Thursday 30 April 2020

Homohoax: Dreadnought

On April 1st I introduced you to Horace de Vere Cole and Adrian Stephen and their prank, the Zanzibar Hoax of 1905. Today you’ll hear about the “sequel”, the Dreadnought Hoax of 1910.

There’s so much information on the internet about the Dreadnought Hoax that it’s difficult to say anything new about it. So, instead I’ll look at how the hoax was recalled by two of its participants, the lgbt siblings Adrian Stephen (1883-1948) and Virginia Stephen (1882-1941), better known by her married name of Virginia Woolf.

First, here’s the YouTube video which describes the Dreadnought Hoax.
There are three different sources for information on the Dreadnought Hoax. Firstly, there are the newspaper reports published shortly afterwards. Secondly, there’s the account written by Adrian Stephen, “The ‘Dreadnought’ Hoax”, published in 1936. Thirdly, there’s Virginia Woolf’s talk to the Rodmell Women’s Institute in 1940, preserved in the archives of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes held in the Women’s Library at the London Metropolitan University.

As with the preceding Zanzibar Hoax it is believed that the press got hold of the Dreadnought story from Horace Cole himself. In his account Adrian Stephen was certain of this fact, though it appears he didn’t actually ask Cole if that was the case. Virginia was equally sure it was Cole.

As far as Adrian and Virginia were concerned their prank was over and done with as soon as they got home, but Horace Cole insisting on all the participants gathering together and posing for photographs the next day. Adrian and Virginia believed that these photos were just meant to be private momentos. They were both surprised to see one of those photos splashed all over the front page of the Daily Mirror a couple of days later.

Below is a reproduction of the front page of the Daily Mirror on 16th February 1910. The Daily Mirror was, and still is, one of the more sensationalist and unreliable national newspapers in the UK. It has often courted controversy for the accuracy of its content. The Dreadnought story covered three pages and it wasn’t long before other newspapers took up the story.
The Daily Mirror reminded its readers that Cole had been the ring-leader of the 1905 Zanzibar Hoax and printed the “momento” photo for which the Zanzibar hoaxers posed in costume in addition to the new Dreadnought photo. This is another reason to be sure it was Cole who gave the newspaper the story – only he and Adrian Stephen had been involved in both hoaxes and only they had both photos.

One of the most famous legacies of the Dreadnought Hoax may actually have been invented by the press. That is the phrase “bunga bunga”. Nowhere in either account by Adrian Stephen or Virginia Woolf did they ever say that they used the words “bunga bunga” at any time during the hoax. Both refer to it in relation to events that happened after the press published the story. Adrian mentions that it was first included in a newspaper interview. He supposed this was with an assistant to the costumier who supplied their Arabian costumes and make-up. It certainly wasn’t a first-hand account – he wasn’t there.

It doesn’t appear that Horace Cole ever wrote his own personal account of either the Zanzibar Hoax or the Dreadnought Hoax. He was content just to pass the story on to the press. After his death in 1936 there was renewed interest in both hoaxes, and Adrian Stephen was persuaded to write his own account. A small book was the result. But this time his sister Virginia was a well-known writer and was married to Leonard Woolf. Together Virginia and Leonard founded the Hogarth Press, and it was they who published Adrian’s book.

Adrian states clearly from the start that he doesn’t think he has the right talent to write an account, but he manages to give a very readable and engaging little book. It is presented in a straight-forward manner which supports his other claim that he lacks the imagination to exaggerate. His book was a hit. Not a best-seller but popular enough to help keep the memory of the hoax alive to be reprinted by Chatto and Windus in 1983.

Virginia Woolf, even with her reputation as an accomplished writer, never had her account published in print. Instead she decided to turn it into a talk that she gave to the Women’s Institute in Rodmell in 1940. It gives us a glimpse into Virginia’s sense of fun.

