Saturday, 24 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999)

Christmas Day tomorrow. Finding a gay man born on Christmas Day was no problem.

Quentin Crisp was born on 25th December 1908 in Sutton, Surrey. His original name was Dennis Charles Pratt, and his parents were typical middle-class Edwardians with servants. Even from an early age Quentin wanted to be the centre of attention – being born on Christmas Day provided a ready-made holiday for him to hijack and take attention way from Christmas and on to his birthday.

At school he was always “performing”. For one school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Quentin’s mother made him a costume for his role as a fairy. It was role he continued to play for the rest of his life – and he loved it because it attracted attention.

As he grew older he became more of an exhibitionist, deliberately flaunting his sexuality at a time when it was illegal. To emphasise his campness he adopted the name Quentin Crisp in 1931. He received verbal and physical abuse many times, but he rose above it all in the end with a kind of dignity that could never occur today.

Even though he achieved something of a heroic status in some gay circles, Quentin Crisp wasn’t a role model for other gay men of the time. He believed that homosexuality was disease that should be eradicated. “The world will be better without homosexuals”, he once wrote. He opposed gay rights and refused to support them even to the end of his life.

For me, Quentin Crisp was not a good role model. Growing up in a working-class community the only gay men I knew about were those like Crisp who were camp and effeminate. Coming to terms with my sexuality in a macho community was hard enough. With Crisp and others like him in the media as my only gay role models I was doubly hindered by the feeling that I had to be like them but didn’t want to. I wonder how many more thousands of gay men didn’t come out until late in life because they too thought that they had to be like Quentin Crisp?

But I don’t want to end on a bad note at Christmas. So I’ll just say how much I respect Quentin Crisp for his honesty and resilience. He didn’t care what people thought about him. He was true to himself. Perhaps that’s the best legacy he has left – an inspiration to gay men and women who are struggling to find their sexual identity.

I’m taking a short break for the holidays and will be back on 2nd January 2012 with my next Gay of Christmas. In the mean time I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the most wonderful New Year.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Star Gayzing : Capricorn


The Christmas season is full of parties and drinking. Perhaps it is appropriate that the star sign of Capricorn begins today. Capricorn is most often associated with Pan, the chief satyr who resided over wild parties as mentioned last month.

The traditional image of Capricorn is of a goat-fish. Images of the goat-fish appear in Babylonia 4,000 years ago. The Greeks re-interpreted the creature as a manifestation of Pan. One legend, probably created purely to explain the goat-fish image, tells how Pan was attacked by the monster Typhon. In an effort to escape Pan jumped into the Nile. His body under water turned into a fish whilst hi top half remained a his goat-like form.

Pan was also the god of shepherds, and it is in this role that he appears in another part of the sky – the rings of Saturn.

Gaps in Saturn’s rings have been discussed since they were first seen several centuries ago. Astronomers weren’t sure why they occurred until space probes in the 20th century took close up pictures.

In the two outermost gaps in the rings were discovered two tiny moons – the closest to orbit Saturn. Their gravitational forces create the gaps and help to define the edges of the rings. Astronomers call them “shepherd moons”.

The first of these shepherd moons was discovered in 1990, even though it had been recorded on images taken by the Voyager 2 probe in 1981. Because of its nature as a shepherd moon the new satellite was named Pan. It’s a walnut-shaped moon 35km across and 23km high.

In 2005 another small shepherd moon was discovered in the outermost gap in the rings some 3,000km further out from Pan’s orbit. Because it too was a shepherd moon it was given the name of Pan’s boy-lover Daphnis. I’ve mentioned the Ancient Greeks’ attitude to same-sex relationships before in this blog, so it comes as no surprise that Pan had a boy-lover.

Daphnis was himself semi-divine, the son of Hermes and a nymph. His mother had been tricked by Hermes and didn’t want anything to do with the baby so abandoned Daphnis in a laurel grove. He was found and raised by shepherds. As he grew older he became famous for his beauty and music skills. Because of this Pan taught Daphnis how to play the pan-pipes and their love affair began.

In early manhood Daphnis became more of a cowboy than a shepherd, tending to a herd of supernatural cattle belonging to Helios the sun god. He fell in love with a nymph who became jealous of a rival who made a pass at Daphnis, so she blinded him. From then on all of Daphnis’s music was tinged with melancholy, yet sounding even more beautiful than before.

And so the two shepherd moons of Saturn are named after Pan and Daphnis. Closer images of these moons have been taken by recent space probes and show the beauty of their gravitational power over the rings.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Simon Callow as Charles Dickens

Distinguished English gay actor Simon Callow has carved out something of a niche for himself in portraying Charles Dickens. Dickens is surely the one Victorian author most associated with Christmas than any other, because of “A Christmas Carol”, perhaps the most influential literary work to feature the meaning of the Christmas spirit. In fact, our idea of a Victorian Christmas largely derives from the writings of Dickens.

Simon Callow first played Charles Dickens in 1996 is a one-man show written by gay historian Peter Ackroyd called “The Mystery of Charles Dickens”. Callow has performed this show many times around the world, as well as others based on characters and stories by Dickens.

In 2001 Callow appeared as Dickens in the US miniseries “Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairytale”. As I mentioned on 11th December when I gave Andersen as my 4th Gay of Christmas, the two had met in the 1850s.

Perhaps the appearance of Simon Callow as Dickens which most people will remember is in the science fiction series “Doctor Who”. In 2005 the episode “The Unquiet Dead” featured the Doctor and his companion Rose meeting Dickens in Cardiff on Christmas Eve 1869. Dickens was famous for his public readings of “A Christmas Carol”, and the tv episode features Callow confronting a ghost during his reading in a theatre. Through a series of encounters with ethereal gas creatures and animated corpses the Doctor shows Dickens that his writings will always be remembered.

