Thursday, 30 July 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 15 - A Family

LAST TIME : 41) Eros’s shrine on the island of Kythira led to it being thought of as paradise, a concept transferred to the island of New Kythira, or Tahiti. The mutineers of HMS Bounty settled on Tahiti and surrounding islands where their descendants still live, including 42) Cam Christian, who hoped to marry his boyfriend on Norfolk Island until the Australian government removed its self-governing status. An earlier campaign against Australia’s ban on same-sex marriage was led by another Bounty mutineer descendant, 43) Dale Parker Anderson (b.1965), a gay man with a straight twin brother, as was 44) Modest Tchaikovsky (1850-1916).
Once again, recent events link in with today’s article which, like all of these “80 Gays” articles, was planned out last December. I finished last time on the subject of gay/straight twins. Two weeks ago UK television aired a documentary on identical twins, and it featured one set of twin sisters, one of whom is transgender. The University of Essex began a new study of identical twins in May and is encouraging gay/straight twins to take part. And last week Lachlan Beaton, a professional Australian rules footballer came out as gay – he too has a straight identical twin. So the timing couldn’t have been better if it was planned.

44) Modest Tchaikovsky was the twin brother of Anatoly Tchaikovsky. They were ten years younger than their famous composer brother 45) Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Their mother died when Modest was 4 years old and the children were brought up by their father. Pyotr became a kind of surrogate parent to his younger siblings and a very close bond formed between him and the twins.

Modest came to idolise Pyotr and imitate him in his own behaviour, something Pyotr was aware of and questioned. Perhaps because of this Pyotr favoured the other twin, Anatoly. In 1875 Pyotr wrote to Modest saying “You resemble me too much, and when I am angry with you, I am in fact angry at myself, since you always act as a mirror in which I see the reflection of all my weaknesses.” This didn’t change much, because when the two brothers were older and had been collaborating on many musical projects together their acquaintances thought it was Pyotr and Modest who were the twins in the family.

The similarities between the famous composer and his brother had become more apparent ten years earlier when, still only a teenager, Modest learnt from Anatoly that their older brother was gay (as we would say today). Modest was relieved. Like all young men realising that their sexuality was different to others he thought he must be some sort of freak. Anatoly was horrified that two of his brothers were gay, especially as he was particularly close to both of them and one was his twin.

44) Modest Tchikovsky and 45) Pyotr Tchaikovsky can be linked by marriage to other famous musical members of Russia’s lgbt community. It will probably help if I insert this very basic family tree here. To make it less confusing I’ve left out dates and other family members. People I mention by name below have coloured boxes around them so they are easier to find.

We’ll start with the Tchaikovsky family and a first cousin of Modest and Tchaikovsky on their father’s side called Alexandra. Her son married the younger of two sisters, the elder of which became the second wife of Pavel Diaghilev, thus becoming stepmother to the impresario 46) Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929). The Diaghilevs often referred to 45) Pyotr Tchaikovsky as Uncle Petya. This was an affectionate and informal name, as the relationship was more distant than that and was by marriage not blood.

Another link to the Diaghilevs comes through another first cousin, this time on Modest and Pyotr’s mother’s side. Their cousin Amalya Schobert married Count Nikolas Litke (also known by the German name of Count Nicolas von Lütke). Hopping across to the Litkes we find one of Nikolas’s own first cousins called Anna Sulmeneva. She was 46) Sergei Diaghilev’s grandmother.

Further back in Diaghilev’s Litke ancestry was Anna Engel. Her sister was the great-great-grandmother of 47) Igor Stravinksy (1882-1971), making him a 4th cousin to Sergei Diaghilev.

One blood-link unites 44) Modest Tchaikovsky, 45) Pyotr Tchaikovsky, 46) Sergei Diaghilev and 47) Igor Stravinsky. We go to Pyotr’s beathbed. A small group of close relatives and friends kept vigil at his bedside, including his brother Modest and the sons of their cousin Amalya and Count Nikolas Litke. These sons link the Tchaikovskys, Diaghilevs and Stravinskys – they were blood related to all of them.

We move over a century ahead now to 2014. When Russia began introducing its anti-gay laws you would often hear some politicians say “there are no gay people in Russia”. The mayor of Moscow certainly thought there weren’t any in HIS city! Some wouldn’t even acknowledge that famous Russians from history, like those mentioned above, were lgbt. So I was very pleased when the Sochi Olympic committee made many references to lgbt Russians in their opening and closing ceremonies, including ALL of those mentioned above.

Unfortunately, the 2014 Sochi Olympics attracted much political and human rights attention and many people called for a boycott. Whatever your own views on boycotts, they are short-term protests that raise awareness of an issue without actually effecting it.

Protests against Russia’s anti-gay laws continue. Some decide to boycott Russian products. Some chose to confront the authorities head on – and raise money for lgbt charities in the process. One man who did just that was 48) Keith Tomlinson (b.1985).

Next time, we see how that protest went to the top of Europe, leading us to the top of the world, and then into outer space.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Lady Chatterley Meets Maurice

Tonight on the BBC a new series called “Life in Squares” begins. It’s the dramatized story of the Bloomsbury Group, a set of literary and artistic Victorians, many of whom were lgbt. Like so many other television dramas these days sex seems to be the main selling point, or reason for its production, as far as I can see. The previews have shown little else.

But it has given me as good an excuse as any to create a new guided tour around Nottingham featuring people and places where some of the Bloomsberries lived and visited, and to write this article.

Ten years ago I designed some posters for the first exhibition produced by the Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage project. One of these had the same title as this article and showed the network of connections between the novels “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “Maurice” and their authors D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster. I’ve lost the original computer file but I’ve reconstructed it from the original print copy here.

