Vintage Gay Love: A Look Back At The Early Gay Pioneers in Photos
The following is a photo tribute to gay couples from the late 19th century and first half of the 20th Century. It is a testament to the early pioneers of the LGBT movement who have made the world a more accepting and compassionate place for everyone today. It is also a reminder that homosexuality has been around since the beginning of mankind and is not something which can be legislated back into the closet.
Unknown location, 1880’s
New York, 1900
Unknown, Early 1900’s
New York, 1907
“A friend of mine found this old photograph in a shoe box in his Grandmother’s attic. On the back was written… Aunty Mary and her “friend” Ruth, 1910. I wonder if those quotation marks imply what I think they do, by the look on their faces, I would say they do”
Unknown Lesbian Couple, 1915
WWI couple, England, sometime between 1914-1918
Source: Flickr / gaytwogether.com / and are the property of their owners.
The so-called discovery was made by Chibuihem Amalaha, a postgraduate student at the University of Lagos who told Nigeria’s This Day Live that same-sex marriage is “eating deep into the fabric of our human nature all over the world.” Amalaha said he conducted “experiments” in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics to test his theory. Ultimately, he deduced that the repellence of two similar entities (magnets, for instance)proves that same-sex marriage is wrong.
In a series of befuddling explanations, Amalaha cited magnets, electrolysis, animal mating and simple addition as rationale for whygay relationships just aren’t right. His entire thesis boils down to the fact that “like” does not attract “like.”
Via This Day Live:
A bar magnet is a horizontal magnet that has the North Pole and the South Pole and when you bring two bar magnets and you bring the North Pole together you find that the two North Poles will not attract. They will repel, that is, they will push away themselves showing that a man should not attract a man. If you bring two South Poles together you find that the two South Poles will not attract indicating that same sex marriage should not hold. A female should not attract a female as South Pole of a magnet does not attract the South Pole of a magnet. But, when you bring a North Pole of a magnet and a South Pole of a magnet they will attract because they are not the same, indicating that a man will attract a woman because of the way nature has made a female.
Homosexuality is criminalized in Nigeria. Human Rights Watch notes the country’s federal criminal code carries a 14-year punishment on consensual gay relationships. In states within the nation where Sharia law is enacted, gay relations are punishable by death.
Luiz DeBarros, of gay-centric blog Mamba Online, critiqued the coverage ofAmalaha’s “high-school standard experiments”by This Day Live as “uncritical and uninformed,” saying it will likely add to homophobia in the region.
Last year,Nigeria passed an anti-gay marriage bill, despite international outcry against it. This legislation not only targets same-sex marriages, but also anyone who aids or abets gay couples as well as any couple displaying a “public show” of affection.
University of Lagos: Magnets prove homosexuality is unnatural
Staff of the University of Lagos have lauded the work of one of their postgraduate students, Chibuihem Amalaha, for an experiment in which he claimed observations of magnets provided proof that homosexuality is unnatural.
Mr Amalaha claimed that as the poles of magnets repel those of the same type, this “means that man cannot attract another man because they are the same, and a woman should not attract a woman because they are the same. That is how I used physics to prove gay marriage wrong”.
Nigerian news website This Day Live reported on the experiment:
“A University of Lagos post graduate student, Chibuihem Amalaha, from Imo State has used science to prove that gay marriage is improper among other breakthroughs.”
In an interview for This Day Live, Mr Amalaha explained the motivation for his experiments.
“In recent time I found that gay marriage, which is homosexuality and lesbianism, is eating deep into the fabric of our human nature all over the world and this was why nations of Sodom and Gomora were destroyed by God because they were into gay practice,” he said.
Mr Amalaha added that his tutors have praised his research: “Recently my lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Profesor D S Aribuike, pointedly told me that I will win Nobel prize one day, because he found that my works are real and nobody has done it in any part of the world.”
He said his next goal is to get his research published in international journals.
Luiz DeBarros of South African LGBT website Mambaonline said: “It’s debatable as to whether the embarrassing article is more damming [sic] of the standard of education at the University of Lagos or of the standard of journalism at This Day.
“The uncritical and uninformed article is likely to add to the ignorance and prejudice surrounding homosexuality in Nigeria.”
As many of my blog followers would have noticed, I put a slightly perverse twist on the word “history”.
