Rock and roll is so so gay!



Martin Aston | The Writing Disorder | 16472gh

Martin Aston writes in The Guardian over the contribution the gay community made to rock and roll music. Many of the rock pioneers were gay and in the closet at the time.

It seems there was a brief flowering of gay culture within the main culture of music in America almost one hundred years ago.

… Talking about sex is hardly new for gay artists. They were doing the dirty in song almost 100 years ago, in 1920s Harlem, when blues singers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith sang about same-sex affairs. Even gay men, less documented than the women, took advantage of a brief new social permissiveness following the first world war – George Hannah wrote and sang Freakish Man Blues in 1930. Away from the blues, there was the first gay pride anthem in 1920, Das Lila Lied (aka The Lavender Song), written by Berlin-based duo Spoliansky and Schwabach, through to the stars of the so-called Pansy Craze, popular in New York from 1930. From this came Gene – sometimes spelled Jean – Malin, whose 78rpm single I’d Rather Be Spanish Than Mannish predated Noël Coward’s none-more-camp delivery and innuendo. But the Pansy Craze was quickly snuffed out when 1929’s economic crash snowballed into the Great Depression, unleashing a new wave of religious bigotry and social repression.

Martin Aston’s book Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out was published by Constable on 13 October.


When gay men fled the UK


David Boyle writes in The Guardian about one of his ancestors, a gay man, who got caught up in the furore and witch hunt which followed the Pheonix Park Murders in Dublin in 1882, when republican terrorists stabbed the Irish secretary to death. At the time, Dublin was ruled by Britain.

The murders shocked the public on both sides of the Irish Sea, and to claw back the moral high ground Irish nationalist MPs launched a campaign to identify homosexuals in the Irish government or part of the establishment in Dublin – starting with the senior detective in charge of the Phoenix Park case, James Ellis French. The campaign led to huge torchlight processions and mass demonstrations in many towns and cities of Ireland. … Most of the defendants were acquitted – the main issue at stake was whether it was physically possible to commit sodomy in a hansom cab.

The murder became the excuse a zealous anti-homosexual MP, Henry Labouchère, his chance to tag onto an unrelated Bill, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, a clause entitled “Outrages against public decency” which had the effect of making sex between consenting adult men illegal. A situation which remained until 1967.

His amendment was debated at night in a few minutes, and only one MP queried whether it was relevant to the debate.

In 1895 after the passage of the Bill, Mr Boyle’s gay relative vanished from the records. The witch hunt had started in England. He records

Contemporary letters imply the same of many others – maybe many hundreds of them. One correspondent reported that there were 600 passengers queuing for the Calais ferry the night Oscar Wilde was arrested that April.

The train and ferry to Calais was a popular escape route, but there were others. Generations of gay men who wanted to be able to live without fear of arrest found other ways to get out of the UK. There were the forces; there was the Merchamt Navy. And there may have been other surreptitious ways to leave London, which remain undocumented in gay histories.

In his book “Mr Clive and Mr Page”, published in January 1996, twenty years ago this month, which was set in the 1920s, Neil Bartlett OBE, who was Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith from 1994 to 2005, wrote of one of the characters in his novel who booked a passage through Thomas Cook’s on a tea clipper. There was a regular clipper service between Riga and Hays Wharf, now a shopping centre but then a working wharf, adjacent to Tower Bridge. It is understood there was a small community of ex-patriate British gay men in Riga throughout the 1920s and 1930s, but your Activist’s enquiries of gay organisations in Riga have failed to elicit any information regarding this community or what happened to them at the outbreak of World War II (if they were still there then.)

After World War II another expatriate community of British gay men emerged in Tunis, North Africa.

I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has any further information about the migration of gay men from the UK following the 1885 Act.


Magnus Hirschfeld


Magnus Hirschfeld | Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld | 14475

Magnus Hirschfeld was born on 14 May 1868. He was a German physician and sexologist who founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft which many regard as the very first gay rights campaigning organisation.

He moved to Berlin in 1896, when he published his first pamphlet, and founded the IFS in 1897. His nickname on the Berlin gay scene was Aunt Magnesia.

The group was formed to undertake research to defend the rights of homosexuals and to repeal Paragraph 175 of 1871 which had criminalized homosexuality. They argued that the law encouraged blackmail. Hirschfeld believed that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality would eliminate hostility toward homosexuals. The group’s petition to overturn Paragraph 175 managed to gather over 5,000 signatures from prominent Germans. Unfortunately success in the German Parliament did not come for many years. There were attempts to change the law in 1921, 1925 and 1929 but all failed.

His views were that homosexuals were like disabled people and that male homosexuals were by nature effeminate. These views eventually caused the organisation to split, and some members left to form the ‘Bund für männliche Kultur’ (Union for Male Culture) which argued that male-male love is a simple aspect of virile manliness rather than a special condition. The Bund did not survive long.

Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld notes that:

Between 1899 and 1923 Hirschfeld and his staff compiled a 20,000-page anthology. The “Yearbooks For Sexual Intermediaries” were intended to show that between the “full man” and the “full woman” there are an infinite number of gradations and combinations. Hermaphrodites, transvestites, homosexuals are the necessary natural link between the two poles of man and woman. The homosexual is a kind of “third sex”.