Interestingly, this is a very rare example of a Christmas episode on tv that was never shown at Christmas! (It was first broadcast in April). Simon Callow returned to “Doctor Who” in 2011 when he made a cameo appearance as Dickens.

Whatever else Simon Callow does at Christmas he is guaranteed to be invited to reprise his role as Charles Dickens. And as 2012 is the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth Simon may probably be in more demand than ever before.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”. The ballet had its premiere in St. Petersburg on this day in 1892. It wasn’t considered a success at first and even Tchaikovsky himself wasn’t all that keen on it – he much preferred his earlier ballet “The Sleeping Beauty”.

Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write “The Nutcracker” based on the success of “The Sleeping Beauty” though he got a bit annoyed by the many specific instructions from his collaborating choreographer Marius Pepita on what to include in and exclude from his composition.

The composer’s sexuality has recently been reclaimed from the Soviet censorship of the 20th century. Most of his letters and papers were destroyed or doctored to prevent the knowledge of his homosexuality from reaching the “ordinary people”. Modern musicologists and biographers have reversed this censorship and have identified several gay relationships he had.

Like a lot of gay men over the years Tchaikovsky married in the belief that it would “cure” him of his sexual urges. But the marriage was a disaster and lasted less than 3 months.

Aside from this Tchaikovsky’s music proved successful. His first works were composed while he was a music teacher. Then, in 1888, Tzar Alexander III awarded him a lifetime pension which enabled Tchaikovsky to travel the world giving concerts.

“The Nutcracker” was one of Tchaikovsky’s last works. He died of cholera in 1893, a few months after the ballet’s premiere. With him at his death were his brother Modest, his gay nephew Vladimir Davidov, and Aleksei Sofronov, his servant, companion and lover who had been one of Tchaikovksy’s music students.

I can guarantee that at least one seasonal advert will use one of the melodies from “The Nutcracker”. Just this Christmas I’ve heard “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” being used in 3 Christmas adverts – for Pringles, M&Ms, and the Westfield Shopping Centre in Derby.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Out of Their Trees : No.4

Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973)

During a stereotypical Victorian December night on this day in 1899, with snow covering the cobbled streets of London, Mrs. Violet Coward gave birth to a son. Being born so close to Christmas he was christened Noël. He grew up to become one of England’s most talented and versatile actors and songwriters of the 20th century, Sir Noël Coward. Always putting himself across as quintessentially English he was, in fact, half Scottish and a quarter Irish.

Noëls’ musical talent was inherited from his father’s side of the family. His grandfather James was a chorister at Westminster Abbey, and later on an organist who wrote some of his own compositions.

Noël’s mother’s family had no great talent for music. They came from a long line of Scottish colonial types. Noël’s great-grandfather, Henry Veitch, was considered something of a black sheep. He was appointed Consul General to Madeira by King George III, and upset the British government by ignoring protocol and interfered with island politics (in particular the fight for Madeira’s independence from Portugal). Henry was recalled twice to England to keep him out of the way.

One of Noël Coward’s Veitch ancestors had a brother who emigrated to New England in 1651. From him descends a large American sub-clan which includes the Olympic swimmer, Gay Games and Outgames champion, and world masters record holder Daniel Veatch (different spelling, but the same family none the less).

The Veitch family can be traced way back into the 13th century lowlands of Scotland where they became the lairds of Dawyck Castle in Peeblesshire. They married into many of the Scottish clan families with aristocratic and royal blood. The most significant of these marriages came in the late 1500s with the marriage of John Veatch to Jane Stewart. As her name implies, Jane belonged to the great Stewart clan. She was the daughter of the laird of Traquhair and was descended from Sir James Stewart, known as the “Black Knight of Lorn”.

The Black Knight is central to one Scotland’s “what if” moments. In 1437 King James I Stewart of Scotland was assassinated and the Black Knight supported a regency for the boy-king James II Stewart. When the regent died the Black Knight joined a plot to depose the new one. At the same time he married the murdered king’s widow Joan. Whether he intended to take the throne and found his own royal dynasty isn’t certain. He had no royal Stewart blood, though he was descended from King Robert the Bruce – the historical Braverheart. If the Black Knight HAD intended to claim the throne, the established line of Royal Stewarts would not exist.

The Black Knight’s wife Joan, however, was a Beaufort, great-granddaughter of King Edward III of England and niece of Cardinal Beaufort whom I mentioned last month as ancestors of Will Young.

But Noël Coward does have some Royal Stewart blood through Jane Stewart’s female line. Her maternal grandmother was descended from King Robert III Stewart (1337-1406), father of the assassinated King James I Stewart.

With all this Scottish ancestry it would seem that St. Andrew’s Day on 30th November, or even the New Year and Hogmanay, would have been a more appropriate day to remember Sir Noël Coward’s family heritage. As it happens, the anniversary of Sir Noël Coward’s birthday today falls exactly in between the two and couldn’t be more perfect.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Howard Ashman (1950-1991)

One of the highlights of Christmas for me as a child was sitting down to watch “Disney Time” on tv, a compilation of clips from Disney films presented by a different celebrity each time. “Disney Time” was produced for every main Bank Holiday through the year, but the Christmas programme was extra special.

Clips from most of the animated classics were shown at these holiday times and no other. These days Disney films are on all the time and there’s nothing special about them any more.

In my opinion the last of the great animated classics were produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the Disney “revival” – “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”. A big part in their success was the music, in particular the songs.

Howard Ashman was primarily a lyricist and playwright. His first big success was the original stage version of “The Little Shop of Horrors” in 1982. His songwriting partner was Alan Menken, with whom he continued to write songs for Disney, winning Oscars for “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast”. Unfortunately, Ashman died at the age of 40 before his final Oscar was awarded. At the awards ceremony his Oscar was accepted by his life-partner William Lauch.