I love history, and always have. I excelled at it at school, right from the first day of what was then “Social Studies” at high school, which then morphed into history. As soon as the teacher started on about ancient Greece and Rome, I was hooked.
In first form at High School, I was given the more complicated history projects, as Mrs Wilson, my asocial Studies teacher, knew I’d do the research, and put it all together in a professional way. I always scored high marks in history exams, and entered my School Certificate exam at Ordinary level for history, coming out with an Advanced pass. I had the ability that, even if I couldn’t recollect exact dates of events, I could fill in the gaps with a whole raft of other facts and figures surrounding the event. It’s a shame I can’t say the same for Math, Geography & Science – all subjects I had no love for.
This love of history has been with me all my life, and shows no signs of slowing. One of the great things I have applauded in recent years has been a strong movement towards telling the truth about history. Like many others, I grew up with a sugar-coated view of history. It was almost like we had to be protected from the very events that have placed us where we are right now! Yes, wars happened, but it was about the actual battles and the total outcome that was taught, not the actual human cost, the great blunders that cost lives…and I point directly at Gallipoli here as an example…the cities and towns and villages that were obliterated, and the millions left homeless and wandering. It never spoke of the hardships of the battlefield, where survival was an unexpected turn for those caught up in the romantic notions of war sold to them to get them to enlist. We were never taught about the aftermath of war, the disabilities, the mental anguish whereby that supposed “return to normality” never happened. My own father, who was in New Guinea and Borneo during the war, never recovered from the savageries of war, and was very much a twisted man up to his eventual suicide in 1978.
The history I grew up with extolled the virtues of the wrong people, like the ever adored Winston Churchill, who is credited…controversially…with helping to win WWII. We were never told of his drinking, his depression, his arrogance, unpopularity within parliament, his many bad decisions that resulted in the deaths of untold hundreds of thousands of people…decision making from afar, with no concern for the losses. Likewise, the Holocaust was totally ignored, the long years of events that led to Hitlers rise to power, nor the staggering death legacy of people like Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung. These were names that were just dropped into, and pulled out of, history as if their existence had no consequence. With the release of records, and film footage over the last few decades, we now have a clearer picture of the events that shaped the world around us.
But having said that, history is not just about the major events that happen around us, both in the past, and now. If we take the word ‘history’ literally, what has just happened is, in the blink of an eye, history! It is not just about what has happened in the past, but is happening right now around us, globally. The good…and the bad! Nor is it about great people, those with prestige and power. It’s about the tiny events by almost unknown people that has a long-term affect on the world. It’s about inventions, taking chances and risks, writing notes and letters, or just being a bit out-there and wacky. History isn’t just about all the serious shit – it has, quite often, an amusing and eccentric side to it.
And this is what I look for!
How many of you would read my blog posts if they were about the known, and mundane! As a gay man, I have lived through some major milestones of gay history, everything from the activism of the 70s and 80s, to the ghettoisation of the lgbt communities, to the devastation of HIV/AIDS, and the advent of Gay Pride.
However, like the world view of history, I don’t want to bore my followers by banging on about events they are already aware of. We all know about Stonewall, Gay Pride, Larry Kramer and the beginnings and politics of HIV. We know about Harvey Milk et al. Amongst all the night club dancing, the drugs, the sex, there was…and is… a plethora of other events happening. In many respects we have a bit of a blinkered view of our history on the gay scene (déjà vu?), seeing it mainly as events that happened from the mid-70s onwards. As you would have seen from the scope of my posts, the affects of both out-there and closeted gay people has been around for centuries. It is the weird, wacky, eccentric, brilliant, sad, funny, serious, fun, and downright fascinating shit that makes gay lives the earth-shattering influence they can be. That is what I want YOU to know about. If I can make you gasp, roll your eyes, or laugh then my aim has been a success.
I know there are politically correct individuals out there in Gayland who probably take offence to my calling the category “gay” history…and I don’t care, quite frankly. Their bleating falls on deaf ears. I identify as a GAY man, and as such use that term to define everything I do. However, that does not make me narrow-minded in the scope of what I post. I do not change terminologies to suit my own agenda. If an article is on queer, or trans, or homo, or bisexual…or any other terminologies within our community…culture, that is how it will be posted. I might be a narky old 80s queen, but I can assure you my world view is wide, and inclusive. The very multi-directional way our community has evolved is part of its…history.