One of the central figures in the story is a not-so-well-known character called Jack “Sebastian” Sprott. His real name was Walter John Herbert Sprott but he always preferred to use the more down-to-earth name of Jack. He was ridiculed by his friends at Cambridge University because his name sounded too much like the nursery rhyme character of Jack Spratt. They were discussing what other name to call him when another friend entered the room carrying a sheet of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. It struck them immediately – Sebastian will be Jack’s new name. Sprott still preferred Jack, but to his Cambridge and Bloomsbury Group friends he was always Sebastian.

After being the last male lover of the economist John Maynard Keynes Sprott became more interested in working-class men. When he moved to Nottingham in 1925 to take up a lectureship at the University he lived in a poky little terraced house. He hadn’t been in the city long before he picked up a rough local lad called Charles Lovett, who lived with him for decades.

Sprott wasn’t monogamous and had a string of affairs which Charles tolerated. Sprott’s penchant for “rough trade” was shared with several of his Bloomsbury friends, most notably E. M. Forster. Sprott often “loaned” his partners to Forster.

Some of Sprott’s other Bloomsbury friends, however, were less than comfortable moving among the working classes. Lytton Strachey in particular didn’t like Nottingham. “Nottingham is the grimmest place in the world, but with a certain hideous grandeur”, he wrote after visiting Sprott in 1926. Shortly afterwards Strachey invited Sprott to become his literary secretary, and during the summer vacation from university Sprott would go down to live with Strachey to organise his papers.

E. M. Forster made Professor Sprott his literary executor, which meant that after Forster’s death in 1970 Sprott inherited all of his unpublished manuscripts, including one called “Maurice”. This was a love story a member of the upper-classes who went against the expectations of society and outraged them by falling in love with a lowly worker. Forster began writing it in 1913 and had difficulty finding a publisher because none of them would touch it because it was a gay love story with a happy ending. Forster refused to change the ending, and so it remained in his study till his death.

Forster did, however, pass the manuscript around his friends. One of these was D. H. Lawrence, a Nottingham writer Professor Sprott met through Forster. Lawrence had snatched away the wife of one of Sprott’s university colleagues and married her.

A couple of years after reading “Maurice” Lawrence began writing “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, a love story of a member of the upper-classes who went against the expectations of society … and all that. I wonder where he got the idea?

Knowing that England’s obscenity laws would prevent him from publishing “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in the UK, Lawrence had it published privately in Italy. It wasn’t long before it became notorious and pirate copies emerged around the world. There was no official published copy in England until well after D. H. Lawrence’s death in 1930. When was published “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” became the centre of one of England’s most famous obscenity trials in 1960. E. M. Forster was one of many famous writers who were called to give evidence in defence of the novel.

Moving on about 12 years, and Forster’s own “Maurice” was published posthumously. When Professor Sprott died in 1971 he bequeathed all of Forster’s papers and manuscripts to Cambridge University. It was Cambridge University who decided that “Maurice” should be published a year later.

“Maurice” received a lukewarm reception. Many book critics, who had read the novel but not looked into its background, said it a second-rate rip-off of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and, accordingly, didn’t consider it one of Forster’s best works.

If only publishers in 1913 had accepted a happy ending to a gay love story perhaps “Maurice” would have seen the light of day before “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, and the reputations may have been reversed and “Chatterley” might not have received so much attention.

Friday, 24 July 2015

A Threat to Lawrence's Site

Like the majority of heritage buffs I’ve been shocked in recent years by the deliberate destruction of ancient sites of historical importance in various countries where religious, ethnic or political extremism is taking over. The looting of artefacts in the supposedly secure environment of a museum is also worrying. The very regions where human civilisation developed in the Middle East are constantly under threat due to these conflicts.

One ancient archaeological site that appears to be surviving despite all the odds is that at Carchemish on the Turkish border with Syria. Thankfully, being mainly on the Turkish side of the border is ensuring its survival for now, but a mere 20 metres away is Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria. To give you an idea of just how close ISIL is to Carchemish here’s a map showing the area as of May this year. As the map shows, the original archaeological site straddles the current border.
The archaeological site at Carchemish is particularly relevant to lgbt heritage, not to mention Arab heritage, because it was the first major archaeological dig undertaken by Lawrence of Arabia.

The site itself was first excavated in 1876 after it was identified as the Biblical city of Carchemish. The origins of the site go back over 4,000 years. It became the capital city of a Hittite kingdom about 3,500 years ago. It was the site of a battle mentioned in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah between the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II, which the Egyptians lost.

For several thousand years the location of Carchemish was lost, though the site was known and misidentified as another city altogether. Archaeologist George Smith proved its true identity and major excavations began.

After T. E. Lawrence left Oxford University a new excavating party was assigned by the British Museum to which he was invited to join. Lawrence’s undergraduate thesis has been on medieval architecture in the Middle East, and he was hoping to write a book about the Crusader castles which he was going to call “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. He never wrote his book on castles though he used the title for a totally different book.

When he arrived at the Carchemish site in 1911 there was no Turkey-Syria border – it hadn’t been drawn up. The area was part of the Ottoman Empire. The empire was on the wane and had suffered defeat in conflicts involving its eastern European territories. The major European powers attempted to gain control of the collapsing empire. It was partly because of this that Lawrence found himself in the best place to be, at the best time in his life, to become involved in Arabian nationalism. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lawrence chose to live on site rather than in one of the neighbouring towns of Karkamis or Jerablus. On occasions he slept out in the open at night on top of the mound at the north of the site. It wasn’t quite plain sailing for his first season at the dig. At the end of summer he caught dysentery and malaria, and there was a constant struggle with the local sheik over who actually owned the site. Lawrence was actually locked up for trespassing for a short time. Into all this the Germans were punching their way through the area with their Baghdad Railway. The locals didn’t like the Germans, they were too bossy and didn’t pay well, so at least the English were seen as the better of the two. Despite all this Lawrence was enjoying the dig immensely.

In the second season of excavations the team built a house on the site in which the archaeologists lived. This has since been labelled “Lawrence’s House” and is now also the subject of archaeological excavations in is own right. It too is threatened by the presence of ISIL just a few metres away in Syria.

