Tuesday 23 May 2023

(Not Quite) 80 Gays Around the World: 3) Atlantis, Bigfoot and Awards

Previously on "80 Gays": A retelling of the myth of 3) Ganymede was written by 4) Felice Picano (b.1944), member of the Violet Quill Club with 5) Edmund White (b.1940), 6) Christopher Cox (1949-1990), 7) George Whitmore (1945-1989), 8) Andrew Holleran (b.1944), 9) Robert Ferro (1941-1988), and 10) Michael Grumley (1942-1988).

9) Robert Ferro and 10) Michael Grumley met in 1967 when they were both studying creative writing at the University of Iowa. Michael Grumley was an Iowa native though had studied at several universities before landing back. Although a member of the Violet Quill, which was primarily concerned with writing gay fiction, Michael had a secondary interest outside the lgbt+ community.

The 1960s and 1970s saw an explosion of interest in esoteric topics such as ancient astronauts, mystic faiths, and the paranormal. While not having any extreme beliefs himself, Michael became a notable contributor in two of the more popular subjects – Atlantis and Bigfoot.

Michael Grumley only collaborated with his partner Robert Ferro on one work, “Atlantis: The Autobiography of a Search”, published in 1970. Officially marketed as non-fiction there are some critics who regard the book as being semi-fact.

What is contained in “Atlantis: The Autobiography of a Search” is the odyssey taken by the Ferro-Grumleys (as the couple were called from their Iowa university days) from Italy to the Bahamas, following a trail of clues and prophecies that led them to the Bimini Road, an underwater ridge of natural rock which has been clamed as the road to Atlantis. There may be elements of literary license and elaboration on the Ferro-Grumley’s part, but their book has become part of the Atlantis mythos itself.

Robert Ferro didn’t collaborate on Grumley’s 1975 book “The Are Giants in the Earth” about Bigfoot, the American forest-dwelling Yeti. Several years ago I included Michael Grumley in my piece “Queer Cryptids”. “There Are Giants in the Earth” expands Grumley’s take on Atlantis to include other ideas such as a hollow earth and lost races of humanity.I shall be returning to these ideas in another episode of “80 Gays” later this year. Although I am highly sceptical of such ideas I am fascinated by them and how they develop, or can develop, if you let your imagination run free. For instance, by combining some ideas in “There are Giants in the Earth” with others from a book entitled “Santa Claus: the Last of the Wild Men” by Phyllis Siefker, I can make a claim that Santa Claus is not based on St. Nicholas but is actually based on a Scandinavian Bigfoot called a Stallo.

Despite being such an enigmatic and elusive creature, Bigfoot ranks as one of the most internationally well-known cryptids. It’s no wonder books about him become best-sellers. When it comes to fiction cryptids provide ready-made fantasy creatures (the Harry Potter books rely primarily on established cryptids). One recent novel about Bigfoot gave a new spin on the creature. The novel is called “Pamela Wants To Cuddle”, and is written by 11) Samantha Leigh Allen.

Spoiler alert: The following paragraphs contain plot details about “Pamela Wants To Cuddle”. If you are currently reading it, or intend to, I advise you to skip to the last paragraph below so that your enjoyment of the novel won’t be spoilt.

Samantha has worked primarily as a transgender journalist, writing for such publications as The Daily Beast, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Out, and CNN, amongst others. She has a PhD in Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and wrote “Real Queer America: LGBT Stories From Red States” in 2019.

Just before that Samantha thought about writing a novel. From a germ of an idea grew a novel that has been described as “bizarre” and “bonkers”. In effect, what she came up with was a slasher-movie/dating-show combination.

“Patricia Wants To Cuddle” is set in Washington state, USA, where stories of Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, seem to be common. The Patricia of the novel’s title is a female Bigfoot. Like all creatures who live in the wild, Patricia is very protective of her territory, so when a television cast and crew arrive to film a dating show Patricia “despatches” these intruders, one by one, in her own inimitable style. It’s all very tongue in cheek and satirical, like “Slumber Party Massacre”, the slasher novel by Rita Mae Brown (number 57 in that first “80 Gays” series). But “Patricia Wants To Cuddle” has one last twist, which I’m not going to reveal.

