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LGBT History Month: 10 LGBT Authors Who Were Total Game Changers

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Well we’re halfway through LGBT History month folks and we’re really getting into it. During this month it’s important to look back and reflect on those whose writing and openness about their sexuality changed the game for the LGBT community and created representation in media when there was none. Here are ten LGBT writers who changed things up in the literary world.

Sappho (630 B.C—570 BC)

There’s an old saying that all literature starts with Ancient Greece, but it should be rephrased that all it starts with Sappho, poet, and influencer. Known by Plato as the “10th Muse”, Sappho composed what historians believe around 10,000 lines of poetry on the island of Lesbos. Her poetry is about women on women love and the beauty of femininity. While we don’t know much about Sappho’s life, and the bulk of her poetry has been lost to time, we do see a lot of her influence today. The term “lesbian” comes from her home of Lesbos and she became a “patron saint of lesbians” when 20th-century lesbian writers discovered her work. She made headlines in 2014 when some of her poems were discovered, creating more fans.

Oscar Wilde(1854-1900)

Playwright, novelist, and literary rebel Oscar Wilde revolutionized the literary world with his wit and his refusal to conform. As I mentioned in my last article, Wilde’s first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey,” was so “racy” with gay and bisexual characters that Victorian readers were shocked.  His novel, as well as being as openly gay as you can be in Victorian England with his boyfriend Lord Alfred Douglas, led him to be sentenced to two years of hard labor in 1895. In the years after his early death, Wilde became a symbol of rebellion, individualism, and the poster child for “being yourself”. He has become a gay icon for writers and theatre kids. Wilde makes headlines today, with a recent secular temple opening up the basement of a New York Church devoted to Oscar Wilde, something that he would probably love.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

Behind every great man, there is an even greater woman, and no one was greater than Gertrude Stein. Novelist, art collector and actual badass, she hosted a Paris salon where Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, and Pablo Picasso would meet her and ask for her advice. Yes, she edited Hemingway’s writing, because she’s the original baller. She wrote the popular The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas using the tone and voice of her life partner, Alice B. Toklas. A legend in her own right, the modernist literary movement that Ezra Pound, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald are known for would not exist without her.

Langston Hughes (1920-1967)

American poet, social activist, and novelist Langston Hughes was not “out” during his lifetime. Like many authors of his time, he stayed closeted because of the fear of being an outcast. This is deeply felt in Hughes’ case, as a black man in the time of segregation he was already trying to jump one hurdle, to jump another would be almost impossible at that time. While Hughes was never out, he made a huge contribution to the literary world. He was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance literature movement and one of the earliest creators of jazz poetry. His writing deals with themes of racism, survival, memory and American identity, many of which are still relevant today.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

Leading figure of the Beat Movement during the 1950’s and 60’s, the poet Allen Ginsberg is probably best well known for his epic poem “Howl” which deals with sexual repression, capitalism, and conformity. Similar to Wilde, Ginsberg’s “Howl” became the subject of an obscenity trial because it described gay sex when sodomy laws made homosexual acts a crime in every U.S State (yes, this really happened here). Fortunately, Ginsburg was found not guilty and “Howl” was found not obscene with the judge adding, “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemisms?” Ginsberg was very open about his sexuality, striking a note for gay marriage by listing his life partner Peter Orlovsky as his spouse in his author bio entry.This became a bit of a turning point for freedom of speech and gay rights in America and led to more authors being open about their sexuality.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Writer, womanist, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde was a major game changer, trying to get her voice heard as a black gay woman, which was no easy feat. She coined the term “womanist” with fellow author Alice Walker, who was looking for a term for feminist equality but also fit with diversity and unique struggles that women of color face. Audre was very open about her sexuality and beautifully expressed her emotions in her poetry and essays (The Black Unicorn being a personal favorite of mine). The Audre Lorde Project is a Brooklyn based center for LGBT people of color for community organizing and is still helping people today.

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

American writer and social critic, James Baldwin may be best known for his collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, which deals with racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western cultures in the 20th century. His second novel Giovanni’s Room, written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement, has bisexual and gay characters and deals with social alienation. Social Alienation was something that Baldwin deeply felt as a black man in America, and as a gay man in Europe. His writing kickstarted the conversation on sexuality to the reading public.

Jeanette Winterson (1959)

Okay, if you’re not reading Sexing the Cherry I don’t even know what you’re doing with your life. Actually, just read all of Jeanette Winterson’s books right now, and thank me later. Jeanette Winterson is a more modern writer on the list, with her work exploring gender polarities and sexual identity. Her own complicated “coming out” story found in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Why be Normal When you can be Happy? gives a relatable and modern voice to a new generation who are looking for a connection.

