People in History: Harry Hay

Born to an upper middle class American family living in England in 1912, Hay was raised in Chile, the son of a wealthy mining engineer and his Catholic wife. While an infant, Hay contracted bronchial pneumonia which left him with permanent scarring on his lungs. Shortly afterwards, his father lost a leg in an industrial accident, which resulted in his resignation and relocation of the family back to California. In 1919 Hay’s father purchased a farm just outside LA. While Hay Snr. secured the family’s income by trading on the stock market, he refused to spoil his children, and Hay Jnr. grew up working on the farm like any other labourer.

Hay resented his father, calling him “tyrannical” for the regular beatings he meted out — beating Hay believed stemmed from an attempt to “cure” him of his effeminate behaviour. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: The Stonewall Rioters

Hundreds of people were involved in the riots which changed the queer emancipation movement from passive assimalism to angry activism. The actions of those hundreds were garnered by incitement from a brave few who first struck back.

Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: Noël Coward

noel coward

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Born on the outskirts of London in 1899, Coward was the second son of Arthur, a piano salesman, and Violet, daughter of a naval captain. His older brother died the year before he was born. Despite the fact the family often struggled for money, Coward’s interest in performing was indulged from an early age: by seven he was regularly appearing in amateur productions, and attended the Chapel Royal Choir School, although otherwise his education was sparse and largely informal.

His mother was his biggest supporter, enrolling him in a dance academy after Choir School. By twelve, Coward had his first professional engagement in the children’s play, The Goldfish. From there, Coward secured influential contacts in the theatrical world who ensured he was never without work, and he joined the circuit with a number of notably child actors of the day. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: Kenneth Williams

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Born in London in 1926, Kenneth Williams was the son of Louisa (“Louie”) Morgan and Charles Williams, a barber and strict Methodist. He had an older half-sister, an illegitimate child of his mother’s born before she met his father. Although interested in acting from an early age, his father absolutely forbade it and refused to encourage him. After school, Williams apprenticed as a draughtsman for a mapmaker instead of pursuing his dream.

In 1944, aged eighteen, Williams was drafted in the army, where he became a Sapper in the Engineers Survey, putting his artistic mapmaking skills to good use. At the end of the war he was stationed in Singapore, and opted to enlist in the Combined Service Entertainment Unit to see out his service putting on revue shows to entertain the troops. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: John Inman

John Inman as Mr. Humphries. Wikimedia Commons

Born in Preston, NW England, in 1935, from an early age John Inman exhibited a tendency towards camp which would become a hallmark of his later success. His mother ran a boarding house and his father was a hairdresser, but Inman was always determined to become an actor, no doubt influenced by his parents’ move to Blackpool when he was twelve. His parents supported his ambition, paying for him to take elocution lessons at their local church hall. As a child, Inman was also noted for his love of dressmaking.

Within a year of moving to Blackpool, Inman secured small roles at the Pavilion on Blackpool’s South Pier. At fifteen he took a menial job at the pier, occasionally playing parts in some of the plays.

After leaving school, Inman gave up the theatre to work as a window dresser in a gentleman’s outfitters, and moved to London to work in Regent Street two years later. He remained in retail for another four years before leaving to work as a scenic artist with a touring company in order to earn his Equity Card, a licence which was required for all professional actors. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: Robin Hood

Yes, I know. I’m including Robin Hood as biography when we have no idea if he actually existed or not. In my defence, I offer Jesus 😛

Actually, the legends surrounding Robin Hood almost certainly have their origins in the life of a real figure. A number of men have been suggested to have been the source of the legend. Robert, the Earl of Huntingdon is a favourite, for this inscription on his grave at Kirklees Priory: Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: David Maxwell Fyfe

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Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, first Earl of Kilmuir, might seem an odd subject for today’s blog.Not only wasn’t he queer, but he worked tirelessly against any attempt to decriminalise homosexuality, and may well have been behind the “pogrom” of the 1950s that deliberately targeted gay men for persecution. It’s easy to look back with a sense of superiority, but his opposition to homosexuals was but a footnote in a life which was generally lived well.

Born in Edinburgh in 1900 to a grammar school headmaster and his second wife, Maxwell Fyfe studied at a Scottish independent school before going on to read the Greats (Literae Humaniores, a Classics course based on the history of human learning) at Oxford. He wasn’t a remarkable scholar, more interested in contemporary politics than the ancients, and achieved only a third-class degree. His education was briefly interrupted in 1918 when he took time out to spend a year with the Scots Guards at the end of the First World War. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: Peter Wildeblood

peter wildeblood

Peter Wildeblood. Photo curtesy The Lotte Meitner-Graf Archive

Peter Wildeblood was born in Italy in 1923, the only child of Henry Wildeblood, a retired engineer from the Indian Public Works Department, and his second wife Winifred, daughter of an Argentinian sheep rancher. (He had older brothers from his father’s first marriage, but as they were already grown with families of their own when Peter was born, he was raised as an only child.) His father was sixty at the time of Peter’s birth, a circumstance which in later life he wondered was responsible for his sexuality.

