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Gay History: The Peculiar Position of India’s Third Gender

Hijras occupy a special place in Hinduism. But their relationship to modern Mumbai, where transgender people are legally recognized, remains fraught.

Radhika’s “daughters,” as she affectionately calls them, pose for a portrait near their shared settlement in Mumbai, India. The hijra community is hierarchical, such that more experienced and mature hijras act as guardians and superiors to younger hijras. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

MUMBAI, India — When Lord Rama was exiled from Ayodhya and his entire kingdom began to follow him into the forest, he told his disciples: “Men and women, please wipe your tears and go away.”

So they left. Still, a group of people stayed behind, at the edge of the forest, because they were neither men nor women. They were hijras, which in Urdu means something like eunuchs. Those people waited in the woods for 14 years until Lord Rama returned, which won them a special place in Hindu mythology. There’s a bit of a mystery about the story’s origin — scholars say it’s not in the early versions of ancient Hindu texts — but in the past century this folk tale about the hijras’ loyalty has become an important piece of their identity. Hijras figure prominently in India’s Muslim history as well, serving as the sexless watchdogs of Mughal harems.

Today hijras, who include transgender and intersex people, are hard to miss. Dressed in glittering saris, their faces heavily coated in cheap makeup, they sashay through crowded intersections knocking on car windows with the edge of a coin and offering blessings. They dance at temples. They crash fancy weddings and birth ceremonies, singing bawdy songs and leaving with fistfuls of rupees.

Many Indians believe hijras have the power to bless or curse, and hijras trade off this uneasy ambivalence.

Gurvinder Kalra, a psychiatrist who has studied the hijra community, recalled the time when a troupe showed up ­uninvited at his nephew’s birth.

“The first thing people said was, ‘Oh my God, the hijras are here.’” Then there was a nervous pause, he said. Then laughter.

“There is this mixture of negativity and positivity, a laughter, a fear, this sense they are oddities,” Dr. Kalra said.

Radhika, 24, originally from Andhra Pradesh makes a living in Mumbai by performing blessings, begging on trains and through sex work. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Behind the theatrics are often sad stories — of the sex trade and exploitation, cruel and dangerous castrations, being cast out and constantly humiliated. Within India’s L.G.B.T. community, the hijras maintain their own somewhat secretive subculture.

Radhika, a hijra living near a railway station in Mumbai, didn’t think of herself as different until she started school, a chapter of her life that did not last long. After being teased by other children, she realized she wasn’t exactly a girl, but she wasn’t a boy either. Her mother told her not to dwell on it.

“She told me, ‘You’re a girl. Stick to it.’”

It hasn’t been easy for Radhika. Her parents split up when she was young, and her mother died soon afterward. None of her relatives wanted to take care of her. After she was essentially abandoned , an older prostitute discovered her and put her to work in a garbage-strewn park selling sex. She was 8.

A decade and a half later, Radhika is still a sex worker. She wears dark saris, chipped purple nail polish, a gold ring in her left nostril and her hair down the middle of her back.

When asked how she feels each evening as she heads off to work, to stand in a line of other prostitutes along the railway tracks, waiting for customers, she shrugged.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I learned the world runs on money,” she said. “I learned that if I don’t have money, I don’t exist.’’

Honey, 22, originally from Hyderabad, outside of the room where she has been staying for one year near the Bandra train station in Mumbai. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times
Many hijras live and work around train stations in Mumbai because begging is more profitable in high-traffic areas. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

In many ways, Radhika’s story is no rougher, lonelier or more desperate than those of many other hijras. Many are engaged in sex work, locked into service for a guru who takes most of their earnings.

Radhika wouldn’t utter her guru’s name. She seemed scared to talk about her. Within the hijra world, gurus fulfill the hybrid role of den mother, godfather, spiritual leader and pimp. The gurus are hijras as well, usually in their 40s or 50s.

There is a bit of a pyramid sales scheme within the hijra community. Younger “chelas,” or disciples, are managed by midranking hijras who report up to gurus, who are often steered by their own elder mentors. For every hijra, the idea is to get as many chelas working for you as possible. The money flows up; the protection from abusive customers or police officers flows down.

Lata, 61, is known as a guru in the hijra community and has live-in disciples: younger hijras who look to her for guidance and survival. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times
Lata holding a picture of her guru. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

When I tried to interview a guru in Radhika’s neighborhood, the guru shook her head and said she had to get permission from her guru.

But one guru opened up. She lives on the second floor of a slum house in Mumbai, up a narrow metal ladder, like on a ship. Different from Radhika and most hijras, who spend their years in small, airless shanties with the smell of feces wafting through cracks in the walls, this guru, who calls herself Chandini, rents a relatively large apartment. She sat on a cleanly swept floor, slumped against a Whirlpool fridge.

“These days, it’s so much easier to be a hijra,” Chandini said. “Now there are doctors. When I had my sex change, we had to do it ourselves.”

In the past, she said with a sigh, countless young men died from sloppy castrations. They were often performed by people with no medical training.

India has come a long way from that. In some states, such as Kerala, in the south, a person can now get a sex change at a government hospital. A few years ago, India officially recognized transgender as a third gender, eligible for welfare and other government benefits. Not all transgender people are hijras or members of guru families.

Mita, 23, applies makeup and gets ready to go out on the trains to give blessings to passengers. In Hinduism, hijras were once revered as demigods. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Hundreds of years ago, under traditional Hindu culture, hijras enjoyed a certain degree of respect. But Victorian England changed that. When the British colonized India in the mid-19th century, they brought a strict sense of judgment to sexual mores, criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” That was the beginning, scholars say, of a mainstream discomfort in India with homosexuality, transgender people and hijras.

Rajni, 20, and Puja, 23, from Orissa pose for a portrait while waiting for the train at the Bandra station. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times
Feet symbolize the most impure part of the body in Hinduism. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times
Sapna, 23, originally from Andhra Pradesh has been living in Mumbai for six years. She went through part of a sex reassignment surgery last year: “My inside tells me I’m a woman, so now I feel nice.” She is still saving to have breast surgery which she estimates costs $1,500. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Many hijras feel a sense of alienation, of being looked at as freaks. They complain about being heckled, harassed and assaulted. Gurus help the young hijras navigate some of this; their networks of disciples are known as “houses” or “families.” The houses operate a bit like street gangs — they fight over territory for begging and prostitution and settle disputes among themselves, sometimes violently, in the shadows of train stations and slums.

Chandini made no bones about how it worked among her 15 chelas.

“They give me what they earn,” she said.

She even keeps a stack of receipt books, heaped by her TV, so anyone making a donation to a hijra in her neighborhood can keep a record of it.

A hijra showing off a tattoo. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Rithika, 23 and Ammu, 21, live with their Guru in the Koliwada area of Mumbai. They have adopted each other as sisters. “If we walk on the road or on the street, people watch us like an alien, as something differently created,” Ammu said. “That has to be changed, we have to be seen as an equal.” Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Puja, a 28-year-old hijra, said she felt a “sisterhood” with the other hijras in her house. Puja seemed a lighter spirit, happy in her own skin. She lives with three other transgender women and they cover their rent by dancing at temples and begging on the street.

“Personally, I don’t want to beg. Nobody wants to beg,” Puja said. “And the situation is worse now for begging. The police harass us. They don’t let us beg anymore on trains. But we aren’t given any other opportunity, and now you ask us not to beg? This is not fair. This is not justice.”

At end of interview, Puja looked at me and asked very earnestly:

“What do transgenders do in your country? Do they do sex work?”

Simran, 30, walks through the Banstand area of Bandra in Mumbai. Each day Simran visits this area and asks tourists and locals for money. She must give a portion of all the money she makes to her guru. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

(Jeffrey Gettleman is the South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi. He was the winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for international reporting.)

Reference

The Profumo Affair, Over 50 years on

Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler leave the Profumo trial hearing, 1963. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection

At Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers gave an eloquent summation of why a semen-stained dress and the manifold uses of a cigar had become of such absorbing interest: “HL Mencken said one time, ‘When you hear somebody say, “This is not about money” – it’s about money. And when you hear somebody say, “This is not about sex” – it’s about sex.’”

Many of those involved in Britain’s Profumo affair, which took place 50 years ago, also liked to pretend that it wasn’t really about sex. The allegation to which they repeatedly returned was that the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, 48 years old and married to former actress Valerie Hobson, and a Soviet naval attaché, Yevgeni “Eugene” Ivanov, were sharing the favours of Christine Keeler, a young, beautiful woman who eked out a living by combining erotic dancing and modelling with occasional sex for money. Keeler, who was raised on London’s fringes in a converted railway carriage, met both men at the Cliveden estate of Lord Astor on which her friend, society osteopath Stephen Ward, lived in a cottage. Profumo had been impressed when he and Astor encountered a naked Keeler, trying to shield herself with a towel, at the estate’s swimming pool on a warm July evening in 1961.

That a Tory minister had been involved in some naughtiness was the subject of rumour for several months. While there had been sly hints concerning that minister’s identity in the press, Profumo’s threat of a libel suit managed to keep all but a low-circulation Westminster newsletter in line. But several players in the affair – Keeler, Ward and Mandy Rice-Davies, another “party girl” – were already hawking their stories around Fleet Street. The scandal fully broke on 5 June 1963 when Profumo admitted that he had lied about his relationship with Keeler in an earlier parliamentary statement. Profumo immediately resigned as a minister.

The effect on a conservative government already seen to be reaching its use-by date was dramatic, especially after a blistering attack in the Commons by new Labour leader Harold Wilson. A bewildered Harold Macmillan, the Tory prime minister, never quite seemed to recover from the sordidness of it all, and soon resigned citing ill health (although he would live another 23 years). In the meantime, Macmillan had appointed the eminent judge Lord Denning to investigate the affair’s security ramifications. Denning took his duties seriously, to the extent of arranging for a doctor to inspect a government minister’s penis to see whether it matched one shown being fellated in a photograph. Denning’s published findings, unusually for a government report, became a bestseller.

It was a grubby little book. Richard Davenport-Hines’s fine new account of the scandal, An English Affair (HarperCollins; $35), justly describes the report as “awash with the spite of a lascivious, conceited old man”. Whereas Denning found kindly things to say about Profumo’s loyalty and Astor’s philanthropy, the best he could manage for Keeler was to acknowledge her “undoubted physical attractions”.

Denning could not ignore the fact that Profumo had enjoyed an extramarital affair with a woman less than half his age and then lied about it to both parliament and his party colleagues. Nonetheless, the war minister was spared the lashing that Ward received. An admittedly unattractive figure, whose hobbies included “collecting” aristocrats, celebrities and young, pretty working-class women, Ward served as a convenient scapegoat in the affair. Denning called him “utterly immoral” and a communist sympathiser, and elsewhere accused him of “vicious sexual activities”. In her memoirs, Keeler went so far as to claim he was spying for the Soviets. In August 1963, Ward took his own life during a trial for pimping, a trumped-up charge made to stick through police blackmail of witnesses.

Davenport-Hines has produced a lively book, more than two thirds of which is devoted to establishing the affair’s historical background and main players. Davenport-Hines has no time for the humbug that the scandal was about national security. Rather he sees it as a manifestation of a crisis in a class-bound and hypocritical Britain. In this respect, Davenport-Hines follows other recent scholarship, such as Frank Mort’s Capital Affairs. Mort puts much greater stress on the affair as a product of a changing city, but he is as insistent as Davenport-Hines that the episode was not primarily about its Cold War connections: the scandal crystallised wider apprehensions in Britain about sex, morality, crime, race and gender.

John Profumo

Anxieties about postwar immigration were a critical ingredient. Keeler had relationships with two Caribbean immigrants, “Lucky” Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe, an aspect of the affair that many would later find particularly shocking. In 1963, we are just five years away from Enoch Powell’s notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which the Tory politician warned of the likely violent consequences for British society of mass non-white immigration. The presence in the story of the Caribbean men affected public judgements of Keeler, Ward and even Profumo, connecting Whitehall and Westminster with the unsavoury suburb of Notting Hill. By the early 1960s, this centre of West Indian settlement had acquired a reputation as a hub of violence, prostitution and drugs. The adventurous Keeler and Ward couldn’t resist its offerings of pot and sex. In October 1962, arguing over Keeler, Edgecombe slashed Gordon’s face with a knife in a nightclub. Later, Edgecombe fired shots at Keeler and her companion, Mandy Rice-Davies, after they refused to let him into Ward’s flat.

Keeler and Rice-Davies were not the liberated young women of second-wave feminism, yet nor were they mute and passive victims of the men who wanted to possess them. They sold access to their bodies and their stories because they understood their market value. They were true children of the consumer age. Had Keeler been born 35 years later, says Davenport-Hines, “she would have starred on Celebrity Big Brother and consulted her publicist every time her footballer boyfriend knocked her about”. But, equally, had this troubled working-class girl landed in the Swinging London of 1965 instead of the very different city of 1957, she might well have fallen into a lucrative career in the media or fashion, for she had the look that model Jean Shrimpton was already, by 1963, turning to fame and fortune.

Instead, it was her destiny to be recalled as the “tart” who helped bring down a government. There is a brief comment in Keeler’s recently updated autobiography Secrets and Lies that neatly illustrates how these women were carefully fashioning themselves for the age of celebrity. On trial for perjury, she recalled of herself and Rice-Davies: “We were having our hair done every day for the trial, trying to look our best, at Vidal Sassoon’s in Bond Street.”

This attention to image was not in vain, for the scandal produced one of the most famous photos of the century. The Lewis Morley picture of Keeler sitting naked behind the back of a chair whose lines are almost as sensual and alluring as her own hints at the sexual liberation to come, while leaving enough to the imagination to evoke the more straitlaced era being left behind.

