Archive for the ‘transgender’ Category

This week, LGBT history was ready for its close-up when the National Parks Service (NPS) of the Department of the Interior brought together 16 history scholars – myself included – for the launch of an LGBT initiative on June 10. This was a personal thrill for me, getting to hang with colleagues like pioneer gay historian John D’Emilio and to chat about same-sex marriage with the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

Two immediate goals of the LGBT initiative over the next 18 months are to increase the number of LGBT site listings on the National Register of Historic Places and to nominate sites for the more rigorous National Historic Landmarks program, or to amend current designations.

Currently, we have just one landmark – the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan – and four sites on the National Register: Frank Kameny’s home in Washington, DC; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on Fire Island; the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT; and the Carrington House on Fire Island.

Considering the richness and breadth of LGBT history in this country, that’s far too few. And in addition, these sites are all very heavily East Coast-centric and “G.” What about the L, B and T? Where are our sites in California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Florida, and all the other states? Who are the people and what are the events that shaped LGBT history and civil rights in the Heartland or in the Deep South? Put your thinking caps on, folks!

The confab of scholars was a call to all of us to dig in and contribute. LGBT people don’t just live in New York City and San Francisco – we are, literally, everywhere and always have been. The NPS is looking for public input and comments on the initiative, which you can give by heading over to the dedicated website for this project or emailing lgbthistory@nps.gov.

Don’t be afraid to suggest sites that you think have a place on the National Register or to bring attention to LGBT local history projects in your town or city that may be interested in contributing to this historic drive for the visibility of our heritage. Or, if you prefer, email me at queerestplace [at] gmail.com and I’ll be happy to pass your suggestions along.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity. June 10 was a moving day and I am still on a “history high” realizing that the work queer historians have been doing for years is finally getting the spotlight and recognition it deserves.


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Author Jesse Blackadder’s novel The Raven’s Heart is set in the court of Mary Queen of Scots – and was partly inspired by the discovery that the queen was a regular cross-dresser. The Raven’s Heart has just been published by Bywater Books in the USA, UK and Canada (it was published in Australia last year by HarperCollins).

However, it was another Mary from the time who penned a love poem to her female friend that has survived down the centuries. Here, Jesse crosses the historical divide to “talk” to Mary Maitland and tell us about the inspiration behind The Raven’s Heart.

Mary Maitland, you wrote a passionate poem to another woman and slipped it under your father’s nose, to be published in his 1586 Scottish collection The Maitland Quarto Manuscript. You were compared to Sappho – a poet who was part of classic education in those days – and in the poem you dream of changing into a man so you can marry the woman you love.

It’s (just) within the bounds of friendship poetry of the era, though the lines:

 You wield me wholly at your will

And ravish my affection

suggest a passion struggling to stay within social limits. You compare your love to that of Penelope and Ulysses, Pollux and Castor, and Ruth and Naomi (source of the declaration “Whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge”). At the end you write that your fervent friendship will endure until “death shall us divorce.”

Was a passionate – but chaste – friendship the only option for women who fell in love in the 16th century? Although men of the day were often accused of being sodomites – including the husband of the Queen of Scots – lesbianism didn’t openly exist as an identity. The fact that Mary Maitland’s poem was published in a collection compiled by the Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, suggests there was no hint of indecency about her declarations.

But this poem (reproduced in The Literature of Lesbianism by Terry Castle) was one of the little jewels I found while researching and writing my story of powerful women struggling for their birthright in the time of the Queen of Scots, herself a powerful and attractive woman.

Unusually tall and highly charismatic, the Queen loved sports and outdoor activities and was accomplished at riding and hunting. She disguised herself as a man and slipped out of her palace at night to explore Edinburgh’s streets and drink in its taverns. Perhaps these experiences piqued the Queen’s interest in clothing, gender and power, for Mary began cross-dressing more politically. She turned up in masculine clothing to a banquet in honour of the English ambassador and joked about how a marriage between herself and Elizabeth I would solve their political problems. When one of her powerful lords in the north of Scotland defied her, Mary donned armour to lead her armies to defeat him and admitted that she loved to live as a soldier. She rode out again when her lords rebelled against her marriage to the unpopular (and rumoured homosexual) Lord Darnley, putting on such a show of strength that the rebels fled without a fight.