By 1912 Lawrence was well and truly becoming an ally of the Arabs. He became popular because he spoke Arabic and often mingled with the local people. The site itself had become well-known across the region, but Lawrence soon found himself the centre of curiosity.

The 1913 season was one of the most productive for the dig, both in terms of the volumes of finds and in their quality. By this time Lawrence had decided that he preferred the Arab world to the West. He had met his companion Dahoun in 1911. Dahoun was 14 years old and Lawrence was 24. They spent a lot of time together, and Lawrence brought mto England on his regular trips back to his hometown. Lawrence’s family became very fond of the young lad.

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 put a stop to the archaeological dig as the British declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Even though the archaeologists, including Lawrence, had returned to England the authorities allowed Dahoun to stay on as guardian of the site. It was finally closed down in 1920 during the period of the Arab Revolt. The archaeology of the area became insignificant to Lawrence and he became more and more actively involved in Arab affairs, earning for his famous name of Lawrence of Arabia and turning him into a hero.

It was almost a century before excavations resumed at Carchemish, this time led by a joint Turkish and Italian team. The Syrian section of the site was surveyed in 2009-10 but was abandoned when the current conflicts forced the team out of the country.

Who knows what is going to happen to Carchemish in the near future. Plans to turn it into a tourist attraction seem to have stalled. Hopefully, ISIL will not push across the border. Nevertheless, the black flag of ISIL casts a dark shadow over the archaeological site where Lawrence of Arabia discovered his affinity with the Arab world.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Heritage Spotlight : Pride of Place

The national organisation which protects England’s architectural heritage, Historic England, is leading a project which aims to create a comprehensive map of the places linked to the lgbt community and its heritage. The first of their goals they wish to achieve is “to identify, document, and increase awareness of the significance of LGBTQ histories and heritage in relation to England’s buildings and landscapes.”

This has been my aim in my “City Pride” series where, so far, I have looked at places of lgbt heritage in Toronto, Tel Aviv, Dublin, Riga and my own Nottingham (there’s a look at another city next week). And, of course, my guided tours around the city centre have the same goal.

Three days ago I gave a tour to a group of lgbt youngsters, many of whom may be going to attend their first Nottinghamshire Pride next weekend. I’d like to think that they remembered some of what I told them and that they realise there was an lgbt presence in the city before Pride was created.

Back to the Historic England project, which is called “Pride of Place”. They already have an interactive map on their website with a few of the more well-known lgbt locations. Among them is Reading Gaol where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned, and Shibden Hall, the home of “the first modern lesbian” Anne Lister. The map already has 200 locations and they’d like us, the public, to put more locations on the map.

Even if you don’t live in the UK I’m sure Historic England will be only too pleased to have your input as well. Perhaps there’s a famous lgbt person from your own country who lived in the UK at some time in the past, or even attended university here.

An inclusion and diversity officer at Historic England, Rosie Sherrington, has said that there aren’t any buildings specifically protected by law because of their lgbt connection. There are a few homes of famous lgbt people that are privately financed museums or of charitable status, but that doesn’t protect them from being turned into something else or demolished in the future. Rosie hopes that the government will being giving official listed protection to buildings of lgbt significance soon.

One of the other aims of the project is to identify which of the thousands of buildings already listed and protected have played major roles in shaping the lgbt community. Ones that are could have their official listings amended to include their lgbt heritage.

The Pride of Place project is being put together for Historic England by a group of academics based at the Leeds Beckett University’s Centre for Culture and the Arts.
The Gatehouse of Nottingham Castle,
the royal estate that has had 3 lgbt Constables
between 1310 and 1628.
Photo copyright Tony Scupham-Bilton

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 14 - A Mutiny

LAST TIME : 39) Emperor Mikhael III of Byzantium (840-867) adopted his lover 40) Emperor Basileios I (d.886) as his son and successor even though he wasn’t of imperial birth, or “porphyrogenitos”, “born in the purple”, a term derived from the imperial robes dyed in a colour only obtained from the shells of sea snails on the island of Kythira, one of the main centres for the veneration of 41) Eros.
I don’t believe in coincidence, so its remarkable that today’s article, scheduled for this date last December, is so topical on so many levels. Fortunately I review my articles a day or two before publication so I can do any appropriate rewrites.

41) Eros is one of those gods whose role and image has changed over the centuries. His modern depiction is often the same as that of his later Roman counterpart Cupid, and our image of the Valentine Cupid as a chubby babe with bow and arrow (a health and safety hazard if ever there was one!) comes from Renaissance art.

I need not remind regular readers that the Greek Eros was not a cute Valentine Cupid but a muscular young man who presided over gyms and gay sex. His importance to the Greek soldiers training in the gyms, indulging in the customary practice of having a younger same-sex partner, was an accepted part of their culture.

Because Eros and Aphrodite had major shrines on the island of Kythira the Greeks began to imagine the island as one of peace, love and tranquility, an earthly paradise. This idea spread across Europe during the Renaissance. In fact, the reputation of Kythira as a paradise island was uppermost in the mind of the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bourganville when he landed on a Pacific island in 1768 and found it so perfect that he named it Nouvelle-Cythère, or New Kythira. Our idea of a Polynesian paradise comes from Bourganville’s account of his visit. Today we know the island as Tahiti.

Twenty years after Bourganville’s visit another group of Europeans arrived. Their ship was called “The Bounty”, and I probably don’t need to say what happened to them. The details aren’t that important to us today, but some of the mutineers are, and what they did are directly linked to events of recent months.

The Bounty mutineers settled on several Pacific Islands, though most of them remained on Tahiti. Many of their descendants still live there, including descendants of Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny (one of his descendants is currently involved in promoting the lgbt heritage housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

In 1790 some Mutineer descendants settled on what is regarded as the world’s smallest nation (as opposed to sovereign state), the Pitcairn Islands. A month ago the governing council announced that they had legalised same-sex marriage. What is remarkable is that the Pitcairn Islands have a total population of only 48 – and not one of them is lgbt.

