Monday 29 February 2016

Olympic Alphabet : J is for ...


To celebrate today’s Leap Day I’m looking at a group of lgbt athletes who, well, leap! The modern summer Olympics and Youth Winter Olympics are always held in a leap year so it’s a good opportunity to look at the today. And this is a bit of a bumper article because I didn’t realise how many “jumpers” there have been and I wanted to give them all a mention today, especially considering it’ll be another 4 years before I can do it again! It would take too long to chronicle all of the incidents and achievements of all of them, so this can be seen as just an overview.

There are a few Olympic sports that involve jumping or leaping. Some of them will not be dealt with today because I covered them in earlier articles in this Olympic Alphabet series. These are the decathlon, equestrianism, figure skating and gymnastics. Other sports may include some jumping elements, such as basketball and swimming, but I’ll restrict myself to sports where sports where points are scored for jumping.

“Olympic jumpers” can be divided into several neat groups – diving, snow sports, and track and field. One exception is trampolining, which is classed as gymnastics. We’ll start with that.

Ji Wallace is the only lgbt Olympic trampolinist – so far (another is hoping to qualify for Rio). Ji represented his native Australia when it hosted the Sydney 2000 games. He won a silver medal and had hoped to compete at the Beijing 2008 games but failed to be selected. After coming out he has become a leading lgbt sport advocate and was appointed a Gay Games Ambassador.

Perhaps the group with the most well-known names are the divers. The biggest name being Greg Louganis. Of the records he holds the most significant is his winning of 2 gold medals in successive Olympics in the same diving events, the first diver to achieve this. His gold medals place him third in the table of lgbt champions.

Greg wasn’t the first lgbt Olympic diver. The earliest is the Canadian Scott Cranham who, along with Greg Louganis attended the London 2012 in a coaching position. Scott’s first appearance was 40 years before that in Munich 1972. Although he didn’t win any Olympic medals he did win 2 silvers and 2 bronzes at 2 Commonwealth Games. He was also one of the first Olympics to compete in the Gay Games. In total he has won 3 gold, 1 silver, and 3 bronze Gay Games medals. Both Greg and Scott were due to attend the Moscow 1980 games but were victims of their nation’s decision to boycott them.

In the Seoul 1988 Olympics we saw the most lgbt divers compete – Greg Louganis, Patrick Jeffrey, Craig Rogerson and Jhonmar Castillo (though his participation has been queried). These were the games where Greg Louganis won his second double-gold titles and the one in which he banged his head on the board. None of the other lgbt divers won medals, though Australian Craig Rogerson was Commonwealth champion at the time.

Up to then here were no openly gay divers, but at the Atlanta 1996 games there were 2. American Patrick Jeffrey was at his second Olympics, but it is one of his team-mates who was at the centre of a dispute before the games that threatened the team spirit.

Diver David Pichler’s coach was Ron O’Brien, the man who coached Greg Louganis. O’Brien developed a deep dislike for David’s boyfriend Steve Guiffre after Steve physically attacked O’Brien’s son on a plane. The incident escalated with David accusing O’Brien of interfering with his relationship, and O’Brien got a restraining order against Steve. Accusations flew around through to the US Olympic trials. Thankfully, differences were settled just before the Atlanta games began.

The first European gay diver competed in Atlanta as well. This was Sweden’s Jimmy Sjodin’s only Olympic appearance, though he does have a connection with the current gay diving icon, Tom Daley. In 2001 Jimmy took part in a reality documentary film which followed 6 openly gay young men on a bus journey to the Burning Man festival. The director and co-start was Dustin Lance Black, Tom Daley’s fiancé.

One diver who missed out on the Atlanta Olympics was South Africa’s Rob Costa. He was one of his nation’s leading divers and had taken part in the Olympic trials. While the swimming team was selected almost immediately the divers had to put up with procrastinations before being selected, only to be told two weeks before the Atlanta games that none of them, Rob included, would be going. The reasons vary. Some say it was because the diving scores at the trials were deliberately inflated to ensure qualification. Others (including Rob himself) claim it was because the South African Olympic Committee considered the Atlanta diving events too elitist and white (in effect, boycotting them). The same fate befell their equestrian and gymnastics teams.