Denning remarked that scandalous material about the famous had turned into “a marketable commodity”. That market was now global. The Australian newspapers of mid 1963 were full of the affair, while models complained about the name of their profession being attached to Keeler: “That tramp never has been and never could be a model,” trilled a former Miss Australia, Patricia Woodley. Pictures of Keeler and Rice-Davies covered the tabloids. The case was debated in serious magazines such as the Bulletin and Nation, and less earnestly among Australia’s schoolchildren, who in a witty playground rhyme calculated that a half a pound of Rice and a half a pound of Keeler added up to one pound of sexy sheila.

Davenport-Hines shows that the Profumo affair was fundamentally a media event. Some newspaper proprietors had scores to settle with the affair’s key players and many journalists were fed up with the government and the self-serving establishment it was seen to embody. Chequebook journalism, which was commonplace, fuelled the scandal, as the major protagonists sought to cash in on their stories. Journalists adopted tactics, such as burglary, that make the phone-hacking scandals of the recent past seem unexceptional.

The media used the Profumo affair as a means of attacking the whole upper class and its way of life. If journalists and newspaper owners were ruthless in their methods, collecting too many innocent victims along the way, there was at least something constructive about the outcome. Old forms of class-based deference were eroded. Women would in future would be able to exercise more independence with less risk. There would be greater sexual freedom. A country that just a few years before looked to have settled in to a decline towards comfortable mediocrity, could once again seem – if only for a few brief years – dynamic, creative and exciting.

Reference

The Profumo Affair, 50 years on, The Monthly, May 2013, by Frank Bongiorno https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/may/1366950578/frank-bongiorno/profumo-affair-50-years#mtr

What About the Guys Who Do Fit the ‘Gay Stereotype’?

The male athletes who’ve come out recently reinforce the obvious: Gay men can be masculine. But people should also be accepting of men, gay or straight, who don’t conform to traditional gender norms.

When Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers took the pitch on Sunday, he became the first openly gay man to play on a major professional team in the U.S. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

A couple weeks ago, Mark Carson, a 32-year-old gay man dressed in a tank top, cut-off shorts, and boots, was walking with his friend in the West Village when they were approached by Elliot Morales. “Look at you faggots,” Morales allegedly said. “You look like gay wrestlers.” Morales followed the men down the street shouting anti-gay slurs before fatally shooting Carson at point-blank range just blocks from the Stonewall Inn. Carson’s murder comes at a time when anti-gay crimes in New York City are on the rise, according to the NYPD. There have been 29 reported this year, up from 14 in the same period last year, even as hate crimes overall have declined during that time by almost 30 percent.

This recent uptick in anti-gay violence also comes during the same month that three more states passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage and just weeks after NBA veteran Jason Collins revealed that he is gay—and was largely greeted with open arms by the sports world. Last week, soccer player Robbie Rogers, who had said he would leave the game when he came out back in February because he didn’t “want to deal with the circus,” had a change of heart. When he took the pitch in a Los Angeles Galaxy match on Sunday night, he beat Collins to the punch to become the first openly gay athlete to play in a major U.S. men’s professional sport.

This moment of staggering contradictions seems like a good time to take stock of how far we have—and haven’t—come in dismantling homophobia. And the hopes we pin on these pioneering athletes may offer some key lessons.

Shortly after Collins came out, Brendon Ayanbadejo, former Ravens linebacker and advocate for marriage equality, explained the importance of his announcement on Meet the Press. Of course, given the sheer number of Americans who tune in to watch professional sports, athletes have an unprecedented platform to offer positive representations of LGBT people to large swaths of the population. But Ayanbadejo got to the heart of why the importance of a figure like Jason Collins extends beyond the celebrity factor: “People think gayness has something to do with femininity when really we just need to erase that stereotype from our minds,” he said. “LGBT people come in all different types and shapes and forms.”

As many commentators noted, this helps explain why college basketball phenom Brittney Griner’s casual “coming out” just weeks before Collins’ was greeted with so little fan-fare. The belief that sports—and perhaps team sports particularly—are a masculine endeavor lingers even 40 years after Title IX ushered millions of American women into the game. And since for women, we think gayness “has something to do with” masculinity, we hold the opposing set of assumptions about female athletes: “In sports right now, there are two different stereotypes—that there are no gay male athletes, and every female athlete is a lesbian,” Patrick Burke of the gay sports advocacy group You Can Play explained to the New York Times. The news that Griner, who wore a white tux on her 6-foot-8 frame at the WNBA draft, is gay didn’t fundamentally challenge our notion that sexuality has something to do with gender—and it just confirmed the stereotypes we had about women who excel in sports. As Garance Franke-Ruta put it, “Female professional athletes are already gender non-conforming. Male ones are still worshiped as exemplars of traditional masculinity.”

Within this context, the hope is that a high-profile gay male athlete—or, more realistically, a few of them—could finally smash the stereotype that “gay” equals “unmasculine” once and for all. And, in fact, to some, Collins and Rogers don’t have enough macho mojo to do the trick. Writing at The American Prospect, Joel Anderson argued that Collins’ underwhelming performance on the court has taken away from the potential power of his announcement. The New York Times’s John Branch noted that Major League Soccer is probably only the nation’s fifth-most popular league—and, at least in the American sports landscape, soccer players hardly have an uber-masculine image. (In fact, according to the Onion, soccer became the “world’s first openly gay sport” in 2010.) The real game-changer, Anderson wrote, would be if a player in the NFL, that bastion of “a certain kind of masculinity if not outright machismo,” came out. “Football players are supposed to be our manliest men,” he explained. “Their acceptance of a gay man into that world could go a long way toward unpacking some of the most insidious stereotypes about gay people.

There’s no doubt those are stereotypes that need unpacking. Sociologists have long noted that homophobia is a fundamental ingredient of masculinity in modern American culture. In his seminal 1994 article “Masculinity as Homophobia,” sociologist Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, argued that “homophobia is a central organizing principle of our cultural definition of manhood.” Since homosexuality is associated with femininity, feminizing and anti-gay comments are the primary mechanism for enforcing the boundaries of masculinity. If a guy steps ever so slightly outside of gender norms, his peers will bring him back into line by calling his heterosexuality into question (which implicitly challenges his gender). The pressure to prove and re-prove hetereosexuality is part of what it means to “be a man”—and it pushes men to embrace both homophobia and hypermasculinity. “Homophobia, the fear of being perceived as gay, as not a real man, keeps men exaggerating all the traditional rules of masculinity, including sexual predation with women,” Kimmel wrote. “Homophobia and sexism go hand-in-hand.”

Homophobia, then, is not simply social disapproval and discrimination against gay people, but an entire cultural structure that disqualifying all but the “most virulent repudiators of femininity” from “real manhood”—in the process upholding gender inequality and maintaining a hierarchy of men based on sexuality, race, class, ability, and so on.

It’s entirely understandable, then, why Collins took pains to highlight his masculinity in his Sports Illustrated article announcing the news. “I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you soft? Who knows? That’s something for a psychologist to unravel.”

But where does that leave the guys who do fit the “gay stereotype”?

After all, while it’s certainly true that not all gay men are “soft,” it’s also true that some of them are. The gay guy who would rather be belting out some Barbra Streisand than shooting hoops is not just a stereotype. He exists, too. He’s probably been spared the awful loneliness and anxiety of living for 34 years without being open about his sexuality to those closest to him, as Collins did, but he probably had less of a choice in the matter. The first time he had an anti-gay slur hurled at him may have happened before he even came out to himself. In fact, like 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, he may only be perceived as gay.

Mainstream gay rights advocates seem largely optimistic that the visibility—and acceptance—of gay male athletes like Collins and Rogers will help that guy, too. “By doing what he did, Jason Collins has extended gay kids a lifeline,” Fred Sainz, VP for communications and marketing for the Human Rights Campaign, told Time. “The message to that gay kid, even if he’s not involved in athletics, is reassuring. Even the jocks are gay. And there’s a message to bullies: gay kids are not second-class citizens.”

But it’s not completely clear that showing that “even the jocks are gay” necessarily makes things better for those guys (gay or straight) who don’t so readily conform to traditional masculine norms. Since gayness and femininity are still so linked, it’s nearly impossible to determine what homophobia’s driving factor is. As Kimmel explained to me, “As long as we think homosexuality is about effeminacy in men—as long as we think we can tell if a guy’s gay if he’s acting ‘feminine’—then we can’t tease it out.” But if that link is successfully broken—say, by the growing visibility of “macho” gay athletes who challenge the stereotype—then it will be possible. “Then the effeminacy part will be about subscribing to gender norms, not revealing anything about your sexual orientation.”

For now, though, it’s hard to say: Is being a feminine man bad because it’s considered evidence that you’re gay? Or is being gay bad because it’s seen as feminine? Or are both bad? And if the association between femininity and gayness is severed, what happens next?

The changes over the last two decades may provide some clues. After all, anti-gay attitudes in the United States have declined dramatically since the 1980s and ’90s. As recently as ten years ago, the public was evenly divided on whether homosexuality should be accepted or discouraged by society. Today, 59 percent of Americans say it should be accepted, according to a Gallup poll released recently. For the past three years, more Americans support same-sex marriage than oppose it. The most recent Pew Research Center survey, conducted this past March, found 49 percent in favor, compared to 44 percent opposed—and other polls have put the level of support even higher. About two-thirds of the public thinks that gay and lesbian couples can be as good parents as heterosexual couples and that they should have the same legal rights as their straight counterparts.

Among young people, especially, anti-gay views are decidedly the exception. About three-quarters of millennials believe homosexuality should be accepted and 70 percent support same-sex marriage. And, in large part, it is young men who have been driving this trend. Ever since we’ve been asking about it in public opinion polls, men have been more likely than women to espouse anti-gay views—a fact that buttressed the theory that masculinity is intimately connected with homophobia, says Tristan Bridges, assistant professor of sociology at The College at Brockport, SUNY. But just recently that gender gap has begun to narrow. Among millennials, it’s virtually non-existent: 69 percent of young women support same-sex marriage, compared to 65 percent of young men. Though homophobia is by no means eradicated—after all, Bridges points out, straight men especially still seem be far more comfortable with gay identity than actual gay sex—the largely supportive response to Collins and Rogers coming out would seem to reflect a real and rapid change in anti-gay attitudes, which should certainly be celebrated.

What’s far less clear is whether this shift is actually changing the way homophobia is used as a weapon for maintaining traditional masculinity. “Surely, it’s incontestable that the attitudes that people have about gay people have changed a lot—largely for the better.” Kimmel tells me. “But the attitudes that people have toward what constitutes masculinity, and how to enact being a ‘real man,’ haven’t changed very much at all.” Consequently, the use of homophobic slurs as a “mechanism of gender policing remains relatively intact”—even if those words have become less likely to be applied to actual gay people.

That’s what sociologist C.J. Pascoe found when she spent a year and a half at a California high school doing research for her 2007 book, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Homophobic slurs were tossed around constantly, but the students insisted they weren’t really about sexual orientation. “When I talked to these boys about what they were teasing about, they would go out of their way to say, ‘Oh no, we would never actually call a gay boy a fag. That’s just mean,'” she told me. Instead, boys labeled their peers “fags” for things like dancing, being too emotional, caring about clothing, being incompetent, or not have success with girls. While actually being gay wasn’t exactly accepted, Pascoe discovered that it wasn’t nearly as bad as being considered an unmasculine guy. As one student told her, “Well, being gay is just a lifestyle. You can still throw a football around and be gay.” Indeed, of the three out gay boys at the school, the two who were traditionally masculine weren’t really bullied by their peers much at all. But the third boy, who broke both the norms of sexuality and gender, faced such severe tormenting that he eventually dropped out of school.

Some scholars see cause for optimism, though. For example, Eric Anderson, an American professor of sociology at the University of Winchester, England, argues that declining homophobia is already starting to create “inclusive masculinities.” According to Anderson, homophobia only serves a weapon for enforcing gender norms in an environment of “homohysteria”—in which there is both widespread social disapproval of homosexuality and being gay is associated with femininity. As anti-gay attitudes decline and “the stigma of being called gay doesn’t sting” anymore, Anderson explained to me, the boundaries of acceptable masculinity expand. “It’s not to say that there are no hyper-macho men,” he says. “But it is to say that those who are more feminine are perfectly acceptable, because they’re not regulated by homophobia anymore.” And a similar transformation would be expected to happen if the link between femininity and gayness were broken. If being feminine is no longer considered incontrovertible “evidence” that you’re gay, who cares if you bend gender norms? Anderson’s research backs up his theory. He’s found that the male college athletes and fraternity members he studied in the U.K. and the U.S. are increasingly more accepting of their gay peers—as well as less aggressive and sexist, and more emotionally intimate and physically affectionate with their male friends.

But others aren’t convinced of such a large-scale transformation. Anderson argues that since sports have historically been highly homophobic spaces, other male groups are likely to be moreinclusive than the primarily white, straight, middle-upper class college athletes he has researched. But studies suggest that, paradoxically, those are the guys who may actually have the most freedom to bend the rules of masculinity. Pascoe describes it as “jock insurance.” In effect, men who have the most status have the masculine capital to be able to get away with flouting some gender norms. “Gender is at the heart of all this stuff,” Pascoe explains. “It can really make up for your deviance in other ways.” Bridges agrees: “I think it might be the case that gender flexibility is becoming more ok for young men today than it was in previous generations. But I would say that that is the case for a very select group of men.”

Research on LGBT students’ experiences in K-12 schools also suggests that anti-gay harassment may be driven as much by gender anxiety as by homophobia. For starters, the growing acceptance of homosexuality has been slow to translate into a change for LGBT youth, according to GLSEN’s national school climate survey, which has been conducted every two years since 1999. There has been some improvement: The frequency of anti-gay comments has slowly but steadily decreased over the last decade. The most recent report from 2011 found the percentage of students who reported hearing slurs like “faggot” or “dyke” was about 70 percent, a drop from over 80 percent in 2001. Even the pervasive use of the expression “that’s so gay” seems to have slightly declined in recent years (though “no homo” may have risen to take its place). Yet LGBT students’ reports of being harassed or assaulted held steady from 2001 to 2009, before finally dropping somewhat in 2011. And there has been no change at all in incidence of negative comments about gender expression.

