Just In Case You Forgot, It’s Movember! Where’s Your Moustache?

While the popularity of the moustache itself has risen and fallen throughout time, the premise that people will inevitably ask you about your lip warmer holds true. We guess that’s why in recent years, Movember has gotten so much buzz. They even have a nice mobile app to help you keep your moustauche in check!

Happy Movember to all!

Halloween: The Gay High Holiday

Three decades ago, Halloween was almost a forgotten holiday across the UK, Europe and Japan. Even in Germany and some other countries in the late 20th century, Halloween was still an exclusively children’s holiday. So, why is the LGBT+ community responsible for bringing the halo back into the eve?

With its roots dating back to old pagan beliefs, the history of All Hallows Eve is long.  Samhain was a Gaelic festival marking the last days of the harvest and Summer. It was celebrated on the evening of the 31st of October when the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual worlds were blurred. According to the old Celts, spirits and fairies could easily visit on this evening, so food and drinks were offered in return for saving humans and their animals. Wearing costumes and masks were also a way to confuse the foreign visitors. 

Dare we mention that the big part of this old festival was playing with nuts

 In ancient societies, LGBT+ people often served as intermediaries between mortals and spirits. Divination is an occult ritual where a pagan priest or a shaman would ’’read’’ the hidden meanings or foretell the future using nuts or apples. In fact, nuts (and apples!) were a common treat given to men wearing costumes, also known as mummers, who were reciting folk tales during these festive days – more than two thousand years ago.

But this is not the only reason why Halloween is often considered the Gay High Holiday.

Since the 1940s, San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood had its own Halloween celebration for children, but by the late 1970s, the celebration shifted to a flamboyantly LGBT+ street party. Though we think of San Francisco as this liberal bastion, in the mid 19th century, the city actually was quite oppressive and had laws against wearing clothes which are not in accordance to one’s sex. Needless to say, the LGBT+ community realized that Halloween in the Castro provided the perfect opportunity to express themselves in all their fabulousness. 

Will & Grace – S1, E5

From the those early LGBT+ Halloween Street parties in the Castro, adult Halloween celebrations spread throughout LGBT+ communities throughout the U.S.. We all know that the LGBT+ community has been a major cultural and trend setting community throughout history, which is why our adult heterosexual brothers and sisters joined in on the Halloween celebrations. Today, Halloween is a major party night for adults across the world.  

What makes Halloween inevitably queer is not just its spiritual or historical background and not even the usual stereotypes about LGBT+ people being into ’’fashion, drama and dressing up’’. It’s the genuine need to come out, to revel, play or experiment with ones identity and to be free of judgment, shame or fear. This is why Halloween symbolizes the overall LGBT+ liberalization movement.

So, on this year’s Halloween, let’s be outrageous, inappropriate and ridiculous! Let’s be safe, have fun and respect each other. Halloween is for everyone!  And remember: 

To quote Will from Will & Grace, “Remember, wear reflective tape, get lots of candy, and don’t put anything in your mouth that isn’t wrapped.”

How I Accidentally Slept with a Gay Catholic Priest

Can you outrun your childhood?

Possibly not, I realized after a brief tryst in Louisville. There on a press trip, I bumped into the cutest guy I’d seen in quite some time. Red hair, eyes of a cerulean summer sky, and a smile that would make sunshine jealous. We sat by the crackle of hotel lobby firelight and laughed, told stories, and shared secrets until I invited him up.

Our time alone was intense and well spent. We languished in the shower afterwards, squirting water in each other’s faces, scrubbing each other and unable to go more than 30 seconds without locking lips. Of course I asked him to spend the night. Of course he said yes.

Something about him seemed familiar, although I was sure we’d never met before. Was it because he was 99 percent Irish, like me? Was it because we had a history of alcoholism in our families or that we’d both moved repeatedly across the country as kids? Was it because we had both been altar boys?

Being Catholic was one of the things that saved me as a boy. Not “saved” in the everlasting sense, mind you. But saved from spending time with my mother and ogre of a step-father. Once I became an altar boy, I had a free pass from the anarchic drama my parents called “home.” I’d do my chores, but then scamper off into the comforting arms of my savior, and my parents couldn’t have any objection. Who could carp about service to the Lord?

