Monthly Archives: February 2020

Gay History: More Than Words: Gay Pt. 1 — We’re Going Gay

“Gay” was the first queer word I ever learned, and the first queer thing I ever called myself.  Something about “lesbian” didn’t sit right with me, and I wasn’t yet aware of reclamation, of the bright side of pejoratives — the spark that happens when you turn a weapon on itself. Plus I liked the sneakiness. Gay meant happy, right? You could claim it while admitting nothing. It was a rainbow dream mask.

But even before it got the rest of its colors, this word blushed. Pleasure, joy, and other gaieties are perpetually societally fraught, and gay has the scars to prove it — it’s been punned on, leaned on, worn proudly, hidden behind, argued over, and ping-ponged across the net of respectability ever since it was invented. If words could break, gay might have a long time ago. Luckily it bent instead. Here’s the beginning of how it happened.

The most common etymology of the word “gay” has it rooted in the Proto-Indo-European root *gey- (“to go”). This evolved into *gheng- (“to stride”) which became the Proto-Germanic *ganhaz/*ganhwaz (“sudden”), and then the Old High German gahi (“quick, impulsive”). The move to Old French jai (“merry”) brought the recognizable definition and a nice modern jauntiness. Jai became gai likely due to the influence of Gothic gaheis (“impetuous”), and soon we had the Middle English gay, direct ancestor of the word we use today.

Easy enough — except that etymology is an inexact science based on barely traceable exchanges that took place thousands of years ago, so not everyone agrees on what happened. Anatoly Liberman has an alternate theory that roots gay in Old High German wahi (“shining”/”beautiful”), based on a g/w interchangibility that we see borne out in word pairs like “guardian” and “warden,” or “guerrilla” and “war.” But he’s even more attached to a different explanation from the 19th century master Frank Chance. An “excellent etymologist, now almost forgotten,” Chance used to publish almost exclusively in Notes and Queries, a quarterly where scholars and hobbyists traded notes and asked each other questions — kind of like an early Formspring, but for linguistics and lexicography. In an 1861 Note, Chance took on “gay” via an analogy to the French gaîne, or “sheath,” which comes from the Latin vagina, also “sheath” (and also your bonus etymology-of-the-day).


“The g in gaîne,” Chance explains, “corresponds to the v in vagina… In a similar way, I think, our adjective “gay” might be readily deduced from the Latin vagus, or perhaps from the corresponding Italian vago, which means both wandering, roaming, and pleasant, agreeable.” About a century and a third later, German linguist Harri Meier added some evidence to the pile, listing Italian cognates like svagarsi (“amuse oneself”) and svago (“diversion”).

I have also become attached to this theory, not only because it’s more fun, but also because it means that the start of  gay’s backstory involves a gradual influx of positive feeling — what semantician Stephen Ullman calls an “amelioration of meaning.”  As Liberman points out, the Latin vagus often meant “flighty” or “frivolous,” which, though not the worst possible things to call someone, aren’t as sunshiney as the merriment and joie de vivre implied by “gay” — see, for example, Propertius’s Elegy V, in which a “vagis puellis” is compared negatively to Cynthia, a “docta puella” or “learned girl,” and Propertius’s perpetual muse.  So somewhere over the course of its initial leap into English, gay enjoyed a rise in reputation — a fine beginning for a word that would spend the rest of its life undergoing a roller coaster ride of semantic shifts.

“Gay” first hit paper in 1325, in a transcription of a Middle English song called “Blow, Northerne Wynd.” When I started reading it, I thought it was about how the narrator would brave the northern wind to get to his beloved, who is described as semly and menskful and lossom (“seemly,” “worshipful,” and “lovely,” if you prefer boring new English words). But in the end, he’s actually asking the wind to blow his suetyng (“sweetheart”) to him, which honestly sounds kind of mean and lazy. Dave Wilton found the relevant stanza:

“Heo is dereworþe in day
graciouse, stout, ant gay
gentil, iolyf so þe iay
worhliche when heo wakeþ.
Maiden murgest of mouþ;
bi est, bi west, by norþ ant souþ,
þer nis fiele ne crouþ
þat such murþes makeþ.
Blow northerne wynd!
Send thou me my suetyng!
Blow northerne wynd! blow, blow, blow!”

(TRANSLATION: “She is precious in day / gracious, stout, and gay / gentle, jolly as the jay/ noble when she wakes. / Maiden merriest of mouth / by East, West, North and South / Neither fiddle nor crowd / Makes such abundance. / Blow northern wind! / Send me my sweetheart! / Blow northern wind! Blow, blow, blow!”)

Gay is a nice-sounding, one-syllable word that rhymes with a lot of things — all the makings of a poetic mainstay. To the delight of decades of middle school English students, no one could get enough of it for centuries and centuries. Chaucer used it in 1385. Robert Mannyng used it in his “story of England,” in the late 14th century. The lyrics of “Deck The Halls” are from 1862. Shakespeare used it thirteen times in total. Here’s Iago, in Othello, written in 1603: “She that was ever fair and never proud / Had tongue at will and yet was never loud / Never lack’d gold and yet went never gay.” I’m trying to be mature here but Shakespeare makes it hard.


Over this time, though, “gay” began experiencing a “pejoration of meaning” — it’s the opposite of the aforementioned amelioration, and you use it when a word’s reputation starts going downhill. Some think this started as far back as the 14th century, but it was definitely established by the 17th, when, according to the OED, it was generally used to describe those “addicted to pleasures and dissipations.” Carefreeness had flipped back to frivolity. You can even see it in the above Shakespeare, as Iago uses “gay” to mean “flashy” and sets it in parallel with pride and loudness, two then-undesirable traits). This frivolity developed into a general lack of inhibitions, and often referred to sexual carefreeness — by at least 1799, a “gay man” was a womanizer, a “gay woman” a prostitute, and a “gay house” a brothel.


In a nice return to its roots, “to go gay” was to live a life of hedonism. For proper usage, see this sentence, from Edward Montague Compton MacKenzie’s Carnival, that was far ahead of its time:

“After dinner Jenny went back to Hagworth Street, and had a flaming quarrel with her mother, who accused her of “going gay”; demanded to know how she dared put in an appearance dressed in another woman’s clothes; insisted she was to come home immediately after dinner; forbade a hundred things, and had the door slammed in her face for the advice.”

While this meaning became more prevalent, another now-familiar one snuck up alongside it. Next time we’ll talk about when gay started meaning what it does now — and take another few dips up and down the semantic roller coaster.


Buddhism 101: Eleven Legendary Buddhist Temples

1. Taktsang: The Tiger’s Nest

The Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang Monastery in Paro, Bhutan. © Albino Chua / Getty Image

Taktsang Palphug Monastery, also called Paro Taktsang or The Tiger’s Nest, clings to a sheer cliff more than 10 thousand feet above sea level in the Himalayas of Bhutan. From this monastery there is about a 3,000 foot drop to the Paro Valley, below. The original temple complex was built in 1692, but the legends surrounding Taktsang are much older.

Taktsang marks the entrance of a cave where Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. Padmasambhava is credited with bringing Buddhist teachings to Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th century. 

2. Sri Dalada Maligawa: The Temple of the Tooth

Elephants on display at the entrance of the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka. © Andrea Thompson Photography / Getty Images

The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy was built in 1595 to hold the single most sacred object in all of Sri Lanka — a tooth of the Buddha.  The tooth is said to have reached Sri Lanka in the 4th century, and in its complex history was moved several times and even stolen (but returned).

The tooth has not left the temple or been displayed to the public for a very long time. However, every summer it is celebrated in an elaborate festival, and a replica of the tooth is placed in a golden casket and carried through the streets of Kandy on the back of a large and elaborately decorated elephant, festooned with lights.

3. Angkor Wat: A Long-Hidden Treasure

The famous temple of Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat, Cambodia where the roots of the jungle trees intertwine with these ancient structures. © Stewart Atkins (visualSA) / Getty Images

When construction began in the 12th century Cambodia’s Angkor Wat was intended to be a Hindu temple, but it was rededicated to Buddhism in the 13th century. At that time it was in the heart of the Khmer empire. But by the 15th century water shortages forced the Khmer to relocate, and the beautiful temple was abandoned except by a few Buddhist monks. In time much of the temple was reclaimed by the jungle.

It is renowned today for its exquisite beauty and for being the largest religious monument in the world. However, until the mid-19th century it was known only to Cambodians. The French were so astonished at the beauty and sophistication of the ruined temple that they refused to believe it had been built by the Khmer. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and work to restore the temple is ongoing.