Let’s get back to Michael Grumley and Robert Ferro. After the deaths of both partners from AIDS in 1988 their estates were used to set up the Ferro-Grumley Foundation. In 1990 the foundation created the Ferro-Grumley Award, an annual prize given to the best lgbt+ fiction of the year. Three fellow Violet Quill members have won this award – 4) Felice Picano in 1996,8) Andrew Holleran in 1997, and 5) Edmund White in 2001. The winning author received $1,000 and a two-week residency at the Art Workshop International in Assisi, Italy, which was founded by 12) Bea Kreloff (1925-2016) and 13) Edith Isaac-Rose (1929-2018).

Next time on “80 Gays”: We turn our attention to art in Italy.

Monday 8 May 2023

Game of Gay Thrones 8: Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Byzantium, Murcia, Dai Viet and Anhalt

To mark last Saturday’s historic coronation of King Charles III here is another batch of lgbt+ people who were prevented from becoming sovereign, or who unlawfully declared themselves to be one.

We’ll start with a man who was born into the British royal family but was deprived of his titles by the king.

Prince Hubertus von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1909-1943) – heir apparent of the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

In 1826 the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was created. The title of duke eventually passed to the children of Prince Albert von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the husband of Queen Victoria of the UK. By 1917 the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was Victoria and Albert’s grandson, Prince Charles, Duke of Albany.

During World War I Charles (I suppose I should use his German name Karl) fought for Germany against Britain. This prompted the UK to pass the Titles Deprivations Act 1917. This stripped British royals who were fighting for Germany of all their British titles, and the loyal British royals dropped their German titles. This is when the UK Royals adopted the family name Windsor and the Princes of Battenburg became the Mountbattens.

After the war the German Weimar Republic abolished all royal titles, though many remained in use unofficially, as they are still today. The ex-reigning royals became the titular heads of their dynasties. Karl’s eldest son renounced his rights to succeed as head of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty in 1932. The heir became Karl’s second son, Prince Hubertus.

Like his father Prince Hubertus became a high-ranking Nazi officer, but unlike his father Hubertus was actually anti-Hitler. Surprisingly, there are reports that Hitler would have appointed Prince Hubertus governor of the UK after a successful invasion, making him third in rank in the entire Nazi party. It has become apparent through research carried out in the last decade that Prince Hubertus was a closeted gay man. He never married, had no known relationships, or an interest in getting married.

During World War II Hubertus was a Luftwaffe pilot. He was killed when his plane was shot down by the Soviet Air Force in 1943. His father outlived him and died in 1954 and Hubertus’s nephew became head of the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family.

Staurakios (d.800) – attempted to become Emperor of Byzantium

Staurakios was one of the many eunuchs who held high positions at the imperial Byzantine court. However, Byzantine law forbad eunuchs from occupying the throne. This didn’t stop Staurakios from trying.

Staurakios was the chief minister and most powerful man in the empire during the reign of Empress Irene, who favoured giving top positions to eunuchs. This was mainly because she distrusted the officials who had been appointed by her predecessor, her late husband Emperor Leo IV. This also meant that those officials distrusted the eunuchs, Staurakios in particular.

Staurakios’s career rose and fell on a regular basis. Irene appointed him her foreign minister (in 781); he was captured by Sultan Harun-al Rashid (782); after his release he gained Byzantine control over Slavic Greece (784); was sacked, flogged, and exiled by Irene’s son Co-Emperor Constantine (790); and then recalled back to Byzantium and reinstated (791).

When Constantine died Staurakios found that he had a rival. He and Aetius, another eunuch appointed to a high position by Empress Irene, began a power struggle to ensure control of the empire after Irene’s death. Aetius accused Staurakios of trying to usurp the throne. Although Irene believed this, all Staurakios got was just a metaphorical slap on the wrist and told not to do it again.