Furthermore, gender non-conforming LGBT students are more likely to be bullied than their fellow gender-conforming LGBT peers. Of course, some of that may be because bending gender norms is conflated with being gay in a culture that still hasn’t let go of the idea that gender and sexuality are linked. But the high rates of harassment and violence faced by transgender people—who most radically reject the gender binary—suggest that gender policing is playing a role over and above the role of homophobia. A whopping 80 percent of transgender students reported that they felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression. And it doesn’t get much better for adults: Ninety percent of the trans and gender non-conforming people surveyed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job, or hid their identities to avoid it. A 2012 report on anti-LGBT violence from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that trans people were 28 percent more likely to be physically assaulted, and trans women specifically made up 40 percent of hate murder victims.

It’s not just boys who are punished for breaking gender norms, of course. Take Griner for example. In an op-ed in the New York Times, she recalled that in seventh grade “the teasing about my height, appearance and sexuality went on nonstop, every day.” Notably, it seemed to have more to do with her gender than her sexual orientation: “People called me a dude and said there was no way I could be a woman. Some even wanted me to prove it to them.”

Still, at this moment in history, it is easier to be a gender non-conforming girl. “Girls are allowed a lot more leeway to be outside of traditional femininity than boys are allowed to be outside of traditional masculinity,” says Barbara Risman, head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and senior scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families. So while girls also hold each other to rigid standards, and are vicious when someone doesn’t conform (one word: slut-shaming), they’re far less likely to be homophobic. The GLSEN report, for example, found that over half of students reported hearing remarks about students not acting “masculine enough,” but just over a third heard comments about students’ “femininity” as often. Up to a certain age, girls can usually get away with being tomboys, while “sissy” boys are discouraged from very early on—and not just by their peers. Studies have shown that parents—especially fathers—are more uncomfortable with their young sons playing with dolls or dresses than with their daughters doing stereotypically “boy” activities. And though stepping too far outside of acceptable gender norms is seen as a problem for everyone, to a degree, women may even be rewarded for distancing themselves from femininity at times.

This is not to say that declining homophobia doesn’t have the potential to lead to a serious reimagining of masculinity more broadly. And obviously this isn’t the kind of change that happens overnight. After all, the millennial generation that’s driving the momentum towards marriage equality is just beginning to create families of their own; I have no doubt that we will raise kids who are more accepting of different sexualities than any before them. And I’m also optimistic that millennials are well-poised to finally retire rigid, outdated versions of masculinity for good. After all, we’ve come of age in an era of unprecedented gender equality, and as traditional gender differences continue to converge, a masculine ideal that still defensively defines itself primarily against what it is not no longer makes any sense. The crisis of masculinity—predicted by a zillion trend pieces on the so-called “end of men”—offers a real moment of opportunity for my generation. As Thomas Page McBee wrote in the Atlantic last year, “Feminism allowed women to unlock the parts of themselves society kept from them, and now men are doing the same.”

But there are dangers to seeing these two trends as inevitable—and inevitably linked. After all, Bridges warns, “the most important and most dangerous forms of inequality are really capable of shifting.”Indeed, Pascoe points out that our ideas about what it is to “be a real man” are constantly changing—gender roles are always in flux—and “the important thing is not really what is included or excluded in the definition, but that that definition maintains gender inequality.” So while “sexuality might not be as big of a deal anymore,” what remains “a big deal is differentiating yourself from femininity.” In other words, we may well be moving toward a culture in which being gay is no longer on the list of things that are considered automatically “unmasculine.” However, unless we throw out the list altogether, the gender-enforcing function that homophobia currently serves—and the sexist culture it supports—will continue relatively unchanged. In such a world—to take another (extreme) example from sports—perhaps the Mike Rices of the future won’t call their players “faggots” and “fairies.” But if they still shout “cunt” and “pussy” as they physically abuse their athletes, that will be superficial progress indeed.

In fact, if the association between gayness and femininity is broken without more fundamentally expanding masculinity, it may even make things worse. Kimmel emphasizes that we don’t really know yet how this will all play out, but it could end up creating two tiers of gay men: “the really gay guys and the macho gay guys.” To some extent, that distinction already exists. Being “straight-acting” is valued—not only in the heteronormative culture at large but within gay communities, too. Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak explained last year, “As a gay, you understand that while you’ll always find peers who allow you to be exactly as queeny as you are, there is still a social hierarchy that puts a premium on masculinity.” Kimmel notes that, if that’s the direction we’re headed, gender non-conforming gay guys, who used to provide a critique of the dominant masculinity, “are gonna be seen as a real problem. If even gay men can be real men, what’s wrong with you? So in a funny way this could be another reassertion of the power of traditional ideas of masculinity.”

Reference

But, hopefully, instead it will be the first step in an important cultural change. “It’s a very good and powerful conceptual shift to decouple sexuality and gender,” Risman explains. “That is, to show there are very masculine gay men and effeminate gay men, but there are very masculine straight men and effeminate straight men, too.”

The brave decision by Collins and Rogers to come out should not be so narrowly taken as proof that even “real men” can be gay. Instead it should remind us that human beings^mdash;yes, even men—”come in all different types and shapes and forms.”

The Gay Men Risking Their Health For The Perfect Body

“You’re too ugly to be gay,” a man in a Huddersfield gay bar told Jakeb Arturio Bradea.

It was the latest in a series of comments from men that Jakeb says made him feel worthless. Last summer, following the comments, he tried to kill himself.

Manchester-based charity the LGBT Foundation has warned that body image issues are becoming more widespread in gay communities. It says gay and bisexual men are “much more likely” than heterosexual men to struggle with them. 

A number of gay men have told the BBC they are going to extreme lengths to change their bodies – including using steroids and having plastic surgery – just to become “accepted” by others in the LGBT community.

Several said pressure from social media platforms and dating apps was exacerbating their body issues.

“Guys with stunning bodies get the comments and the attention,” says Jakeb. “I’ve not gone on dates because I’m scared of people seeing me in real life. I would honestly have plastic surgery if I could afford it.”

Instead of surgery, a few years ago Jakeb turned to anabolic steroids – class C drugs that can be misused to increase muscle mass.

I got to a certain weight from just working out and going to the gym, but I couldn’t get any bigger, and I got into my head that I needed to be bigger,” he says.

“My friend said he knew a steroid dealer, so I thought maybe I’ll just do a low dose to see what happens.”

But anabolic steroids can be addictive. Jakeb soon found himself unable to stop.

“I got to the size I wanted to be, but it didn’t feel good enough,” he says. “I kept wanting more. It was like there was a harsh voice telling me I’m skinny.”

Jakeb had his second near-death experience in November last year when – after several years of heavy steroid use – he suffered heart failure.

“I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t sleep, I was days away from dying,” he says. “The cardiologist said if I had done one more injection or gone to the gym a few more times I would have dropped dead.”

Months later, Jakeb has stopped taking steroids and has lost the extra muscle he gained, but he continues to have health problems for which he is receiving hospital support. “It just hasn’t been worth it at all,” he says.

And Jakeb is not alone in taking drastic measures to try to appeal to men.

James Brumpton – a software engineer from Lincoln – found himself “catapulted into this world of self-consciousness”, after he hooked up with a man at a local gay bar.

When James went back to the man’s house and took off his T-shirt, his date looked at him and made a disgusted noise. “Nice arms though,” the man added.

James BrumptonImage captionOther men have shamed James about his body many times, he says

Eventually, the experience led to James deciding to have an abdominoplasty – otherwise known as a tummy tuck.

“I allowed another man to influence me to a point where I literally had part of me removed,” he says.

According to the most recent figures released by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps), 179 abdominoplasties were performed on men in 2018 – up 18% on the previous year.

Prof Afshin Mosahebi, of Baaps, says gay men are currently having more cosmetic procedures done than straight men, although he notes that women have more procedures than men overall. 

The surgeon believes the pressure of social media is pushing people to go under the knife.

“Some patients don’t need surgery, they need psychological help, and even the patients that do need surgery need to be appropriately informed of all the potential risks,” he says.

James Brumpton's abdomenImage copyrightJAMES BRUMPTONImage captionJames’s abdomen after having a tummy tuck

After James’s tummy tuck went wrong, he was left with permanent scarring, which made him even more conscious of his body.

“I’ve been shamed many times since then,” says James. “A guy I was dating once said that I needed to go and find jeans in the maternity section because I have wide hips.”

Dating apps have fuelled body image concerns, he says. “People having in their profiles ‘no fats’, or that they’re only into masculine and muscular guys, so they don’t want anyone that’s super skinny,” he says.

Images on social media and in leading gay magazines have also led James to feel he is an “invader in the space”.

“The idea in your head is that to be a gay man, is to look like a Calvin Klein model,” he says.

Photos of “sexy bodies” drive sales of gay magazines, according to Matthew Todd, a former editor of one such publication, Attitude.

“It was a tension the whole time and I continually tried to put people on the cover that weren’t like that: the first trans man, the first trans woman, the first lesbian,” says Matthew.

“I kept doing those kinds of things, but they didn’t sell well.”

When Matthew put a photo of Stephen Fry on the front of the magazine in 2010, “it was one of the worst selling editions ever”, he says.

“That’s not a reflection on Stephen Fry, because he’s incredibly popular,” he says. “I think it says more about what readers are coming to gay publications for.”

Low self-esteem

Matthew, the author of Straight Jacket: How to be gay and happy, says homophobia has fuelled gay men’s body issues.

“It’s really important to remember that there is unprecedented pressure on everybody to present themselves in a visual way,” he says.

“But I think you can’t take out of this discussion the fact that LGBT people grow up, shamed, not able to be themselves.

“And I think for lots of people, that’s a massive trauma that manifests as low self-esteem. If you don’t like yourself, that manifests as not being happy with the way you look.”

The result has been that gay men are under more pressure than straight men to have the perfect body, Matthew says.

“If you go on to some gay dating apps, you would think that the vast majority of gay men are supermodels,” he continues.

“If you’re a gay man, the act of finding another man attractive is also making a judgement of yourself. Many gay men confuse ‘Do I want to be with him?’ with ‘Do I want to be him?'”

Jeff Ingold, from LGBT charity Stonewall says it is “crucial” that we see more diverse representations of gay and bisexual men with different body types in the media.

“Not only would this help gay and bi men see themselves reflected in what they watch, it would also help break down harmful stereotypes that affect gay and bi men’s body image and self-esteem.”

But as it is, Jakeb says he still gets people online telling him they “wouldn’t leave the house if they looked like me”.

“I didn’t go on pride marches and have bricks thrown at me to have the community we’ve got now,” he says.

“We have equality, but we’re horrible to each other.”

Reference

Gay History: Merv Griffin’s Bodyguard of Lies

When Hollywood mogul Merv Griffin died on Aug. 12, queer-savvy media watchers wondered whether notices of his passing would maintain his preference for passing as straight. In recent years, celebrity obituaries have continued the long tradition of burying the departed closet cases in journalistically closed coffins, taking the not-so-secret truth with them to the grave. Singer Luther Vandross, writer Susan Sontag and film director Ismail Merchant had all been accorded the privilege of “inning” by the press, however open a secret their homosexuality had been while they were alive. Nil nisi bonum appears to be the rule for editors, and noting that a deceased famous person was gay certainly seems to count as speaking evil.

In Griffin’s case, though, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised, as The New York Times, The Washington Post all noted in their obituaries that Griffin had been the target in the early 1990s of unsuccessful palimony and sexual harassment suits, both brought by men who claimed that he had done them wrong, though in different ways, and both dismissed in court. Still, these lawsuits brought out into the open, if briefly, what had long been known in Hollywood: namely, that the divorced father of one, and highly visible public escort of Eva Gabor, was also gay. In the years since his legal outing, Griffin was sometimes questioned about his sexuality and always deflected the question with a joke: “You’re asking an 80-year-old man about his sexuality right now! Get a life!” In 2005 he told The New York Times with a sly grin: “I tell everybody that I’m a quatre-sexual: I will do anything with anybody for a quarter.”

The Associated Press, however, played the game the old way, limiting its obituary to Griffin’s early marriage:

Griffin and Julann Elizabeth Wright were married in 1958, and their son, Anthony, was born the following year. They divorced in 1973 because of “irreconcilable differences.”

“It was a pivotal time in my career, one of uncertainty and constant doubt,” he wrote in [his] autobiography. “So much attention was being focused on me that my marriage felt the strain.” He never remarried.

Merv Griffin’s Beverly Hills funeral was a major Hollywood event, headlined by Nancy Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger and co-starring Larry King, Ellen Degeneres and a host of TV old-timers such as Dick Van Dyke, Jack Klugman and Steve Lawrence. For some, the event was reminiscent of the funeral of another famous tycoon, an occasion that played a key role in launching the controversial journalistic-political tactic that came to be known as outing.

The New York gay magazine Outweek introduced the practice of outing closeted public figures, mostly politicians and show business celebrities who were unwilling to enlist in the cause of fighting AIDS. When prominent publisher Malcolm Forbes died in February 1990, the exposure of his homosexual side was not long in coming. The March 18, 1990, cover of OutWeek showed a photo of Malcolm Forbes on his motorcycle, with the bold headline: “The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes.” The article, by Michelangelo Signorile, begins with Forbes’ funeral, noting the presence among the mourners of many prominent homophobes — Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley, Al Neuharth — and asks whether they knew “that they were coming to pay homage to someone who embodied what they ultimately detested?”

Signorile concluded his article with a defense of outing Forbes. First, he noted that, “All too often history is distorted,” and the fact that one of the most influential men in America was gay should be recorded. Second, “it sends a clear message to the public at large that we are everywhere.” The third reason Signorile gave was that this story illuminated a choice made by many gay people. In researching the story Signorile tried to interview a gay man who had been close to Forbes and his family, someone who could have shed light on “the real inner workings of Forbes’ mind.”

