Sunday 24 December 2023

Advent 4: Away in a Manger

Something short and sweet today, because it’s Christmas Eve and I’m sure most of us will be busy doing last-minute shopping and preparations for tomorrow. I know I do.

“Away in the manger” is one of the most popular Christmas carols in the English-speaking world. It sums up the atmosphere of a stable with a family celebrating the birth of their new born baby son. This year we celebrate 800 years of the Christmas crib scene, those models and representations of the birth of Jesus in the stable. They come in all shapes and sizes and are mainly set up in churches but they appear almost everywhere at this time of year.

I remember a special one from my childhood. It was a scene of the Nativity, made in brown plastic about 6 inches high. It was clockwork, and when you wound it up it played “Silent Night”, and a circle of plastic donkeys would revolve around the central scene of Many, Joseph and the baby Jesus. It got wound up a lot, and I’m surprised it lasted so many years. I wonder if my brother still has it.

The person we have to thank for coming up with the idea of having a scene of the Nativity to celebrate Christmas is a famous queer saint I wrote about earlier this year – St. Francis of Assisi.

Fortunately, I don’t need to write about today it because I did so several years ago in my Advent series of 2019. So, I’ll direct you there.

Thank you all for following me throughout 2023. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, and all my seasonal best wishes to you all.

Sunday 17 December 2023

Advent 3: A Swedish Spirit Of Christmas

Most people are aware that the familiar character of Santa Claus got a big boost in popularity after the publication of the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, popularly known by its opening line “Twas the night before Christmas”. More than anything else, this poem cemented the idea that St. Nicholas and Santa Claus are the same character, even though they’re not.

Actually, this Christmas is special for two special reasons. You’ll have to wait until next Sunday for one reason, but the other is that this year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” on 23rd December 1823.

In the many nations where Santa Claus and St. Nicholas are not really part of their heritage, there are other gift-givers, as I’ve highlighted a few times in various past Advent series. One of these other gift-givers is the Scandinavian tomte (mentioned briefly last week in relation to modern St. Lucy Day processions).

The Christmas tomte evolved from ancient (probably pagan) house spirits, and every home had/has one. These spirits are known across Scandinavia under various alternative names – in Sweden the name is tomte, but they also use tomtenisse and jultomte (the latter literally means “Yule/Christmas tomte). They often appear like elves at Christmas celebrations helping out Santa or joining in the St. Lucy processions. Modern representations of the gift-giving version follow the 19th century image that resembles a garden gnome. (A big digression here, but the animator who drew the dwarves for the Disney classic “Snow White” was Swedish, so probably based them on the tomte).

Just as Santa Claus became more popular after the publication of “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, so the tomte became popular in Scandinavia through a poem. The poem was called “Tomten”, which is also known by its opening line. The poem was written by a gay folklorist and writer called Viktor Rydberg (1828-1895) and was first published in a weekly newspaper called “Ny Illustrrerad Tidning” (New Illustrated Newspaper) on 19th February 1881. The tomte was illustrated on the front cover (pictured above).

To say “Tomten” is a poem for children would not be entirely accurate, though it is now a family favourite in Sweden at Christmas time. In the poem the tomte is presented as a lone figure on a cold, snowy night, standing by a barn door. He shakes off thoughts about a difficult question he is pondering so he can do his rounds of the farmstead, checking that all doors are closed, and that the farm animals and equipment are safe and secure.

Lastly, he checks that the farm owner and his family are warm in their beds. As he does so he finds that the difficult question comes back into his mind. He has been looking after this family for many generations, but he wonders where all the older generations disappear to. He ponders on the passing of life.

The poem has been labelled an existential comment on the meaning of life and death and the passing of time. I’m sure we all think about how things change in our personal life, and the people who are no longer with us at Christmas. This could be why the adults who read it felt how it resonated with their own thoughts of loved ones missing at Christmas.

Despite the poem “Tomten” becoming such a Christmas favourite, it wasn’t set during that celebration. It was just set during winter. However, Rydberg has quite a strong association with Christmas apart from this poem. Back in 2018 I included him in my Advent series when I mentioned his support for the suggested year of Christ’s birth. Rydberg had already written a Christmas story the previous year called (in English) “Little Vigg’s Adventure on Christmas Eve”. I won’t go into “Little Vigg” today, but I’ll try to include it in next year’s Advent series.

Later editions of both “Little Vigg” and “Tomte” were illustrated by Jenny Nyström (1854-1940). She and Rydberg became close friends. Jenny’s illustrations of the tomte in this and many illustrations and greetings cards, helped to create a standard image of the tomte in much the same way that J. C. Leyendecker did for the modern Santa Claus.

Today, the tomte is everywhere in Sweden. As well as being incorporated into St. Lucy Day processions on 13th December, he appears several weeks before that, giving out presents on the day before Advent. This year that fell on 2nd December. This date is called Lilla Jul, or Little Christmas, and is celebrated mainly by Swedish-speaking Finns. On this day tomte leave little gifts for children.

The popularity of the tomte, in all its names and forms, has spread beyond Scandinavia. In the shops in the UK this year the shelves are stuffed full of “gonks” dressed as tomte as Christmas toys and decorations, replacing the elves that were everywhere last year.Between them, Viktor Rydberg and J. C. Leyendecker, with their tomte and Santa Claus, have made the yuletide gay, as the song goes, in a bigger way than it was before.

Sunday 10 December 2023

Advent 2: Lucy Boys

The participants in a Lucy procession

This coming Wednesday is the feast day of St. Lucy, or St. Lucia. In Scandinavia and parts of Italy and Croatia, this is the day on which children receive Christmas presents. If they’re really lucky they’ll have had presents on St. Nicholas’s Day (Dec. 6th) and will get more on Christmas Day itself.

St. Lucy’s Day is celebrated with church processions, family meals, and lots of tradition. In 2021 I looked briefly at the history of the Lucy processions from their origins in boys’ schools. In Scandinavia the original processions were led by a boy, originally portraying the Christkind (Christ Child), but this character evolved into St. Lucy, still played by a boy.

With this in mind it seems strange to historians to hear of several places in Scandinavia where controversy erupts over the portrayal of St. Lucy by boys in modern processions. This is invariably the result of the critics’ collective cultural amnesia and ignorance of its origins. Critics claim to be upholding tradition, when they probably mean that they don’t want their Lucy processions to be corrupted by being led by a boy in drag.

Who knows, perhaps before the internet and social media made it capable of discovering who remote or little villages chose to play their St. Lucy, there were lots of male St. Lucys (who I will refer to as Lucy Boys, as opposed to the Star Boys, which I’ll come to later). There was certainly an increase in the reporting of Lucy Boys after 2008.

There were three cases of protests against teenage Lucy Boys in Swedish schools that year which became prominent headlines. The boys who were the targets of those protests were (with the schools they attended): Freddy Karlberg of Södra School in Mötala, Johan Gustafsson of Erik Dahlberggsgymnasiet in Jönköping, and Nils Wiking Furberg of Lillerud high school.

All three teenagers were elected by their respective schoolmates to play St. Lucy in their school’s annual Lucy procession. However, in two cases the school principals objected to the election. They stated that it is traditional for a girl to be St. Lucy, since the saint herself was female. This was echoed by many parents of other pupils at those schools (no doubt angry that their daughter lost out on being St. Lucy to a boy).

I’m all in favour of tradition, but I also believe that there can be some room for change. We live in an era of greater diversity of representation. Diversity should not always have to create division. As I wrote above, St. Lucy was originally played by boys, so there’s no real alteration in tradition in this case. Again, collective cultural amnesia is the reason, and that can be harmful.

Early Lucy processions comprised of only St. Lucy and a group of girls dressed as “Lucy Brides”. Then Star Boys were introduced. In the last part of the 20th century the processions expanded to include such characters as gingerbread men and tomte (Scandinavian house spirits or elves, which I’ll talk about next Sunday).

