Today in Gay History

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April 20

Born
Pietro Arentino
1492 -

PIETRO ARETINO, Renaissance writer and dramatist, born (d: 1556); an Italian author, playwright, poet and satirist who wielded immense influence on contemporary art and politics and invented modern literate pornography, notably in La Cazzaria ("The Book of the Prick"). This colorful writer and dramatist, described as the first professional writer of his century, was probably the son of a cobbler, although he preferred to claim he was illegitimate and of noble origin. His patrons included Popes (Leo X, Clement VII), Cardinals, kings (Francois I and Emperor Charles V) and other connoisseurs of the porn of the age.

He had a flair for self-dramatization, a fertile dirty mind, and an uncanny knack for profiting from the politics of his age. He first achieved notoriety for a series of pornographic sonnets, each describing a different position of sexual intercourse, and each illustrated by Giulio Romano and in which he declares himself to have been a sodomite from birth.

In a letter to Giovanni de Medici written in 1524 Aretino encloses a satirical poem saying that due to a sudden aberration he has fallen in love with a female cook and “temporarily switched from boys to girls..." Later he was known and admired for his ragionamenti – dialogues, often audaciously filthy, on contemporary Roman life. Public figures so feared his clever and vicious pen that Aretino became rich from promising not to write on certain subjects.  He is said to have died from a stroke while laughing at a dirty joke.


George Takei
1937 -

GEORGE TAKEI, American actor, born; a Japanese-American actor best known for his role in the TV series Star Trek, in which he played the helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the USS Enterprise. Most recently, he played Hiro Nakamura’s father Kaito Nakamura on the NBC television show, Heroes.

Takei is also known for his baritone voice and deep-throated catch phrase, "Oh my!"  In October 2005, Takei revealed in an issue of Frontiers magazine that he is Gay, and has been in a committed relationship with his partner, Brad Altman, for the last eighteen years. He said, "It's not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It's more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen." Nevertheless, Takei's sexuality had long been an open secret among Trek fans since the 1970s, and Takei did not conceal his active membership in Gay organizations including Frontrunners, where Takei met Altman, along with fellow runners Kevin and Don Norte, with whom he became friends.

"We are masculine, we are feminine, we are caring, we are abusive. We are just like straight people, in terms of our outward appearance and our behavior. The only difference is that we are oriented to people of our own gender." This is said to have been taken from a December 2005 telephone interview with Howard Stern, in which Takei described Altman as "a saint" for helping to take care of Takei's terminally ill mother.

Alex Cho, former editor of Frontiers, has stated that the Takei article was initiated by someone in the Takei camp when a close personal friend called the papers to ask them if they would be interested in the story. The friend remains unidentified but according to Cho, Takei offered his story voluntarily and not under any pressure from the media. Kevin Norte and Don Norte, when asked if they were involved in initiating the article, declined to comment.

When asked whether his character Sulu was Gay, Takei's response was that he would like to believe that sexual orientation would not even be an issue in the twenty-third century. Of all the show's principal characters, Sulu was the only male never depicted with a romantic interest; having said that, in the alternate universe depicted in "Mirror Mirror", alternate-Sulu tried many times to seduce Uhura, and "normal" Sulu is revealed to have fathered a daughter, Demora, during the opening sequence of the film Star Trek Generations (Demora's origins were further explored in Peter David's novel Captain's Daughter).


Andrew Tobias
1947 -

ANDREW TOBIAS, An American journalist, author, and columnist. His main body of work is on investment, but he has also written on politics, insurance, and other topics. Tobias wrote the semi-autobiographical novel The Best Little Boy in the World under the pen name "John Reid" back in 1973 (which this writer clumsily adapted for stage in 1979). He used a pen name because he wasn't comfortable then with publicly disclosing his homosexuality to a broad audience. This book was later republished in 1998 under his real name to coincide with the sequel, The Best Little Boy in the World Grows Up.

Since 1999, he has been the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. Tobias is the partner of fashion designer Charles Nolan. Tobias was Grand Marshall of the 2005 New York City Gay Pride Parade.


Toller Cranston in flight
1949 -

TOLLER CRANSTON, Canadian figure skater and artist was born on this date (d: 2015); Cranston is credited by many with bringing a new level of artistry to men's figure skating. He was called "the Nureyev of ice skating." He was the Canadian National Figure Skating champion from 1971 to 1976. Although he never won a world level competition, he scored the highest marks in the free skate at four world championships. He won bronze medals at the 1974 World Figure Skating Championship and the 1976 Winter Olympics. He was the 1988 World Professional Champion.

He lived in San Miquel de Allende, Mexico, where his main artistic outlet was his painting, which often incorporated themes related to skating. He co-wrote the autobiographical Zero Tollerance (1997) with Martha Lowder Kimball. In his second autobiography, Cranston details a sexual tryst between himself and Ondrej Nepela, a Slovak figure skater who competed for Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s an early 1970s. He died in Mexico City in January 2015 of a heart attack.


