Last week, a much abused and beleaguered equal rights ordinance failed to win public support in Houston. There’s plenty of background to HERO here, explaining how it seeks to protect LGBT individuals in a state which offers them no legal rights of employment, medical treatment, or housing. Without such protection, your landlord can evict you for being gay; your boss can fire you; you can’t use the appropriate restrooms if the wrong box is ticked on your birth certificate. Continue reading →
For hundreds of years when being queer was criminal in western society, the public face of queerfolk was the most visible members of the community, those who were unable to hide by passing as heterosexual and consequently, those most often brought before the law. Trans* individuals, cross-dressers, and those who eschewed the gender binary were obvious, easy targets. When the political climate became unbearably repressive, and the civil rights movement to emancipate other minorities took off, one of the first acts of the community was to change the image of queerness in the public consciousness. Continue reading →
Through the 1960s as homophile organisations started to form in defence of queerfolk, the community which was only just forming began to fracture. Societies like the Mattachine wanted to present an assimilationist approach to queer emancipation, representing the white, middle class, straight-passing men who politicians and lawmakers would relate to and find most sympathetic. It wasn’t these men, however, that were being targeted by the police and rounded up by the dozen, but the butch women, effeminate queens, cross-dressers, and trans*folk who were the most visible and obvious targets for prosecution, and the easiest to turn into folk devils and scapegoats. It’s no surprise it was those members who first fought back and put queer emancipation on the political agenda. Continue reading →
Drag is the practice of cross-dressing and pastiching the mannerisms and behaviours of the opposite sex for comic effect. Drag queens run the gamut from over-the-top professional comedians such as Lily Savage, all the way through to serious (and seriously impressive) female impersonators such as RuPaul. Generally speaking, drag is a costume donned for a performance and doesn’t stimulate sexual excitement in the wearer (transvestism), nor does drag implicitly suggest that the performer identifies as trans* although, as with everything, there are always exceptions.
As an expression, “drag” may have been around for a century or two, but the history of men impersonating women for entertainment purposes is of course much longer. Many of Shakespeare’s works played on the fact the actors on stage were men dressed as women (and often the female characters pretend to be male, creating truths within truths which audiences find amusing). Continue reading →
One of the earliest and most influential of the English sexologists was the unlikely figure of Havelock Ellis. Born to a family of sea captains, Ellis emigrated to Australia at sixteen, and spent the next four years working as a teacher (not very successfully: when his first employer discovered his complete lack of qualifications to do the job, he was dismissed; he ended up running the next school he worked at after the master unexpectedly died, but was swiftly replaced). Despite his failures, he reported in his autobiography that in Australia “I gained health of body, I attained peace of soul, my life task was revealed to me, I was able to decide on a professional vocation, I became an artist in literature.”
Upon returning to England in 1879, Ellis was determined to forge a career in the infant study of sexology (Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis wouldn’t be published for another seven years). In order to understand his field, he first determined he needed to understand the human body, and enrolled in St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in order to qualify as a physician (although he never practised medicine). He supported himself in the meantime with a small inheritance and by editing reprints of Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas. Continue reading →
Pretty much everything we know and think we understand today about human sexuality has its origins in the science of sexology, which emerged in Europe in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. While books about sex have existed through the ages, they generally took manual form — like the Kama Sutra — and were concerned only with the act of sex, and how to have it.
There was some movement towards sexology as early as the 1830s, mostly researching sex in relation to the law (the first study was on prostitution in Paris), and within thirty years the term “homosexual” had been coined and a number of scientists had turned their attention to human sexual interaction and identity, although it wasn’t until 1886 that the first major tract was published — Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, subtitled a “clinical-forensic” study of human sexual behaviour. Continue reading →
An interesting case came up for sentencing today in Scotland. Chris Wilson was sentenced to three years’ probation and 240 hours community service for the crime of “obtaining sexual intimacy by fraud”. His fraud? Not telling his girlfriend that he was trans.
Such a ruling has vast – and terrifying – implications. Firstly, that crime. Who knew? Last time I checked, lying to get into someone’s pants was a pretty regular occurrence. People claim they’re single when they’re not; that they’re rich or successful or otherwise rewrite their personal history to get laid. When was the last time you bared every grubby fact of your personal history to a potential new partner?
We’ve all heard the term LGBT, right? Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*. Do you know how many groups consider that acronym redundant? The NYT ran an article recently on what it dubbed “Generation LGBTQIA”. Here’s just a sample of some of the labels you can apply to your sexual identity: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, queer, homosexual, asexual, pansexual, omnisexual, trisexual, agender, bigender, third gender, gender queer, intersex, two-spirit, polyamorous… The list goes on.
Do we really need all these different definitions? Is it really necessary to split our community into smaller and smaller chunks of identity? At what point does an identity become so individual that it ceases to have any relevance to a wider group – and are we damaging our own equality movement by getting bogged down in a plethora of unnecessary labels?