Sunday 29 November 2015

Make the Yuletide Gay : 1

Happy Advent everyone. There’s only 4 Sundays left before Christmas and I’m celebrating again. This year instead of concentrating on people I’m getting into the party mood and looking at some of the things that makes Christmas “happy and gay”.

We’ll start with the very song which inspired the title of this Advent series, a line from the popular song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.

The song was written by Hugh Martin for the 1944 film “Meet Me In St. Louis”. It was sung by the film’s star, that great gay icon Judy Garland. It quickly became a regular Christmas standard. The lines from the song go like this :

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Make the yuletide gay.
From now on our troubles will be miles away”.

The song’s original lyrics were not so optimistic. The opening lines were :

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
It may be your last.
Next year we may all be living in the past.”

Very jolly – I don’t think!

Thankfully, Judy Garland and her soon-to-be husband, the film’s bisexual film director Vicente Minelli, though brighter lyrics were better.

Even in 1944 when the film was made the word “gay” had been used to describe homosexual men but it was more commonly used in its original sense of “happy and bright”. No-one thought of any deliberate double-meaning in introducing the word into this particular song at the time. Thankfully there are still many singers who sing the song with its gay yuletide intact.

The double meaning of the word gay was used deliberately in a 2004 romantic comedy whose title is the very line “Make the Yuletide Gay”. The film tells the story of a gay American college boy who goes to spend Christmas with his parents. Although he is openly gay in college he is not to his parents.
Christmas often presents difficult situations for lgbt people still, especially those who are in the same situation as the protagonist if the film.

The film received a favourable response on its original release. It won several awards at lgbt film festivals and there were plans to make a sequel, “Make the Yuletide Gay 2”. However, these plans were recently shelved, though the film’s writer hopes that it can be turned into a novel instead.

At the end of these four Advent articles I want to finish on a song. So what else could I end today with than the very song that gives this Advent series its name – Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. 

Thursday 26 November 2015

History Month Launch

Tonight sees the official launch of the UK’s LGBT History Month 2016. It takes place in the hallowed surroundings of Queen’s College, Cambridge. The chosen theme for 2016 is “Religion, Belief and Philosophy”. It’s a subject which gets many people hot under the collar and it may not appeal to many in the lgbt community, but no matter what religious beliefs or philosophy you believe in (or not) there is no doubt that the lgbt community has been shaped by it, and religion, belief and philosophy have been shaped by members of the lgbt community.

As before with the theme for the UK LGBT History Month I intend to run a whole series on articles on this blog on the subject throughout 2016. The title I’ve chosen for these articles is “Believe It Or Not…” To whet your appetite, and to illustrate the massive range that the theme covers, I hope to include articles on subjects ranging from astrology to atheism, Christian homophobia to lgbt churches, Wicca to Utopia, and ancient Babylon to outer space.
Back to tonight’s launch at Queen’s College. The city of Cambridge has a rich lgbt heritage, largely due to the university.

Below is a list of colleges at Cambridge University and I have selected one lgbt alumnus from each. I haven’t been able to identify alumni from all the colleges.

Christ’s College – Sir John Finch (1626-1682), ambassador.

Churchill College – Rev. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Kt. (b.1951), historian.

Clare College – Kwame Anthony Appiah (b.1954), philosopher.

Corpus Christi College – Christopher Marlowe (d.1593), writer and spy.

Downing College – Hamish Henderson (1919-2002), poet.

Emmanuel College – Graham Chapman (1941-1989), member of the Monty Python team.

Fitzwilliam College – Brian Paddick, Lord Paddick (b.1958), ex Metropolitan Police commissioner.

Girton College – Dawn Airey (b.1960), CEO of Getty Images.

Gonville and Caius – Simon Russell Beale (b.1961), actor.

Homerton College – Dame Carol Ann Duffy (b.1955), Poet Laureate.

Jesus College – Philip Hensher (b.1965), novelist and journalist.

King’s College – E. M. Forster (1879-1970), novelist.

Lucy Cavendish College – Sandi Toksvig (b.1958), broadcaster and comedian.

Magdalene College – Prof. Peter Coles (b.1963), cosmologist.

Murray Edwards College – Sue Perkins (b.1969), comedian.

Newnham College – Miriam Margolyes (b.1941), actor.

Pembroke College – Chris Smith, Lord Smith of Finsbury (b.1951), ex Labour minister.