She was invited to give a talk on books and publishing. Why she chose to speak about the Dreadnought Hoax instead was a result of a BBC radio broadcast on April Fool’s Day three months earlier. Virginia began her talk by asking her audience if they had heard that broadcast also. It was a programme about Horace Cole and his practical jokes. Virginia mentioned her own involvement with the Dreadnought Hoax and proceeded to entertain the audience with her version of events.

The talk was a resounding success, and it is recalled by one attendee as leaving everyone helpless with laughter. Virginia enjoyed the reception so much that she gave the talk again a while later at the Bloomsbury Group Memoir Club, a select group of members of the literary, artistic and academic circle formed by the Stephen siblings at their home. E. M. Forster was present at that second talk and he, too, recalled being helpless with laughter.

Virginia didn’t give her talk again after that. She died the following year. Her brother Adrian died in 1948. The only known manuscript of the talk passed to Virginia’s widower, Leonard Woolf. In 1955 Dame Frances Farrer of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes wrote to Leonard to ask if he had a copy of the talk for the institute’s archives. Leonard sent his copy, requesting that it be copied and returned as it was the only one. Whether Dame Frances did return it is uncertain, because the copy that went with the Women’s Institute archives to the Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University is the original, with Virginia Woolf’s hand-written notes in the margins.

The fact that there is still so much about the Dreadnought Hoax on the internet is a testimony to its outrageous audacity and its legendary status. Perhaps the Zanzibar Hoax would not be remembered outside Cambridge if it weren’t for Adrian Stephen and Virginia Woolf writing down their accounts of the Dreadnought Hoax. Without them all we would have of the Zanzibar Hoax would be newspaper reports and some private correspondence.

Even if some people have yet to learn of the either the Zanzibar or Dreadnought Hoax they may have come across its famous catchphrase, even if it wasn’t used. So, to end, the only thing left to say is “bunga bunga”!

Saturday 25 April 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 10) Turning the Page

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 24) John Menlove Edwards (1910-1958) was a pioneering climber, as is 25) Alex Johnson (b.1989) who trained for the Olympics, which had first awarded gold medals in climbing (in the form of mountaineering) in 1924 to 26) George Mallory (1886-1924) and his team for attempting to climb Everest, still a popular challenge, achieved by 27) Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (b.1974), the first openly lesbian climber to complete the Seven Summits, which she did as a healing process for the sexual abuse she received as a child, as did author 28) Dorothy Allison (b.1949).

28) Dorothy Allison addressed her experiences of child abuse from her stepfather in much of her writing. Other social issues often associated with such abuse – poverty, working class background and unemployment – are also addressed. Her first full-length novel, “Bastard Out of Carolina”, published in 1992, is seen as being semi-autobiographical.

Dorothy’s rise from childhood poverty and abuse has been an inspiration to some women. She was the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She then went on to graduate from The New School in New York City with an MA in urban anthropology.

It was her involvement with a group of militant feminists while at college in the 1970s that Dorothy was encouraged to write. She had always made up stories as a form of escape but now her feminism began to influence what she wrote. On the activist side Dorothy was involved in the Barnard Conference on Sexuality, an event about which I wrote briefly in this article in relation to Gayle Rubin’s contribution to what became known as the Feminist Sex Wars (Gayle Rubin was number 14 in my previous 80 Gays series).

Dorothy Allison’s first published work, “The Women Who Hate Me: Poems by Dorothy Allison”, appeared in 1982. This was followed in 1988 with “Trash: Short Stories”. This was to be the first of Dorothy’s works to win a Lambda Literary Award. In fact, it won two – one for Best Lesbian Fiction, and one for Best Lesbian Small Press Book.

These were two of categories of the very first Lambda Literary Awards held in 1989 for new lgbt literature. The awards were born out of the growing amount of lgbt literature that had been published in the USA since the 1970s. This went in hand with the growth in the number of lgbt bookshops. One of these gave its name to the awards, the Lambda Rising bookstore in Washington DC, founded by 29) L. Page “Deacon” Maccubbin in 1974.