There’s no suggestion in contemporary or current history that the Queen was a lesbian, but I couldn’t help being fascinated by this extraordinary character. Mary was the most famous cross dresser of the time – but surely not the only one?

And so the main character in The Raven’s Heart, Alison, is disguised as a boy from a young age to protect her from kidnapping. When Alison goes into Mary’s service to petition for the return of her family’s castle, how can she not fall in love with the charismatic Queen of Scots?

So great joy does my spirit fulfil

Contemplating your perfection

You wield me wholly at your will

And ravish my affection.

Mary Maitland isn’t a character in the book, but I can’t help wondering: did she and her loved one remain “In perfect amity forever”? Or did her marriage to one Alexander Lauder end the constancy of her “holy and religious” love?

Jesse Blackadder’s website is www.jesseblackadder.com

Extract from The Raven’s Heart

Scotland, 1561.

We come across the North Sea, bearing the face of heaven in our hold.

A fleet of ships brings such a treasure, our galley speeding ahead and the rest following slowly with her horses and fineries, her tapestries and clothes. She returns from thirteen years in the French court to take up the reins of power.

Does she remember that she returns to a city of stone? Stone is too old to care what human hands press against it, what blood spills in its crevices. Even the palace, with its French architecture, is made of stone, and looming above it, Edinburgh Castle hewn from the cliff so that none may attack it and none may escape. She sails to a stone city, an icy country and a cold people.

As we draw close to the coast, heavy fog envelopes us. Bass Rock materialises through the mist like something enchanted, its sides steep and forbidding, and the gulls scream and wrack and sweep around it in circles. The sea is brown and heaving, the outpour of the Firth River is a scum of Edinburgh’s rot slapping at the side of the boat. She waits on the deck to set eyes on the land, but it stubbornly refuses to reveal itself through the mist. It is not a forgiving country and she has been gone since she was five.

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What a Babe

San Francisco, Calif.

Babe Bean birthplace

806 Green Street

Babe Bean, a cross-dressing woman who lived on a houseboat in a lake near Stockton, was born Elvira Virginia Mugarrieta in 1869 at this address in Russian Hill. Bean’s father was the former Mexican consul to San Francisco, while her/his mother was the daughter of a former U.S. Congressman and Louisiana Supreme Court Justice.

Bean came to fame in the fall of 1897, when detained by police in Stockton for wearing men’s clothing. The Stockton newspaper published Bean’s picture in a man’s tie and hat, along with a series of sensational stories in which Bean was referred to “the mysterious girl-boy man-woman.”

After a brief stint as a newspaper reporter in Stockton, Bean enlisted in the army during the Spanish-American War and served in the Philippines. Later, Bean moved to San Francisco and served for three decades as a caretaker of poor and homeless men, until her/his death in 1936. Other names that Bean went by included Jack Bee Garland, Beebe Beam, and Jack Beam.

Although beginning in the late 1970s the lesbian community claimed Bean as a butch lesbian, according to community historian Liz Highleyman, Bean does not appear to have shown any romantic interest in women. In 1990, transman Lou Sullivan wrote a biography of Bean in which he speculated that he was a fellow transman with a sexual affinity for gay men. But the evidence remains murky. “From today’s vantage point,” wrote Highleyman, “it is impossible to know how Garland—who sometimes seemed to straddle the genders purposefully—would have identified.”

As a man, I can travel freely, feel protected and find work.”

–Babe Bean

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January is National Drag History Month. Catch this slide show of photos from the legendary Jewel Box Revue.

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East Glacier Park, Mont.

Running Eagle Falls
Glacier National Park
Two Medicine Entrance

Near this eastern entrance to Glacier National Park (adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation) is the beautiful Running Eagle Falls, formerly known as “Trick Falls” for the way water flows out of different parts of the falls during different seasons. The falls are named for Running Eagle, the only female-born war chief of the Blackfeet.

In 1916, a white man, James Willard Schultz, published an account called Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park, concerning his experiences among the Native Americans of northwestern Montana. Schultz’s was the first written account of the story of Running Eagle, a 19th-century war chief who was born female but rejected traditional female activities and dress and was known as “sakwo’mapi akikwan,” or, in English, “boy-girl.”