Ashman was executive producer on “Beauty and the Beast” and died before it was released. He had also written lyrics for several songs for “Aladdin” which was still in production. In 2001 Ashman was name a Disney Legend.

Ashman’s lyrics moved away from the romantic, nostalgic style of earlier Disney films, creating the feel of old Hollywood musicals. Ashman brought a contemporary sound to his lyrics and made them “real”. In the words of dedication that appear at the end of “Beauty and the Beast” Ashman “gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul”, and helped to bring a little more magic to Christmas.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)

At this time of year the air is filled with fantasy, magic and fairy tales. A lot of familiar fairy tales originate in old folk stories going back generations which were adapted into children’s stories. Some of them were written in recent centuries. Among the most popular are the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, the Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes have become staple stories of the festive season.

Andersen was already a successful writer before he published his first collection of fairy tales in 1835. “The Little Mermaid”, published in 1837, has been interpreted as Andersen’s own unrequited love for Edvard Collin, the son of his benefactor. In the words of Wilhelm von Rosen of the National Archives of Denmark Andersen’s sexuality and be reflecting in “… the impossible and fatal love of a little mermaid for a prince who never really sees her, except for her art, her dancing on the small feet that hurt as if she were treading on knives.”

Discussion on Andersen’s sexuality has been going on since 1893. In recent decades more discussion has been published, and for Professor Dag Heede of the University of Southern Denmark the question of Andersen’s non-heterosexuality is beyond doubt.

In 1847 Andersen wrote his autobiography, calling it “The Fairy Tale of My Life”. He considered the real world to be like a fairy tale. In his own case this may be true. He was born into a poor family and rose to the heights of being Denmark’s leading man of letters.

Andersen travelled around Europe extensively, even becoming friends with Charles Dickens, spending 5 weeks with him in 1857 (Dickens found him a bit fussy). Andersen produced several books on travel, and by developing his own style of traditional travelogue mixed with comment, philosophy and story-telling, paved the way for modern tv travel documentaries.

Today, Hans Christian Andersen is seen as a shining beacon of children’s literature. His influence is found in literature and media everywhere, even giving the English language a few common phrases (e.g. “he’s a bit of an ugly duckling”). His birthday (2nd April) was chosen as the annual date for International Children’s Book Day, and the statue of his most famous character, the Little Mermaid, attracts thousands to Copenhagen every year.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Douglas Byng (1893-1987)

Every city and town in the UK (and a lot of villages as well) produces a pantomime for the festive season. It’s a part of British culture which mystifies and confuses most of the rest of the world. Most of them will be starting around now and go on well into the New Year.

The origins of pantomime go back centuries and cannot be traced to a single source. Two elements that are essential for a successful modern panto are the cross-dressing Principal Boy and Dame characters. The notion of cross-dressing on stage is an ancient one. Though whereas in real life the purpose of cross-dressing is usually to be perceived as the opposite sex, in pantomime it should always be clear that the Principal Boy is a girl and the Dame is a man.

Playing the Dame is a very particular skill that is very difficult to master. I’ve tried it myself several times but wasn’t very good at it.

One of the best and most influential panto Dames of the 20th century was Douglas Byng.  He was born in Mapperley, an area of Nottingham, one of the 12 children of the local bank manager. Originally a costume designer Douglas made his stage debut in 1914 and his panto debut in 1921 at the legendary London Palladium. He formed his own drag cabaret act and wrote many silly songs which he later included in some of his pantos.

During this month BBC Radio 4 has been broadcasting a one-man show about Douglas Byng based on his diaries and featuring some of his songs. The performer was someone who owed a lot to Byng’s pioneering exaggerated style in dress and double entrendre, Julian Clary.

Byng utilised his costume designing skills in most of his Dame costumes. At the time the Dame was often portrayed as an old woman in a slightly exaggerated costume. But Douglas Byng introduced something extra – parody. One of his favourite Dame costumes during the 1930s was a cape made out of bathroom loofahs. This was parodying the fashion of the time for fox-tail capes. However, as soon as World War II broke out in 1939 bathroom loofahs went from being a common household possession to a rarely obtained import and loofahs became very expensive. Douglas soon realised that his loofah cape became a valuable item – Black Marketeers could make a fortune selling it. So he always locked it in theatre safes everywhere he performed. They had become the most valuable bathroom loofahs in the world.

These days you won’t see a panto Dame that doesn’t have an outrageous costume parodying a contemporary fashion or emphasising an aspect of the Dame’s character. Such costumes have included a lighthouse costume for the Dame in “Dick Whittington” when the characters are shipwrecked, and a washing basket doubling as Widow Twankey’s skirt. Also, Douglas Byng was the first Dame to come onto stage with a different and increasingly more bizarre costume with every entrance.

So, move over Lady Gaga – Douglas Byng got there first!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas 2

George Michael

You can’t go anywhere in the shops this month without having Christmas music in your ears. It started any centuries ago, of course, with religious music and popular folk carols. But you’re more likely to hear modern pop songs than Gregorian chant.

Last Christmas, “Last Christmas” was, according to the Performing Rights Society who licence and monitor the broadcasting and transmission of music, was the 2nd most often played Christmas song (behind Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”). “Last Christmas” was written and performed by Wham! Founder George Michael, and he is my 2nd Gay of Christmas.

First released in December 1984 “Last Christmas” was set to become the Christmas No.1 that year, but the phenomenal success of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” put all other contenders in the shade. However, “Last Christmas” did make it to No.2 behind Band Aid, and since he appeared in both singles George Michael became the only artist to be at No.1 and No.2 with 2 different singles on the same Christmas Day chart.

It became the biggest selling single in the UK not to reach No.1. In Germany it holds the distinction of being the most successful Christmas single of all time.

