Today in Gay History

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December 18

Born
Queen Christina of Sweden circa 1640-1642
1626 -

On this date the Queen regnant of Sweden from 1632 to  1654 QUEEN CHRISTINA OF SWEDEN was born (d. 1689). The only surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden and his wife Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg the midwives announced the birth of a baby boy. As the heiress presumptive, at the age of six, she succeeded her father to the throne of Sweden upon his death at the Battle of Lützen in the Thirty Years' War. Her father gave orders that Christina should be brought up as a prince. Even as a child she displayed great precociousness. In 1649, when she was twenty-three, she invited the philosopher Descartes to Sweden to tutor her (so early in the morning, according to one popular account, that the lessons hastened Descartes' death from pneumonia in 1650). Christina also took the oath as king, not queen, because her father had wanted it so. Growing up, she was nicknamed the "Girl King."

Christina's reign was controversial, and literature circulated during her lifetime that described her as participating in multiple affairs with both men and women. This, along with the emotional letters that she wrote to female friends, has caused her to become an icon for the Lesbian community (and inspired comedian Jade Esteban Estrada to portray her in the solo musical ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 2).

She was irrefutably, gender-variant, cross-dressing by her early teens. Of Queen Christina, Father Marmerschied, priest to the Spanish Ambassador, remarked, "There is nothing feminine about her except her sex. Her voice, her walk, her style, her ways are all quite masculine."

Christina associated mostly with men, letting go of the ladies-in-waiting routine. But there was one particular romantic relationship she'd had since her teens. The Queen did not hide her affectionate bond, referring to her lover as her "bedfellow." Ebba Sparre, countess, bedfellow. Queen Christina wrote to her, "...and if you remember the power you have over me, you will also remember I have been in possession of your love for twelve years; I belong to you so utterly, that it will never be possible for you to lose me; and only, when I die, shall I cease loving you."

Too queer to be Queen, she abdicated (among some financial hanky-panky as well) and wandered Europe, dressed as a man, frequently under the pseudonym of Count Dohna. After having converted to Catholicism and abdicated her throne, she spent her later years in France and Rome, where she was buried in St. Peter's Basilica.

Her unusual attire caused her to later become an icon of the Transgender community, even though Christina herself was not transgendered. During the 20th century, her grave was opened so that her death mask could be examined, and her bones were examined to see if sex abnormalities could be identified, but none identified. She was famously portrayed by another Swedish Lesbian icon, Greta Garbo in the 1933 MGM drama, where her affection for Ebba is thinly, if at all, veiled. It is tempting to use a still from that film as an illustration, but we'll stick to the true history with our portrait.


Saki aka H.H. Munro
1870 -

On this date the British writer SAKI was born (d. 1916). Born Hector Hugh Monro, his witty and sometimes macabre stories satirized Edwardian society and culture. He is considered a master of the short story and is often compared to O. Henry and Dorothy Parker. His tales feature delicately drawn characters and finely judged narratives. "The Open Window" may be his most famous, with a closing line ("Romance at short notice was her speciality") that has entered the lexicon.

His short stories are extraordinarily compact and cameo-like, wicked and witty, with cruelty and a powerful vein of supernatural fantasy. They deal, in general, with the same group of upper-class Britishers, whose frivolous lives are sometimes complicated by animals – the talking cat who reveals their treacheries in love, the pet ferret that is evil incarnate. A devotee of London's Jermyn Street baths, it is reported, now that it has been revealed that Hector Hugh Monroe was Gay, his stories are being re-read as allegories of the torment of remaining bottled up in hypocritical English society. The stories are even more entertaining with this new knowledge. The nom de plume, "Saki" was borrowed from the cup bearer in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

He never married. A J Langguth, in his biography, produces strong evidence to support the hypothesis that Munro was homosexual. Munro was guarded except in one or two of his stories and most of his readers would probably have been shocked had they known that his pen name refers to a cup bearer or beautiful boy and carries esoteric homoerotic connotations.


Brian Orser
1961 -

The Canadian medal-winning figure skater BRIAN ORSER was born on this date. Orser was born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada and is a retired professional figure skater. He is one of the most accomplished skaters in Canada's history, with eight national titles, two Olympic medals, and a world title to his credit. He is the skating director at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club. Brian Orser was born in Belleville, Ontario.

In 1985 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Officer in 1988. In November 1998, an ex-boyfriend sued Orser for palimony, outing Orser as Gay. We can think of a few other figure skaters who need to follow suit but we'll keep that to ourselves.


Died
The Fabulous Joe Carstairs and Lord Tod Wadley
1993 -

Marion JOE CARSTAIRS died on this date.  There were many fabulous Lesbians in the 20th century, none more fabled than Joe Carstairs. For starters we don't really even know the date of her birth, which was sometime in 1900. That's all the information we have. For all we know she may well have simply sprung fully formed from the wake of a speedboat.  She was born into British aristocracy. That we know. And benefited from the vast capital generated by Standard Oil. Let's just say if Dos Equis was inclined to do "the Most Fascinating Woman Alive" commercials for their brew, she would be right there at the top of the list.