The next Olympics in Sydney 2000 saw David Pichler return, with Patrick Jeffrey as his coach. Sydney also saw the first of 3 Olympics appearances by Australian diver Mat Helm. He is the first of the remaining divers on the list who competed in both solo diving and the new synchronised diving events introduced in Sydney. In Athens 2004 Mat was the only lgbt diver, winning a silver and bronze medal. In Beijing 2008 he was joined by fellow Commonwealth champions, both making their debut – Matthew Mitcham and Tom Daley. All of them have won Olympics medals, and Matthew Mitcham became Olympic champion in 2008. After the figure skater Ondrej Nepala who competed in the Winter Olympics at the age of 13 in 1964, Tom is the next youngest lgbt Olympian, and the youngest Summer Olympian. He has made an additional Olympic appearance at the first ever Youth Summer Olympics in Singapore 2010.

Now let’s move on to dry land. This second, larger, group are the track and field athletes, which include the decathletes Tom Waddell and Caitlyn Jenner that I wrote about under the letter “D”, so I needn’t say more about them here.

Appropriately, the earliest track and field “jumper” is one of the greatest of all time, and the most successful of the 24 people in this group. Mildred Didrikson (1911-1956), known universally as “Babe”, made only one Olympic appearance, in Los Angeles 1932, but what an appearance! She won a gold medal in the hurdles, and a silver in the high jump, breaking the world record in both. A true all-rounder Babe went on to have a successful golfing career and was named as the USA’s greatest sportswoman of the 20th century.

At the next games in Berlin two intersex athletes competed. One of these was Dora Ratjen in the high jump. I’ll be writing more about Dora and the other intersex Olympians when we reach the letter “X” in August.

There’s a big gap before another known lgbt “jumper” appears at the Olympics. This was in Mexico 1968 when decathlete Tom Waddell competed. In the nest two Olympics another well-known decathlete competed, Caitlyn Jenner, then known as Bruce. More about both of them is given under the letter “D”.

It was 8 years before another jumping event featured an lgbt athlete, and she was in the women’s equivalent of the decathlon, the heptathlon, which also includes jumping events. Sabine Braun competed for West Germany in Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988. Following German unification she competed in three more Olympics, winning a bronze in Barcelona 1992. Sabine is one of 6 lgbt athletes, and the first ever female German athlete, to compete in 5 or more Olympics. She was also the first female German athlete to come out.

In both 1984 and 1988 Sabine was joined by lgbt “jumpers” Greg Duhaime and Louise Ritter. Greg was a steeplechaser, which involves jumping over hurdles. Louise was a high jumper. Disappointment at being forced to boycott the Moscow 1980 games was followed by more at finishing in 8th place in 1984 because of a recurring hip injury, but she achieved Olympic gold in 1988 in a tense sudden-death jump off against the favourite.

Another high jumper appeared in the next two games. Kajsa Bergqvist competed for Sweden in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, winning bronze at the latter. She went on to greater success in the World and European Championships.

Sydney 2000 had the most lgbt jumpers – Sabine Braun, Kajsa Bergqvist, Peter Häggström and Balian Buschbaum. This was the only Olympic appearance by both Häggström (Sweden, long jump) and Buschbaum (Germany, pole vault). Balian Buschbaum, then known as Yvonne, is one of a surprisingly large number of transgender and intersex Olympians who I’ll cover in more detail under the letter “X”.

The last known lgbt “jumpers” is Nottinghamshire’s Rob Newton. Despite what an allegedly good BBC journalist heralded last October, race-walker Tom Bosworth is not the first openly gay Team GB track and field athlete, Rob Newton was. He competed in Athens 2004 in the hurdles (complete with flowing pony-tail). He featured in a major interview in “Gay Times” several months beforehand.

Finally, and I hope you’re not too exhausted by now, we move on to snow. There have been 7 lgbt “snow-jumpers” at the Winter Olympics. Four of these were snowboarders.