In the cases of Freddy and Nils Wiking the school principals said that their decision was taken to protect the boys from abuse. This is quite valid, since they did receive abuse, and it is the responsibility of all teachers to protect their pupils. However, the principals stated that that had no personal objection to a male Lucy, if the procession was just confined to school staff and pupils. The processions were open to the public, with parents and local people present. The Lucy Boys might “upset the pensioners”, the principals also claimed.

There were three different outcomes to the three cases.

Freddy Karlberg was prevented from being a Lucy Boy because of his principal’s decision to not recognise his election. Several students boycotted the Lucy procession in protest.

Nils Wiking Furberg pulled out of the Lucy procession before it took place. His principal had actually backed down and was willing to let him be St. Lucy. What changed the boy’s mind was the amount of online abuse he received on social media.

Johan Gustafsson fared the best out of the three. He was allowed to be St. Lucy – with a twist. The school’s Lucy procession began very “traditionally” with a female Lucy, Veronica Ahlund. Halfway through the traditional St. Lucy’s carol, Veronica invited Johan to take her place. Johan had been playing a Star Boy. He removed his conical Star Boy hat and placed the candle-crown of St. Lucy on his head. Media reports say that the congregation cheered. Credit should also go to the school principal, Stefan Claason, for supporting Johan’s election from the start against much criticism.

Incidents of Lucy Boys being elected and denied their place in processions continue as does the debate over what is or is not considered traditional.

But what about those Star Boys I mentioned? In the Lucy processions they follow the Lucy Brides who walk behind St. Lucy. These boys wear white robes and tall conical hats. They usually also carry a star on a stick (hence Star Boys, obviously).

You’d think that there’s be nothing controversial about Star Boys, but you’d be wrong. In 2012 a 9-year-old girl in a Stockholm school wanted to be a Star Boy. Her school principal refused to let this happen, again citing tradition. Instead he girl was offered the role of a tomte, which the girl accepted.

In 2014, an 11-year-old girl from Skellafteå, high up on Sweden’s Baltic coastline, was told she couldn’t be a tomte in her Lucy procession because only boys can be a tomte. This was strange, because for the previous two or three years she had been one, and now she was told she couldn’t because she was a girl. The school principal’s reason? Again, the girl might scare pensioners who were coming to watch the procession. Happily, the principal changed her mind.

Who would have thought that something as seemingly innocent as a St. Lucy’s Day procession could generate so much gender controversy? Changing gender roles in traditional customs should not automatically be taken as an attack on that tradition. History teaches us that Christmastime has always had a large element of switching gender roles, even within Christian tradition (early portrayals of the Virgin Mary in church processions were usually played by young male clerics). True, most of it stems from the historic practice of not allowing women to take part (except that we must not forget girls played the male Christkind since the 17th century). What is important is that all participants and spectators in any traditional custom should be aware that it differs from previous observances, where cultural attitudes and even technology create change. That’s how the modern Christmas has evolved, and Christmas traditions have evolved too.

There are many other modern cases of switched gender roles at Christmas customs that have been accepted. In Spain, where the Three Kings are the dominant gift-bringers and have their own parades, some of the kings have been played by women – some with false beards. There have even been some female Santa Claus’s in the USA since the 1950s, also with beards, and three of them have been inducted into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame. There are even drag Santas.

Whether you enjoy traditional Christmas parades and processions or not, let’s celebrate them all in their fabulous variety. After all, when you see a Santa or St. Lucy, you shouldn’t see the person playing that character. As some Christmas films often say about Santa – once you put on a Santa suit, you become Santa. This can be said of all benevolent Christmas characters, whether it’s Santa, St. Lucy, the Three Kings, the Christkind, or any of the hundreds of other Christmas characters there are around the world. It’s not cosplay. It’s not playing a historical character, even if it’s based on one. You become a manifestation of a concept that enhances both the secular and religious elements of an ever-evolving Christmas.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Advent 1: The First Christmas Card

It’s the start of Advent today, and it’s perilously close to Christmas and I haven’t thought about sending any Christmas cards yet. I prefer sending cards through the post because electronic means removes all physical connection between me and the receiver (and is just an excuse to be lazy and imply that I don’t care enough about my family and friends or think they’re worth the mild inconvenience of buying a card, writing it and posting it). It’s always better to know that the card you receive actually has the person’s DNA on it, don’t you think?

The official history of the Christmas card begins in 1843 when the first modern card was produced. But did you know that there is something that could be regarded as the first Christmas card that was sent in 1611? It also has a link to the lgbt+ community because the person who received it was our old gay friend King James I of Great Britain (1566-1625).

They may not have had our idea of a Christmas card in those days, but they exchanged presents, usually after Christmas Day, and more usually at New Year or the big Christmas feasting day of Twelfth Night (6th January).

The card King James received was actually a folded manuscript which may originally have been presented to him as a scroll. The centre of the manuscript contains the figure of a rose. This is significant, because it was sent and signed by Michael Maier (1568-1622), a German physician, alchemist, and advocate of a new religion called Rosicusianism (or Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross). The shape of the rose figure is made up of text in Latin forming a greeting to King James and an acrostic message of blessings.

Above the rose is a greeting, also in Latin. It says “A greeting on the birthday of the Sacred King, to the most worshipful and energetic lord and most eminent James, King of Great Britain and Ireland, and Defender of the true faith, with a gesture of joyful celebration of the Birthday of the Lord, in most joy and fortune, we enter into the new auspicious year 1612. Dedicated and consecrated with humble service and submission, from Michael Maier, German, Count Palatine, Doctor of Medicine and Philosophy, Knight and Poet Laureate.” If that’s doesn’t sound like a very fancy way of saying “Best wishes, King James, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, from Michael Maier”, I don’t know what is.

But why did Michael Maier send the message? And what is significant about the Rosicrucian symbolism?

What is Rosicrucianism anyway? It’s not so much a new religion as a new esoteric movement that combined aspects of several other religions. It included Christian mysticism, the Kabbala (a mixture of occultism, astrology, alchemy and bit of Christian and Jewish doctrine), and Hermeticism (the teachings of a legendary figure who was considered to be the Greek god Hermes merged with the Egyptian god Thoth). Rosicrucianism still exists today, but is more akin to a revival, like neo-paganism and modern wicca.

No-one knows when Michael Maier arrived in England, only that it was sometime during 1611. As far as the Christmas message is concerned, there’s no evidence that he delivered it in person, or that he was even still in England at the time. However, Maier was back in England during 1612 for a very special reason – the signing of the marriage settlement between King James’ daughter Princess Elizabeth to Prince Friedrich V, Elector Palatine of the Rhine (later the King and Queen of Bohemia). Maier presented a poem to King James in celebration. Perhaps his Christmas message was a diplomatic greeting during the marriage negotiations. This marriage was primarily political, made to cement an alliance between two Protestant nations, but there has been speculation about another reason for Maier’s presence, to cement a secret Rosicrucian alliance.

In the same year that Maier sent his Christmas message to King James, the monarch published a new version of the Bible, what is still called the King James Bible. Among many Rosicrucian historians there is a belief that this new Bible contains many coded Rosicrucian references, and that many of the men who put the Bible together were secretly Rosicrucian. This would provide Maier with a good reason for Rosicrucian elements to be put in his Christmas message. It all sounds very “da Vinci Code” to me – a lot of circumstantial evidence linked together with fanciful speculation.

Maier himself wrote that he had only heard about the Rosicrucians when he was in England. This makes it unlikely that he would put any secret symbolism in his message. So far, non-one has come up with any evidence that someone else wrote the message and used Maier as a courier. Why would he sign his own name? So it seems unlikely for him to be sent on a secret Rosicrucian mission to England as claimed. But, if he had heard about them early enough in 1611 and got to learn all their teachings and beliefs he may have put them in his message. Who knows?