Peterhouse College – Guy Black, Lord Black of Brentwood (b.1964), media mogul.

Queen’s College – Stephen Fry (b.1957), broadcaster and writer.

St. John’s College – Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980), fashion designer and photographer.

St. Catherine’s College – Sir Ian McKellen (b.1939), actor and activist.

Selwyn College – Simon Hughes (b.1951), ex Liberal Democrat MP.

Trinity College – Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount Verulam (1651-1626), statesman, philosopher, scientist.

Trinity Hall – Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), philosopher and socialist poet.

Monday 23 November 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 23 - A Salon

Last time : 69) King James I of Great Britain (1566-1625) had a “favourite” (i.e. toy-boy) called 70) George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628) who was immortalised in fiction in “The Three Musketeers”, whose hero d’Artagnan was also based on a real person, an ancestor of French dandy and aesthete 71) Count Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921).
71) Count Robert de Montesquiou was a prominent member of the Parisian cultural period of the late 19th century known as Belle Epoque. As a flamboyant aesthete he was also one of the most recognisable characters in the city. Just like his ancestor Charles de Batz-D’Artagnan the count found himself the inspiration for several fictional characters created by his friends and acquaintances. The most well-known in literary circles being the Baron de Charlus in Marcel Proust’s novel “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” (Remembrance of Things Past).

Count Robert’s flamboyant personality was perfectly suited to the then fashionable art nouveau movement and he became one of its main promoters through patronage and artistic criticism. His biographer Philippe Jullian referred to him as “the Professor of Beauty, the Commander of Delicate Odours … the gardener who planted and tended the bloom of Art Nouveau.”

As well as encouraging artists the count collected many art nouveau objects for his own enjoyment and filled his Paris residence with them. His passion for collecting outshone his skills in interior decoration, however, and a fellow French aristocrat once remarked that he showed “less taste than imagination”.

In his home Count Robert entertained many of his artistic, literary and aristocratic acquaintances, mainly to please himself rather than please his guests. And they, in turn, tolerated his snobbery and eccentricities, playing on his ego partly in fear of being on the receiving end of some devastating witty put-down in one of his essays.

But even if the count’s advice on interior design was never sought, that of one of his favourite artists was, and the contrast between them couldn’t have been wider.

72) Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) was an ex-pat American who arrived in Paris in 1905. She specialised in painting portraits and became influenced by another American ex-pat James McNeill Whistler, a close friend of 71) Count Robert de Montesquiou. It may have been this Whistlerian influence in Romaine’s portraits that attracted Count Robert to her work. Romaine’s first solo exhibition was in Paris in 1910. It was a huge success, and with praise from Count Robert her reputation as a major portrait painter was secured.

And this is the contrast. Despite his failings as an interior decorator Count Robert was a leading arbiter on good taste, and whereas his residence was overflowing with miss-matched art nouveau objects Romaine Brooks’s Parisian home was stark by comparison. Her home style attracted many visitors and admirers who asked for her advice on how to decorate their own homes. No-one would have asked for Count Robert’s advice on the subject.

At the start of the First World War Romaine began the longest of her relationships, with another American ex-pat living in Paris, 73) Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972).

73) Natalie Barney had not long since split from her partner Renée Vivien. They had set up a women’s poetry school on the island of Lesbos in homage to the ancient Greek poet 36) Sappho. In the end both the venture and the relationship failed and Natalie returned to Paris. In 1909 she set up a new venture which would be hugely popular and influential.

For over 60 years her Salon on Rue Jacob would be the focus for many artistic figures such as Marcel Proust, Truman Capote, Mata Hari, Isadora Duncan and Gertrude Stein.

Natalie’s relationship with Romaine was complicated by the former’s casual affairs. It didn’t concern Romaine at first because Natalie was well-known to have had such affairs during her previous relationships. Romaine, too, took up casual affairs during their time as a couple.

But Romaine was never really happy in Paris and she didn’t like many of Natalie’s Salon friends. She also liked her own space and some solitude. They had a summer house which had two separate wings, one for Romaine and one for Natalie, in which they lived apart, but it had an adjoining dining room. Despite this, their relationship lasted over 50 years.