In 1856 the Pitcairn Islands was granted control over a former British penal colony in the Pacific called Norfolk Island. This, too, now has a huge percentage of Bounty mutineer descendants in its 1,800 inhabitants, including another descendant of Fletcher Christian called 42) Cam Christian.

Although he was born and raised on Norfolk Island, Cam Christian lives in Brisbane, the nearest main city on the Australia mainland (nearest! – its 900 miles away). Norfolk Island was a self-governing overseas territory of Australia with its own elected 9-person parliament. Last year the Australian government decided it would remove its self-governing status in the face of its increasing burden on the Australian economy. Naturally, the Norfolk Islanders are staunchly independent in spirit and opposed this. It wasn’t long before the media was referring to this defiance as another mutiny.

This is when 42) Cam Christian stepped into the limelight. Australia bans same-sex marriage. As a self-governing territory Norfolk Island was not covered by this. In an attempt to highlight the discrepancy Cam decided he was going to marry his partner Paul Gilmore on Norfolk Island before it became banned when Australia resumed control. A private members bill went before the Norfolk parliament in September 2014.

Unfortunately, in March this year the Australian government passed their bill abolishing Norfolk Island’s parliament and Cam Christian’s dream of marrying Paul on his native island was dashed.

Cam Christian isn’t the first lgbt person to take action against Australia’s same-sex marriage ban. One person actually declared independence and created the world’s first lgbt micro-nation. His name is 43) Dale Parker Anderson (b.1965), and he’s another Bounty mutineer descendant.

It was the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 that led Dale and a group of supporters to sail to the Coral Sea Islands off the north east coast of Australia and declare an independent kingdom on 14th June 2004. The Rainbow Pride flag became its national flag. However, no international recognition from other governments was received, but it brought a lot of publicity to the campaign for same-sex marriage.

The Coral Sea Islands are in Dale’s genes, because his Bounty ancestor, William Purcell, was the last surviving mutineer, stopped off at the islands in 1789. And Dale has another, more specific connection to him. William Purcell had twin sons, and Dale is the 4xgreat-grandson of one of them and is also a twin. He’s an identical twin, in fact, and his brother is straight.

Research into twins where one is gay and the other straight has been going on for many years. A new study began last month at the University of Essex. But it would be wrong to assume that gay-straight twins were not known about before our modern society and our modern concept of homosexuality. Gay-straight twins were known about in the 19th century, and one gay twin with a straight brother belonged to a very well-known family. His name was 44) Modest Tchaikovsky (1850-1916).

Next time we learn how the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a very gay family affair.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays - the Second Catch-Up

Yesterday I gave the first 20 names I connected together in my “Around the World in 80 Gays” series. Here are the next 20, bringing you up to date now that we’re halfway through the series.
21) Helen Faasen (b.1967) and 22) Anne-Marie Thus (b.1970) were the first legally married same-sex couple in the Netherlands in 2001. Since then a steady stream of countries have also legalised same-sex marriage and we have reached a state where even a nation can have a married openly lgbt government leader. The first was …

23) Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir (b.1942), the Prime Minister of Iceland who married her partner in 2010 after steering through the country’s same-sex marriage act. Jóhanna may not have become Prime Minister at all if the previous government hadn’t been forced out of office after the economic disaster caused by the collapse of the Icelandic banks. The credit for bringing down that government has been given to …

24) Hordur Torfason (b.1945), who organised the protests against the government outside the parliament building. He began his activism back in the 1970s by campaigning for the rights of asylum seekers from Africa. Hordur founded an lgbt organisation which still helps asylum seekers to find refuge in Iceland. There are many African refugees seeking asylum in Europe because of persecution in their home countries due to their sexuality. African governments often claim that homosexuality is “un-African” and a European “import” and keep imposing anti-gay legislation. This claim has been proved wrong by ethnologists such as …

25) Lydia Cabrera (1899-1991), who wrote extensively on the influence that the Yoruba religion of the African slaves had on her native Cuban culture. In particular she wrote about the influence those religions had on the Cuban faith called Santeria, a belief related to Voodoo. Lydia showed that some Santeria deities display distinct homosexual traits, such as …

26) Ochossi, the patron god of archery. This patronage also shows how religions assimilate attributes from other faiths. The Yoruba deities of the African slaves became linked to the Christian gods of their slave masters on Cuba. As god of archery Ochossi was equated with St. Sebastian, and both have become patron-protectors of gay men. In turn, St. Sebastian became equated with the Greek god of archery, …

27) Apollo, who’s most famous same sex partner was Prince Hyakinthos. Apollo had many other patronages, including sport, medicine and music. His musical skills were displayed many times in Greek mythology and he was often challenged to a music contest. One of these challengers was …

28) Pan, who also had several male lovers. Pan was also a musical god. As was always the case Apollo won the challenge, and this type of contest, in which a jury decides on the quality of the music, is still conducted to this day, not by the gods but by nations. The most well-known contest celebrating its 60th year in 2015 is the Eurovision Song Contest, which is no stranger to lgbt singers, the first being …

29) Bob Benny (1926-2011) in 1959. In 1961 his second entry came last with only one vote from Luxembourg (that year’s winner). One of the nations giving him “nil points” was Denmark, whose commentator for the contest was the father of …

30) Sandi Toksvig (b.1958) who has, herself, become a well-known broadcaster. Among her regular appearances are those on a popular archaeology television series, Sandi having graduated from Cambridge with a degree in archaeology. Other Danish lgbt archaeologists are few and far between, the only other well-known one being …

31) Count Eigil Knuth (1903-1996), who once worked for the same Danish broadcasting station as Sandi Toksvig’s father. Just as Sandi found fame as a broadcaster rather than an archaeologist, Eigil Knuth found fame as something other than what he trained for. Eigil originally trained as a gym teacher at the college founded and run by …