An activist since the early 1970s Deacon Maccubbin became a successful businessman with a small chain of his Lambda Rising bookstores in various cities. The name was influenced by the popularity of the Greek letter lambda as a symbol of gay activism at the time (before the pink triangle became widely used). By 1987 there was enough lgbt literature being published that Deacon used his knowledge of the industry to publish “Lambda Book Report”, a bi-monthly review. This led to him creating the Lambda Literary Awards in 1989.

In 2003 Deacon helped to save the first lgbt bookstore in the USA from closure. This was the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York. It had acquired something of a legendary status in the city’s gay community from the moment it opened. When Deacon purchased the bookshop it had already been passed from one owner to another for several years and was in danger of closing down for good. Deacon sold the bookshop in 2006 at a time when there was a downturn in lgbt bookshops nationwide, hampered by the growth of online selling and lgbt books being stocked in mainstream stores. The Oscar Wilde Bookshop finally closed in 2009.

The Oscar Wilde Bookshop was opened on 24th November 1967 as the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop. It was the brainchild of Craig Rodwell (1940-1993). In 1992 Craig was awarded a Lambda Literary Award for his services to the lgbt publishing. In 1973 the bookshop moved from its original location to Christopher Street, where Craig had an apartment and where the Stonewall Inn is located.

Craig Rodwell was one of the leading protestors at the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and he later persuaded a cross-nation organisation of gay rights groups to hold the first modern Pride march, the Christopher Street Liberation (or Gay Freedom) Day march, to mark the riots first anniversary. I haven’t included Craig Rodwell in the numbered sequence of “80 More Gays” because I want to include another activist from that time, and I intend to write more about him and the creation of Pride in June.

Other organisers of the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march, who met in Craig Rodwell apartment on Christopher Street itself, was 30) Ellen Broidy (b.1946). She worked in the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in its original location while she was studying at New York University a short distance away. Ellen was also an activist. She set up a Student Homophile League at college, and was a member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Lavender Menace.

Many lesbians joined gay rights and feminist groups in the 1960s and 1970s. Soon many of them realised that lesbian issues were either being ignored or opposed by those groups. One group in particular, the National Organisation for Women (NOW), was critical of any attempt to include lesbian issues. The NOW president went so far as to label lesbians as a “lavender menace”. This was to spark the creation of a new activist group which took its name from that insult. Ellen Broidy was one of the women of Lavender Menace who announced themselves in spectacular fashion at NOW’s second Congress to Unite Women on 1st May 1970.

Just as the first session of the congress was about to begin the lights in the auditorium went out. Thirty seconds later they came back on again, and standing across the front of the stage and in the aisles were 19 women wearing t-shirts which bore the words “Lavender Menace”. Ellen Broidy was one of them. So, too was Rita Mae Brown, who was featured in my original 80 Gays series (as number 57). Rather than being removed by security guards the women managed to turn the session into a discussion on lesbianism and heterosexism. They were helped in that the chair of that session was in on the act, as was the woman operating the lights.

One of the few remaining original t-shirts worn by members of the Lavender Menace when they protested at the Congress to Unite Women. This one belonged to Martha Shelley and was donated to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in 2014.
Not long after this Lavender Menace changed it’s named to Radicalesbians. The group fell victim to a common problem among many of the early lgbt activist groups – some members want to be more radical and political and others don’t. Splinter groups were often formed and eventually they all lost their support. The Radicalesbians disbanded in 1971.

NOW, however, has continued. Even in the 1970s lesbians who belonged to Lavender Menace and the Gay Liberation Front also belonged to NOW and were active in promoting lesbian involvement. One of the leading members of NOW who left the Radicalesbians to form other groups was 31) Barbara Love (b.1937).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: Things go swimmingly, particularly in Helsinki and Melbourne but not in Vietnam, as we go from lgbt activism to anti-war protest.

Monday 20 April 2020

I Need a Hero!