There was one incident which could have ended their relationship a lot sooner. In 1927 Natalie met 74) Dolly Wilde (1896-1941) who began attending the weekly Friday gatherings at the Salon. Romaine noticed something more was going on between them. She thought it was just another of Natalie’s casual affairs but the impression she got from Dolly was that the relationship was beginning to get more serious. Instead of retreating to her wing of the summer house Romaine gave Natalie an ultimatum – to abandon Dolly Wilde or abandon her. Natalie chose to abandon Dolly. Dolly was not as understanding of Natalie’s casual affairs as was Romaine and she was hurt badly. At one point Dolly attempted suicide when Natalie began another casual affair, and she tried again after they split.

Dolly Wilde may have a name which will be familiar to followers of world literary and lgbt heritage. That’s because she had a famous uncle, none other than 75) Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and the connection between the two goes deeper in the person of ….

… But that’ll have to wait until next time, in the penultimate article of our trip “Around the World in 80 Gays”.

Friday 20 November 2015

Transgender Memorial

To mark today’s Transgender Day of Remembrance I’d like to highlight the UK’s only memorial to victims of transphobia. It is situated in Sackville Gardens in Manchester, the same park which has a statue of gay mathematician Alan Turing and the UK’s memorial to HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Next year I’ll give a more in-depth look at Sackville Gardens and its lgbt associations. Today we’ll concentrate on the transgender memorial.

The memorial and its little garden was created to provide a focus for events on this day of remembrance. In previous years it was marked by a gathering around the Beacon of Hope, the HIV/AIDS memorial. The obvious need for a specific memorial for the transgender community was desired from the start. It wasn’t until 2013 that it began to become a reality.

The Transgender Remembrance Memorial Project (whose Facebook page is here) was formed from members of several different interested community groups – the transgender community itself, the Friends of Sackville Gardens, and the lgbt community in Manchester and the UK.

Funds were duly raised and the design and location for the memorial was chosen. The location was near the Beacon of Hope. In contrast to the Beacon being made of metal the transgender memorial was made on site of natural materials, an old sycamore tree in the gardens.

The sculptor-carver of the memorial was Shane Green, an established tree carver with several decades of experience, and whose major work to date was a series of 26 tree carvings of athletes made over a 26-day period at the London 2012 Olympic Games. You can see him at work on the transgender memorial in this video.
The main decorative element in the sculpture is the butterfly. Several butterflies are carved and represent the change from one state of existence to another – from caterpillar to butterfly, from one gender to another. In Hispanic slang the word “mariposa” (butterfly) is used in the names of many lgbt organisations.

The rest of the memorial space was created by Tony Cooper, Angela Moonchild, Dawn Pomfret, Darren Knight, Linda Leaa Sardi, Jennifer Johansson, Jenny-Anne Bishop, Karen Richards and Astrid Walker, many of them members of the local trans community and Friends of Sackville Gardens.

The memorial was unveiled in August 2013. Sadly, the transphobia that lurks in the corners of society and leaps out to inflict its cowardly anger when no-one is looking made its presence felt shortly after the unveiling. Several days later it was vandalised and damaged. Naturally this caused a great deal of distress and anger in the local area.

The vandalism highlighted a concern that had been raised for a long time at Sackville gardens, the need for adequate lighting at night-time. There had been some robberies and attacks in the gardens for several years, and the local Neighbourhood Policing Team secured funding from the neighbouring Manchester College and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation to provide better lighting. The Policing Team also secured funds to help repair and restore the memorial area.

The memorial was finally restored in March 2014 and provided a focus for gatherings during Manchester’s annual Sparkle transgender weekend festival that July.

Today it will again be the focus for a large gathering as we remember the many members of the transgender community who still suffer and have suffered because of their gender.

Monday 16 November 2015

Coded Lives : The Chevalier's Secret - Part 2

We return to one of the people I featured in one of this year’s “Coded Lives” series. In February I wrote about the secret life of Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée Eon de Beaumont (1728-1810), thankfully better known by the shorter title of the Chevalier d’Eon.

That earlier article covered the Chevalier’s career as a spy and diplomat. Today we’ll look at his life after 1770 when another side of his life became more apparent, leading to a shift in the public perception of his personality. The seeds of this second life were set in the late 1750s. An apocryphal story of his time as a spy at the imperial Russian court, as mentioned in February’s article, tells how he disguised himself as a woman in order to get close to the empress. Whether this story is true or not, created in the 1770s when his actual gender was being questioned, it only enhances the enigmatic personality of this transgender pioneer.