Snowboarding was introduced, along with women’s ice hockey, at the Nagano 1998 games. Both have had a complete lgbt presence ever since. At its debut we had our only snowboard medallist, Stine Brun Kjeldaas of Norway. She won a silver in the half-pipe competition. However, in 2002 she only finished 13th.

In Turin 2006 Stine’s future wife, the Dutch snowboarder Cheryl Maas also competed in the half-pipe contest. She returned 8 years later to the Sochi games in the slopestyle competition. Turin saw the introduction of another snowboard event, the snowboardcross. Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, the first lgbt Inuit Olympian, competed in snowboardcross in Vancouver 2010, and Australia’s Belle Brockhoff competed in Sochi 2014. Both came out in response to the anti-gay laws introduced into Russia.

When you think of jumping at the Winter Olympics the first image is of a ski jumper. There have been 2 lgbt ski jumpers so far – Canada’s Eric Mitchell in Vancouver 2010 and Austria’s Daniela Iraschko-Stolz in Sochi 2014. Daniela won a silver medal with her jump. At 17 Eric was the youngest ski jumper at the games. A nasty accident in training for the Sochi games halted any further Olympic competition though he is now part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s campaign to improve lgbt inclusion in sport.

Last, but by no mean least, in this mammoth article is British-born American Gus Kenworthy, a freestyle skier. He won a silver medal in the slopestyle event in Sochi.

And that’s about it for now. I hope you’re not too exhausted by this long article. I’ll return with the next letter in our “Olympic Alphabet” next month when I’ll write about a couple of athletes who are, but at the same time, not, lgbt Olympians.

Friday 26 February 2016

The Ballad of the Murderous Toy-Boy

Earlier this month I did a couple of guided tours of lgbt Nottingham. One of the stops was outside a traditional English pub called The Thurland Hall. It is named after a huge stately mansion that occupied that site until it was pulled down in 1831.

I have a personal connection to this site. Thurland Hall was named after Thomas Thurland, a wealthy wool merchant and 3-times Mayor of Nottingham, who inherited it from his grandfather John Tansley, another 3-times Mayor of Nottingham and MP. John Tansley is my 14xgreat-grandfather.

The original Thurland Hall was the only place in Nottingham that was big enough to house King James I and his court when they visited the city between 1612 and 1624. The official royal residence was Nottingham Castle, but this has been left to fall into ruins by the Tudor monarchs.

When King James succeeded to the throne of England his reputation for having “favourites” was well-known. So too was his affectionate behaviour towards them. When he first arrived in London there were pamphlets circulating declaring that “Elizabeth was King, now James is Queen”, though this more probably refers to their style of reign.

King James visited the county many times. His first official visit to Nottingham was on 16th August 1612. By that time he had been separated from his wife Queen Anne and was accompanied by his then favourite/toy-boy, Robert Carr (c.1587-1645). He was considered to be a very handsome, androgynous young man, just the type that appealed to King James. Unlike the king’s later favourite/toy-boy, the Duke of Buckingham, it is probable the relationship between the king and Carr was platonic, though the king was obviously romantically smitten.

Carr was one of the most powerful people in the country thanks to the king. He became embroiled in the political machinations of the Howard family. Carr fell in love with Frances Howard, the married Countess of Essex. Carr persuaded King James to annul the Essex marriage so he could marry Frances himself in 1613.

Less than ten days earlier a friend of Carr’s, someone who was instrumental in pushing Carr into King James’s favour, died a prisoner in the Tower of London. His name was Sir Thomas Overbury. Two years later evidence emerged that Overbury was murdered, and the list of those involved included those of Robert Carr and his wife Frances, by now Earl of Countess of Somerset. Six people in all were accused of the murder, and all were found guilty and sentenced to death. The king, being an old romantic softy, pardoned the Somersets though kept them prisoner in the Tower until 1622.

And where does the ballad in this article’s title fit in? Well, in those days before film producers turned real-life scandal and drama into blockbusters, scandals and sensational news were turned into ballads. There were several which dealt with the Overbury murder and the part the Somersets played. Here is one of them.