Things seem to be going wrong all at once! If it was just the lockdown due to COVID-19 it wouldn’t be too bad, but in the past two weeks I’ve had technical problems with my laptop, problems accessing my blog account, concerns about whether I’ll have a job to go back to, and the death of my aunt all making it difficult to organise my time.

That is why the articles scheduled for the past week didn’t appear. Hopefully, I can get back on track soon.

I don’t want to leave you all without something to read, so I’m going to repeat an advertisement I made this time last year for my Kindle book “Robin Hood – Out of the Greenwood: His Gay Origins Revealed”.
I began researching this book long before I began this blog. At the time I was working as a tour guide at Nottingham Castle, and we were discouraged from mentioning Robin Hood. The city council who paid my wages insisted that someone who broke the law was not a good role model, and that he didn’t exist anyway. Even today the same council do next to nothing to promote Robin Hood. Even so, tourists were always wanting to know about Robin Hood and it was necessary to answer their questions.

Robin Hood has been mentioned on this blog a few times. A lot of these mentions have been in relation to the theory I expand in my book. Basically, I believe that Sir John Clanvowe, a poet and courtier, was the person most likely to have compiled the ballad which was later printed as “A Geste of Robyn Hode”. It is in this ballad that we get all of the most familiar stories about this world famous outlaw which have been retold in thousands of books, films and television programmes ever since (along with a few later additions, like Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, King Richard and Prince John, none of whom featured in the medieval ballads).

The theory is based on research I conducted into Sir John Clanvowe and the man acknowledged during his lifetime as the man he “married”. This partner was Sir William Neville, the Constable of Nottingham Castle from 1381 to his death in 1391. A lot of the characters and plot details in “A Geste of Robyn Hode” seem to be based on people, places and events in Sir William Neville’s family background. You can type “Clanvowe” into the search box at the side to find out more about this couple.

It was only after I left Nottingham Castle (not from choice) that I was able to do more extensive research, and eventually I put it all together in a display for Nottingham’s first celebration for LGBT History Month in 2008. From there I began writing the book, which has undergone several revisions since then.

My theory is too complex to be restricted to a few blog posts, so a fuller explanation in book form was the only way to go.

As my book is now published on Kindle Amazon here. I’m not expecting a huge response. All I expect is that people may get a new perspective on a familiar legend and, perhaps, realise that the medieval world wasn’t how it is often presented.

It is my hope that this will be the first in a series of books based on some of my blog articles and on other, non-lgbt, history research.

That’s enough advertising for now. If you’re interested, take a look and please buy a copy.

Sunday 12 April 2020

Out in the Open

It’s at times like this that I miss the countryside. Most of the world is confined indoors with many restrictions on outdoor movement because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of us who live in cities and the only open green spaces are local parks. Most of them are closed.

People are beginning to appreciate and miss the beauty of being in the countryside. With Easter holidays upon us many people yearn to go outside and into the country or seaside. This is a good chance to look at the origin of the UK national parks and the leading role one gay man took in their creation.

Probably Yellowstone in the USA was the first proper national park. In the UK there are currently 15: 10 in England, 3 in Wales and 2 in Scotland. The first of these was the Peak District, the nearest to where I live in Nottingham. It was created in 1951 under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

I won’t go into the long history of previous attempts to create parks because I want to concentrate on the person who chaired the committee which led directly to the 1949 National Parks Act.

The British government set up the committee in 1945. They appointed a former Liberal MP called Sir Arthur Hobhouse (1886-1965) as its Chair. Sir Arthur has some experience with countryside issues. He was an elected member and alderman of Somerset County Council, a rural county in the south of England, and was its chairman at the time he was appointed to the national parks committee. He was also chairman of the Rural Housing Committee and a member of the Open Spaces Society.

In 1929 Arthur began a brief career in parliament. His father had been a Liberal MP and a previous chairman of Somerset County Council. Arthur was first elected to parliament in 1923, representing the Somerset constituency of Wells. He lost his seat in the general election of 1924 less than a year later.