King James didn’t adopt Rosicrucianism, which was probably a good thing bearing in mind that Rosicrucianism, even today, is quite homophobic. The last thing King James had on his mind was getting rid of his “toy boys” to please a German monarch.

Speaking of which, Michael Maier was involved in the Overbury Murder, the mysterious death of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1613. King James’ toy boy at the time, Sir Robert Carr, was found guilty of his murder. You can read a bit more about in this article I wrote a few years ago.

While Overbury was imprisoned in the Tower of London his health deteriorated. Several times he wrote to the Lieutenant of the Tower to permit Michael Maier to visit him as his physician. This was denied every time and Overbury died. His death was treated as natural, though several conspiracy theories circulated. It was two years later that evidence emerged that Overbury was murdered, and Sir Robert Carr was one of the people dragged into the conspiracy and found guilty of murder. To be honest, Carr probably was involved.

So, King James’s very first Christmas card has a lot more behind it than just a seasonal message of good cheer. There were secret codes and conspiracy theories. If you are still thinking of sending cards this year, yes, even an e-card, just take a look at the image and the greeting. You never know, there may be secret messages concealed in them.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Look Who's 60: Part 3

Here are the final 20 names in my list of lgbt+ contributors to the “Doctor Who” franchise.

41) Scott Handcock (b.1984). Writer, director and producer. Handcock began as a Production Runner of the “Doctor Who Confidential” behind-the-scenes series (2007-8), then as Production Secretary on the series proper from “A Christmas Carol” (2010) to “The Wedding of River Song” (2011). He directed all of the Big Finish audio adventures of the spin-off series “Class” (see Patrick Ness, no.50 below). During the covid pandemic lockdown Handcock was an audio editor on the “Doctor Who Lockdown! Doctors Assembled” webcast. In 2022 Handcock joined Bad Wolf, the production company making the 2024 series onwards, as Script Editor. He also created and hosted the lgbt+ podcast “From Queer to Eternity” in which he interviewed several people who have worked on the “Doctor Who” franchise.

42) Ryan Sampson (b.1985). Actor. Played the young prodigy Luke Rattigan in the 2-part story “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “The Poison Sky” (2008). He has also played other characters in a handful of Big Finish audio adventures.

43) Gino Gamecho (b.1988). Actor (now Gino Fetscher). While studying at Cardiff University Gamecho played one of the acolytes of Luke Rattigan (see Ryan Sampson, no.42) in “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “The Poison Sky”, and later had a bit part in “The Doctor’s Daughter” (2008). Eight months after filming was completed in 2007 Dino was voted Mr. Gay UK 2008.

44) David Ames (b.1983). Actor. Appeared in the only “Doctor Who” Easter special, “Planet of the Dead” (2009). He went on to play other characters for several Big Finish audio adventures.

45) Ian Gelder (b.1949). Actor. Played Mr. Dekker throughout the “Torchwood” series “Children of Earth” (2009). In “Doctor Who” he appeared in “Can You Hear Me?” (2020), and voiced the Remnants, floating cloth-like beings, in “The Ghost Monument” (2018).

46) Peter Hoar (b.1969). Director of “A Good Man Goes to War” (2011). He is scheduled to direct at least one episode in the 2025 series.

47) Sir Ian McKellen (b.1939). Actor and lgbt+ icon. Voiced the Great Intelligence in the 2012 Christmas Special “The Snowmen”.

48) Bethany Black (b.1978). Actor. The first out transgender actor in “Doctor Who”. She played a genetically created human called 474 in “Sleep No More” (2015).

49) Christel Dee (b.1992). Founder and presenter of “Doctor Who: The Fan Show” on the “Doctor Who” YouTube channel 2015-19. In series 4 (2017) she hosted the discussion “Lgbtq in the Worlds of Doctor Who” (shown below), which included Waris Hussein (no.1 on this list).

50) Patrick Ness (b.1971). Creator, writer, and executive producer of the failed (so bad that it wasn’t even good) “Doctor Who” spin-off series “Class” (2016).

51) Juno Dawson (b.1981). Writer. The first out transgender writer for the Big Finish audio adventures, starting from 2017. She was also scheduled to write episodes for the cancelled series 2 of the spin-off “Class”. Dawson wrote the first new adventure novel of Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor. She was the lead writer of “Doctor Who: Redacted”, an audio serial broadcast by BBC Sounds in 2022.

52) Pearl Mackie (b.1987). Actor. Played Bill Potts, the Doctor’s first out lesbian companion during season 10 of the revival era (2017).

53) Rebecca Root (b.1969). Actor. Out transgender actor who has appeared in three Big Finish audio adventures (2017-20).

54) Alan Cumming (b.1965). Actor. Played the gay King James I of Great Britain in “Witchfinder” (2018). Despite being Scottish, as was King James, Cumming didn’t speak with a Scottish accent, but one which was very strange and laughable.

55) Alan Flanagan. Writer of two Big Finish audio adventures (2018 and 2020). He has also appeared as a contestant on the popular BBC quiz show “Only Connect” (2020-21) in which he mentioned his connection to “Doctor Who”.

56) Roberta Ingranata (b.1986). Artist for nine “Doctor Who” comic books published by Titan Comics (2019-23), including installments of the multi-media series “Doom’s Day” (2023).

57) Jasmin Finney (b.2003). Actor.  The second out transgender actor to play a major character in the television series (the other being Bethany Black, no.48 above). She will be introduced in the 60th anniversary specials to be broadcast from this coming Saturday, playing Rose Noble, daughter of the Doctor’s former companion Donna in “The Star Beast” (2023) (see also Miriam Margolyes, no.59 below). Russell T. Davies (no.37 in the previous list) has hinted that the character may return in future episodes.

58) Miriam Margolyes (b.1941). Actor. Familiar to fans of the Harry Potter franchise. Margolyes provides the voice of Beep the Meep, the eponymous “Star Beast” in the first of the 60th anniversary specials (2023).

59) Neil Patrick Harris (b.1973). Actor. Former child actor who came out as an adult and became a gay icon. In the third 60th anniversary special, “The Giggle” (2023), Harris plays the Celestial Toymaker, a character who appeared way back in the 1964 story of the same name.

60) Ncuti Gatwa (b.1992). Actor. It is most appropriate that the 60th and most recent name that can be added on this 60th anniversary lgbt+ celebration list is the Doctor himself. Gatwa will play the 15th Doctor from the 2023 Christmas special onwards. Not only is he the first openly gay actor to play the Doctor, but also the first black actor to play him (if we disregard the flashes of young black actors who are alleged to be the Doctor in “The Timeless Children”, 2020).

That concludes my list of 60 lgbt+ contributors to the Whoniverse. There are a few more I could have included, some of them I’ve mentioned in passing, but I’ll just give some others a name-check – John Sessions, Stephen Jeffery-Poulter, Eric Lindsay, Tom Allen, Rob Eltringham, Carl Levey, and Andrew Hayden-Smith.

One final lgbt link. David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, returns to play the 14th Doctor in the 60th anniversary specials. David Tennant’s birth name was David McDonald. When he became an actor he couldn’t use his real name because a member of Equity, the actor’s union, was already using that name, and no two living Equity members can use the same name (the same reason Russell T. Davies added the “T” to his name). When deciding on a stage name David chose the name Tennant from Neil Tennant, the gay half of the UK pop duo The Pet Shop Boys. David later changed his name legally to David Tennant (to comply with the US actor’s guild).

If you’re a fan of “Doctor Who”, I hope you enjoy the 60th anniversary specials and don’t forget to celebrate both the classic and modern eras. Perhaps you could celebrate by watching some of the episodes I’ve mentioned in this list and celebrate the lgbt+ contributors at the same time.