Finally, I have to say I have loved putting these posts out there. It has indeed been an education for me as well. Who knew there was this much weirdness out there! And as gay people there is one thing I do know…the weirdness will never end as long as our community, and the individuals within it, are out there.
Sequined gowns weren’t the only thing stashed in Dorian Corey’s wardrobe.
IN OCTOBER OF 1993, LOIS Taylor entered the Harlem apartment of Dorian Corey, a drag performer and dressmaker who’d died of AIDS two months earlier at the age of 56. Accompanied by two men searching for Halloween costumes, Taylor, a fellow New York drag queen and caretaker of Corey in her final days, was hoping to sell them a small fraction of Corey’s wardrobe. They rifled through fabric, feathers, and sequins before they encountered a large closet, where, Taylor said, the sight of a musty green-plaid garment bag folded over on the floor piqued their collective interest.
“I only weigh 135 pounds. I couldn’t lift that thing,” Taylor told New York magazine in 1993. Resigning to her powerlessness to find the zipper, Taylor handed a pair of scissors to one of the men, only to learn that what the curious mass lacked in portability, it made up for in distinct malodor. Without inspecting further, Taylor called the police.
Peeling through multiple layers—first the bag’s fabric, then taped wrappings of what was likely Naugahyde, a type of faux leather, and plastic—detectives revealed a grisly sight: a partially mummified body in the fetal position, its formerly brown complexion now purple and yellow, its ears mere cartilaginous vestiges, its blue-and-white boxer shorts tattered, with a bullet hole in its head. Encased within the layers, detective Raul Figueroa observed, were detachable pull-tabs from flip-top beer cans, whose prime in the United States ranged from the 1960s to the 1970s.
Despite the technical hurdles posed by decay, Figueroa managed to extract fingerprints from the corpse. The body was identified as Robert “Bobby” Worley, born December 18, 1938. The only extant records from Worley’s life were criminal; he’d been arrested for raping and assaulting a woman in 1963 and served three years in prison. By most accounts, he was estranged from his family and hadn’t been seen since the mid- to late ’60s. Coupling this with Figueroa’s pull-tab dating method, detectives concluded the shooting must have happened at least 20 years prior.
Superficial cues might dictate that Dorian Corey had little reason to engage in violent crime. A graduate from the Parsons School of Design, she had a knack for graphic design, which she parlayed into repute as a costumer. In the Harlem drag ball scene—where veteran drag queens and their young breakdancing and voguing counterparts participated in tongue-in-cheek pageants to showcase humor, irony, and ambition through performance—Corey was a stalwart diva. Her experience led her to mentor and support young queens as the mother of her drag family, the House of Corey. “You lend money to your friends—not very much money—and [give] advice…sometimes, if someone got evicted or whatever, you might take them in,” she explained on a 1991 episode of the Joan Rivers Show.
What stands in starkest contrast to the gruesome implications in her closet, perhaps, is Corey’s demeanor. The most extensive video footage of Corey is from the 1990 Jennie Livingston documentary Paris Is Burning, an examination of the aforementioned ball culture; in interviews, she was witty, realistic, and unflappable. In contrast to the grandiosity of aspiring models and housewives, she had a self-possessed cadence and world-weary observations, which endeared her to a comparatively mainstream audience.
“Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world,” she says in the film. “Then you think, you’ve made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name…If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.”
Yet it’s apparent, from her interviews and an alleged silence about her life with Worley, that Corey was also guarded. Considered in tandem with the circumstances of the discovery, plenty of questions remain. Why might she have committed murder? What was her relationship to Robert Worley? How and why was the body preserved and not disposed of? Despite a lack of evidence or sources who are still living (many queens who knew Corey have succumbed to either disease or violence), these questions have provoked a number of theories.
Though the idea has now fallen out of favor, some posited that Corey was “protecting” the real murderer. In 1988—between the probable time of Worley’s and Corey’s deaths—Corey moved from her apartment at 150th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue to one located 10 blocks over on West 140th Street. The notion that the body was in the closet before she moved, the hypothesis goes, is more plausible than that of Dorian’s lugging a corpse from one home to another.