Before that Arthur was one of the peripheral figures in that queer community of artists and writers called the Bloomsbury Group, in particular several members of the Dreadnought Hoax I’ll write about on Wednesday. The association began when Arthur arrived at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1904 to study natural sciences.

Arthur created quite a stir among two other students. The reasons were his good looks and his quiet intellect. At first the other two students, Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) and John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), were rivals for Arthur’s attentions. They were also members of a select band of students called the Cambridge Apostles. It was meant to be a secret society though many students knew it existed and yearned to become members.

The Apostle were formed in 1820. Members met in secret in the rooms of its secretary to discuss a paper prepared by one of the members, discuss it and generally just hang out together. Even outside these meetings they spent a lot of time in each others’ company, and by the time Lytton Strachey became secretary, often their bed. Membership was by invitation only and by the unanimous election from all members. For a history of the Cambridge Apostles read this article from the sadly defunct

Lytton Strachey brought John Maynard Keynes into the Cambridge Apostles in 1903. Similarly, it was Lytton who introduced Arthur Hobhouse as a possible new Apostle the following year. His reason was more to do with erotic desire rather than for Arthur’s intellect. Lytton was smitten.

Lytton introduced Arthur to John, and it became apparent that Arthur preferred to be with John. In fact, John beat Lytton into sponsoring Arthur into the Apostles and this was the start of a brief rift between them. Lytton took it very personally and broke off all contact with John. To make matters worse, less than a month after being elected into the Apostles Arthur and John went off on a 3-week “working holiday” to Cornwall so that john could prepare for his final exams.

Arthur refrained from any sexual contact, which frustrated John immensely and made his fall even further in love with him. After the trip John and Lytton became reconciled in their joint rejection and it left a shadow over John’s remaining time at Cambridge.

In 1906 Arthur Hobhouse visited a former Cambridge Apostle, Lytton Strachey’s cousin, Duncan Grant (1885-1978), in Paris. The two fell hopelessly in love. Lytton and John spent a year writing to each other to console themselves on this further development. The affair only lasted 9 months. That united Duncan, Lytton and John in mutual antipathy towards Arthur Hobhouse.

This was to be the total sum of Arthur’s homosexual experience. Unlike Lytton and Duncan he didn’t continue gay relationship, but like John Maynard Keynes Arthur married and left his homosexual life in the past.

After Cambridge Arthur Hobhouse became a solicitor, and on the outbreak of World War I he enlisted in the British Expeditionary Force. Shortly after the war married Konradin Jackson and returned to his country estate in Somerset and took up life as a gentleman farmer.

Working his way up through local government and politics Arthur entered the House of Commons in 1923 for his brief role as an MP. He was knighted in 1942 while chairman of Somerset County Council. His involvement in rural affairs made him a perfect choice to chair the National Parks Committee (England and Wales) 1945.

It is a testament to Sir Arthur Hobhouse’s diligence in identifying areas to be designated national parks that parliament accepted the committee’s recommendations and passed the national Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. All except one of the committee’s proposed parks (central Hadrian’s Wall) were created over the following decades.

This Easter holiday weekend, and all of the other weekends and holidays during this time of social isolation, only makes us yearn to get back out into the open countryside. Even Pride marches are cancelled until further notice. Let’s hope we can all get out there soon, and thank Sir Arthur Hobhouse that there are areas of natural beauty for us to go out into.
Map of the current National Parks of England and Wales. Ones proposed by Sir Arthur Hobhouse are in red.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 9) Reaching the Heights

Last time on “80 More Gays”: The Phrygian goddess known to the Romans as 22) Cybele was originally an intersex deity called 23) Agdistis, whose male organs were severed and miraculously produced the almond tree which, though a symbol of divine favour, is the source of cyanide, the poison 24) John Menlove Edwards (1910-1958) took to take his own life.

Why would a seemingly successful man like 24) John Menlove Edwards take his own life with cyanide? It is true that insecurities about his homosexuality, which was only revealed after his death, could have been a factor but we’ll never know for sure.