But first, an explanation of some of the words and verses in the ballad.
“Pad” is a horse, and “Punk” is a whore.
“Nullity” means nullification.
“Perpuse” is a slang name for female genitalia.
Verse 6 refers to the Earl of Essex’s claim of virility with other women.
A “wimble” is a tool for boring holes, used here as an obvious double-entendre.
“Quo ad hanc” refers to the alleged non-consummation of his marriage to Frances.
Verse 7 refers to Frances’s examination for virginity which some claim she faked.
Verse 8 criticises the clergy who declared Frances a virgin and the Earl impotent.
“Halter” means the hangman’s rope.
The “young lord” is Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset.
“Undertaker” refers to someone “undertaking” a task, not a funeral director.
“Sweet friend” is Thomas Overbury.
“Sir Gervais” was Lieutenant of the Tower at the time of the murder.
“Glister” is an enema, the means by which Overbury was murdered.
Verse 11 refers to Overbury’s opposition to the Somerset marriage.
“Ignoramus” refers to the verdict despite insufficient evidence against Somerset.
Verse 12 refers to others convicted, called Weston, Forman and Turner.
1. There was an old lad rode on an old pad
Unto an old punk a-wooing.
He laid the old punk upon an old trunk,
O, there was a good old doing.

2. There was an old maid scarce sweet as they said
In a place that I dare not to mention.
She in an odd humour laid with a perfumer,
O, there was an odd invention.

3. The punk and the maid they sung and they said
That marriage was a servility.
If marry you must for change of lust,
O, well fare a trick of nullity.

4. There was a madam who did study to frame
To devise to draw up a perpuse.
She drew in so narrow a Carr might go through,
O, there was a slender sluice.

5. Her Earl did appoint her they say such a jointure
As was of no validity.
Above twice in a night he could her no right,
O, there was a strange frigidity.

6. But when as her Earl had another girl,
His wimble could pierce her flank.
His nag proved able by changing his stable,
O, there was a quo ad hanc.

7. This dame was inspected but fraud interjected.
A maid of more perfection
Whom midwives do handle while the knight holds the candle,
O, there was clear inspection.

8. Now all foreign writers cry out of their mitres
That allow this for a virginity,
And talk of erection and want of ejection,
O, there was a sound divinity.

9. There was young lord, assumed on his word
He would be a Parliament maker.
But see how things alter, he feareth the halter,
O, there was an undertaker.

10. He had a sweet friend that he did commend
To the keeping of sweet Sir Gervais.
They gave him a glister, his belly to blister,
O, there was a sweet piece of service.
11. This friend denied and could not abide
A match that he said would shame us.
Betwixt this matron and this grave patron,
O, pattern of Ignoramus.

12. Now West and thorn and turner do turn
And say that these plots were frauds.
They may say their pleasure to think it hard measure,
O, knaves and punks and bawds.

Monday 22 February 2016

The Seven Heavenly Gay Virtues : Being Patient

Last year I did a series of articles entitled “The 7 Deadly Gay Sins”. I’m following that up with this first article is a new series called “The 7 Heavenly Gay Virtues”. I’m using the word “heavenly” to denote a sense of goodness and morality as opposed to any specific religious sense. After all, you don’t need to believe in any god to be a good person with admirable virtues.

First of all, a very brief history of the Seven Virtues of traditional belief. All faiths have virtues to which worshippers practice. Aristotle and Plato came up with four which were adopted by the Christians as the Four Cardinal Virtues. To this they added Faith, Hope and Charity from the New Testament. By the 5th century all seven of these were grouped together as opposing qualities to the Seven Deadly Sins.

Each of the Virtues has an opposing Sin. As illustrated in my series of articles last year all of the Sins were assigned colours, six of which appear on the Rainbow Pride flag. I’m going to take each of the Seven Virtues just as I did with the Sins and build up a Virtuous Pride flag. Its all just a bit of fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, though some of the actual Virtues have very serious aspects.