Who knows – will there be a 70th anniversary?

Sunday 19 November 2023

Look Who's 60: Part 2

Here is the second past of my list of people from the lgbt+ community who have made a contribution to the world of “Doctor Who”. Unless stated otherwise, all programme titles are of “Doctor Who” or Who-related stories.

21) Nigel Robinson. Writer and editor. In the 1970s Target Books began publishing novelisations of classic “Doctor Who” stories. Between 1984 and 1987 Robinson was Editor in Chief. His first involvement with the series, however, was in 1981 when he published the first of several Doctor Who quiz and puzzle books. He subsequently wrote several Doctor Who audio books and novelisations himself. Robinson is currently Editor in Chief of “Pride Life” magazine and website.

22) Ian Levine (b.1953). Music producer and composer. One of the UK’s leading dance and HiNRG music producers in the 1980s. He wrote the theme music for the one-off 1981 Christmas special “K9 and Co.: A Girl’s Best Friend” starring Elizabeth Sladen, reprising her role as companion Sarah Jane Smith. This was the first Doctor Who spin-off on television (see also Gareth Roberts, no.29 below). Levine also wrote and produced the charity single “Doctor in Distress” in 1986 after the series was suspended for 18 months.

23) Michael Cashman (b.1950). Actor. In 1982 he played Concorde pilot Andrew Bilton in “Timeflight”. In 1987 he became famous for the first same-sex kiss on prime-time tv in the soap “Eastenders”. He is an active lgbt campaigner and was created a Life Peer (i.e. non-hereditary, effectively a senator) in 2014 as Baron Cashman.

24) Peter Wyngarde (1927-2018). Actor. Famous in the UK in the early 1970s as Jason King, the flamboyant secret agent from the tv series “Department S” and “Jason King”. He played Timanov, leader of the Sarns, in “Planet of “Fire” (1984). Also in that story were Anthony Ainley (see no.20 on the previous list) and Dallas Adams (next).

25) Dallas Adams (1947-1991). Actor. He played Prof. Howard Foster, the stepfather of the new companion Peri Brown in "Planet of Fire” (1984). His casting received homophobic criticism from the tabloid newspapers. Also in that story were Anthony Ainley (on previous list) and Peter Wyngarde (above). Adams won the biggest pay-out in a palimony law suit in England in the early 1980s. He died from AIDS-related causes.

26) Grant Morrison (b.1960). Comic artist. His first comic strip for “Doctor Who Magazine” was “Changes” (November 1986). At that time the magazine was published by Marvel UK. Morrison has drawn several more strips for the magazine.

27) Peppi Borza 1936-1990). Actor and circus performer. The first on this 60-name list to play an actual monster. In 1985 he played the chief Vervoid in “The Trial of a Time Lord: Terror of the Vervoids”. His life partner was Tom Springfield, the brother of gay icon Dusty Springfield. When Borza was dying from AIDS-related causes Dusty visited him in the hospice regularly.

28) Alfred Lynch (1931-2003). Actor. Played Commander Millington in “The Curse of Fenric” (1989), a story based on the work of the Nazi codebreakers in World War II. One of the other leading characters was based on the gay codebreaker Alan Turing. Lynch’s life partner was James Culliford (no.14 on the previous list).

29) Mark Gatiss (b.1960). Actor and writer. One of the major names in the current Whoniverse. A lifelong fan of the series he first became involved by writing the novel “Nightshade” (1992) for Virgin Books’ “The New Adventures” series. He then wrote and acted in many Big Finish audio adventures. In 1999 Gatiss appears in BBC2’s “Doctor Who Night” in which he played in several spoof sketches, including one in which he played the Doctor. His first of several script for the television series was “The Unquiet Dead” (2005) (guest starring renowned gay actor and Charles Dickens expert Simon Callow as Dickens). Gatiss’s first acting role in the television series was in “The Lazarus Experiment” (2007). He was writer and producer of “An Adventure in Time and Space” (2013), a dramatized account of the creation of “Doctor Who”. He has also written for “Doctor Who Magazine”. His life partner Ian Halland has also appeared in the series (“Robot of Sherwood”).

30) Gareth Roberts (b.1968). Writer. Roberts began writing for “Doctor Who” with “The Highest Science” (1993), one of “The New Adventures” novels. He wrote the interactive mini-episode “Attack of the Graske” (2005). Roberts’ biggest contribution to the series is as the writer of 8 episodes of the long-awaited Sarah Jane Smith and K9 spin-off series (see also Ian Levine, no.22 above) “The Sarah Jane Adventures”, beginning with the pilot episode broadcast on New Year’s Day 2007. He also wrote what sadly became the last episode before Elizabeth Sladen’s death.

31) Ian Dixon-Potter. Fan. He founded the Sisterhood of Karn, a Doctor Who lgbt fan society, in 1994. It is based in London and as far as I’ve been able to discover, is the oldest existing and longest running lgbt Doctor Who fan society in the world.

32) Paul Magrs (b.1969). Writer. Magrs made his first contribution to “Doctor Who” with the novel “The Scarlet Empress” (1998), part of BBC Books’ “8th Doctor Adventures” series. He has also written several other novels and many audio dramas for Big Finish.

33) James Goss (b.1974). Website producer and writer. When the BBC set up the first “Doctor Who” website in 2000 they chose Goss as the Senior Content Producer. When the series was revived in 2005 he was put in charge of the new “Doctor Who” website (with graphics by Lee Binding, below). Goss has produced many DVD Extras. As a writer he has written Big Finish audio adventures for both “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood”. One notable “Doctor Who” adventure features the gender-ambivalent Chevalier d’Eon, a real historical character.

34) Matt Lucas (b.1974). Actor, best known in the UK for comedy. Before becoming the companion Nardole from the 2015 Christmas special “The Husbands of River Song”, Lucas played in the 2001 Big Finish audio adventure “The One Doctor”.

35) Joseph Lidster (b.1977). Writer. Lidster contributed to the Big Finish short story anthology “Short Trips: Zodiac” (2002). He contributed to eleven more of the “Short Trips” series. Also for Big Finish Lidster has written many audio adventures. For the television he has written episodes for the spin-offs “Torchwood” and “The Sarah Jane Adventures”.

36) Sir Derek Jacobi (b.1938). Actor. In 2007 Sir Derek played the new incarnation of the Doctor’s archenemy the Master. Although this was a surprise revelation, it may not have come as a shock to some fans, because he had played the Master in the 2003 online animated series “Scream of the Shalka”. He has reprised the role in many Big Finish audio adventures since then, as well as appearing in other roles. His first role was in “Deadline” (2003).

37) Russell T. Davies (b.1963). Producer. A whole book can be written on the contribution RTD (as he is often referred as) to the Whoniverse, eclipsing even that of JNT (no.16 in the previous list). RTD is widely regarded as the one person who “saved” “Doctor Who” from being a flop when it was revived in 2005. He acted as showrunner and head writer until 2010. The fact that he’s back to produce the series for the 60th anniversary and onwards is proof of his importance to the series.

38) Lee Binding (b.1974). Artist. Anyone with a DVD collection of “Doctor Who”, “Torchwood”, or “The Sarah Jane Adventures” will know of Binding’s work. He designed most of the covers. In fact, he has designed over 200 covers for DVDs, CDs, Blue Ray, novels, audio adventures, and role-playing games in the “Doctor Who” franchise.  His first work was as design consultant on the BBC webcast “Shada” (2003), animated by James Goss (above), and on the “Doctor Who” website in 2005.

39) John Barrowman (b.1967). Actor. He played the pansexual/polysexual (whatever) space-time agent Capt. Jack Harkness from “The Empty Child” (2005), and returned several times after that. He starred in his own spin-off series “Torchwood” (2006-11) and in related audio adventures. Barrowman has made cameo appearances in “Doctor Who” since the end of “Torchwood”.