4. Borobudur: A Massive Temple Lost and Found

Sunrise at Borobudur, Indonesia. © Alexander Ipfelkofer / Getty Images

This massive temple was built on the Indonesian island of Java in the 9th century, and to this day it is considered the largest entirely Buddhist temple in the world (Angkor Wat is Hindu and Buddhist). Borobudur covers 203 acres and consists of six square and three circular platforms, topped by a dome. It is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and hundreds of Buddha statues. The meaning of the name “Borobudur” has been lost to time.

The entire temple almost was lost to time as well. It was abandoned in the 14th century and the magnificent temple was reclaimed by the jungle and forgotten. All that seemed to remain was a local legend of a mountain of a thousand statues. In 1814 the British governor of Java heard the story of the mountain and, intrigued, arranged for an expedition to find it.

Today Borobudur is a United Nation World Heritage Site and a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists.

5. Shwedagon Pagoda: An Inspirer of Legend

The Great Golden Stupa towers over the Shwedagon Pagoda complex. © Peter Adams / Getty Images

The great Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) is a kind of reliquary, or stupa, as well as a temple. It is believed to contain relics not only of the historical Buddha but also of three Buddhas who preceded him. The pagoda is 99 feet fall and plated with gold.

According to Burmese legend, the original pagoda was built 26 centuries ago by a king who had faith a new Buddha had been born.  During his reign two merchant brothers met the Buddha in India and told him about the pagoda built in his honor. The Buddha then pulled out eight of his own hairs to be housed in the pagoda. When the casket containing the hairs was opened in Burma, many miraculous things happened.

Historians believe the original pagoda actually was built some time between the 6th and 10th centuries. It has been rebuilt several times; the current structure was built after an earthquake brought down the previous one in 1768.

6. Jokhang, the Holiest Temple of Tibet

Monks debate at Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. © Feng Li / Getty Images

According to legend, Jokhang Temple in Lhasa was built in the 7th century by a King of Tibet to please two of his wives, a princess of China and a princess of Nepal, who were Buddhists. Today historians tell us the princess of Nepal probably never existed. Even so, Jokhang remains a monument to the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet.

The Chinese princess, Wenchen, brought with her a statue said to have been blessed by the Buddha. The statue, called the Jowo Shakyamuni or Jowo Rinpoche, is considered the most sacred object in Tibet and remains enshrined in Jokhang to this day.

7. Sensoji and the Mysterious Golden Statue

Historic Asakusa Senso-ji, Tokyo, at dusk. © Future Light / Getty Images

Long ago, about 628 CE, two brothers fishing in the Sumida River netted a tiny golden statue of Kanzeon, or Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy. Some versions of this story say the brothers repeatedly put the statue back into the river, only to net it again.

Sensoji was built in honor of the bodhisattva, and the tiny golden statue is said to be enshrined there, although the statue the public may view is acknowledged to be a replica. The original temple was completed in 645, which makes it Tokyo’s oldest temple.

In 1945, during World War II, bombs dropped from American B-29s destroyed much of Tokyo, including Sensoji. The present structure was built after the war with donations from the Japanese people. On the temple grounds there is a tree growing from the remains of a tree hit by a bomb. The tree is cherished as a symbol of the undying spirit of Sensoji.

8. Nalanda: A Lost Center of Learning

The ruins of Nalanda. © De Agostini / G. Nimatallah

Eight centuries after its tragic destruction, Nalanda remains the most famous learning center in Buddhist history. Located in the present-day Bihar state of India, in Nalanda’s heyday the quality of its teachers attracted students from all over the Buddhist world.

It’s not clear when the first monastery was built at Nalanda, but one appears to have been there by the 3rd century CE. By the 5th century it had become a magnet for Buddhist scholars and had grown into something like a modern-day university. Students there not only studied Buddhism but also medicine, astrology, mathematics, logic and languages. Nalanda remained a dominant learning center until 1193, when it was destroyed by a nomadic army of Muslim Turks of central Asia. It is said that Nalanda’s vast library, full of irreplaceable manuscripts, smoldered for six months. Its destruction also marked the end of Buddhism in India until modern times. 

Today the excavated ruins may be visited by tourists. But the memory of Nalanda still attracts attention. Presently some scholars are raising money to rebuild a new Nalanda near the ruins of the old one. 

9. Shaolin, Home of Zen and Kung Fu

A monk practices kung fu at Shaolin Temple. © China Photos / Getty Images

Yes, China’s Shaolin Temple is a real Buddhist temple, not a fiction created by martial arts movies. The monks there have practiced martial arts for many centuries, and they developed a unique style called Shaolin kung fu. Zen Buddhism was born there, established by Bodhidharma, who had come to China from India early in the 6th century. It doesn’t get more legendary than Shaolin. 

History says Shaolin was first established in 496, a few years before Bodhidharma arrived. The buildings of the monastery complex have been rebuilt many times, most recently after they were gutted during the Cultural Revolution. 

10. Mahabodhi: Where the Buddha Realized Enlightenment

The Mahabodhi Temple marks the place where the Buddha realized enlightenment. © 117 Imagery / Getty Images

Mahabodhi Temple marks the place where the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree and realized enlightenment, more than 25 centuries ago. “Mahabodhi” means “great awakening.” Next to the temple is a tree said to have been grown from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree. The tree and temple are located in Bodhgaya, in the Bihar state of India.

The original Mahabodhi Temple was built by the Emperor Ashoka about 260 BCE. In spite of its significance in the Buddha’s life, the site was largely abandoned after the 14th century, but in spite of neglect it remains one of the oldest brick structures in India. It was restored in the 19th century and is protected today as a UN World Heritage Site. 

Buddhist legend says that Mahabodhi sits on the naval of the world; when the world is destroyed at the end of the age it will be the last place to disappear, and when a new world takes the place of this one, this same spot will be the first place to reappear. 

11. Jetavana, or Jeta Grove: The First Buddhist Monastery?

The Anandabodhi Tree at Jetavana is said to have been grown from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree. Bpilgrim, Wikipedia, Creative Commons License

The Anandabodhi Tree at Jetavana is said to have been grown from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree. Bpilgrim, Wikipedia, Creative Commons License

The ruins of Jetavana are what is left of what may have been the first Buddhist monastery. Here the historical Buddha gave many of the sermons recorded in the Sutta-pitaka. 

Jetavana, or Jeta Grove, is where the disciple Anathapindika purchased land more than 25 centuries ago and built a place for the Buddha and his followers to live during the rainy season. The rest of the year the Buddha and his disciples traveled from village to village, teaching (see “The First Buddhist Monks”).

The site today is a historical park, located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which borders Nepal. The tree in the photograph is the Anandabodhi Tree, believed to have been grown from a sapling of the tree that sheltered the Buddha when he realized enlightenment. 


  • O’Brien, Barbara. “Eleven Legendary Buddhist Temples.” Learn Religions, Jan. 29, 2020,

Gay History: The WWII Nazi Spy Gay Sex Scandal That Rocked the Senate

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast/Getty

In 1942, the exposure of a Brooklyn townhouse where wealthy men had sex with members of the armed services led to an anti-gay witch-hunt and heated political scandal.

n the early part of the 20th century, brothels were commonplace in many neighborhoods in New York City, but in 1942 an inconspicuous two-story redbrick town house at 329 Pacific Street—a run-down block near the border between Brooklyn Heights and downtown Brooklyn—would become the most famous “house of assignation” in the entire country.

The proprietor, a fifty-five-year-old, “moon-faced” Swedish immigrant, Gustave Beekman, specialized in providing wealthy men with members of the armed services.

He had previously run a similar house a few blocks closer to the water at 235 Warren Street, but had relocated after being busted in a police raid in November 1940. At that time, he was charged with running a disorderly house, fined, and quickly released.

However, when the police raided his establishment on Pacific Street on the evening of March 14, 1942 (accompanied by members of the Office of Naval Intelligence), they would uncover a scandal that would rock the nation, consume newspaper headlines for months, and get hotly debated on the floor of the US Senate.

Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they would invent one. It would be Walter Winchell, then the gossip columnist for the New York Daily Mirror, who would give this strange episode in Brooklyn history its enduring name: “The Swastika Swishery.”

This was one of the stories I’d heard about early in my research for my new book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, but I never suspected that I would uncover new information that would answer many of the lingering questions about this so-called scandal.

The initial story, which was primarily reported in the New York Post, went something like this: Beekman ran a “house of degradation” where German spies hired American servicemen to pump them over pillow talk for information about troop movements.

From there, the story quickly spiraled. Not only were there spies at Beekman’s house, a notorious “Senator X,” who was well known as a closeted gay man and opposed America’s entry into World War II, was also a regular habitué of Beekman’s. By early May, Beekman wasn’t just accused of hosting any old spy; rather, he was catering to “one of Hitler’s chief espionage agents in this country.”