The Chevalier was as much responsible for the enigma as anyone else. At various times during his life he claimed to have been born female. He claimed he was raised as a boy in order for his impoverished parents to receive an inheritance. This may be regarded as a coded reference to his sexuality rather than his gender, as dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex was illegal.

A dispute with the French government and the Chevalier’s publication of secret documents made him a well-known sensational figure in London where he was living at the time. The French, in return, started spreading the rumours about his gender and sexuality which he played on. London society was fascinated rather than shocked, and soon people were betting on the Stock Exchange on whether the Chevalier d’Eon was male or female. The Chevalier was undoubtedly of a less masculine character, as contemporary references to his appearance and body language attest. The Chevalier, in his typical enigmatic style, stormed into the Stock Exchange and challenged everyone to a duel before storming off again. Before leaving London for the countryside he declared he would never be party to any financial speculation on his gender – without ever confirming or denying what that gender was.

When King Louis XVI succeeded to the French throne in 1774 the actions and secret diplomatic knowledge the Chevalier possessed in his London lodgings became a security risk. It was decided to open negotiations with the Chevalier that would ensure his silence and return to France and the safeguard of state secrets.

The negotiated contract, which ran to 20 pages, included a clause which stated that the Chevalière (the feminine form he would use for the rest of her life) must never wear male attire again. There’s no evidence that she (as we’ll refer to her from this point) objected to this, though the king’s offer to fund a whole new wardrobe for him, and the use of Queen Marie Anoinette’s dress-makers, may have been a deciding factor. At least she could now say she was dressed like a queen.

The official sent to lead negotiations on behalf of the French government was to become captivated by this enigmatic ex-spy. He and the Chevalière created a mist of confusion by starting another rumour that they were to marry.

In 1777 the Chevalière returned to France. For a while she was feted in the fashionable and aristocratic drawing rooms of France. She acquired a celebrity status which suited her for a while. Eager to return to some semblance of her former espionage days she offered to fight in support of the American War of Independence. The offer was turned down.

By 1785 the Chevalière was running up debts on his London lodgings which he had been unable to visit since 1777. She was given leave to return, mainly because the lodgings contained the remaining secret documents of the French spy service and were on the verge of being sold off to pay the Chevalière’s debts.

The Chevalière was there for several years, sorting out her financial affairs. But the French Revolution robbed her of her royal pension and her family estates were seized. Living in London was very expensive, even in the 18th century, and she had to earn an income. She turned to her celebrity status and skills with a sword and organised a hugely successful fending match against the champion swordsman of Europe. With the Prince of Wales and many of London’s high society in attendance the Chevalière beat the European champion in an event that would rival any world boxing title fight, or even the Battle of the Sexes, today.

The Chevalière’s famous duel in the presence of the Prince of Wales (the man in the big hat), a contemporary print of the event.
From then on the Chevalière toured the UK with a small band of swordsmen in a travelling show with herself as top billing. But it led to her swift decline.
In 1796, during a fencing match in which her opponent’s sword broke, the Chevalière was pierced badly in her side. She was virtually confined to her bed for two years and never recovered. With no more income her debts returned and she spent a few months in a debtor’s jail. Her few friends supported her, but it was a sad end to a spectacular life.

The swash-buckling former spy ended her days in the company of a widow called Mrs. Cole, whom she had met in 1795. Mrs. Cole was oblivious to the Chevalière’s enigmatic gender, even until the Chevalière’s death at the great age of 81.

Throughout her life the Chevalière d’Eon encouraged mystery. From her espionage days, through the years of the furore at the Stock Exchange, and though her last active life as a travelling entertainer, the Chevalière kept people guessing what secrets she was hiding. Secrets surrounded her right up to her death. It was only after a physical examination of her body to ascertain the cause of death was it finally revealed that the Chevalière d’Eon was indeed biologically male.

Friday 13 November 2015

Olympic Alphabet : D is for ...


There are two Olympic decathletes who have had a significant contribution to lgbt sport. To mark this month of transgender awareness we’ll start with one of the high profile Olympians in the news this year.

The Rio Olympics next year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Montreal games in Canada. They also mark the 40th anniversary of Caitlyn Jenner becoming the Olympic decathlon champion. Caitlyn Jenner has become a media celebrity in more recent years, mainly due to his appearance in the reality series featuring the abysmally dull Kardashians. It has unfairly eclipsed Caitlyn’s sporting achievements. She was one of the major athletes on the last part of the 20th century.

