Sunday, 29 January 2012

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

Previously I mentioned briefly Danish gymnast Niels Bukh, who would have been the first identified lgbt Olympian had his national team decided his strong physique didn’t fit in with the team’s image. He turned to training and developed his own techniques. Even though he wasn’t chosen to compete in 1908 he was the Danish team coach at the Stockholm Olympics of 1912 which won the team silver medal.

Niels Bukh’s homosexuality was an open secret which was overlooked by the Nazis because he was a foreigner and a willing supporter of Hitler. But one German, Otto Peltzer, was denied the chance to compete for his home nation on home soil in 1936 because of his homosexuality. I told his story on Holocaust Memorial Day two days ago.

In 1920 Niels Bukh opened the first of his gymnastic schools which were to become famous and influential in world gymnastics. Forming a touring display team he went around the world, his gymnasts astonishing spectators with new routines and their musculature, strength and suppleness not seen before. It was a style that has become the standard.

Bukh filled his schools and teams with young farm lads, turning their work-hardened bodies into defined, sculpted hunks who performed shirtless in skin-tight leotards that hid nothing. It was controversial and almost obscene – but it was popular with spectators. It must have been an erotic dream come true for Bukh, but they also attracted the attention of someone else who saw these young studs as perfect examples of the Aryan race – Hitler.

Bukh’s gymnasts were to become an integral part of Hitler’s propaganda machine at the Berlin Olympics. Known to be anti-Semitic and anti-Communist Bukh welcomed the invitation to take part with his gymnastic team at the opening ceremony, and the famous photos of the massed ranks of Bukh’s young men marching into the stadium with swastika flags is testimony to his willing participation in the propaganda. Afterwards Bukh was awarded one of the Nazi’s highest civilian honours, the Service Cross of the Order of the German Eagle (equivalent to KBE in the UK). Even though he became a hero of the Nazi regime, in his Danish homeland he was considered a collaborator and traitor.

To finish on a brighter note, the 1936 Olympics introduced one of the most popular and iconic elements of any Olympic Games – the torch relay. At the ancient Olympics the flame was already on site and didn’t need to be lit. In the modern Olympics the flame was originally (at the 1928 Amsterdam games) just a ceremonial cauldron at the stadium. Hitler’s advisers decided to put emphasise on the propaganda that the ancient gods of Olympus approved of the Berlin games by lighting a torch at Olympia itself and carrying it in a relay to the host city.

The torch relay was a common part of ancient celebrations, and the most famous of these was the relay at the Great Panathenean Games (the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece), but the Berlin Olympics turned it into a ceremonial event that has been enjoyed by millions ever since. It has now come to be a symbol of freedom and diversity with many thousands of relay runners from all sections of society taking part.

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Holocaust Olympics

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day when we remember the sacrifices of the many millions of victims of the Nazis. In Olympic history the opposing sides come together at the notorious 1936 Berlin Olympics. Two gay men show up the hypocrisy of the Nazis, in that one man became persecuted while another became a Nazi hero.

I mentioned Niels Bukh last time, and I’ll return to him in a couple of days. But today I want to concentrate on the Nazi victim, Otto Peltzer, the earliest identified gay Olympian.

Otto Peltzer was born in 1900. For a man who was an unhealthy child with a heart defect it is remarkable that he became a European and world record holder in the 800m. Whilst studying at university (ironically earning a doctorate in Social Politics) Otto became interested in sport, but for some reason was so embarrassed that he didn’t tell his family until he won his first German championship in 1922. After that Otto’s athletic career went from strength to strength.

Germany was banned from the 1920 and 1924 Olympics following World War I (the IOC bringing politics into sport). Otto was seen as the Great Hope of Germany when the country was allowed back into the Olympic movement and was chosen as team captain for the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. But an injury sustained in a handball game stopped Otto from progressing any further than the semi-finals.

Four years later Otto was chosen again as team captain for the Los Angeles Olympics. This time it was the provision of the wrong spikes on running shoes that prevented any German, including Otto, from winning any track medals.

The next year Hitler began his rise to power. The laws against homosexuality were strengthened and vigorously enforced. Otto was arrested in 1935 and imprisoned for 18 months. He was released early, 2 days before the Berlin Olympics began, on condition that he ceased all involvement in sport. Unfortunately, he took up an unofficial coaching position and was rearrested in 1937. He was kept at Gestapo HQ for 3 weeks before being released and told to never set foot in Germany again.

Otto travelled around northern Europe in poverty for several years. In 1941 the German authorities promised to drop all charges against him and he returned to his homeland. As soon as he set foot on German soil he was arrested and sent to KZ Mauthausen labour camp, where “extermination through labour” led to the huts being called “The Murder Houses”. Otto was to remain there until it was liberated by US troops in 1945.