40) Euros Lyn (b.1971). Director. He has directed ten episodes of “Doctor Who”, beginning with “Silence in the Library” (2007), which earned him a BAFTA (the UK’s equivalent on US Emmy). He has also directed five episodes of “Torchwood”.

The third and final list will appear on November 23rd, the day of the 60th anniversary.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Look Who's 60: Part 1

The world’s longest running science fiction television series is 60 year old next week. “Doctor Who” made its debut on 23rd November 1963 on BBC1. Americans may recognise the date as the day after President Kennedy was assassinated.

For most of those 60 years, particularly since the 1970s, “Doctor Who” has had a massive queer following. It has also had a massive queer presence in its production team, going all the way back to the very first episode. In this, and 2 more articles to follow, I’ll be listing 60 of the lgbt+ contributors to the series and it’s expanded “Whoniverse”.

The three lists that appear over the next week will cover the entire 60 years history of the series. I’ll select significant contributors in chronological order. It won’t be a complete chronology because some years will be left out to make way for multiple individuals who have made a significant contribution or connection in one year. You’ll see what I mean when you read the lists.

Each list will contain 20 names. Many individuals have come back to work on “Doctor Who” more than once. Generally, I will list them according to their first involvement. There may be a lot of “Doctor Who” references that you many not understand. For this I apologise in advance. I’ve tried to keep most references as non-specific as possible.

You may become aware of the scarcity of female names in the first lists. This a reflection on British broadcasting in the mid-20th century. Most people involved in broadcasting were male. It is also a case of not having enough information available on the sexuality of female contributors, even actors, in those early years. 

1) Waris Hussein (b.1938) – Director. Indian-born Hussein directed the very first episodes, “An Unearthly Child”, and the 3 episodes that completed the first story, known today as “The Tribe of Gum” (episodes had individual titles in those days and weren’t replaced with overall story titles until 1966). Hussein returned to direct the “Marco Polo” story in 1964. He has appeared in many “Who” related documentaries, and has spoken about his sexuality.

2) Robin Phillips (1942-2015) – Actor. Played Altos, a major character in the 6-episode story “The Kays of Marinus” (1964). In 1975 he went to Canada as Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival Theatre, Ontario. He became a Canadian citizen and continued to act and direct. In 2005 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

3) Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012). Composer of the incidental music for the 4-part story “The Aztecs” (1964). A renowned composer for television, film and concert hall, Bennett was knighted for services to music in 1998.

4) Max Adrian (1903-1973). Actor. Played King Priam of Troy in “The Mythmakers” (1965). Although a highly respected Shakespearean actor, Adrian excelled at farce, and became a familiar face on UK television in the late 1960s in the first series of “Up, Pompeii!” with Frankie Howerd.

5) Michael Sheard (1938-2005). Actor. Played Rhos in “The Ark” (1966). This was the first of many appearances in “Doctor Who” up to 1988. In “Pyramids of Mars” he played the brother of Bernard Archard (below). He also played in “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (he played Hitler).

6) Bernard Archard (1916-2008). Actor. Played Bragan in “The Power of the Daleks” (1966). He returned in 1975 to play Prof. Scarman, in a memorably chilling performance in “Pyramids of Mars” alongside Michael Sheard (above).

7) Victor Pemberton (1931-2017). One of the people whose involvement in the programme covers many roles. His first involvement was as an actor in “The Moonbase” (1967). He was Story Editor for “Tomb of the Cybermen” (1967), Assistant Story Editor on “The Ice Warriors” (1967), He wrote “Fury From the Deep” (1968), in which he invented the Doctor’s iconic sonic screwdriver, and the vinyl LP and audio cassette drama “Doctor Who and the Pescatons” (1976). He novelised both of his stories. His partner in the 1960s was David Spenser (below).

8) David Spenser (1934-2013). Actor. Born David de Savan in Sri Lanka, Spenser played Thomni, one of the main Tibetan monks in “The Abominable Snowmen” (1967). He had been a well-known child actor in the UK on radio. He later went on to be an Emmy awarding-winning producer.

9) Alan Rowe (1926-2000). Actor. Another returning actor over multiple Doctors. His first appearance was in “The Moonbase” (1967) (with Victor Pemberton, above, both playing characters taken over by the Cybermen). Rowe returned in leading roles in “The Time Warrior” (1973), playing the boss of Bella Emberg (no. 12 below), “Horror of Fang Rock” (1977), and “Full Circle” (1980), which introduced new companion Adric (played by Matthew Waterhouse, no. 19 below), His life partner was Geoffrey Bayldon (no.18 below).

10) Ronald Allen (1930-1991). Actor. Allen is most famous in the UK as one of the lead actors in the television soap opera “Crossroads” (1971-85). His first appearance in “Doctor Who” was in “The Dominators” (1968) playing the main eponymous villain. He returned in 1970 to play space centre controller Cornish in “The Ambassadors of Death”.

11) Nicholas Bullen (1946-2020). Costume designer. Bullen designed the costumes for Patrick Troughton’s final two stories, “The Space Pirates” and “Wargames” (1969). As the designer on the latter he is responsible for designing the first costumes for the Time Lords.

12) Bella Emberg (1937-2018). Actor. Best remembered as a great comedy actor, most memorably as Blunder Woman, Bella made her “Doctor Who” debut in two non-speaking roles as a nurse in “The Silurians” (1970) and a kitchen worker in “The Time Warrior” (1973).  She returned to play Mrs. Croot in “Love and Monsters” (2006), and played her again in “The Runaway Bride” (2006), though her scene was cut from the broadcast version.

13) Geoffrey Toone (1910-2005). Actor. Although Toone appeared in the 1965 Peter Cushing film “Dr. Who and the Daleks” (1965) playing one of the Thal leaders, he will always be remembered for his portrayal of High Priest Hepesh in “The Curse of Peladon” (1972).

14) James Culliford (1927-2002). Actor. Though he didn’t play a major character, Culliford appeared in the first episodes on “Frontier in Space” (1973) as a space pilot. Shortly after recording his episodes he suffered a stroke. Culliford was the life partner of Alfred Lynch (see part 3 of the list).

15) Tony Beckley (1929-1980). Actor. He played one of the creepiest villains of the Tom Baker era (1974-1981), Harrison Chase in “The Seeds of Doom” (1976). His character favoured plants over animals and was not averse to throwing people who angered him into his compost-making machine.

16) John Nathan Turner (1947-2002). Producer. Popularly referred to as JNT, Nathan Turner was one of the most significant and influential people in the final years of the classic era. Although he had worked on the series since the 1960s, his first on-screen credit was a Production Unit Manager on “Horror of Fang Rock” (1977) (guest-starring Alan Rowe, above). In 1980 JNT became producer (before the term show-runner was used) and stayed at the helm until the series was cancelled in 1989. A charismatic character, JNT saw the introduction of three Doctors. His life partner was Gary Downie (below).

17) Gary Downie (1946-2006), Production manager. JNT’s life partner began working on “Doctor Who” as Assistant Floor Manager on “Underworld” (1978). He remained a member of the production team until the series was cancelled in 1989. His last credit was a Production Manager on “Dimensions in Time” (1993), a 2-part mini-episode made for the series’ 30th anniversary featuring many former Doctors and companions. It was produced for the BBC’s annual charity telethon “Children in Need”.

18) Geoffrey Bayldon (1924-2017). Actor. My generation will always remember Bayldon as Catweazle, a bumbling hermit wizard magically transported from the 11th century to the 20th in the children’s series of the same name (1970-1). His performance led many people to hope that he would one day be chosen to play the Doctor, and it is reported in some places that he was actually considered by the production team on several occasions. Instead, Bayldon’s only appearance in “Doctor Who” was in “The Creature From the Pit” (1979), in which he played a character not unlike Catweazle.