That was one of the topics Brian and I landed on when we started chatting, and neither of us could say enough about how it had shaped us. Loving the security, loving the traditions, loving the serenity had clearly intoxicated us both. That the Holy Church railed against homosexuality was almost incidental, as we both acknowledged: the Church said one thing in its dogma, while the brothers and the priests and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy did what they pleased with a wink and a nod — and maybe a few extra Hail Marys for good luck.

As the next morning wore on, we had another go around and then cleaned up to depart. I asked to see him again. He said he’d like nothing more, but didn’t think it was a good idea.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because,” he said, “I’m a priest. I’m married to the Church.”

I was gobsmacked. I had just several times helped a Man of the Cloth violate his vows and was hoping to do so many times more. I asked him how, if he was set in his beliefs, he could do that — and why he didn’t tell me the whole truth from jump street.

He shrugged. “I’m a sinner. We all are. The best we can do is try to live by God’s law and ask forgiveness when we can’t.”

I was overcome with sorrow and shame. I couldn’t deny my attraction, or our connection. But I also couldn’t conscience how someone could so casually sidestep his own code of ethics for romps with randoms.

At that point, we parted company and I was left thinking that although I had left Catholicism — and indeed, Christianity — for something that felt more spiritual and less hypocritical, I still felt an excruciating pang of what the faithful call “Catholic guilt.” I never contacted the priest again. I never heard another word from him either, even though we had exchanged phone numbers the night before.

I wouldn’t reach out to him for another night of passion, another drink by the firelight, or another moment of camaraderie. Every time I wondered whether he might be the One Who Got Away, my mind would bounce to those serene hours in the Church, what they meant for me, and how one man took my trust in him and my former faith, put them in a blender with his own insensitivities and set them swirling together on high.

I was never abused as an altar boy, as so many have been. But this one man reopened old wounds, poured salt in them and ambled out of that hotel with a conscience clear as any spring morning.

A Kiss As An Assault: History of LGBT+ Representation In Cinema

“I think the fate of gay characters in American literature, plays, films is really the same as the fate of all characters who are sexually free.” – Arthur Laurents

LGBT+ characters have a long history in Hollywood movies. Since the 19th century, cinema followed mostly dominant notions of homosexuality.  In this context, LGBT+ history in film is a history of laughter, pity and fear. It has also been full of misinformation and negative portrayals of all kinds. 

Mirroring western culture, Hollywood’s reflection can be delusional, even mythical in its nature, which may emphasize the industry’s role in creating a certain public image and of how LGBT+ people perceive themselves.  Starting with the early 20th century, showing a sissy or a pansy as a flowery, feminine or an asexual male, played into the stereotype of homosexuals as a safe source of comedy. The Great Depression in the 1930s brought financial struggles for movie theaters. In order to bring back audiences, movie makers began spicing it all up with themes of prostitution and violence. Naturally, this provoked an immediate reaction from the Catholic Church and conservative politicians who were concerned about the negative influence of movies on American society. 

Often, LGBT+ characters were presented in a negative light, such as, individuals suffering from mental illness (The Rope, 1948), and only some wiser directors could bypass the rules, by showing something in between (The Maltese Falcon, 1941). Unfortunately, the 1950s were no better for LGBT+ characters in cinema. “Real man” were supposed to be masculine and full of machismo, so the slightest hint of sensuality in a male would be interpreted as homosexual. Movies continued to support this stereotype, again with the ‘’hidden meaning’’ of their characters (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953). 

Unlike the previous decades, the 1960s marked a significant liberalization of censorship. In 1961, The Victim was the first English language movie to use with word “homosexual” followed in 1964 by The Best Man which also used the word ’’homosexual’’ for the first time in American film history. We also shouldn’t forget The Pawnbroker, which depicted a more complex homosexual character played by Brock Peters. 

The Victim (1961)

Movies have the power to influence societal changes. So, the rise of gay characters in 21st century cinema is important and offers an opportunity for filmmakers to portray LGBT+ characters in a way that spurs greater acceptance for the community.