The royalties raised by “Last Christmas” during 1984-5 were donated to the Ethiopian famine appeal, exceeding the many millions raised by the Band Aid single. However, this isn’t quite as charitable as it first appears, because the donation was made as part of out-of-court settlement between George Michael and the writers of the song “Can’t Smile Without You”, Chris Arnold, David Martin and Geoff Morrow. They had accused Michael of plagiarism because of several similar melodic sequences in “Last Christmas” were, they claimed, copied from their song.

Unfortunately, George Michael is recovering from pneumonia at the moment and has cancelled his concerts for the time being. We all hope that he recovers soon.

This year a new cover version of “Last Christmas” will be released by gay singer Joe McElderry on 19th December.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

The Archangel Gabriel

I bet when you read that I would be listing my 12 Gays of Christmas you didn’t think that an angel would be one of them.

Gabriel is the angel most associated with Christmas and always makes an appearance in nativity plays, even though he doesn’t have any part in the nativity itself. He appears at the prelude to the story which is celebrated on the Feast of the Annunciation on 25th March when he reveals to Mary that she is pregnant.

What makes Gabriel appropriate for inclusion on my list is his sexuality – or rather, his absence of gender.

All through history angels have been given human characteristics. The Bible calls them beings of pure spirit who appear in human form as God’s messengers or agents. Being creatures of spirit angles have no need to reproduce as the spirit is eternal. With no need to reproduce there’s no need for male or female, only a single gender. So you could call angels asexual or agender. About a year ago I was sitting in a pub with my friend Nick and somehow the conversation turned to the sexuality of angels. Even though Nick is a practising Catholic it was very difficult putting across the notion that angels are not interested in sex.

Angels have an important role in the history of Biblical homosexuality. Angels were sent to the city of Sodom where their physical appearance as men aroused the evil “interests” of its inhabitants. Hence the use of the word “sodomite” in olden days for an active homosexual, even though the Bible doesn’t actually mention what the inhabitants were going to do to the angels. As Sodom was a hot-bed of other Biblical sins it could have been anything, which included eating shell fish. The angles were protected by a man called Lot, said to be the only righteous man in the city, and because of it he and his family were the only ones spared from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The whole story is told in Genesis, chapter 19.

The Bible also says that some of angels thought they were more superior than God, and God threw them out of Heaven and down to earth. These became known as the Fallen Angels, with the former Archangel Lucifer as their leader. When they hit the earth they created a deep pit which went to the earth’s core, thus creating the medieval concept of a firey Hell. All through medieval times people believed that these Fallen Angels were mutated by their evil and were transformed into demons, and one of the main punishments they exacted on the souls of the dead in Hell was sodomy. Generally speaking, though, the angels appear in the Bible as messengers with good news and were a good sign.

So to help lift the mood a bit for Christmas, I’ll leave with this piece of folklore. Just as Christian tradition says that humanity was created from clay, Muslim tradition says that genies were created from fire, and angels were created from precious jewels.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

World AIDS Day

Millions of people will be wearing red ribbons today, and thousands of vigils and collections will take place to help raise awareness of AIDS. There is still a large portion of society who believe that AIDS is the “gay man’s disease”. It isn’t. More “straight” people have AIDS.

Lots of different elements came together to create the first World AIDS Day in 1988. For me the defining origins can be traced to 2 very different sources – members of the General Synod of the Church of England, and a journalist at KPIX-TV in San Francisco.

There were many AIDS charities in existence before 1988 but very few outside the lgbt community which aimed at educating the world that everyone was at risk. In 1986 Barnaby Miln, a gay member of the Church of England General Synod, helped to found Christian Action on AIDS which worked with the Church of England. He created the first AIDS awareness ribbon, a short rainbow ribbon, which was worn by many at the 1986 General Synod. It was inspired by the rainbow flags in San Francisco which Miln had seen during an AIDS conference there earlier in the year. This ribbon didn’t gain popularity outside church circles, probably because of the anti-Christian attitudes of many in the lgbt community who weren’t aware of the work being done in their support. At the 1987 synod Miln suggested a specific day should be chosen to raise awareness of the disease.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the journalist James W. Bunn created a community-based AIDS education project in early 1986 called AIDS Lifeline. He, too, came up with the idea of an annual day of awareness, specifically suggesting 1st December. Through his work on AIDS Lifeline Bunn was invited to become public information officer for the Global Programme on AIDS, what is now the UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in 1987.

Another key player in the creation of World AIDS Day is Dr. Jonathan Mann, director of the Global Programme on AIDS. Dr. Mann and James Bunn worked together closely, so Mann was aware of Bunn’s suggestion. Mann was also a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s working party on AIDS with Barnaby Miln, and was also aware of Miln’s suggestion. Mann liked the idea and wheels were set in motion to get the idea up and running for 1988.

With the help of Thomas Netter, Dr Mann and James Bunn came up with the first World AIDS Day on 1st December 1988. At the inaugural observance in Geneva all the contributing originators were present – Mann, Bunn, Miln and Netter.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. It is the start of the pre-Christmas season where we look forward to and prepare for Christmas itself. Shops have been doing that since August, but they observe a different kind of Christmas.

If you want to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner you’d be decorating your home from this week. In fact, the Victorians were the first to start putting up decorations this early. Generally, the Victorians didn’t do anything until after Christmas Day. The craze for history, the emergence of neo-Gothicism and the popularity of Dickens’ writings created the Christmas we know today (most alleged pagan origins were invented by the Victorians at about this time). You’d do a little more decorating each Sunday until the very last moment of Christmas Eve when you put a star on top of the Christmas tree. To put the star up before sunset on Christmas Eve is unlucky. You’ll keep the decorations up until the end of Christmas on 1st February. In parts of Wales they still do. Taking down decorations on Twelfth Night (6th Jan.) just because you think it’s unlucky to leave them up is a modern idea, younger than I am.