19) Matthew Waterhouse (b.1961). Actor. The youngest actor to play one of the Doctor’s companions, and his inexperience showed. He played Adric, a mathematical genius, for “Full Circle” (1980) to “Earthshock” (1982), becoming the second companion (after Katarina in 1966) to be killed off on-screen. Waterhouse appeared in several cameos afterwards (as illusions), and has starred in a few Big Finish audio dramas. He is also the first companion-actor to come out as gay.

20) Anthony Ainley (1932-2004). Actor. Ainley received much praise and admiration from fans for his portrayal as the long-awaited regeneration of the Doctor’s arch-enemy the Master in the closing moments of “The Keeper of Traken” (1981). I attended a big Doctor Who convention a few months later and Ainley’s surprise appearance on stage resulted in the only standing ovation of the whole convention. His last story was “Survival” (1989), where he became half-cat, which was referred to in the BBC Centenary special episode “The Power of the Doctor” (2022).

That concludes today’s list. The next 20 names will be revealed on November 19th.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Day Of The Dead: Out Of His Hollywood Tree

We’re halfway through what the Christian Church calls Hallowtide. This is the 3-day period of remembrance and devotion to our ancestors. It began with All Hallow’s Eve (corrupted into Hallowe’en), followed by All Hallow’s Day (or All Saint’s Day), and tomorrow is All Soul’s Day. We don’t need to go into the history of Hallowtide, except to say that historians day there’s no evidence that there was any similar festival in pagan of pre-Christian times. No, the Celts didn’t have a festival called Samhain. As far the evidence suggests, Samhain was the name of a month or time of year, not a festival.

Mexico is the country that is most widely recognised as celebrating Hallowtide in a unique way in the festival which translates into English as the Day of the Dead. It was the Spanish colonists are recorded as taking Hallowtide to the Americas, and perhaps the ancestors of today’s subject was among them. The person whose ancestors I have chosen to delve into was the early Hollywood sex symbol Ramon Novarro (1859-1968).

There another reason why I have chosen him. Two days ago, the day before Hallowe’en, was the 55th anniversary of Ramon Novarro’s murder. You can read a bit about Ramon in this “80 Gays” article.

Ramon was not the only member of his family to make it big in the early days of cinema. His first cousin (daughter of his mother’s sister) was Andrea Palma (1903-1987), who became a big star in their native Mexico, though she did make a memorable supporting role in an American gilm, “Tarzan and the Mermaids” (1948) starring Johnny Weismuller.

A more distant cousin, Dolores del Rio (1904-1983), had bigger success in the US. She is particularly remembered as a lead character in “Flying Down to Rio” (1933), though people usually only remember two supporting actors, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the legendary dancing partnership first brought together for this film. Dolores and Ramon were third cousins, both being great-great-grandchildren of Leandro Sanchez Manzanera and his wife. Dolores was also famous for an affair she had with Orson Welles.

There are several other acting cousins of Ramon Novarro, including some alive today, but his ancestry shows no indication of where the acting bug came from. So, what is his ancestry?

Ramon Novarros’ real name was José Ramón Gal Samaniego. His parents were Dr. Mariano Sameniego (1871-1940) and Leonor Pérez-Gavilán (1872-1949). Both came from well-connected and prominent families with long lineages. Ultimately, as you might guess, the majority of Ramon’s ancestry came from Spain.

There is a tantalising rumour that Ramon has Aztec ancestry through his mother, to no less a person than Moctezuma (or Montezuma), probably the most famous Aztec “emperor”, but I am unable to find any information to verify this. However, that doesn’t stop Ramon from having family connections to other Mexican emperors. His grandfather’s great-uncle was married to the sister of Agustin I Yturbide (1783-1924), the first Emperor of Mexico after independence from Spain. He wasn’t in office long. There was a lot of opposition to Mexico becoming a monarchy, most strongly in the Mexican Congress. Agustin dismissed Congress and appointed his own. Very soon almost everyone else turned against him and he was ousted.

A feature of European colonialism is that quite a lot of the first colonists came from wealthy, landed families and minor aristocracy (most of the US Founding Fathers were from the upper classes). Because of this Agustin Yturbide can be put on the list of Ramon Novarro’s famous distant blood relatives in addition to his connection though marriage. Ramon and Agustin are descended from a Spanish noble called Fernán Yañez de Saavedra (d.1370). In turn, Fernán is descended from an illegitimate daughter of King Sancho IV of Castile (1221-1284). Going back further, and one of King Sancho’s ancestors was King Henry II of England, meaning I am a very distant cousin of Ramon Novarro also.

That opens up a huge catalogue of blood relatives that Ramon Novarro can claim. For this particular article, however, let’s just concentrate of some Hispanic cousins.

I haven’t done a massive amount of research into the ancestries of many Latin American or Spanish celebrities and famous people, though I have done some into those of national leaders. Through the same small group of Conquistadors in Ramon’s ancestry he is distantly related to at least two Presidents of El Salvador, six Presidents of Nicaragua, several dozen from Costa Rica, a couple from Colombia, and a couple from Argentina.

Among the Colombian Presidents in Virgilio Barco Vargas (1921-1997). One of my previous “Out of His Tree” articles featured President Barco’s gay son, the activist Virgilio Barco Isakson.

As far as Mexico is concerned, Ramon has at least four Mexican Presidents as distant cousins. One in particular is of interest, the fourth president Anastasio Bustamente (1780-1853). We enter Abraham Lincoln territory here. That is to say, there is clear evidence that the president shared a bed with another man, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate homosexuality. Both Lincoln and Bustamente shared a bed with another man. That was common in pre-20th century times. We have no evidence that any physical or sexual intimacy occurred. However, even though I still have reservations about the sexuality attributed to Abraham Lincoln I a have fewer regarding Anastasio Bustamente. It is widely reported that he preferred the company of young men, and he never married. So perhaps, he could have been gay.

Which other well-known Latin Americans are related to Ramon Novarro though his Conquistador ancestors? Well, there’s Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar, Eva Peron, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Going back and looking at Ramon’s non-Hispanic cousins, you can get a good idea from the articles I wrote about descendants of King Edward II of England, beginning here.

So, that’s Ramon Novarro’s family tree. It is dominated by the bloodlines and legacy of the Spanish Conquistadors. His immediate ancestry centres on the Durango province of Mexico, but most of his earliest colonial ancestors settled in the northern part of Spanish Mexico, the area which is now the US state of New Mexico.

Sunday 15 October 2023

(Not Quite) 80 Gays Around the World: Part 5) Monks, Monarchs and Myrrh

Last time on (Not Quite) 80 Gays: The Art Workshop International was founded by 12) Bea Kreloff (1925-2016) and 13) Edith Isaac Rose (1929-2018) in Assisi, a city famous as the home of 14) St. Francis of Assisi (c.1187-1226), founder of the Franciscan order of friars who, in 2022, elected its first openly gay “bishop” 15) Markus Fuhrmann (b.1971).

There are two points I need to clear up. First, despite the title, friars are not monks. Basically, monks keep themselves to themselves in a monastery, while friars go out and minister among the outside community. I thought “monks” worked better in the title than “friars”.

Second, the Franciscan order of friars does not have bishops. That is the term I used because it is the most recognisable term used for someone of a comparable position in other Christian churches. Technically, all Franciscan friars are of equal position. Those elected to take overall charge of the affairs of the global Franciscan order (like an archbishop under the ultimate authority of the Pope) is called the Minister General. The world is divided into provinces (the equivalent of dioceses), and the friar elected to oversee each province is called a Minister Provincial (the equivalent of a bishop).

