Cover image for Gay essentials : facts for your queer brain
Gay essentials : facts for your queer brain
Bianco, David, 1970-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Los Angeles, CA : Alyson Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 327 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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HQ76.25 .B53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Who was Sappho? How gay were the ancient Greeks? How was ACT UP founded? If you can ask it, David Bianco can answer it, and he does in this often hilarious, always on-target collection of questions and answers about facts in gay culture.

Author Notes

David Bianco is the author of Modern Jewish History for Everyone and Past Out, a syndicated newspaper column that has appeared in more than 90 gay and lesbian newspapers around the world.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Who was Sappho? How did San Francisco get so gay? Was Eleanor Roosevelt really a lesbian? In this lively volume, Bianco (History for Everyone) answers these and 98 other questions about gay history. Largely culled from Bianco's newspaper column "Past Out," the entries in Gay Essentials are succinct, witty, and anecdotal. Bianco does a sensible, entertaining job of covering the kind of history that isn't taught in most schoolsÄbut his work leaves one with the feeling that it could have been much more. Bianco reveals a strong, unnoted bias toward people and events in the United States, and some of the biographical details should probably be taken with a grain of salt. In the end, this book is more like the People's Almanac than a true reference work. It does, however, contain an excellent bibliography for those who seek more depth. Recommended for gay studies collections as well as large public libraries.ÄRichard Violette, Special Libs. Cataloging, Inc., Victoria, BC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Who was Sappho?     The very term lesbian refers to the most famous resident of the Greek isle of Lesbos: Sappho, who lived in the seventh century before the common era, was a celebrated poet whose sexuality has been the source of controversy for more than two millennia.     It is difficult to speak with much historical certainty about events and personalities that occurred more than 2,500 years ago, especially when written sources are scarce. In the case of Sappho, less than 10% of her poetry has survived, and much of what we have is fragmentary. Nonetheless, Sappho's literary reputation has garnered much attention, and some biographical details are fairly clear.     Sappho was born to an aristocratic family in the town of Eressos on the southwest coast of Lesbos. Her mother was a Lesbian, her father was a Lesbian, and she had three Lesbian brothers. She may have been in charge of a girls' school, and she wrote nine books of lyric poetry. Her poetic genius was such that a few centuries after her death, Plato wrote, "Some say the Muses are nine, but how carelessly! Look at the tenth, Sappho from Lesbos."     Most of the surviving poetic fragments from Sappho's repertoire have come from Greek and Roman authors who quote her--from a few words to several lines--in their own works. In addition, some fragments of papyrus and a shard of pottery with lines from her poetry have been found in Egypt. Because her surviving works are so fragmentary--and because sung Greek poetry doesn't translate easily into written English--it is difficult to convey the power Sappho's corpus had over the ancients. Nonetheless, her works continue to fascinate modern readers, especially those interested in her expressions of affection for other women.     The closest we have to a surviving complete Sapphic poem is her "Hymn to Aphrodite," in which she celebrates her affectionate relationship with the goddess of love. In the song Aphrodite asks Sappho which woman is currently causing her heartache and reassures the poet that "if she won't love you, she soon will."     In another song, Sappho expresses her jealousy for a man who is able to talk calmly with a beautiful woman. In contrast, for Sappho: the instant I look upon you, I cannot anymore speak one word, But in silence my tongue is broken, a fine fire at once runs under my skin, with my eyes I see not one thing, my ears buzz, Cold sweat covers me, trembling seizes my whole body, I am more moist than grass; I seem to be little short of dying ...     Although the lesbian desire in the above fragment is unmistakable, many interpreters have argued that the poem actually signifies Sappho's celebration of one of her students' heterosexual engagements.     The heterosexualization of Sappho has often had comic or ironic results. In his book Lesbian Love: Old and New , published in the United States in 1966, Walter Braun argued, "In fact Sappho was a heterosexual, who in her attitude toward girls under her care can be compared with the attitude Socrates took to the boys he had to educate." Well, sort of.     Many writers have pointed to ancient sources that claim Sappho had a husband named Kerkylas, from the island of Andros. But the Greek word kerkos (tail) is common slang for penis, and andro means male. Claiming that a prominent woman-loving woman had a husband named, essentially, "Dick from Manville" is at best dubious evidence of her heterosexuality.     While many scholars have tried to interpret away Sappho's erotic attraction for women, others have tried to destroy her work altogether. One reason so few of her poems have survived is that much of her work was burned by Christian zealots in late antiquity.     