Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Puppet On (and Off) a String

Top row (left to right) : War Horse; Terri Rogers and Shorty Harris; Big Bird; Elmo; Beaker.
Bottom row (left to right) : Ronnie Burkett with two of his marionettes; one of Jeff Karsner’s marionettes; Wayland Flowers and Madame; Peter Minshall’s giant puppets at the Atlanta Olympic opening ceremony.
Today is World Puppetry Day. Here in Nottingham we are celebrating with a whole week of puppet-related performances and workshops. I have always been interested in puppetry. It’s in my blood. During World War II my mother and her siblings performed in many concerts in their local area to raise funds for the war effort. My mother was 8 years old when war broke out. The driving force behind these concerts was my grandfather’s friend who lived with the family, Uncle Bill Hayes. He was a professional music hall entertainer.

Uncle Bill could tell jokes, sing, do magic, performed comic character acts and operate puppets. My family and other local amateur performers were roped in to help with his concerts (several tricks were performed in the UK for the first time by Uncle Bill and my mother, his magician’s assistant). As I was growing up I heard many stories about those concerts. They gave me a love of puppets, performance and magic. I still have the marionettes my parents bought for me in the 1970s. I even made some “Star Trek” hand puppets in the 1980s for a youth concert.

It is only in past few years that I have realised how many lgbt puppeteers there are. There are organisations and Facebook groups, and puppeteers who specialise in lgbt issues such as coming out and anti-bullying. It would take a long time to go through them all, so I’ll present a selection of lgbt puppeteers to celebrate World Puppetry Day.

I’ll start with something which is high-lighting the puppet festival here in Nottingham and is making its debut in the city. Its one of the most famous of contemporary puppet performances – “War Horse”.

Andrew Kohler and Basil Jones are a married gay couple from South Africa. They met at art college in Botswana and quickly recognised their shared love of puppetry. In 1981 they formed the Handspring Puppet Company. Andrew and Basil created puppet shows for schools and later for adult audiences which also included themes tackling racism and human rights. In 2007 their reputation came to the notice of director Tom Morris who was mounting a theatre adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel “War Horse”. Tom approached Adrian and Basil to create a realistic horse puppet and the other puppets for “War Horse”. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Another talent my Uncle Bill had was for ventriloquism. One of the more distinctive ventriloquists that I remember from British television in the 1970s was a woman called Terri Rogers (1937-1999). At that time there were many ventriloquists on tv and I recall only two of them being women – Shari Lewis and Terri Rogers. Little did I know at the time that Terri Rogers was transgender. As well as being a talented ventriloquist Terri was a magician. She wrote several magic books and developed tricks and illusions for stars like David Copperfield and Paul Daniels.

Perhaps the most famous puppets in popular culture, apart from Punch and Judy, are the Muppets. Throughout the career of Muppet creator Jim Henson he used various types of puppet. An early collaboration was with Kermit Love (1916-2008), an openly gay costume designer and puppeteer who pioneered the use of the full-body costume puppets that made the Muppets famous. Perhaps the most famous is Big Bird from “Sesame Street”, the first and most enduring of the many puppets Kermit Love created. Incidentally, Kermit the Frog is not named after Kermit Love. They are both named after the son of President Teddy Roosevelt, Kermit Roosevelt.

Kermit Love was mentor to another Muppeteer, Kevin Clash. Kevin had a childhood love of puppets and, like myself, was making puppets at the age of 10. In his teenage years Kevin contacted Kermit who in turn put him in contact with Jim Henson. For almost 30 years Kevin Clash was Elmo in “Sesame Street”. This ended with his resignation in 2012 after unfounded allegations of under-age sex were made. However, the incident led to Kevin coming out to the media as a gay man.

Kevin’s reign as Elmo came after the brief tenure of Richard Hunt (1951-1992). Richard came from a show business family and puppetry was an early interest, fuelled by the early Muppet appearances on tv. He began working for Jim Henson in 1969 and was the original puppeteer behind (or underneath) many popular Muppets, including Scooter, Beaker, Statler, Sweetums and several Fraggles. For the year before Kevin Clash’s arrival he was also Elmo. Richard Hunt died of AIDS at the age of 40.