So, what’s first? The red stripe at the top of the Pride flag represented the Deadly Sin of Anger. The opposite or absence of Anger is Patience. Patience sums up all of the progresses that various disenfranchised or persecuted communities have endured from time immemorial.

The lgbt community has been very patient and has waited many centuries to become accepted as equal members in society. There’s still a very long way to go before full equality reaches the global lgbt community. If studying history has taught me anything it’s that change has never come quickly.

There are qualities which the Medieval world associated with Patience. One of these is resilience. I want to quote here from an article published by Huffpost Queer Voices (then known as Huffpost Gay Voices) last year. The words are by Swami Varadan, the host of a Californian programme called “The Urban Turban Show”. The title of his article is “3 Lessons the LGBT Community Has Taught Me”. Number 1 on his list is Patience, He writes :

“They say that Patience is a Virtue. Imagine not being able to marry someone what you love? Imagine not getting the same tax benefits as your straight friends? Imagine if your lover was in the hospital but you didn’t have the ‘right’ to go se them? This is what my LGBT friends dealt with over and over again. Patience is what they learned and taught me. If you want something in life you have to have Patience. You have to have Patience during times when you want to quit...”

Another quality given to Patience is sufferance. The plight of many lgbt victims of discrimination and persecution show a great deal of sufferance with dignity. The instances of online bullying has created a destructive presence in the lgbt community. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve put into my lgbt index who committed suicide because of the online bullying they received. A response to this distressing fact was the creation of the “It Gets Better” campaign.

“It Gets Better” was created in 2010 is response to the suicides of several teenagers in a short period in the US who had been bullied because of their sexuality. The main message behind the campaign is that all the problems of bullying disappear as soon as time goes on. In the real world, however, bullying doesn’t disappear, it just goes by a different name and find a different reason to bully. And the lgbt community is not innocent of bullying members of its own community.

Here I must offer my own personal perspective. I’ve been an out gay man since 1997. In the years since then I have lived through periods when various UK governments have passed what have been regarded as anti-gay laws. Yet, none of these have actually had any direct negative effect on my life as a gay man. True, I have received homophobic abuse and taunts, but they are not what have hurt or upset me the most.

What has upset me are comments and attitudes (and, yes, anger verging on hate speech) from members of the lgbt community to my personal beliefs and politics. At Nottinghamshire Pride last July I was bombarded with propaganda and criticism expressed to me for not being one of the “atheist left-wing” majority that I left not long after the march ended. I felt abused, and depressed that the community to which I belong was rejecting me. I suppose I lacked the resilience that is associated with Patience. And it’s not the first time it happened. It’s happening in other places as well. Even London Pride has declared that its 2016 event will ban certain lgbt political and religious groups just because the people organising don't agree with their politics or faith.

My own experiences are not common but neither are they unique. The virtue of Patience applies to all aspects of our lives. I hope that I always display a degree of Patience with those who disagree with my views and never resort to Anger to counter it.

To finish let’s have our first look at the Virtuous Pride flag. Red is the symbol of Anger, so it’s opposing virtue of Patience is red also.
Next time we look at the Virtue that opposes the Sin of Gluttony.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Flower Power : Hopping Mad About Queer Beer

One of my articles during Advent was about the transgender properties of various evergreens. At the beginning of November another cross-gender plant hit the UK headlines. This time is was a variety of hops that was used to make what was labelled as the “world’s first non-binary, transgender beer”.

The Scottish brewer BrewDog launched a new beer going by the name of No Label in November in its newest pub. Situated in the gay haven of Soho, London, the brewers said that premiering the new beer in that location emphasised that “just like humans, beer can be whatever the hell it wants to be, and proud of it.”

What makes No Label beer “transgender” is that it is made from hop flowers that have changed gender. Just like the evergreens mentioned last year there are male and female plants. In hops it is usually only female plants that produce the female flowers that are used in brewing. This is because they are larger and more developed. Very often brewers remove all male plants because they have smaller seedless flowers and are sterile.

When female hop plants start to grow male flowers it is often a sign of distress. Just like the evergreens it may be a means of conserving energy and nutrients.