Despite such persecution, Sappho's work and reputation have had a major influence on modern lesbian identity. Obviously the terms sapphic and lesbian owe their origin to the Greek poet, but her influence is far greater. Many 20th-century lesbian poets, such as Amy Lowell and May Sarton, refer directly to Sappho in their work. A seminal text in the lesbian-feminist movement of the early 1970s was entitled Sappho Was a Right-On Woman . And for the last 25 years, a British organization named Sappho has organized social, political, and literary activities for lesbians. Chapter Two How gay was the Renaissance?     The Renaissance (Western history roughly between 1400 and 1650) was a time of exploration and great artistic endeavor in Europe, marked by a revival of interest in classical civilizations. A closer look at that age suggests that the Renaissance was also an era buzzing with homosexual activity.     Scholars have found considerable evidence of same-sex relations between adult men and between men and boys in Renaissance Europe, and much of this evidence comes from church and court records. Sodomy was both a religious and a criminal offense, subject to severe punishment by church and state. As part of Henry VIII's religious reformation, in 1533 the English government took over from the church the prosecution of "sodomites," making anal intercourse ("buggery") a felony punishable by hanging. Ireland followed suit in 1634. In the mid-16th century, Geneva instituted several gruesome punishments for sodomy, including beheading and drowning. Under a 15th-century Florentine body called Uffiziali di Notte (Officers of the Night), designed to sniff out and prosecute homosexuals, the great artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci was twice charged with sodomy and twice exonerated for lack of evidence.     Many men of the Renaissance, especially those of the upper class, would probably be called bisexual today. According to custom, noblemen married and procreated to carry on their titles, but they kept young pages and attendants on the side as sexual play things--a model taken from classical times. In the all-male world of the clergy, intergenerational same-sex relations were also common. Two popes, Paul II and Julius II, were both notorious for seducing young men. (The latter was a benefactor of Michelangelo, who is said to have had same-sex attractions, though he doesn't seem to have acted on them.) In the artisan class, homosexual relations often occurred between craftsmen and their apprentices, and historians have also found evidence of sexual relationships between adult working-class men.     The theater was another all-male province; young men and boys played all the female roles. As a consequence, same-sex relations between older and younger actors abounded, and acting became a dishonorable profession. In his play Poetaster , Ben Jonson noted the horror a father experienced when he realized his son was going to be an actor: "What? Shall I have my son ... an ingle ["boy favorite"] for players?"     In addition, two canonical English playwrights of the Renaissance period, William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, are often claimed today as gay. While there is no evidence to answer the question of whether Shakespeare had sex with men, 126 of his 154 sonnets rhapsodize about the beauty of an unnamed young man and were published only after his death. A number of his plays either had homoerotic content (for example, Troilus and Cressida ) or employed gender-bending comedy ( Twelfth Night ).     Marlowe, Shakespeare's contemporary, wrote the homoerotic play Edward II , in which he sympathetically chronicled the love of King Edward for his favorite, Gaveston. Edward's tragedy was the clash of his need to fulfill his role as king and husband and his powerful love for another man. In his personal life as well as his writings, Marlowe left clues about his sexuality: "All they that love not Tobacco and Boies [are] fooles," he reputedly said.     Same-sex relations between women during the Renaissance are much harder to pin down. Women had few outside social contacts and were dependent on men for economic survival. Also, few women (except nuns) were literate, so women could not document their experiences. In a highly sex-segregated society, it seems likely that intimate attachments between women would have formed, and the lives of some famous women point to this possibility. Queen Christina of Sweden, for example, was romantically attached to one of her ladies-in-waiting and abdicated rather than marry a man. Juana Inès de la Cruz, a Mexican noblewoman, became a nun to get an education and to avoid marriage. As Sor Juana, she reputedly had a passionate friendship with the wife of the viceroy of Mexico.     Some male writers discussed lesbian sex in their work, most likely to titillate other men. In doing so they inadvertently left records that sex between women was not unheard of. The 16th-century writer Pierre de Bourdeille, Seigneur de Brantôme , waxed poetic about lovemaking between women, which he labeled " donna con donna ." For him as for other men, lesbian sex was merely prelude or preparation for the real thing--male-female intercourse.     The work of one female writer of the Renaissance, Katherine Phillips, has survived. Phillips is sometimes called the English Sappho. Her poems were published posthumously in the 1660s, and over half of them addressed her love for specific women. Phillips called her relationships "innocent" romantic friendships, but the comparison of her love for women with the love of a bridegroom suggests something deeper.     Men and women of the Renaissance cannot be called gay or lesbian by today's definitions. Homosexuality was an act or a behavior, rather than an identity or culture. Still, literary and historical research shows that same-sex relations were an established fact in Europe hundreds of years before the word homosexual was coined. Copyright © 1999 DAVID BIANCO. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. xii
