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. (more…)
The Mattachine Society was founded in LA in 1950 by Harry Hay and a number of his friends. Hay conceived of an “international…fraternal order” to serve as “a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society’s Androgynous Minority”. He had tried to form a similar political activist group in 1948 in support of a Progressive presidential candidate, but it never got off the ground. Over the following two years, Hay worked hard on the model of a queer emancipation group which could be politically engaged on a public stage. (more…)
Queer bars have existed for centuries, and have been raided by the police for just as long. The Stonewall Inn was no different.
After the Second World War and well into the Cold War, American law enforcement, led by the FBI, deliberately targeted homosexuals for prosecution. In a three-year period from 1947-50, 17000 federal job applications were denied, 4380 people were discharged from the military, and 420 dismissed from government jobs because of suspicions about their sexuality. (more…)
With the shift in understanding of human sexuality from acts to identities, the concept of behaving in a certain way outside the bedroom because of what happens inside began to take hold. Sexologists, busy looking for a “cause” of variant sexualities, began to study every aspect of their patients’ lives looking for common ground, although the debate about nature/nurture and whether or not conforming to stereotypical behaviour is a cause or effect of sexual orientation is still going on today. (more…)
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. (more…)
Most people know that “gay” originally meant “happy/carefree” and came to refer to (usually, male) homosexuals, but not how or when the change occurred. When we study the etymology of the word, which is twelfth century in origin, it’s clear it had developed sexually suspect connotations as early as the 1500s. By the seventeenth century, its meaning of “carefree” had become specific to a kind of sexual looseness or immorality: a “gay woman” was a prostitute, a “gay man” was a womaniser, and a “gay house” was a brothel. (more…)
Thomas Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park were two middle-class Victorian men who were involved in a national scandal after being arrested and tried for cross-dressing in public.
Boulton was the son of a stockbroker; Park of a Master of a superior court. The two met at a young age and became friends, forming a theatrical double-act as Stella Clinton and Fanny Winifred Park, which played to favourable reviews. Boulton, particularly, was very attractive, with a sweet soprano singing voice. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)