The 1976 Olympics (winter and summer) were the first in which I began to have a definite interest (due to the popularity of British figure skater John Curry at the time - more of him in February). I still have the scrapbooks I made for them games. In fact, below is a scan of part of the page on which I recorded Jenner’s gold medal. I even noted it being a world record. It was the 1976 Olympics that got me started on recording the results and statistics in sport which has developed into my databases and spreadsheets on all Gay Games, Outgames and Eurogames results, and in my specialist area of lgbt Olympians.
Caitlyn Jenner has said that the first big influence on her decision to pursue sport was not the fact that her father was a US army silver medallist in the 100 yard dash, or that her grandfather ran the Boston marathon many times, but her dyslexia.

At school she felt her dyslexia was a barrier to achieving full academic achievement. Once she realised she was a good athlete her confidence improved and the fear turned into a positive attitude towards her dyslexia. Many times we hear of this attitude towards personal disadvantage being the source of greatness.

A knee injury prevented Caitlyn from competing for the football team at Graceland College in Iowa to which she had earned a football scholarship.

Caitlyn’s first decathlon was in 1970 at Graceland. Within 2 years she had qualified for the USA Olympic team. Her first Olympics were in Munich 1972. No-one really expected any spectacular results on her first games, though she did come 2nd in the javelin section and 4th in the 1500 meters and pole vault. Out of the 34 competing decathletes Caitlyn came 10th in the final results.

In the 4 years up to the next Olympics in Montreal Caitlyn’s ranking increased quickly. In 1974 and 1976 she was the US decathlon champion, and won the gold medal at the 1975 PanAmerican Games with w world record score. By Montreal Caitlyn was the only serious rival to the reigning Olympic champion.

As well as the pressure of his nation’s hopes Caitlyn had one other emotional pressure. She had decided these would be her last as a competitive decathlete.

Caitlyn finished her career on a high. By the start of the second day of the competition her place on the medal podium was assured. Before the final event, the 1500 meters, the gold medal was hers. Her final score was another world record. The final act in her competitive athletic career was to leave her vaulting pole in the stadium.

There was another lgbt decathlete at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Unlike Caitlyn he was not competing but acting as physician to the Saudi Arabia national team. It’s more than likely that the opening ceremony of the Montreal games was the only time they were in the same stadium at the same time. That other decathlete was Tom Waddell (1937-1987) and he is now more well-known as the creator of one of the biggest sporting events in the world – certainly bigger than the Olympics has ever been in terms in competitors – the Gay Games.

Tom Waddell’s life and career has appeared previously in several articles on this blog, including here and here.

Caitlyn Jenner is currently the second lgbt Olympic torch relay runner (14th July 1984 through South Lake Tahoe, Nevada – Sally Ride being the first on 8th May), and the first lgbt torch relay runner to do it twice (27th April 1996, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood). Such is Caitlyn’s significant place in Olympic history that in 1984 she became the only Olympian – lgbt or otherwise – to be a torch relay runner, to carry the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony, and serve as the reserve cauldron lighter (she wore running gear under her ceremonial uniform ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice).

Caitlyn’s 1984 torch came up for sale in America this summer. I’ll go into more detail about that sale next year when I reach the letter “T”, though I will mention that the a spokesman for the auction house said “We’ve sold about 200 Olympic torches in total … This one is special … Perhaps no athlete in history has travelled a more winding road through the various stages of celebrity than Jenner”.
Who knows when the next lgbt decathlete will compete at the Olympic Games. There’s still time for athletes to come out before Rio 2016, and it to be hoped that we can improve Sydney 2000’s record number of 52 lgbt competing Olympians.    

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 22 - A Favourite

LastTime : 66) Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) used the excavations of Pompeii to promote modern archaeological methods, his passion for Ancient Rome (and handsome young men) shared by his patron 67) Cardinal Allesandro Albani (1692-1779), who was on the same conclaves that elected 2 popes as 68) Cardinal Prince Henry Stewart, Duke of York (1725-1807), the Jacobite heir to the throne of Great Britain, a double monarchy first held by his great-great-grandfather 69) King James I of Great Britain (1566-1625).
When Queen Elizabeth I of England died in 1603 she was succeeded by the nearest Protestant heir 69) King James I. After a strong female monarch England was hoping for a strong male monarch. When James arrived in England he was followed by the rumours of his private life. There were pamphlets circulating in the capital which declared “Elizabeth was king, now James is queen”. King James was known for having several male “favourites”.