Others maintain, more credibly, that Worley was a burglar who broke into Corey’s home, prompting Corey to act in self-defense. Corey lived in later-20th-century Harlem, where violent crime ran rampant. (Livingston recalled numerous gunfights outside Corey’s apartment during interviews for the film.) For her own protection, she presumably owned a gun; her friend Jessie Torres affirmed she had “a little .22” in an interview shortly after news of the murder surfaced. More telling, Corey had allegedly attached a note to the body reading “This poor man broke into my home and was trying to rob me.” Furthermore, the theory suggests a possible reason she kept the body: a black drag queen who lived in a poor, dangerous area in the ‘60s or ‘70s had little chance of garnering sympathy from the police.
Prevailing sentiment, however, contends that Corey and Worley had a turbulent romantic relationship that reached a tragic conclusion in a crime of passion. According to Taylor, Corey wrote a short, third-person story about a transgender woman who killed her lover after he browbeat her into having sex reassignment surgery. Handwritten on a piece of paper yellowed with age, the story seemed at least loosely autobiographical—Corey had had breast implants and possibly taken female hormones—and was peppered with references to her life, including the Pearl Box Revue, a touring drag show she’d performed with in the ‘60s.
Additional clues point to this supposition. Torres had relayed that Corey, hospitalized and in a haze of AZT and morphine, had confessed to her friend Sally in Corey’s final days. Richard Mailman, whose upcoming play Dorian’s Closet explores the story, says that, according to a police interview with Worley’s brother, Worley “showed up at his [brother’s] house one night drunk, and he was going on and on and on about Dorian. There was that sort of corroboration that he was in a relationship and did know Dorian.”
Indeed, any relationship they had was fraught. Reg Flowers, whose one-man play Out of the Bag plumbs the psyche of Robert Worley, suggests that Worley may have struggled to reconcile the pressures of appearing masculine and straight with his attraction to Corey, lashing out at her in bouts of frustration. “Being in a relationship with someone who was abusive would make sense [as an explanation], especially when you’re talking about when men are attracted to trans people,” he says. “My sense is that we’re talking about someone who might be closeted about their homosexuality as well, and so there might have been all kinds of internalized hatred and internalized oppression. My sense of it is that it was a dangerous situation that Dorian needed to get out of.”
As for the body, Mailman postulates that Corey, fearing disposing of it would be too conspicuous in congested Manhattan, covered it in baking soda and wrapped it tightly to neutralize the inevitable odor. Decades’ worth of chemical reactions likely rendered an amateur mummification job. “I don’t think she had a criminal mind. She didn’t plan the murder, and when it happened, she had to think fast,” he says. “In the mind of someone who commits a crime of passion, that kind of makes sense.”
Still, how did Corey get away with murder? At least three factors may explain this: Corey’s consistent cool and grace, and Worley’s estrangement from his family and the lack of documentation about his life, and the suppression of the corpse’s stench. But perhaps the murder’s obscurity is primarily owed to a fourth, socioeconomic factor: the othering and invisibility of two poor, sexually complex black people navigating internal and external turmoil in 1960s and ‘70s America.
A definitive answer remains elusive and probably always will. It’s unsurprising: Corey was part of a highly marginalized world, and her life—even the part ripe for a campy tabloid headline—attracted little attention. Still, whatever brought these two together—and whatever happened the day of Worley’s death—Dorian Corey has made an indelible mark.
.I’m careful not to say that these men were gay because they could be brothers, best friends, etc. but most of them sure look like gay couples.
In Times of Hate, Chose to Love
Bromance or lovers?
Since the men in these photos are unknown, it’s impossible to know if they were gay couples or just “good friends.” Most vintage photographs of gay couples were eventually destroyed by horrified family members. For every photo that I may have mistakenly identified as gay, thousands more were burned or torn into pieces to keep a family secret.
At his penthouse in Beverly Hills, Johnny Mathis has no objection to a 9 a.m. interview — he has been up for five hours already, and at the gym for a long-standing regime of pulley stretching and leg lifts. “Anything to get the juices flowing and also get me into my stage clothes,” says the 81-year-old singer. “I look at myself in the mirror and go, ‘Well, not bad,’ ” he adds with a laugh.