Luther Vandross
1951 -

LUTHER VANDROSS, American singer, born (d. 2005); During Vandross's entire career, he was dogged by questions regarding his sexuality. A “lifelong bachelor,” his name was never romantically linked in the media with women. Although Vandross never came out of the closet, he also never explicitly denied being a homosexual, (but giiiiiirl!...), and generally attempted to steer questioners away from the issue altogether by saying that his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult. Whatever. The interviews were conducted by the Magazine "Out" at http://www.out.com/detail.asp?t=voices&id=17089


Matus Valent
1981 -

MATUS VALENT, male fitness model, born; A European male fitness model born in, Bratislava Slovak Republic now living in California. As a youth, he played indoor volleyball and became the Junior Slovakian champion with his team ASK Inter. He was also on the Slovakian National team at age nineteen. He is 6'3" tall and weighs 200 pounds.

During his college years, he turned to beach volleyball, and in 2004 he became the California A-Category champion. http://www.matusvalent.com/  


Died
A youthful Bram Stoker
1912 -

Author BRAM STOKER, and "father of Dracula" died on this date. But early in his life, as a mere slip of youth in his twenties, and months away from his first published short story and his masterwork, Dracula, Stoker composed a stunning letter of admiration and adoration to his great literary idol. the one, the only, Walt Whitman.

He had fallen under Whitman’s spell when Leaves of Grass made its belated debut in England in 1868, with Whitman’s stunning preface to the 1855 edition. Stoker would later recount that ever since that initial enchantment, he had been wishing to pour out his heart in such a way “but was, somehow, ashamed or diffident — the qualities are much alike.” In February of 1872, the time for this effusion of enchantment seemed to have come. 

But it was a fleeting moment of courage — Stoker couldn’t bring himself to mail his extraordinary letter. For four years, it haunted his desk, part muse and part goblin. Then, on Valentine’s Day 1876, Stoker finally wrote to Whitman, enclosing with his new letter the unsent outpouring. Both epistles were published for the first time in David J. Skal’s Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula 

Stoker writes: 

My dear Mr. Whitman.

I hope you will not consider this letter from an utter stranger a liberty. Indeed, I hardly feel a stranger to you, nor is this the first letter that I have written to you. My friend Edward Dowden has told me often that you like new acquaintances or I should rather say friends. And as an old friend I send you an enclosure which may interest you. Four years ago I wrote the enclosed draft of a letter which I intended to copy out and send to you — it has lain in my desk since then — when I heard that you were addressed as Mr. Whitman. It speaks for itself and needs no comment. It is as truly what I wanted to say as that light is light. 

There is more, but here is the enclosed, well, mash note:

