karl found so moving that
he pardoned Gombert. Perhaps he only served the first part of his sentence in
the galleys – he was in his late 40s when sentenced, well into middle-age for
the Renaissance. Surely he couldn’t have lasted 7 years doing hard labour AND
write a motet.
After his pardon Gombert
retired to Tournai, his conviction ruining his future prospects (something
celebrities have discovered for themselves in the UK recently after several
high-profile sex abuse cases).
At the time when Gombert
was being sentenced for sodomy another composer was born who managed to escape
both execution and sentence for sodomy. He was Giovan Leonardo Primavera
As with other composers
of the Renaissance, including the ones I’ve already mentioned, Primavera spent
most of his time in Italy composing for the various courts and church patrons
who encouraged the arts and music of the period. Like Phinot and Gombert,
Primavera was a popular composer in his lifetime. His most famous work, though
rarely heard, is a madrigal based on a homoerotic poem.
In 1570 Primavera was
one of several people accused of sodomy at the Church of Our Lady of Loreto. It
began with the arrest of one of the church’s canons, Luigi Fontino, who was
accused of sexual acts with one of the new choirboys, a teenager called Luigi
dalla Balla. Under the threat of torture Fontino confessed and was beheaded.
Young Balla confessed under torture to willingly having sex with other men and
was whipped and banned from the Papal States. One of those he confessed to
having had sex with was Giovan Primavera.
Primavera was to be put
on trial but he managed to escape and may have gone to Venice. The next 15
years of his life were relatively quiet. He continued to compose, and may have
lived after the publication of a book of his madrigals in 1585.
As for young Luigi dalla
Balla, he seems to have become a composer as well. It may be too much to think
that he and Primavera might have met again. After all, Primavera spent a lot of
his time in Venice, and there’s evidence that Balla wrote a couple of pieces
that were published in Venice in 1584 and 1587. They seem to have been in the
same city at the same time – why shouldn’t they have met?
The Renaissance saw
several changes in music that were pioneered or championed by what can be
described as “queer” composers. Whether it was creating the male voice choir or
developing new stereo experiences, the work of these composers influenced the
development of music right down to the Riot Grrrl movement, the gay disco age,
and the Harlem blues.
Today is the 50th
anniversary of the death of Cole Porter. He has long been one of my favourite
song and show writers. He has often been compared with Sir Noël Coward but I
think they are two very different writers. In tribute to Cole Porter here is a
look at his ancestry.
A lot is known about
Cole’s wealthy background. In particular his mother Kate (1862-1952) and his
grandfather James Omar Cole (1828-1923) have played major parts in his life.
But before I go into his
privileged ancestry I want to look at his more humble paternal roots.
The Porter family have
Irish roots. The earliest member of the family to arrive in America was James
Porter (1699-1778) and his wife Eleanor. Their grandson Andrew is recorded in
the 1830 census as living in Gallatin, Kentucky, but he appears to have been
born in Maryland and died in Indiana. Andrew’s son Samuel Porter (1810-1883)
was the first member of the family to achieve some influence in the community.
In 1851 Samuel was
elected as Switzerland County representative to the Indiana State assembly. He
was Cole Porter’s other grandfather, and he wasn’t the only state legislator in
his ancestry, as you’ll see later.
Samuel Porter married a
Scottish immigrant called Catherine McCallum. She had arrived from Scotland
with her parents and grandparents in 1818 at the age of 2. Samuel and Catherine
were well-off but by no means rich. Their son, also called Samuel (Cole’s
father), moved to Peru, Indiana, and began to date young Kate Cole. But Kate’s
father, a self-made millionaire, was at first reluctant to see the couple
James Omar Cole had made
his fortune as a result of the California Gold Rush of 1848. As an adventurous
22-year-old he had left the family home in Peru, Indiana, and headed into the
wild Wild West. From his beginnings as a mining assistant he gathered enough
wealth in ten years to open several stores, a brewery, a cold-storage company
and a sawmill, and become a millionaire.
James wasn’t the first
adventurous member of his family. Like all Americans of colonial descent his
ancestors wee even more adventurous. Many of them left their homes, either in
search of a new life or to escape persecution, and they landed on American
Cole Porter descends
from quite a large number of these early settlers. Several families can be
grouped together geographically, and I’ll concentrate of them because of their
involvement in one of the many conflicts between the colonists and Native
Americans – the Pequot War of 1637.