Ronnie Burkett is a Canadian marionetteer. His self-written performances often have adult themes. He founded his own company in 1986 and has toured the world. One of his more recent successes, “Billy Twinkle: Requiem for a Golden Boy”, was a semi-autobiographical piece about a young gay puppeteer. It toured internationally for 2 years.

Jeff Karsner (1961-2012) was a gardener by profession – Head Gardener of the Children’s Garden at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. He was also a board member of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry. He used inspired imagination in his garden designs and even used plants to create puppets. Other puppets were made out of rubbish, trash, discarded objects and bits and pieces you might find in a cupboard or drawer. Jeff was also a swimmer and won a bronze medal at the 1994 Gay Games in New York. He died accidentally at his home and donations in his memory were made to the International Puppetry Museum in Pasadena.

Wayland Flowers (1939-1988) was a familiar face on television on both sides of the Atlantic. So, too, was his famous creation Madame. In many ways Wayland paved the way for some modern puppeteers and ventriloquists who, like Terri Rogers above, often used outrageous and adult content in their cabaret and club acts which became the staple content for recent popular adult puppet musicals like “Avenue Q”.

Peter Minshall is a Caribbean carnival costume designer. His expertise was used to great effect in the Olympic opening ceremonies of Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996, and the closing ceremony of Salt Lake City 2002. Carnival costumes became giant puppets with his creations of 20-feet-tall stick people. It is said that he is also the inventor of those inflatable dancing figures you often see on car dealer forecourts.

And these are just a few of the lgbt puppeteers and puppet creators who have enlivened many minds of children and adults alike. There are many other areas which I have no space to go into – shadow puppets, Punch and Judy, the puppets of stage shows like “The Lion King”, and children’s tv favourites like Thunderbirds.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Queer Achievement: Shamrocks Among the Daffodils

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

I’m combining two themes today – heraldry and family history. I’m celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by looking at an Irish couple who have been given a Welsh name.

The Ladies of Llangollen is the name given to Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831), two Irish aristocrats who spent over 50 years living together near the Welsh village of that name.

Among the stories of same-sex relationships between women in pre-20th century times the lives of the Ladies of Llangollen have gone down as one of the most famous, genuine lesbian love affairs. But before we look at it in more detail here’s my representation of their coats of arms. Lady Eleanor’s is on the left and Sarah’s is on the right. They are placed this way round because 1) the left hand side is the most senior heraldic position and Lady Eleanor was the elder of the two, and 2) the Butler coat of arms is older than the Ponsonby’s and is also the most heraldically senior.
Rather than use lozenge shapes on which to place their coat of arms, as would have been customary in their lifetimes, I have chosen a modern presentation and placed them on shields. Once convention I have kept is the placing of a bow and garland around the arms. Women did not display the family crest on helmets so I have left those out.

So, what’s their family story? The Butler and Ponsonby families lived several miles from each other in County Kilkenny, Ireland. The Butlers held the title Earl of Ormonde and Eleanor’s father is regarded today as the 16th Earl. He didn’t use the title himself because a previous holder of the title was found guilty of high treason and had all his titles, Irish and English, taken from him (he was attainted, to use the proper word). It was Lady Eleanor’s brother who regained the title after parliament decided the attainder should only have applied to the family’s English titles, not the Irish ones.

Sarah Ponsonby’s great-grandfather William was the 1st Viscount Duncannon. Through another great-grandfather Sarah was 5th cousin to Lady Eleanor. Here’s the family relationship.
Lady Eleanor and Sarah met in 1768. There was an instant connection of spirits between the two and they began to make plans to avoid the customary fate of aristocratic young ladies of being married off to a man they hardly knew and may never even love. Their families tried to keep them apart after an aborted attempt to “elope” together.

During a trip to Wales Eleanor and Sarah put their foot down and began to live in a cottage they christened Plas Newydd just outside Llangollen. There they could no longer rely on allowances from their wealthy families and lived in reduced circumstances.