After the war homosexuality in Germany remained illegal and Otto Peltzer, unlike the Jews, was still being persecuted. Finding work as a trainer was difficult and obstacles were put deliberately in his way. It was the rumour of his imminent arrest that forced Otto to leave Germany in 1956, using the Melbourne Olympics as the means to escape by taking a job as a reporter.

Otto remained outside Europe for many years, eventually finding success in India as a trainer and founder of the Olympic Youth Delhi athletic club (now the Otto Peltzer Memorial Athletic Club). Several of it’s athletes became national champions and Olympic competitors.

Otto survived a heart attack in 1967 and returned to Germany for treatment. During a training session in 1970 Otto Peltzer collapsed and died of another heart attack.

Otto’s memory faded, at least outside India, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that his sporting achievements were recognised in Germany. In 1999 the Otto Peltzer Medal was established, awarded only to a select few who have provided distinguished contributions to German athletics.

An exhibition is currently being held at the Memorial of the Shoah in Paris. “European Sport Under Nazism: From the Olympic Games in Berlin to the London Olympics (1936-1948)” goes into quite a lot of detail about how sport was used as propaganda. The exhibition ends on 28th March. Their website is

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Drag History Month

Perhaps you’ve noticed the colourful flag at the head of some of the posts for Drag History Month. It’s called the Feather Pride flag and was designed by Sean Patrick Campbell.

I’m delighted that Sean has taken the time to send me the following information about his design and his work:

The Feather Pride flag was created as a graphic in Gay and Lesbian Times (Greater Palm Springs Edition), June 2000, celebrating Gay Pride month. Since Gay and Lesbian Times had only been publishing for 4 months we had no photo archives. Being a prolific designer, I created several designs to represent various groups who make up the gay community.

Feathers and Flames - I couldn’t think of any better way to describe or symbolize the female impersonators, drag queens, fancy kings and their courts who were at the forefront of fundraising for research and awareness at the height of the AIDS epidemic sweeping through the community in the 1980's.

I use the mythological creature the phoenix, not only to represent feathers and flame, but I also remember an artist back in the late 80's who created an Icarus-style sculpture called the phoenix, and how he said the phoenix was being used in the gay community to symbolize our rebirth from the ashes of the AIDS epidemic. This imagery never really took ground with the gay community, but the idea stayed with me and eventually found it's way into my design.

From the state flag of
Maryland (pictured below) I was very much influenced by the symmetry of the 4 quadrants repeating heraldic patterns of black and gold, red and white. But instead of 4 quadrants of patterns or colours, to give more action I made a sunburst as a dazzling burst of light, which would be natural to appear with the phoenix.

I took inspiration from the motley ad-hoc patching of a harlequin costume of the 18th century that had alternating patterns of diamond shapes. I substituted triangles (a well known symbol of the gay community) for diamonds. Thus, in my thinking, who were the harlequins of our times but the drag queens? A harlequin is physical, colourful, romantic, comedic, high-spirited and clever. For anyone who may think I’m being mean-spirited or dismissive of the drag community, associating them with the harlequins of the past, calling them a joke, not at all. Look at the qualities I use to describe a harlequin, now apply those qualities to whom you best think in our modern society they would apply to. I think you’ll come to same conclusion. As to the colour choices, gold is gold as one would say, or a symbol of royalty or gold lamé, a standard in drag apparel. Since the phoenix is gold, a close associated colour is red, lipstick red - red curtain, was the train of thought. To contrast this is the black and white triangles.

I’ve always been an artist, first drawing superheroes as a child (which I still do), then studying art in high school. I graduated from
Iona College (New York) in 1989 with a double associates in applied science for art - illustration and art, and graphic design. You’d think they’re the same but are 2 different subjects, which lucky for me have overlapping requirements. I returned to studies in 1990 at Mercy College (NY) for what was back then in it's infancy called "Applied Computer Science" which these days would be Desktop Publishing.

Over the years I’ve had jobs in visual display for a homemaking entrepreneur and a major American up-scale kitchen retail chain, as well in fine art and even spent time as an apprentice tattoo artist. In the late 90's I worked for a small printing company where I was the sole creative service person working on various projects that ran from logo design, wedding invitations, political ads, you name it.

I moved to California in July 1999 with my partner at the time. I found work at a small local gay magazine, at first as ad salesman and then as designer and editor for one of the 2 publications it produced, again a jack-of-all-trades, from editing articles, photos, ad creation, layout and pre-press of the magazine. I am also proud that I was able to up-grade them to the new digital standards of the time. When I arrived at the company they where still doing old fashion pasting of the magazine layout.

At the beginning of 2000 a larger publishing company decided to produce it's own publication in the area. I was offered a position with the same responsibilities, just more money and benefits, which I accepted. Here is where I created my flag designs. Soon after I moved back to the east coast, first
Massachusetts and then to my home state of New York.