But, after considerable thought, he decided not to speak to me. Currently living a closeted existence with regard to his own family and business, he said, “My choice in speaking to you is between myself and the greater gay community. And — at this moment — I have to go with myself.”

The Outweek story set off a firestorm of controversy about outing, with most condemning the tactic. The L.A. Times, which also editorialized against outing, named only dead people: Forbes, Rock Hudson, Liberace, Roy Cohn, Terry Dolan, Perry Ellis and Oliver Sipple; Newsweek limited itself to Forbes (reproducing the OutWeek cover photo and headline) and Liz Smith, a “favorite target” of the outers who is quoted as saying, “I may be a gossip columnist, but I do respect the right of people not to tell me ‘everything,’ and I reserve the same right for myself.” The New York Times would refer only to “a famous businessman who had recently died.” Times spokesman William Adler took a hard line, saying that the paper would not print “hearsay” even if the subject is no longer living: “The thinking at the Times is that in most cases an individual’s private sex life should not be the subject of coverage by the newspaper unless the person wishes it to be so,” Adler said. “That perspective extends through their lifetime and even after their death.”Seventeen years later, the situation is vastly different, but celebrity closets remain dangerous journalistic territory, even when their inhabitants are deceased and therefore immune from being libeled. The day before Merv Griffin’s funeral, the Hollywood Reporter, one of the industry “bibles” read by everyone in showbiz, ran a front-page story by regular writer Ray Richmond that began, “Merv Griffin was gay.” Richmond, who had worked for Griffin in the 1980s, went on to note that “Merv’s secret gay life was widely known throughout showbiz culture, if not the wider America.” Richmond made clear why he thought it important to set the record, um, straight about Griffin’s sexuality:

He certainly didn’t owe us an explanation, but maybe he owed it to himself to remove the suffocating veil he’d been forced to hide behind throughout his adult life. Then again, Merv carved his niche in the entertainment world at a time when being gay wasn’t OK, when disclosure was unthinkable and the allegation alone could deep-six one’s career.

If you’re Griffin, why would you think a judgmental culture would be any more tolerant as you grew into middle and old age? Even in the capital of entertainment — in a business where homosexuality isn’t exactly a rare phenomenon — it’s still spoken of in hushed tones or, more often, not at all. And Merv’s brush with tabloid scandal no doubt only drove him further into the closet.

While it would seem everything has changed today, little actually has. You can count on the fingers of one hand, or at most two, the number of high-powered stars, executives and public figures who have come out. Those who don’t can’t really be faulted, as rarely do honesty and full disclosure prove a boon to one’s showbiz livelihood.

Nonetheless, the elephant that was his sexual orientation never really stopped following Griffin from room to room. He could duck it for a while, but it would always find him. It’s disheartening that Merv had to die to shake it for good.

Incoming editor Elizabeth Guider opined upon reflection that the column was not “malicious, mendacious or unfair-minded” and therefore [she] was comfortable not merely with its legality but its message as well. She understood that it’s sometimes the job of columnists to shake up the status quo as well as to “spark more discussion and deal with different viewpoints. That’s what free speech is about.”

Reuters, however, which had run the story when THR first posted it, took it down and did not put it back. Reuters explained: “This was a story from The Hollywood Reporter that ran as part of a Reuters news feed. We have dropped the story from our entertainment news feed, as it did not meet our standards for news.” Officials of the news service did not explain, however, why the article seemed to meet their standards when they originally ran it (Yahoo News, which picked up the Reuters story, kept it up even after Reuters took it down).

So, how far have we come in the years between Malcolm Forbes’ and Merv Griffin’s funerals? Quite a way, to be sure, but at least for many power-wielders, things are much the same. Hollywood, like its East Coast counterpart in image manipulation, Washington, D.C., is endlessly engaged in the selling of constructed personae on the mainstream media’s pages and screens. If, as Churchill said, in wartime truth has a bodyguard of lies, then Hollywood’s image factory is always at war. Its defensive strategy relies heavily on a fifth column within the ranks of the press: gossip writers. The progeny of Louella Parsons and heirs of Hedda Hopper follow in the footsteps of their infamous ancestors, “two vain and ignorant [columnists who] tyrannized Hollywood” in the 1940s, as they were characterized by historian Otto Freidrich. Early in the 20th century the component parts of the image-manufacturing complex were firmly in place: On the one side studio publicists, publicity agents and public relations flacks, and on the other side an array of media writers ranging from freelance stringers to writers working for supermarket tabloids and magazines, whose contemporary counterparts work for mainstream personality gossip magazines like People and US, television programs like Entertainment Tonight, syndicated gossip columnists that reach millions of readers through their local newspapers, and the latest venue, commercial and amateur websites. But despite the occasional adversarial pretense, these groups really collude in providing the sort of gossip they believe the public wants to know. Gossip may not have the journalistic respectability of “hard” news, but it is an increasingly visible feature of the media landscape.

It may be a commonplace of journalism courses that the ultimate standard for news media is honesty — never knowingly to report something that is untrue, even if the “whole” truth may not be reportable for a variety of reasons (such as protecting one’s sources). But when it comes to celebrity gossip, “The standards are different,” said Jerry Nachman, then editor of the New York Post. “That’s why I always say gossip pages should come with little warning labels: The rules of regular journalism were not followed in reporting these stories.”In the case of homosexuality, we begin with a topic that already puts a strain on the rules of journalism. Former New York Times columnist Roger Wilkins, the first black writer appointed to the paper’s editorial board, said that during his two years as the urban affairs columnist in the late 1970s, only three of his columns were killed — and two of them were on gay topics. So, it should surprise no one that one of the most common departures from the rules of regular journalism is the collusion of gossip writers, and other, more “respectable” journalists, in maintaining the security of celebrity closets.

During the outing furor of the early 1990s, gay journalist Randy Shilts, while not supporting outing, did describe the system clearly:

Hundreds of publicity agents in Hollywood and New York make their living by planting items in entertainment columns about whom celebrities are dating. Many of these items are patently false and intended only to cover up the celebrity’s homosexuality. Many newspaper writers and editors know this and cheerfully participate in the deception because the bits help fill their columns. Editors who would never reveal that a public figure was gay have no problem with routinely saying that same person is straight.

“Celebrity publications are lied to up, down and sideways,” said a longtime editor at Ladies Home Journal and US, but this is highly disingenuous and ignores the fact that celebrity writers and publications are willing participants in a process that might be called inning. The gossip writers, many of them lesbian or gay, who speculated about when Malcolm Forbes would marry Elizabeth Taylor, or when Merv Griffin would marry Eva Gabor, knew what they were doing.

When singer Luther Vandross died in 2005, the media obituaries politely ignored the widespread speculation that he was gay. Using familiar inning code in their Vandross obit, the AP reported that, “the lifelong bachelor never had any children, but doted on his nieces and nephews. The entertainer said his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult; besides, it wasn’t what he wanted.” As blogger Pam Spaulding put it:

The real problem is that the news media, which has no problem recounting the endless het romances of stars (real or alleged), is squeamish about even asking a star whether or not they are gay — how is this journalism? In Vandross’s situation (as well as in the posthumous media de-gaying cases of Susan Sontag and Ismail Merchant), the coverage bends over backwards, straining any sense of credibility, to avoid any fact-finding about the subject in question that might reveal they were gay, even if the person was openly gay in their social circles, but not to their fan base. Why is there a need to preserve a straight fantasy in death?

In the end, of course, the issue is not whether Merv Griffin’s secret would be buried with him. In the age of Wikipedia, it’s a given that anyone interested enough to Google Merv would quickly get the gist of the story, if not the gory details, or even the less savory details, such as those recounted by Michelangelo Signorile in his 1993 book, “Queer in America,” in which an unnamed Hollywood “Mogul” is described as firing men from his company for being openly gay. The real point of the episode is the enduring power of the Hollywood closet that held even a billionaire locked in its embrace, paying homage to the presumed prejudices of the public.

Reference

A World Of Pandemics: Part V

What Sex Was Like During The Black Death

Have you ever wondered what sex during the Black Plague was like? It sounds sick and twisted, but life goes on, as they say, even during an epidemic. People are still people, even when a ton of people are swept away (at least 75 million died during the epidemic). Engaging in physical relationships during the Black Plague (another common name for it) was in many ways a lot like how it was during the rest of the Middle Ages, but the extreme conditions led to some extreme expressions of sexuality.

“Bedroom activity” during the Black Plague was in some ways pretty wild, with some “revelers” deciding to hump the rest of their seemingly short lives away. But doctors at the time also told people to avoid overexerting themselves in the bedroom because they thought the “bad air” would reach them easier if they did. Read on to learn more about what making love during the Black Plague was really like.

There Were “Gatherings” In Graveyards

There Were

The Black Plague was a stressful time to be alive, for obvious reasons. One way to cope, according to historian David Herlihy in The Black Plague and the Transformation of the West, was by celebrating life in cemeteries. “Group activities” were one of the ways people celebrated life. At Avignon’s Champfleur cemetery, for example, things got so bad that a papal official had to threaten the “fornicators and adulterers” with excommunication for committing “unseemly acts” on the graves.

Street walkers even took advantage of this desire by hanging out at cemeteries. It wasn’t all fornication: revelers also dared to dance, fight, throw dice, and play other games among the graves as well.

Medical Experts Advised Limited “Physical Activity”
Medical Experts Advised ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list What Sex Was Like During The Black Death

Medical logic at the time said that too much “physical activity” “overheated the body,” according to Joseph Patrick Byrne’s The Black Plague, and this allowed “bad air” to enter the body through one’s pores, increasing the chances of catching the plague. Heavy breathing during the act might also lead to inhaling too much of that same “bad air.” A German physician even advised that “all physical exertions and emotions of the mind,” including running, jumping, jealousy, and promiscuity, should be totally avoided or risk catching the dreaded Black Plague. What could people do? They could spend their downtime “relating tales and stories and with good music to delight their hearts.”

“Selling Yourself” Was Institutionalized

As the casualty toll of the plague increased, working girls benefited more and more, according to Jeffrey Richards. They began to enjoy a “seller’s market” due to a general lack of labor in the era, leading to “a general improvement of their conditions.”

Leah Lydia Otis wrote that as the Black Plague waned, there was a “quantum leap in the institutionalization of [working girls.]” Municipally-owned “parlors” were built, complete with “royal safeguards.” Otis did note, however, that the demand for girls began to wane at that time, as well.

Some Thought Immorality Helped Cause The Plague
Some Thought Immorality&... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list What Sex Was Like During The Black Death

Joseph Patrick Byrne wrote that many lawmakers at the time adopted the “Christian belief that sin angered God, who expressed his divine wrath through plague,” and they turned those beliefs into legislation. Many older “moral laws” essentially became just plain laws. This meant sexual immorality was heavily legislated. This “sanitary” legislation targeted sodomy and selling one’s body in particular. In Florence, for example, working girls were “kicked out” of the city in the waning years of the Black Plague. When the industry reemerged in the decades that followed, they were still forbidden to work on the streets. Certain establishments, however, were still allowed to legally operate.

There Was Still An Active Gay Subculture
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According to the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, Volume 2, a “vital urban subculture” of homosexuals existed during the Black Plague. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that “more detailed records of the life and attitudes of homosexual men and women” emerged, but this vital subculture was alive, despite “only fleeting glimpses of it in the literature” of the period.

A few decades before the Black Plague, King Edward II of England was murdered, and centuries-old rumors say he was executed for homosexual activity. (Mel Gibson’s Braveheart received a lot of criticism for its negative portrayal of Edward.) The belief that “sexual immorality” such as “sodomy” helped cause the Black Plague surely was another factor in keeping the subculture hidden during the period.

‘Pseudo-Flagellants’ Performed Acts In Public
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So-called “flagellants” during the Black Plague were, according to Professor Mark Damen of Utah State University, “professional self-torturers” who went around whipping themselves for a fee in order to “bring God’s favor upon a community hoping to avert the bubonic plague.” They were literal whipping boys that people employed to buy “remission from sin.” The Church, of course, outlawed this behavior, but that didn’t have do much to stop the practice. There was also another group of lesser-known “pseudo-flagellants” that went from town-to-town performing “physical acts” in public for a fee. The Church outlawed them, as well.

Incidents Of Incest Increased
Incidents Of Incest Increased is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list What Sex Was Like During The Black Death

In Domestic Violence in Medieval TextsEve Salisbury, Georgiana Donavin, and Merrall Llewelyn Price wrote that incest in England actually increased during the Black Plague. Why? Simple arithmetic. The plague “destroyed between one-third and one-half” of the population, making exogamy (marrying only outside their clan or community) “improbable.” The problem, Donavin wrote, wasn’t keeping cousins from marrying, but instead “finding living cousins with whom one might preserve the patrimony.” A lot of noble families died off during the plague years, meaning “intrafamilial marriages greatly increased.”

Fines For Fornication Increased
Fines For Fornication Increase is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list What Sex Was Like During The Black Death

Richard M. Smith wrote in Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle that the severity of fines for fornication in England increased as the severity of other legal fines generally decreased in the middle of the Black Plague period (1349). Smith interpreted the high fines during this period as a punishment for acts that were seen as morally improper. The courts, essentially, decided to ramp up the punishment for immorality in response to the Black Plague. Blame the fornicators, basically. Smith did note, however, that attitudes about unseemly acts such as fornication, and thus the inclination to increase the fines for such acts, may have been changing even before the plague struck.

The Most Intense Symptoms Suffered By Victims Of 14th-Century Black Plague

Responsible for eliminating anywhere between 30 to 60% of Europe’s population between 1346 and 1353, the bubonic plague was a cause of terror. Gruesome symptoms led to mass panic and widespread fear. What happened to people with the black plague? From oozing boils to decaying skin, gross symptoms of the black plague were a common sight in Europe during the 1300s. 