The traditional holiday period when parties were held was during the Twelve Days of Christmas (again, doing it before Christmas Day is traditionally unlucky).

To celebrate Christmas I’m going to present my own version of the Twelve Days of Christmas which I call the Twelve GAYS of Christmas. Between now and Twelfth Night 2012 I’ll give information on 12 lgbt people with Christmas connections.

Among the 12 Gays will be a Pratt who became a Crisp, a female king and a ghostly writer. We’ll also hear about fairy tale castles, bathroom loofahs and more than one Christmas birth.

Obviously this will be a personal list which I hope you will enjoy. One trend I noticed when compiling it is that there is an unintentional bias towards male individuals (10 out of 12 are male, and of the others one isn’t even human!). It would have been good to have a more balanced list, but I’m already looking around for a new balanced set of 12 Gays for Christmas 2012!

The first in my list of 12 Gays of Christmas will be next Sunday – the 2nd Sunday in Advent – when I’ll talk about a character who always appears in Nativity plays but not in the Biblical nativity.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Star Gayzing 3

Sagittarius

Today sees the beginning of the horoscope sign Sagittarius. Ask anyone what the constellation represents and they’ll say an archer. Some may even say it is the centaur Chiron, teacher, mentor and occasional lover of heroes. You’ll often see Sagittarius depicted in horoscopes as a centaur, but he isn’t one. Chiron the centaur is already represented in the constellation Centaurus so he doesn’t need another one.

The Sagittarius centaur actually derives from the Babylonian god Pabilsag, a half-horse, half-man, winged deity with 2 heads (one of a man, the other of a dog) firing a bow and arrow. Occasionally the Babylonians depicted the constellation as the Wildman Enkidu (mentioned last month in the entry on Scorpio), who was created to show the legendary hero King Gilgamesh the benefits of love.

The Ancient Greeks saw Sagittarius not as a centaur but as a satyr called Krotos. He was the son of Pan and was brought up with the Muses, the 9 sisters who presided over art, science and culture. Legend says it was Krotos who invented the act of applause in response to pleasure at the works of the Muses.

Krotos was the opposite of everything the Greeks thought about satyrs. He was cultured, educated and, above all, sexually restrained. The sexual appetite of satyrs was uncontrolled. Their prowess was seen as hyper-masculine and as such they were spoken of as having sex with both men and women. The satyrs were companions of Dionysios, the god of wine, who has sometimes been described as a bisexual deity embodying both male and female qualities. Indeed, Dionysios has been claimed by www.glbtq.com as the patron god of transvestites and hermaphrodites. As god of wine he was also associated with parties and, with his sexually promiscuous companions the satyrs, also of orgies.

Krotos was not like the other satyrs. As he lived his whole life with 9 women, didn’t have children, or to have any known boy-lover, we begin to wonder about his sexuality. Perhaps he was asexual.

The centre of our galaxy is situated in Sagittarius where the densest part of the Milky Way stretches across the sky. Greek mythology gives an account of its creation and name. It features the hero Herakles (=Hercules). Hercules is recorded as having more male partners and boyfriends than any of the heroes – at least 3 – as well as being the lover of Chiron the alleged Sagittarius centaur.

There are several versions of the legend. One says the goddess Hera is tricked into believing that Hercules was her own son (which he isn’t). Seeing the baby Hercules her maternal instincts take over and she suckles him. Even before he could walk Hercules shows his great strength. He clamps his mouth on Hera’s breast causing her pain. In agony she throws the child away and her milk sprays across the sky forming the Milky Way. The Greek word for milk is “gala” and from this comes the word “galaxy”, the word used for the Milky Way since the 14th century.

Next month we learn about more satyrs and the Pan-sexual Capricorn, and how it is connected to the gaps in Saturn’s rings.

Monday, 21 November 2011

LGBT History Month pre-launch

Tonight at The Oval cricket ground in London the 2012 LGBT History Month will be pre-launched. The theme, as you might have guessed from the venue, is sport.

During 2012 I will be bringing you a special Olympic countdown with the most complete history of lgbt participation in the Olympics – ever! And, as far as I am aware, I will be the first to list all 120 known lgbt Olympians, including one closeted athlete whose identity I couldn’t possibly reveal without his/her permission!

2012 will also be the 30th anniversary of the first Gay Games in San Francisco in 1982. The Gay Games is the biggest multi-sport festival in the world. Over the past 2 years I have been compiling a comprehensive list of Gay Games medallists. The Federation of Gay Games has records of recent games, but not so complete records of the first two in 1982 and 1986. With the help of various biographies, blogs, news reports and research I have come up with a list of over 9,000 individuals who have won medals.

Here’s a taster of the facts, figures and trivia that makes the Gay Games a major part of the worldwide lgbt community.
Notable Medal Winners
Athletics           George Takei, “Star Trek” and “Heroes” actor
Swimming        Rhona Cameron, comedian
Basketball        Esera Tuaolo, American footballer
Basketball        Glenn Burke, baseball player
Athletics           Chuck Palanhuik, author of “Fight Club”
Tennis              James Hormel, US Ambassador to the Netherlands
Ice skating       Joel Mangs, aka gay porn actor Brad Patton
Bodybuilding   Greg Groves, aka gay porn actor Matthew Rush

Olympians at the Gay Games
Tom Waddell, Gay Games founder
Susan McGreivy
Bruce Hayes
Scott Cranham
Mark Chatfield
Peter Prijdekker
Daniel Veatch
Geert Blanchart

Comparison numbers

One concern at the forefront of the work of LGBT History Month will be to raise awareness of homophobia in sport. Even as we welcome elite sportspeople coming out we also question the attitudes of those in sport who criticise them. Nowhere is that bigotry more visible than in football. Two top international footballers came out in 2011, and 6 top footballers said they have no place in football. Nottingham has a notorious reputation as having the most homophobic, racist, abusive, bigot the sport has ever produced – manager Brian Clough – put on a pedestal and worshipped as a hero.