I was amused by a remark made by the gay comedian and quiz champion Paul Sinha in a light-hearted radio history lecture. He questioned the sexual equality of the founding colonies in America. Paul remarked that the colonists pointed out the sexual status of Elizabeth I, known as the Virgin Queen, was celebrated in the naming of the colony Virginia. Paul wondered why King James only got the small settlement of Jamestown named after him and not in a colony celebrating his sexual status, which could have been called Bisexualabama!

King James’s first favourite following his accession to the English throne was Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset (d.1645). His replacement 400 hundred years ago this year was 70) George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628). George met King James in April 1614 and the king was instantly attracted. Almost a year later, in 1615, George found himself sharing a bed with the king on an overnight stay at Farnham Castle. Two men sharing a bed for the night was common, but when one of those men was a king the personal relationship between the two men must be questioned.

It is very clear from the surviving letters between King James and the Duke of Buckingham, as George Villiers would become in 1623, that there was a genuine romantic aspect on the king’s part. With Buckingham the personal feelings are more difficult to describe. He obviously returned the king’s romantic attentions and they may have shared a bed many times, but nothing approaching King James’s many gushing letters survive from Buckingham.

Both men were married and had children. Producing heirs was a top priority for any man of their status regardless of personal preferences. King James had been separated from his wife long before he met Buckingham, and Buckingham was married off to a wealthy heiress, Catherine, Baroness de Ros. This lady was daughter of the hereditary Constable of Nottingham Castle, a position that was only ceremonial and honorary by that time as the castle was a ruin and uninhabitable. Buckingham inherited this honorary position from his father-in-law.

Buckingham was a great friend of King James’s son and successor King Charles I and he continued to play an important part in British politics. Indeed, Buckingham was the only court official to retain his appointment after “Queen” James died. But, like all politicians, he had his enemies. Even during James’s reign Buckingham was accused of corrupt practices, particularly in procuring honours and titles to many members of his own family. His inept handling of international affairs also made him unpopular and eventually he was despised by most politicians and public alike.

Such was the anger at Buckingham’s management of affairs and influence over King Charles I that he was stabbed to death in a tavern in 1628.

Like all people of historical importance Buckingham turns up as a character in popular historical novels. The most famous of these being “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas, published in 1844. As with most historical novels involving real people a certain amount of literary licence is used. Buckingham has a fictional romance with the equally fictional Milady de Winter, and even Buckingham’s murderer, John Felton, is fictionalised. In “The Three Musketeers” it is Milady de Winter who persuades Felton to murder Buckingham.

Buckingham is, however, a supporting character in the novel. None of the three musketeers of the title are even the central character. That honour goes to a dashing young swordsman called D’Artagnan. Surprisingly, as it may seem, D’Artagnan was also based on a real person. In fact, all of the Three Mustekeers were as well. The real D’Artagnan was called Charles de Batz-Castelmore d’Artagnan (c.1611-1673) and he really was a musketeer. He inherited his d’Artagnan name from his mother’s family, the Montesquiou-d’Artagnans. The senior line chose not to use the d’Artagnan name even though they were created Counts d’Artagnan. The counts died out a century ago and the remaining junior Montesquiou family readopted the d’Artagnan name as recently as 2011.

Among the few members of the Montesquiou family who could have used d’Artagnan in his name but didn’t was someone who relished the romantic antics of his swash-buckling ancestor. He was poet, aesthete and dandy 71) Count Robert de Montesquoiu (1855-1921).

Next time we join Count Robert in the salon.

Friday 6 November 2015

Queer Achievement : Michelle Dumaresq

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
Later this month we observe the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. As before I am taking November as my month to concentrate on transgender members of the lgbt community. I begin with this article on the transgender Canadian mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq (b.1970). Her coat of arms (above) illustrates the way family history and the place of an individual member has within that family is preserved in visual form.

Canadian heraldry closely follows that of its European colonial rulers England, Scotland and France. Several modern differences have evolved. One is the shape of the shield. In England and Scotland unmarried women display their arms on a diamond shaped shield. As you can probably see this would produce an awkward, squashed design, so it is fortunate that in Canadian heraldry all women can use a shield, irrespective of marital status.