The No Label beer is brewed primarily from the smaller male hops flowers from a variety of hops called Jester. This recently developed variety was developed and “patented” by Charles Faram and Company, hop merchants of Worcestershire, who claim Jester is prone to “altering sex” naturally.

The new beer was developed with the intention of appealing to the lgbt community, even though some sections of the community have criticised BrewDog over their perceptions of transgender issues.

BrewDog caused controversy last September when they began running an advertising campaign which many found to be transphobic. The ad featured, amongst others, a couple of bearded men dressed as female sex-workers posing seductively in a window. The criticism wasn’t universally negative but the boss of BrewDog revealed his less than understanding nature by criticising his critics online in a less than understanding manner. He referred to people who signed an online petition as “armchair clicktavists”.

When No Label beer was launched the UK’s leading lgbt charity Stonewall gave it a mixed reception. They questioned BrewDog’s interpretation of “non-binary” and “transgender beer”. At the same time they welcomed BrewDog’s intention of donating all profits from the sale of No Label to a London-based organisation called Queerest of the Queer. BrewDog had been discussing the beer with Queeerest of the Queer for a while before it was launched. Naturally, Queerest of the Queer has nothing but praise for No Label. But things are not quite as philanthropic as it seems.

Queerest of the Queer is not a registered charity. It is a commercially-run entertainment organisation which produced festivals for lgbt performers to showcase their talents. In turn, Queerest of the Queer is a collaborative project involving three other commercially-run entertainment organisations. I don’t want to sound cynical by saying that BrewDog’s involvement is purely commercial, being as No Label will be sold at Queerest of the Queer events, but when you look at the figures lgbt charities will benefit very little.

BrewDog says that all profits from the sale of No Label go to Queerest of the Queer. In turn, Queerest of the Queer says on its website that they donate 10% of their own profits to the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity that deals with homeless lgbt youth in London. They do not mention if they too will donate the 100% they receive from BrewDog will go to the Albert Kennedy Trust or any other charity. In effect, only 10% of the profits from No Label will actually go to charity. Queerest of the Queer hasn’t said where the other 90% might be going.

Whether the No Label beer, and the controversy, will continue or fade away only time will tell. I’m not an alcohol drinker, so I have no reason to buy a bottle, but I’m sure many of you do drink. At the end of the day it’s down to the quality of the beer, even if only 10% of the profit actually reaches the charitable causes the brewers want to be seen to support.

Sunday 14 February 2016

Cupids Galore

Happy St. Valentine’s Day.

I’ve mentioned several times before that the world celebrates St. Valentine’s Day on the wrong date, but that’s not going to stop me from celebrating it myself today with a look at that most famous character that sums up romance more than any other – Cupid.

In fact, I’m going to celebrate with lots of Cupids, and they all originate from the ancient Greek mythological figure of Eros. Once again, I’ve said several times before on this blog that Eros was inextricably linked with male same-sex love and relationships in the gyms and military training camps. Soldiers and athletes alike would make offerings to the statue of Eros. Every gym had one and the gym-toned men would pray to the god for success in battle and/or male love.

But Eros is only one of several other deities who were associated with love, whether gay or straight, and it might be worth resurrecting them all today.

All of these deities of love and romance take their collective name from Eros himself. Together they are called the Erotes. In Roman times they acquired several other names – Cupides and Amores.

Eros was the original god way back in the mists of time and the ancient Greeks developed more like him as they recognised different ways to be romantic. Some myths say that all the Erotes were the sons of Hermes and Aphrodite, though older myths say that Eros and fellow love god Himeros were present at the birth of their supposed mother (see my article on the birth of Aphrodite). In the famous painting of the birth of Venus by Botticelli the two winged figures on the left of the painting are Eros and Himeros. Because the Erotes were Aphrodite’s main attendants they came to be regarded as her children.

So, who were all these Cupids, the Erotes? And what kinds of love do they represent? The definitive number of the Erotes is uncertain as over time more were added. The Roman writer Propertius wrote in the 1st century before Christ that there were a thousand of them. Below is a list of those most commonly listed.