For all of April and May, papers kept readers riveted with headlines such as “Service Men Lured to ‘Den’ Called Spy Nest,” “Senator Linked to Spy Nest Which Lured Service Men,” “Den Keeper Withholds Source of Cash,” and “Leibowitz Pushes Spy Ring Probe: Tells Convicted Morals Offender to Talk or Get 20-Year Term.”

News bulletins eagerly broadcast every new tidbit of information in the case, including the four separate (and contradictory) official statements Beekman gave to the police and the FBI.

The senator in question was soon revealed as David Ignatius Walsh, a Catholic “confirmed bachelor” from Boston, who—although liberal on many social issues—was a strong isolationist, believing America had no place in the affairs of Europe.

Time magazine called his connection with the Beekman case “one of the worst scandals that ever affected a member of the Senate.” When the Senate majority leader opened discussion of the issue on the Senate floor, he called the FBI’s report on the case “disgusting and unprintable” and refused to have it entered into the Senate’s official record.

To this day, numerous authors have speculated about what actually happened at Beekman’s house in the middle of World War II, with most concluding that it was ultimately unknowable

Another isolationist senator from Missouri called Dorothy Schiff, the publisher of the New York Post, an “old hussy” and demanded an investigation on the charge that she was part of a secret cabal that was trying to gin up public sentiment in favor of the war by making antiwar politicians look bad.

To this day, numerous authors have speculated about what actually happened at Beekman’s house in the middle of World War II, with most concluding that it was ultimately unknowable.

However, Dorothy Schiff was so concerned that Senator Walsh might sue the Post over its reporting that she secretly commissioned a team of six private investigators and attorneys, led by Daniel A. Doran, to discover the truth.

Their report, which took five months to prepare, ran over 150 pages and included everything from interviews with the major players in the case (including Beekman and all of his lawyers), to a detailed analysis of Senator Walsh’s travel schedule for the times he was supposedly in Brooklyn.

For years, this report has been publicly available, along with the rest of Dorothy Schiff’s papers, at the New York Public Library, but no historians seem to have referenced it. As far as I know, I am the first to read its findings.

Local police had had Beekman under watch at least as far back as January 1942, having noticed an unusual number of sailors and soldiers coming and going from his building. In the two years since they had last busted Beekman, the war had begun, and no one wanted to arrest a bunch of men who might be needed in Europe or to impugn the morality of the military in general.

The police had no plans to raid his house until they were contacted by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which had secretly set up a spy post on the fourth floor of a nearby hospital, from which they were recording the license plate numbers of everyone who entered the building.

The ONI wasn’t interested in Beekman; rather, it was trailing William Elberfeld, a German national whom it believed to be a spy for Hitler. Together, the police and the ONI raided the establishment, arresting not just Beekman, but some of his clients (including noted composer Virgil Thomson), and some of the men who worked there.

The prosecution seemed convinced that Beekman couldn’t be making much money from running a house of male prostitution, and so he had to have some other source of income—perhaps from Elberfeld or another spy

One of the sex workers arrested was a Brooklyn merchant mariner named Charles Zuber, who was also one of Beekman’s lovers.

The assistant district attorney (ADA) on the case, eager, perhaps, to make a name for himself, questioned Zuber at length about any particularly wealthy clients. The prosecution seemed convinced that Beekman couldn’t be making much money from running a house of male prostitution, and so he had to have some other source of income—perhaps from Elberfeld or another spy.

Zuber furnished the ADA with the name “Walsh,” saying he believed the man to be a doctor. The ADA, aware of the long-standing rumors that Senator David Walsh was gay, jumped to the conclusion that these two men were one and the same. He offered Zuber a deal: if he flipped on Beekman and testified against him on sodomy charges, Zuber would get off scot-free.

The ADA then passed the information about Walsh on to the judge in the case. When Beekman was found guilty on charges of sodomy, largely thanks to Zuber’s testimony, the judge told Beekman that if he came clean about the extent of the spy ring, he would be lenient; otherwise, Beekman was facing a twenty-year sentence.

He seemed willing to say whatever was necessary to avoid going to prison, which for a fifty-five-year-old gay man whom the nation now believed to be a Nazi sympathizer might well have been a death sentence

According to the lead investigator hired by Dorothy Schiff, Beekman was “ingratiating, well-mannered, well spoken and plausible.” He was also terrified and rather loose with the truth. He seemed willing to say whatever was necessary to avoid going to prison, which for a 55-year-old gay man whom the nation now believed to be a Nazi sympathizer might well have been a death sentence.

Elberfeld had been a regular at Beekman’s place, but he also ran a rival brothel in Manhattan and had no need to go to Brooklyn if he wanted to question sailors. Moreover, Beekman had banned him from his house around Thanksgiving of 1941, when Elberfeld told Beekman that Sweden was next on Hitler’s list, and that after it was invaded, Beekman wouldn’t be so “uppity-uppity.”

The police literally tore apart both Beekman’s home and Elberfeld’s apartment and found nothing except a shortwave radio at Elberfeld’s, which was technically contraband when owned by a foreign national.

Elberfeld was placed on indefinite detention on Ellis Island—where he would remain for the rest of the war—but no charges were ever brought against him, and the police and the ONI no longer seemed interested in him at all. Instead, they leaned on Beekman to identify Walsh, once grilling him for over seven hours until he collapsed.

A few of the men arrested in the initial raid were also asked about Walsh, with some saying he was there, others saying he wasn’t, and a few saying they had no idea.

With no evidence other than a series of contradictory statements on whether Walsh had ever been at Beekman’s home, there was no case. Yet the government still believed that Beekman was hiding some source of income, which the judge seemed to believe would have linked Walsh to the story.

When Beekman refused to name his (nonexistent) financial backers, he received a twenty-year sentence to Sing Sing, the maximum-security prison in Ossining, New York.

By making a detailed analysis of Walsh’s travel schedule, investigator Doran conclusively proved that Walsh could not have been at Beekman’s establishment on any of the dates he was supposed to have been present.

No one seemed interested in using that evidence to exonerate Beekman, who would serve out the entirety of his twenty-year sentence before emerging from prison (where he was called ‘Mother Beekman’) and disappearing from public records entirely

Moreover, Doran tracked down a Connecticut doctor, Harry Stone, a regular at Beekman’s who bore a distinct resemblance to Senator Walsh. By presenting photos of Walsh and Stone to various witnesses (including Beekman), Doran concluded that Stone was almost definitely the man mistaken for Walsh.

Yet no one seemed interested in using that evidence to exonerate Beekman, who would serve out the entirety of his twenty-year sentence before emerging from prison (where he was called “Mother Beekman”) and disappearing from public records entirely.

As for Walsh, although his fellow Senate members congratulated him on his aplomb during the entire affair, the airing of his gay laundry (plus, no doubt, his opposition to the war) seemed to sour voters on him. He was ousted from the Senate in 1946 and died the next year.

After months of wild accusations, sting operations, and endless denunciations to the press, all the government got was the pointless destruction of the lives of two gay men and a witch hunt that sent innumerable others into hiding.

Today, the quiet red-brick building still sits at 329 Pacific Street as a private residence, with no trace of its infamous past showing in its innocuous façade.

This is an edited extract from Hugh Ryan’s When Brooklyn Was Queer (St Martin’s Press).


Buddhism 101: Overview of the Lotus Sutra

Jeff Miller / Getty Images

Of the countless scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, few are more widely read or revered than the Lotus Sutra. Its teachings thoroughly permeate most schools of Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan. Yet its origins are shrouded in mystery.

The sutra’s name in Sanskrit is Maha Saddharma-pundarika Sutra, or “Great Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law.” It is a matter of faith in some schools of Buddhism that the sutra contains the words of the historical Buddha. However, most historians believe the Sutra was written in the 1st or 2nd century CE, probably by more than one writer. A translation was made from Sanskrit to Chinese in 255 CE, and this is the earliest historical documentation of its existence.

As with so many of the Mahayana sutras, the original text of the Lotus Sutra is lost. The several early Chinese translations are the oldest versions of the sutra that remain to us. In particular, a translation into Chinese by the monk Kamarajiva in 406 CE is believed to be the most faithful to the original text.

In the 6th century China the Lotus Sutra was promoted as the supreme sutra by the monk Zhiyi (538-597; also spelled Chih-i), founder of the Tiantai school of Mahayana Buddhism, called Tendai in Japan. In part through Tendai influence, the Lotus became the most revered Sutra in Japan. It deeply influenced Japanese Zen and also is an object of devotion of the Nichiren school.

The Setting of the Sutra

n Buddhism, a sutra is a sermon of the Buddha or one of his principal disciples. Buddhist sutras usually begin with the traditional words, “Thus I have heard.” This is a nod to the story of Ananda, who recited all of the historical Buddha‘s sermons at the First Buddhist Council and was said to have begun each recitation this way.

