Following up on my last post on drag balls in US and UK history (“An 18th century drag ball in London” @ History is made at night), here’s another repost from the always excellent History is made at night –
Source: San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project ‘She Even Chewed Tobacco: A pictorial narrative of passing women in America’ in ‘Hidden from history: reclaiming the gay and lesbian past’ by Martin B. Duberman, Martha Vicinus, George Chauncey (Meridian Books, 1989).
This advert for Mona’s Club 440 (440 Broadway, San Francisco) comes from San Francisco Life 1942:
This advert mentions Gladys Bentley, described as “Brown Bomber of Sophisticated Songs” and “America’s Greatest Sepia Piano Artist.”
In his A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem, Eric Garber mentions Bentley’s appearances in New York in the 1920s/30s:
‘Perhaps the most famous gay-oriented club of the era was Harry Hansberry’s Clam House, a narrow, smoky speakeasy on 133rd Street. The Clam House featured Gladys Bentley, a 250- pound, masculine, darkskinned lesbian, who performed all night long in a white tuxedo and top hat. Bentley, a talented pianist with a magnificent, growling voice, was celebrated for inventing obscene Iyrics to popular contemporary melodies. Langston Hughes called her “an amazing exhibition of musical energy.” Eslanda Robeson, wife of actor Paul Robeson, gushed to a friend, “Gladys Bentley is grand. I’ve heard her three nights, and will never be the same!” Schoolteacher Harold Jackman wrote to his friend Countee Cullen, “When Gladys sings ‘St. James Infirmary,’ it makes you weep your heart out.”
In the 1950s she appeared on Groucho Marx’s TV show:
One of the most popular posts on Pop Culture Transgressions is Queering Pop Music Studies, which discusses my research and writing on the history of transgendered entertainers in African American music. Drag balls were a significant feature of that history that existed since at least the 1880s. (see, “Gender Crossings: A Neglected History in African American Music”). I must admit a complete ignorance of the British prehistory of drag balls that go back to at least the 18th century.
Thanks to the always excellent History is made at night for posting An 18th century drag ball in London and turning me on to Richard Norton’s Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook.
Richard Norton’s Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook includes lots of fascinating material, not least in relation to ‘Molly Houses‘ and other places where gay men socialized in that period. The following account from 1718 alludes to a Ball in Holborn, in the vicinity of which a number of men were arrested and imprisoned.
The context is interesting as the arrests were ordered by Charles Hitchin, Under City Marshal and a member of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, which campaigned against ‘immorality’. Hitchin though was accused of being no stranger to ‘He-Whores’ himself, as claimed here in the words Jonathan Wild, the famous thief-catcher/crook whose capture Hitchin had secured:
‘As he was going out of the House he said, he supposed they would have the Impudence to make a Ball. The Man desiring him to explain what he meant by that, he answer’d, that there was a noted House in Holborn, to which such sort of Persons used to repair, and dress themselves up in Woman’s Apparel; and dance and romp about, and make such a hellish Noise, that a Man would swear they were a Parcel of Cats a Catter-wauling. — But, says he, I’ll be reveng’d of these smock-fac’d young Dogs. I’ll Watch their Waters, and secure ‘em, and send ‘em to the Compter.
Accordingly the Marshal knowing their usual Hours, and customary Walks, placed himself with a Constable in Fleet-street, and dispatch’d his Man, with another to assist him, to the Old-Bailey. At the expected Time several of the sporting Youngsters were seized in Women’s Apparel, and convey’d to the Compter. Next Morning they were carried before the Lord-Mayor in the same Dress they were taken in. Some were compleatly rigg’d in Gowns, Petticoats, Head-cloths, fine lac’d Shoes, furbelow’d Scarves and Marks; some had Riding-hoods; some were dressed like Milk-Maids, others like Shepheardesses with green Hats, Waistcoats and Petticoats; and others had their Faces patch’d and painted, and wore very extensive Hoop-petticoats, which had been very lately introduced. His Lordship having examin’d them, committed them to the Work-house, there to continue at hard labour during Pleasure. And, as Part of their Punishment, order’d them to be publickly conducted thro’ the Streets in their Female Habits. Pursuant to which order the young Tribe was carried in Pomp to the Work-house, and remain’d there a considerable Time, till at last, one of them threaten’d the Marshal with the same Punishment for former Adventures, and he thereupon apply’d to my Lord-Mayor, and procured their Discharge. This Commitment was so mortifying to one of the young Gentlemen, that he died in a few Days after his Release. — Any that want to be acquainted with the Sodomitish Academy, may be inform’d where it is, and be graciously introduced by the accomplish’d Mr. Hitchin’.
SOURCE: Richard Norton (ed.), Jonathan Wild Exposes Charles Hitchin, 1718, based on ‘Select Trials at the Sessions-House in the Old-Bailey, From the Year 1720, to this Time’, 1742.
This is a repost and redux of a post from my other blog Deciphering Culture about labyrinth walking & healing and the parallels I find in meditation and deep listening to music. The Tommy referred to in the title was the lead character from the Who’s rock opera Tommy but I found an unexpected occurrence of synchrony when I was doing some therapeutic headphonee listenineg today. When it came time to transition back to everyday life, I put Delhi 2 Dublin’s Planet Electric on for the first times in months and realized that the track that gets me going and inspires me is entitled “Tommy.” For the original post go to Tommy on the edge of a cliff and scroll down below to the YouTube video of the lesser-known Tommy.
A labyrinth is not a maze. There is no intention to fool you: there is one way in and one way out. You simply follow the path to the center and then back out, a metaphorical equivalent to any number of spiritual traditions. Walking a labyrinth can be a walking meditation if you do it with intention.
Placing one foot in front of the other,
Gauging the distance as you frame the intention;
Taking the step, intention inseparable from action.
It falls into a rhythm, step after step, clearing the mind.
For the last year, I have been working to rewire my brain in response to some neurological difficulties. Choosing alternative modalities of treatment in lieu of the bag of drugs the neurologist handed me, I made steady but uneven progress. Bodywork, meditation, exercise, music became part of my daily routine. Recently, my wife suggested I add labyrinth walking to my regimen: “I think if you walk a labyrinth once a week, you’ll be healed.” She described her experience walking the labyrinth and I decided to give it a shot. A Google search located three labyrinths in San Francisco and I decided to visit the one at Eagle’s Point along the Land’s End trail where the bay meets the ocean. A drive across town and a forty minute hike led me down the bluffs to a labyrinth perched on a cliff. I entered the labyrinth and tried to walk the path with singleminded intention. Maintaining the clarity to keep an even gait was harder than I imagined, especially when the outer circle of the labyrinth passed within three feet of the sheer drop to the rocks and water a hundred feet below. I followed the circuitous path to the center, stood for a while then retraced my steps out of the labyrinth.
I left the labyrinth refreshed and inspired, and a little mentally tired. A beautiful sunny day, the experience of walking the labyrinth on the edge of the cliff had left me with the feeling of possibilities. A number of the healing modalities I’m using are premised on the theory that brain waves need periodic recalibration. To me, walking the labyrinth was most like becoming absorbed in listening to a piece of music. Like deep listening to music, walking a labyrinth can take you away to another world and bring you back reoriented to this one.