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Archive for the ‘Indiana’ Category

Bloomington, Ind.
Kinsey Institute

Indiana University

 

My partner was recently at a conference at Indiana University and took a tour of the awesome Kinsey Institute. Alfred C. Kinsey (1894-1956), a professor of biology at the university, initiated the now legendary Kinsey Report because is students were inundating him with questions about sex and sexuality. “They came to him,” the official report explained, “because they hoped that he as a scientist would provide factual information which they might consider in working out their patterns of sexual behavior.”

With the support of the university, the staff of the Institute for Sex Research (the Kinsey Institute) undertook a massive study of human sexual behavior, beginning in 1938. Their initial report, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” was published in 1948, and followed in 1953 by “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.” Kinsey researchers established a simple numerical scale from 1 to 6 to classify sexual behavior, with “1” indicating exclusive heterosexuality and “6” exclusive homosexuality.

Based on a survey of approximately 8,000 men, the Kinsey Report knocked everyone’s socks off with its finding that one in 10 identified as exclusively homosexual, a percentage that continues to be debated and contested. Even more shocking was Kinsey’s assertion that over one-third of the men surveyed had had at least one adult same-sex experience and that fully half admitted having erotic responses to other men. The figures for women were slightly lower but carried the same wallop.

Though not intended as such, the Kinsey Report — both studies were instant best-sellers — was a milestone in gay and lesbian history. For gay people, it gave scientific credence to the idea that “we are everywhere,” and for Americans in general, it paved the way for a more open discussion about human sexual desire.

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Indianapolis, Ind.

Janet Flanner birthplace
952 North Delaware

It’s a paint store now, but it was at this location in the St. Joseph Historic District – a fashionable neighborhood of large homes and wide avenues – that journalist Janet Flanner (1892-1978) was born. Her father was a mortician who co-owned a funeral home, ambulance service, and the state’s only crematorium. Her mother was a published poet and producer of amateur theatricals. Though his family was embarrassed by his profession, Frank Flanner’s social position in Indianapolis was suggested by a notice in a local newspaper: “A newcomer to our fair city asked what she might do to become adjusted socially and correctly in our city. The reply was join the Riviera Club, send your children to Mrs. Gates’ Dancing School, and be buried by Flanner and Buchanan.”

Sadly, when Janet was 20 years old, her father poisoned himself in his own mortuary. The scandal rocked Indianapolis, and gossip-mongers blamed everyone from his wife to his business partner to his mother. In her novel The Cubicle City (1926), Janet Flanner based the idealistic, yet suicidal real estate broker, James Poole, on her own father.

Flanner became a journalist after a brief stint at the University of Chicago. After a few years in New York mingling with the literati and married to a man she didn’t love, Flanner spent most of her adult life abroad, following her first love, journalist Solita Solano, there in 1922. The two women settled in Paris, becoming part of the American artists’ community. Flanner was a regular at Natalie Barney’s salon, and she and Solano were so well known among expatriate lesbians that they appeared as “Nip and Tuck” in Djuna Barnes’ lesbian roman a clef, Ladies Almanack. (She is shown above in a 1927 photo by another lesbian expatriate, Berenice Abbott.)

Flanner is perhaps best remembered for the column “Letter from Paris,” on French culture and personalities, which she wrote for The New Yorker for 50 years, from 1925 until 1975. For her pen name, New Yorker publisher Harold Ross suggested “Genet,” a Gallicized “Janet.” The best of her columns were later collected in the volume Paris Was Yesterday (1972).

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dean

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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Peru, Ind.

Cole Porter grave site
Mt. Hope Cemetery

He lived at swell-egant addresses in Manhattan, Beverly Hills, and the Berkshires, but the ultra-sophisticated Cole Porter (1891-1964) chose to be buried in his hometown of Peru, Indiana, with an unassuming marker. Porter was the son of a local druggist, and at age 8 was enrolled at the nearby Marion Conservatory of Music. There the boy first studied violin and piano and performed at recitals dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy in a velvet suit with lace cuffs. Though one of his biographers claims young Porter was “no prodigy,” he played with a vigor and zest that stole the show. At 10, he composed his first song, “Song of the Birds.”

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