The Lotus Sutra begins, “Thus I have heard. At one time the Buddha was in Rajagriha, staying on Mount Gridhrakuta.” Rajagriha was a city on the site of present-day Rajgir, in northeastern India, and Gridhrakuta, or “Vulture’s Peak,” is nearby. So, the Lotus Sutra begins by making a connection to a real place associated with the historical Buddha.

However, in a few sentences, the reader will have left the phenomenal world behind. The scene opens to a place outside ordinary time and space. The Buddha is attended by an unimaginable number of beings, both human and nonhuman — monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen, heavenly beings, dragons, garudas, and many others, including bodhisattvas and arhats. In this vast space, eighteen thousand worlds are illuminated by a light reflected by a hair between the Buddha’s eyebrows.

The Sutra is divided into several chapters — 28 in the Kamarajiva translation — in which the Buddha or other beings offer sermons and parables. The text, part prose, and partly verse contains some of the most beautiful passages of the world’s religious literature.

It could take years to absorb all the teachings in such a rich text. However, three principal themes dominate the Lotus Sutra.

All Vehicles Are One Vehicle

In early passages, the Buddha tells the assembly that his earlier teachings were provisional. People were not ready for his highest teaching, he said and had to be brought to enlightenment by expedient means. But the Lotus represents the final, highest teaching, and supersedes all other teachings.

In particular, the Buddha addressed the doctrine of triyana, or “three vehicles” to Nirvana. Very simply, the triyana describes people who realize enlightenment by hearing the Buddha’s sermons, people who realize enlightenment for themselves through their own effort, and the path of the bodhisattva. But the Lotus Sutra says that the three vehicles are one vehicle, the Buddha vehicle, 

All Beings May Become Buddhas

A theme expressed throughout the Sutra is that all beings will attain Buddhahood and attain Nirvana. 

The Buddha is presented in the Lotus Sutra as dharmakaya — the unity of all things and beings, unmanifested, beyond existence or nonexistence, unbound by time and space. Because the dharmakaya is all beings, all beings have the potential to awaken to their true nature and attain Buddhahood.

The Importance of Faith and Devotion

Buddhahood may not be attained through intellect alone. Indeed, the Mahayana view is that absolute teaching cannot be expressed in words or understood by ordinary cognition. The Lotus Sutra stresses the importance of faith and devotion as a means to the realization of enlightenment. Among other significant points, the stress on faith and devotion makes Buddhahood more accessible to laypeople, who do not spend their lives in ascetic monastic practice.

The Parables

A distinctive feature of the Lotus Sutra is the use of parables. The parables contain many layers of metaphor that have inspired many layers of interpretation. This is merely a list of the major parables:

  • The Burning House. A man must lure his playing children out of a burning house (Chapter 3).
  • The Prodigal Son. A poor, self-loathing man gradually learns that he is wealthy beyond measure (Chapter 4).
  • The Medicinal Herbs. Although they grow in the same ground and receive the same rain, plants grow in different ways (Chapter 5).
  • The Phantom City. A man leading people on a difficult journey conjures an illusion of a beautiful city to give them the heart to keep going (Chapter 7).
  • The Gem in the Jacket. A man sews a gem into his friend’s jacket. However, the friend wanders in poverty not knowing that he possesses a gem of great value (Chapter 8).
  • The Gem in the King’s Top-Knot. A king bestows many gifts but reserves his most priceless jewel for a person of exceptional merit (Chapter 14).
  • The Excellent Physician. A physician’s children are dying of poison but lack the sense to take medicine (Chapter 16)


Burton Watson’s translation of The Lotus Sutra (Columbia University Press, 1993) has gained great popularity since its publication for its clarity and readability.

A newer translation of The Lotus Sutra by Gene Reeves (Wisdom Publications, 2008) is also very readable and has been praised by reviewers. 


  • O’Brien, Barbara. “Overview of the Lotus Sutra.” Learn Religions, Jan. 29, 2020,

Gay History: The Mystery Photos Of A 1957 Gay Wedding

ONE Archives at USC

Decades before gay marriage became legal anywhere in the US, same-sex couples were committing themselves to each other in front of friends and loved ones. Few records of these ceremonies existed – until now, writes Jonathan Berr.

In 1957, a man dropped off a roll of film at a pharmacy in Philadelphia. But the developed photos were never returned to their owners.

The pictures appear to depict a gay wedding, nearly 50 years before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the US and almost 60 years before it became a federally-recognised right.

Now, a trio of gay producers and writers are trying to identify the grooms to learn their story and to find out whether a pharmacy employee balked at providing the snaps because they objected to their subject.

The writers are documenting their efforts in a reality show The Mystery of the 1957 Gay Wedding Photos.

The programme, which doesn’t yet have a platform to call home, is being produced in conjunction with Endemol Shine Group, whose shows include Big Brother, The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

ONE Archives at USC

“It’s a passion project for us,” says Michael J. Wolfe, a Los Angeles-based writer. “We are turning over every stone, interviewing dozens of people in the Philadelphia area and beyond, and consulting with investigators, historians, and experts across many different fields.”

The photos were acquired by a collector a few years ago who had bought them at an online auction. He realised their significance and donated them to ONE Archives at the USC Libraries in Los Angeles and at the Wilcox Archives in Philadelphia.

The couple in the pictures appear to be in their 20s or 30s, so they would be in their 80s or 90s if they were alive today. The grooms and their guests are dressed up in dark suits with flowers in their lapels.

The celebration took place in a modest flat with the blinds drawn. It featured a ceremony officiated by someone who appears to be a member of the clergy. The grooms are shown kissing, cutting their wedding cake and opening presents.

ONE Archives at USC

Mr Wolfe and his partners, filmmaker PJ Palmer and TV writer/producer Neal Baer, have not identified the mystery couple yet. 

They request any tipsters to contact them through their website and Facebook page.

ONE Archives at USC

For Palmer, the pictures were especially moving.

“We are recovering amazing, important stories all sorts of them… and more gay history that’s been buried,” he says.

“There is a very rich history that’s been suppressed… I wish as a child [that] I had seen family photos of a marriage like this… I would have felt more normal as a kid. I would have known that I was okay.”

Couples who fell in love sometimes committed themselves to one another in unions that were not acknowledged by either governments or religions.

The US Supreme Court didn’t recognise the right for gay people to marry the person of their choice until 2015, 11 years after Massachusetts did so.

ONE Archives at USC

“We don’t know how common or uncommon it was for couples to hold ceremonies to marry each other [because] there is so little photographic or film record of how people actually lived,” says Eric Marcus, host of the Making Gay History podcast.

“It’s important to remember that people found ways to live their lives quietly away from the prying eyes of the straight world.”

Of course, that was easier said than done.

Wedding guests at the mystery wedding ONE Archives at USC

Several years before the wedding took place, President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order banning gays from working for the federal government.

In 1952, The American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance” in the first edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the listing of known psychiatric disorders.

After considerable lobbying by activists, the APA removed homosexuality from the second edition of the DSM in 1973.

The Stonewall Riots, considered to be the birth of the modern gay rights movement, had happened a few years before that in 1969 – 12 years after the wedding.

ONE Archives at USC

It’s not just the passage of time that will hinder the search for the grooms. The filmmakers believe the Aids crisis may also be factor – about 700,000 Americans have died since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“We are talking about a generation of people who were decimated by Aids,” Mr Wolfe said. “There are a lot of missing people who otherwise would have made a search like this much easier. All of that happened before social media.”

If the couple is ever identified, they would certainly add another chapter in the history of gay rights for doing something extraordinary that is now becoming increasingly ordinary.


Buddhism 101: The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism

The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism originated in Indian iconography. In ancient times, many of these same symbols were associated with the coronations of kings, but as they were adopted by Buddhism, they came to represent offerings the gods made to the Buddha after his enlightenment.

Although westerners may be unfamiliar with some of the Eight Auspicious Symbols, they can be found in the art of most schools of Buddhism, especially in Tibetan Buddhism. In some monasteries in China, the symbols are placed on lotus pedestals in front of statues of the Buddha. The symbols are often used in decorative art, or as a point of focus for meditation and contemplation 

Here is a brief overview of the Eight Auspicious Symbols: 

The Parasol

 Osel Shen Phen Ling, / Bob Jacobson

The parasol is a symbol of royal dignity and protection from the heat of the sun. By extension, it represents protection from suffering.

The ornate parasol usually is depicted with a dome, representing wisdom, and a “skirt” around the dome, representing compassion. Sometimes the dome is octagonal, representing the Eightfold Path. In other uses, it is square, representing the four directional quarters.

