Dusty Springfield

Standard

English soul singer Dusty Springfield (born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien) was one of the top female artists of her generation. She took her stage name from her first group, the folksy-sounding Springfields, but left soon after to pursue a solo career that would last nearly four decades; although her popularity dwindled beginning in the 1970s, the inclusion of “Son of a Preacher Man” on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack triggered a revival. Her album Dusty in Memphis was ranked as the 89th greatest of all time by Rolling Stone, and she has been honored in both the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame. Springfield’s lesbianism was the focus of an off-Broadway musical based on her life.

James VI and I

Standard

James VI and I, who has been described as “the most effective ruler Scotland ever had,” takes his two numerical titles from his reign there and in England, the fusion of which created the kingdom of Great Britain. He was an intellectual who penned several books, lent his name to the King James Version of the Bible, and played the rivalries of Scottish family factions against each other to consolidate power. His ambitions and belief in absolute monarchy justified by divine right made him unpopular in England, culminating in first the gunpowder plot and then the rebellion against his son. Although historians disagree on James’s homosexuality or bisexuality, the favoritism he showed to several male courtiers did nothing to help his case.

 

Historiography Saturday: Julie Bindel

Standard

Julie Bindel is an English columnist whose work on gender and feminism is frequently featured in The Guardian and several other prominent publications. Sex trafficking and prostitution are among her specific areas of interest and subjects of original research. She identifies as a political lesbian and has written a book on generational changes in the gay community where she argues that heterosexuality is enforced by societal pressure. In addition to the controversy over the origins of homosexuality, Bindel has received criticism for her views on transsexuality.

While this blog takes no stance on the origins of same-sex attraction and gender variance, its existence does presuppose the importance of those categories as identities with consistent meanings. The tag “lesbian” usually indicates a woman who is primarily or exclusively attracted to other women; however, according to the political lesbian text Love Your Enemy?, lesbianism is defined not by the presence of an attraction to women but by the absence of sexual conduct with men. While political lesbianism is a relatively fringe viewpoint, other definitional debates exist in the queer community (e.g. what degree of attraction to which gender qualifies someone as bisexual, or if there is a difference between transgender and transsexual), creating a challenge for anyone whose work requires drawing boundaries between the categories.

Rob Halford

Standard

Rob Halford, the Metal God (TM) songwriter and four octave singer of the legendary English band Judas Priest, was in large part responsible for the sartorial association of rock with S&M fetish gear. When the group began performing in 1969 they wore the typical rock uniform of the day (complete with floral-print and bell bottoms) but later moved into leather and spikes to coincide with the release of the album Killing Machine. The look became influential throughout the genre and came to define their costuming for decades.

For Halford, coming out was a lucky accident: It slipped out during an interview with MTV in 1998. The singer has expressed his surprise that fans never realized ahead of time given that he had been responsible for a wardrobe that drew inspiration from gay fetish stores.

Halford’s Twitter (largely advertisements for band merchandise) is available here; his Facebook is here.

Justin Fashanu

Standard

When English football player Justin Fashanu came out to the public in 1990, it was to a bombardment of harassment and homophobia from all sides, his own coach and fans of the opposition alike. The first headline referred to him as the “£1m Football Star,” a reference to how he had become the first black footballer to be paid such a transfer fee (for good reason, given the brilliant plays in his early career). In his interviews he hinted at affairs with various politicians and public figures which he later admitted were false; in 1994, his contract with Heart of Midlothian was terminated due to his “unprofessional conduct” with the press.

Fashanu committed suicide in 1998 after an allegation in Maryland (where sodomy was then illegal) that he had had nonconsensual sex with a minor. He had denied the charges but fled the country, which he claimed in his suicide note was because he did not believe he would be given a fair trial. The Justin Campaign was founded in his honor to raise awareness of homophobia in football.

Historiography Saturday: Richard I of England

Standard

Now known by the famous nickname of “Lionheart”, the English king Richard I was renowned in his own time for his military prowess, though not for his Englishness (he came from a French line and despised the weather on the British Isles). The monicker was appointed despite a reputation for cruelty and the war against his father he endured before gaining the throne. Once there, he was active in the Third Crusade, fighting Muslim leader Saladin to a truce in a dispute over Jerusalem. His death came during an internal revolt when he received a crossbow wound to the shoulder.

The matter of Richard’s sexual orientation became an issue beginning with a publication contending that an incident during which Richard shared a bed with King Philip II of France indicates his homosexuality. Some historians consider it to have been a diplomatic formality; others point for additional evidence to a warning by a hermit in Richard’s biography that urges him to give up “what is unlawful” and from Sodom, and be with his wife. What is known is that he had no children with her, and so was succeeded by his younger brother John.

 

Historiography Saturday: David Bowie

Standard

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.