Recently, the head of FIFA himself, Sepp Blatter, opened his mouth without thinking first and revealed his racist thinking. He alleges to supports the campaign to rid football of homophobia, but hasn’t actually done anything about it.

My friend and guest blogger Narvel Annable has these words to say on those like Blatter who haven’t dragged themselves out of the 19th century:

The recent controversy over racism in football, hinged on the significance of a handshake. This put me in mind of a parallel incident when I was approached by two Mormons.  They assured me that I was loved by God but my homosexuality was unnatural and unacceptable. I counted with the fact that my sexuality and the host body were one and the same. We came as a package. We could not be separated. Several minutes of heated negotiations ended, as always in these cases, in stalemate.

One of them suggested that we should agree to disagree and offered me his hand. I refused. I explained that accepting such a gesture would condone centuries of ignorance and bigotry. I argued against being a party to religious prejudice. A handshake would not deal with the root cause of the problem which is called homophobia. When the Mormons renounce and apologise for their medieval beliefs and cruel conduct, at that point, I will gladly shake a Mormon hand. 

Homophobes and racists should look to the example of Sepp Blatter who gave a fulsome and gracious apology when made aware of his hurtful comments.

Narvel Annable

Thursday, 17 November 2011

From the Goons to Schindler

In the past few months I have been transported back to my childhood by listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra. Each weeknight when I get home from work I tune in to hear classic BBC radio comedy series from the 1950s and 60s like “The Goon Show” and “Hancock’s Half Hour”. I am too young to remember them, but I remember the reruns in the 1970s. “Hancock’s Half Hour” gave Kenneth Williams one of his earliest starring roles, but it is another individual who connects the two series – Wally Stott.

Music was an integral part of radio comedy in those days, with catchy theme tunes and at least one musical interlude in each programme. Wally Stott was responsible for the music for both “The Goon Show” and “Hancock’s Half Hour”. It was an instantly distinctive name which I always remembered.

In 1972 the BBC reunited the cast of “The Goon Show” for “The Last Goon Show Of All”. All the surviving members were present, but not Wally Stott. I assumed, wrongly, that he had died. As it happened Wally was invited to return but he turned it down because of personal reasons which weren’t revealed to many of those at the time. These reasons became evident when Wally Stott re-emerged onto the music scene shortly afterwards as Angela Morley.

Angela had felt uncomfortable with her sexuality during her first marriage. It was during her second marriage that she determined to do something about it. With the loving support of her second wife Angela underwent surgery in 1972.

Angela continued to compose and conduct. She moved into the film industry and was nominated for an Oscar twice – for “The Little Prince”, 1974, and “The Slipper and the Rose”, 1976 (one of my all-time favourite sound-tracks). Her experiences in the film music industry in America seemed less transphobic than that in the UK and it persuaded Angela to move there. In the following years she was crossing the Atlantic composing film scores in Hollywood and conducting the BBC Radio Orchestra in the UK.

In the 1980s Angela composed and arranged music for many famous tv shows (many of them camp classics in the lgbt community) such as “Dynasty”, “Dallas”, “Cagney and Lacey” and “Wonder Woman”. Success followed, with 3 Emmy awards and a further 6 nominations for her tv work.

It’s a pity that Angela wasn’t more well-known outside the music industry. I regard her as one of the best musical talents in the film and tv industries (she also helped to create the musical signatures of “Star Wars, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “ET”, and “Schindler’s List” with John Williams), and she should have got more public recognition. In different circumstances I’m sure she would have been awarded and OBE at least.

Angela Morley died on 14 January 2009 at the age of 84.

As we approach the International Transgender Day of Remembrance this coming Sunday I hope more people will come to appreciate Angela Morley’s long and distinguished contribution to radio, tv and film music.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Murder on My Doorstep

During this week in 1999 I became caught up in one of the biggest stories in Nottingham that year – the murder of Grenville Carter.

First, for those unfamiliar with Nottingham I need to show you the vicinity of the crime on this map.


1)      My then home, No. 10 Canning Terrace.
2)      The entrance into the cemetery.
3)      The home of Grenville Carter.
4)      The location of the bin bags.

The first indication I had that something was going on was when I set off to do my morning shopping before going to work. I always took the shortcut through the cemetery. But one morning the gates were locked. It wasn’t long before I found out why.

In November 1999 Simon Charles, a 39-year-old bisexual drifter, walked into a police station and confessed to the murder of 55-year-old Grenville Carter. The reason the cemetery was closed was because Charles had dumped the body there. What is really spine-tingling is that I had walked past it several times on my shortcut to Tesco.

Grenville Carter lived just a few doors away. He was gay, lived alone, kept himself to himself, and had a kind heart. One afternoon in October 1999 he befriended Simon Charles who he had seen sleeping rough in the cemetery. He invited him to stay with him until he got his own place. This act of kindness led to his death.

Carter had patience. Charles had none. Almost as soon as moving in Charles started arguing and hitting Carter. It seems everything Carter did annoyed him. Just 2 months later Charles snapped and strangled Carter with an electric flex. But that was only the beginning.

Charles stuffed Carter’s body into a wardrobe and pinned an “RIP” note on the door while he thought of what to do with the body. Remembering how the gay serial killer Dennis Nilsen disposed of his victims by cutting them up, Charles took a stanley knife and hacksaw and cut Carter’s body into 12 parts before bagging them up in black bin bags and dumping them in the cemetery. There’s only one way he could have done that – by carrying the bags past my front door and through the arched entrance to the cemetery. I cringe every time I think about it.