I continue to work in publishing, recently for a science text book company where I was involved in creating a series of project based books in the life, earth and physical sciences. This past summer I designed a leather charity calendar with Jed Ryan, Mr. Rawhide Leather 2011, called "Men of the Sash" and continue my work with the Twilight Guard as resident artist, web master and bar flyer creator.

Again, many thanks to Sean Patrick Campbell for providing an insight into his work, and for the information which has not been published anywhere else before. To see more of Sean’s flag designs go to

Monday, 23 January 2012

Star Gayzing - Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year, and welcome to the Year of the Dragon.

In many cultures the snake and the dragon are symbols of male potency and virility, and in Chinese mythology the Yellow Dragon became the emblem of the emperor, symbolising his potency over the Chinese people as “father of the nation”.

A modern gay Chinese writer called Xiaomingxiong has said that the dragon consistently appears in Chinese folk tales as being particularly attracted to older men. One legend of an old farmer tells that he needed medical attention after a passing Chinese dragon forced his amorous attentions on him! Whether Chinese dragons of all the various colours are partial to inter-species relationships or not I can’t say. Perhaps someone should do a study on the subject.

Even though the dragon and the other animals of the Chinese zodiac are not connected to constellations like they are in the western zodiac there is a celestial Chinese dragon.

The Chinese divide the night sky into 4 sections represented by 4 animals. The section which corresponds roughly with Virgo, Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius is called the Azure Dragon. Each of the 4 sections contain small constellations called Mansions of the Moon. The map I’ve included shows the area covered by the Azure Dragon with the western constellations labelled. The 7 Mansions of the Moon are connected with red lines. Perhaps you can recognise the “tail” in the western constellation Scorpio.

I hope you have a happy Year of the Dragon. And if you’re my age or over perhaps its best not to get too friendly with a passing Chinese Dragon in case you end up in hospital!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Star Gayzing - Aquarius

“This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”, so the song goes. But what does it actually mean? It’s more a term popularised in the 1967 hippy musical “Hair” than anything else. A lot of emphasis is put on the New Age and new spirituality it brings, but astrologers can’t even agree on when it starts! Some say 1447, some say 3597!

Scientifically, the Age of Aquarius is determined by the position of the sun in this sign at the vernal equinox. The earth’s wobble on its orbit means that the equinox moves backwards over time. Astrologers say the equinox begins with Aries, but it actually begins when the sun is in Pisces (it’s the astrology that’s one month behind astronomical fact).

As it’s name suggests an aquatic origin it comes as no surprise to learn that the constellation has been connected with water since ancient times. Aquarius rises at the time when the first rains fall onto the crops. The Babylonians represented the constellation as a man emptying two water containers onto the ground. Consequently, when the Ancient Greeks adopted the Babylonian constellations they connected Aquarius with Ganymede.

I mentioned Ganymede in my first Star Gayzing post in relation to the lost constellation Antinous. He was the young man carried away by an eagle to the home of the gods because Zeus fancied him. The Romans named their king of the gods Jupiter and merged him with Zeus. When the four main moons of the planet Jupiter were first noticed by Galileo way back in the 16th century he named them after the most famous of Jupiter’s lovers, all of them from Greek mythology – three women (Io, Callisto and Europa) and Ganymede (the largest of Jupiter’s moons).

After the Romans absorbed the Greek myths into their own, Ganymede’s name became a slang name for a young male partner of an older man, something they didn’t consider as “natural” as the Ancient Greeks did, so it became more of an insult than anything. Over the centuries the word mutated into “catmite”, and it is from this that the early Roman Catholic church and the medieval world got the word “catamite”, one of several words used for gay men.

The original Greek youth, Ganymede, was a Trojan prince, son of the city’s founder. Like Chinese whispers, the legend of the Ganymede kidnap by Zeus’s eagle developed variations through time and across Greece. But they all agree that Ganymede was the most drop-dead gorgeous teenager alive. This is reflected in the origin of his name, which is probably the two Greek words “ganysthia” and “medea” which, when put together, means “rejoicing in virility”. I expect there have been millions of older gay men throughout the ages who have had young male lovers, imitating Zeus enjoying the youthful energy of their own Ganymede.

So, if you were born under the sign of Aquarius, or support the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, you could hardly have a gayer celestial background.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Out of Their Trees - Will Young Part 2

Happy Birthday Will Young.

In November I looked at the ancestry of singer Will Young. I ended by revealing he is descended from the Baskervilles. Here is his line of descent to Will’s great-great-great-grandparents, Sir Henry and Lady Augusta Young.