Mathis has been donning those stage clothes all year, on a tour marking the 60th anniversary of his debut album. He is a singular vocalist whose classic hits from the 1950s — “Chances Are,” “Misty,” “It’s Not for Me to Say” — established an enduring style of pop romance. In Barry Levinson’s Oscar-nominated 1982 film Diner, set in the postwar era, the character Eddie Simmons memorably asks his pals, “When you’re making out, which do you prefer, Sinatra or Mathis?”
A native of Texas, raised in California and the fourth of seven children, Mathis caught his father’s passion for music at a young age. He began vocal lessons, including classical and operatic styles, at age 13. Yet, in high school, he also was talented enough at track and field to get an athletic scholarship to San Francisco State University and, later, an invitation to try out for the U.S. team heading to the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
Around that same time, however, while performing at a San Francisco nightclub, Mathis caught the ear of George Avakian, head of jazz A&R at Columbia Records, who was vacationing in the city. “Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way,” Avakian telegrammed his label. “Send blank contracts.”
In the six decades since, Mathis has charted 43 hit singles and sent 74 titles, including numerous Christmas releases, onto the Billboard 200. In 2003, The Recording Academy presented Mathis with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement. It was recognition for an artist who has long sung of romance— but also has supported civil rights and gay rights, from singing with activists at the Salute to Freedom concert in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 to acknowledging his own sexual orientation two decades later.
You were part of a generation of racial pioneers in pop in the ’50s who crossed over to white fans. What’s your perspective on Black Lives Matter and race relations today?
The world changes. The world is completely different now from when I was growing up. Back then you didn’t say things like they say now out loud, about race and things. But that’s just progress. When are we going to find out that we’re all the same, we’re all absolutely, without a doubt, the same? It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or straight or gay.
You’ve seen a lot of change in attitudes toward being gay since you were getting death threats in the 1980s. [The threats followed a 1982 interview inUs Weeklyin which Mathis was quoted as saying, “Homosexuality is a way of life I’ve become accustomed to.”]
Things take time. People are stubborn about what they perceive to be the right thing or the wrong thing, and it takes a long time to filter this human condition. There’s a waiting period until people catch up. But if you have patience — which it takes when someone thinks differently from you — everybody always catches up. That patience is a wonderful virtue.
You have declined to talk about your own relationships, and it seems that you prefer to lead by your presence rather than speaking out.
I’ve been very happy to see some of the success that I’ve had along the way in opening the eyes of people, especially people who listen to music.
Looking back, what do you remember about George Avakian discovering you at San Francisco’s 440 Club?
I didn’t realize he was in the audience, and unfortunately he had a bad case of poison oak or poison ivy. So he was not in a very good mood. But he heard me sing and said, “I think you’re ready to make your first recording.” George is still with us; He’s now 102 years old, and I saw him not too long ago. He counseled me for many years.
Whether or not what Mitt Romney did as a teenager matters now, the way some conservatives are defending him, you’d think homosexuals didn’t exist until Halston, Calvin Klein, and Liza were discovered dancing at Studio 54 circa 1978.
“For those to the premises more recently arrived, a quick primer on 1965, when this occurred,” wrote syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, responding to critics who’ve described Romney’s forcible cutting of the dyed-blond hair of a nonconforming student as anti-gay bullying. “Nobody knew who was or wasn’t ‘gay,’ a word that wasn’t yet in popular circulation as a noun and generally meant ‘merry.’ Homosexuality wasn’t on most high-school kids’ radar, period. If anything, Romney may not have liked Lauber’s ‘hippie’ locks, which is the more likely case given the era.”
Really? Check out the synopsis for the 1956 film by a much earlier Minnelli, Liza’s dad Vincente. Tea and Sympathy was adapted from the popular 1953 Broadway play of the same name, and Romney and his prep school buddies might as well have been acting out the plot: “Tom Robinson Lee, a 17-year old student at a boy’s prep school, is at odds with the other boys who like sports, talking about girls, and listening to pop music. Tom prefers classical music, reads books, can sew, goes to the theater, and generally seems to be more at ease in the company of women. The other boys torment him for his ‘unmanly’ qualities and call him ‘sister boy.’”
I don’t know what kind of sheltered life Kathleen Parker led, but homosexuality has been on high-school kids’ radars — particularly the radars of high-school boys — for as long as masculinity has been on their radars, which in Western culture would take us back to the ancient Greeks and the Roman gladiators, I imagine. But even if we don’t want to go back that far, suffice it to say that queer boys were defined in American culture surely since Oscar Wilde was carted off to prison for being a “sodomite” in 1895.
