Richard O’Brien

Standard

British/New Zealander stage and screen writer and cult film actor Richard O’Brien (the stage name of Richard Timothy Smith) was the mastermind behind The Rocky Horror Show, a queer gothic musical comedy that has generated a robust, ritualized midnight screening tradition. (He also originated the role of Riff Raff and played him in the film adaptation.) O’Brien’s career has also extended into eccentric television program hosting, including the popular UK game show The Crystal Maze, for which he was selected because he fit the show’s “Dungeons and Dragons” vibe.

Although O’Brien was assigned male at birth and continues to use male pronouns, he identifies as “70% male, 30% female,” and uses the term transgender to refer to himself.

Isadora Duncan

Standard

Bisexual American dancer Isadora Duncan based her career on a rejection of the highly technical ballet popular in the 19th century and the embrace of a more freeform, natural style inspired by Greek artwork. She began teaching dance as a child before moving to Britain after limited professional success in the United States. Although her attempts to found her own dance schools floundered, her influence did spread, bringing a new aesthetic to American and Western European dance; what troupe she did forge she called the Isadorables. Her memoir was published soon after her accidental death, and was written due to a sharp decline in her fortunes as age made performing less of a possibility and her sympathy for the Soviet Union left her unpopular. A dance company named after her now performs her pieces with an all-female troupe.

Aleister Crowley

Standard

Aleister Crowley, the man who called himself “The Great Beast 666” and became known in the British press as “the wickedest man in the world,” was an infamous cult leader who founded his own religion dedicated to the mantra, “Do what thou wilt.” After finding the Hermetic Organization of the Golden Dawn lacking in its dedication to the occult (and himself unpopular due to his bisexuality and sexual libertinism), he set out to outdo it, and wrote the first of many texts while in Egypt. His practice turned to a focus on sexual magic (part of his overall philosophy of Magick) and he opened up a house for his disciples that was later seized upon by tabloid journalists. He was also a poet and a skilled (though callous) mountaineer. His popularity spiked in the 1960s after his death, and he even appears on the Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hears Club Band.

A full-length documentary on Crowley, complete with spooky music and handheld camera footage, is available here.

Nicola Griffith

Standard

When British fiction writer Nicola Griffith pled her case to emigrate to the United States her clearance came with a then-unheard of justification: it was, according to the State Department, “in the National Interest” to allow her to stay. Although the majority of her online hype at the time of this posting is focused on her historical fiction novel Hild (planned as the first of a trilogy based on the life of Saint Hilda of Whitby), she has also written in the science fiction and urban fantasy genres; in addition to her immigration approval (controversial because Griffith is a lesbian), she has also been honored with several awards, including a Nebula, Lambda, and James Tiptree, Jr. prize.

Griffith’s personal blog can be found here; her Twitter feed, here; and her business website, here.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Standard

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein lead a tumultuous life of both creative and temperamental outbursts. He was a student of some of the most famous names in his field, Bertrand Russell included, but always left their company feeling disillusioned. His own linguistic take on philosophical questions was groundbreaking and earned him recognition as one of the 20th century’s most important philosophers. Outside of academia he was decorated for his bravery during the first World War, and briefly taught at a school for young children where he gained a reputation for his corporal punishments and obsession with mathematics. He also studied mechanical engineering.

Despite being described as a gay philosopher, Wittgenstein had several female lovers interspersed with his male ones, including one he proposed to, indicating that he may be more accurately described as bisexual. He avoided sex itself, claiming that it got in the way of love; for that reason he is also (tentatively) tagged here as asexual.

While it should not be taken as biographical fact, Wittgenstein has received the high honor of a dedicated Uncyclopedia page.

Historiography Saturday: Roberta Cowell

Standard

Roberta Cowell, the first British woman to be outed in the press as transgender (and the first to undergo gender-reassignment surgery) was a race car-driving, fighter-plane flying, veteran of World War II. After years of struggling business ventures (including the production of a racing engine) she sold her story to the newspapers for enough money to erase her debts, then went right back to quenching her need for speed; she still owned flashy cars up to the point of her death.

Gaining approval for vaginoplasty – and credibility in the public eye – required Cowell to declare herself intersex. According to her narrative she was only late in developing feminine physical characteristics. However, as one medical review of her autobiography pointed out, her scientific claims were highly dubious, doubly so because she had every incentive to mimic the respected intersex narrative of Lili Elbe. To complicate things further, Cowell held an attitude toward transition that excluded most other trans women, indicating that she may have believed at least some of her hype.

Gluck

Standard

The British painter who insisted on going only by Gluck (“no prefix, suffix or quotes”) lived a life of relative stability and artistic freedom during the early 20th century. Thanks to familial support, Gluck was able to pursue Gluck’s craft full time and choose subject matter without sanction (with some exceptions like a painting of Gluck and Gluck’s lover being removed from a gallery); later, Gluck designed a custom frame for Gluck’s paintings that was meant to help integrate them into the wall space. Although assigned female at birth Gluck dressed only in men’s clothing and once resigned from an artistic society after being credited as “Miss”.

Some debate exists as to Gluck’s identity and preferred pronouns. Online commentary frequently refers to Gluck as a lesbian, though some instead insist that Gluck would be better described as a trans man. In the absence of a definitive statement, this blog takes its cue from Wikipedia and follows Gluck’s request to be referred to only as Gluck literally and employs no pronouns at all, though both ‘lesbian’ and ‘transgender’ are tagged.