In June 2022, members of the chapter of the province of St. Elizabeth, the German “diocese”, gathered in Ohrbeck near Osnabruck to, amongst other things, elect their new Minister Provincial in succession to Father Cornelius Bohd, who had served his full term of office. The chapter elected 15) Father Markus Fuhrmann (b.1971). Just a few weeks beforehand he had come out as gay.

I wrote about the Franciscan stance on homosexuality last time on “80 Gays”. The issue of homosexuality in the Catholic Church was among several issues discussed in the Synodale Weg, or Synodal Way, a series of conferences held between 2019 and 2023 by the Catholic Church in Germany. Father Markus had always been a supporter of the Synodal Way and of changing some of the Church’s antiquated and corrupt practices, as was his predecessor. Needless to say, the Synodal Way attracted a lot of criticism from within and outside the Catholic Church in Germany.

Official logo the Synodal Way

During all of this controversy Father Markus came out as gay. He was not just an ordinary friar at the time. He was the Vicar Provincial (the next level down from a Minister Provincial) to his predecessor. Just as there was criticism about aspects of the Synodal Way, so there was criticism of Father Markus’s election. The fact that the province of St. Elizabeth elected an openly gay man as their guiding minister must mean that there is a change beginning to happen in the Catholic Church, at least in Germany.

Father Markus is the third Minister Provincial of St. Elizabeth Province. The province itself is relatively new, having been formed by the merger in 2010 of several smaller provinces. Prior to this, Father Markus was a pastor to the homeless in Cologne, the city at the centre of one of the former smaller provinces, the Province of Cologne and the Three Kings.

There’s a Christmas connection here. The Three Kings refer to those in the Bible story of the birth of Christ. But what are they doing in Cologne, you might be asking? The short story is that Cologne cathedral houses their reputed remains. They were brought there by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa from Milan. Before Milan they were in Constantinople, having been taken there by Emperor Constantine the Great’s mother in the 4th century. She had found them in the Holy Land. No-one today really believes they are genuine, but they help to focus the faith of devout Christians.

I’ve written before about the Three Kings. In my Advent series in 2019 I mentioned how modern scholarship is beginning to look at the Three Kings in a historical context. The earliest translations of the Bible didn’t refer to them as kings. This is a rank assigned to them in the Middles Ages to emphasise their status as important representatives from their countries, and because of several prophecies in the Old Testament.

It is speculated that the kings were in fact priests or astrologers. Taking into account that they are said to have come from “the east” suggests that they came from the areas now covered by Iran, Iraq and Syria. During the time of the birth of Christ these areas predominantly practised the Zoroastrian faith. It is widely believed that their priests were most often either androgynous, intersex, transgender or eunuch.

So, the Three Kings weren’t kings. We don’t know their names either. People of the middle ages liked to give names to anonymous characters in the Bible (such as Simeon Bachos). We still do it. We give names to things that don’t have them (children, genders, nations, inventions, animals, asteroids, etc.). Over the centuries the Three Kings have been given many names. Different early church communities gave different names, and some even said there were more than three kings. So, if other churches had been more influential we may be calling the kings by names such as Eshtanbozon, Zual, or Walastar.

The names that we are more familiar with today first appeared in the 6th century in a famous mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. There, above images of the kings, are versions of the names which became the most universal – 15) Caspar, 16) Melchoir) and 17) Balthasar. Another reason why we assume there were three of them is because they brought three gifts, one each – gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Two of these gifts puzzled me as a child. They probably puzzled you as well. Gold is obvious, a precious gift. But what about the others? Frankincense is just incense, also a precious substance at the time and often presented to kings.

We can’t tell much about myrrh from its name, unless you know that is a resinous substance obtained from a thorny tree of the same name. It is used as a perfume, but also in embalming. Its significance as a gift to Christ is to represent His mortality as the only part of the Holy Trinity who could actually die.

The name myrrh is of Semetic origin and means “bitter”. It entered other eastern nations and languages, including ancient Greece. There a myth was created to explain the myrrh tree’s origin. It tells of a girl called Myrrha who fell in love with her father and tricked him into having sex with her, resulting in her pregnancy. Myrrha became remorseful and went into self-imposed exile. She begged the gods to help her out of her situation and they turned her into the tree that bears her name. As for the unborn child, the gods decided to release the child from the tree. This child grew up to be associated with sex, beauty, and fertility and have various gender-fluid relationships. His name was 19) Adonis.

Next time on (Not Quite) 80 Gays: We step into a garden and play some games.

Sunday 1 October 2023

23 For 2023

My friends in the USA are celebrating LGBT History Month from today. To celebrate here are 23 lgbt+ facts and trivia. Some of these facts are explained in more detail in earlier posts.

1) Gay detective novelist Christopher Fowler (1953-2023) came up with the famous tagline “In space no-one can hear you scream” for the 1979 film “Alien”.

2) The swimming trunks worn by the 16-year-old Greg Louganis when he won a silver medal in diving at the 1976 Montréal Olympics were bought at an auction in January 2023 for $6,604.

3) The much-troubled Nottingham Castle (which went downhill very quickly after I left!) has had three queer Constables (a sort of site manager). They were Sir Piers Gaveston (c.1284-1312) from 1310-1312; Sir William Neville (c.1341-1391) from 1381-1391; and Sir George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628), from c.1621-1628.

4) Douglas Byng (1893-1987) is believed to be the first drag performer in the world to have been given his own series on television. The BBC gave him his own 2-episode sketch show called “Byng-Ho!” in 1938. They were broadcast live and no recordings exist (I wish I could say the same about “Ru Paul’s Drag Race!”).

5) “Ingles” or “ningles” was a slang name for gay male prostitutes in late 16th and early 17th century London, England. Its origin is unknown, though it may be connected to an old medieval word meaning “to fondle”.

6) Facebook is synonymous with Mark Zuckerburg, but Facebook was actually co-founded in 2002 by Zuckerburg and four friends at Harvard University, USA, including the openly gay Chris Hughes (b.1983).

7) On a related online note – the world’s first internet search engine, ARCHIE, was created in 1989 by Bahamian/Canadian Alan Emtage (b.1964). He is credited with being the first openly gay black person to create and entirely new category of technology.

8) The habergeiss is a goat-like creature or cryptid from German folklore that is often represented in Christmas parades. It is said to be of male-female composite gender. You can read more here.

9) Ghosts can be queer too. In 2017 the Stonewall Columbus Queer Ghost Hunters recorded two series of their quest to track down queer and lgbt+ ghosts on You Tube. You can watch those videos here.

10) The first Olympic medals won by an lgbt+ athletes were won by George Coleman Poage (1880-1962) at the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games. He won two bronze medals in the hurdles. He is also the first known lgbt+ black American in compete. You can read more about him here.

11) The first glossary of lgbt+ slang, as far as is known, was compiled by Isidore Leo Pavia (1875-1945), an Anglo-Italian composer and pianist. In 1910 he published a series of six articles on male homosexuality in London and England. Presumably, he was well acquainted with London’s gay underworld.

12) The world’s shortest official Pride march took place on 21 November 2017 as part of the first Paekākāriki Pride in Paekākāriki, New Zealand. The full route was 10 meters (35 feet) across a pedestrian road crossing in the town centre. There were around 200 people in the march who, lined up before hand, stretched further than the entire length of the march.

13) When the American biker group Dykes on Bikes tried to have their name registered as a trademark in the USA they were denied three times because the courts objected to the use of the word “Dykes”, saying it was an offensive and derogatory term. In September 2006 the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed the court’s objections and granted the trademark name.

14) In 2021 a new all-lgbt+ choir called Seaweed in the Fruit Locker was formed specifically to highlight queer interpretations to traditional sea shanties. The choir’s name uses two terms from polari, the slang used by gay men from the mid-1920s in England. “Seaweed” means “sailor”, and “fruit locker” means “a gay sailor’s berth on ship”.