While there were times in the early part of the 20th century when homosexuality was more accepted in some cities (as historian George Chuancey describes in Gay New York, in which he also shows that the word “gay” most certainly existed then), the 1950s saw a homosexual panic that gripped American politics, media, and culture. In 1950 Sen. Joseph McCarthy began his investigations that led to the purging of alleged Communists and homosexuals from the government. In 1951 a popular book called Washington Confidential, co-written by New York Mirror columnist Lee Mortimer, captured the tenor of the time in a chapter titled, “A Garden of Pansies”:
If you’re wondering where your wandering semi-boy is tonight, he’s probably in Washington. The good people shook their heads in disbelief at the revelation that over 90 twisted twerps in trousers had been swished out of the state department. Fly commentators seized on it for gags about fags, whimsy with overtones of Kinsey and the odor of lavender. We pursued the subject and found that there are at least 6000 homosexuals on the government payroll, most of them known, and these comprise only a fraction of the total of their kind in the city.
Tea and Sympathy premiered on Broadway and was made into a film in the midst of that panic. (And you can read all about the context in this paper by film historian David Gerstner, who also happens to be my partner). The McCarthy era and the targeting of homosexuals spurred the first gay and lesbian activists, like the recently deceased pioneer Frank Kameny, who was ejected from the Army Map Service for being gay in 1957.
That first brave but tepid organizing only escalated the panic, which continued well into the 1960s. In 1963, two years before Romney’s prep school “prank,” the anti-gay metro editor of The New York Times, Abe Rosenthal, became alarmed after returning from overseas and seeing so many gay men on the streets of Manhattan. In response he commissioned a piece that was put on the front page of the paper of record, which blared with this headline: “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern.”
Those years, the mid-‘60s, were in fact a critical time for the gay-rights movement: It was going to either burst forth, as it eventually did in 1969, with the Stonewall riots, or be suppressed further by the kind of attitudes that empowered high-school boys of the time to hold down a kid perceived as gay and forcibly cut his hair.
It matters today what Mitt Romney did then, even as a high-school student, because the country has moved on from that time of panic into a different place. It would tell us a lot about him, and the kind of leader he would be, if, rather than denying it or suppressing it, he were able to explain how he moved on and, as others have said, if he were able to use his story to shed some light on the anti-gay bullying we still see today.
Take a look at Akbar and Jeff, a gay couple created by Matt Groening far before The Simpsons
Before Matt Groening created The Simpsons, he was drawing a neurotic rabbit and a same-sex couple who both dressed like Charlie Brown.
In 1986, Life In Hell’s Akbar and Jeff predated Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie and they were remarkably ahead of their time.
Groening had started drawing Akbar and Jeff in the fifth grade. Years later, in 1986, he drew this comic strip where the two came out to each other.
Wearing matching t-shirts, shorts and fezzes (it was the 80s), the boyfriend twins quickly formed into the alternative comic world’s iconic same-sex couple.
‘My friends and I were trying to draw Charlie Brown,’ Groening said in the late 80s. ‘We tried to imitate Peanuts, and they never came out looking right. And so eventually those drawings mutated into Akbar and Jeff.
‘They still have the Charlie Brown shirt if you noticed. Later I was trying to think about what kind of people they were and finally realized, of course, they’re gay, they’re lovers.’
While outing Akbar and Jeff as a gay couple meant there was a backlash, Groening kept drawing them in the Life In Hell comic book series.
A beer company had approached Groening to see if they could use Akbar and Jeff as mascots.
‘Then the article in Rolling Stone came out about me, and it was revealed that, “Oh my god. Akbar and Jeff – they’re not normal.” And the beer company dropped Akbar and Jeff,’ Groening said.
The beer company said it wouldn’t work to market gay characters to frat boys.
‘I said, “Listen, these are cartoon characters. It’s not that big a deal.” S
Groening said he wanted to have a same-sex couple in the series, but thought having a straight couple would end up using lazy jokes about men and women.
‘No one can accuse me of trying to score points against men or women if the characters are identical,’ he said.
Life In Hell continued until 2012, and in that time Akbar and Jeff’s relationship kept being explored.
Akbar and Jeff, for the secondary stars of an alternative comic, also inspired many.