For 2 weeks the body parts laid there, behind old headstones or buried in the undergrowth. And I do remember seeing a bin bag tucked behind a headstone as I walked past.

Charles took photos of his activities, and even thought about reassembling the body into a work of sculpture. Then, as the rest of the country stopped in silence for 2 minutes at 11 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday, 14th November 1999 – 12 years ago today - Simon Charles walked into a police station and confessed. The next day the police closed the cemetery. For several days I could see them walking around from my bathroom window. They came to my house to ask if I had seen anything. Fortunately I hadn’t – it would have freaked me out if I suddenly realised what I’d seen.

At his trial it emerged that Charles had served 10 years in jail for attempted murder in Manchester in 1980. He was found guilty of the murder of Grenville Carter and given a life sentence.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Flowers of Remembrance

When I was little, in addition to Bonfire Night last week, I looked forward to this time of year and what we called Poppy Day. The family would sit down and watch the annual Royal Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance on tv. My Mum and Dad would make little wooden crosses with poppies on them and we’d go to the village cemetery and place them on the graves of our family members who served in the World Wars. My own generation still carries on this tradition.

The red poppy had been used in this way since 1918 when Moina Michael of the US YWCA wore a red poppy at the YWCA Overseas War Secretaries’ Conference in November that year. When the Royal British Legion was formed 90 years ago this year the red poppy was adopted by them also.

The poppy has always had an association with death and sleep. The opium poppy in particular having special significance due to its various drug derivatives. The opium-based morphine is named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus. In lgbt culture the cult film “The Wizard of Oz” has the 4 lead characters succumbing to the sleep-inducing properties of a red poppy field.

It can be argued that symbolism of remembrance with the poppy only began in 1918. Other plants have remembrance associated with them, most notably rosemary.

There was no definitive list of flowers and their symbolic meaning until 1727 when Aubrey de la Mottraye published an account of his travels in Turkey where the “language of flowers” was well established. This language became popular in Victorian England through the letters of another Turkey traveller – Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

Born into the Pierrepont family of Nottingham Lady Mary formed a relationship in her young years with Ann Wortley. Through Ann’s brother Edward many letters expressing undying love were exchanged between the two girls. Mary was heart-broken when Anne died at the age of 21. Mary’s father then planned to marry her off to an Irish aristocrat called Clotworthy Skeffington, but wisely Mary did her best to avoid this by eloping with Ann’s brother Edward.

Edward Wortley became Ambassador to Turkey in 1717 and Lady Mary travelled with him and wrote about her experiences, including hearing about the language of flowers. Her published letters made her famous and her ideas became popular among the upper classes of society. By the Victorian period there was a huge “dictionary” of flower meanings.

Over the years the language has changed and adapted to fit the times. The symbol of the red poppy is a good example. From its original meaning of sleep and death it is now almost entirely associated with remembrance.

Going through some of the many lists of flowers and their meanings that are around today here is a short list of other Flowers of Remembrance.

bellflower
China aster
forget-me-not
myrtle
pink carnation
rosemary
syringa
tea rose
white periwinkle
yellow ginnia

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Guest blogger

As we approach November 11th, spare a thought for Rose Robertson who died last August, age 94. She was a secret agent in Nazi-occupied France, a member of the Special Operations Executive suffering trauma and had great difficulty talking about her wartime experiences.

However, she did reveal an incident which occurred in 1941. Billeted with two young male French Resistance agents, Rose entered their room and discovered them in an embrace. She knew nothing of homosexuality, was curious and horrified to hear of family prejudice and rejection. Their story affected her deeply. She was shocked that ignorant parents could be so heartless to their gay children.

In the years after the war, Rose set out to learn more about people like me. She met distressed gay teens damaged by self-hate from religious groups chanting biblical passages with a homophobic interpretation. She met parents – like Mr and Mrs Annable – who were variously distraught, angry, guilty, ashamed and hostile towards their children’s ‘perversion’.

In 1965 she formed the Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays – FFLAG – which seeks to mediate between parents and kids in an effort to find understanding, acceptance and reconciliation.

Rose was an effective campaigner, an enlightened heterosexual with a conscience impressing people who had been wary of supporting teenagers of same-sex attraction. Gradually, police, local authorities, irate mums and dads began to trust this reassuring middle-aged figure with her family orientated approach.

It all comes too late for Narvel. My parents are dead. To the best of my knowledge, I have one sister living in the USA. We have not spoken since 1963. Could Rose have made a difference?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Banging All Night

I come from a large family. One of the highlights of the year was always Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night. We had a large garden and orchard, and my Dad and Grandad would build a huge bonfire on the old potato patch and make a “Guy”. On Bonfire Night aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family would gather and we’d have an amazingly good time, with dozens of traditions fireworks and lots of jacket potatoes and soup. I don’t remember many times when there were less than 15 of us. Happy Days.

The reason for Bonfire Night is, of course, the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up king and parliament on 5th November 1605. Bonfires were often lit at this time of year. Going back to the Stone Age animals were slaughtered for their meat so that they didn’t have to be fed through the winter. The stripped carcasses – the bones – were burnt on hugs fires. That is where the word bonfire comes from – bone fires.

The king Guy Fawkes wanted to blow to bits was James I of Great Britain. The reasons were the old familiar ones of religion and politics. Catholics and Protestants alike had been killing each other for over 50 years. First one group then the other came to power. King James was raised as a Protestant, even though his mother Mary, Queen of Scots was Catholic.

When James arrived in England to take up the throne he inherited from Elizabeth I, his reputation came with him. James had several close relationships with men during his life and pamphlets were printed in London which proclaimed “Elizabeth was king, now James is queen”. It is said that when he travelled around the country some crowds would shout “God bless Queen James”.