Two Golden Fish

Osel Shen Phen Ling, / Bob Jacobson

The two fish were originally symbolic of the rivers Ganges and Yamuna, but came to represent general good fortune for Hindus, Jainists, and Buddhists. Within Buddhism, it also symbolizes that living beings who practice the dharma need have no fear to drown in the ocean of suffering, and can freely migrate (chose their rebirth) like fish in the water.

The Conch She’ll

Osel Shen Phen Ling, / Bob Jacobson

In Asia, the conch has long been used as a battle horn. In the Hindu epic The Mahabharata, the sound of the hero Arjuna’s conch terrorized his enemies. In ancient Hindu times, a white conch also represented the Brahmin caste.

In Buddhism, a white conch that coils to the right represents the sound of the Dharma reaching far and wide, awakening beings from ignorance.

The Lotus

Osel Shen Phen Ling, / Bob Jacobson

The lotus is an aquatic plant that roots in deep mud with a stem that grows up through murky water. But the blossom rises above the muck and opens in the sun, beautiful and fragrant. So perhaps its no surprise that in Buddhism, the lotus represents the true nature of beings, who rise through samsara into the beauty and clarity of enlightenment.

The color of the lotus also has significance:

White: Mental and spiritual purity

Red: The heart, compassion and love

Blue: Wisdom and control of the senses

Pink: The historical Buddha

Purple: Mysticism

The Banner of Victory

Osel Shen Phen Ling, / Bob Jacobson

The victory banner signifies the Buddha’s victory over the demon Mara and over what Mara represents–passion, fear of death, pride and lust. More generally, it represents the victory of wisdom over ignorance.  There is a legend that the Buddha raised the victory banner over Mount Meru to mark his victory over all phenomenal things.

The Vase

Osel Shen Phen Ling, / Bob Jacobson

The treasure vase is filled with precious and sacred things, yet no matter how much is taken out, it is always full. It represents the teachings of the Buddha, which remained a bountiful treasure no matter how many teachings he gave to others. It also symbolizes long life and prosperity.

The Dharma Wheel, or Dharmachakra

Osel Shen Phen Ling, / Bob Jacobson

The Dharma Wheel, also called the dharma-chakra or dhamma chakka, is one of the most well-known symbols of Buddhism. In most representations, the Wheel has eight spokes, representing the Eightfold Path. According to tradition, the Dharma Wheel was first turned when the Buddha delivered his first sermon after his enlightenment. There were two subsequent turnings of the wheel, in which teachings on emptiness (sunyata) and on inherent Buddha-nature were given. 

The Eternal Knot

Osel Shen Phen Ling, / Bob Jacobson

The Eternal Knot, with its lines flowing and entwined in a closed pattern, represents dependent origination and the interrelation of all phenomena. It also may signify the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular life; of wisdom and compassion; or, at the time of enlightenment, the unions of emptiness and clarity.  


  • O’Brien, Barbara. “The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism.” Learn Religions, Jan. 29, 2020,

Gay History: Order of Chaeronea

George Ives around 1900

The Order of Chaeronea was a secret society for the cultivation of a homosexual moral, ethical, cultural and spiritual ethos. It was founded by socialist[1] George Cecil Ives in 1897, as a result of his belief that homosexuals would not be accepted openly in society and must therefore have a means of underground communication.

The society is named after the location of the battle where the Sacred Band of Thebes was finally annihilated in 338 BC.

Establishment and organisation

In the 1860s, the German lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, may have been the first modern European to publicly declare his homosexuality. Ulrichs wrote dozens of books and pamphlets that made a crucial argument: The preference for same-sex love is hereditary; therefore it should not be a crime. He introduced the word “Uranian” as a synonym for homosexual relations, and even demanded that homosexuals be granted the right to marry.

Less radical thinkers in Germany, Austria and France began to argue that same-sex attraction and relations between men were a psychological disturbance to be treated by physicians, rather than a crime to be punished by the courts. As a result, by 1876 “psychological” had become a term that Oscar Wilde and his peers used to describe anything pertaining to gay sex. At the same time, McKenna writes, “aestheticism seemed to spring to life, fully formed, towards the end of the 1870s.” It was “a heady mix of art, idealism and politics, which sought to propagate a new gospel of Beauty.

In 1893, shortly after meeting Wilde, George Cecil Ives, a friend of Wilde’s whose diaries contain many new details of the writer’s life, founded a secret society called the Order of Chaeronea, aimed at promoting ‘the Cause’ The society was named “after the battle where the male lovers of the Theban Band were slaughtered in 338 BC.” Ives and other members dated letters and other materials from the year of the battle, so that 1900 would be written as C.2238.

The ‘Rules of Purpose’ stated that the Order was to be ‘A Religion, A Theory of Life, and Ideal of Duty’, although its purpose was primarily political. Members of the Order were ‘Brothers of the Faith’, and were required to swear under the ‘Service of Initiation’, that “you will never vex or persecute lovers” and “That all real love shall be to you as sanctuary.”

The group was male dominated, but did include a few lesbian members

At its peak ‘the Elect’ numbered perhaps two or three hundred, but no membership lists survive. Oscar Wilde was, however, likely an early recruit, along with Lord Alfred Douglas “Bosie”. Other members may have included Charles Kains Jackson, Samuel Elsworth Cottam, Montague Summers, and John Gambril Nicholson.

Funerary relief for Athenian footman Pancahres, who probably fell at the Battle of Chaeronea.

An elaborate system of rituals, ceremonies, a service of initiation, seals, codes, and passwords were established. The Order, according to Ives’ notebooks, had a specific purpose, distinct prescriptions and philosophy, and its particular symbolism: the “sign-word” AMRRHAO and “the seal of the double wreath.” The prerequisites of membership were indicated to be “Zeal, Learning and Discipline.” The principle of secrecy was conveyed by the metaphor of “The Chain” underlining that one should never reveal any information about the order or its members. The writings of Walt Whitman were particularly revered.

Ives was keen to stress that the Order was to be an ascetic movement, not to be used as a forum for men to meet men for sex, although he accepted a degree of ‘passionate sensuality’ could take place. He also believed that love and sex between men was a way to undermine the rigid class system, as a true form of democracy. The Secret Society became a worldwide organisation, and Ives took advantage of every opportunity to spread the word about the “Cause.”

In Ives’ words:

We believe in the glory of passion. We believe in the inspiration of emotion. We believe in the holiness of love. Now some in the world without have been asking as to our faith, and mostly we find that we have no answer for them. Scoffers there be, to whom we need not reply, and foolish ones to whom our words would convey no meaning. For what are words? Symbols of kindred comprehended conceptions, and like makes appeal to like.


Buddhism 101: Buddhist Monks’ Robes

01 – The Saffron Robe
 B.S.P.I./Getty Images

As Buddhism spread through Asia, the robes worn by monks adapted to local climate and culture. Today, the saffron robes of southeast Asian monks are thought to be nearly identical to the original robes of 25 centuries ago. However, what monks wear in China, Tibet, Japan, Korea and elsewhere can look quite a bit different.

This photo gallery doesn’t come close to showing all the variations in styles of monks’ robes. Monks’ robes of the many schools and lineages, and even individual temples can be quite distinctive from each other. There are countless variations of sleeve styles alone, and you could probably find a monks’ robe to match every color in the crayon box.

Instead, this gallery is a sampler of Buddhist robe images that represent and explain common features. The images also illustrate how most robes retain some characteristics of the original robes if you know where to look.

Theravada monks of southeast Asia wear robes thought to be very similar to the robes worn by the historical Buddha and his disciples.

The robes worn by Theravada monks and nuns of southeast Asia today are thought to be unchanged from the original robes of 25 centuries ago. The “Triple robe” consists of three parts:

The uttarasanga or kashaya is the most prominent robe. It is a large rectangle, about 6 by 9 feet, that can be wrapped to cover both shoulders, but most often it is wrapped to cover the left shoulder but leave the right shoulder and arm bare.

The antaravasaka is worn under the uttarasanga. It is wrapped around the waist like a sarong, covering the body from waist to knees.

The sanghati is an extra robe that can be wrapped around the upper body for warmth. When not in use it is sometimes folded and draped over a shoulder, as you see in the photograph.

The original monks made their robes from discarded cloth found in rubbish heaps and on cremation grounds. After washing, the robe-cloth was boiled with vegetable matter—leaves, roots and flowers—and often spices, which would turn the cloth some shade of orange. Hence the name, “saffron robe.” Monks today wear robes made of cloth that is donated or purchased, but in Southeast Asia, the cloth usually is still dyed in spice colors.

02 – The Buddha’s Robe In Cambodia
Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

When it is too cold to be bare-armed, Theravada monks wrap themselves in the sanghati.  Theravada is the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos. The monks in those countries wear very similar robes in the style of early Buddhist monks’ robes.

The monks have their sanghati robe folded and carried over the shoulder. These monks at Angor Wat, Cambodia, have wrapped the sanghati around their upper bodies for warmth.