Truman Capote (1924-1984)

Novelist Truman Capote took “Gay Icon” to a whole other level by becoming not only a huge celebrity but a celebrity who was openly gay in the 1960’s.  A bit of a character, known as the “Tiny Terror” with his high voice, offbeat dress and tall tales about famous people he’s never met, created a bit of a gay stereotype that remains today. Still, his openness about his homosexuality and his encouragement for other writers to do the same made him an important player in the realm of gay rights.

Alison Bechdel (1960)

Cartoonist, author, and creative genius Alison Bechdel is currently changing the game with her graphic novel Fun Home, an autobiography about her own life and learning about her sexuality, which was made into a Tony Award Winning Musical in 2015. She is also the creator of the famed Bechdel Test that calls out sexist movies. She also created the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” that ran from 1983 to 2008 that was one of the earliest long-running representations of lesbians in pop culture.

This is just a small list of the hundreds of LGBT writers and creators that exist and there are probably hundreds more that have been suppressed by small-minded media and gatekeeping publishers that still keep LGBT writers out today. While these trailblazers have made the path easier to walk on, there is still much work to be done. Will you be the next LGBT game changer?  

Originally posted 2017-10-21 17:01:54.

Ellen Ricks is a word-for-hire, fashion blogger, and bibliophile living in upstate New York. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from SUNY Potsdam and has been published in a number of literary magazines, both in print and online. She runs the fashion blog Sarcasm in Heels.  When not writing, Ellen enjoys frolicking in fancy dresses, consuming pumpkin spice everything, and dismantling the patriarchy.

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Trans History Part 1: From the Stone Age to Stonewall

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When the topic of trans history comes up, most folks start with Marsha P. Johnson and her role in the Stonewall riots in 1969. The truth is, trans folks have been around since at least the Iron Age. When discussing history, the majority of topics and stories told in the United States are Eurocentric. Given that limitation, trans history appears not only to be less diverse, but also shorter – like we’re a trend that started in the 1970s and hasn’t gone out of style. In honor of LGBTQ History month, here is a condensed timeline of moments in trans history worldwide, before Stonewall.


900 BC

In 1995, archaeologist Timothy Taylor discovered evidence of men who cross-dressed during the Iron Age, in graves in southern Russia.  


700 BC

King Ashurbanipal of Assyria spent a great deal of time in women’s clothing. This was later used as justification to overthrow him, proving that transphobia is nothing new.


1503 BC

Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut ascended to the throne for 21 years until she resigned in 1482 BC. Possibly learning from the disfavor shown to her predecessor, Queen Sobekneferu, she donned male clothing and a false beard signifying kingship. She had one daughter, Neferure, whom she groomed as successor to also present as male, but Neferure did not live into adulthood. After Queen Hatshepsut’s death, her second husband attempted to erase all record of her.


1576 AD

The explorer Pedro de Magalhaes recorded that some women in the Tupinamba tribe in Brazil lived as men, hunted and went to war. Referencing the Greek legend of the Amazons, he named the Amazon River after these individuals.


1577

King Henry III of France frequently crossdressed. When he was dressed in women’s clothes, he was referred to as “her majesty” by his courtiers. Even his everyday kingly clothes were considered outrageous despite the flamboyant standards of 16th-century France.


1624

Assigned female at birth, Nzinga ruled as King of Angola for 29 years. They cross-dressed and led several successful military battles against the Portuguese.


1654

The wonderful, bisexual Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated the throne. They dressed in men’s clothing and renamed themselves Count Dohna.


1676

Abbe Francois Timoleon de Choisy attended the Papal inaugural ball in women’s clothes. Their memoirs, published postmortem, offer the first written testimony of MTF gender expression.


1700s

“Molly houses” started popping up around England. They provided a space for the gay community to meet, carouse and relate to one another. “Mollies” were men who often crossdressed and developed their own queer culture.


1728

Chevalier D’Eon, assigned male at birth, was a famous French spy/ambassador. They lived a significant part of their life as a woman. Chevalier’s birth sex was a hotly debated question, even though their birth name was Charles d’Eon.


1907

Chui Chin, a cross-dressing Chinese revolutionary and feminist was beheaded for organizing an uprising against the Manchu dynasty.


As you can see, trans folks have ALWAYS been here. While it may seem like there has been an increase of members of the trans community within the past 5 years, the only thing that has changed is more diversity and inclusivity in vocabulary. When I first heard someone say that their pronouns are they/them, and explain to me what genderqueer means to them, I felt comfort and excitement and validation all rolled into one. There’s a word for what I feel! Other people also identify this way! I’m not making anything up, this is a valid identity!

When folks say that they’ve never met a trans person, they don’t know it, but that’s more than likely not true. According to a study run by the Williams Institute published June 2016, 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender. This number does not include the trans folks that did not participate in the the surveys used to procure this study, nor the folks that were comfortable enough to identify as trans. Given this information, 1.4 million is a bit on the low side. Chances are, you HAVE met a trans person, they just didn’t out themselves.

