Archive for the ‘bisexuals’ Category


Fairmount, Ind.

James Dean sites

Actor James Dean (1931-1955) was a native of Fairmount, growing up in a 13-room frame farmhouse that dates to 1904 and is still standing at 7184 South 150th Road East. He left Indiana for California and an acting career in 1949; over the next six years, although he made just three films, he established himself as one of the leading young actors of his day. His sexuality has been much debated, but today most of his biographers agree that he had sexual relationships with both men and women.

After his fatal car crash in 1955, Dean was buried in Fairmount’s Park Cemetery, on the same road as the farmhouse where he grew up. Three thousand people attended his funeral. Dean’s gravestone is simply engraved with his name and dates. (There is a more elaborate memorial in Cholame, Calif., near the site of his accident, which was installed on the 50th anniversary of his death.)

The Fairmount Historical Museum, 203 East Washington Street, maintains a James Dean collection to commemorate the town’s most famous resident. On exhibit are such artifacts as his first motorcycle and the boots he wore in Giant. Each year on the anniversary of his death, fans gather in Fairmount for the James Dean Festival, which is hosted by the museum.

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Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Union Avenue (between racetrack and Interstate 87)

Originally the home of wealthy stockbroker Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina, Yaddo was named by one of the Trask children – her mispronunciation of “shadow.” The Trasks had four offspring, all of whom died young, and Katrina’s grief made her try to envision a brighter future for the estate as an artists’ colony, after she and her husband had died. In 1926, following the Trasks’ wishes, Yaddo welcomed its first colonists and continues to sponsor writers who must apply for residence.

Yaddo is a gloomy, gothic estate, and on an overcast day, it’s easy to believe the rumors that it is haunted by the ghosts of the Trask children. It is also easy to imagine Patricia Highsmith creating her great psychological thriller, Strangers on a Train, in this “shadowy” setting. Yaddo was also a favorite writing retreat for other queer writers, including John Cheever, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes (fifth from the right, second row, in this 1942 photo), and Carson McCullers (three to the left of Hughes), who finished The Member of the Wedding while in residence. McCullers was a frequent visitor to the colony; on her very first visit, she was placed in the coveted “tower room” that had belonged to Katrina Trask. A few years later, Truman Capote worked on his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, in the very same room.

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New York, N.Y.

James Baldwin home
131st Street and Fifth Avenue (private)

A housing project has been on this site in Harlem for almost 50 years, but the first home of writer James Baldwin (1924-1987) was once located here. Baldwin wrote vividly and movingly of the deteriorating neighborhood in his essay, “Fifth Avenue Uptown: A Letter from Harlem,” calling the avenue “wide, filthy, hostile.” “Walk through the streets of Harlem,” he admonished his readers, “and see what we, this nation, have become.”


Baldwin remembered a bleak, poverty-stricken childhood, where his playgrounds were the roof of his building and a nearby garbage dump. He escaped a brutal stepfather and a troubled home life through books and writing. One of his junior-high teachers, Countee Cullen, spent much time working with him on his fiction and poetry. Baldwin also found solace in the church, becoming an evangelical minister at the age of fourteen. Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953), his first novel, is an autobiographical work focused on his early life in Harlem.

Baldwin worked a number of after-school jobs to help his family, and at one such job in downtown Manhattan in 1940, he met the painter Beauford Delaney, who became his mentor and possibly his lover. Delaney introduced Baldwin to jazz, art, and to a circle of African-American artists. “The reality of his seeing,” Baldwin later wrote, “caused me to begin to see.” As a young man Baldwin left his family and Harlem for Greenwich Village, where he worked odd jobs to support his writing. In 1948, he took off for Paris, where he lived on and off for the rest of his life. Though he returned to live in New York for periods of time, he didn’t like to stay long, saying that the racism of the city made him too sad.

Baldwin addressed homosexuality and bisexuality in many of his works, most notably Giovanni’s Room (1956), Another Country (1962), and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968). His own life included affairs with both men and women, but the love of his life seems to have been a Frenchman named Lucien Happersberger, whom he met in 1949. “I starved in Paris for a while, but I learned something,” Baldwin later wrote. “For one thing I fell in love.” Happersberger became Baldwin‘s lover for a while but didn’t share the dream of two men building a life together; he eventually married a woman and named his son after Baldwin.

In addition to fiction writing, Baldwin authored numerous important nonfiction works exploring race and racism. He was himself active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and continued to speak out about racism until his death from cancer in 1987.

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Camden, Maine

Edna St. Vincent Millay memorial
Whitehall Inn

52 High Street

A local girl born at 200 Broadway in Rockland, Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) used to work at this tourists’ inn during the busy summer season. In 1912, “Vincent,” as she preferred to be called, did her first public reading here for guests and employees at the inn’s end-of-summer party. The first lines of the poem she read, “Renascence,” described the view of the Maine countryside from nearby Mount Battie, which Vincent loved to climb. “All I could see from where I stood,” the poem began, “was three long mountains and a wood.”

Fortuitously, a professor who was vacationing at Whitehall Inn was so impressed by Vincent’s poem that he arranged to have one of his wealthy friends pay for the girl to study at Vassar College, from which she graduated in 1917 and where she wrote her play The Lamp and the Bell, the most overtly lesbian of all her works.