It wasn’t long before Eleanor and Sarah earned the local name of “the Ladies” and the cottage became a place where many famous and influential people visited – Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Wellington, Wedgwood – all eager to meet the couple who were rapidly becoming society celebrities because of their lifestyle. Even Queen Charlotte wanted to visit them because they were so famous and she persuaded her husband George III to give them a pension.

The Ladies of Llangollen both lived into old age. Eleanor was almost 90 years old. They are buried together in St. Collen’s Church, Llangollen. Their cottage, Plas Newydd, is now a museum.

Let’s look briefly at the Butler and Ponsonby coats of arms. They both have a connection in that they represent the occupations of their ancestors.

The Butler arms are quartered. The yellow quarters with the blue zigzag top are those of the male-line ancestors of the Butlers. They lived in the Middle Ages before surnames became consistently hereditary. This quarter shows the arms of the Walter, or FitzWalter, family. Hervey Walter was appointed Chief Butler of Ireland in 1177 by King Henry II of England. Hervey’s son Theobald was the first in the family to adopt the surname le Botiler, which has come down to us as Butler. A butler wasn’t like those we see in stately homes and whodunnits today. A royal butler was in charge of the food and drink of the court and given to someone highly trusted. Well, would you want to give the job to someone who is likely to poison you? The other quarters in the Butler arms are called an augmentation of honour because they indicate the family’s royal appointment of Chief Butler.

The Ponsonby arms show a less obvious way of commemorating a family’s royal appointment. A family legend recounts that one of the Ponsonbys was created royal hair-cutter by Henry II in the same year as Hervey Walter was created Chief Butler. Hence the family adopted three hair combs as their coat of arms. It’s an interesting legend but there’s no real evidence of it being fact.

To end with let’s have another look at that family tree above. You’ll see that Lady Eleanor Butler is descended from the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven. This is the same sexually perverted Earl of Castlehaven featured in my article “No Haven at the Castle”.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Star-Gayzing : Perseus and the 14th Sign

The zodiac constellations are ancient. That is to say their representations as individual groups of stars were devised by ancient astronomers and astrologers. Those astronomers also found that the paths of the Sun and Moon travelled through the same constellations each year (the path we now call the ecliptic) and astronomers divided the sky into 12 symbolic regions which became the astrological signs of the zodiac.

Until 1930 the constellations had no definitive borders between them. The areas in between were like a kind of interstellar no-man’s land. Then the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided the uncertainty was not suitable for scientific purposes and the cataloguing of the locations of interstellar objects. They set the present imaginary lines that mark out the boundaries of all the constellations. Once established it was discovered immediately that the ecliptic passes through 13 constellations giving the zodiac 13 signs. The 13th constellation is Ophiucus. In fact the Sun is in Ophiucus for longer than it is in Scorpio. For the queer story of Ophiucus read my article here.

But for one day of the year the Sun clips another constellation, the 14th, thanks to the IAU’s modern boundaries. That constellation is called Cetus.
As you can see in the map above the ecliptic just clips one corner of Cetus. I've shown the Sun in it's relative size in relation to the constellation's border. However, the ecliptic is the path of a mathematical point and the Sun is bigger than that. The centre of the Sun travels the ecliptic and the Sun’s disc occupies a wider path. So even if the centre of the Sun doesn’t enter Cetus part of the Sun’s disc does.

The Sun only goes into Cetus for less than a day, yesterday, in fact. So there are likely to be very, very few people who can say their star sign is Cetus. By clipping corner of Cetus the Sun brings a vast section of the night sky into the queer zodiac. Between then Cetus and its related constellations tell one of the most famous stories of Greek mythology, the story of Perseus. Another map now. Marks in red are the constellations which tell the story.
We’ll being with central hero, Perseus. This hero doesn’t have the same number of gay lovers as his more famous great-grandson Herakles, who has a plethora of boyfriends and constellations to his credit.