How Matt Groening’s Akbar and Jeff were inspirational
Scott Craig and Peter Alexander, a gay couple from Silverlake, created a LGBTI music venue Akbar – a tribute to the comic. Alexander had previously worked for Groening.
‘This is literally how me and my boyfriend got together,’ one guy said on Reddit.
‘When I was 14 I was sleeping over at a friends house & we were high and giggling over a Matt Groening book I’d got earlier in the day at a church book sale.
‘Turned page, this comic came up. We both got a little quiet. Heh…heh… Haltingly, friend said “Ummm hey….are you….gay?”
‘”Maaaaaaaybe” says I. And that was the first night of many that we made out that summer!’
In 1935, Sigmund Freud penned a response to a mother who had asked him for help with her gay son. Despite the broader perceptions of homosexuality at the time, Freud took a different approach, telling the woman it’s “nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term for yourself in your information about him. May I question you why you avoid it?” he wrote. “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them.”
While the this correspondence sheds light on his personal communications, it has long been known that Freud did not view homosexuality as a pathology. He believed everyone was born bisexual and later became either straight or gay because of the relationships with those around them. In the letter, Freud does suggest “treatment” for homosexuality may be possible, but says the result “cannot be predicted.”
The letter currently appears on display in London as part of an exhibition at Wellcome Collection called “The Institute of Sexology.” (Scroll for transcription.)
Dear Mrs [Redacted],
I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you why you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.
By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.
What analysis can do for your son runs on a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed. If you make up your mind he should have analysis with me — I don’t expect you will — he has to come over to Vienna. I have no intention of leaving here. However, don’t neglect to give me your answer.
Sincerely yours with best wishes,
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The use of the word “they” has been debated by linguists and copy editors alike. (Photo: zebicho/shutterstock.com)
Of all the turf wars that have complicated the landscape of grammar over the past few hundred years, the most complicated and frustrating may be that of the singular they.
It may be the most controversial word use in the English language—because it highlights a hole where a better-fitting word should go.
It creates a conflict between writers and editors who want things to follow the natural symmetry of Latin, and people who find they the only logical option for referring to a single person without a gender attached.
And there has been a lot written about it—it’s something of a hot topic this year, thanks to a vote by the American Dialect Society to name they its word of the year for 2015.
“In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Ben Zimmer, the chairman of ADS’ New Words Committee, explained back in January. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”
The group voted the way it did in part because of they’s increasing importance as a way to make room for people who don’t fit a predefined gender binary. (It helps that the word drops the added complication of “he or she.”)
If the English language did permanently embrace a singular gender-neutral pronoun, it would be far from alone—254 of the 378 languages tracked by the World Atlas of Language Structures Online don’t specify for gender at all with their pronouns.
Alas, this problem isn’t as easy to solve as a vote from a dialect society. The problem is something of an emotional one—and it’s sparked debate for centuries.
For some word purists, the singular they is the linguistic equivalent of an ingrown hair, but for others, the solutions for getting around the problem are way messier.
Geoffrey Chaucer, user of the singular they, along with Shakespeare and Jane Austen. (Photo: Public Domain)
For centuries, the singular they was not only accepted by the public but by some of our most famous authors—Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare, just to name three.
But around the late 18th and early 19th century, something happened: Critics of this specific usage appeared. The reason for this critical reassessment came about partly out of prescriptive vibes around the English language at the time. Long story short: We wanted English to be more like Latin, and that meant rethinking the use of plural nouns in singular contexts.
In 1975, researcher Ann Bodine broke this down in a landmark paper, Androcentrism in Prescriptive Grammar: Singular ‘They,’ Sex-Indefinite ‘He,’ and ‘He or She’. The text, republished in the 1999 book The Feminist Critique of Language, notes that the influence of Latin grammar played an important role in the increase of rules around the English language—and specifically gave the world the “generic he,” a term that followed Latin form but didn’t mesh with modern concerns about gender equality.
Around the time of Bodine’s paper, things started to turn against the generic he. Students started complaining about its use at Harvard. But they faced resistance from the professors who taught them.
“The fact that the masculine is the unmarked gender in English (or that the feminine is unmarked in the language of the Tunica Indians) is simply a feature of grammar,” a group of 17 professors and teaching fellows wrote in a 1971 open letter published in the Harvard Crimson.
