Vicki Marlane

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Near the end of her life at the age of 74, San Franciscan Vicki Marlane was known as “possibly the oldest living, continuously performing, transgender entertainer in the country.” She began her career dancing in Minnesota before cycling through assorted gigs and ending her journey in the Bay Area. Her act at the bar Aunt Charlie’s earned her the nickname “the girl with the liquid spine.” Although she considered herself a transgender woman since at least the 1980s, she continued performing drag until the year of her death.

Marlane’s interview with the New York Times and a documentary about her life brought her national attention. In 2014, a block in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood was renamed after her following a petition by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club; she is the first transgender person in the city to be given such an honor.

Marlane’s old Facebook group contains photographs and footage of her act.

 

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Historiography Saturday: Jane Addams

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Jane Addams, the woman who would go on to earn the nickname Saint Jane and the Nobel Peace Prize, began her work after a period of despondency at the prospect of never contributing anything of worth to society. Originally from a rich family, she attempted to attend medical school but dropped out due to health complications, and seized on the fledgling settling house movement as a way to make a difference. The result of her hard work was Hull House, a national model for settlement houses and the home base for Addams’ studies and social reforms. When she wasn’t helping run the House’s programs (music school, a gymnasium, clubs, etc.), Addams was active in Progressive politics, pacifism, American Pragmatism, anti-sex slavery, and suffrage work.

Recently, Addams has become a controversial addition to the LGBT historical canon. Hull House itself now advertises programming that paints Addams as a vital part of Chicago’s LGBT history, billing it as “The Queerest House in Chicago?” She shared a lifelong romantic friendship with Ellen Gates Starr, who slept in her bed and encouraged her in her work. However, romantic friendships existed in a context where high degrees of affection between women were looked upon as normal, making it difficult to pin down lesbian relationships: physical contact and even displays of undying devotion were commonplace. Researchers can find no definitive evidence one way or another of a sexual relationship between Addams and Starr, but also disagree on whether that would be necessary to establish that Addams was a lesbian given the length and exclusivity of their partnership.

Tamara Ching

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Tamara Ching, the “God Mother of Polk [Street]”, is an advocate for transgender, HIV, and sex work-related causes, and has been for decades. Active in the trans community since before the Compton’s Cafeteria riot – a San Francisco protest by trans women against police raids that predated Stonewall -, Ching has played a role in everything from letter-writing campaigns to presenting on the challenges faced by LGBT seniors. She was interviewed for the Compton’s documentary Screaming Queens (by filmmaker Susan Stryker) and was selected by California state Senator Leland Yee for inclusion in the book Women With Impact: A collection of  stories about women who made a difference in the lives of senators. In honor of her high-impact consulting work, Ching has been featured in a Mission neighborhood mural that casts San Franciscan transgender women as deities, golden halos and all.

Harvey Milk

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Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in California, served only eleven months on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a far shorter span of time than the five years he spent campaigning. During his time in the city he helped turn the Castro neighborhood into a powerful economic and political force, an achievement that led him to style himself ‘The Mayor of Castro Street’ (also the name of Milk’s biography by journalist Randy Shilts); while in office, he helped champion a gay anti-discrimination law and a dog feces ordinance, and defeat a statewide ballot initiative that would have made firing gay teachers mandatory. Shortly before his assassination by a former fellow supervisor, Milk recorded three monologues, one containing a memorable, fatalistic line: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.”

Milk’s death and the subsequent (often misunderstood) leniency of his murderer’s sentence inspired the White Night Riots and enshrined him as a martyred figure in the gay popular consciousness. His name is now attached to one of two queer San Francisco Democratic Clubs, a nonprofit advocacy group, and a host of other works.

Sonya Renee

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Sonya Renee, a poet and activist, got her start on the stage by accident. She was recruited to perform at a small work event and fell in love with the open mic style. Things kept escalating, and she began collecting titles like International Poetry Slam Champion. Her work has appeared in numerous spoken word and gender-related publications, and she published her own anthology in 2010. (This was on top of her other work in HIV outreach.) In 2011 she launched a new project called The Body Is Not An Apology intended to foster positive self-image; it even comes with a 30-day challenge.

Renee identifies as queer, and cites it as an integral part of her work. Her Twitter is here; her Facebok here; and her YouTube channel here.

Tu Er Shen

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In Chinese mythology, Tu Er Shen (兔兒神 or 兔神) is the god of male homosexual love. As the story goes, he was once an ordinary man named Hu Tianbao, who fell madly in love with an attractive imperial inspector, which he kept to himself because they were socially unequal; when he was caught watching the object of his affection through a bathroom wall and confessed to his infatuation, he was punished with death by beating. What might have been a tragic gay-bashing tale instead has a happy ending: The lord of the underworld judged Hu’s crime to have been love, which was no crime at all, and appointed him the deity of gay romance. He then appeared as a rabbit (hence the name Tu Er Shen, which means “The Leveret Spirit”) in a dream to a man from his hometown and prompted him to erect a shrine in the new god’s honor.

Worship of the Leveret Spirit has continued on and off since its 18th century inception. This website lists traditional methods of praying to Tu Er Shen, including offerings of paper charms and description of the deity’s generous nature. An online vendor now sells love spells named after Tu Er Shen (the website even includes handy instructions for determining if you are homosexual).

Freddie Mercury

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Born Farrokh Bulsara in the now-defunct Sultanate of Zanzibar, Mercury grew up covering Bollywood and rock singers on the piano with his high school band. His family emigrated to Britain during the Zanzibar Revolution, where he studied art and cycled through a series of bands before helping launch Queen. He would go on to sing the lead vocals, play piano and a spot of guitar (and piano-like instruments such as the harpsichord), and compose both lyrics and instrumentals for much of the band’s music. Mercury’s legendary stagecraft was on full display during Queen’s 1985 Live Aid concert, available for viewing here, in which he cavorts around the stage and coaxes his audience of thousands to clap along in unison.

During his lifetime Mercury had relationships with both men and women, including Mary Austin and Jim Hutton. The former was the subject of Mercury’s song “Love of My Life“; the latter, his partner of six years. Soon after learning that he had contracted HIV he threw (in the opinion of the linked article) the most decadent party the isle of Ibiza had ever seen. He hid the truth of his illness from the public until the day before he passed away from AIDS-related complications.