Be sure to check in next week for Trans History Part 2: Stonewall and Beyond!


Most resources were found at http://out.ucr.edu/docs/trans_timeline.pdf and http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php.

Originally posted 2017-10-08 12:41:59.


Also published on Medium.

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Film Review: Battle of the Sexes

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With women and the LGBTQ community in hopeful anticipation of seeing ourselves and our history played out on the big screen, last weekend Twentieth Century Fox released “Battle of the Sexes” in theaters. I went last Saturday afternoon to see mainstream Hollywood’s take on the infamous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, and looked forward to connecting with the human stories behind one of the most infamous events in modern feminist history. While the artful production design and crackling performances from the actors give us a lot to be proud of, this is not a film I can recommend, and the mis-steps found in the well-intentioned script lie at the heart of the problem.

On September 5, 1995 First Lady Hillary Clinton stood at the podium at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and declared “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” Last week, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley voted against a resolution condemning the discriminatory use of the death penalty for LGBTQ people. Despite the Trump administration’s weak clarifications in an attempt at damage control, the fact remains: the United States failed to stand up for LGBTQ people around the world. We were, and are, still fighting this battle of the sexes. Secretly, King fought a personal battle to guard the secret of her sexuality from almost everyone who knew her including her husband, family, and certainly the professional and public world of tennis.

Over 3 decades after Billie Jean King, a married world-famous female tennis champion, was outed as a lesbian in a lawsuit brought by her former girlfriend and 42 years after her ground-breaking leadership on the issue of equal pay for women in the world of sports, women and LGBTQ people are still fighting for justice in the workplace and equal rights. The importance of knowing our stories, of telling them, and making sure they are remembered cannot be understated.

This film reminded me that the world knew King as a straight woman in 1973. We didn’t have “gay stars” back then. We had male stars and female stars. To come out was to risk everything. We know Billie Jean King as she is today, a lesbian icon of rights for women and LGBTQ people who did “something or other” back in the 70s, but most of us know the story in basic terms at best. The basic plot points are easily accessible with a few clicks these days. What a film, or any good storytelling, should do is to connect us to the human beings who lived out these plot points. What are their moments of personal challenge, failure, or triumph? We can go back and watch the old clips if we want to know exactly, in perfect historical terms, what happened. A great film explores these questions but goes beyond that to connect audiences to their imaginations, to evoke empathy and inspiration.

“Battle of the Sexes” is somewhat successful as a historical account, but it falls far short of that mission at times giving us stereotypes and filler instead of character, conflict, and substance. First, who are the other women, including one woman of color, who joined Billie Jean in the walk out to form the Women’s Tennis Association, the first league of its kind? In this film, with the exception of Margaret Court the homophobic Australian player who beat King to win the first WTA tournament, the other athletes are cardboard cut-outs “Woman 1, 2, & 3,” their dialogue strung together with tired feminist slogans and lines that are fraught with stereotypical language. In “Battle of the Sexes,” they are exactly the empty-headed pretty faces that men at the time expected them to be. Depictions of women like this make it easier for men to discount us as second class citizens. In one particularly embarrassing scene, the women squeal and jump up and down when they find out they’ll have a hairdresser on the tour. If the women were fleshed out in the screenplay as individuals with depth and varied personalities, goals, and interests, scenes like this one are less hard to watch. These heroes of feminism in their own right, the sisters who stood with King and risked their careers for the cause of female equality, deserve a lot better. (Read more about 1996 inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame  Rosie “Rosebud” Casals portrayed memorably by Natalie Morales.)

My next question is; are we supposed to be grateful? Are we supposed to be grateful to see the Hollywood mainstream pull off a tender and believable same sex love scene? The script by Simon Beaufoy does not explore or even hint at the core of who these two people are and the possible consequences of what was happening between them, so how could I? We see two women locking eyes for the first time, their growing attraction to one another. We see their first kiss. And the actors are giving it their all. The direction shows sensitivity and injects romance as well as intimacy, but it’s the sum of what we have to go on to understand the characters and the risks being taken, so the potential impact misses the mark. Though admirably and warmly portrayed by Andrea Riseborough, the character of King’s girlfriend Marilyn Barrett is poorly developed, similar to the way female love interests are often portrayed in a film with a male lead. Having failed to set up the dangerous personal stakes Billie Jean was facing to risk having a same sex relationship at this time in history, the scenes about her relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barrett fall short.

Understanding the risks and consequences experienced by real people at that time would have injected suspense and drama into the subplot. You have to watch very closely to catch onto the point that Billie Jean is actually married to a man at this time. It’s glossed over. We don’t know the character of Billie Jean at all beyond her star athlete persona when the movie starts, and we only know slightly more by the end credits.

