Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 20) The 41

Previously : 39) Ivor Novello (1893-1951) failed to become a Hollywood sex symbol, unlike 40) Ramon Novarro (1899-1968) who had escaped Mexico City after 41) Amelio Robles Avila (1889-1984) and the Zapatistas took it over in the Mexican Revolution, one of whose origins was in a scandal involving 42) The Dance of The 41 (1901).

Unlike the Sacred Band ofThebes in January I can’t represent 42) The Dance of The 41 with a single representative because their names have not been revealed. Only one name has been linked to The 41, that of Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, the son-in-law of Mexican President Diaz. Some of the allegations of Diaz’s corruption centred round the cover-up and conspiracy of silence that surrounded this homosexual scandal in 1901.
A contemporary satirical leaflet about the Dance of The 41.
The identities of The 41 was suppressed and removed from Mexican history, though the significance of their number as a derogatory term for homosexual men continues in the public consciousness today. There is no conclusive proof that Ignacio de la Torre y Mier was one of The 41 (or The 42), only rumours of his participation after the media began to report the incident.

Lgbt history is full of anonymous victims of persecution and the Dance of The 41 is a perfect example. All we know about them is that police raided a private address in Mexico City in the early hours of 17th November 1901. There the police found 41 men, 19 of them dressed as women, having a dance party. This was enough for them all to be arrested.

Most of those present at the party were probably members of the highest social levels in Mexico City, so there was enough pressure on President Diaz from powerful families to keep the names of those present secret.

No-one is sure what happened to The 41. It is said that half of them were released without charge through the influence of their wealthy families. The others were said to have been sentenced to hard labour in prison. Ever since then the number 41 has been stigmatised and associated with homosexuality. Even some hotels in Mexico have no Room 41. Over a century later the number 41 was reclaimed as a mark of honour by the lgbt community in much the same way as the Nazi pink triangle was in the 1970s.

43) Alberto B. Mendoza (b.1971), an activist living in the USA, was bullied at school in his native Mexico because of his sexuality. He was called “41” but didn’t realise the true origin of this insult until his 41st birthday when he decided to find out why. This led him to discover the story of the Dance of The 41 and to create a charity named after them which campaigns to combat homophobia in the Latin American and Hispanic communities.
Alberto’s charity, Honor41, produces an annual list of 41 lgbt Latin American pioneers and heroes from all walks of life. The first list was published in 2013. With over 200 names from which to continue my 80 Gays I took one at random. The name I chose was 44) Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba (b.1958).

Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba appeared on the 2016 Honor41 list. She is an academic at the University of California Los Angeles which she joined in 1994 and specialises in Hispanic studies and is a prolific writer on the subject.

Dr. Alicia was born in El Paso in Texas near the Mexican border. One incident near El Paso in the 1990s inspired her to write a mystery novel. The incident concerned the very real unsolved murders of over 500 Mexican women. Alicia spent several years researching their deaths. With so many questions and few answers Alicia decided to write a novel based on the murders. The novel, “Desert Blood” (published 2005), featured the murder of Mexican women and the problems of immigration and treatment of female immigrants by the authorities.

For “Desert Blood” Alicia received the Lambda Literary Award for the Best Lesbian Mystery. Murder and mystery is genre in which women have always been prominent. Writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, among others, have produced some of the most popular mystery novels. Leading the lgbt contingent of female mystery writers are Val McDermid and Patricia Cornwell.

The person generally credited with starting the modern lesbian mystery genre is 45) Katherine V. Forrest (b.1939). Katherine’s 1984 novel “Amateur City” featured a lesbian homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department by the name of Kate Delafield, the first lesbian detective to feature in her own series of novels. Of the nine published books in the series Katherine Forrest has won 7 Lambda Literary Awards.

Katherine was also the fiction editor of Naiad Press for ten years. Naiad Press was one of the first publishing houses which concentrated on books by lesbian writers founded in 1973. In 2003 the founders retired and sold their stock and titles to another publisher specialising in lesbian literature, Bella Books.

Bella Books also produces foreign translations of their books. These include into French, German and Spanish. Some translations of Bella Books became the first novels published by LePress. Despite sounding French, this publishing company is based in the Czech Republic. The founder of LePress is 46) Markéta Navrátilová (b.1975).

Next time : Czech Pride takes to the air.

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