Guy Fawkes was one of many Catholics who thought James had gone too far in constricting catholic practice. Fawkes was recruited by a group of Catholic gentry to help get rid of the whole of parliament. They would have been replaced by a Catholic government and ruler. Had it succeeded “Queen” James’s little daughter Elizabeth would have become the first Queen Elizabeth II (technically, though, she’d actually have been Elizabeth III).

Celebrations of the discovery and defeat of the Gunpowder Plot started almost immediately. Even as the plotters were being executed for treason the government passed the Observance of 5th November Act 1605.

People began celebrating with bonfires and fireworks, and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, in 1606, turning him into a popular folk villain. Ever since then people have been burning effigies of other villains on Bonfire Night in response to various national and world events – Hitler, Mrs. Thatcher, Sadam Hussain, Osama bin Laden, the Pope, even Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Perhaps somewhere in the UK there’s a group of lgbt people gathering to celebrate Bonfire Night by burning an effigy of a modern homophobic villain.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Out of Their Trees 3

Will Young (b.1979) – Part 1

Having watched every UK episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” I find it remarkable that 2 of England’s most popular gay entertainers, Stephen Fry and Julian Clary, have Germanic ancestry. But my own research has uncovered another gay entertainer with Germanic blood – singer Will Young.

Last night Will Young performed here in Nottingham on his latest national tour. His ancestry is one of the most varied and fascinating that I have researched. It could easily fill 2 episodes of “WDYTUR?” It’ll be difficult to squash it all into one blog entry so I’ll split it into 2. I’ll begin with his German roots.

Way back in the mid-18th century an impoverished German aristocrat, Friedrich von Geyer, emigrated to Boston, New England. There he met and married a colonist, Susannah Ingraham. She is descended from several early settler families of America going back to about 1630.

Charlotte von Geyer, Friedrich’s daughter, married Joseph Marryat in Boston in 1789. Joseph’s father Thomas was a real eccentric. After following his own father into the Presbyterian ministry in Sussex Thomas suddenly dropped his congregation and family for the life of a travelling doctor, going around Europe, America and Ireland. His eccentric treatments included giving paper boiled in milk to dysentery patients.

Dr. Marryat’s son Joseph was an English merchant who had business interests in New York and the Caribbean. As a colonial agent he was also responsible for the supply of African slaves to plantation owners. It is probably no surprise to learn that Joseph Marryat actively petitioned against the abolition of slavery.

The Marryats settled in England after the Norman Conquest but never lost their connection with France. In the 16th century they fought with the French Protestant Huguenots against the Catholic French monarchy. They escaped the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572 by hiding in the English ambassador’s home. In 1590 they fought in the Battle of Ivry which defeated the Catholic faction. For their part in this victory the Marryats were granted an addition to their coat of arms of a French fleur-de-lys.

In 1790 Joseph Marryat’s son Charles married Caroline Short, a lady of solid West Country ancestry. The Short family had lived in Devon for several hundred years, but Caroline’s mother’s family have lived in Cornwall for considerably many more. Among her most ancient ancestors were the Polwhele family. They had been in Cornwall since Saxon times.

John Polwhele was MP in 1640, and through his wife Anne Will Young is descended from King Edward III. It also gives Will a descent from a Catholic Cardinal. Henry Beaufort (grandson of Edward III) was appointed Bishop of Lincoln in 1398, Winchester in 1405, and cardinal in 1426. His illegitimate daughter married Sir Edward Stradling and it’s from this couple that Will Young inherits his English royal blood and a direct line to that well-known “queen” of England, Edward II.

Another religious link appears in the Short family - Caroline’s brother was the first Anglican Bishop of Adelaide. But that’s not the only Aussie connection, because Augusta, the daughter of Caroline and her husband Charles Marryat, lifted the family status up a notch in 1848 by marrying Sir Henry Young who in the following year became a colonial governor, first of South Australia, then of Tasmania (his father was Sir Aretas Young, Governor of Prince Edward Island, Canada). Their standing in the colony is reflected in the fact that Port Augusta in South Australia was named after Will Young’s ancestor Lady Augusta (Marryat) Young. Will Young is Sir Henry’s great-great-great-grandson.

Will’s grandmother Mrs. Patricia Young has real ale in her blood (not literally, of course). Her mother was a member of the Brakspear brewing family. It may be a name familiar to some (I was raised as a teetotal Rechabite, so wouldn’t have a clue). But perhaps the surname rings another bell. I’ve already mentioned a Presbyterian minister, a Catholic cardinal and an Anglican archbishop in Will’s family. Through the Brakspear’s Will may even be related to Nicholas Brakespear who, as Adrian IV, was the only Englishman to become Pope in 1154.

We’ve seen Will’s colonial ancestry in Australia and New England. Through the Brakspears he also has colonial ancestry in India through the marriage in Delhi in 1805 of Dr. Henry Young (a different Young family) to Elizabeth Oliver. Their daughter Ann was born in Calcutta and the family returned to England shortly afterwards. Through the Olivers Will Young is descended from most of the great Scottish dynasties – Hamilton, Douglas, Drummond, Campbell, and the Royal Stewarts themselves. Will’s most recent royal ancestor is King James IV Stewart of Scotland (1473-1513). This gives Will a line of Celtic ancestors way back into the Dark Ages.

I mentioned above that John Polwhele’s wife Ann was descended from King Edward III. What I didn’t mention was the name of her family, an old family going back to the Norman Conquest – the Baskervilles.

I’ll continue the search for Will Young’s ancestry on his next birthday, 20th January 2012, when we’ll discover his family links to the Hound of the Baskervilles, the gay origins of Robin Hood, and even Old King Cole!