Let’s start with the shield. It is divided into four quarters with each quarter depicting a separate coat of arms. In heraldry it doesn’t matter how many separate coats or arms are placed on a shield, they’re all called quarters even if there’s 13 of them.

The reason any shield acquires quarters is through inheritance from a heraldic heir. Once inherited the accumulated quarters are inherited by all legitimate male-line descendants and their daughters.

So what are the families through which Michelle Dumaresq inherits her coat of arms illustrated above? Here’s a diagram to help explain. All of them belong to families that lived in the Channel Island of Jersey.
There are 3 heraldic heiresses who all carry the right to bear their family coat of arms to their descendants. Being heraldic heiresses means the women have no brothers. All four of the families to which the heiresses belong carry fascinating stories of medieval baronies and battles. The actual designs used in their coats or arms are fairly basic and were all in use before 1400. In fact there’s enough of Michelle’s ancestry that is so significant in the history of the Channel Islands and the early settlement of Canada to fill a future “Out of Their Trees” article. However, there is one family story which is perfectly suited for today.

The story, more of a family legend really, concerns the fourth coat of arms. The yellow and blue arms belong to the ancient noble Italian Bandinel family, the family of Pope Alexander III (Michelle descends from his brother). Originally the family had an all-yellow shield. During the reign of St. Louis IX of France (d.1270) one of the Bandinel family led 900 mounted lancers to the Crusades. In thanks for his valiant service in Egypt St. Louis granted him an augmentation to his arms, a blue disc bearing a white knight on horseback. Michelle Dumaresq descends from this Crusader’s heraldic heiress.

Also on the shield, and on the bull in the crest, is a crescent. This is the symbol used by a second son. It is called a cadency mark and was used by Philip Dumaresq (1760-1820) to indicate he had an older brother who was senior heir to the family. It also meant that all those descendants who bore his surname could inherit this cadency mark as well.

Another cadency mark which Michelle can use is unique to Canadian heraldry. It is one of those assigned to daughters. The cadency marks already mentioned have been in use in English heraldry for hundreds of years to denote the order of sons. Just a few years ago Canada introduced a set of cadency marks for use by daughters. I’m not sure which daughter Michelle is in her family – first, second, or whatever – so have chosen not to include it for now.

The motto is a translation of the original Medieval Latin motto of the Dumaresqs. Its sentiment could apply to all members of the lgbt community who struggle with their gender or sexuality in the face of abuse or discrimination. After Michelle Dumaresq’s transition she received opposition from people in her chosen sport of mountain biking who did not want her to compete. If she knows her family motto I hope it gave her encouragement to push on and fight for her place as a competitive athlete.

Finally, something which only struck me when I did my original colour sketch for Michelle’s achievement. I looked at the shield and thought the combination of main colours – red, black, white and yellow - looked familiar. Then it clicked. These are the four colours of the Native American medicine wheel, a device adopted by the modern Two Spirit community in both the USA and Michelle’s native Canada since before 2004, as can be seen in this often used flag below. Even though the colours are in a different order, the combination of these colours in Michelle’s heraldic ancestry long predates the North American adoption of the medicine wheel.

Monday 2 November 2015

Out of Our Trees : Queer Family History

This is a sort of Hallowe’en-related article. Today is the Christian festival of All Souls (or All Hallows) Day. It’s the day to remember all those Christians ancestors of the past. The festival is extended to ancestors of all denominations as one big family. The spirits of our ancestors have been celebrated for many centuries at this time of year, and I have been celebrating with mine this weekend! The Christian festival may not have any connection with pre-Christian festivals of the dead as often stated at Hallowe’en, certainly no more than we remember the fallen in war on Armistice Day on November 11th, very much within the ancient ancestor-worship season.

The latest series of “Who Do You Think You Are?” ended last week There seems to be no end in the popularity of such programmes, particularly recently with commemorations of World Wars I and II and the discovery of the lives of veteran ancestors.

There has been a good representation of lgbt celebrities featured in the UK series over the years. They have been (in chronological order) Stephen Fry, Julian Clary, Graham Norton, Rupert Everett, Alan Cumming, Alan Carr, Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Gatiss. It is clear from this list, however, that female lgbt celebrities are missing. This cannot be said the same about the USA versions of “Who Do You Think You Are?” which have featured Rosie O’Donnell, Cynthia Nixon and Melissa Etheridge as well as several male lgbt celebrities.