32) Niels Bukh (1880-1950), a pioneer of new gymnastic techniques which were popular in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II. Japan officially adopted his training techniques in 1937 and made it compulsory in schools and the army, as experienced by …

33) Goh Mishima (1924-1989). Having been trained in the Bukh gymnastic techniques and serving in the Japanese army during World War II Goh became an artist specialising in depicting images of bondage and sado-masochism. In the Tokyo gyms Goh got to know and become friends with …

34) Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), who encouraged him to become more graphic and explicit in his art. The BDSM culture in Japan was very strong at the time and influenced some of the European bondage techniques. Sado-masochism itself is partly named after …

35) the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), who had a reputation in his own lifetime for sexual cruelty and violence. His descendants disowned the family title out of shame until the 200th anniversary of his death in 2014 when the present heir re-adopted the title of Marquis de Sade. This is in contrast to the inhabitants of the island of Lesbos, which was once ruled by the Marquis’ imperial Byzantine ancestors. The Lesbians object to the use of the word lesbian as the name for a form of sexual preference, a name which came into use due to the writings of Lesbos’s most famous inhabitant, …

36) Sappho, the first female poet from Ancient Greece whose name is known to us. In her romantic poetry Sappho used allusions to the epic poems of Homer, especially in connection to the marriage ceremony. One famous hero she alludes to is …

37) Achilles, the famous Greek hero of the Trojan War. Before heading to Troy he hid from the war by disguising himself as a woman for several years before being discovered by Odysseus. During the Trojan War Achilles formed a close emotional (and probable sexual) relationship with a fellow soldier, …

38) Patrokles, upon whose death Achilles became inconsolable. Achilles’ previous relationship with a princess while he was disguised as a woman takes us back to the lesbians of Lesbos, an island which legend says Achilles conquered for the Greeks. The Greeks exiled 36) Sappho from Lesbos, but during the Byzantine Empire many royals and officials were exiled to Lesbos, including the ancestor of 35) the Marquis de Sade, a Byzantine Emperor. Other emperors fared worse, such as his earlier ancestor, …

39) Emperor Mikhael III (840-867), who only escaped being exiled to Lesbos like so many others by being assassinated by his usurper, who was also his lover, adopted son and Co-Emperor, …

40) Emperor Basileios I (d.886). Basileios was a peasant who rose to the imperial throne in spite of not being “born in the purple”, a term meaning being born to the reigning emperor. Purple was a colour used exclusively for the imperial robes and was produced from a dye made from sea snail shells found on the island of Kythira, the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite and site of the main shrine to …

41) Eros.

We restart our journey Around the World in 80 Gays at the weekend, when we begin our final 40 names with Eros, and over the coming months we’ll link together the Mutiny on the Bounty, splatter movies, The Three Musketeers, extraterrestial life and Oscar Wilde before arriving back at the name we began with.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays - the First Catch-Up

Regular readers will may have been following this continuing series. We’re half way through it, now, so for those of you who have jumped into the middle of it and don’t know what it’s all about, or for regular readers who want to remind themselves of how far we've got, here’s a quick catch-up on the first 20 names that I connected together in my quest to go “Around the World in 80 Gays”.
1) Alan Turing (1912-1954), the “Father of the Computer”, without whose mathematical theories this and other blogs would not exist, was the subject of a 2014 film called “The Imitation Game”. It was based on a biography by the film’s consultant …

2) Andrew Hodges (b.1949), another mathematician who brought Turing to the attention of the wider public in his biography of Turing, which was instrumental in revealing his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during World War II. Other gay code-breakers at Bletchley included …

3) Noel Currer-Briggs (1919-2004) who, after the war, turned to genealogy and the quest to find the origin of the Holy Grail. In his quest he also traced the ownership of the Shroud of Turin back to the 1200s. His Grail research was heavily influenced by that of a previous Grail historian called …

4) Otto Rahn (1909-1939) whose own Grail Quest was of particular interest to the Nazis and he got a huge boost to fund his research whey they employed him to find it. However, when they received intelligence that he was gay they sent Rahn to work as a guard at Dachau concentration camp. Rahn’s Grail research became the inspiration for a book called “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” which, in turn, was the inspiration for “The Da Vinci Code” novel, which claimed that …

5) Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) belonged to a secret organisation that protected the Holy Grail from discovery. The film version of “The Da Vinci Code” starred …

6) Sir Ian McKellen (b.1939), whose first major stage success was in a play called “Bent”. This was set in Dachau concentration camp, where 4) Otto Rahn had once been forced to work as a guard. “Bent” was about the persecution of gay men by the Nazis, many thousands of whom were imprisoned, including former national German heroes like …

7) Otto Peltzer (1900-1970), one of Germany’s top athletes. Like 4) Otto Rahn, Peltzer joined the SS hoping it would help further his career. When his homosexuality was discovered in 1936 Peltzer was sent to a concentration camp, denying him the opportunity to compete in the Berlin Olympics. He was already an Olympic hero, having first competed in Amsterdam in 1928, becoming the first known male lgbt Olympian. The honour of being the first lgbt medal winner and first known female lgbt Olympian, also at the 1928 Amsterdam games, was …

8) Renée Sintenis (1888-1965). However, Renée wasn’t an athlete but a sculptor. The Olympics had contests for various arts a century ago, and Renée’s sculpture in 1928 won her a bronze medal. She also sculpted the famous Berlin bear statue which was used as the basis for the “Oscar” of the International Berlin Film Festival. 6) Sir Ian McKellen won one of these Golden Bear statuettes for his lifetime achievement in film. Back on the Olympic track in 1928 was a South African who wasn’t gay but who was a great influence on his grandson who is, …