And Bodine noted that the then-recent attempts to ditch the generic he were really attempts to roll back a controversial change.
“Intentionally or not, the movement against sex-indefinite ‘he’ is actually a counter-reaction to an attempt by prescriptive grammarians to alter the language,” she wrote.
Grammarians didn’t give up on squashing the singular they easily. Some who tried to remedy the problem caused by this attempt to make English more like Latin have been tried to patch things up. For hundreds of years, English-speakers have tried to invent words that fill the language’s most unsightly gap. Nearly all of them have failed.
University of Illinois professor Dennis Baron, a longtime supporter of the singular they, has long maintained a list of gender-neutral pronouns that people have attempted to add to the English language, the most recent example from 2015, but most of the interesting ones from the 19th century. Terms like “thon,” “e,” and “um” were among the most prominent attempts to improve the language. Additionally, Baron notes, people complaining about the common use of the singular they were fairly common during the 19th century.
“If only occasionally found in the best writings, it is because the proofreader interposes his correction before the sentence reaches the public, for every editor [knows] how often even careful writers make the mistake,” a writer for the Findlay, Ohio Jeffersonian wrote in 1877.
Baron, in introducing the concept in an essay, is quick to stick a knife in its heart before it even had a chance to fly:
These pronouns fill a need, but none has been widely adopted, hencetheyare the words that failed. What has succeeded is singular they, which arose naturally in English hundreds of years ago, and is used both by speakers and writers concerned that their pronouns be inclusive, and also by many who don’t give the matter much thought at all.
Even in the modern day, some critics of the word use persist. Blogger Freddie deBoer, meanwhile, argues in an essay that the singular they issue is an infrequent problem at worst.
“Using ‘their’ for singular antecedents is one that I think people need to [just give into],” deBoer writes in his essay. “As I’ve argued, it only occurs in a very limited set of circumstances, and those circumstances very unlikely to produce confusion about what is meant.”
Over at the dearly departed site the Toast, linguist Gretchen McCulloch blames the root cause of this fissure on “a series of historical accidents,” but suggests that the issues raised by grammarians are practical in nature, even if the solutions are in many ways worse than the problems in the first place.
Really, if this problem is ever to go away, it’s going to be up to professional copy editors to speak up. And at least some of them appear to have made peace with the change.
Last year, prominent Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh (who was not a football coach for the San Francisco 49ers) drew a line in the sand in favor of the singular they, revealing in a deeply nerve-wracking blog post that he had been wanting to make the big change for years, despite how divisive it was for some.
“What finally pushed me from acceptance to action on gender-neutral pronouns was the increasing visibility of gender-neutral people,” he wrote.
Walsh, the author of some popular books read by copy editors, is seen as something of a trailblazer on this issue, even though he pledges his desk will use the term sparingly.
Still, it won’t be easy to win over everyone else in the journalism world. The issue is that many copy editors simply struggle with the conundrum that the word creates, some treating it as a pet peeve even though it’s common in regular speech.
In a blog post last year, the Baltimore Sun’s John E. McIntyre noted the lingering controversy, citing one Facebook feed that called the singular they an “idiot epicene.”
“I know any number of editors who share this visceral dislike of the singular they,” McIntyre wrote. “It cuts no ice with them that linguists have demonstrated widespread use by reputable writers for centuries … or that we somehow contrive to use you in both singular and plural senses without growing red-faced and shouting.”
Copy editors may never find peace on this issue, even though the American Copy Editors Society has been laying the groundwork for such a change, noting with positivity last January the American Dialect Society’s move to make the singular they its word of the year.
But a shift like that isn’t enough to convince one of the toughest copy editors in the business—Mary Norris, the “comma queen” at The New Yorker.
“Many ACES stalwarts—copy editors, journalists, grammarians, lexicographers, and linguists—stand ready to embrace the singular ‘their.’ But not us. We avoid it whenever we can,” Norris wrote earlier this year.
In that same blog post was a video where she discussed how her desk replaced an instance of the singular they in a George Saunders story with a generic he. (The linguistics blog Language Log had a field day with this whole saga.)
And, sooner or later, the Associated Press Stylebook will probably weigh in as it has in other linguistic controversies, like, recently, when it decided to allow “more than” and “over” to be used interchangeably.