She was rich as Croesus from Standard Oil actually. She usually dressed (in Savile Row bespoke, of course) as a man, had tattooed arms, and loved machines, adventure and speed. And because of her protecting wealth, Carstairs had exactly no fucks to give about pursuing women who interested her. Openly and unapologetically and enthusiastically Lesbian, she had numerous affairs with women, including Dolly Wilde (Oscar's niece) and a fellow ambulance driver from Dublin with whom she had lived in Paris—and a string of actresses whose names you might recognize, notably Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead and Marlena Dietrich.

During World War I, she served in France with the American Red Cross, driving ambulances. After the war, she served with the Royal Army Service Corps in France, re-burying the war-dead, and in Dublin with the Women's Legion Mechanical Transport Section, which acted as transport for British officers during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1920, with three former colleagues from the Women's Legion Mechanical Transport Section, she started the 'X Garage,' a car-hire and chauffeuring service that featured a women-only staff of drivers and mechanics. Carstairs (and her friends and lovers) lived in a flat above the garage,  which was situated near Cromwell Gardens in London's fashionable South Kensington district.

Several of the X-Garage staff had served as drivers during the war and spoke French, German, or Italian. The cars and drivers could be hired for long-distance trips and the business specialized in taking grieving relatives for visits to war-graves and former battlefields in France and Belgium. They were also hired for journeys within London and the garage had an arrangement with the Savoy Hotel to transport guests to the theatre or shows. During the early 1920s, X-Garage cars were a familiar sight in London's fashionable circles.

In 1925, X-Garage closed and Carstairs inherited the fortune via her mother and grandmother from Standard Oil (she was already wealthy from her father's bequests). She also purchased her first motorboat and was also given a Steiff doll by a girlfriend, Ruth Baldwin (1905 – August, 1937), naming it Lord Tod Wadley. She became exceptionally attached to this doll, keeping it with her until her death, although—unlike Donald Campbell's mascot 'Mr. Whoppit'(and you all thought Monty Python was joking!) —she didn't take it into her speedboats for fear of losing it.  She had clothes made for it in Savile Row and had its name placed with her own on the name plaque on the door of her London apartment.

Between 1925 and 1930, Carstairs spent considerable time in powerboats and became a very successful racer, although the Harmsworth Trophy she longed for always eluded her. She did take the Duke of York's trophy and establish herself as the fastest woman on water. Intrigued by the hydrofoil designs of Alexander Graham Bell and Casey Baldwin in Nova Scotia, Carstairs ordered a 30-foot hydrofoil boat from the Bell Boatyard in Baddeck, Nova Scotia which was intended to achieve 115 mph and capture the Harmsworth Cup.

However circumstances caused her to withdraw and the boat was completed with a more economical engine delivering 57 mph. During this time, the North American press erroneously began referring to her as "Betty," a nickname she loathed; she claimed that journalists used it out of spite.

Carstairs was also known for her generosity to her friends. She was close to several male racing drivers and land speed record competitors, using her considerable wealth to assist them. She paid $10,000 of her money to fund the building of one of the Blue Bird land speed record cars for Sir Malcolm Campbell, who once described her as, "the greatest sportsman I know." She was equally generous to John Cobb, whose Railton Special was powered by the pair of engines from her powerboat Estelle V.

Meanwhile, Carstairs invested $40,000 purchasing the island of Whale Cay in the Bahamas where she lavishly hosted such guests as Marlena Dietrich and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. (The island was is for sale now for $20 million). She not only constructed a Great House for herself and her guests, but also a lighthouse, school, church, and cannery. She later expanded these properties by also buying the additional islands of Bird Cay, Cat Cay, Devil's Cay, half of Hoffman's Cay and a tract of land on Andros.

After selling Whale Cay in 1975, Carstairs relocated to Miami, Florida.  Carstairs died in Naples, Florida, in 1993 at the age of 93. Lord Tod Wadley was cremated with her. Their ashes and those of Ruth Baldwin were buried by the sea near the Old Whaler's Church in Sag Harbor, New York, New York.

 


Today's Gay Wisdom
2017 -

The Wisdom of Saki (H.H. Munro)

  • A little inaccuracy sometimes saves a ton of explanation.
  • I always say beauty is only sin deep.
  • Hors d'oeuvres have always a pathetic interest for me; they remind me of one's childhood that one goes through wondering what the next course is going to be like - and during the rest of the menu one wishes one had eaten more of the hors d'oeuvres.
  • Great Socialist statesmen aren't made, they're still-born.
  • He spends his life explaining from his pulpit that the glory of Christianity consists in the fact that though it is not true it has been found necessary to invent it.
  • You needn't tell me that a man who doesn't love oysters and asparagus and good wines has got a soul, or a stomach either. He's simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly developed.
  • It's no use growing older if you only learn new ways of misbehaving yourself.

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