The disease occasionally crops up again today. While not always fatal, bubonic plague symptoms can have lasting consequences for sufferers. Early black plague signs include odd lumps and bumps, but also very common ailments. Many plague sufferers initially experience normal symptoms of a cold or flu, like a fever and chills, only to have their health start deteriorating rapidly. Learning about the black plague will leave you second-guessing waiting to see a doctor the next time you come down with a seemingly mild sickness. 

Gangrene Is An Unpleasant Side Effect

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Sufferers often end up with gangrene as a result of the virus, which is sometimes treated via drastic measures like amputation. Gangrene causes the skin to turn shades of blue, purple, green, red, or black. Swelling and blisters may also occur, and these emit a foul-smelling pus. Skin may also become cold and tender. 

One reason amputation is often necessary is that gangrene can lead to septic shock, an often fatal complication.  

Bumps And Boils Eventually Start To Ooze

After their initial appearance, the egg-sized lumps found on plague sufferers get worse. The bumps and boils spread throughout the body. Over time, they begin to rupture and emit blood and pus. 

One Complication Will Promptly Shut Down Bodily Functions

Photo: Paul Fürst (1608–1666)/Wikimedia Commons/Public Dom

Disseminated intravascular coagulation is a medical condition sometimes caused by the plague. This is a serious and potentially fatal complication in which blood clots throughout the body and – as a result – internals organs begin to shut down. This was a death sentence in the early days of the plague, and is often still fatal today.

However, the condition is sometimes successfully treated via a medically induced coma. 

Bumps The Size Of An Egg Present As The First Symptom

If you’ve contracted the plague, the first symptom is a little hard to miss. You develop what are called “buboes,” which generally develop a week after you’re exposed to the virus. These are large bumps, about the size of a chicken egg, that are found around the groin, armpit, or neck. In addition to being massive, they’re sensitive.

The bumps are also warm to the touch and tender.

Sufferers Engaged In Self-Flagellating Religious Rituals

Photo: Unknown 15th-Century Engraving/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When you’re suffering intensely for unknown reasons, it’s not uncommon to look to the skies for an answer. In the 1300s, some sufferers concluded the Black Death was a punishment brought on by an angry God for the impurities in their own souls. Their solution? Intense acts of self flagellation.

Sufferers, especially those in the upper class, would march from town to town. In front of a public audience, they would beat one another and themselves with heavy straps of leather covered in shards of metal. This ritual was repeated three times a day for a 33-and-a-half-day period.

As more and more people began participating, the pope caught wind. Concerned the self flagellants could usurp his power, he condemned the practice. It fizzled out shortly thereafter.

Mutant Bacteria Was Especially Harmful

Plague bacteria spreads rapidly throughout the body, shutting down nearly every vital function. While complications like gangrene and dehydration often led to the end for sufferers, many people were more or less poisoned.

This is due to yersinia pestis, a mutant bacteria that causes the plague. This bacteria is particularly violent as it is unable to survive outside a host, and it can penetrate and hide in a host’s cells. In order to survive, the bacteria multiplies quickly and disables a sufferer’s immune system. Yersinia pestis bacteria then clot underneath the skin, in hopes of being picked up by a passing flea.

Even Survivors Have Lasting Side Effects From The Vomiting

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Dom

Vomiting is par for the course for a wide variety of common illnesses, but this is no minor ailment when it’s related to the black plague. Depending on the duration of the infection, the consequences of months of acid reflux and vomiting can last for years. 

Take the case of Katie Simon, a woman who caught the plague on a backpacking trip she took shortly after college in the early 2000s. Her stomach was afflicted that she had to stick to a strict diet comprised of mostly bland foods free of gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, and processed sweeteners. Her upper digestive system was completely inflamed, and she had ulcers covering her stomach and esophagus. Recovery took two and a half years. 

Sufferers Bleed Pretty Much Everywhere

In the disease’s later stages, bleeding is common. Septicemic plague occurs when plague bacteria begin multiplying in a sufferer’s body. They may bleed from the nose, mouth, rectum, or even under the skin. 

Extremities Blacken As Bacteria Multiply

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Doma

After an initial infection, bacteria begins to multiply in a sufferer’s bloodstream. This can cause a number of side effects associated with more common illnesses, such as fever, chills, and diarrhea. However, one symptom distinct to the black plague is a change in body color. 

Sufferers often experienced the blackening of their fingers, toes, and nose. 

Overall Skin Color Sometimes Changes

Blackening of the extremities is a common side effect, but some sufferers experience complete changes in skin color.

Take the case of Paul Gaylord, an Oregon man who contracted the plague from his cat in 2012. After the initial fever, his skin began to turn grey throughout his body. This caused his wife to rush him to the hospital, where he luckily received life-saving treatment. 

The Initial Symptoms Mimic Those Of Normal Colds And Flus

Photo: Leo Van Aken/Wikimedia Commons /Public Domain

One of the scariest things about the black plague is that initial symptoms aren’t really that different from the run-of-the-mill flu or cold. You may experience fever, shaking, general weakness, and increased sweating.

Next time you experience these symptoms, especially if you’ve been near rats or fleas recently, you might want to see a doctor just in case.  

Reference

Gay History: Remembering the Gay Man Who Saved 17 Million Lives

The WWII hero saved millions of lives before being chemically castrated for being gay. He killed himself two years later.

“[Alan Turing] was and is a hero of all time…a man who is a gay icon, who didn’t deny his nature, his being, and for that he suffered. … This is a story that celebrates him, that celebrates outsiders; it celebrates anybody who’s ever felt different and ostracized and ever suffered prejudice.”

—Benedict Cumberbatch

I usually find movie award shows to project primarily fluff and silliness, and they rarely stir deep emotions in me. But listening to Benedict Cumberbatch accept the award for Best Actor at the American Film Awards for his portrayal of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game two years ago brought me to tears.

This stemmed from a sense of deep pride and an endless abyss of sadness. Cumberbatch’s commitment and passion shined through on stage as he talked about transforming Turing’s story, his brilliance, and his humanity to the silver screen, helping to give Turing the long-overdue wide-scale recognition he rightly deserves.

Alan Mathison Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, and he served as a mid-20th century British mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who, working during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communication operations.

Because of Turing and his colleagues’ efforts, Cumberbatch said, there is now general agreement that they shortened the war by at least two years, saving an estimated 17 million lives. Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turing as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans.

The Imitation Game also highlights the enormous obstacles placed in the way of women entering the sciences, especially mid-century. In this regard, Keira Knightley made an equally moving speech at the American Film Awards in accepting theBest Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of Joan Clarke, who worked with Turing in deciphering the code.

“Particularly now, when women are such a minority in all fields, her story and the fact that she really perseveres, and she had space and time and grace, is really inspiring,” she said.

Though initially considered a national hero in Britain, in 1952, government officials arrested and prosecuted Turing on the antiquated charge of “gross indecency” when he “admitted” to maintaining a same-sex relationship. Rather than serving time in prison, Turing chose to undergo estrogen injections then considered in men a form of “chemical castration” eliminating sex drive. Turing took his life two years later by swallowing cyanide just two weeks short of his 42nd birthday.

I find it deeply ironic that while Turing and his team helped defeat the Nazi war machine, a nation intolerant of any form of difference including same-sex relations (especially between men), the primary “allied” nations fighting Nazi Germany – United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union – all maintained laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Under King Henry VIII in 1533, England passed a “buggery” (or sodomy) law, doling out the penalty of death for “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” Under the rule of Elizabeth I in 1564, death for same-sex acts between men became a permanent part of English law until the 1880s. British courts at the time concluded that sex between two women was impossible and, therefore, exempted women from the statute. By 1885, English Criminal Law punished homosexuality with imprisonment up to two years. This remained in effect until homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967.

In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. And in the United States, consensual same-sex relations were against the law at one time in all states, and remained illegal in some states as late as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in its Lawrence v. Texas decision.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to Alan Turing on behalf of the people of his nation for “the appalling way he was treated.” Parliament finally brought up a bill of “pardon” in 2013, and on 24 December, 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous pardon.

Though the English government never actually forced a physical stigma onto Turing’s body, they branded the symbol of the outsider, the pervert, the enemy deeply into his soul. This branding seriously deprived the British nation and the larger world community of his continued genius, his generosity, and the many additional gifts he could have imparted.

I agree with Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing’s wide-scale recognition is long overdue.

Reference

Slang For Penis And Where It Comes From

Americans rarely use the word “penis” in conversation. We say pecker or prick, willie or wang. Or whopper, wiener, wiggle stick, wrinkle beast, wobbly warhead, even wife’s worst enemy. “We, as humans, love to play with language, and mixing taboo language with clever wordplay to get coinages is a really common endeavor simply because it gets such a great reaction in others,” slang lexicographer Grand Barrett says. As a result, we’re always creating new slang for “penis,” and a lot of it can be traced back to these 11 words.

11 c. Sword

An instrument of death and destruction. A symbol of power and strength. A protector. An avenger. A slayer. The mighty sword is the ultimate symbol of masculinity. So, of course, it became one of the earliest slang terms for the penis, although a flaccid penis does not necessarily benefit from the comparison. Suddenly, swordplay is much less impressive.

 More derivations: arrow, lance, warder, pike, ramrod, bazooka, gun, pistol, dagger, cutlass

1610s Cock

While it’s possible that “cock” developed its sexual affiliation from its second meaning, “spout,” it’s more likely that it came from similarities to the wobbly red bits on a rooster’s neck. Just as a man’s penis reacts to arousal, an angry or excited cock’s wattles fill with blood, swell and brighten. Additionally, when a rooster crows, he arches his neck and tips his head back. Sound familiar? “Cock” eventually became so associated with the penis that the word “rooster” was created in the late 18th century to replace it.

 Modern derivations: pillicock, peacock, cockroach, cockaroony, doodle

1676 Penis

“Tail” has been used to refer to both male and female genitals since the 14th century, but “penis,” the Latin word for “tail,” was not introduced to the English language until 1676. And it wasn’t until 1965 that “schwanz,” the German word for “tail,” was assimilated. The usage creates an entirely new meaning to the phrase “tail wagging the dog.”

 Modern derivations: bobtail, tickle-tail, pee pee, peep, peeper, pee wee, pee nee, peanut, pencil

1790s Doodle

Before its induction into the dick-tionary, “doodle” was used to denote a simpleton. In the late 18th century, this became associated with a man who thinks not with his “big brain” but with his small one. Of course, “doodle” could also be a distant cousin of “cock,” born from a rooster’s crow—cockadoodle-doo. Either way, the word is at its best from the lips of Rainn Wilson in Juno, “This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.”

 More derivations: doodad, doohicky, loodle, whangdoodle, wang

1800s Roger

While Richards everywhere have borne the modern weight of the penis-name burden, they aren’t alone. In fact, “Roger” was the first in a long line of names applied to the penis. “Thomas” was second, introduced in 1811, followed by “Dick,” “Peter” and “Willie.” In general, these poor gentlemen are simply victims of having a common name. But let’s be honest, all Richards who choose to go by Dick are asking for it.

 More derivations: Pete, Pepe, Rudy, Willer, Stanley, Johnson

1888 Dingus

The 19th century was a time of discretion and delicacy, not description. Americans were prone to replacing distastefully specific words with more general and thus less offensive ones. “Breasts” was replaced with “bosom,” a word that referred to a woman’s entire midsection. “Legs” was replaced with “limbs.” And “penis” was replaced with “dingus,” a word derived from Dutch dinges that simply means “thing.”

 More derivations: dinkus, dink, winky, winkus, tinky, stinky winky, winky wonkers, konk konk

1900 Dong

It is said that “dong” first became associated with the penis after the publication of Edward Lear’s poem “The Dong with a Luminous Nose.” As the story goes, a one-eyed creature referred to as The Dong attempts to find himself a lady using a long, red lamplike probe. Tragically, light-up noses are not great lady-finders, and all his searching is in vain. Good thing he has his flesh light to keep him company.

 More derivations: dangle, dingle, dingle dangle, ding ding, ding dong, dingleberry

1910 Wiener

Wienerwursts, literally “sausages of Vienna,” became familiar in the United States in the late 19th century. But the word “wiener” was not created until the “-wurst” was dropped in 1905. The wiener was not commonly associated with the penis until five years later. This means it took more than a decade for the most phallic food in history to be officially associated with the penis. How disappointing.

 More derivations: wienie, wee, weeter, wee wee, weedle, wenis, sausage

1932 Putz

German and Yiddish — both Germanic languages — share many of the same words. For example, “putz” and “schmuck” roughly translate to “ornament or decoration” in both languages. However, Jews used “schmuck” and “putz” to refer to a penis, and Germans used them to denote jewelry or Christ’s manger in a Nativity scene. Despite the inevitable miscommunications the holiday season may bring, Jews and Germans agree that there’s nothing like a good “putz” to put everyone in a festive mood.

 More derivations: wantz, schmeck, schmeckel

1986 Junk

While the exact origination of “junk” is unclear, there are theories that claim “junk” was a common word for male genitalia in gay culture in the early ’80s. During that time, “junk” was usually associated with being kicked. Since then, “junk” has ameliorated; it has lost some of its potency. Today, “junk” is commonplace. It could mean anything from male or female genitalia to worthless stuff.

 More derivations: package, lunch box, picnic basket

2009 Disco Stick

Although Lady Gaga’s homemade euphemism confused audiences at first, the infamous hook “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” would carry “LoveGame” into top-ten charts in more than ten countries. Gaga cleared up any confusion on the words’ meaning in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying, “It’s another of my very thoughtful metaphors for a cock.” Barrett attributes creations like this to young people’s propensity to be “a hell of a lot more fun, which leads to lots more wordplay and goofing with language just for the heck of it.”

