Gianni Versace

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Gianni Versace’s name is so famous as a brand of designer clothing that it’s easy to forget there was ever a person attached to it. The openly gay Italian designer took elements of Andy Warhol, Greco-Roman art, and the newer movements of abstract art, and spun them into furniture, fragrances, accessories, and – of course – clothing. He worked on numerous supplementary design projects, including more than a dozen films and Michael Jackson’s HIStory World Tour; he even held an acting role in the 1997 movie Spice World, until he was unexpectedly murdered by a spree killer and the incomplete scenes had to be deleted. Vogue magazine maintains a designer profile for him with a list of his fashion accomplishments, including pioneering jeans as catwalk couture and selling leather bondage dresses; a photographic essay on Versace from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries is available here.

Even after death, Versace’s brand lives on in an official website and its affiliated boutiques.

Christa Muth

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Christa Muth, a German corporate consultant and systems scientist, is a co-founder of Human Systems Engineering, a post-graduate discipline that looks at how organizations function at different levels. Armed with an academic background in economic history, sociology, and educational theory, she began taking jobs reworking corporate cultures, including the Swiss university system.

Muth decided to transition (link is in French) after developing psychosomatic back problems due to the stress of living as a man, and agreed to star in a documentary about her transition. A trailer for the film, titled “Between Two-Spirit” in English, can be viewed here. (The original French title, Entre Il et Ailes, is a pun that translates to, “Between Him and Wings,” where “ailes” (wings) is pronounces like “elle” (her).)

Since her transition Muth has remained active in the Swiss transgender community, including the Transgender Network Switzerland (link is in German).

Kamikawa Aya

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At the time of this writing, Kamikawa Aya has been Japan’s only openly transgender elected official. After a frustrating experience reaching out to local politicians to gain recognition for transgender issues, she took their advice and ran for office herself. Originally elected in 2003 on an independent ticket, she has held her regional assembly seat through (at least) 2014. She is involved with an underground think-tank for LGBT political voices; spoken at a coming-of-age ceremony especially for Japanese LGBT youth; and been interviewed regarding her views on Japanese media programming that features transgender characters.

Although Kamikawa has become famous due to her work on behalf of the trans community, she is also known for advocating on behalf of other underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities and students. Her website (largely in Japanese) can be found here.

 

Divine

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Although Harris Glenn Milstead lamented that he had never intended to become a drag queen, and preferred to be known as a character actor, he has become immortalized under his stage name, which he used interchangeably with his birth name. His on-screen antics under John Waters‘ direction were notorious for breaking hygienic taboos, as in the closing scene to his breakout hit, Pink Flamingos, which featured real coprophagia. He died of cardiomegaly shortly after he had begun to transition into more mainstream films, such as the original version of Hairspray (it was his casting as Edna Turnblad that sparked the tradition of giving the role to a male actor to be performed in drag). He also dabbled in disco, recording hits such as “You Think You’re a Man.”

Divine left a sizable impression in United States pop culture. He was used as the model for Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and his grave remains a site of pilgrimage (particularly for members of the LGBT community) at which mourners can leave trinkets, or – according to Waters – have sex. His estate maintains an official website for him here.

Kit Yan

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Kit Yan is a Hawaiian slam poet and musician whose work focuses on his identity as an Asian-American trans man. He was interviewed for East of Main Street: Asians Aloud, a 2010 HBO documentary, and performs at poetry festivals, institutions of higher learning, and pride events, among others. By 2012 his poetry had garnered enough attention to earn him a small personal feature in The Advocate magazine, and (in a less serious capacity), 60th place in gender-bending fashion website dapperQ‘s 2013 “100 Most Stylish dapperQs” list. He was crowned Mr. Transman in the Brooklyn competition’s inaugural contest.

Video samples of Yan’s poetry can be found on his YouTube page here; biographical information and links to his social media are available on his personal website here.

Larry Kramer

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Larry Kramer’s appearance in a 1982 news clip is emblematic both of his outspokenness and the climate of confusion into which he spoke. Kramer was among the first activists to address HIV/AIDS, and in the process shaped some of its most enduring artistic and organizational legacies: Gay Men’s Health Crisis; ACT UP (link goes to an interview with Kramer on its origins); Reports From the Holocaust, a compilation of his speeches and essays; and a twin set of semi-autobiographical plays, The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me.

Kramer’s lack of tolerance for politicking (as seen in this clip) and his anti-promiscuity views made him a controversial figure among the gay community in his home city of New York; when he was selected to be the grand marshal of a pride parade, it was in Dallas, Texas. His speeches have continually focused on combatting apathy and historical amnesia.

Kramer married his longtime partner David Webster in an intensive care unit a month after the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Historiography Saturday: David Bowie

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Glam rock musician David Bowie rode to fame on the shoulders of a series of eccentric alter ego stage acts, including the androgynous alien Ziggy Stardust. Over a more than forty year career (still ongoing as of the time of this post), he experimented with numerous genres and even dabbled in films such as the cult classic modern fairy tale Labyrinth, in which he plays a sinister goblin king. He was honored with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 for his achievements and revolutionary style.

Attempting to describe Bowie’s sexual orientation leads to the rare question of what to do with a living artist who has repeatedly contradicted himself, and who shrugs off requests to answer the question directly with jokes about making more money by selling the truth in a memoir. Bowie’s onstage act was an inspiration to queer viewers at a time and place where homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender bending were becoming edgy trends among his target audience; soon after, he came out as first gay, then bisexual. However, he later recanted on his claim, announcing to Rolling Stone Magazine that, although he had experimented with men, he had always been “a closet heterosexual.” His biographers agree that Bowie’s shifting self-identification and behavior may have been motivated more by a rebellious spirit than a genuine attraction to men, but without a definitive statement from Bowie, the truth remains elusive.