By 1636 European
colonists had formed several small settlements in Connecticut consisting of
just several hundred people. The area was already a battleground between
several native tribes over control over land, and this developed into a battle
for control over the fur trade with the colonists. The Pequot traded with the
Dutch, and the rival Mohegan traded with the English. Tensions rose, and
eventually it led to the capture and deaths of a Pequot chief and an English
In 1637 the Connecticut
General Court (a newly appointed body that was the first to convene
independently of the governing Massachusetts council) declared war on the
Pequot tribe. Clerk of the Court was Thomas Welles, a settler from Warwickshire
in England. He and his family had arrived in America in 1635 and came to the
Connecticut settlement of Hartford the following year. Thomas is Cole Porter’s
At the 1637 General
Council a special militia of 90 men was raised to fight the Pequots. They
included several of Cole’s relatives. The militia made alliances with the
Pequot’s rival tribes. They attacked several Pequot villages, and the Pequots
surrounded the coastal trading post of Port Saybrook. They raided other
settlements, killing up to 30 colonists.
In the small town of
Wethersfield there lived a large number of Cole Porter’s ancestors including
the Footes, Demings, Treats and Churchills (no relation to Winston), all of
whom were to become influential in later American history and have many other
The conflict reached a
tragic climax with the Mystic Massacre, an attack by the colonists and their
allies on the Pequot village of Mystic. Most of the Pequot warriors had gone to
attack Hartford, leaving mainly the women, children and elderly in the village.
The militia callously set fire to the village and killed anyone trying to
escape. Of the 600 Pequot villagers only less than 20 survived.
Many of the Pequots fled
from their other villages and tried to find refuge with other tribes, most of
them without success. A large group of Pequot refugees were trapped in
swampland. This time the militia allowed the women and children to leave but
the rest were attacked and defeated. Any surviving Pequot warriors were hunted
down, by both colonists and rival tribes, almost wiping out the Pequot for
A second Connecticut
General Court was convened at which the Pequot lands were seized and
distributed among members of the militia and their allied tribes. Among the families
to benefit were Cole Porter’s ancestors Thomas Barnes, Capt. Thomas Weld and
Deacon William Peck, among others.
And so did Thomas
Welles, the Clerk of the Court. When Connecticut drew up its constitution it
was he who produced the documents, effectively declaring Connecticut a separate
colony. Thomas rose in the legislature to become Treasurer, then Secretary,
then Deputy Governor, and finally Governor of Connecticut, the only person in
history to hold all four offices.
Throughout his career
Thomas served as a magistrate and served on three witchcraft trials. One of
those on trial was another of Cole Porter’s relatives, Mrs. Lydia Gilbert.
courtroom incident, though it didn’t involve Thomas Welles but his grandson
Thomas Thompson. He was married twice. His first wife died leaving 2 daughters
(including Anne, Cole’s 4-times-great-grandmother). Thompson remarried, and his
new wife had a bit of a temper, according to neighbours, and Thompson was
beaten regularly by his wife. In 1705 Thompson’s wife threw a pair of shears at
him, the points entering his skull and going into his brain. It didn’t kill him
instantly but he survived several days in agony, dying around Christmas time.
His widow was put on trial for murder, found guilty, and (we believe, no-one is
Cole Porter had colonial
ancestors who lived in other parts of New England. Peter Tallman was a German
colonist who settled first on Barbados and then moved to Rhode Island. His
grandson William married Anne Lincoln, whose brother was ancestor of Abraham
Lincoln. William and Ann’s son Benjamin married Dinah Boone, a first-cousin of
frontiersman Daniel Boone.
In the past decade
genealogists have been discovering new records and several of Cole Porter’s
ancestral lines to royalty have been disproved. One of these was through Thomas
Welles above, who has no connection to the English noble family with royal
blood from whom he was said to have descended. However, there is one bloodline
which provides an appropriate link to an English king, and it comes through
Thomas Welles’s wife Alice Tomes. Alice is descended from Piers Gaveston, the
lover (and possible “wedded brother” partner) of King Edward II and Constable
of Nottingham Castle.
a trend over the past 3 years. Since this blog began in 2011 there have been
more influential people and celebrities coming out as lgbt each year. Whether
this is just because I’m noticing more of them or because more of them are
actually coming out is difficult to tell. What it means, though, is that the
list of people who have come out since UK National Coming Out Day last year is
too long to publish today even if I split it into 2 lists like I did last year.