15) Erin Honeycutt, a queer woman from Michigan, USA, earned a Guinness World Record in August 2023 by possessing the world’s longest naturally grown beard by a living female. It measures 30 centimetres. Ms. Honeycutt has a medical condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome which causes a hormonal imbalance. It has taken her three year to grow, after her wife suggested that she stopped shaving during the covid lockdown.

16) The Raelians are a religious community (many call it a cult) founded in 1974. Worshippers believe that when we die our bodies are “reclaimed” by aliens called the Elohim. They also believe that sexual and gender diversity was given to humanity by the Elohim.

17) The Father of Computer Science Alan Turing (1912-1954) almost became an Olympian. A keen runner, Alan was due to take part in the British marathon trials in 1948 for the London Olympics, having qualified with a time of 2 hours 46 minutes (which would have been the world record time in 1909) but had to withdraw because he had the flu. It is widely believed that he would have had a good chance of being selected for the Olympics.

18) A gynomorph is a term used to describe gods and deities who show both male and female sexual characteristics. Gynomorphic deities are often represented in ancient statues as being androgynous with breasts and penis.

19) Married couple, and members of England’s national women’s cricket team, Nat and Katherine Sciver-Brunt, were the first same-sex couple to read the “CBeebies Bedtime Story” on 9th June 2023. CBeebies is the BBC’s channel dedicated to the under-6-year-olds. “CBeebies Bedtime Story”, which began in 2006, is broadcast every night and read by a different celebrity. Many other lgbt+ personalities have also read a Bedtime Story.

20) Breaking (or breakdancing) is set to make its first “adult” Olympic appearance (it has already appeared in the Youth Olympics). In the breaking community the sport is also called b-boying and b-girling. Many dancers use the prefix B-boy or B-girl before their professional name. B-boy is also an American slang term for a gay man, meaning “bottom boy”. By the way, open gay Peruvian B-boy Dosu is currently competing for Olympic ranking, though he still has a long way to go to reach the qualifying rankings (as of 25 August 2023 he’s ranked 201st).

21) Matilda Simon, 3rd Baroness Simon of Wythenshawe (b.1955), became the first transgender peer in the UK in 2022 when she transitioned and was formally recognised by the Lord Chancellor. She succeeded her father to the title in 2002 when she became known as the 3rd Baron Simon of Wythenshawe (the title can only pass to male heirs, as it will when the baroness dies). To become the first transgender member of the House of Lords, however, she must win a by-election to fill a vacant seat.

22) Vakasalewalewa is a third-gender identity in which Fijians who are biologically male from birth express themselves as female.

23) The gay King James VI of Scotland, who was also King James I of England (1566-1625), was the only child of Mary, Queen of Scots and the bisexual Lord Darnley. Darnley’s father was the Earl of Lennox who claimed to be the next in line to the throne. When James became king (with Lord Darnley being dead at the time), this meant that King James’s own grandfather Lennox was his heir, and James himself was 2nd in line to his own throne. A family tree in on of the “Gay Thrones” posts here may make it clearer.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Pirate Couples

Yo, ho, ho! Shiver mi timbers! And all that kind of stuff. Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day, an unofficial celebration of all things piratey, except all the plundering and scurvy. Talk Like a Pirate Day began in 1995 as a humorous idea by a couple of American friends and has been increasingly adopted by various people around the world since then.

I’ve written about pirates several times on this blog, whether is was about fighting Barbary pirates, someone with pirate ancestors, or debunking the alleged Pansy Pirate. Just type “pirate” into the search box on the left to find out more.

When we think of pirates our first image is probably of Long John Silver from “Treasure Island”, Captain Hook from “Peter Pan”, or Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean”. These are all highly stereotyped and romanticised versions of the real thing.

For our purpose we’ll look at pirates of the 17th to 19th centuries, the so-called Golden Age of piracy. We’ll see what kind of same-sex arrangements were practiced by them.

There was a form of same-sex “agreement” called matilotage. The word matilotage comes from the French word for “seamanship”. English sailors were often referred to as “matilots”. Basically, matilotage was an arrangement made between two male sailors whereby one would share the other’s possessions, property and “spoils of war” and inherit them if the other one died. This arrangement was especially important to pirates because they were less likely to have any family, or contact with them, and this would prevent other pirates fighting over whatever possessions were left behind.

There wasn’t any real homosexual connotation behind matilotage at the time. It should also be noted that matilotage also including sharing a bed. The prudish Victorians turned this into something that always implied something sexual, as is still vulgarly implied today. Sharing a bed with the same sex was common and had no sexual implication in the hundreds of years it had taken place before then. But it is obvious to see that any gay pirates might take advantage of this type of arrangement.

Modern scholarship on matilotage was influenced by “Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition” by B. Richard Burg (b.1938), currently Emeritus Professor of History at Arizona State University, published in 1995. Because this was the first major publication on the subject it received a lot of attention and praise. Since then, however, other researchers have pointed out that there was a lack of scholarly debate and criticism of Burg’s research at the time, and it was accepted virtually without question. Burg’s interpretations were his learned opinion, and not all of it was supported by documented evidence. Nevertheless, homosexual relationships are still an aspect of matilotage that cannot be ignored and Burg’s work remained a starting point for research that came later.

There are very few examples of matilotage that can be verified. Here are some that could be genuine.

One written matilotage agreement that does survive between pirates is that made between Francis Hood and John Beavis on 10th March 1699. The agreement was signed at Port Dauphin on Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. You may have thought that pirates only sailed in the Caribbean, but there were pirates in every sea and ocean. Madagascar is particularly associated with pirates. In fact, there is an alleged pirate colony called Libertatia that is said to have been founded on Madagascar at around that time. There’s no real evidence that Libertatia existed, but Madagascar was known as a pirate haven, and many pirates spent time there, more so than any Caribbean island.

Back to Francis Hood and John Beavis. Nothing is known about either of them. Their names suggest they were British, or American colonists. This may also suggest that they were active pirates in the Caribbean before seeking refuge on Madagascar. Their written agreement states that each would receive the other’s “gold, silver, and any other thing” should one of them die at sea.

Another couple for whom there is no evidence but are highly likely to have entered into a matilotage are Olauduh Equiano (c.1745-1797), who used the name Gustavus Vassa in adulthood, and Richard Baker. Although neither were pirates they were both shipmates in the British navy. Vassa was a former African slave in colonial America who became famous for his internationally best-selling memoir which was first published in 1789. It is claimed by some historians that this memoir was one of the most significant factors in Great Britain abolishing the slave trade.

In his memoir Vassa writes lovingly about Richard Baker. He describes how extremely fond of each other they were and inseparable. He describes how they shared a bed-space, laying in each others arms for comfort when they were going through periods of stress. Not once, however, is there any implication of physical sexual acts between them, but their relationship has led many historians to label Vassa as bisexual. Vassa married and had children after he left the navy. His memoir has inspired me to write an “Extraordinary Life” article about him next year.

This can also be said of Richard Culliford, an actual pirate captain, and his partner John Swann. Culliford and Swann met during the former’s pirate activity in the Indian Ocean, and they settles on Madagascar for a dew years before splitting up amicably. On Madagascar they were reported by other pirates to have been an open couple, with Swann being described as Culliford’s “consort”. They probably entered into a matilotage, but there’s no record of it.

Before I finish I have not forgotten the most famous pirate couple of all, Mary Read and Anne Bonney. They, too, deserves an article to themselves. This is also in the pipeline for next year.

It’s such a pity that there are not more matilotage agreement in existence, whether between pirates or ordinary sailors. Pirates have been very popular in recent decades and it is an aspect of their lifestyle that might change our image of pirates forever.