Wildeblood was raised and educated in England from the age of three. He attended boarding school from seven, and at thirteen won a scholarship to Radley College, a public school near Oxford. From Radley he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford, although he was forced to drop out after ten days because of ill health. It being then 1941, shortly thereafter he enlisted with the RAF and trained as a pilot in Southern Rhodesia (a British colony at the time; now Zimbabwe), but after a succession of crashes he was grounded and retrained as a meteorologist. He remained in Rhodesia for the duration of the war, where he had a number of sexual experiences with women, which only served to confirm his suspicion that he was homosexual. When he returned to Oxford after the war, he spent many of his weekends in London, where he moved in almost exclusively queer circles. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: Alan Turing

Alan Turing at 16. Wikimedia Commons

Alan Turing was born in 1912, second child of Julius and Ethel. His father held a position with the India Civil Service, but his parents returned to England before Alan’s birth, keen for their sons to be raised in England. When his parents needed to return to India, they left the boys in the care of a retired army couple during their absences.

Turing’s extraordinary intelligence showed itself early, as did his enthusiasm for learning. When, at thirteen, a general strike was called on the day he was to start at a new school, he cycled sixty miles unaccompanied in order to attend on time. The school, however, placed greater emphasis on Classical learning than the sciences, and the headmaster wrote to his parents, warning: ” If he is to stay at public [private] school, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school.” Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: WWI Poets

Siegfried Sassoon by George Charles Beresford (1915)

Siegfried Sassoon. Wikimedia Commons

Poet’s Corner is the name given to the section of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey where some of England’s most famous writers are interred or memorialised. In 1985, a slate was added, commemorating sixteen poets of the Great War. They were Richard Aldington, Laurence Binyon, Edmund Blunden, Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Gibson, Robert Graves, Julian Grenfell, Ivor Gurney, David Jones, Robert Nichols, Wilfred Owen, Herbert Read, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Charles Sorley, and Edward Thomas.

What is immediately noticeable from looking at their biographies is how similar they were. All but three attended public or independent schools, followed by Oxbridge or prestigious discipline-specific universities. Most attained the rank of Lieutenant or higher: only two were privates. (Those two facts are linked: most public schools held Officers’ Training Corps as a standard class, preparing the sons of the wealthy and titled to command other men. After war was declared, men with OTC experience were drafted as officers, even without prior military experience.) Most moved in literary circles or were published prior to the outbreak of war. They all knew most of the other fifteen men with whom they’re now remembered. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: Freud

Sigmund Freud Anciano

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Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a neurologist by training, best remembered today as the father of psychoanalysis. His theories on sexuality and childhood development are probably best known, although his work spanned a much broader spectrum, including writings on the development of civilisation, the unconscious and dream-states, and religion. He also extolled the virtues of cocaine, and regularly took enough to kill a horse.

Born to Galician Jewish parents in what is now part of the Czech Republic, Sigmund was the first of eight children his father had with his third wife. In 1860 the family moved to Vienna, Austria, Freud distinguished himself at the city’s best schools, graduating with honours in 1873, already proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and with a love of the works of Shakespeare which would last him a lifetime. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: Havelock Ellis

Havelock Ellis a

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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 →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in Fiction: The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Oscar Wilde’s only novel, Dorian Gray was published first by Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890, and then as a revised and lengthened book in 1891.

The tale is a unique blend of comedy of manners, love story, acerbic social commentary, supernatural suspense, and artists’ manifesto. The premise is simple: the dandyish Lord Henry Wotton sits in on his friend, Basil Hallward, painting the beautiful young Dorian Gray. Dorian, a little vain and spoilt, sees the finished picture and curses it because it will always remain young and beautiful while he must age. He wishes he could change places and have the portrait age in his stead, which is, of course, what happens.

Wilde said of his three protagonists, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the world thinks me: Dorian is what I would like to be.” Through the course of the novel, Lord Henry fills the role of mentor to Dorian, living vicariously through Dorian’s increasingly depraved actions as he attempts to fulfill Henry’s philosophy of hedonism and sensuality. Dorian “experiments with every vice known to man,” inspired by a “yellow book” which is clearly Huysmans’ A Rebours (“Against Nature”), although the title is never mentioned. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Queer Blogging

People in History: Lord Byron

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George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), sixth Baron Bryon, was a Romantic poet today best remembered for his long works  Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimageand one of history’s most famous libertines.

Byron was born in London (or maybe Dover) to an unconventional family, Bryon inherited his title at only ten years old. He came from a long line of intemperate and notorious figures: his father “Mad Jack” Bryon was known as a cruel and vicious husband, who ran up staggering debts; his paternal grandfather, “Foulweather Jack” Bryon was the younger brother of the fifth baron, Bryon’s great-uncle, who in turn was commonly known as “the Wicked Lord.” His mother Catherine was  an alcoholic and “a woman without judgment or self-command”; her father committed suicide in 1779. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging

People in History: Alexander and Hephaestion

Istanbul - Museo archeol. - Alessandro Magno (firmata Menas) - sec. III a.C. - da Magnesia - Foto G. Dall'Orto 28-5-2006 b-n

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Born in Pella, Macedon, in 356BC, Alexander was the first son of Philip II and his principle wife, Olympias. Almost from the moment he was conceived, Alexander became something of a legend. His mother, a princess of Epirus in her own right, was a follower of an orgiastic, snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus, and was widely believed to be a sorceress. She mythologised her son, claiming visions of thunderbolts from the heavens and a great fire accompanied his conception, and Philip himself was recorded as saying he dreamed he sealed Olympias’ womb with the device of a lion. As Philip’s fourth of seven or eight wives, likely elevated to principle only because of Alexander’s birth, it served Olympias’ interests to secure her son as Philip’s heir, and herself as mother of the future king. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in Biography, Queer Blogging