The Greeks would have taken for granted that Perseus would have participated in same-sex activity as part of his military training. The first time any mention of a specific male partner for Perseus appears in writing is in “De Astronomica”, a Greek manuscript which has been difficult to date. Some authorities say that it dates from the 1st century BC, and others say it is a century younger. However, it is regarded as one of the most important documents on constellations and the myths surrounding them. In several places “De Astronomica” is the only written source of some obscure myths. One of these is the love between Perseus and the god Hermes.

The Perseus-Hermes love affair is only given as a passing remark in “De Astronomica” I assume that the affair was too well-known at the time to need any explanation. Hermes is recorded as having other male partners, including Krokus.

In the Perseus story Hermes lends to our hero his famous winged sandals and winged cap to help him travel on his long journey to slay Medusa the Gorgon. Unlike the film “Clash of the Titans” the Medusa quest was a task given to Perseus by King Polydectes of Serifos who wanted him out of the way so he could marry Perseus’s mother. The story of Andromeda and the sea monster (called the kraken in the film, but Cetus in the constellations) was a separate episode that occurred after Medusa was slain.

The famous winged horse Pegasus is a later addition to the story. Perseus uses Hermes’ winged sandals to fly around in his quest. Pegasus was introduced into the myths later as being “born” from Medusa, springing out of the Gorgon’s body when she was decapitated by Perseus. The horse’s original tamer and rider was a lesser hero called Bellerophon. Only in later centuries was Perseus given Pegasus to ride.

So, all the main characters in the Perseus and Medusa myth, except for Medusa herself, were immortalised in the night sky by the ancient Greeks. They form the largest group of neighbouring constellations which come from one myth – Perseus, next to Andromeda and her parents King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, with Pegasus below them and Cetus underneath them all, lurking just below the ecliptic like a sea monster beneath the waves.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Paralympic Trio

The Paralympics have begun this weekend. It’s been several years since I presented an up-to-date list of lgbt Paralympians so this is a good opportunity to present one now.

The Paralympic Games have always had fewer competitors than the Olympics. I believe the number of athletes at the PyeongChang games is about 600. The total lgbt Paralympan list is therefore shorter and meagre in comparison to the list of over 300 lgbt Olympians.

There have been 21 athletes who have been identified as lgbt at the Paralympic Games, only 3 of them at the winter games. Nevertheless, among those 21 athletes are some record-holders in lgbt sport. Records which include the most number of games attended by one lgbt athlete (Alison Jones, below), the most medals won by an individual lgbt athlete (Sir Lee Pearson – 14, 11 of them gold), and the only lgbt athlete in the UK to be knighted for services to sport (again, Sir Lee Pearson).

It is only in the past 20 years or so that both the summer and winter the Paralympics and Olympics have always been hosted by the same city. Until Lillehammer in 1994 there was no guarantee of this. This is why the first known lgbt Paralympian competed at the winter games on 1984 in Innsbruck and not in Sarajevo where the Winter Olympics were held. That athlete was Laura Oftedahl.

Even with the steadily growing profile of the modern Paralympic movement in the 1960s and 1970s there were very few opportunities for people with a disability to get involved in competitive sport. This was particularly true of winter sports. At the first Winter Paralympics in 1976 there were only 53 athletes. Some nations were more advanced in their provision of facilities and funding than others and it has been in the present century when significant leaps have been made.

Laura Oftedalh was born blind. The way she got into sport was through an organisation called Ski for Light which helped people with impairments and disabilities to get fit, originally this was through cross-country skiing. Laura took up cross-country skiing in 1980 at the age of 27. By 1984 she was on the USA Winter Paralympic team going to Innsbruck.

The Nordic nations dominated the games, which is no surprise. In the field of 15 female cross-country skiing athletes in her category Laura finished last. She was up against the top Paralympians with much more experience. However, Laura came home with a silver medal from the women’s 5 kilometer relay. Laura returned to the Paralympics held again in Innsbruck in 1988.

