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.