Thomas Baskerville of Richardston, Wiltshire
Anne Baskerville
m. John Polwhele of Polwhele, Cornwall, MP., d.c.1670
John Polwhele of Polwhele
Richard Polwhele of Polwhele
Grace Polwhele
m. Humphrey Millet of Enys, Cornwall
Rev. Humphrey Millet, 1745-1774
Grace Millet, 1772-1868
m. Charles Short of Kenton, Devon
Caroline Short, 1805-1865
m. Charles Marryat of Potter’s Bar, Middlesex, 1802-1884
Augusta Marryat, 1829-1913
m. Sir Henry Young, 1803-1870,
Governor of Tasmania

Thomas Baskerville of Richardston was the great-grandson of Sir Walter Baskerville of Eardisley Castle, Herefordshire. The family had lived there since the Domesday Book of 1086. I’ve drawn their coat of arms for you. The crest is interesting – a golden wolf’s head – the original Hound of the Baskervilles? But where exactly does Sherlock Holmes fit in?
Even though “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is set on Dartmoor, Baskerville Hall is a real place near Eardisley Castle, and Arthur Conan Doyle was a family friend. An old Baskerville legend tells of an ancestor and his hell-hound that haunt the hills near Baskerville Hall. But there are also legends of black hell-hounds all over England, including Dartmoor.

Not far from Baskerville Hall is the ruined Stapleton Castle (the Stapleton’s were neighbours of Sherlock’s Baskervilles). Also in the area are lands once owned by the powerful Mortimer family, ancestors of the Baskervilles (a character called Dr. Mortimer, also a Baskervilles neighbour, introduces Sherlock to the legend). I’m not claiming Conan Doyle got all his ideas from Will Young’s Baskerville ancestors, but they must have contributed, especially their names which don’t occur together on Dartmoor.

Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, goes down in lgbt history as a real villain. He murdered King Edward II (one of the “Queens” of England, and Will’s ancestor via the Beauforts) and seized power. His tyranny ended at Nottingham Castle, where an underground passage now called Mortimer’s Hole is said to have been the route through which he was captured.

Nottingham Castle also links Will Young to Robin Hood. Roger Mortimer’s great-nephew, Sir William Neville, was constable of the castle. In an earlier post I described how I believe that Neville’s partner, Sir John Clanvowe, wrote the oldest surviving Robin Hood ballad.

Neville was also Keeper of Sherwood Forest, a royal position given to several members of his family after it was taken from the Everinghams. Will Young descends from the Everinghams through the Baskervilles. They were Hereditary Keepers of Sherwood Forest from 1231 when Robert de Everingham married Isabel de Birkin. Her ancestors had been the original Keepers, the first being her great-great-grandfather Robert de Caux who died around 1129.

Oh, and I haven’t forgotten. I promised to link Will Young to Old King Cole. Let’s go back to Sir Walter Baskerville. His wife Elizabeth descends several times over from some ancient Welsh royal dynasties who can trace their ancestry back to King Coel Hen of North Britain. Coel died around 430 AD, and his name “Hen” means “old”. He has come down to us as Old King Cole.

… and finally… If you think today’s post looks different it’s because I thought this font was most appropriate. It’s called Baskerville, named after John Baskerville (1706-1773), the typographer who invented it. John is probably descended from the same Baskervilles as Will.

And that’s Will Young’s ancestry. Almost. I haven’t even started on his mother’s ancestry yet! And I wish I had time to tell you about Will’s descent from Lady Godiva. Perhaps after he rides naked through the streets of Coventry I will! Over to you Will!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

The earliest identified gay Olympic athlete is German runner Otto Peltzer at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, which saw the introduction of the Olympic flame and cauldron. Otto rose to become a hero of the German athletics world, only to fall to the depths under the Nazis. His story will be told on 27th January.

Sports organisations have never really accepted that gay men can (or should) do sports. Women athletes too have not always been accepted. Way back at the ancient Olympics women weren’t allowed to watch let alone compete. The modern Olympics were formed when women weren’t even allowed to vote, but women were accepted as competitors in some sports – as long as it was men who decided which ones.

After the 1920 Olympics female track and field athletes requested to be included in 1924. The IOC (mainly de Courbertin) refused and this led to the creation of the first Women’s Olympics. They were the brainchild of French athlete Alice Milliat who created the Fédération Sportive Féminine International (FSFI) in 1921 after organising a Women’s Olympiad in Monaco. The FSFI organised the first proper Women’s Olympics in Paris in 1922. The 2nd were held in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1926.

Before the 3rd Women’s Olympics in Prague 1930 the IOC protested (not for the last time) to the name “Olympic” being used. The FSFI was forced to drop the title and the games were renamed the Women’s World Games. Even though the IOC accepted female track and field events at the 1928 Olympics (again, against de Coubertin’s wishes) the FSFI organised its 4th games in London in 1934. A 5th games to be held in Vienna in 1938 was abandoned after the FSFI ceased operations in 1936.

The Women’s Games featured 3 identified lgbt athletes. Mary Weston (UK) competed in the 2nd Women’s Olympics in 1926 and, with Zdena Koubkova (Czechosolvakia), competed at the last games in London 1934. Zdena won the 800m gold medal, breaking the world record. Within 2 years both women had undergone gender reassignment and were living as men and banned from competitive sport.