03 – The Buddha’s Robe: The Rice Field

Details of a rice field pattern in a Kashaya Robe. Michael McCauslin/CC BY 2.0/Flickr

The rice field pattern is common to Buddhist robes in most schools of Buddhism. According to the Vinaya-pitaka of the Pali Canon, one day the Buddha asked his cousin and attendant, Ananda, to sew a robe in the pattern of a rice field. Ananda did this, and the pattern has been repeated on monks’ robes in most schools of Buddhism ever since.

Rice paddy fields can be roughly rectangular and separated by strips of dry ground for paths. The rice field pattern in the Theravada robe shown in the photo is in five columns, but sometimes there are seven or nine columns.

04 – The Buddha’s Robe in China

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images 

Chinese monks abandoned the bare-shoulder style in favor of a robe with sleeves. When Buddhism got to China, the bare-shoulder style of the original monks’ robes became a problem. In Chinese culture, it was improper not to keep the arms and shoulders covered in public. So, Chinese Buddhist monks began to wear sleeved robes similar to a Taoist scholar’s robe of the early 1st millennium CE.

Because Chinese Buddhist monks lived in self-sufficient monastic communities, monks spent part of each day doing custodial and gardening chores. Wearing the kashaya all the time was not practical, so it came to be saved for formal occasions. The robe in the photograph is an “everyday” robe for non-ceremonial wear.

05 – The Ceremonial Buddha’s Robe in China

China Photos/Getty Images

Monks in China wear the kashaya over their sleeved robes on ceremonial occasions. The rice paddy pattern is preserved in the Chinese kashaya, although an abbot’s kashaya might be made of ornate, brocaded cloth. Yellow of a common color for monks’ sleeved robes. In China, yellow represents earth and is also the “central” color that might be said to represent equanimity.

06 – The Buddha’s Robe: Kyoto, Japan

Cultura Exclusive/Getty Images

The Chinese practice of wearing a kashaya wrapped over a sleeved robe continues in Japan. There are many styles and colors of Buddhist monks’ robes in Japan, and they don’t all resemble the ensembles worn by the monks in this photograph. However, the robes in the photograph do illustrate how the Chinese style was adapted in Japan.

The practice of wearing a shorter outer robe over a longer white or gray kimono is distinctively Japanese.

07 – The Buddha’s Robe in Japan

Oleksiy Maksymenko/Getty Images

The rakusu is a small garment representing the kashaya robe that is worn by Zen monks. The “bib” worn by the Japanese monk in the photograph is a rakusu, a garment unique to the Zen school that may have originated among Ch’an monks in China sometime after the T’ang Dynasty. The rectangle worn over the heart is a miniature kashaya, complete with the same “rice field” pattern seen in the third photo in this gallery. The rice field in a rakusu may have five, seven, or nine strips. Rakusu also come in a variety of colors.

Generally, in Zen, the rakusu may be worn by all monks and priests, as well as laypeople who have received jukai ordination. But sometimes Zen monks who have received full ordination will wear a standard kashaya, called in Japanese the kesa, instead of the rakusu. The monks’ straw hat is worn to partly cover his face during the alms ritual, ortakahatsu, so that he and those who give him alms do not see each others’ faces. This represents the perfection of giving—no giver, no receiver. In this photo, you can see the monk’s plain white kimono peaking out from under the black outer robe, called a koromo. The koromo is often black, but not always, and comes with different sleeve styles and diverse numbers of pleats in the front.

08 – The Buddha’s Robe in Korea

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images 

Big and little monks in South Korea wear big and little kashaya robes. In Korea, as in China and Japan, it is common for monks to wrap the kashaya robe over a sleeved robe. Also as in China and Japan, robes can come in a variety of colors and styles.

Every year, this Chogye (Korean Zen) monastery in Seoul “ordains” children temporarily, shaving their heads and dressing them in monks’ robes. The children will live in the monastery for three weeks and learn about Buddhism. The “little” monks wear “little” kashaya robes in the style of a rakusu. The “big” monks wear a traditional kashaya.

09 – The Buddha’s Robe in Tibet

Berthold Trenkel/Getty Images 

Tibetan monks wear a shirt and a skirt instead of a one-piece robe. A shawl-type robe may be worn as an outer layer. Tibetan nuns, monks and lamas wear an enormous variety of robes, hats, capes, and even costumes, but the basic robe consist of these parts:

  • The dhonka, a wrap shirt with cap sleeves. The dhonka usually is maroon or maroon and yellow with blue piping.
  • The shemdap is a maroon skirt made with patched cloth and a varying number of pleats.
  • The chögu is something like a sanghati, a wrap made in patches and worn on the upper body, although sometimes it is draped over one shoulder like a kashaya robe. The chögu is yellow and worn for certain ceremonies and teachings.
  • The zhen is similar to the chögu, but maroon, and is for ordinary day-to-day wear.
  • The namjar is larger than the chögu, with more patches, and it is yellow and often made of silk. It is for formal ceremonial occasions.

The Gelugpa Tibetan monks in the photograph have shed their zhen robes in the heat of debate.

10 – The Buddha’s Robe: A Tibetan Monk and His Zhen

Keven Osborne/Getty Images

Tibetan Buddhist robes are distinctively from robes worn in other schools of Buddhism. Yet some similarities remain. Monks of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism wear somewhat different robes, but the dominant colors are maroon, yellow, and sometimes red, with blue piping on the sleeves of the dhonka.

Red and maroon came to be traditional monk robe colors in Tibet mostly because it was the most common and cheapest dye at one time. The color yellow has several symbolic meanings. It can represent wealth, but it also represents earth, and by extension, a foundation. The sleeves of the dhonka represent a lion’s mane. There are a number of stories explaining the blue piping, but the most common story is that it commemorates a connection to China.

The zhen, the maroon “everyday” shawl, often is draped to leave the right arm bare in the style of a kashaya robe.


  • O’Brien, Barbara. “Buddhist Monks’ Robes.” Learn Religions, Jan. 29, 2020,

Gay History: New Zealand 1970s Gay Series “Buck House”.


Buck House was an edgy cable drama wrapped up in a 70s sitcom

Buck House was an edgy sitcom from the 70s that manages to still be edgy and different now, though not for the right reasons. Sam Brooks muses upon the distinct pleasures of Buck House.

When I think of the 70s, I think of Yakety Sax, Mary Tyler Moore and a show where a guy had to pretend to be gay so he could live with two women.

I don’t think of a show where a dude tries to start a brothel in his flat.

Buck House, a New Zealand sitcom from the mid-70s that preceded the more famous floptacular homegrown sitcom Melody Rules, is a bizarre proposal. One, it has popular newscaster, personality and Shortland Street stunt cast member Paul Holmes in the lead role. Two, the actual content of the show aligns more with a wannabe edgy cable drama than a sitcom that premiered over forty years ago.

Here’s a few things that make it more like an acclaimed HBO show that all your friends watch but you just can’t bring yourself to because there’s so much TV to watch nowadays:


Paul Holmes’ hair

C’mon. You wouldn’t put that hair on network TV nowadays. That’s premium level hair. That’s pay-per-view hair. We should be putting this article behind a paywall, that’s how much this hair should cost.


One of the flatmates is trying to start a brothel

The central joke of Buck House, or at least the very first episode, and presumably the rest of the series, is that Reggie is the normal flatmate and Joe is the aggrieved flatmate. Reggie is normal in that he just wants to cook dinner for his girlfriend, answer the phone (seriously, about five minutes of this twenty minute episode revolves around Paul Holmes talking very unconvincingly on the telephone) and wearing a floral apron.

On the other hand, Joe wants to start a brothel. This is played for laughs. Full-on ‘oh look how naughty he’s being laughs!’. So much so that I assumed that it would all be a misunderstanding, he wasn’t actually trying to start a brothel but people had just gotten their wires crossed.

Don’t get me wrong, people get their wires crossed in hilarious sitcom fashion all the way throughout the episode, but starting a brothel is not the source of one of them.

Joe genuinely wants to start a brothel, with the very imaginative name ‘Escorts Unlimited Limited’ (which is a pretty funny joke, admittedly). The episode revolves around him interviewing women to work at the brothel. He thinks it’s a great business idea, and who am I to judge? What do I know about economic realities in the 70s?

You can guarantee if this show was made now it would be a half-hour show starring the Duplass Brothers and it would be very relatable for a certain part of the population, deemed problematic in our time by another part of the population and remain extremely unknown to a much, much larger part of the population.

Another character is assaulted by a police officer

This happens off screen and is brushed off, but one of the characters, Jo, has been squatting at a house and was forcibly evicted by a police officer. This is not quite played for laughs, which is weird because most things in a sitcom are played for laughs. Especially in the 70s, which was before the era of half-hour comedies where nobody laughs and people are just a bit sad for half an hour.