On 6 July 1919 he opened his new Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research), which housed his archives and library on sexuality, provided educational services and medical consultations – and included a Museum of Sex.

The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft | Archive for Sexology | 14476

In 1921 Hirschfeld organised the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform. He co-wrote and acted in the 1919 film Anders als die Andern (“Different From the Others”), a film which made the case for decriminalisation, which starred Conrad Veidt as one of the first homosexual characters ever written for cinema. The authorities banned the film in 1920 but by then many gay and lesbian people had seen the film and described the experience as “liberating”.

The Nazis attacked Hirschfeld’s Institute on 6 May 1933, and burned many of its books as well as its archives.

Hirschfeld died on 14 May 1935 in Nice, France.

Source 1 Code W

Source 2 Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld


The origin of AIDS in the 1920s


Kinshasa in the 1950s | Getty | 14038

A team at the University of Oxford and the University of Leuven, in Belgium, tried to reconstruct HIV’s “family tree” and find out where its oldest ancestors came from by analysing mutations in HIV’s genetic code. They found that the HIV virus originated in the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and was then called Leopoldville.

Prof Oliver Pybus said: “It was a very large and very rapidly growing area and colonial medical records show there was a high incidence of various sexually transmitted diseases.” Large numbers of male labourers were drawn to the city, distorting the gender balance until men outnumbered women two to one, eventually leading to a roaring sex trade…. “Public health campaigns to treat people for various infectious diseases with injections seem a plausible route [for spreading the virus].

“The second really interesting aspect is the transport networks that enabled people to move round a huge country. Around one million people were using Kinshasa’s railways by the end of the 1940s. The virus spread, with neighbouring Brazzaville and the mining province, Katanga, rapidly hit.


Lytton Strachey


Lytton Strachey | Daily Telegraph | 14225

Lytton Strachey was born on 1 March 1880 and died on 21 January 1932 of stomach cancer (which had not been diagnosed). His mother was a Suffragette.

Openly gay, he was one of the founders of the Bloomsbury Group. He studied at Liverpool and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was at Cambridge with Keynes. Strachey regarded Keynes, a fellow homosexual, as a close friend, although they often chased after the same men. He believed in a complete freedom and integrity of the private life, unfettered by conventional prejudices. The implications of this were shocking enough, but it was expressed in a camp, frivolous style which was unfashionable in an age when gay sex was illegal.

Smithsonian, Washington DC | 14226

From 1904 to 1914 he wrote book and drama reviews in The Spectator magazine. On the onset of World War I he tried to register as a conscientious objector, but was granted exemption from military service on health grounds.

In 2005 publication of Strachey’s letters revealed he had a sado-masochistic relationship with his last lover, Roger Senhouse, who became a book publisher.


Daily Telegraph, 14 Mar 2005: Bloomsbury’s Final Secret
The Independent, 28 Aug 1994: For consenting adults: ‘Lytton Strachey: The New Biography


Gay Advertising goes mainstream


Ad Week | 14234

“Tucked in the glossy pages of JCPenney’s 2012 Father’s Day catalog was the kind of happy family scene one would expect to find there—only this particular photo featured a real-life same-sex couple, Cooper Smith and Todd Koch of Dallas, having a playful moment with their kids. At a time when gay marriage has been sanctioned in a dozen U.S. states (but not Texas) and in countries from Argentina to New Zealand, one would hardly think the shot indecorous. But the howls began almost immediately, with one conservative group charging the retailer with “promoting sin in their advertisements.” It wasn’t Penney’s first foray into this territory. The 111-year-old chain had already raised the hackles of the morality police for a similar ad portraying lesbian moms and for enlisting Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson. In the wake of the gay dads ad, Penney’s stood firm, releasing a statement that said: “We want to be a store for all Americans,”

reports Adweek.

Of course gay artists have always worked in advertising – and their adverts have always had some appeal to gay viewers.

“Commercial artist J.C. Leyendecker, whose illustrations for brands like Arrow shirts and Interwoven socks in the ’20s and ’30s influenced the sartorial tastes of millions of American men — few of whom knew Leyendecker was gay. In retrospect, he hardly seems to have hidden the fact. His work represents a stereotypically homoerotic world of crew teams, lifeguards and hunky playboys, many of them modeled after Leyendecker’s young lover, Charles Beach. The ads drip with equal parts sweat and sexual innuendo. Tod Ruhstaller, curator of the Haggin Museum in Stockton, Calif., which houses the largest collection of Leyendecker’s work, ventures that the artist “was insinuating part of himself into his work—pushing the envelope, but very gently. He [also] had the ability to create an image that, depending on the observer and context, could be interpreted differently.””

Marky Mark | Calvin Klein | 14235


Douglas Byng


Douglas Byng in drag | Brighton Our Story | 14284

Douglas Coy Byng was born on 17 March 1893 in Nottingham and died on 24 August 1987 in Arundel Terrace, Brighton: he was an openly gay and camp drag artiste and pantomime dame, and music hall star. He made a number of recordings which survive and have been transferred to CD. A Brighton bus has been named after him.