Genealogy is not devoid of lgbt researchers. There are professional, amateur and semi-professional (like myself) genealogists. You may even be one yourself. What a large proportion of us are intrigued by is the possibility of us not being the first Queer in the in family. In my own researches I discovered a gay relative in the USA, a descendant of my grandfather’s aunt, and have discovered two much more distant bloodlines to two former partners (one featured here).

As more and more lgbt rights are being legalised with regards to families it is appropriate for contemporary genealogists, regardless of their own sexuality/gender, to think about how same-sex union, gay parents and adoption should be recorded. For instance, how would descendants of Sir Elton John and David Furnish’s children display their family lineage? Is the “pure” bloodline of descent becoming a thing of the past?

Lateral genealogy has been around for many years and is becoming more popular. This is research into associated families to which there is no blood link and in which a family is related by marriage. My own lateral relations include the Duchess of Cambridge (a “cousin” through my step-great-grandfather) and a victim of the 1916 HMSS Britannic disaster (my step-grandfather). Both are members of my extended lateral family. If you don’t think step relatives and their families matter think about this. The only reason I exist is because my step-grandfather died in 1916 allowing my grandmother to remarry to my grandfather. His ancestors are very much the reason I am here today as much as my biological ancestors.

After the article I wrote about the ancestry of Cyd Zeigler I received new information which meant that one branch of his family tree I researched was, in fact, from an earlier marriage of his ancestor. Even though I revealed that Cyd was a close relative of Benjamin Franklin the new information that revealed Franklin was actually a step-relative doesn’t eliminate him from having an influence on his family tree.

In the “Who Do You Think You Are?” series one episode dealt with adoption. Celebrity Nicki Campbell traced the ancestry of his adopted parents, very much a part of his family as his biological parents.

Family history has been dominated by the need to show bloodline inheritance. That’s why ancient, powerful rulers of the pre-modern era were so keen to show their descent from their local gods and deities to “prove” their right to rule. Two examples within the lgbt community are Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Alexander claimed descent from the Greek gods to ensure his right to the Macedonian throne, and Caesar even claimed that Venus was his grandmother.

The problem confronting genealogists today is interpreting the evidence. No-one today would ever claim that Venus actually was Julius Caesar’s grandmother. In his lifetime people accepted it as true. The written evidence we discover today about our ancestors hides as many truths as presents lies. Most gay men and women his their sexuality and led secret lives and left no personal testimony to indicate their sexuality or gender. Such was the stigma in society against lgbt lives at the time.

Stigma effects another family situation, another one which directly effects me. My mother was a bastard. She was born in an era when bastard children were stigmatised. Illegitimacy was covered up as much as possible. My mother’s birth certificate doesn’t name her real father but that of her mother’s husband. My mother was fortunate, however, by growing up in a small community where sympathies were with her and her father and they were able to live open lives as father and daughter.

Many married gay men may not be the actual fathers of their named children, despite the evidence of a birth certificate. It’s one of the most difficult pieces of evidence to discover. Quite often family rumours can lead to evidence that a male relative wasn’t the actual father of a child. Research into the lives of these male relatives may reveal connections to known lgbt people or locations. It’s a careful path we need to tread when interpreting such evidence.

The traditionalist view is that genealogy is only about blood lines and true biological pedigrees, and that only traditional male-female marriages should be recorded. This view is, of course, totally discriminatory against lgbt families. Traditionalists would even say family members with no children should not be included in family trees. I would certainly not agree with that, considering quite a lot of family historians themselves have no children.

Today people want to know about the actual lives of out ancestors. At one time lgbt ancestors were deemed “black sheep of the family” or, ironically, “skeletons in the closet” and never talked about. Modern attitudes to all kinds of relationships, whether same-sex, inter-racial or non-marital, are being more important in everyday lives.

One gay professional genealogist who is leading in the education of the importance of recording lgbt ancestors is Thomas MacEntee. Of the many articles he has written on the subject this one is, perhaps, the best.

Once research has been done on your own family tree you may want to produce a family tree. That brings a new set of problems. There are symbols which indicate birth death and marriage, but how do you represent (if you feel it important to do so) a biological parent of a child to same-sex parents. For a few people there may be a wish to record sperm or egg donors and their families who are still involved in their biological offspring. Other family relationships may be included in family trees. How do you show them in a simple emblem without filling the family tree with written explanations? That’s a topic I hope to return to next year – new ways to draw up a family tree.