But it does appear that Staurakios was indeed plotting to become emperor when Irene died. In 800 Irene decided to limit his authority over the army, which he was bribing, to prevent him from organising a military campaign against Aetius. However, Staurakios was becoming ill at around this time. His advisers and doctors assured him he would recover and become emperor. So he continued his campaign against Aetius. He should have ignored his advisers and rested. He died a few weeks later.

Muhammad ibn Ammar (1031-1086) – self-proclaimed Emir of Murcia, Spain.

This poet was the lover of Abbad III al Mu’tamid (1040-1095), the Emir and Caliph of Seville, who was also a poet. The two met when they were teenagers and a close bond developed quickly though their love of poetry and each other. However, al-Mu’tamid’s father, Emir Abbad II, was suspicious of ibn Ammar’s influence and banished him. Needless to say, when Abbad II died and al-Mu’tamid succeeded as Abbad III, ibn Ammar was recalled, and he was appointed Vizier.

Ibn Ammar led the conquest of the neighbouring kingdom of Murcia, deposing its emir in 1078. He told the Murcian people that they deserved a better emir, and he decided that this better emir was himself. This displeased Abbad III, who had not given him permission to declare himself emir. The two poets exchanged sarcastic poems, not meant to be malicious, but they both took them personally and their friendship deteriorated. Not only that, but ibn Ammar’s reign as self-appointed emir also deteriorated and eventually he was deposed.

Returning to Seville as a prisoner ibn Ammar misjudged Abbad’s attempts at a reconciliation and, reluctantly, Abbad ordered his execution. Nonetheless, Abbad gave ibn Ammar a sumptuous funeral.

Prince Lê Tuân (1482-1512) – heir presumptive of Dai Viet.

Dai Viet was a medieval kingdom in what is now northern Vietnam. Prince Lê Tuân was the eldest son of King Lê Hien Tong. In 1499 the king was persuaded by his high ranking courtiers to name his successor to ensure the stability of the kingdom.

The king thought Prince Lê Tuân, was unsuitable. He was too hot-heated and often dressed as a woman, so he chose his youngest son as his successor instead. An even bigger reason to overlook Prince Lê Tuân than his cross-dressing was because he had plotted to drug his own mother.

Both of Lê Tuân’s younger brothers became kings of Dai Viet in succession. The first was very popular, but the second was a murderous maniac, disposing of many other royal princes. Lê Tuân thought it best to hide away to avoid the same fate as them.

Lê Tuân’s penchant for wearing women’s clothing didn’t hinder his marriage, and he has many living descendants, all, technically, the senior bloodline heirs of the Lê dynasty of Dai Viet. When Lê Tuân died he was declared as god by the people of the Biansia commune of Dai Viet, which is now part of China.

Prince Aribert von Anhalt (1864-1933) – heir apparent to the Duchy of Anhalt

I briefly wrote about Prince Aribert’s involvement in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 (spoiler alert – next month I’ll be writing about another European gay prince who was even more heavily involved).

The duchy of Anhalt was a small sovereign German state within the German Empire, just as the above-mentioned duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Prince Aribert was the last heir apparent before the Weimar Republic abolished all royal titles.

Actually Anhalt was not abolished by the Weimar Republic with the others. In 1918, the final days of the German Empire, Anhalt saw the year of three sovereigns. Aribert’s eldest brother, the reigning Duke of Anhalt, died childless in April 1918. Aribert’s next oldest brother, Prince Eduard, succeeded but died in September 1918. Eduard’s 17-year-old son Prince Joachim-Ernst then became duke. Prince Aribert was appointed regent for his nephew until Joachim-Ernst became 21. Until a time when Joachim-Ernst married and had children, Prince Aribert was heir to the title.

The day after the Armistice of 11th November 1918 was signed, which ended World War I, Prince Aribert announced the abdication of his nephew and the self-abolition of the duchy of Anhalt. As with Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Joachim-Ernst lost his royal title but became the head of the dynasty. Prince Aribert lost his place as heir when Prince Joachim-Ernst married and had children.