This wig

This wig is definitely auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race. The woman wearing this wig, Sheila Harrison, puts on a Cockney accent for absolutely no reason other than that it is a little bit funny. At one point, she breaks into famous Sweet Charity song ‘Big Spender’, and if this was made nowadays this would win her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series because it would be oh so very sad.


The cop is clearly corrupt

One, he shows up at the house of a woman who he just ‘laid hands on’ (which they say a lot during this episode, and means a lot of different things, but in this context, I’m going to assume it means that he definitely assaulted her) at her invitation, which is weird!

Two, and this is less a sign of corruption and more of tremendous stupidity, but he briefly believes that these men are setting up a house for budgies, because this is from an era when men could refer to women as ‘birds’ and not be shunned by all reasonable society.

Three, he goes home with one of the women who are interviewing to be escorts at this new escort business, in a carefully implicit exchange for his silence. You can tell this was written in the 70s by a dude because the woman is like ‘yeah sure this is fine!’ rather than finding it gross and completely inappropriate for a police officer to do.


This lady

Who is she? Where does she come from? What’s her background? The episode introduces her as another escort who interviews for a place at Escorts Unlimited Limited, but everything about her vibe is straight out of Twin Peaks. She is bringing Grace Zabriskie in Inland Empire realness, and I am here for it.

There’s really not that many jokes

Honestly, the only thing that really separates this from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which you can stream quite handily on Lightbox) has about as many mean-spirited jokes as you can fit into a half-hour, whereas this show spends a languid five minutes on telephone jokes.

You can absolutely feel the show reaching to be edgy and break boundaries, and while it’s hard to know exactly what boundaries it was breaking back in the 70s, you can feel the self-satisfaction oozing off the screen.

It’s the same kind of feel you get from some of today’s least successful cable shows, the kind that are one unsubtle gesture away from having a character look at the camera and say “Can you believe that we’re doing this?” Nowadays, it’s every death, every drug-take, every sex scene. In the 70s, it was Tony Barry smoking a cigar inside and being proud that he’d come up with the totally original and never-done-before idea of starting a brothel.


But the biggest thing I’ve learned from watching old New Zealand shows on NZ on Screen is how much style is tied into time – and sometimes that relationship can be unexplainable. Buck House, like Melody Rules twenty years later, still owes so much of the craft behind its production to stagebound theatrics. We weren’t making TV; we were making theatre on a small screen. Paul Holmes is playing to the back row here, and while he already has the charisma that made him the face of 7pm for an entire generation, when you give him lines and make him act jokes, it becomes flop-sweaty.

In the show’s defence, this was 1974! People were still afraid of the possibility of nuclear war! They weren’t distracted by their mobile phones! They could happily sit down and watch Buck House and wait for something that could easily be resolved in five minutes of open conversation be dragged out for twenty minutes excluding credits. The pace is excruciating in an age of bingewatching, of consuming everything as immediately as we possibly can, dissecting it quickly and moving onto the next thing.

Do I want to go back to the pace of Buck House? God no. You’d miss five news cycles by the time you got to the first ad break. But it’s enough to give me pause, and when you’re watching a forty-four year old sitcom, sometimes that’s all you need.


For the record…I missed this! Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how gay you are, you miss gay things! In my defence, I was a bit preoccupied with removing from a run- in with AIDS in 1997…which, I dare say, explains this gap in my gay consciousness. I would like to thank Lost Gay Sydney for drawing my attention to it.

What happens when a naive straight boy from the outback inherits a rundown terrace house from an unknown spinster aunt?

Plenty, when he discovers his aunt was a notorious lesbian with underworld dealings and the house he’s inherited is the queerest boarding house in Sydney.

A hidden stash, mafia connections, and bizarre interventions from beyond the grave all come together, providing non-stop entertainment in this highly original Aussie sitcom.

Core Characters

• GIVEN NAME: Elizabeth Beatrice Anne


• AGE: 24

• SEXUALITY: Lesbian – Got a problem with that?

• MARITAL STATUS: Do not subscribe to this outdated patriarchal heterosexist enslavement of women – single, but could be interested if the right woman came along.

• OCCUPATION: Co-manager of “Buck’s Bargains”.

• HOBBIES: Practicing to be a DJ and writing a book – “A Feminist Manifesto for the New Millenium” – it will be a best seller!

• FAVOURITE FOOD: Anything fresh, fruity and vegetarian – and nothing that Ted cooks!

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Spanish beer with a twist of lemon or a “Naked Lady”.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: Gertrude Stein’s Biography.


• FAVOURITE SAYING: “I feel so sorry for men…”

• FAVOURITE SONG: Anything by kd Lang, Melissa Etheridge and Patsy Cline.

.:: played by KATE MONROE ::.

• GIVEN NAME: Bernard Felcher


• AGE: 28

• SEXUALITY: Gay – out and proud.

• MARITAL STATUS: Happy to be single – not ready to settle down yet.

• OCCUPATION: Private trainer and I help out at Ipjana’s club on weekends.

• HOBBIES: With all my training I don’t get much time for a hobby, but I’m interested in bonsai, ikebana and I’d like to try my hand at interior design.

• FAVOURITE FOOD: Steak Tartare – unless Ted cooks it.

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Banana Smoothies and Power drinks.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: Charles Atlas Biography – the man is a legend – the father of modern body building.

• FAVOURITE MOVIE: Anything that Big Arnie is in – not only does he have a great body but he’s also a really good actor – he’s one of my role models.

• FAVOURITE SAYING: “Life’s too short to dance with ugly men”.

• FAVOURITE SONG: “Wind Beneath My Wings” – Bette Midler

.:: played by IAN JOPSON ::.

GIVEN NAME: Edward Bruinsen


• AGE: 50…ish.

• SEXUALITY: Last time I looked, Gay.

• MARITAL STATUS: Still looking for Mr Right, however will settle for Mr Anybody-at-all-just-as-long-as-he’s-still-breathing.

• OCCUPATION: Handyman/caretaker. Also help Liz run “Buck’s Bargains”.

• HOBBIES: Cooking – however I get a little discouraged by culinary philistines who tell me that I have “colourblind taste buds”. Also enjoy cruising – mostly in Oxford Street, Kings Cross and several male-only establishments!

• FAVOURITE FOOD: Spinach Surprise – one of my own creations – spinach, baked beans and banana with scrambled egg in a blue cheese ‘n chilli sauce.

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Victoria Bitter Beer.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: “The Complete Works of Tom of Finland”.

• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “Top Buns – the Young and the Hung”.

• FAVOURITE SAYING: “So many men, so few offers”.

• FAVOURITE SONG: “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow” – Judy Garland.

.:: played by CHRIS THOMAS ::.

• GIVEN NAME: Ipjana Von Trapp


• AGE: Old enough to know better, but young enough to

• do it again!

• SEXUALITY: Honey, if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.

• MARITAL STATUS: Someday my prince will come, but until then I’m available.

• OCCUPATION: Manageress of the fabulous night spot, “The Slimey Codpiece”. Although I predict that my part-time psychic consultancy will soon become my dominant occupation.

• HOBBIES: Costume design and singing (an old family tradition).

• FAVOURITE FOOD: Vienna Schnitzel (of course!) but nothing that Ted cooks.

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Peppermint schnapps, Dom Perignon.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: “The Sound of Music”

• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “The Sound of Music”

• FAVOURITE SAYING: “It’s not the men in my life… it’s the life in my men!”

• FAVOURITE SONG: The entire score of “Porgy & Bess”, everything that Diana Ross has done, and anything that I can really get down to.

• .:: played by KEITH WRIGHT ::.

• GIVEN NAME: Harrison Buck


• AGE: 22

• SEXUALITY: Why do you need to ask?


• OCCUPATION: Looking for work.

• HOBBIES: Playing “Supermarket Slaughter”, “Gates of Hell” and designing a video card to make them run faster.

• FAVOURITE FOOD: I’ll eat almost anything – except some things that Ted cooks (his vegetable curry is truly the grossest thing I’ve ever eaten).

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Iced weak tea with two sugars and a slice of lemon.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: The “Computer Superstore Warehouse Catalogue ” – it changed my life.

• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “Attack of the 50ft Woman” – I love old horror movies.

• FAVOURITE SAYING: “The computer hasn’t crashed… it’s just having a rest.”

• FAVOURITE SONG: Verdi’s “Requiem”.

.:: played by SCOTT HALL-WATSON


Gay History: UK Issues Posthumous Pardons For Thousands Of Gay Men

Justice minister hails ‘momentous day’ as so-called Turing’s law receives royal assent, but critics say move does not go far enough
The legislation follows a posthumous pardon for the Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing who was convicted of gross indecency. Photograph: Sherborne school/AFP/Getty

Thousands of men convicted of offences that once criminalised homosexuality but are no longer on the statute book have been posthumously pardoned under a new law.