1. Who was Sappho?p. 1
2. How gay was the Renaissance?p. 4
3. When were the first sodomy laws passed in America?p. 8
4. Were there any gay heroes in the American Revolution?p. 11
5. Were "passing" women lesbians?p. 14
6. Who was Walt Whitman?p. 18
7. Who was Karl Heinrich Ulrichs?p. 21
8. How did San Francisco become so gay?p. 25
9. Was Susan B. Anthony a lesbian?p. 28
10. Who were the "berdaches"?p. 31
11. Who was Katherine Lee Bates?p. 35
12. What was the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee?p. 39
13. What were Oscar Wilde's trials about?p. 42
14. What is the history of gay bathhouses?p. 46
15. When did American gays, lesbians, and others first start calling themselves "queer"?p. 49
16. Who was E.M. Forster?p. 52
17. Who were Havelock Ellis and Edith Lees Ellis?p. 55
18. How gay was the Harlem Renaissance?p. 58
19. Who were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas?p. 61
20. Who was Willa Cather?p. 65
21. What was the Leopold and Loeb case?p. 69
22. Who was Natalie Barney?p. 72
23. What was the first gay rights organization in America?p. 75
24. Who was Janet Flanner?p. 79
25. What was the "Padlock" Bill?p. 82
26. What was The Well of Loneliness?p. 85
27. Who was Babe Didrikson Zaharias?p. 88
28. Was Eleanor Roosevelt a lesbian?p. 91
29. What was The Children's Hour?p. 93
30. What happened to gays and lesbians during the Holocaust?p. 97
31. Who were some of the lesbians in Hollywood's golden age?p. 100
32. What is the origin of the phrase "a friend of Dorothy's"?p. 103
33. Who were Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead?p. 105
34. What were the army drag shows during World War II?p. 108
35. What were "blue discharges"?p. 112
36. When did the American gay and lesbian press begin?p. 115
37. How gay were Tennessee Williams's plays?p. 118
38. What was the Kinsey Report?p. 121
39. What were the lesbian pulp novels of the 1950s?p. 125
40. What were physique magazines?p. 128
41. Who was Christine Jorgensen?p. 131
42. What was the Mattachine Society?p. 135
43. How did McCarthyism affect gays and lesbians?p. 138
44. Who were the Daughters of Bilitis?p. 141
45. Who was Rudi Gernreich?p. 144
46. Who was James Baldwin?p. 147
47. What was the Boise Sex Scandal?p. 150
48. What was Evelyn Hooker's research about?p. 153
49. What was the Wolfenden Report?p. 155
50. Who was Lorraine Hansberry?p. 158
51. What was the Supreme Court's first pro-gay ruling?p. 162
52. What have gays and lesbians experienced in revolutionary Cuba?p. 166
53. Who was Bayard Rustin?p. 170
54. What was Nacho?p. 174
55. What is the origin of the annual gay and lesbian pride events?p. 177
56. Was J. Edgar Hoover gay?p. 180
57. Who was Andy Warhol?p. 183
58. Who was Ramon Novarro?p. 187
59. How did the Vietnam War affect gay men?p. 190
60. What was the role of the Stonewall riots in the lesbian and gay liberation movement?p. 194
61. What was the Gay Activists Alliance?p. 197
62. Who was Yukio Mishima?p. 200
63. Who was Diego Vinales?p. 203
64. What was the Lavender Menace?p. 206
65. What was the Alpine County Project?p. 209
66. What was the first gay-themed TV movie?p. 212
67. What are some of the products gays and lesbians have boycotted over the years?p. 214
68. Who was Norma McCorvey?p. 217
69. What is the history of Naiad Press?p. 220
70. Did Bette Midler really get her start by singing in a gay bathhouse?p. 223
71. Who was Dr. Howard Brown?p. 225
72. How did homosexuality lose its official status as a mental illness?p. 228
73. Who was Oliver Sipple?p. 231
74. Who was Sgt. Leonard Matlovich?p. 233
75. Who were some of the first openly gay elected officials?p. 237
76. When did American gays and lesbians first wear pink triangles as a political statement?p. 240
77. Who were the first major-league athletes to come out?p. 242
78. Who was Sal Mineo?p. 246
79. What is the history of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival?p. 249
80. What were the civil rights setbacks of the late 1970s?p. 252
81. What was the National Women's Conference?p. 256
82. What was the Body Politic raid?p. 259
83. How gay was the disco era?p. 262
84. What were the White Night Riots?p. 266
85. When did the three marches on Washington for lesbian and gay rights take place?p. 270
86. What were the Cruising protests?p. 273
87. How did Billie Jean King come out?p. 276
88. What was the "Queen for a Day Clause"?p. 279
89. What was the early media coverage of AIDS?p. 282
90. What were the lesbian sex wars?p. 285
91. Why aren't the Gay Games called the Gay Olympics?p. 289
92. What did gays and lesbians write to President Reagan about?p. 291
93. When did Rock Hudson's homosexuality become public knowledge?p. 293
94. What is the history of the AIDS quilt?p. 296
95. What were Liberace's legal victories?p. 299
96. What was Bowers v. Hardwick?p. 302
97. Who was Terry Dolan?p. 305
98. How was ACT UP founded?p. 308
99. Was Barney Frank the first gay congressman?p. 311
100. What was the custody battle over Sharon Kowalski?p. 314
101. Was Bill Clinton the first presidential candidate to openly support gay and lesbian rights?p. 317
Suggested Readingp. 323