EROS – the original god of love, and of the love between men.
ANTEROS – the god of mutual love and love returned.
HIMEROS – the god of passion and physicality.
POTHOS – the god of desire and yearning.
HEDYLOGOS – the god of flattery and sweet talk.
HYMENAIOS – the god of marriage and weddings.

What I think is interesting is that the ancient Greeks seem to have considered the Erotes as influencers of the unmarried. Once married the Greeks’ love/sex life became the responsibility of the goddesses Hera, Demeter and Aphrodite, depending on what the spouse was desiring – to be treated like royalty, to have children, or to be considered sensual, respectively.

The Greeks encourages their children to call upon the Erotes to find a same-sex or opposite sex partner before embarking on marriage.

The earliest known of the Erotes, as already mentioned, was Eros himself. Almost as ancient as him was Anteros. They are often called twins. Eros is familiar to us all, but so is Anteros if you’ve ever visited central London. The statue you see in the middle of Piccadilly Circus isn’t Eros, but Anteros.

Eros and Anteros were later joined by two more love gods. One was called Pothos. He was the god of passion. The other was Himeros and the two are “opposites” of each other. Pothos represented the passion felt between lovers in each other’s present, while Himeros represented the yearning and desire for an absent lover.

Finally we have the two Erotes responsible for the beginning and end of courtship. Hedylogos was the god of flattery and sweet talk. In effect, he was the god of the chat-up line. We all know how important it is to say the right thing when we first meet our future lover, and Hedylogos made sure we did. Once the initial chat up line has succeeded we’d need his help with further romantic words. I suppose he’s the one we can associate most with the St. Valentine’s Day card. Through the relationship the other Erotes would offer their influence until, finally, the couple would call upon Hymenaios.

I wrote about Hymenaios last May. Technically, Hymenaios should be the last of the Erotes or Cupides that anyone would ever need. On marriage the work of all the Erotes was over and the responsibility for romance within marriage passed, as I said earlier, to Hera, Demeter and Aphrodite.

One other god often included in the lists of Erotes was Hermaphroditos. His origin is different to all the other Erotes and his name gave rise to our modern word for a person born with physical attributes of both male and female. Originally Hermaphroditos was the beautiful winged son of Aphrodite and Hermes, hence his name. The ancient Greeks knew of the existence of hermaphrodites and made him their god. He was also the god of effeminate men because they displayed personality characteristics of both sexes. The myth goes that he went to bathe in the well inhabited by the water nymph Salmakis. Salmakis was smitten by his beauty but her advances were rejected. She prayed to the gods for her to be forever united with Hermaphroditos. They took her wish literally and her body was merged with his. Hermaphroditos then decreed that everyone who bathed in Salmakis’s well would become double-sexed as he had.

And there you have it, a whole host of Erotes or cupids ready to fire their arrows of love for St. Valentine’s Day. So when you’re with your loved one today, or thinking of someone special, for God’s sake duck!! With all those love arrows flying around you’re in danger of turning into a porcupine!! If nothing happens today, don’t worry, it’s the wrong day for all of that romantic stuff anyway. 

Friday 12 February 2016

Olympic Alphabet : I is for ...


First of all, this is something of a special anniversary, because it was exactly 40 years ago today at the Innsbruck Winter Olympics (another “I” for today’s alphabet) that John Curry became the first openly lgbt Olympic champion (although, technically, he wasn’t openly gay till the morning afterwards).

Back to today’s actual “I” – ICE. The third largest group of lgbt Winter Olympians comes in ice hockey (the second largest is speed skaters, also an ICE group). To date there have been 9 identified ice hockey players and all of them are female. To compliment my article on the all-male lgbt Olympic figure skaters I’ll concentrate on the all-female group of ice hockey players.

This group can be considered as one of the most successful of all lgbt Olympians, summer or winter, with a high percentage of them winning medals than in any other group of athletes (I consider more than 2 athletes to constitute a “group”). You’ll see what I mean as you read through this article.

Below is a table showing all of the lgbt ice hockey players shown in chronological order and the position or medal they won at each. 