 More derivations: meat stick, blow stick, jolly stick

Even More Derivations

schlong, little finger, widgy, ting ting, tilly, hoo hoo, hoozee, mushroom, turkey, cookie, carrot, pudding, beans, tallywacker, goober, bug, buggy, flubbly, paddle wackle, hose, sprinkler, doohinger, baloney pony, trouser snake, uterus unicorn

Before A Penis Was A Penis: Sex Slang Throughout History

What word did people use for “vagina” in 1714? Or for “testicles” in 1300? Along with the rest of language, sex terminology has been evolving since humans started talking. Lest you assume that the vestiges of modern-day sex talk have been lost in the annals of time, the world’s foremost slang lexicographer is here to say it ain’t so. And, he should know; he can tell you exactly what a vagina was called in 1714.

Jonathon Green has dedicated his life to studying slang. His book, Green’s Dictionary of Slang, chronicles the march of English-language slang through the past five centuries — an epic Urban Dictionary for the ages that covers 10.3 million words (with citations) and has understandably solidified Green’s role as slang lexicography’s finest.

Now, Green and TimeGlider have graced us with interactive online charts that break out perhaps the most fascinating genre of Green’s research: sex slang. Humans have been “bumping uglies” since our cave days, but we certainly didn’t call it that back then. So, which period in history lays claim to the most inventive terms for genitalia and sex?

The Timeline of Slang Words for the Vagina begins in 1250, with the first recorded appearance of the (now-derogatory) word “cunt.” Fortunately, the vagina was eventually lavished with more poetic euphemisms, including “Venus’s honeypot” (early 1700s), “quim whiskers” (late 1800s), and, descriptively, “that thing” (early 1900s). The minds of vagina-label innovators apparently turned to food by the end of the 20th century, as evidenced by the monikers “bikini burger,” “hairy doughnut,” and “bacon sandwich.”
The penis slang timeline begins with the year 1300 and the first known usage of the word “ballocks.” This term’s proved its worth via longevity; you can find it on the lips of frustrated Brits even today, with a slight vowel adjustment. And, English speakers only got more creative from there. “Fiddle,” “spindle,” and “pulling prick” all cropped up in the Middle Ages to describe the penis, while “bush-whacker,” “cranny hunter,” “fornicating engine,” and “Captain Standish” (yes, seriously) are just a few of the nicknames born at the turn of the 20th century. And, the sexy-talk walk through history doesn’t end there.

For even more linguistic amazingness, explore the charts that track the evolution of slang for intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, orgasm, bodily fluids, and contraception. In honor of this week’s #tbt, why not sprinkle some seriously old-timey diction into your sexting? While the effect would be most dramatic if you delivered your message by horse (or raven), your iPhone will do just fine. And, if your partner asks if you’d like to “navigate the windward passage,” just be sure to consult Green’s chart before you agree. It may be safer to stick with the word “fuck” — thatone’s been around since the 1500s, and still means the same exact thing.

101 Funny Slang Names for the Male Penis

Did you know that Inuit people have 50 different words for snow? It’s an indicator that snow is an important part of their lives and has been for a long time. That’s really telling when you think about how many words there are for a man’s genitals. While “penis” is the technical medical term, it’s the one we use the least. This list has 101 different names for your junk (that makes 102). You’ll get a laugh out of at least a few of them.

1. Womb Broom
Any ladies need help cleaning their closet? Ok, that might not make sense, but this is still a good one. 
2. Womb Raider 
We’d play all 20 installments of this game series. 
3. Weapon of Ass Destruction 
This one speaks for itself. 
4. Vlad the Impaler 
It’s a classic for a reason. 
5. Uncle Reamus 
This probably has British origins. They’re still the masters of dirty language. 
6. Trouser Snake 
Sometimes this is a euphemism. Sometimes it’s a terrifying camping story. 
7. Tan Banana 
This is only true for the bold. Some might find the prospect of a sunburned penis terrifying. 
8. Sex Pistol 
Which came first — the band or the slang term? 
9. Russell the One-Eyed Muscle 
If you can think of another name that rhymes with muscle, feel free to sub it. 
10. One-Eyed Monster 
There are a lot of “one-eyed” slang terms. It’s important to have variety.
11. One-Eyed Trouser Trout 
Whoever decided to call a penis a trouser trout probably has an interesting story.  
12. Rumpleforeskin 
Be honest. You’re disappointed you didn’t think of this first. 
13. Richard and the Twins 
Speaking of Richard, a kid called us a Richard Cranium once. It took us a while to get it. 
14. Purple Helmeted Warrior of Love 
Any reference to the dong being a purple helmet is gold in my book. 
15. Puff the One-Eyed Dragon 
It breathes fire when it gets puffed! Well, sort of. 
16. Prince Everhard of the Netherlands 
This could also be the name of a band. Or an album! 
17. Pleasure Pump 
It’s accurate, simple, and effective. 
18. Moby Dick 
Every young boy in the world laughed the first time he heard this book title. It had to be on the list. 
19. Lord Hardwick 
Our penises are definitely nobility. How about yours? 
20. Long Dong Silver 
Have you ever read Treasure Island? Now you don’t have to! 
21. Lap Rocket 
Well, it can be explosive at times. 
22. Knobgoblin 
This has to be the most demeaning term you can level at another human being. 
23. King Dong 
I mean, obviously. Right? 
24. Just-in Beaver 
Easily the best thing to come from Bieber’s famed career. 
25. Herman von Longschlongenstein 
Remember it’s pronounced “Stine” and not “Steen.”

26. Heat Seeking Moisture Missile 
If this doesn’t make you rethink everything about your own penis . . . 
27. Frank n’ Beans 
It’s a weird mental image if you think about it too hard. 
28. Fuck Puppet 
Right to the point! 
29. Excalibur 
You’ve made this joke. Don’t lie. 
30. Energizer Bunny 
That ad campaign has been around for a long time. So has this nickname. 
31. Disco Stick 
This feels dated until you realize disco is still a thing in Europe. No, really.
32. The Dicktator 
You just chuckled, didn’t you? Welcome to your future. It’s all dad jokes from here. 
33. Cocktapus 
If you have eight members, you need to see a doctor. Or a publicist. 
34. Clam Hammer 
It even helps produce pearl necklaces. 
35. Cave Hunter 
It’s not the funniest name on the list, but it still feels appropriate. 
36. Blue Veined Aristocrat 
The little guy only has to be an aristocrat in public. Behind closed doors is another story. 
37. Atomic Turtle 
We’re honestly not sure why it’s atomic, but it feels right. 
38. Action Jackson 
Try not to conflate this with a Disney Channel show you watched as a young child. 
39. Mutton Dagger 
There seems to be a recurring theme of objects that pierce and meat. 
40. Yogurt Slinger 
An all-time classic. It’s funny. It’s gross. It has everything. 
41. Meat Scepter 
Remember gents, mushroom stamps are a form of harassment. 
42. Wedding Wrecker 
Oofa. This might be a little too true. 
43. Spam Javelin 
Another meat piercer. Cool. 
44. Tuna Torpedo 
The theme reigns. 
45. Dora the Explorer 
It’s a joke that had to be made. But at what expense?! 
46. Vagina Miner 
Is this a real occupation??? 
47. Jurassic Pork 
You’ll never watch those movies the same way again. 
48. Tiny Tim 
Hopefully, this doesn’t imply your Tiny Tim needs a crutch. Although, he probably has a nasty cough. 
49. The Bone Ranger 
Hi-yo Silver! 
50. Woody Womb Pecker 
At some point, you’re going to have to come to terms with your fear of children. 
51. Ass Opener 
You might not believe it, but this is actually a very old nickname. It stems from the 1890s. 
52. Ass Wedge 
This is also from the 1890s. It’s hard to say which is better. 
53. Bayonet 
Does this make implications about Bayonetta? 
54. Beard Splitter 
Great. Now we’re associating vaginas with dwarves or some shit.

55. Best Leg of Three 
This is just truth. 
56. Brat Getter 
Well, go get ‘em. 
57. Bum Tickler 
It’s ok if you giggled. It’s the right response. 
58. Bush Whacker 
This does not mean you should attach a hair trimmer to your penis. Put it down! 
59. Creamy Hunter 
Well, yeah. 
60. Customs Officer 
This is my new favorite. 
61. Dr. Johnson 
Let’s be real. The little guy has earned a title of respect. 
62. Eye Opener 
Sometimes it’s also an eye closer. 
63. Father Confessor 
If he can elicit cries to God, then this sounds about right. 
64. Foreman 
Yes, it’s a pun. You know you like it. 
65. Lance of Love 
An oldie but a goodie. 
66. Leather Stretcher 
Try not to associate this one with Leatherface. 
67. Life Preserver 
If someone is drowning, don’t throw them your penis. 
68. The Heimlich
The next time someone shouts “Giver her the Heimlich!” You know what to do. 
69. Love Dart 
It’s important to practice your aim. 
70. Manroot 
This makes an odd amount of sense. 
71. Master of Ceremonies 
He’s good at it too. 
72. Meat Skewer 
This one isn’t trying too hard, is it? 
73. Milkman 
What does this make the milkman’s daughter? 
74. Mole 
He does like to burrow into a hole. 
75. Pee-Wee 
This got meta when Pee-Wee Herman got in trouble for showing his Pee-Wee.

76. Skyscraper 
You wish. 
77. Tentpeg 
You shouldn’t be pitching a tent right now . . . 
78. Silent Flute 
Well, sometimes sound comes out. 
79. Skin Flute 
But it’s not always melodic. 
80. Sweetener 
If you tell this lie enough times it might actually work. 
81. Redcap 
Maybe purplecap would be better, but that’s not a pun. 
82. Majesty 
Forget aristocracy! He’s royalty. 
83. Charmer 
When the snake becomes the charmer . . . 
84. Champion 
He really is. After all that abuse you’ve put him through, it’s the only right word. 
85. Baby Fetcher 
You’re still flinching? You know where babies come from, right? 
86. Axe 
If the female counterpart is called an axe wound, then this one has to be on the list. 
87. Nightstick 
You can use it during the day too. It’s ok. 
88. Joystick 
There might never have been a truer name for a man’s junk. 
89. Gospel Pipe 
You just want to believe this one. 
90. Drill 
I took this too literally once. I’m still dizzy. 
91. Family Organ 
Get it? Eh? 
92. Crown Jewels 
Also known as the family jewels. 
93. Ham Bone 
I’ll never understand why the male member is associated with pork. 
94. Old Boy 
This is actually the most British thing ever said. 
95. Ambassador 
He is vital to foreign relations. 
96. Organ Grinder
Ouch. 
97. Bald-Headed Sailor 
We probably don’t relate to the baldness of our penises enough. 
98. One-Eyed Rattlesnake 
Thankfully he’s not venomous. 
99. Tonsil Tickler 
Only on a good day. 
100. Toothpick
It might imply a small penis, but the oral connotation is worth it. 
101. The Fantastic Four 
This name can be adapted to many forms: the furious five, the salacious six, the dirty dozen. The idea is that you’re implying the length of your penis in the joke. The key is to never use the same phrase twice. You want to keep people guessing.

Ten Words That Have Surprisingly Offensive Origins

Covered mouth image from Shutterstock

While the etymology of many words we use today has faded into obscurity, there are some that are more offensive than we can ever imagine. There may be some words you use every day without a thought to their original meanings. Here are ten that it pays to be aware of.

#1 Bugger

noun | bug·ger | \ˈbə-gər, ˈbu̇-gər\

1. sodomite

2. a worthless person

3. a small or annoying thing

eg. “put down my keys and now I can’t find the buggers”

As well as being a noun as described above, Australians tend to use this word as a tamer expletive than some of its four-lettered cousins. However, though many people know its secondary meaning as ‘a sodomite’ or ‘sodomy’, not many know that the word was originally racially charged as well. Bugger comes from Middle English bougre which was derived from Medieval Latin Bulgarus — a literal translation for ‘Bulgarian’. This came by through association with a Bulgarian religious sect called the Bogomils, whose ways were so unorthodox that they were accused of sodomy.

Use instead: Depending on the context in which you’re using the word, you might instead call someone a ‘nuisance’. If you’re use it as an expletive… well, there’s really no reason not to enjoy the four-lettered classics.

#2 Uppity

adjective | up·pi·ty | \ˈə-pə-tē\

•putting on or marked by airs of superiority, eg. “uppity technicians” “a small uppity country”

The word uppity is commonly used to put down someone who is seen to be acting above their station — putting on airs and speaking out of turn, generally being a nuisance. While the word can be applied to pretty much anyone these days, its origins were in the United States’ racist heyday, during segregation. In this period, Southerners used the term “uppity” to describe black people who didn’t know their place in society. The word doesn’t sound so casual anymore when you consider that people have likely been lynched at one point in history due to being too “uppity”.

Use instead: ‘Arrogant’ and ‘pretentious’ are both great words to knock someone down a peg, without those nasty racist overtones.

#3 Gyp

noun | \ˈjip\

•cheat, swindler, eg. “Is that all they give you? What a gyp!” “we were very disappointed when the “free weekend in Las Vegas” offer turned out to be a gyp”

“Gyp” or “gypped” has universally come to mean being cheated or swindled, and though there’s no solid evidence for the origin of this slang term, it’s highly likely that it is derived from ‘gypsy’, a derogative term for the Romani people. While many people know little of “gypsies” other than what we see in Disney movies and costume shops, the Romani people have a long history of persecution — including their attempted genocide at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Use instead: ‘Swindled’ is an oldie but a goodie, or if you’re feeling ripped off, ‘highway robbery’ is a fun phrase without the racist undertones.

#4 Paddy wagon

noun | pad·dy wagon | \ˈpa-dē-\

•an enclosed motortruck used by police to carry prisoners, eg. “The cooperative family was being escorted into the paddy wagon”

While the racist meaning of paddy wagon is more overt to anyone who stops to think about it, it’s also so ingrained in our lexicon that it’s hard to stop and think in the first place. For those who are blissfully unaware, paddy wagon is the slang term for a police car. And where it came from? “Paddy”, short for “Patrick”, was a pejorative term for any Irishman — a group who have been the butt of many jokes for much of the last century. Whether the term came into use because there were many Irish criminals or because of a large number of Irish policemen, the association is still not the best one to be making. Interestingly enough the similar term ‘meat wagon’ seems to be used by people misinterpreting this phrase as ‘patty wagon’.