9) Jacques Snyman Wiechiech (b.1973). Jacques was encouraged by his Olympian grandfather to take up sport. He excelled at several sports in his childhood, particularly gymnastics. In 2006 Jacques won 3 gold medals at the Gay Games in Chicago, including one in decathlon, the sport in which the founder of the Gay Games competed at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, …

10) Tom Waddell (1937-1987). Tom founded the Gay Games in 1982 and it became the biggest international multi-sport event in the world. It has encouraged many thousands of amateurs and professionals to compete as openly gay athletes (also permitting athletes to compete anonymously if so desired). One is the above-mentioned 9) Jacques Snyman Wiechiech who, while he was living in the UK, was also a member of the King’s Cross Steelers, a gay rugby club whose Chair was also a Gay Games competitor called …

11) Tim Sullivan (b.1961). Tim’s own contribution to lgbt sport, as Chair of the King’s Cross Steelers, was recognised by the London 2012 Olympic Committee when he was selected as one of the Olympic torch relay runners. There have been a small group of other relay runners chosen specifically for their contributions to lgbt causes. An earlier relay runner, and yet another Gay Games competitor, was …

12) Shaun Mellors (b.1965) who was chosen to carry the Olympic torch through Cape Town, South Africa, because of his work with HIV+ gay men and AIDS education. Shaun was not alone that year, because also on the Cape Town leg of the Athens 2004 Olympic torch relay was …

13) Prudence Mabele (1971), the first woman to publicly reveal her HIV+ status in South Africa. In 1999 the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission awarded Prudence a prize which, like her place on the 2004 Olympic torch relay, was in recognition of her work in AIDS education. The award was named after …

14) Felipa de Souza (1556-c.1600), a Portuguese colonist living in Brazil. Felipa was reported to the Brazilian Inquisition of 1591 for lesbian behaviour. Even though she was found guilty Felipa escaped the death penalty and was exiled. Another member of the lgbt community arrested and convicted during the same Inquisition was …

15) Francisco “Xica” Manicongo. Xica is the earliest recorded transsexual in South America. She was an African slave who behaved and dressed as a woman though she was biologically male. In modern-day Brazil the trans community commemorate her with Xica Manicongo Day in May. Despite having a large trans community Brazil is the country which regularly comes at the top of the table for transgender murders, a fact brought to light every year on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day of remembrance was created following the 1998 murder of …

16) Rita Hester (1963-1998) in Boston, Massachusetts. Her murder galvanised Boston’s lgbt community into action which had been alerted to dangers of transphobia several years earlier with the murder of …

17) Channelle Pickett (1972-1995), whose death was commemorated with a candlelit vigil. This and the similar vigil following 16) Rita Hester’s murder were organised by transgender activist …

18) Nancy Nangeroni, whose actions inspired San Francisco activists to create the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Nancy helped to organise Boston’s first Pride march which commemorated the murder of 16) Rita Hester, as it did with the USA’s first same-sex marriage which took place in Boston’s city hall in 2004. Leading the fight for marriage recognition was a Boston couple called …

19) Hillary Goodridge (b.1956) and 20) Julie Goodridge (b.1958). The couple had attempted to get married in Boston in 2001 following the world’s first same-sex marriages which took place in the Netherlands earlier that year.

Tomorrow I’ll resume this run-down of the first 40 people in my journey “Around the World in 80 Gays”.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

How Embarrassing!

We’ve all had those moments. We’ve all gone up to someone we know only to find its not who we think they are. That’s no so bad, we can all live with that sort of embarrassment, but if the mistake is made in full view of the whole world to see then the embarrassment is likely to last forever. So spare a thought today for a couple of people who have let themselves be open to ridicule simply through cases of mistaken identity.

The first incident made me laugh. It made headlines in most newspapers and the internet. It was of a supposedly diligent CNN reporter, Lucy Pawle, who attended London Pride and came away with egg on her face. Among the many rainbow-coloured flags and banners Lucy noticed one that was black and white and disturbingly familiar.

Nations have often felt threat and dread at the sight of specific flags. The Nazis swastika flag being, perhaps, the most dreaded in history. In recent days the old flag of the Confederate States of the American Civil War has come under scrutiny for its association with slavery.

The most dreaded flag on the international stage at the moment is that of ISIS or ISIL, the black flag with a central white disc containing an Arabic inscription.

Lucy spotted this flag at London Pride (below). She was astonished that no-one else had noticed. She acknowledged that the inscription wasn’t in Arabic but some form of gobbledigook, as she put it.
She should have used her journalistic skills and investigated instead of just enjoy herself at Pride, because if she’d looked again she would have seen very clearly that the “gobbledigook” was, in fact, silhouettes of various sex toys! Perhaps Lucy is too innocent to recognise what a sex toy looks like (an innocent journalist? -if you believe that, you’ll believe anything). CNN removed Lucy’s report from their website a couple of days later. Surely, Lucy’s mistake is as valid a news story as any other? Journalists are not infallible and shouldn’t censor their website to try to prove it. (I’ll return to a real threat the sight of the ISIS flag has caused elsewhere next week.)

A second example of mistaken identity involves another American broadcaster, NBC.

When the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex marriage should be legal throughout the nation organisations showed their support and celebration by putting variations of the Rainbow Pride colours on their websites. Facebook was probably the most widespread example with millions of users using the Facebook app to change their profile pictures.