The 3rd athlete competed in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and in Berlin 1936. She was Polish athlete Stella Walsiewicz (aka Stella Walsh). Born in Poland in 1911 Stella’s family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, some months later. Except for a brief period this was Stella’s home for the rest of her life. She excelled in athletics from an early age, but couldn’t compete for the US because she wasn’t given US citizenship until 1947. She represented Poland at both of her Olympics.

During her career Stella held 18 world records, 8 European records and 3 Women’s Olympics gold medals in short distance running, becoming a famous female athlete. She won her only Olympic gold medal in her first games but was beaten to the gold medal in 1936 by American Helen Stephens. The Polish media accused Stephens of being a man and she was subjected to physical inspection. The accusation proved false. However, what happened 44 years later brought a whole new perspective to the incident.

On a crisp December evening in 1980, 69-year-old Stella Walsh went shopping for party ribbon. As she walked back to her car she was ambushed by an armed man. After a brief struggle a gunshot rang out and the man ran away. Stella slumped to the ground, fatally shot. Her death shocked the sporting world. But her murder was over-shadowed by reports of the autopsy which revealed Stella had been born intersex - with both female and male sexual organs. The sensationalist uproar took unnecessary attention away from what is still an unsolved murder.

The most successful female multi-sport champion of all time is Mildred Didrickson Zaharias. She is the earliest identified lesbian Olympian, competing in 1932 in Los Angeles winning 3 medals in hurdles, javelin and high jump.

Born to immigrant Norwegian parents in Texas “Babe”, as she was usually called, started out playing basketball for an amateur team which won the 1931 Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) championship. Moving to track and field Babe won 8 events at the 1932 AAU championships, breaking 8 world records in the process. Later that year she was chosen for the US Olympic team in Los Angeles, winning 2 gold medals and 1 silver. Her high jump result was controversial. She tied with fellow American Jean Shiley for first place, so the judges ordered a jump-off.  After they both cleared the same record-breaking height the judges decided that Babe’s new style of rolling over the bar was illegal. Babe settled for silver medal, but shared the height record with Shiley. Not long afterwards Babe’s “rolling” jump was legalized.

After 1932 Babe Zaharias excelled at other sports, particularly golf, becoming a celebrity in the process. In a golfing career spanning 21 years she won 48 professional titles. In 1950 the Associated Press named Babe Zaharias the greatest female athlete of the first half of the 20th century. In 1999 they named her the greatest female athlete of the whole 20th century.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Nottingham's a Real Drag!

Think about drag in the UK and you don’t usually think about Nottingham - Manchester and London, yes, but Nottingham? Actually there’s quite a lot of drag history in the city.

First of all there’s Douglas Byng who was born in the Nottingham suburbs. I mentioned him over the Christmas period as my 3rd Gay of Christmas. But a more famous theatrical cross-dresser was the legendary Music Hall performer Vesta Tilley (1864-1952).

Vesta Tilley began her stage career at the age of 4 in her father’s theatre in Nottingham (now demolished; a large pedestrian crossing currently occupies the site). Cross-dressing, even on stage, was still frowned upon in her early days, and Vesta’s first male impersonation act in 1872 had to be “toned down” because the theatre manager considered it too realistic.

Vesta took a new approach to male impersonation. Instead of appearing as a woman pretending to be a man, she wanted to be seen as a man not a woman. To this end she didn’t wear specially-made men’s suits but actual men’s suits from the shops. This style was new for a woman and it proved popular, especially in the emerging lesbian literary community, even though Vesta herself was undoubtedly straight. It wasn’t long before lesbians were wearing real men’s clothes in public more often.

The year before Vesta Tilley performed her first drag act another one ended up in court. Ernest Boulton was the boyfriend of Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, MP for Newark, and member of the family who owned Nottingham Castle. Boulton performed in drag in stage plays but also often appeared in public in drag. He often introduced himself as Lady Stella Clinton and wore a wedding ring Lord Arthur had given him. In 1870 Boulton was arrested and put on trial for “masquerading” and, after love letters from Lord Arthur were found, “sodomy”. The trial caused a sensation. However, Lord Arthur was called to testify against his partner. To avoid embarrassment to Boulton and out of fear of his private life being disclosed Lord Arthur committed suicide the day after he received his summons to appear. Boulton was found not guilty, the general feeling at the time being given that cross-dressing in public was gradually acceptable.

One of the earliest definitive publications on drag was “Drag: A History of Female Impersonation on the Stage” (1968) by Roger Baker. He was born in Nottinghamshire, studied at Nottingham University, and worked for several local newspapers before moving to London at the start of the gay movement in the 1960s to be a journalist.