Sing, What You Can’t Say: “The Lavender Song” (The 1st Gay Anthem)

Regardless of its kind, music follows us through our entire day and affects us in many different ways. According to science, the human brain is entirely ”musical”. Music can change the structure of our brain – induce or intensify our emotions. Why we like or dislike a certain song can now be scientifically explained. Music is being used in therapy to help people who struggle with speech development. It has been proven that music helps people sing words they cannot pronounce. This is because music is sort of a ”detour” or an alternative road to avoid the ”traffic jam” in the human brain. But, when we put our respective science aside, we can all see and recognize the social, political and cultural importance of music: as it did help and is still helping us to sing what we can’t say. 

Groups of people and entire communities all around the world gather around music, not only to enjoy it, but to express themselves, their identities and shared values. The LGBTQ+ community is no exception. Many songs are LGBTQ+ anthems. Some became anthems intentionally but many did not. The first gay anthem was “The Lavander Song” (“Das lila Lied”), a German cabaret song from 1920. The lyrics were written by Kurt Schwabach, while the music was done by Mischa Spoilansky, a Russian-British composer who was first signed by his pseudonym, Arno Billing. 

Kurt Schwabach was a well known songwriter who dedicated “The Lavander Song” to Magnus Hirschfeld, a German sexologist and a co-founder of the first homosexual movement. Schwabach’s ”purple song”  had great success after being published as sheet music by Carl Schultz Publishing House, which also issued Die Freundschaft (Frendship, German magazine for gay men). The lavender or purple color, as a different ”option”, symbolized the entire gay movement until it was replaced with the color pink after WWII. 

The Weimar Republic (1918-1933) and its parliamentary democracy provided some improvements for gays and lesbians, especially in Berlin. (A little reminder: the Weimar era is the era of many ”firsts” in German and even world history when it comes to themes of homosexuality.) However, at the fall of the Weimar Republic, Kurt Schwabach was banned from work due to ”racial” reasons, was persecuted and his family murdered during the Nazi era. Later in life, he suffered from chronic subdepressive conditions and committed suicide. Luckily, his works, especially “The Lavender Song”, continued to live and take different forms by different artists around the world – even today.

What made “The Lavender Song” an anthem is, of course, the subject matter but also the circumstances which brought this song to be recognized as such. Music is so much more than just notes on a page. Themes like acceptance, perseverance, resilience, pride, unity and even the entire concept of human hope can be expressed through music. Music, mysterious as it is, can change the way people think and feel – and sometimes, it can really be a detour in our struggles to express our basic needs; to sing, when we can’t speak and to be heard, when no one is listening.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are …

Is it the encouraging song that Glinda The Good Witch sings to the Munchkins?  Is it the exciting children’s game of Hide and Seek you just remembered? Or do you feel threatened by the title, and maybe referencing it to an intense scene from a horror movie?  

While this might be considered banal, the experience of coming out can be interpreted through the three scenarios that just went through your head – through the various thoughts and emotions one can have every time the subject of coming out is brought up.

Coming Out Day, celebrated on October 11th, is an annual LGBT+ Awareness Day created to support LGBT+ individuals in the process of ”coming out of the closet”. The importance of coming out is founded, on the one hand, the presumption that once people know that they have loved ones who identify as LGBT+, oppressive and excluding ways of treatment would diminish. On the other hand, the need to come out also arises from the pressure of ”compulsory heterosexuality” or heterosexuality from birth (1) where heterosexuality is taken as the norm and leads to non-heterosexuals being seen as abnormal.

Almost 40 years ago, since it was first celebrated, Coming Out Day reminds us about the basic personal need ”to be what I am”, to accept yourself first, and then to be your true self to family, close friends and work colleagues for those LGBT+ individuals who decide to come out. This is the ideal that most strive to achieve; however, different experiences of coming out reminds us that coming out may not always be safe if some other factors are involved.

While coming out is mainly a psychological step, the personal experience of LGBT+ people is influenced by their political situation and is often a result of social structures and forms of inequality, which may bring further discrimination, violence and in some countries even persecution. These issues must be included when discussing the topic. As we approach Coming Out Day 2021, let’s remember that it is about ending stigma and encouraging LGBT+ people to live authentically in above all a safe environment that accepts people for who they are.