One Facebook user, however, strongly objected to NBC changing its corporation logo to include the rainbow colours. Its surprising how something so familiar can suddenly seem so different when certain news events dominate the media. As NBC pointed out to Don Stair after he posted a comment on Facebook, saying things like “Just stay out of it” and “Shame on you!”, the broadcaster has been using their rainbow-coloured logo since 1986. Obviously, Don Stair hadn’t taken that much notice of the NBC logo in the past 29 years until his blatant anti-same-sex marriage views made him see a gay rainbow in a place where it didn’t exist. As can be seen in thousands of lgbt rainbow logos the NBC colours aren’t even in the “correct” sequence.
Speaking of the sequence, we can return to the question of the more common mistaken identity of another flag. Many members of the lgbt community themselves often mistake a flag that dates back long before the emergence of gay rights as that of the Rainbow Pride flag. In this case there’s no big deal as the two flags are often seen together on Pride marches and both are positive symbols. There have been many media reports which have made the same mistaken identity, but they can be forgiven. Here are the two flags side by side.
It’s obvious how people can make a mistake. The Rainbow Pride flag is on the left. On the right is the Peace flag that was first flown in Rome in 1961 during a peace march. The lettering spells “peace” in Italian and has been translated into other languages. Often the “peace” inscription is seen on Pride flags as well. If you’re unsure of the “official” difference, apart from the inscription, you’ll notice when put side by side, that the red stripe is at different edges and the sequence of colours are reversed, and the Peace flag has one more stripe than the 6-striped Rainbow flag.

What the first two examples show is that anyone can make a mistake, especially if we haven’t taken much notice of what we see. We’re all human – it happens to us all.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Crypt of Caravaggio

My brother and I went down to Leicester last week to look at the Richard III’s new tomb. It’s now fairly well accepted that DNA from descendants of his sister proved the remains discovered in a nearby car park were those of Richard III.

When we went down earlier in the year and joined the 3-hour queue to view the coffin, it got me thinking of other remains of famous people whose identity has been proven or disproven by DNA. One of the most important cases occurred 5 years ago when the remains of the artist Caravaggio were confirmed through DNA testing. However, the news was received with scepticism.

Not much detail was known about Caravaggio’s death. It was one of art’s great mysteries. Various theories have circulated. Malaria was a favoured cause, though other historians suggested he may have had syphilis, or was killed by the Knight of Malta (as described here). Whatever the cause, the actual date of his death in 1610 and his final resting place were uncertain.

According to one of the world’s leading experts on Caravaggio, Prof. Maurizio Marini (1942-2011), the artist arrived in Porto Ercole on the Tuscan coast in July 1610 in pursuit of a ship containing his belongings and paintings. He had been temporarily imprisoned by mistake when he disembarked at Palo and the ship sailed on to Porto Ercole without him. Prof. Marini believed that Caravaggio walked the 50 miles from Palo to Porto Ercole.

Caravaggio was a notorious brawler. In October 1609 he was involved in a fight in Naples and was injured, probably a knife wound. News circulated that he had actually been killed. By July 1610 he was well enough to embark on his voyage. His unexpected delay in prison meant that he had to walk in the scorching heat of an exceptionally hot summer to retrieve his belongings. One of the more probable causes of his death could have been an infection in his wound (another theory claims he could have died from sunstroke).

Prof. Marini believed that the artist sought treatment for the infected wound at the hospital of Santa Maria Austiatrice. Unfortunately the infection spread and he died there, and this has since been supported by a recently discovered document. Caravaggio was buried in one of Porto Ercole’s cemeteries – but no-one knows which one.

And that is only the start of the problem. In 1956 the local council built a road through one of the cemeteries and the remains of many people buried there were transferred to the crypt of a local church. Can we really be sure that Caravaggio’s remains were one of those transferred to the crypt?

Undeterred by this, the National Committee for the Protection of Historic and Cultural Heritage in Italy thought the crypt WAS the right place to look. This National Committee has done excellent work in preserving Italy’s heritage over the years, and has been involved in investigating the remains of other well-known Italians like Dante Alighieri and the queer Italian philosopher Count Pico della Mirandola.

The President of the National Committee, Silvanus Vinceti, gathered together an army of experts in anthropology, DNA testing, archaeology, forensic pathology and art history to search through the bones in the crypt for those that COULD have belonged to Caravaggio.

Cynics say that it was just a publicity stunt to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio’s death. Perhaps it was, it doesn’t really matter. One supposedly respected art gallery director in New York even joked that the whole thing was nothing more than a revival of the medieval quest for holy relics for followers to worship. What are his galleries full of but relics from artists which he and other people “worship” in the name of art? (If only the art matters, remove all the artist’s names). But there are some genuine concerns about the identification of Caravaggio’s remains.

First, we have to believe, as I said before, that Caravaggio’s bones are among those placed in the crypt. Second, the searchers have to be sure that the bones are from the right historical period. This was done by carbon dating, a process which (as was seen in the erroneous carbon dating, due to contamination, given to the Shroud of Turin in the 1980s) can be unreliable. Third, they had to select bones that could have come from a male of Caravaggio’s age – he was 38 when he died.

Once a small selection of bones was made their DNA was tested. One thing that showed up quite significantly in the traces of some bones was a high level of lead. It is known that a lot of paint used by artists at the time of Caravaggio contained large amounts of lead. A lot of artists may have developed lead poisoning because of it, and Caravaggio wasn’t the only artist around at the time. Mr. Vinceti of the National Committee believed this was proof the bones belonging to Caravaggio because the poisoning would have produced the sort of violent personality traits exhibited by him. But other people handled large amounts of lead at this time. Tuscany had many lead mines and the ruling Medici family employed arms manufacturers to make guns and projectiles in lead. Artists can’t have been the only victims of lead poisoning to be buried in Porto Ercole.

The DNA was likely to prove identity if modern matches could be found. The DNA from the selected crypt bones would have shown the presence of a Y chromosome, which is only present in males and can only be inherited through an unbroken male line of descent. Caravaggio had no children, and his only close relatives were descendants of his sister died out in the 1700s. The only possible matches could come from male line descendants from his earlier ancestors. Were any of them still alive?

Researchers looked for living males in Italy with the same surname as Caravaggio, Merisi. I don’t know that much about the genealogical mobility of Italy, but I do know from research into my own family that having the same surname doesn’t prove a male line of descent. My Scupham grandfather’s DNA comes through an illegitimate female line, his ultimate paternal surname is Smith not Scupham. However, the DNA gathered from some 3 dozen or more Merisi men from central Italy did show some significant similarity to that from the bones from the crypt, but the experts could only admit to an 85% match. That was enough for Silvanus Vinceti and the National Committee to announce that, added to the other evidence, the bones gathered from the Porto Ercole crypt WERE those of Caravaggio. So strong is their conviction that a new memorial park dedicated to Caravaggio was opened a year ago where his remains were reinterred.