It wasn’t until Salt Lake City in 2002 that another lgbt Winter Paralympian competed. She was another American, Allison Jones, who wasn’t even born when Laura Oftedahl won her silver medal. Allison holds the distinction of being the lgbt athlete who has competed in the most Paralympic or Olympic Games - 8. She is also the first of two Paralympians to compete at both the summer and winter games.

Allison Jones was born without a right femur and has worn a prosthetic right leg since she was 9 months old. Her father, Jay Jones, was an engineer and helped to design and construct devices which enabled Allison to cycle and ski. She could ride a track racing bike before she could ride an ordinary bike, and she began skiing in a special ski programme for people with disabilities from the age of 5.

At her first Winter Paralympics in 2002 Allison won silver medals in the giant slalom and super-G slalom. From then until the next Winter Paralympics in Turin in 2006 she was ranked first in downhill skiing, slalom and giant slalom at the World Championships. She went on to win a gold medal in Turin and a bronze in Sochi 2014.

In between her four winter appearances Alison jones competed in four Summer Paralympics beginning with Athens in 2004. She got the bug for cycling after seeing the 1998 para-cycling world championships in her home city of Colorado Springs. It wasn’t until Beijing in 2008 that she won her first cycling medal, a silver in the women’s time trial for classification group. Her most successful of all her Paralympic appearances was in London 2012 when she won a gold and two bronze medals.

Tragedy overshadowed the run-up to the Rio Paralympics of 2016. Allison’s father Jay was killed in a plane accident in July just two months before games. Allison continued to train through her grief and was determined to go to Rio. Just before the games began Allison had decided that these would be her last summer or winter games. Team USA chose her to carry their national flag at the opening ceremony. Her highest placing in her races was outside the medals with a fourth place in the women’s road race.

Also competing in Rio 2016 is the last of our 3 lgbt Winter Paralympians. On the Canadian wheelchair basketball team was Cindy Ouellet who made her Paralympic debut in Beijing in 2008 and she is making her winter debut this week in PyeongChang. At the age of 12 Cindy was diagnosed with bone cancer. She had dreams of becoming a footballer or a skier. Instead she threw herself into wheelchair basketball. But her dreams of becoming a skier have now come true. In PyeongChang she will compete in sitting cross-country skiing on Wednesday.

It may be a few years before the Winter Paralympics have the same number of out lgbt athletes as the summer games. The Summer Paralympics is on a level with the Winter Olympics in terms of out athletes. The Olympics that ended a couple of weeks ago had 15 out athletes and the Summer Paralympics had 14.

No doubt was all wish Cindy Ouellet and all the Paralympians success in PeyongChang.

Now, here is the link to the up-to-date list of lgbt Summer and Winter Paralympians.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 10) No Molly-coddling

Previously: 14) Gayle Rubin (b.1949) co-founded the International Ms Leather contest whose first winner was 15) Judy Tallwing McCarthy (b.1945), the partner of 16) Sashie Hyatt (d.1989), whose presence at the Stonewall Riots was commemorated in a comic book written by 17) Andy Mangels (b.1966).

Novelist, science fiction author, comic book writer, fantasy/superhero historian and founder of the Broadway Bears singing group, 17) Andy Mangels has become a prominent figure in the world of fantasy in popular culture. He has compiled guides and encyclopaedias on “Star Wars” and “The X-Files” and written tv tie-in novels for “Star Trek”. It is this last aspect of his work which brings us to 16) Sashie Hyatt and the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

The television series “Quantum Leap” centres round the time and space-hopping character Sam correcting historical “wrong turns”. In a 1990 episode called "Good Night Dear Heart" Sam was solved a murder and revealed the killer. The American lgbt community were highly offended, for reasons which have not been fully explained, when the murderer was revealed to be a lesbian. I can just about remember this episode from Its UK broadcast and don’t recall anything that could be offensive (certainly no more offensive than the stereotypes in “Will and Grace”).