Beyond the extremely well done costumes and production design, there’s no context given that pulls us into the sexually repressed, misogynist world of the early 1970s. And if, as a filmmaker, you don’t take us to the oppressive place where this story happens, you’ve lost us. Why? Because, in an “overcoming obstacles” story like this one, context is everything. We have to know where these characters are and exactly what they are up against before we can care about cheering them on.

The pivotal moment when an adolescent King first caught a passion to change things for women and minorities in tennis is only hinted at in passing. I realize this is not a miniseries, but give us more than that, please. She’s spoken about it in several interviews over the years when, at the age of 12, she looked around and thought “Where is everybody else? Where are the people of color?” She wanted to shine a light on the elitism in the world of tennis. She “made herself a promise,” she said, “to do something about it.” That’s dynamite, dramatic substance, and it really happened. It gives us insight into the heart of this iconic leader. This point along with so much more, Billie Jean’s straight life, her relationship with her parents and husband, is merely a footnote in this film.

Emma Stone uses everything she’s given to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on this one, and I can see her struggling as an actor against the the script, to bring us into Billie Jean’s inner life and heart. Without her strong performance of this sub-par screenplay, along with a few others like Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, and Alan Cumming who give nuanced and emotional portrayals, the film is completely unwatchable. Cumming’s final scene in the film is particularly moving, and Beaufoy gives Carell much more to work with. We see Riggs interacting with others in his personal life in a variety of well-written and artfully directed scenes. We’re told nothing about Billie Jean’s husband Larry King. Like Marilyn, Rosie, and the other women athletes, he’s presented as a flat stereotype. Carell’s scenes with his wife (played by Oscar Winner Elisabeth Shue) portray the struggling, strained relationship in the aging tennis player’s marriage. In many ways, the film makes us care more about his struggles and triumphs than Billie Jean’s. Ironic, right?

Women and the LGBTQ community still need allies. Many people do not understand our cause; some are apathetic, or are outright enemies of our equality. So more than anything, this film misses the chance to have a huge impact on our culture to affect changes we would all love to see in our lifetimes.

Overall, I felt delightfully hopeful about seeing this movie. I wanted to marvel at its ground-breaking courage and applaud its relevance in giving us historical context to understand the heroes who laid so many foundations for the rest of us. We’re winning the battle, but we still have a lot of people in this country who could become vocal allies if they can be somehow swayed by emotional and personal connection, which is what we’re supposed to have as audience members. Hampered by writing, directing or both; “Battle of the Sexes” is a stellar film they didn’t make.

We highly recommend you read more about the fascinating personalities surrounding this historic time in women’s sports. To find out more about Billie Jean King and her work as an activist, look for the 2006 Peabody Award winning HBO documentary “Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer.” What did you think of “Battle of the Sexes?” Let us know in the comments below!

Originally posted 2017-10-07 18:33:21.

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Amazon is selling a pro-anorexia hoodie during Mental Illness Awareness Week

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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, folks, a time for sharing stories, knowledge, and coming together to talk about the importance of respecting mental illness.

Apparently, Amazon UK did not get the memo because they are selling hoodies making a mockery of anorexia, which is a serious mental health issue. The hoodie, in hot pink font, says “Anorexia: like Bulimia except with self-control.”

 

This is, of course, is disgusting and troubling, not only because it trivializes anorexia and bulimia, both of which are serious and life-ending illnesses, but because this isn’t the first time that people have disregarded eating disorders. Most of our culture treats eating disorders like a hollow punch line. In recent years, celebrities like Meghan Trainor said that she “wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder,” the late Carrie Fisher called herself a “failed anorexic,” and who could forget the infamous Kate Moss quote “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”?

People are understandably upset about this hoodie, calling for Amazon to ban the sale of the hoodie which is sold by a 3rd party for $25.88. People, many of whom have suffered for years or have lost loved ones to the illness, have spoken out about their disgust for this shirt.

However, other people have commented saying that this shirt is “no big deal” and people need to stop being so “politically correct” and some even find it “funny.”

So why is this shirt a big deal?

Because anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness and causes 12 times more deaths than any other illness among girls ages 15-24, to whom this hoodie is targeted. According to the National Eating Disorder Association 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from eating disorders at some point in their lives and 1 in 5 people with an eating disorder will die prematurely as a result.  

This isn’t a question of political correctness, or not being able to take a “joke.” These are human lives, humans who are dying over an illness that is constantly not treated or undertreated because of the horrible stigma. Because of horrible stereotypes that end lives. I personally never felt stronger, or felt that I had self-control because of my eating disorder. I don’t feel pride in my anorexia, but I will not be ashamed of my struggles and I will always speak out against toxic things such as this. Shirts like these, thoughts like these, are part of the problem. Speaking out is part of the solution.

So maybe I’m being too sensitive, but I think things are too loud to stay silent.

Originally posted 2017-10-07 18:16:23.

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