Personally, I’m not totally convinced and would prefer better evidence was found. I don’t question the scientific methods, only the interpretation. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. In a way I hope there won’t be any more evidence because the main thing that has made Caravaggio such an appealing artist is his personality, his life story and the mystery surrounding his final days. His remarkable paintings would still create admiration around the world, but it is his life and death that made him worthy of being the subject of films and biographies.

So, let’s keep some of the mystery, and keep pondering on the possibility that his remains are still to be discovered and that somewhere in Porto Ercole there is still the Crypt of Caravaggio.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 13 - A Shell

LAST TIME : 36) Sappho, of the island of Lesbos, was a lyric poet of Ancient Greece who wrote about marriage using allusions to the heroic 37) Achilles, who spent several years disguised as a women before going to the Trojan War and falling in love with 38) Patroclus. Although Sappho was exiled from Lesbos several Byzantine emperors were exiled to Lesbos, including the ancestor of 35) the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814). Other emperors, like 39) Emperor Mikhael III (840-867), weren’t so lucky – they were assassinated.
39) Emperor Mikhael III has come down to us with the nickname “the Drunkard” and he was accused of many things, including grave robbing. He was also the emperor at the centre of the final split between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

One innovation introduced during his reign is one of those things which makes Russia different from Western Europe. In 863 the pagan ruler of Slavic Moravia asked the Emperor to send some teachers to convert his people to Christianity. The Moravians had no written alphabet, so to translate the Bible into Slavic the Byzantine teachers created a new alphabet called Glagolitic. Later Slavic converts, the Rus of Kiev, likewise had no written alphabet so they adapted Glagolitic and named it after the man who created it, St. Cyril. The alphabet is still called the Cyrillic. I wonder if President Putin or any of those Russian homophobes realise that their laws against the lgbt community are written in letters that are directly derived from the actions of an lgbt emperor.

39) Mikhael III had no legitimate children. One of the most important things any successor to an emperor had to be was to be born “porphyrogenitos”, or “born in the purple”. In an age of assassinations it would help your rightful claim to the throne if you were “porphyrogenitos”, and you have to thank the shell of a sea snail for that. I’ll explain why later, but we’ll return to Mikhael III’s attempt to produce a rightful heir. Rather than create a scandal and dump his childless wife to marry his mistress, Mikhael married his mistress off to his court chamberlain Basileois, the man who was to succeed him as 40) Emperor Basileois I (d.886).

40) Basileios was a peasant who arrived in Byzantium penniless. He was rescued from the streets by a priest who took him in and married him (the Greek Orthodox Church had a same-sex union ceremony). Basileios then caught the eye of a relative of Emperor Mikhael III who liked well-built peasant lads like Basileios, and began working as his groom. A little while later Basileios met a wealthy widow who insisted on marrying him to her son. That’s 2 same-sex marriages and a sugar-daddy in just a couple of years. Not bad going for a peasant.

Basileios came to the personal attention of Emperor Mikhael at one of the sporting events that were the remnants of religious festivals like the Olympics. The Bulgarians present boasted about being better athletes than anyone else. Mikhael spotted the hunky groom of his relative, Basilieos, and chose him to fight against the best Bulgarian wrestler. Basileios won. After that Basileios and Emperor Mikhael were virtually inseparable.

Basileios found himself being elevated into official court ranks, which was unusual for someone who was just a peasant. In no time at all he was made the court chamberlain, the person responsible for access to the emperor, and after uncovering a plot to overthrow Mikhael Basileois was rewarded with the title of Caesar. In 866 he became Co-Emperor (one of the other good things to be if you need to prove your later claim to be sole emperor). At the same time Mikhael adopted Basileios as his own son, yet another good thing for a future emperor. You can see where this is heading, can’t you? But what is most unusual about the adoption is that Basileios was about 10 years older than his new adopted father!

Emperor Mikhael was also beginning to show a great deal of interest in a new young man at court by this stage and Basileios was sure he was going to be “retired to Lesbos” like other Byzantine officials were. He decided to do something about it. After a banquet in which Mikhael, living up to his nickname, got himself and his new toy-boy totally stoned, Basileios just walked into the chamber with a group of companions (he was in control of access to the emperor remember) and killed the couple. As Co-Emperor and adopted son of Emperor Mikhael III Basilieos now became 40) Emperor Basileois I of Byzantium.

But there was one thing Basileios could never be, and that was the thing I mentioned earlier – “porphyrogenitos”, “born in the purple”. It was a title used for all children born to a reigning emperor, even becoming part of the name of some of them. This links us back to 35) the Marquis de Sade, because his imperial ancestors were born “porphyrogenitos”, and all of Emperor Basileios I’s children would be also, even if he wasn’t.

But why are these children called “born in the purple”? In the medieval period there were strict laws on who could wear what item of clothing and in what colour. Purple was only allowed for the highest ranks of royalty. The reason being that the only purple dye that gave a strong, lasting colour was very expensive to produce. It was called Tyrean purple, and came from those shells of sea snails I mentioned.

These sea snails could only be found around one of the Greek islands, Kythira. It was the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, specifically her incarnation of Aphrodite Urania which I wrote about a couple of years ago. The famous painting by Botticelli shows her arising from the sea at Kythira, and one of Aphrodite’s oldest temples was situated on the island.

Kythira was also the place where one of Aphrodite’s main attendants was venerated. This other god attended her when she arose from the waves, and he’s a god we’re encountered many times on this blog because he’s the Ancient Greek god of gay sex – 41) Eros.

Next time we see how Kythira and Eros are connection to the Mutiny on the Bounty.