Several years later Andy Mangels thought that a way to follow Sam’s example and right a wrong (as perceived in the US) by writing a sequel to “Good Night Dear Heart” in the “Quantum Leap” comic book series. The magazine editors agreed to include an editorial by Andy explaining the reason for the sequel.
Sashie Hyatt (centre) as she is represented
in "Up Against a Stonewall".
The story was called “Up Against a Stonewall” and was featured in issue 9 of the “Quantum Leap” comic book in February 1993. The title gave a hint to the historic event into which Sam had leapt. The story was based in the days leading up to the Stonewall Riots. Andy Mangels was a friend of Sashie Hyatt, who had been at the Riots. Sashie died of cancer in 1989 and Andy dedicated his sequel to her. He also included her in the storyline.

When “Up Against a Stonewall” was published Andy Mangels was editor of an independent US comic book anthology called “Gay Comix”. This was a series of comic books written and illustrated by a member of the lgbt community. If had begun publication in 1980 and from issue 14 in December 1991 Andy Mangels was its editor.

One artist who contribute to several issues of “Gay Comix” during Andy Mangels’ editorship was 18) Jon Macy. He has continued to use lgbt and erotic themes in his work which includes “Teleny and Camille”, a graphic novel adaptation of one of the first gay pornographic novels.

“Teleny and Camille” is based on a novel called “Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal” which was published in 1893. No-one knows who wrote it but Oscar Wilde’s name has often been attributed. This is partly because the published of the novel, Leonard Smithers, knew Oscar Wilde. Smithers was a publisher of various erotic and pornographic Victorian novels, including the one which is said to be the world’s first English-language pornographic gay novel, “The Sins of the Cities of the Plain”.

Like “Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal”, the author of “The Sins of the Cities of the Plain” is unknown. It has been suggested that it was a novelised memoir by an Irishman called 19) John Saul (1857-1904).

John Saul, also known as Dublin Jack, was a male prostitute who was involved in two famous sex scandals. First was the Dublin Castle scandal, a precursor to the scandal that surrounded the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. The second scandal was the more well-known Cleveland Street Scandal in which Queen Victoria’s own grandson the Duke of Clarence was implicated.

The full title of “The Sins of the Cities of the Plain”, if it wasn’t long enough already, was “The Sins of the Cities of the Plain, or Recollections of a Mary-Ann with Short Essays on Sodomy and Tribadism”. With a title like that there’s be no room for the author’s name on the spine even if it was known!

The term “Mary-Ann” in the full title is a slang term for an effeminate man, often a male prostitute who dressed as a woman to procure clients. John “Dublin Jack” Saul called himself a “professional Mary-Ann” at the Cleveland Street trials in 1887.

Earlier variants of “Mary-Ann” were “molly” or “moll”, and in England in the 18th and 19th centuries there were several known “Molly Houses”. These were places, usually taverns and coffee houses where men could meet for homosexual activity or to socialise.

The word “molly” survives in England in the term “molly-coddling” which is used to describe a kind of behaviour that suggests a person are being unnecessarily being over-protected. The implication is that the person being molly-coddled is weak and feeble. In earlier times is specifically meant being treated like an effeminate man.
An 18th century representation of a
Molly (left) and his client.
For centuries the term “molly” was used as a derogatory name for effeminate men. In its shorter form of “moll” it was also used in America for female prostitutes before being more famously used to refer to the girlfriends and sexual partners of gangsters.

In the early 20th century the growth of women’s sport gave rise to a new application of the word “moll”. Men generally considered sport to be a manly pursuit and not something that women should take part in. As more women took up sports men began to describe them as “muscle molls”. Male critics wrote derogatory articles in the press about these women with too many muscles, as they thought, and who were looking unmanly. Interestingly, the term “muscle mary”, applied to a male bodybuilder who devotes a lot of time on his appearance, derives from the derogatory “Mary-Ann”.

The more successful a female athlete became the more sexist the remarks against her femininity. The “Muscle moll” athlete who was to receive quite a lot of criticism was the same athlete who would later be voted as the best American female athlete of the 20th century. She was Olympian 20) Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1911-1956).

Next time : Questions of Gender – in a couple of weeks we run from the Olympics to a cemetery in Roman London.