He began appearing in public in 1914 and by 1925 was working with Noel Coward. He was famous for his (for the time) risqué double-entendres, such as his “Mexican Minnie”:

Come where the heat from the sun’s burning rays
Gets you so gaga you tear off your stays!
I’m Mexican Minnie, all jolly and ginny
I loll in the mountains all day.
Though I’m well off the map, I’m just covered in slap,
Luring brigands to come and play ha’penny nap.
But they get very reckless, and will stay to breakfast
Then go off refusing to pay.
I say, “Well you can go,
“I’m sick of the gang, so
“You shan’t see my tango today!

His famous numbers included: “Sex Appeal Sarah”, “Milly the Messy Old Mermaid” and “The Lass who Leaned against the Tower of Pisa”. His “Doris, the Goddess of Wind” was revived in Alan Bennett’s 2010 play The Habit of Art. He also appeared on television in the early 1960s, notably in Alan Melville’s series Before the Fringe.

He composed his own epitaph:

So here you are, old Douglas, a derelict at last.
Before your eyes what visions rise of your vermillion past.
Mad revelry beneath the stars, hot clasping by the lake.
You need not sigh, you can’t deny, you’ve had your bit of cake.


Lost in time: Richard Halliburton


Richard Halliburton | Public domain | 14335

Richard Halliburton, an American traveller, adventurer, and author, was born on January 9, 1900 and was presumed dead after March 24, 1939. He was famous from the 1920s onwards for daredevil adventures, including swimming the Panama Canal. His final and fatal adventure was an attempt to sail a Chinese junk across the Pacific Ocean from Hong Kong to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

Wikipedia sums up a complex personality succinctly: “The words of Oscar Wilde, who in works like The Picture of Dorian Gray enjoined experiencing the moment before it vanished, inspired Halliburton to reject marriage, family, a regular job, and conventional respectability as the obvious steps after graduation. He liked bachelorhood, youthful adventure, and the thrill of the unknown.”

An explorer in the age of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and as successful as an author, his books contained unbridled enthusiasm for whatever place his was exploring. The Great Depression put an end to such adventures and he started writing a series of children’s adventure books, called “Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels”. Its sales soared while taking children around the world to its wondrous sights as they sat in the comfort of their own bedrooms.

In 1939, he built an oversized Chinese junk to sail it from Hong Kong to San Francisco, to arrive during the 1939 World’s Fair. He never made it. Within months of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Halliburton was lost at sea, along with his crew. No trace was ever found of him.

There were rumours that he was recruited by President Franklin Roosevelt to spy on the Japanese.

Halliburton kept secret his true sexual orientation from the public and his family but film star Ramón Novarro and philanthropist Noel Sullivan are linked romantically to him, while his most enduring relationship was with freelance journalist Paul Mooney, with whom he often shared living quarters and who assisted him with his written work.

Updated 20 November 2014. Photo replaced.


Harvard’s Secret Witchhunt


Nick Westrate (centre) plays the corrupting Congressman’s son, Ethan Roberts | New Civil Rights | 14456

In 1920, when a one-time student of Harvard committed suicide, it sparked a secret investigation and witch hunt to weed out all “inverts” and “homosexualists” from campus, ultimately damaging or destroying dozens of lives. A series of articles in the Harvard Crimson about the files of “Secret Court, 1920,” sparked national attention in 2002 and ultimately this play by Plastic Theatre, writes reviewer Michael Glitz on the play Unnatural Acts.

“We quickly meet the circle of friends who congregate in Perkins 28, a room where gay romps take flight or more to the point, where the men feel free to discuss the possibility of gay romps or just be themselves. Edward Say (a nicely fey Jess Burkle) is the clearly gay sort of man who brazens it out by never trying to hide his specialness, to the point of wearing rouge. His stiff but curious roommate Joseph Lombard (played by Will Rogers, who has a great name and an appropriate understated delivery to go with it) both warns Edward about seeming “too much” but is also drawn to the brash boys almost as much as he’s silently drawn to unattainable jock Kenneth Day (Roe Hartrampf, convincing in every way as a conflicted object of desire).”


The well of loneliness


Radclyffe Hall | Literary Ladies Guide | 14209

“The Well of Loneliness” was a novel by Radclyffe Hall which was published in 1928. The novel is the story of a lesbian relationship. At the time it was published lesbian relationships were not against the law. James Douglas, the editor of the Sunday Express, ran a campaign to have the novel banned. “I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel,” he wrote.

The novel only had a single sexual reference, “and that night, they were not divided”, but that was enough for the court, which judged it obscene because it defended “unnatural practices between women”.

The novel went on to become successful with publication, without bans, in the USA and other countries.

The ban in Britain was meant to hide lesbianism and keep it hidden but had the opposite effect. The fuss and the law cases raised awareness of lesbianism and feminism. For decades it was the best-known lesbian novel in the English language, and often the first book about lesbianism that young lesbians read.