From an early age, Running Eagle wished to be a boy. “But if I cannot be one,” she said, “I can do a boy’s work.” She joined her father in hunting, and when he was killed by members of the Crow Nation, Running Eagle began dressing in men’s clothes and joined the war party that avenged his death. By age 20, she had achieved the name “Girl Chief.” (Which is why I use the feminine pronoun.)

As an adult, Running Eagle kept her own lodge and took a wife named Suya’ki, a woman “who wanted nothing to do with men.” According to Schultz, their lodge was “a visiting place for many girls, young married women, and not a few old women.” Honored and respected for her achievements, Running Eagle’s exploits were still recalled in oral history accounts 100 years after her death in 1840.

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Fort Meade, S.D.

Fort Meade
Highway 34/79

When the Seventh Cavalry under General George Armstrong Custer was stationed here in what was then “the Dakota Territory” in the 1870s, the company laundress, “Mrs. Corporal Noonan,” was a popular midwife, seamstress, cook, and nurse. She had three soldier husbands between the years 1868 and 1878, the last of whom was John Noonan, an orderly. According to historian John Wilke, General Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, also employed Mrs. Noonan privately, praising the woman’s handiwork: “When she brought the linen home, it was fluted and frilled so daintily that I considered her a treasure.”

But Mrs. Noonan also had a well-kept secret. Elizabeth Custer remembered that the laundress “kept a veil pinned about the lower part of her face.” When Mrs. Noonan died in 1878, the women at the post who had the task of preparing her body for burial discovered that she was a biological man. Her husband would have undoubtedly been court-martialed and sent to the penitentiary, but the corporal committed suicide before he could be prosecuted, just a month after his wife’s death.

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Portland, Ore.

Dr. J. Allen Gilbert office
610 SW Alder Street, 7th floor

In 1918, a young woman named Alberta Lucille Hart, who had graduated from Albany Colleg (now Lewis & Clark University) the University of Oregon Medical College, consulted a psychiatrist named Dr. J. Allen Gilbert in this office building about the possibility of surgery to become a man. She had already been presenting as a man and had pursued several affairs with women during her university career.

In 1920, Dr. Gilbert wrote a report of his treatment of “H” in a monograph in the Journal of Nervous and Medical Disease. After consultation with Gilbert, Hart underwent a hysterectomy, cut her hair, and began to live exclusively as a man. Amazingly, Gilbert concluded that “if society but leave her alone, she will find her niche in the world and leave it better for her bravery.”

Hart (1890-1962) was a pioneering transgender person, who not only assumed male garb and took on a male identity but legally married a woman “of decided physical attractions,” according to Gilbert. “Women of normal sex life,” wrote the psychiatrist, “felt themselves attracted to her because of her aggressive male characteristics.” Dr. Alan Hart became a leading physician in the field of tuberculosis detection, and practiced in Oregon, Idaho, and Connecticut. In addition, he also wrote three novels, the best known of which is Dr. Mallory (1935), set on the Oregon coast.

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Zuni, N.M.

Zuni Pueblo
1203B State Highway 53 (off U.S. 40)

On the border of New Mexico and Arizona is the Pueblo of Zuni, which was once home to one of the most famous two-spirited people, We’wha (1849-1896). Today, the Zuni still relate stories about We’wha, an accomplished weaver and potter who was one of the first Zuni to sell wares for cash. Anthropologist Mathilda Coxe Stevenson described We’wha as “the strongest character and the most intelligent of the Zuni tribe.” In 1886, We’wha spent six months in Washington as Stevenson’s guest, becoming the hit of the capital’s social scene and being generally accepted as an “Indian princess.”

In Zuni culture, We’wha was a lhamana, an individual who combined male and female work and social roles and often dressed in women’s clothing. (Among whites, such individuals were commonly known as berdaches, a French colonialist word meaning “slave boy.”) A lhamana was neither exclusively female or male; of We’wha, they said, “She is a man.” Gay historians disagree about whether or not the lhamana role was exalted or lowly. Some contend that lhamana were holy people – priests and artists – while others say their role was one of humiliation and passivity.

As a child, We’wha lost both parents and was adopted into the family of an aunt. In many photographs at the Smithsonian Institution, We’wha can be seen weaving in front of the family dwelling, which was located in the southeast corner of the Zuni pueblo. The pueblo is open to “respectful guests” every day until dusk. (For more info, visit http://www.experiencezuni.org/home.html.)

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