Instead I’ll give an overview of the list and try to find any other trends that
As I’ve said
before, there’s a difference between coming out publicly and being out
personally. I’m both – I’m out personally to everyone who knows me, and I’m out
publicly to the world online with this blog. A lot of the people I’ll mention
today have also been out personally to people they know and haven’t hid it, but
they chose not to mention it publicly to people they don’t know.
this years newly out people together according to profession – sport, acting,
politics, music, and “miscellaneous”. There may be some well-known names I
don’t mention today. That doesn’t make them less significant but I want to
include as many other names as possible. We’ll start with the largest group,
collegiate sport has a greater significance in that country than similar
academic levels in other countries. I don’t hear of many UK college or
university athletes coming out, for instance. The only public sporting event I
can think of is the Oxford and Cambridge University boat race. Since last year
more US collegiate athletes have come out than before, bumping up the numbers
in this group quite significantly.This
may be an indication of the growing acceptance of openly lgbt competing
athletes in America. There have been some homophobic responses, but they have
not stopped more athletes from coming out.
football in particular has often appeared to be among the more homophobic
sports. This may be changing with the coming out in February of Michael Sam.
Cyd Zeigler has followed Michael’s progress in the football league closely on
the Outsports website and I recommend you visit it yourself for more
football, soccer, has also been seen as quite homophobic in the UK. With the
coming out of Liam Davis last year it was hoped that more professional
footballers would begin to come out. Apart from German league player Thomas
Hitzlsperger there has been complete silence.
biggest impact on lgbt sport this year was the Olympic Winter Games in Russia.
After the last National Coming Out Day Russia introduced anti-gay legislation,
and because the Sochi Olympics were so soon to begin Russia became a focus for
protest from lgbt groups around the world. The politics and human rights issues
are best dealt with at another time, but it was the anti-gay laws that led to
several people coming out officially. Most significantly, Brian Boitano, former
Olympic figure skating champion, came out after he was appointed to the US
delegation to Sochi. He was joined on the delegation by sport legend Billie
Jean King and by Caitlin Cahow, a Team USA ice hockey Olympian who came out in
sporting coming out story was Ian Thorpe’s. Ever since his competing days as a
swimmer his sexuality was subject to gossip, and Ian turned his coming out into
a media event.
the Olympics we move to Tom Daley. I’m never sure how well known he is
internationally but in the UK he makes more headlines than the legalisation of
same-sex marriage. He came out in December.
In total 9
Olympians have come since last year, including those already mentioned.
unexpected outing this year came in the world of boxing, not with the Argentine
couple Ana Laura Esteche and Johanna “Yoki” Giménez, but with the boxing manager
Kellie Maloney who came out as transgender in August and almost immediately
found herself in the “Celebrity Big Brother” house.
the next largest group by profession, acting, we saw a handful of actors in
popular television series coming out, including Andrew Scott (“Sherlock”),
Monica Raymond (“The Good Wife”) and Kristian Nairn (“Games of Thrones”).
singers and musicians who came out this year the most unexpected was that of
Debbie Harry of Blondie. One singer trying to make a comeback was the UK’s
Kavana. He came out in February while he was in the reality series “The Big
and talent shows saw a large group of performers coming out, some of whom as
mentioned in my recent article on singers in talent contests. Other reality tv
personalities to come out include Bob Harper, a personal trainer on NBC’s “The
Biggest Loser”, and Mark McAdam, a Sky Sports presenter.
a smaller number of coming out stories this year. In the UK we saw the first
transgender European MP with Nikki Sinclaire. Two US Senators came out – Steve
Gallarde and Jim Ferlo – and one former Senator from Puerto Rico, Roberto
Arango. Germany’s Employment Minister, Barbara Hendricks, came out in December,
one month after Scottish Minister for Local Government, Derek Mackay.
group can only be described as “miscellaneous”. They include the newly
appointed head of the World Psychiatric Association, Dinesh Bhugra (how fitting
to have an openly lgbt head of a profession which for many decades classed
homosexuality as a mental illness). Kenyan author Binyavanga Wianaina came out
on his birthday in January, the only writer on this year’s list. Less than 2
weeks ago I mentioned the 3 beauty pageant queens to come out, to which I can
also add the model Andreja Pejic.
international range of those who came out is larger than before. The bulk have
been from the USA or UK, but other nationalities which appear include those
from Brazil, Canada, Finland, Peru, Sweden and Uruguay.