His family would have liked him to have gone on to Edinburgh University to study medicine. Instead John enrolled in Liverpool University so that he could be near his ailing father. It was while there that John was introduced to climbing. He surprised experienced climbers by tackling any climb seemingly effortlessly. Very often he was the first to tackle climbs which others had thought too difficult or un-climbable. In his first two years John had pioneered 14 new climbs in Snowdonia in north Wales, his favourite climbing region.

John Menlove Edwards was also a successful psychiatrist. He set up a private practice and during World War II he become a conscientious objector and took up prestigious posts at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and the Tavistock Clinic. By the end of the war John was developing a lack of self-assurance in his professional life, often feeling that senior medical officials dismissed his work and research.

There isn’t enough space to go into any detail about his many non-climbing exploits. His swimming and rowing adventures alone could fill one article. He would easily have become an Olympian (probably reluctantly) if climbing had been introduced into the games before Tokyo 2020, though his style of climbing was different – he preferred natural rocks to the man-designed walls of modern competitive sport climbing.

However, there was a chance there could have been an lgbt climber at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics because one of the most successful female climbers in the USA, 25) Alex Johnson (b.1989), had been in training for the event.

Qualification for Tokyo 2020 was well under way when the games were postponed. Alex was one of many known lgbt athletes who had already competed in a qualifying event. The first event for climbers was the World Combined Championships in Hachioji, Japan, in August 2019. Alex finished in a disappointing 49th position, though 5th in the women’s US team. This wasn’t high enough for her to gain Olympic qualification. Alex didn’t qualify for the next two qualification events and it looks like her chance at the Olympics have slipped away.

While this is disappointing, Alex already has many championship titles to her name. She is a 5-times US national champion, and 2-times Pan-American champion and 2-times climbing World Cup gold medallist. Even while training for Tokyo 2020 Alex gained a new title – the 2019 top-ranked US female in bouldering.

Alex Johnson, had she qualified, would not have been the first lgbt Olympic climber, nor the first lgbt Olympic climbing champion. That honour goes to 26) George Mallory (1886-1924), who was awarded a gold medal in alpinism (mountaineering) for his participation in the first (failed) attempt to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1922. Sadly, when the medal were awarded during the closing ceremony of the first Winter Olympic in 1924 Mallory was already on his way back to Everest for another attempt. The deputy leader of the 1922 expedition received the medals on behalf of the whole team. Sadly, George Mallory was killed on the 1924 expedition and never got to see his medal.

Today, even with advancements in climbing technology and support, reaching the top of Mount Everest is regarded as the ultimate personal challenge. Several lgbt climbers have reached the “top of the world”. The first Peruvian woman to do so was 27) Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (b.1974).

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado also holds the record of being the first openly lesbian climber to complete the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on the seven continents. Just to make sure, she climbed both of the mountains debated as the highest in Oceania, making eight summits in total.

Silvia was born during one of the most violent periods in Peru’s history. It was also troubling for her personally because she was subjected to sexual abuse in her childhood. After confiding in her parents Silva escaped by being sent away to study in the USA.

In 2005 Silvia and her mother were on a mountain retreat in Peru when Silvia had an epiphany. By climbing mountains she could climb above her painful memories and have some measure of healing. Just two months later she was at Everest base camp ready to start her challenge. To begin with she chose to climb a smaller neighbouring peak and pledged to come back to Everest after she had gained more experience. That pledge was fulfilled in May 2018 after she had climbed six of the other Seven Summits.
Everest from the north (Lance Trumbull:
Silvia’s childhood abuse inspired her to create an organisation in 2014 called Courageous Girls, a charity which offers help and support for other female abuse victims. Her climbs since then were dedicated to them.

Silvia is one of many abuse victims who have turned their experiences into increasing awareness and support to others. Another is lesbian author 28) Dorothy Allison (b.1949).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We win awards, open bookstores, go on parade, and be radical.