Also during the 60s the Gay Liberation Front advocated “Radical Drag”, the use of drag in public in relation to protest. Another Nottingham University student, Kris Kirk, was an active supporter of Radical Drag. He also appeared as Maid Marian in a gay street theatre performance of Robin Hood. He too later moved to London and became a journalist. With his partner Ed Heath Kris produced another definitive book of drag in 1984 called “Men in Frocks”.

My own connection with drag comes in several ways. First, I’ve always taken part in amateur theatre since I was a child – it’s in my blood. So I’ve dragged up a few times for pantos and review. My “Uncle” Will Hayes (photo) was a semi-professional entertainer and for many years appeared in many pantos. This photo is of him in one of his favourite costumes. More recently, one of my partners was a drag performer.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

The first modern revival of the Olympics by the Greeks themselves came in 1859. They were the brainchild of businessman Evangelis Zappas who also funded them. Zappas based the games in the Greek capital, and since then the Olympics have been associated with Athens more than Olympia.

Two further Olympics were funded by Zappas and these are now called the Zappas Olympics. The 1870 and 1875 games was based at the Panathinaiko Stadium. This was the same stadium that was used in ancient times during the Great Panathenean Games – what I call the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece. This stadium was enlarged and rebuilt in 140 AD by Herodes Atticus.

Herodes Atticus rebuilt many public buildings. His young lover, Polydeukes, was an athlete who may have attended both the Olympics and the Great Panathanean. However, Polydeukes died young and Herodes organised a massive funeral sports festival for the boy at his recently rebuilt Panathinaiko Stadium. Herodes was so heart-broken that he himself died soon afterwards and his own funeral was also held there.

The Zappas Olympics are not recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), even though it benefited from the financial input to Greek sport from Zappas himself. Their excuse is that the Zappas Games were a primarily Greek affair. But the 1856 Cotswold Games were a primarily English games, yet the IOC recognise them as a founding influence.

The official modern Olympics were founded in 1896, founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Once again, the Panathenaiko Stadium was to play a large part in the event. The IOC soon decided to hold games in between the main ones, like the Winter Games have been recently. And so the Intercalated Olympics were formed.

The 1st Intercalated Games were in 1906 in Athens and were again based around the Panathinaiko Stadium. De Coubertin objected to them being held in Greece. He was a snob and did everything he could to prevent Greece from hosting the Olympics ever again. The Paris 1900 and St. Louis 1904 Olympics weren’t very successful, but the 1906 Intercalated Athens Olympics were a huge international hit. De Coubertin wasn’t happy! However, Greek politics and World War I prevented any further Intercalated Games from being held, and it wasn’t until 2004 that the Panathinaiko Stadium was used again at the Olympics.

Such was de Coubertin’s influence and snobbery against Greece that all medals and world records from the 1906 Intercalated Athens Olympics were deleted from IOC records. This is in spite of the fact that they were the first we would recognise today, with the first ever opening and closing ceremonies and the athletes’ parade into the stadium behind national (i.e. political) flags.

The earliest possible known gay Olympian could easily have been the Danish gymnast Niels Bukh at the 1908 London games. He had trained for the games but, unfortunately, body-fascism raised its ugly head when he wasn’t selected for his team because he was too “thick-set” (too muscular?) and didn’t fit in with the uniform look of the rest of the team! Ironically, fascism was to play an even greater part in his later life.

Determined to turn Olympic setback to his advantage Bukh changed the style of gymnastics for ever. He became a trainer and opened many gyms which taught new methods which he developed. More intensive weight-training was introduced, stretching techniques, and something which was unheard of – bodily contact. Gymnasts worked in pairs, doing resistance exercises with each other. Other gyms using his techniques opened across Europe. It seems ironic that the techniques developed by this gay man, who was turned on by young muscular male bodies, turned out so many straight young muscular male bodies.

During the 1920s and 30s Bukh’s gyms and training techniques became very popular and successful globally. But a dark cloud was beginning to gather over the continent and Niels Bukh began to move across to what became the “wrong side”. I’ll return to Niels Bukh on 27th January when I’ll describe the opposing influences on sport and the modern Olympics.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

US Drag History Month

This month the American media entertainment network Logo is celebrating National Drag History Month. This is their 3rd celebration of drag in all its glittering, camp forms. Although it isn’t “official” in the same way that LGBT History Month or Black History month is, I think it’s a great idea and should be celebrated internationally.

It fits in very well with events in the UK at this time of year because we’re well into panto season with Dames and Principal Boys strutting across hundreds of stages all over the country. What better way to celebrate.

But drag and cross-dressing developed out of something totally different to the stage – religion. Male priests and shamans in ancient times would dress as women to act as “wives” to the deity they worshipped. In a way theatre derives from this religious “acting”, and directly as a result of this women were banned from the stage until well into the 2nd millennium. The Ancient Greek even had a cross-dressing god, Dionysius (a god I mentioned in November in relation to the constellation Sagittarius) as the patron of theatre and transvestites.