A clause in the policing and crime bill, which received royal assent on Tuesday, extends to those who are dead the existing process of purging past criminal records.

The general pardon is modelled on the 2013 royal pardon granted by the Queen to Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the German Enigma codes during the second world war. He killed himself in 1954, at the age of 41, after his conviction for gross indecency.

Welcoming the legislation, the justice minister Sam Gyimah said: “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that ‘Turing’s law’ has become a reality under this government.”

There is already a procedure in place for the living to apply to the Home Office to have their past convictions, relating to same-sex relationships, expunged from their criminal records.

Under what is known as the disregard process, anyone previously found guilty of past sexual offences that are no longer criminal matters can ask to have them removed.

A disregard can be granted only if the past offence was a consensual relationship and both men were over 16. The conduct must also not constitute what remains an offence of sexual activity in a public lavatory.

Sam Gyimah, justice minister, says the government has ‘taken action to right these wrongs’. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Each disregard application is checked to prevent people from claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes. Those granted a disregard will also be pardoned.

No lists of past pardons will be published but the new law will allow future historians to point out that those imprisoned or fined for consensual gay relationships would not under modern legislation have committed a crime.

Rewriting history will not be easy. The complexity of the evidence, for example, that led to Oscar Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for gross indecency – including evidence of procuring male prostitutes – would make it difficult to assess.

The gay rights organisation Stonewall has suggested the playwright and author, who was sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading jail, should be entitled to a pardon.

The Ministry of Justice said there would be no historical limit in relation to past offences. It declined, however, to say whether Wilde would be among those deemed posthumously pardoned.

The amendments to the bill were tabled by Lord Sharkey, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden with government support.

A private member’s bill with a similar aim and a blanket pardon, brought forward by the SNP MP John Nicolson, was not supported by the government. It would have backdated pardons only to 1919.

A Stonewall spokesperson said: “This is significant. And it’s as important to the whole lesbian, gay, bi and trans community, as it is for the gay and bi men affected.

“The more equality is enshrined into our law books, the stronger our equality becomes, and the stronger we as a community become.

“This month the government issued a clear and powerful apology to every gay and bi man who had been unjustly criminalised for being who they are. This is not just equality for gay and bi men; the passing of this law is justice.

“We’re working to ensure that this new process is brought quickly and correctly, and to ensure all gay and bi men unjustly persecuted and prosecuted can finally receive the justice they deserve.”

Welcoming the new law, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “This pardon is an important, valuable advance that will remedy the grave injustices suffered by many of the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men who were convicted under discriminatory anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003 – the latter being the year when all homophobic sexual offences legislation was finally repealed in England and Wales.

“A pardon has connotations of forgiveness for a wrong done. These men and the wider LGBT community believe they did no wrong.

“The legislation has a few omissions. It does not explicitly allow for the pardoning of men convicted of soliciting and procuring homosexual relations under the 1956 and 1967 Sexual Offences Acts. Nor does it pardon those people, including some lesbians, convicted for same-sex kissing and cuddling under laws such as the Public Order Act 1986, the common law offence of outraging public decency, the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 and the army, navy and air force acts and other diverse statutes.

“However, agreements secured by Lord Cashman mean that people convicted under these other laws can also apply for a pardon.”

The last men who were executed for homosexuality in England were James Pratt and John Smith who were hanged in 1835.

Sharkey, the Liberal Democrat peer who drafted the amendment to the bill, said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades.

“It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing and extend it to thousands of men unjustly convicted for sexual offences that would not be crimes today.”

Posthumous pardons law may see Oscar Wilde exonerated

Ministry of Justice announces initiative to wipe criminal records of gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences that are no longer illegal

The complexity of the evidence for Oscar Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for gross indecency makes it difficult to assess whether he should receive a pardon. Photograph: PA

Is Oscar Wilde about be posthumously pardoned? In a symbolic gesture announced by the government on Thursday, deceased gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences that are no longer illegal will have their criminal records wiped.

Announcing the initiative, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said that no individuals would be named or singled out – leaving the status of past scandals unresolved.

If the historical homosexual crime is no longer illegal and involved a consensual act with someone over the age of 16, then those convicted will be deemed to have received a posthumous pardon.

The complexity of the evidence that led to Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for gross indecency – including evidence of procuring male prostitutes – would make it difficult to assess. The gay rights organisation Stonewall suggested that the playwright and author, who was sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading jail, should now be entitled to a pardon.

The justice minister, Sam Gyimah, said that a clause would be introduced into the policing and crime bill. “It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today,” he said. “Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs.”

The disregard process is already open to those who are alive and wish to remove from their criminal record any past sexual offences that are no longer illegal. They will be entitled to a statutory pardon under the new legislation.

In 2013 Alan Turing, the gay mathematician who broke the German Enigma codes, was posthumously pardoned by the Queen. He killed himself by taking cyanide in 1954, at the age of 41, following his conviction for gross indecency.

The MoJ said it would partially follow Lord Sharkey’s amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 although it would grant a blanket pardon for those who have died and not investigate individual historical cases.

Sharkey said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades. I am very grateful for the government’s support and the support of many of my colleagues in parliament.”

The government has declined to support a private members’ bill on the subject, brought forward by an SNP MP, John Nicolson, which is due to be debated in parliament later this week.

Ministers said they fear that bill would allow some people to claim they have been cleared of offences that are still crimes – including sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity.

Gyimah said: “I understand and support the intentions behind Mr Nicolson’s bill, however I worry that he has not fully thought through the consequences. A blanket pardon, without the detailed investigations carried out by the Home Office under the disregard process, could see people guilty of an offence which is still a crime today claiming to be pardoned.”

The MoJ said there would be no historical limit in relation to past offences. It declined to say whether Wilde would be among those deemed posthumously pardoned.

Nicolson, the former BBC newsreader and front bench SNP culture spokesman, told the Guardian that the former justice secretary Michael Gove had promised him government support for his private member’s bill. His would only backdate pardons to 1919. “I hope that the government will sit and read my bill carefully,” he said. “Mine would also be a blanket pardon. A lot of those people [who are alive] are very old and would not want their names listed.”

Paul Twocock, director of campaigns at Stonewall, said: “We welcome the government announcement to issue a posthumous pardon to all gay and bi men unjustly prosecuted for being who they are, but we don’t think it goes far enough. John Nicolson MP’s proposed bill closes a loophole that means some gay and bi men who are still alive and living with those convictions still can’t have them deleted, despite them being unjust and not illegal today. We urge the government to look at bringing this into their proposal.

“We also don’t agree with the government’s interpretation of John Nicolson MP’s bill – it explicitly excludes pardoning anyone convicted of offences that would still be illegal today, including non-consensual sex and sex with someone under 16.”

Family of Alan Turing to demand government pardon 49,000 other men

Campaigners to bring petition to Downing Street, demanding all men convicted under gross indecency law for their homosexuality are pardoned

Alan Turing was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency, but was given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013. Photograph: Rex

The family of the codebreaker Alan Turing will visit Downing Street on Monday to demand the government pardons 49,000 other men persecuted like him for their homosexuality.

Turing, whose work cracking the German military codes was vital to the British war effort against Nazi Germany, was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man, was chemically castrated, and two years later died from cyanide poisoning in an apparent suicide.

He was given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013 and campaigners want the government to pardon all the men convicted under the outdated law.

Turing’s great-nephew, Nevil Hunt, his great-niece, Rachel Barnes, and her son, Thomas, will hand over the petition, which attracted almost 500,000 signatures, to 10 Downing Street.

Ms Barnes said: “I consider it to be fair and just that everybody who was convicted under the Gross Indecency law is given a pardon. It is illogical that my great uncle has been the only one to be pardoned when so many were convicted of the same crime. I feel sure that Alan Turing would have also wanted justice for everybody.”

Matthew Todd, the editor of Attitude Magazine, who will also visit Downing Street, said: “Generations of gay and bisexual men were forced to live their lives in a state of terror.

“Men convicted of gross indecency were often considered to have brought huge shame on their families and many took their own lives. We still live with the legacy of this period today and it’s about time the country addressed this appalling part of our history.”

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of Turing has brought the pioneering scientist’s story to a wider audience. The film follows him from his days as a second world war code breaker at Bletchley Park to his work at Manchester University, which saw him hailed as the father of modern computing, and his tragic death.

Turing led a team decoding messages at Bletchley Park, whose work remained secret until many years after the end of the war, and also designed the Bombe machine which decrypted German messages. Their work helped shorten the conflict and saved many thousands of lives.