Reference 1 (Rich, 1980)

Seven People Who Changed LGBT+ History

As LGBT+ history month kicks off, let’s remember some of the extraordinary people who have battled for gay rights.

1. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: The first gay person to publicly speak out for homosexual rights

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was a civil servant in Germany until he was forced to resign in 1854 on account of his homosexuality.

He became an activist and published 12 volumes of work about sexuality, including what’s believed to be the first theory about homosexuality. He argued that it is an ‘inborn condition’ not a learned corruption – as was the prevailing wisdom at the time.

Ulrichs is thought to have been the first gay person to publicly speak out for homosexual rights. In 1867, he urged the German government to repeal anti-homosexuality laws, which firmly established himself as the pioneer of the gay rights movement.

2. Barbara Gittings: The mother of the LGBT civil rights movement

Barbara Gittings was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1932, and moved to Philadelphia, USA at 18.

Legend has it she would hitch-hike to New York at the weekends dressed in male drag.

Gittings headed up the New York branch of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in the 1950s – the USA’s first lesbian civil rights organisation.

In the 1970s, she was a prominent member of the American Psychiatric Association’s fight to get homosexuality removed from the list of psychiatric disorders.

In 2006, The APA recognised her work by awarding her its first annual civil rights award.

3. Harvey Milk: The first openly gay person elected to public office

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Harvey Milk was born in New York in 1930, and became a prominent gay rights activist.

He found his voice in gay rights activism after moving to San Francisco in 1972.

In 1977, he became the first openly gay person elected to public office, winning a seat on the San Francisco City Council Board. He had previously run for the seat twice, unsuccessfully.

Milk was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a fellow City Council board member.

Harvey Milk’s life has been celebrated in a plethora of books and films, including the award-winning Milk (2008) starring Sean Penn.

4. Magnus Hirschfeld: The father of transgenderism

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Hirschfeld is believed to have coined the term ‘transvestitism’.

Hirschfeld began researching sexuality after moving to Berlin in 1896, where he lived as an openly gay man, and campaigned for gay rights.

He was once described by Hitler as “the most dangerous Jew in Germany”, and the entire library of his Institute for Sexual Science was burned by the Nazis.

5. Audre Lorde: The lesbian warrior poet

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Audre Lorde described herself as a ‘black lesbian mother warrior poet’.

Born in New York in 1934, Lorde worked as a librarian for many years before she published her first volume of poetry, First Cities, in 1968.

Her work covered everything from civil rights (The Black Unicorn) and sexuality, to her own battle with breast cancer (A Burst of Light, for which Lorde received an American Book Award).

She inspired Barbara Smith to found Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher by, for, and about women of colour.

From 1991 until her death a year later, Lorde was the New York State Poet Laureate.

In 2001, the Audre Lorde Award was launched to honour works of lesbian poetry.

6. Bayard Rustin: the gay civil rights hero

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Bayard Rustin was a close advisor to Martin Luther King, and an openly gay activist.

He was a key organiser of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King gave his historic ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Walter Naegle, Rustin’s partner for the last decade of his life, has said that he was “someone who was working to expand our democratic freedoms and increase our civil liberties and our individual freedoms”.

In 1948, Rustin served time in prison for refusing to go to war. His prison records describe him as an “admitted homosexual” – one reason, perhaps, why Rustin hasn’t received the same recognition as others in the civil rights movement.

7. Christine Jorgensen: The transgender ex-GI

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Born George Jorgensen in the Bronx, New York, Jorgensen underwent a year and a half of hormone treatment and gender re-assignment surgery in 1952.

Christine stepped off an aeroplane wrapped in fur, following her surgery in Denmark.

The Danish doctor Teit Ritzau, who knew Christine well, has said, “The young Jorgensen identified himself… as a woman who happened to be in a man’s body.”

Returning to New York, Jorgensen was pored over by the media and triggered national discussions about gender identity.

In 1952, she was crowned Woman of the Year by the Scandinavian Society in New York.

Jorgensen herself acknowledged how revolutionary her case was, saying, “we didn’t start the sexual revolution, but I think we gave it a good kick in the pants!”

She died in 1989.