The development from these ancient cross-dressing priests into the modern drag kings and queens is very long and complicated, so I won’t go into it now. But there’s a danger that some confusion could arise, because not all cross-dressing activity can be called drag. To many people drag conjures up images of camp, often outrageous, personalities like Lily Savage.

This type of drag is the main focus for celebration by the Logo channel and hopefully it will help dispel some of the prejudices and misconceptions about drag performers, as well as highlight its many different forms – from pantomime (Widow Twankey, etc.) to cabaret (RuPaul, Danny La Rue), from traditional musical performance (Hinge and Bracket, Douglas Byng) to public drag persona (Divine), the drag community is as varied as any other and there’s a lot to celebrate.

I’ll be posting a couple more entries on drag history over the next couple of weeks, including some of my own connections to drag.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

In 200 days time the (second) biggest (behind the Gay Games) sporting show on earth comes to the UK – the 2012 London Olympics. It’s also a special year for the UK because World Pride takes place in London in June and its also the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Perhaps its appropriate that the Olympics are in the UK this year because it also marks the 400th anniversary of the first Olympic games in Great Britain. Yes, I said 400th anniversary.

The Great Britain Olympic Committee recognises the Cotswold Olimpycks, first recorded in 1612, as the prelude to the British Olympic movement and they emphasised this in its bid for the 2012 Olympics. The name “Olimpyck” was first used for the Cotswold games in 1636.

The Cotswold Olimpycks were organised by Robert Dover (I wonder if he’s an ancestor of the present Robert Dover, who has competed in more Olympics than any other lgbt athlete). Events included horse riding, wrestling, running, dancing and chess, making them more like the modern Gay Games than the modern Olympics.

The games were supported by our old friend James I of Great Britain - “Queen” James – who donated a ceremonial costume for Robert Dover to wear at the games. James I was a big fan of sport, writing in 1599 that “certain days in the year would be appointed for delighting the people with public spectacles of all honest games”. In 1617 he wrote “The Book of Sports”, listing sports permitted on Sundays and Holy Days.

Unfortunately, the rise of Puritanism and its opposition to enjoyment made the Cotswold Olimpycks increasingly unpopular. Eventually, in 1642, the Puritans established a republic and banned games and celebrations of all kinds (including Christmas). The Olimpycks stopped.

An attempt at a revival occurred in the 1660s, but over the years it deteriorated into an unruly, often drunken, free-for-all. The most recent successful revival of the Cotswold Olimpycks was in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. The games are still held every year during Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

The present International Olympic Committee acknowledges that their origins were influenced by England’s other, more famous, Stoke Mandeville games and the Wenlock Olympics (Mandeville and Wenlock are the names of the official 2012 mascots). But there was another Olympic revival in Athens in the same year as the first Wenlock Olympics that was air-brushed out of the Olympic movement by the IOC. I’ll tell you about that in 5 days time, and how echoes of the “Gayest Games in Ancient Greece” had a role in the Olympic movement.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The 12 Gays of Christmas

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886)

Last month I mentioned that Hans Christian Andersen (my 4th Gay of Christmas) said his life was a fairy tale. For King Ludwig II von Wittelsbach of Bavaria that meant building several fairy tale castles to go with it.

Think about Disneyland in Florida and you probably picture the fairy tale castle. The castle, featured in the film “Sleeping Beauty”, was based on that of Schloss Neuchwanstein in Bavaria (pictured). The actual castle itself featured in another great fantasy film, “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang”.

Ludwig has gone down in history as the “Mad King of Bavaria”. This is an unfair reputation because it was a political criticism of his eccentricities rather than a medical diagnosis. In fact, Ludwig’s eccentricities helped to create a German identity when Germany was still made up of competing kingdoms and hundreds of principalities with nothing to unify them.

Ludwig grew up when the Romantic movement was at its height. At the time Germany was searching for some cultural heritage which all the German-speaking nations could unite behind to beat back threats from more powerful nations like Russia, France and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This led to the creation of a German “brand”. It was the catalyst for Wagner’s music and for the Grimm Brothers collecting folk tales. Combine the 2 and you get Ludwig’s great passions.

As soon as he became king in 1864 Ludwig invited Wagner to Bavaria and commissioned several new operas from him. The fairy tale castles featured in the Grimm Brothers’ tales inspired Ludwig’s style of art and architecture. His first “fairy tale” castle was Schloss Neuchwanstein, and he built several others, all in the new (if exaggerated) gothic style. The interiors of these were also often in fantastic style, with secret passages to underground grottos, etc.

These grottos were often places where Ludwig invited handsome soldiers and stable boys to join him in late night parties.

Ludwig’s diary reveals the struggles he had with his homosexuality, something which fellow gay Catholics sometimes experience even today. The most important romantic relationship he had was with Prince Paul von Thurn und Taxis.

King Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances. He was found drowned in Lake Starnberg next to Castle Berg. Rumours spread that he was either murdered or committed suicide. We may never know the truth.

His legacy was the fostering of a Romantic German image which survives today. His Bavarian fantasies, enhanced by Wagner’s music, is, perhaps, our most stereotypical image of traditional German heritage.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The 12 Gays of Christmas

King Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786)

Christmas presents come in all shapes and sizes, from your favourite chocolate to a fleet of Porsche. But what one gay man got for Christmas in 1745 was an entire country.

Frederick II von Hohenzollern, King of Prussia, is one of the most important founders of the Germany empire. A fortunate chain of events began in the year he became king which led to Frederick earning his name “the Great”: the Austrian Emperor died leaving his daughter Maria Teresa as his heir, but most of the empire’s territories barred women from succession. So the power of Austrian empire, already in a state of stagnation, was weak enough to challenge.

Frederick took the opportunity to invade the province of Silesia. He hoped Maria Teresa would give in and cede Silesia to Prussia in return for his support in her fight to become empress. She refused. War was inevitable – the War of the Austrian Succession.

From this map you will see how important some of the following countries were to Frederick.

Frederick next invaded Moravia, and the ensuing conflict led to Maria Teresa at last ceding most of Silesia to him. Frederick then invaded Bohemia, but by this time, 4 years after the war started, Maria Teresa had a stronger army with support from the joint kingdom of Poland and Saxony and they began to attack Prussian troops in Silesia from both sides, threatening to cut it off from Prussia. In response Frederick invaded Saxony.

It was on Christmas Day that year, 1745, that the Treaty of Dresden was signed. This stopped hostilities in Saxony (for the time being) as Frederick agreed to pull out the country in exchange for his undisputed right to Silesia. It was a Christmas that put Frederick the Great into the most superior political position on the continent as the other leaders carried on fighting each other.

Frederick the Great returned to Berlin in triumph. But it was a triumph tinged with sadness. During Frederick’s absence in the war in Saxony his greatest friend (and probable lover) Count von Keyserling, died.

One of Frederick’s earliest lover’s was the handsome young Lt. Hans Hermann von Katte. The two plotted to run away together to escape the abusive and humiliating treatment Frederick received from his father. The two were captured and Katte was executed by Frederick’s father.

Among Frederick’s other lovers was Count Francesco Algarotti, and a man who will get another mention next month in relation to a female English aristocrat.

What resulted from Frederick’s success in Silesia at Christmas 1745 was the foundation of Prussia as a major power around which the future German Empire would grow.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Kristina of Sweden (1626-1689)

For the final 3 Gays of Christmas I want to return to the Nativity story. As well as the angel Gabriel other essential characters in any school nativity play are the Three Kings. Mentioned in the Bible as an unspecified number of Wise Men (there could have been 2, there could have been 20). The traditional “Three Kings” originate in Medieval times. So, for the last 3 Gays I’ll present 3 kings with festive connections.

Two significant events took place at Christmas in 1654 and 1655. Significant, that is, for my 10th Gay of Christmas – King Kristina of Sweden. Her title of “King” was not a nickname. In Sweden all reigning monarchs are called “king” irrespective of their gender, though Kristina displayed a certain cross-gender behaviour that has placed her firmly in the lgbt community.

Even at her birth Kristina was subjected to speculation. Her lusty cries made those hearing them think she was a robust healthy boy. But it was clear Kristina was a girl. However, her father King Gustav Adolf treated her like a boy as much as possible, giving her a typical boy’s education and coaching her as his successor.

Her succession happened sooner rather than later. Scarcely after her education had begun Kristina’s father was killed in battle and she became King of Sweden at the age of 6. An intelligent and inquisitive teenager she impressed the Regents and State Council who had no worries about her ruling in her own right as king from her 18th birthday.

Kristina reigned well and wisely for 22 years and stunned everyone by abdicating at the age of 27 in 1654. She left Sweden and travelled around Europe under the guise of “Count Dohna”. On Christmas Eve 1654 she converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism. The pope considered her a “prize conversion” and welcomed Kristina to Rome in 1655 where they attended Holy Mass on 25th December. Kristina spent the rest of her life in Rome.

Kristina was often regarded as mannish in appearance and attire. She dismissed all ideas of marriage to secure the succession. The French referred to her as an Amazon because of her mannish style.

One clear relationship Kristina had was with a female courtier called Ebba Sparre. They were known to have shared a bed. I am wary to use the phrase “slept together” because it means something different, though there was an obvious love between them as is shown in the letters Kristina wrote to Ebba after she left Sweden.

The enigmatic nature of Kristina’s sexuality lingers over 400 years after her death. The famous film of 1933 in which the equally enigmatic Swede Greta Garbo played Kristina didn’t shy away from portraying Kristina in an honest manner. As much as anything else, the film only enhanced King Krstina’s place in lgbt history.