Use instead: “Police car” or “police van” should suffice.

#5 Hooligan

noun | hoo·li·gan | \ˈhü-li-gən\

%bull;a usually young man who does noisy and violent things as part of a group or gang, eg. “shouldn’t you hooligans be in school instead of threatening old ladies?”

While the term ‘hooligan’ is fairly dated these days — I can only seem to think of that crotchety old man yelling “you hooligans get off my lawn!” — other forms of the word are still in common usage. ‘Hooliganism’ in particular is one that the media seems keen to trot out as often as they can. But as in the case of ‘paddy wagon’ hooligan originally came from some poor sod’s surname — Houlihan. The name was used for a rowdy fictional Irish family in a popular drinking song, and soon after the word came to be a catchall for anyone displaying rowdy, violent tendencies.

Use instead: ‘Hoodlum’ is a word with a longer, non-racist history. ‘Hoon’ is also a uniquely Australian take on the concept.

#6 Eskimo

noun | Es·ki·mo | \ˈes-kə-ˌmō\

•a member of a group of peoples of northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and eastern Siberia

Far from being those cute, fur-wearing, nose-kissing people of the Arctic regions, this is actually an offensive term for the Inuit people. The reason? The word ‘Eskimo’ comes from the Danish loanword ‘ashkimeq,’ literally translated to ‘eaters of raw meat’. Calling an extensive group of different societies by such a gross generalisation is a great way to limit understanding of the entire culture.

Use instead: The proper term is Inuit, meaning “the people”. That’s it, unless you know the proper name of each individual nation.

#7 Hip hip hooray!

•an exclamation of congratulations especially in response to a call for ‘Three cheers for’ the person.

The racist origin of this common celebratory cry is controversial, but it potentially stems from the Hep Hep Riots — anti-Semetic riots conducted throughout Germany in the 19th century. The participants in these demonstrations reportedly cheered “hep hep” as they chased Jews from their homes. “Hep hep” was a traditional German call that shepherds would use while herding their sheep, but was given another meaning entirely in 1819 when it was Jews who were hunted under this rallying cry.

Use instead: ‘Hooray’ by itself is completely harmless, or the more old-timey ‘hoorah’.

#8 No Can Do

informal + humorous

•used in speech to say that one cannot do something that he or she has been asked or told to do, eg. “Can you give me a ride to work tomorrow?” “Sorry— no can do. My car is in the shop.”

The game of Chinese Whispers has been renamed in the past few years for its racist connotations, but few know that the common phrase “no can do” is a similar riff on the idea that Chinese people speak broken English. While it has since moved into common parlance, this phrase was originally used as a mimicry of a Chinese person with a heavy accent — and the same is true of ‘long time, no see’.

Use instead: Going back to the origin of the phrase “I can’t” or “I can’t do it” would be your safest option.

#9 Basket case

noun

1. a person who is very nervous, tired, etc., and is not able to think or act normally

2. something (such as a company or a government) that is in very bad condition and close to failure

eg. “I was so worried about losing my job that I was a complete basket case.”

Oddly enough the term basket case is not commonly used by its dictionary meaning today, and seems to now have connotations of someone being crazy (perhaps being mixed up with terms like head case and mental case). As it was originally used, however, a basket case refers to someone who is useless or not functioning well. The reason for this has its origins in WWI, when a ‘basket case’ was someone who had lost all four limbs and therefore had to be carried around in a basket. Not the best mental image and potentially offensive to amputees.

Use instead: ‘Nervous wreck’ or ‘bundle of nerves’ are nicely evocative terms that don’t risk making fun of quadruple amputees.

#10 Hysterical

noun | hys·te·ria | \his-ˈter-ē-ə, -ˈtir-\

1. a state in which your emotions (such as fear) are so strong that you behave in an uncontrolled way

2. a situation in which many people behave or react in an extreme or uncontrolled way because of fear, anger, etc.

eg. “A few of the children began to scream, and soon they were all caught up in the hysteria.”

Hysterical’s modern usage is problematic enough by itself, with the word most often being applied to women — looking at the first dictionary definition, you might be able to tell why that’s an issue. However the connotations behind calling a woman ‘hysterical’ have far-reaching implications beyond even the 2011 film Hysteria.

The term comes from the Greek ‘hysterikos’, meaning ‘of the womb’ or ‘suffering in the womb’. The Greeks believed that the uterus was the direct cause of a number of female ailments, based on the premise that the uterus was essentially its own organism. The womb was said to be so obsessed with creating children that it would wander the body, pressing up against other organs and causing medical havoc unless it was pregnant. Yup.

Use instead: Try ‘overwrought’, ‘frenzied’ or ‘agitated’ if you really have to call someone ‘hysterical’ without resorting to womb-based comparisons.

Reference

Patron Saints of the Nerds…and Hackers

NEW ORLEANS – Here in the oldest church building in New Orleans, tucked into a dark corner by the door as far away from the main altar as possible, stands the statue of St. Expedite – the unofficial patron saint of hackers.

Unofficial because the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t know what to do about St. Expedite. He’s too pagan to be a proper saint, and too popular for his statues to be simply tossed out the door.

Statues of St. Expedite seem to appear at some churches, a puzzling phenomenon. Where do the statues come from? Who sends them? No one really seems to know who St. Expedite was in life or even if he ever existed.

But whatever St. Expedite may or may not be, geeks, hackers, repentant slackers, folks who run e-commerce sites and those who rely on brains and sheer luck to survive have all claimed the saint as their own.

In 2002, the Catholic Church offered up St. Isidore of Seville as the saint of computer programmers. Isidore seemed to be a fine choice – in the 7th century, he produced one of the world’s first databases, a 20-volume encyclopedia called The Etymologies, intended to be a summation of everything that was known about the world he lived in.

But Isidore somehow seems a bit too plodding for hackers, plus his life story includes none of the weird wordplay that makes so many hackers happy.

St. Expedite’s name obviously relates to his attested ability to deliver favors quickly to the faithful. But wait! There’s more – a joke about how St. Expedite manages to maneuver his statues into churches.

In 1781, or so the story goes, a packing case containing the body of a saint who’d been buried in the Denfert-Rochereau catacombs of Paris was sent to a community of nuns in the city. Those who sent the body wrote “Expedite” on the case, to ensure fast delivery of the corpse for the obvious reasons.

The nuns got confused, assumed Expedite was the name of a martyr, prayed to him, had a bunch of prayers answered amazingly quickly and the cult of St. Expedite was born. News of this saint who cheerfully dispensed quick miracles soon spread rapidly through France and on to other Catholic countries.

It’s a swell story, but Italians were asking St. Expedite to grant their wishes well before 1781, so either the date or the entire story is wrong. And the whole thing just screams urban legend anyway.

A different version of the same story is told in New Orleans. Supposedly, the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe received a big shipment of assorted saint statues. Only one didn’t have a proper label on the case identifying the saint whose statue was contained within. But the crate did have an “Expedite” label on it, so the locals decided that must be the saint’s name.

A century and a half later, according to the story, they found out there was no saint called Expedite. However, a little research turned up the obscure St. Expeditus, whose status as a possible Armenian martyr gave the Expedite myth legitimacy.

St. Expedite is typically depicted as a young Roman centurion squashing a crow beneath his right foot and hoisting a clock or, in later versions, a cross inscribed with the word hodie (“today” in Latin). A ribbon with the word cras (“tomorrow” in Latin) emerges from the squished crow’s mouth. The idea is that St. Expedite destroys people’s proclivity to procrastinate and vanquishes vague promises of joyous tomorrows in favor of making things happen right now.

Why a crow? English-speaking people tend to mimic the sound a crow makes as “caw caw.” Italians hear it as “cras cras.” In Italian folk tales, crows and ravens are forever yapping on about tomorrow.

St. Expedite is also widely considered, among people who consider such things, to provide real-time assistance on problems – he’s the saint of the fast solution. He is also is the patron saint of people who have to deliver work or products on a tight schedule.

While visiting St. Expedite in New Orleans, we saw half a dozen people come in and tuck notes and flowers by the saint’s statue, ignoring the official saints in the front of the church.

“St. Expedite got me a job fast after my company closed down last month,” said Letish Jackson of New Orleans, who’d come to the church to thank the saint. “If you knew how hard it is to get jobs here you’d know that me being employed is a very big miracle.”

She’s not the only one who turned to the saint for financial help. A recent article that appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal noted that St. Expedite has also become the patron of victims of outsourcing.

Jackson, and other Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners, said that “computer people,” as Jackson described them, often come to visit St. Expedite.

“I asked my friend who runs a computer repair service why those people come here, and he says Expedite is the nerd’s saint,” said Jackson. “My friend said St. Expedite is all about delivering information fast.”

Patron saints in general are broadband connections to the Almighty, passing along messages from the desperate or faithful. And the Catholic Church seems to have a patron saint for every possible need.

St. Joseph of Cupertino, the “flying friar,” is not the patron saint of Mac users – he’s appealed to by skittish air travelers (it’s said the good friar levitated whenever he was happy). Girls who live in rural areas can pray to St. Germaine of Pibrac, the patron of peasant females.

“I’m not a big believer in the saints, but St. Expedite is another whole story – he’s so good he’s scary,” said freelance computer support consultant Kathy Dupon, a resident of New Orleans. “My clients were forever paying me late until I taped a card with the saint’s picture behind my mailbox as a joke last year. Now my checks almost always arrive on time.”

ST ISIDORE OF SEVILLE

St. Isidore of Seville

Born: c.560 in Cartagena, Spain 

Died: April 4, 636

Canonized: pre-Congregation

Feast Day: April 4

Patron Saint of: computers, computer users, computer programmers, Internet

Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain, about 560 AD, the son of Severianus and Theodora. His elder brother Leander was his immediate predecessor in the Metropolitan See of Seville; whilst a younger brother St. Fulgentius presided over the Bishopric of Astigi. His sister Florentina was a nun, and is said to have ruled over forty convents and one thousand religious. Isidore received his elementary education in the Cathedral school of Seville. In this institution, which was the first of its kind in Spain, the trivium and quadrivium were taught by a body of learned men, among whom was the archbishop, Leander. With such diligence did he apply himself to study that in a remarkably short time mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Whether Isidore ever embraced monastic life or not is still an open question, but though he himself may never have been affiliated with any of the religious orders, he esteemed them highly. On his elevation to the episcopate he immediately constituted himself protector of the monks. In 619 he pronounced anathema against any ecclesiastic who should in any way molest the monasteries. 

On the death of Leander, Isidore succeeded to the See of Seville. His long incumbency to this office was spent in a period of disintegration and transition. The ancient institutions and classic learning of the Roman Empire were fast disappearing. In Spain a new civilization was beginning to evolve itself from the blending racial elements that made up its population. For almost two centuries the Goths had been in full control of Spain, and their barbarous manners and contempt of learning threatened greatly to put back her progress in civilization. Realizing that the spiritual as well as the material well-being of the nation depended on the full assimilation of the foreign elements, St. Isidore set himself to the task of welding into a homogeneous nation the various peoples who made up the Hispano-Gothic kingdom. To this end he availed himself of all the resources of religion and education. His efforts were attended with complete success. Arianism, which had taken deep root among the Visigoths, was eradicated, and the new heresy of Acephales was completely stifled at the very outset; religious discipline was everywhere strengthened. Like Leander, he took a most prominent part in the Councils of Toledo and Seville. In all justice it may be said that it was in a great measure due to the enlightened statecraft of these two illustrious brothers the Visigothic legislation, which emanated from these councils, is regarded by modern historians as exercising a most important influence on the beginnings of representative government. Isidore presided over the Second Council of Seville, begun 13 November, 619, in the reign of Sisebut. But it was the Fourth National Council of Toledo that afforded him the opportunity of being of the greatest service to his county. At this council, begun 5 December, 633, all the bishops of Spain were in attendance. St. Isidore, though far advanced in years, presided over its deliberations, and was the originator of most of its enactments. It was at this council and through his influence that a decree was promulgated commanding all bishops to establish seminaries in their Cathedral Cities, along the lines of the school already existing at Seville. Within his own jurisdiction he had availed himself of the resources of education to counteract the growing influence of Gothic barbarism. His was the quickening spirit that animated the educational movement of which Seville was the centre. The study of Greek and Hebrew as well as the liberal arts, was prescribed. Interest in law and medicine was also encouraged. Through the authority of the fourth council this policy of education was made obligatory upon all the bishops of the kingdom. Long before the Arabs had awakened to an appreciation of Greek Philosophy, he had introduced Aristotle to his countrymen. He was the first Christian writer to essay the task of compiling for his co-religionists a summa of universal knowledge. This encyclopedia epitomized all learning, ancient as well as modern. In it many fragments of classical learning are preserved which otherwise had been hopelessly lost. The fame of this work imparted a new impetus to encyclopedic writing, which bore abundant fruit in the subsequent centuries of the Middle Ages. His style, though simple and lucid, cannot be said to be classical. It discloses most of the imperfections peculiar to all ages of transition. It particularly reveals a growing Visigothic influence. Arevalo counts in all Isidore’s writing 1640 Spanish words. 

Isidore was the last of the ancient Christian Philosophers, as he was the last of the great Latin Fathers. He was undoubtedly the most learned man of his age and exercised a far-reaching and immeasurable influence on the educational life of the Middle Ages. His contemporary and friend, Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa, regarded him as a man raised up by God to save the Spanish people from the tidal wave of barbarism that threatened to inundate the ancient civilization of Spain, The Eighth Council of Toledo (653) recorded its admiration of his character in these glowing terms: “The extraordinary doctor, the latest ornament of the Catholic Church, the most learned man of the latter ages, always to be named with reverence, Isidore”. This tribute was endorsed by the Fifteenth Council of Toledo, held in 688. 