If you are the man I take you to be you will like to get this letter. If you are not I don’t care whether you like it or not and only ask that you put it into the fire without reading any farther. But I believe you will like it. I don’t think there is a man living, even you who are above the prejudices of the class of small-minded men, who wouldn’t like to get a letter from a younger man, a stranger, across the world — a man living in an atmosphere prejudiced to the truths you sing and your manner of singing them. The idea that arises in my mind is whether there is a man living who would have the pluck to burn a letter in which he felt the smallest atom of interest without reading it. I believe you would and that you believe you would yourself. You can burn this now and test yourself, and all I will ask for my trouble of writing this letter, which for all I can tell you may light your pipe with or apply to some more ignoble purpose — is that you will in some manner let me know that my words have tested your impatience. Put it in the fire if you like — but if you do you will miss the pleasure of the next sentence which ought to be that you have conquered an unworthy impulse. A man who is certain of his own strength might try to encourage himself a piece of bravo, but a man who can write, as you have written, the most candid words that ever fell from the lips of a mortal man — a man to whose candor Rousseau’s Confessions is reticence — can have no fear for his own strength. If you have gone this far you may read the letter and I feel in writing now that I am talking to you. If I were before your face I would like to shake hands with you, for I feel that I would like you. I would like to call YOU Comrade and to talk to you as men who are not poets do not often talk. I think that at first a man would be ashamed, for a man cannot in a moment break the habit of comparative reticence that has become second nature to him; but I know I would not long be ashamed to be natural before you. You are a true man, and I would like to be one myself, and so I would be towards you as a brother and as a pupil to his master. In this age no man becomes worthy of the name without an effort. You have shaken off the shackles and your wings are free. I have the shackles on my shoulders still — but I have no wings. If you are going to read this letter any further I should tell you that I am not prepared to “give up all else” so far as words go. The only thing I am prepared to give up is prejudice, and before I knew you I had begun to throw overboard my cargo, but it is not all gone yet. I do not know how you will take this letter. I have not addressed you in any form as I hear that you dislike to a certain degree the conventional forms in letters. I am writing to you because you are different from other men. If you were the same as the mass I would not write at all. As it is I must either call you Walt Whitman or not call you at all — and I have chosen the latter course. I do not know whether it is unusual for you to get letters from utter strangers who have not even the claim of literary brotherhood to write you. If it is you must be frightfully tormented with letters and I am sorry to have written this. I have, however, the claim of liking you — for your words are your own soul and even if you do not read my letter it is no less a pleasure to me to write it. Shelley wrote to William Godwin and they became friends. I am not Shelley and you are not Godwin and so I will only hope that sometime I may meet you face to face and perhaps shake hands with you. If I ever do it will be one of the greatest pleasures of my life … The way I came to you was this. A notice of your poems appeared some two years ago or more in Temple Bar magazine. I glanced at it and took its dictum as final, and laughed at you among friends. I say it to my own shame but not to regret for it has taught me a lesson to last my life out — without ever having seen your poems. More than a year after I heard two men in College talking of you. One of them had your book (Rossetti’s edition) and was reading aloud some passages at which both laughed. They chose only those passages which are most foreign to British ears and made fun of them. Something struck me that I had judged you hastily. I took home the volume and read far into the night. Since then I have to thank you for many happy hours, for I have read your poems with my door locked late at night and I have read them on the seashore where I could look all round me and see no more sign of human life than the ships out at sea: and here I often found myself waking up from a reverie with the book open before me. I love all poetry, and high generous thoughts make the tears rush to my eyes, but sometimes a word or a phrase of yours takes me away from the world around me and places me in an ideal land surrounded by realities more than any poem I ever read. Last year I was sitting on the beach on a summer’s day reading your preface to the Leaves of Grass as printed in Rossetti’s edition (for Rossetti is all I have got till I get the complete set of your works which I have ordered from America). One thought struck me and I pondered over it for several hours — “the weather-beaten vessels entering new ports,” you who wrote the words know them better than I do: and to you who sing of your land of progress the words have a meaning that I can only imagine. But be assured of this Walt Whitman — that a man of less than half your own age, reared a conservative in a conservative country, and who has always heard your name cried down by the great mass of people who mention it, here felt his heart leap towards you across the Atlantic and his soul swelling at the words or rather the thoughts. It is vain for me to quote an instances of what thoughts of yours I like best — for I like them all and you must feel you are reading the true words of one who feels with you. You see, I have called you by your name. I have been more candid with you — have said more about myself to you than I have said to anyone before. You will not be angry with me if you have read so far. You will not laugh at me for writing this to you. It was no small effort that I began to write and I feel reluctant to stop, but I must not tire you any more. If you would ever care to have more you can imagine, for you have a great heart, how much pleasure it would be to me to write more to you. How sweet a thing it is for a strong healthy man with a woman’s eye and a child’s wishes to feel that he can speak to a man who can be if he wishes father, and brother and wife to his soul. I don’t think you will laugh, Walt Whitman, nor despise me, but at all events I thank you for all the love and sympathy you have given me in common with my kind.

Bram Stoker

It is hard not to wonder what Stoker meant by “my kind.” Surely, those besotted with the poetic and governed by the profoundest truths of nature and the human heart. But, possibly, also those cast out and made invisible by their time and their society for possessing a heart too defiant of convention. Stoker was then working in theater, still single — an old bachelor by the era’s standards. When he did marry in his thirtieth year, he entered into a celibate union with a beauty previously courted by Oscar Wilde, with whom he strongly identified. The rich homoerotic overtones of Leaves of Grass could not have escaped Stoker, whose Dracula reverberates with echoes of such themes. Perhaps the gift of Whitman’s poems for him, beyond the enchantment of beauty and poetic truth, was the supreme gift a work of art can confer upon its beholder — the gift of being seen.

Whitman responded promptly.

Whitman responded quickly to the letter


Noteworthy
2017 -

420, 4:20, or 4/20 (pronounced "four-twenty") is a code-term that refers to the consumption of cannabis, especially smoking cannabis around the time 4:20 p.m./a.m. (or 16:20 in some European nations) and smoking and celebrating cannabis on the date April 20 (which is 4/20 in U.S. form).

The origin of the term 420, celebrated around the world by pot smokers every April 20th, has long been obscured by the clouded memories of the folks who made it a phenomenon. Depending on who you ask, or their state of inebriation, there are as many varieties of answers as strains of medical bud in California. It’s the number of active chemicals in marijuana. It’s teatime in Holland. It has something to do with Hitler’s birthday. It’s those numbers in that Bob Dylan song multiplied.

In reality it was more of a New Age Where’s Waldo?”

A group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos - by virtue of their chosen hang-out spot, a wall outside the school – are credited with coining the term in 1971. The Waldos were all athletes and agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20, after practice, to begin the hunt.

The Waldos also have proof that they used the term in the early ‘70s in the form of an old 420 flag and numerous letters with 420 references and early ‘70s post marks. They also have a story.

It goes like this: One day in the Fall of 1971 - harvest time - the Waldos got word of a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. A treasure map in hand, the Waldos decided to pluck some of this free bud.

The Waldos were all athletes and agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20, after practice, to begin the hunt.

There was Waldo Steve, Waldo Dave and Dave’s older brother, Patrick: “We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis and we eventually dropped the Louis,” Waldo Steve


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