Nancy Drolet
Jayna Hefford
Erika Holst
Ylva Lindberg
Caitlin Cahow
Kathleen Kauth
Charline Labonté
Sarah Vaillancourt
Emilia Andersson Ramboldt

Women’s ice hockey was introduced into the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. Because the decision to include the women’s tournament had come well into the run-up period to the Nagano games the organising committee didn’t have time to organise it, appoint official and build venues in time. The IOC agreed to limit the tournament to 6 national teams – Canada, USA, Finland, Sweden, China and hosts Japan.

As you can see in the table above there has been at least 3 lgbt ice hockey players at all of the tournaments that the Olympics have held. Very few other sports that have appeared in more than one consecutive games, summer or winter, can display the same 100 percent attendance by lgbt athletes in that sport's entire Olympic history. What is unique to ice hockey, however, is the fact that at every tournament there has been at least 1 lgbt medal winner.

Canada had been world champions since that tournament began in 1990 and were the favourites to win the inaugural Olympic gold medal. As it happened they were beaten into silver position by their eternal rivals the USA.

Playing in forward position for Canada was Jayna Hefford. In her career she has won 7 world championship gold medals and 7 silver medals. Her Olympic career contains yet more unique lgbt records. Jayna is the only lgbt athlete, summer or winter, to compete in all tournaments that her sport has been held at the Olympics, and also the only lgbt athlete to win medals at all of them. Having retired in 2013 Jayna’s record will not be carried on to the 2018 Winter Olympics. Jayna is also the only lgbt athlete to win 4 consecutive gold medals, in effect being an Olympic champion for a complete 16 year period. Until topped by speed skater Ireen Wüst at the Sochi 2014 games Jayna won more Winter gold medals than any other lgbt athlete, and ranks equal second with Wüst and Greg Louganis behind Ian Thorpe in total gold medals. It’s all very impressive and confusing at the same time.

In the Salt Lake City 2002 games Canada beat champions USA to the gold medal, and Sweden beat Finland to the bronze medal.

The Turin 2006 games had the most lgbt ice hockey players. None of them were openly lgbt at the time, though both of the Swedish players, Erika Holst and Ylva Lindberg, came out the following May. As you can see in the above table all of the players won a medal in Turin. Again, that’s another unique record. No other group of athletes (more than 2) in any other sport has achieved a 100 percent medal podium position. On a negative record-breaking point, the USA team lost to someone other than Canada for the first.

On home soil at the Vancouver 2010 games Canada held on to their title. Because of the world success of both the Canadian and USA teams there was some criticism that the rest of the world was being forced to compete on an uneven field. The IOC recognised this but stated that women’s ice hockey was still undergoing development as a world-class sport and that, given time, other nations could increase in experience and skill to rival Canada and the USA.

Sochi 2014 brought the issue of lgbt discrimination to the forefront of the Olympics. Many people called for a boycott of the games because of Russia’s anti-gay legislation. However, Russia has not been the only host nation with lgbt discrimination in its constitution, and teams have been more than happy to compete in those nations.

Three months before the Sochi games American ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow came out in response to Russia’s anti-gay legislation. She was one of several athletes who expressed an anti-boycott stand. She gave the example of Jesse Owens at the Berlin 1936 Olympics. How far, if at all, would the rights of black athletes have progressed if he had boycotted Berlin?

Other than Jayna Hefford there has only been one other lgbt person involved in the first and most recent ice hockey tournament. That person is coach Shannon Miller, considered to be the most successful women’s ice hockey coach of all time. In 1998 she was the national coach for Canada’s silver medal winners. In 2011 Shannon became a coaching mentor to the Russian women’s ice hockey team preparing for Sochi 2014. Unfortunately, Shannon has experienced discrimination – not Russia or by Russian, but by the American university team, the Minnesota-Duluth Dulldogs. In 2015 she and two other female sports coaches began legal actions against the university for discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity.

As we wait for the next full Olympic Winter games I look forward to the Youth Winter Olympics which begin tonight and wonder if any of the young athletes will come out and go on to compete in Pyeong Chang in 2018.