As a writer, Isidore was prolific and versatile to an extraordinary degree. His voluminous writings may be truly said to constitute the first chapter of Spanish literature. It is not, however, in the capacity of an original and independent writer, but as an indefatigable compiler of all existing knowledge, that literature is most deeply indebted to him. The most important and by far the best-known of all his writings is the “Etymologiae”, or “Origines”, as it is sometimes called. This work takes its name from the subject-matter of one of its constituent books. It was written shortly before his death, in the full maturity of his wonderful scholarship, at the request. of his friend Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa. It is a vast storehouse in which is gathered, systematized, and condensed, all the learning possessed by his time. Throughout the greater part of the Middle Ages it was the textbook most in use in educational institutions. So highly was it regarded as a depository of classical learning that in a great measure, it superseded the use of the individual works of the classics themselves. Not even the Renaissance seemed to diminish the high esteem in which it was held, and according to Arevalo, it was printed ten times between 1470 and 1529. Besides these numerous reprints, the popularity of the “Etymologiae” gave rise to many inferior imitations. It furnishes, abundant evidence that the writer possessed a most intimate knowledge of the Greek and Latin poets. In all, he quotes from one hundred and fifty-four authors, Christian and pagan. Many of these he had read in the originals and the others he consulted in current compilations. In style this encyclopedic work is concise and clear and in order, admirable. Braulio, to whom Isidore sent it for correction, and to whom he dedicated it, divided it into twenty books. 

The first three of these books are taken up with the trivium and quadrivium. The entire first book is devoted to grammar, including metre. Imitating the example of Cassiodorus and Boethius he preserves the logical tradition of the schools by reserving the second book for rhetoric and dialectic. Book four, treats of medicine and libraries; book five, of law and chronology; book six, of ecclesiastical books and offices; book seven, of God and of the heavenly and earthly hierarchies; book eight, of the Church and of the sects, of which latter he numbers no less than sixty-eight; book nine, of languages, peoples, kingdoms, and official titles; book ten, of etymology: book eleven, of man; book twelve, of beasts and birds; book thirteen, of the world and its parts; book fourteen, of physical geography; book fifteen, of public buildings and roadmaking; book sixteen, of stones and metals; book seventeen, of agriculture; book eighteen, of the terminology of war, of jurisprudence, and public games; book nineteen, of ships, houses, and clothes; book twenty, of victuals, domestic and agricultural tools, and furniture.

In the second book, dealing with dialectic and rhetoric, Isidore is heavily indebted to translations from the Greek by Boethius. Caelius Aurelianus contributes generously to that part of the fourth book which deals with medicine. Lactantius is the author most extensively quoted in the eleventh book, concerning man. The twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth books are largely based on the writings of Pliny and Solinus; whilst the lost “Prata” of Suetonius seems to have inspired the general plan of the “Etymologiae“, as well as many of its details. 

Similar in its general character to the “Etymologiae” is a work entitled “Libri duo differentiarum“. The two books of which it is composed are entitled respectively, “De differentiis verborum” and “De differentiis rerum“. The former is a dictionary of synonyms, treating of the differences of words with considerable erudition, and not a little ingenuity; the latter an exposition of theological and ascetical ideas, dealing in particular with the, Trinity and with the Divine and human nature of Christ. It suggests, and probably was inspired by, a similar work of Cato’s, It is supplementary to the first two books of the “Etymologiae“. The “Synonyma“, or, as it is sometimes called on account of its peculiar treatment, “Liber lamentationum“, is in a manner illustrative of the first book of the “Differentiae“. It is cast in the form of a dialogue between Man and Reason. The general burden of the dialogue is that Man mourns the condition to which he has been reduced through sin, and Reason comforts him with the knowledge of how he may still realize eternal happiness. The second part of this work consists of a dissertation on vice and virtue. The “De natura rerum” a manual of elementary physics, was composed at the request of King Sisebut, to whom it is dedicated. It treats of astronomy, geography, and miscellanea. It is one of Isidore’s best known books and enjoyed a wide popularity during the Middle Ages. The authenticity of “De ordine creaturarum” has been questioned by some critics, though apparently without good reason. Arevalo unhesitatingly attributes it to Isidore. It deals with various spiritual and physical questions, such as the Trinity, the consequences of sin, eternity, the ocean, the heavens, and the celestial bodies. 

The subjects of history and biography are represented by three important works. Of these the first, “Chronicon“, is a universal chronicle. In its preface Isidore acknowledges, his indebtedness to Julius Africanus; to St. Jerome’s rendering of Eusebius; and to Victor of Tunnuna. The “Historia de regibus Gothorum, Wandalorum, et Suevorum” concerns itself chiefly with the Gothic kings whose conquests and government deeply influenced the civilization of Spain. The history of the Vandals and the Suevi is treated in two short appendixes. This work is regarded as the chief authority on Gothic history in the West. It contains the interesting statement that the Goths descended from Gog and Magog. Like the other Historical writings of Isidore, it is largely based on earlier works of history, of which it is a compendium- It has come down to us in two recensions, one of which ends at the death of Sisebut (621), and the other continues to the fifth year of the reign of Swintila, his successor. “De viris illustribus” is a work of Christian biography and constitutes a most interesting chapter in the literature of patrology. To the number of illustrious writers mentioned therein Braulio added the name of Isidore himself. A short appendix containing a list of Spanish theologians was added by Braulio’s disciple, Ildephonsus of Toledo. It is the continuation of the work of Gennadius, a Semipelagian priest of Marseilles, who wrote between 467 and 480. This work of Gennadius was in turn, but the continuation of the work of St. Jerome. 

[ Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia ]

So, how does Saint Isidore of Seville become the patron saint for the Internet? The Observation Service for Internet, who drew it’s mission from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, researched the Internet and related technologies to select a patron saint that best reflects the concerns and ideals of computer designers, programmers and users. The saint chosen by the Observation Service for Internet was Saint Isidore. “The saint who wrote the well-known ‘Etymologies’ (a type of dictionary), gave his work a structure akin to that of the database. He began a system of thought known today as ‘flashes;’ it is very modern, notwithstanding the fact it was discovered in the sixth century. Saint Isidore accomplished his work with great coherence: it is complete and its features are complementary in themselves.

ST EXPEDITE

Expeditus with his typical iconographical attributes

Reference

Buddhism 101: More on Hand Mudras; Mudras: Meaning of Sacred Hand Gestures

Mudras are sacred hand gestures or positions that used to evoke a state of mind. The Sanskrit word “mudra” means “seal”, “mark”, or “gesture”. In Tibetan the word is ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ or “chakgya”. Each of these sacred hand gestures has a specific meaning. Many of them symbolize major moments or events in the Buddha’s life.

In this beautiful photo by Olivier Adam, an elderly nun in Zanskar shows a novice nun how to make the Mandala Offering Mudra.

8 Mudras and their Meaning

Sacred hand gestures or mudras are often depicted in Buddhist art. In this blog we’d like to share descriptions and images of some common mudras. The list here is not exhaustive.

The Earth Witness Mudra

When Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was meditating under the Bodhi tree, he was assailed by the demon Mara, who tried to disturb his mind. Mara represents the passions that trap and delude us. Siddhartha refused to be tempted from the path to enlightenment and he called on the earth to witness his worthiness to become enlightened, saying, “The earth shall be my witness, I will not let myself be seduced.” In the Earth Witness Mudra, (also known as the Bhumisparsa Mudra or Gesture of Witness), the historical Buddha is seated in the meditation posture and touches the earth with the fingertips of his right hand, palm facing inwards. The left hand is placed in the lap with the palm facing upwards.

In this detail from a thangka print, the historical Buddha is depicted seated in meditation and calling the earth as his witness.

The Mudra of Meditation

The Mudra of Meditation (dhyana) is made by placing both hands on the lap, right hand on the left, with the palms facing upwards, the tips of the thumbs touching, and the fingers fully stretched. This mudra helps to calm the mind for meditation and is used for deep contemplation and reflection. The mudra of meditation is a characteristic gesture of the Buddha Shakyamuni.

This ancient stone sculpture shows the Buddha with his hands in the Mudra of Meditation

The Namaskara or Anjali Mudra

This mudra, while not found in representations of the Buddha or other deities, is commonly used by nuns, monks, and lay people to symbolize devotion, prayer, and admiration. Called the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra, it is used as a common form of greeting in most Asian countries. Anjali is a Sanskrit word which means “salutation” or “to offer” and Namaskar is Hindi for “good day”. To make this mudra, you bring your palms together in front of your heart space, fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest, to symbolize honor, respect, and devotion.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds his hands together in greeting and in offering respect to others. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Mudra of Holding the Jewel or Manidhara Mudra

The Mudra of Holding the Jewel looks very similar to the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra shown above. Also called the Manidhara Mudra, it is made by holding one’s hands together in front but with the palms and fingers slightly arched, holding the precious, wish-fulfilling jewel. This jewel or gem is also depicted in Tibetan prayer flags, carried upon the back of the Lung Ta  or wind horse. This sacred hand gesture of holding the jewel is a mudra of Avalokiteshvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. The Tibetan word for Avalokiteshvara is Chenrezig (སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་). The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Chenrezig,

An elderly nun in Zanskar places her palms together in devotion, holding the wish-fulfilling jewel, a mudra associated with Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

The Mandala Offering Mudra

The Mandala Offering Mudra is a complex and sacred hand gesture that acts as a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings. Performing the Mandala Offering Mudra helps to reduce one’s attachment and to purify the clinging mind. Although this mudra is usually made together with prayers and Buddhist chants, non-Buddhists can also perform it to receive its spiritual benefits.

A Tibetan Buddhist nun performs the Mandala Mudra with her mala (Buddhist prayer beads). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

To make this complex mudra, sit in meditation pose with your back straight. Calm your breathing and visualize offering the mandala – the universe – to the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and all holy beings, giving with great joy and with purity of heart. Place your hands palms up and intertwine your fingers. With the tips of your thumbs, press down on the tips of the opposite little finger. Then, with the bent tips of your index fingers, press down on the tip of the opposite middle finger. Finally, take your ring fingers, unclasp them, and put them back to back, pressing the backs together and with both fingers going straight up through the center. Together the ring fingers symbolize Mt. Meru, the sacred mountain, and the four continents described in Buddhist cosmology.

A Tibetan Buddhist nun in Zanskar performs the mandala offering mudra. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Vitarka Mudra or Teaching Mudra

The Vitarka Mudra (the Mudra of Teaching or Discussion) is a common mudra representing the discussion and transmission of Buddhist teachings. It is formed by joining the tips of the thumb and index finger together to form a circle, keeping the other three fingers pointing straight up. The circle formed by the joined fingers symbolizes perfection with no beginning or end.

This mudra is usually made with one hand, most often the right one, with the hand held upward close to the chest and the palm facing outward. However, the mudra may also be made with both hands held in front of the chest, with each index finger and thumb joined in a circle. When two hands are used, the left palm faces inward and the right palm is turned outward. The Teaching Mudra represents the Buddha’s first teaching after becoming enlightened. It also symbolizes the “Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma” or Dharmachakra. There are a great number of variations of this mudra in Mahayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the mystic gesture of Taras and bodhisattvas.

This sculpture shows the mudra of teaching or the Vitarka Mudra, with the tips of the thumb and index finger joined to form a circle.
In this detail from a thangka print, White Tara is holding an utpala flower in her raised left hand. The tips of her thumb and fourth or ring finger are touching. This is a gesture of good fortune and shows that, by relying upon her, one may accomplish complete purity of mind and body.

Generosity Mudra or Varada Mudra

The Varada Mudra is the gesture of generosity, charity, and compassion. It is commonly found in representations of the Green and White Tara. This sacred hand gesture represents the granting of blessings, wishes, or even pardon. It also symbolizes the “gift of truth” – the precious gift of the dharma or Buddhist teachings. In the Varada Mudra, the palm faces out and hangs down, usually touching the right leg. This mudra is often used in conjunction with another mudra. The five fingers represent the five perfections: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, and meditation.

Detail of a thangka print depicting White Tara and showing the outward facing palm and downward hand of the Varada Mudra or Mudra of Generosity.

Mudra of Fearlessness or Abhaya Mudra

Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. The Mudra of Fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra symbolizes the dispelling of fear. It can look to Westerners like the common hand gesture for “stop”. The mudra is made by raising the right hand to shoulder height, with the arm bent and the palm facing outward. This mudra is more commonly depicted in standing images.

This very ancient hand gesture is also a sign of peace and friendship. Placing one’s hand up and open in this way indicates that one is free of weapons and comes in peace. In Buddhism, the mudra shows the fearlessness and therefore the spiritual power of the Buddha or bodhisattva who makes it.

It is said that the historical Buddha made this sacred hand gesture immediately after gaining enlightenment. At a later time, the Buddha was about to be attacked by a mad elephant. The poor animal had been fed alcohol and tortured by one who hoped to use the elephant as a weapon against the Buddha. The elephant, enraged and in pain, charged at the Buddha and his followers. While others ran away, the Buddha stood calmly, raising his hand in the gesture of fearlessness. He felt great love and compassion for the stricken elephant. In response, the elephant stopped in its charge, became calm, and then approached the Buddha and bowed its head.

A giant Buddha statue in Hong Kong shows the seated Buddha with the mudra of fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra

A note about the images of mudras: The thangka prints shown in this blog post were donated to the Tibetan Nuns Project by a generous donor. A range of thangka prints are available through our online store, with all proceeds from sales going to help the nuns. We are very grateful to Olivier Adam for sharing his beautiful photos. Many of his photos are available as cards through our online store. Prints of Olivier Adam’s photographs are available through his Etsy shop, Daughters of Buddha.

Additional Sources

YouTube links to videos of some Buddhist hand mudras.

Reference