October the UK held its annual National Poetry Day. This made me think of the
war poets of almost a century ago. The First World War wasn’t the first to be
written about in poetry, but it produced the most well-known war poets.
In today’s article I
look at some of these war poets, and have a little look on either side of the
First World War to other conflicts that have inspired lgbt writers to express
their feelings about war.
There are several
categories into which war poetry and literature can fall. The first is the
heroic poetry of Ancient Greece as seen in “The Iliad”. Queer poets have often
written works that come under a second category, that of homoerotic encounters
within the field of war. A third category, and one which may cross over into
the second, is the war poetry of lgbt writers such as Siegfried Sassoon. This
category includes elegies and memorial poetry. A fourth category which I’ll
leave for another time is literature by lgbt writers who use war as a
background to their work rather than as a result or commentary on it.
One of the less
well-known collections of war poetry, called “Drum Taps”, is by Walt Whitman
(1819-1892), whose experience working with the wounded of the American Civil
War produced works expressing the loss of a loved one during conflict. This is
a loss experienced by all, but Whitman’s “Drum Taps” places his own attraction
to wounded soldiers into a sense of personal loss.
This sense of loss
continues in the literature of the First World War, but it is also often
accompanied by a sense of injustice and the feeling of the futility of war.
This was brought into sharp focus in the life of Wilfred Owen (1893-1918).
Owen served as an officer
in the British army. He suffered from shellshock, and in 1917 whilst
recuperating in Edinburgh met Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). Sassoon introduced
Owen to the Greek elegies which were to influence his work. Owen’s elegies were
not merely recounting heroism and valour but also includes, through his own
personal experiences, the harsh reality of trench warfare.
It is Owen’s own death
on the battle front, just a week before the Armistice was signed in 1918, that
provided an added level of injustice to his poems.
Siegfried Sassoon is,
perhaps, the most well-known of the war poets from the First World War. At
first he was a willing fighter but later, after the death of his lover at
Gallipoli and experiencing the horrors of war, he began to express views
against the British government’s conduct of the war. It was at this time that
he met Wilfred wen and, like Owen, returned to the war in France. Unlike Owen
Sassoon survived the war and lived through World War II.
The traditional elegy
and the platonic homoeroticism that marked the war poetry of the First World
War was carried into the 1920s and 30s by Sassoon and other writers such as
Stephen Spender (1909-1995). Spender worked as a journalist in Spain during the
Spanish Civil War.
By the outbreak of World
War II in 1939 there was a shift in society’s attitude to homoeroticism in war
literature. “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, an account of the Arab conflict
around the time of the end of the First World War by T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia)
wasn’t published until 1935, the year of his untimely death. It’s more explicit
portrayal of homosexuality was seen as “acceptable” because it was centred
mainly on the actions of his captors. Lawrence’s own genuine homosexual desires
were played down.
World War II produced
very little in the way of the war poetry that equalled the power and legacy of
the First World War. In contradiction to my intention not to include later
works that use the war as a background one major work which was written in the
late 1970s has played a major role in revealing a little-known aspect of World
War II. It is a play called “Bent”. Unlike the
writers already mentioned there was no personal experience upon which to base
the play, only accounts from others. “Bent” revealed the persecution of gay men
living in Nazi Germany.
While it cannot be
classed as war literature in the true sense of the term “Bent” should not be
overlooked in any literary overview of the war. Its influence has led to an
increased knowledge of the horrors of war, and the creation of memorials to
lgbt victims from the Holocaust.
The war poetry of the
First World War was just one of the many influences in the way we see warfare
today. Criticism of the injustices are not seen as cowardly, as they might have
done before when going to war was seen as heroic and good. Since the First
World War more visual images have become more prevalent than the written word
through photographs, films and news reels. Today new war literature is a very
small part of the public’s awareness of war, and the image has become more
powerful than the word.