The “Millay Room” of the Whitehall Inn (shown above), which still operates as a bed and breakfast, contains a display of Millay’s books, a manuscript, and a facsimile of the original draft of “Renascence,” which was published in 1912. The exhibit also holds a scrapbook of articles about the poet and photographs of her at various ages. Just north of Camden, on top of the inspirational Mount Battie, an 800-foot tower bears a plaque honoring Millay. Though Millay lived most of her adult life in New York City and upstate New York, Maine remained a second home to her. (She and her husband, Eugen Boissevain, once owned a home in Camden at 31 Chestnut Street.)

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Memphis, Tenn.

Daisy Theater
329 Beale Street
Beale Street Historic District

Before emancipation, Memphis was already home to many freedmen, and after the Civil War, the area around Beale Street became predominantly black. By the late 19th century, Beale Street was the acknowledged capital of African-American Memphis and of the mid-South, also achieving a reputation as a raw, exciting center of music and entertainment. Blues composer W.C. Handy lived on the street and immortalized it in 1912 in his “Beale Street Blues.” His talent drew such great performers as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Alberta Hunter (bisexuals all), who during the 1920s regularly played in the clubs and performances spaces lining the street, such as the Daisy Theater; the theater was restored in the 1980s (it’s pictured above pre- and post-renovation) and is now the Beale Street Blues Museum. In addition, Beale Street is today a national historic district with markers pointing out its significant historic sites.

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Beaumont, Texas

Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum and Visitors Center
1477 N. Martin Luther King Parkway (at I-10)

Beaumont was home to the young Mildred “Babe” Didrikson (1911-1956), one of the greatest athletes of all time. The Didriksons moved here when Babe was a child, after a flood destroyed their Port Arthur home. As one biographer put it, the Didrikson home (at 850 Doucette Avenue) was in an area “full of rednecks and roughnecks, hard-knuckled families living in washboard poverty.” The busy, noisy street had an oil refinery at one end and a trolley line running down the middle. Around the neighborhood, Babe wore boys’ pants, overalls, and athletic undershirts. Her boyish manner made her a social outcast at school, but she later advised that “a girl that wants to become an athlete and do some winning should…start by being a tomboy.”

And she was indeed an athlete who did “some winning.” From 1930 to 1932, Babe held the American, Olympic, or world records in five different track and field events. After her stunning gold-medal victories at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932, one newspaper headline declared, “Babe Breaks Records Easier Than Dishes.” When she returned from her Olympic triumph, Babe’s father built an apartment for her and her sister on the second floor of the Doucette Avenue house, consisting of two small rooms, a hallway, and a bathroom. Her sister called the bathroom “Babe’s Hollywood bathroom…the most beautiful bathroom in Beaumont,” complete with a bright green tub like one that she had seen and admired in Los Angeles.

Babe went on to excel in numerous sports, including softball, bowling, javelin throwing, boxing, billiards, tennis, and diving. But her greatest distinction by far was as a golfer. In 1935, she came under the protective wing of Bertha Bowen, a powerhouse in Texas golf, who not only helped her game but transformed her looks and physical demeanor as well. Babe – whose “masculine” appearance and competence in male sports had given rise to the suspicion that she was a lesbian – went from cross-dressing to cultivating a traditionally feminine look, including skirts, waved hair, rouge, red nails; she even acquired a husband, the wrestler George Zaharias, in 1938. During her short career, the “ultimate Amazon” won 82 professional and amateur golf tournaments; was named Associated Press’s Woman of the Year six times; and was a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

The museum documents Babe’s life and achievements, housing many of her athletic trophies. Don’t be surprised when you don’t find any reference to her bisexuality, or that her intimate companion, the young golfer Betty Dodd, is treated as solely a friend. Babe, Betty, and George all lived together in Florida from 1950 until Babe’s death from colon cancer in 1956. Of Babe’s husband, Betty later said, “We always had a lot more fun when he wasn’t around.”

Babe is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, 5220 Pine Street, in Beaumont. The state of Texas maintains a historical marker at her gravesite.

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San Francisco, Calif.

Black Cat Cafe
710 Montgomery Street

Like many early gay bars, the famous Black Cat didn’t start out that way. Just a few blocks from the center of North Beach, the Black Cat was first distinguished as a bohemian hang-out (it billed itself as Bohemia of the Barbary Coast) and provided the backdrop for part of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Following World War II, when gay men and lesbians swarmed San Francisco after service in the Pacific, the Black Cat assumed a “gayer” personality. The poet Allen Ginsburg, who knew it in the ’50s, described it as an enormous bar with a honky-tonk piano that “everyone” went to: “All the gay screaming queens would come, the heterosexual gray flannel suit types, longshoremen. All the poets went there.”

At a time when homophile organizations like the Mattachine Society were largely conciliatory to the police and to city officials, the Black Cat was noteworthy as a site of resistance. Its owner, Sol Stoumen, refused to pay off the police for protection against harassment, and his bar was routinely raided and fined from the 1940s through the early 1960s. During the 1950s, the Black Cat’s flamboyant drag performer, Jose Sarria, sang campy parodies of torch songs, giving them political twists, and finished each set by leading the bar’s patrons in his rendition of “God Save Us Nelly Queens,” even when members of the vice squad were present. His brand of activist theater made him extremely popular among gays, and in 1961 Sarria decided to campaign for city supervisor, knowing that he had no chance of winning. Though he received only a few thousand votes, Sarria said later that his intention had been to show his peers that a gay man had the right to run, whether he won or lost.

The Black Cat was closed in 1963. Said the attorney for the club, “That place is like an institution. This is like closing the cable cars or the Golden Gate Bridge.” There is now an upscale tapas and wine bar called Bocadillos on the site.

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