In the first of my “Out
Of This World” series about astronomical objects and features on other planets
named after people I mentioned that all of the names used for features on Venus
This became the subject
of an opera by lesbian composer Sorrel Hays. The ultimate result was called
“Mapping Venus”, and it was originally inspired by a NASA space mission called
the Magellan Project.
Because Venus is
shrouded in a thick cloud of acid vapour it has been impossible to see any
surface features with earth-bound telescopes. The only way to see what was on
the planet’s surface was to land probes on it, or by obtaining radar data
collected by an orbiting spacecraft. In 1978 NASA’s Pioneer Venus Orbiter
produced the first map of the surface using radar. Once features could be
identified the task of naming them began.
The naming of all
astronomical and planetary bodies is the responsibility of the International
Astronomical Union. It is they who authorise the names of the asteroids I’ve
been listing in my “Out Of This World” mini-series. It is also they who decided
to name all the features on Venus after women, both real and mythological.
By 1989 there was a
desire to make better maps of Venus, so the Magellan probe was launched. It
arrived at Venus in 1990. The resulting radar images created a more detailed
map and revealed a lot more features to name.
Among the lgbt women who
have had features on Venus named after them are: Jane Addams (1860-1935),
social reformer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Josephine Baker
(1906-1975), dancer and entertainer, Aphra Behn (1640-1689),
writer, Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923),
actor, Karen Blixen
(1885-1962), writer, Rosa Bonheur
(1822-1899), painter, Karin Boye (1900-1941),
writer, Willa Cather (1873-1947),
writer, Simone de Beauvoir
(1908-1986), writer, Emily Dickinson
(1830-1886), poet, Isadora Duncan
(1877-1927), dancer, Eleanora Duse
(1859-1924), actor, Sophia Jex-Blake
(1840-1912), pioneer female physician, Frida Kahlo (1910-1954),
artist, Selma Lagerlöf
(1858-1940), novelist, first female Nobel Literature Prize winner, Wanda Landowska
(1877-1959), harpsichordist, Margaret Mead (1901-1978),
anthropologist, Edna St. Vincent Millay
(1892-1950), poet, Georgia O’Keefe
(1887-1986), painter, Gertrude Stein
(1874-1946), writer, Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967),
writer and art patron, Virginia Woolf
In 1995 Sorrel Hays was
commissioned to compose a piece by Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne for their
experimental drama department.This is
just one of 8 commissions Sorrel received from them since 1983, and the new
commission evolved into what was to be her most ambitious project to date.
The commission resulted
in the radio opera “Dream in Her Mind”. Taking NASA’s Magellan project as the
starting point Sorrel created an ethereal gathering of a group of famous women
from history on the planet itself.
Chief “surveyor” and
cartographer of this gathering is Gertrude Stein who encourages the
other women to choose which part of the planet they prefer. In the opera Sorrel
includes text from Stein and other female writers who gather on Venus –
Hildegard of Bingen, Simone de Beauvoir and Emily Dickinson, among others – to
explore female consciousness. Not surprisingly, most of the women who gather on
Venus is this musical work do now have actual features on the planet named
“Dream in Her Mind” was
developed into the larger work called “Mapping Venus”.
One of the main features
in Sorrel’s work is the use of electronic techniques including synthesisers and
pre-recorded sound. In this she often works closely with her partner Marilyn
Reis, who is one of the first female audio engineers to make a mark in a
Today I feel a mixture
of sadness and celebration. In August, during the run of the most recent Gay Games in Cleveland, I
wrote a short series on some of the medallists from previous games. One of
those I mentioned, in fact the first one and the athlete who inspired the theme
of that mini-series, was Mariah Crossland.
Several weeks afterwards
I was contacted by Martha Newell, a close friend of Mariah’s, who informed me
that Mariah had sadly lost her battle with cancer on 3rd September.
I thought it would be
appropriate today to put this link to Mariah’s obituary, written by her
friends, because today is Mariah’s memorial service and celebration of her
life. I thank Martha for contacting me and giving me this chance to celebrate
When you read the
obituary I hope you will follow the suggestion given at the end and celebrate
Mariah’s life. I will.
Black History Month in the UK and LGBT History Month in the US, so here’s
another quiz for you.
Below is a
list of years. Below that is a list of events in lgbt history. Can you match up
the event to the correct year? Only one event in given for each year. In
celebration of Black History Month the first ten questions are on black lgbt