The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, July 25

Jim Burroway

July 25th, 2012

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Bourneymouth, UK; Braunschweig, GermanyDetroit, MI (Black Pride); Ft. Wayne, INHalifax, NS; Harrisburg, PA; Norwich, UKNottingham, UK; Plymouth, UK; Pittsburgh, PA (Black Pride)Raleigh-Durham, NC (Black Pride); Reno, NV; and Stuttgard, Germany.

Other Events This Weekend: RodeoFest, Belleville, MI; POUTfest Film Festival, Cork, Ireland; and Up Your Alley, San Francisco, CA.

Dr. Barry’s Death Reveals a Lifelong Secret: 1865. Before Britain’s Inspector General of Military Hospitals, Dr. James Barry, died, he left strict instructions that no one was to change him out of the clothes in which he died. But the charwoman sent to prepare his corpse had no room for such nonsense. And so when she pulled his nightshirt up to wash his boody, she screamed, “The devil! It’s a woman!”

Dr Barry, while alive, was known as a fierce and demanding doctor, and in the process became one of the most highly respected and feared surgeons in Victorian England, feared for his combative temper and fierce determination. He famously got in a bitter argument with Florence Nightingale, who called him a “brute” and “the most hardened creature I ever met throughout the Army.” As Inspector General, he fought for better food, hygiene, sanitation and proper medical care for soldiers and for prisoners. His reforms undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. He became the top-ranking doctor in the British Army, where despite his argumentative personality, was also reputed to have an very good bedside manner. Many who knew him also remarked on his high, soft voice and his diminutive stature — he stood barely five feet tall on special stacked-soled shoes. His black manservant, who joined Barry’s employment in South Africa and would remain with him for the next fifty years, was entrusted with the task of laying out six small towels every morning that Barry used to conceal his curves and broaden his shoulders.

Despite the charwoman’s discovery upon his death, his secret remained tightly held and he was buried under the only name he had gone by since his early twenties. It wouldn’t be until the 1950s when his British Army records were unsealed that it was revealed that Barry had been born in Ireland as Margaret Buckley to a forward thinking family who were staunch supporters of women’s rights. Margaret became James Barry shortly after beginning training to become a doctor. But since women were not admitted to universities at the time, the only way Barry could continue his education and career was to do so as a man. And in every respect, he remained a man in what was very much a man’s world until the day he died.

Barry’s life and career is the subject of Rachel Holmes’s 2007 book, The Secret Life of Dr James Barry: Victorian England’s Most Eminent Surgeon.

Rock Hudson’s AIDS Diagnosis Confirmed: 1985. The rumors had been swirling for some time, coming to a head when Rock Hudson was admitted into Paris’s Pasteur Institute for what was clearly a very serious illness. He had appeared a few days earlier on Doris Day’s television talk show appearing gaunt, and his speech was nearly incoherent. His admission to Pasteur only increased speculation that Hudson was suffering from AIDS, since the world-famous Institute was a leading research and treatment center for the disease. But the official line remained that Hudson was battling liver cancer until this date in 1985, when his publicist revealed that Hudson had been diagnosed with AIDS the year before. Of Hudson’s stay at the Paris hospital, the spokesperson said, “He’s lucid. He’s talking, He’s joking… He’s feeling much better and in quite good spirits.” But his publicist remained circumspect about Hudson’s sexuality, saying only, “He doesn’t have any idea now how he contracted AIDS. … Nobody around him has AIDS.”

That would change a few weeks later when, apparently with Hudson’s blessing, close friends Angie Dickinson, Robert Stack and Mamie Van Doren acknowledged Hudson’s sexuality in a supportive article in People magazine. Messages of support flowed in from Morgan Fairchild, Joan Rivers, and, of course Elizabeth Taylor. Hudson’s death less than three months later provoked another wave of sympathy and galvanized much of Hollywood, with Elizabeth Taylor’s prodding, to undertake the task of reducing the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

J. Warren Kerrigan: 1879. While little-known today, Kerrigan had been a very popular silent film star, appearing in films for Essanay, Biograph, and later Universal. He typically played a leading role, as a modern, well-dressed man-about town. He nearly killed his career over a glib remark about his refusal to enlist in World War I. He managed to salvage his reputation in 1923 with the lead role in The Covered Wagon. That success opened the doors to five more hit films in the next year, and with that his financial security was assured. He retired from filmmaking and lived with his devoted partner of forty years until Kerrigan died in 1947 at the age of 67.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?


July 26th, 2012


To: Jim Burroway
From: 1969
Re: Archaic Stereotypes

Jim, in regard to your post about Dr. Barry, please take note that lesbians are not women who want to be men or who want to deceive the world into thinking that they are men. Also, please note that it isn’t cool for you to gratuitously insult your lesbian readers.

Please take steps so that BTB does not read like an issue of Confidential circa 1955.

Timothy Kincaid

July 26th, 2012


To: Sarah
From: PC Police Headquarters
Re: Leaps of judgment

Sarah, here are the PC Police, we are super-hyper-vigilent to make sure no one ever says or does anything that could possibly offend anyone, anywhere, or any time. But even we are not so thin skinned as to read imaginary insults when there is not even one teensy-tiny reason to find insult.

There is absolutely no hint at all in Jim’s commentary that Dr. Barry was a lesbian. He makes no assumptions about Dr. Barry at all.

We don’t know if Dr. Barry was lesbian, transgender, or simply a heterosexual woman doing what she had to do in order to do work she loved.

Michael C

July 26th, 2012

Sarah, while there is nothing in the story of Dr. James Barry (as presented by Jim Burroway) that is explicitly gay, I found it interesting. Yes, BTB usually focuses on gay topics, but I found this story to be a related tendril of our fight for equality. Are you offended that a website that focuses on LGBT issues would publish an article related to gender?


July 27th, 2012

“We don’t know if Dr. Barry was lesbian, transgender, or simply a heterosexual woman doing what she had to do in order to do work she loved.”

Then why are you blogging about it? Does Jim blog about women who dress up and present themselves as men a propos of nothing? Or is BTB now a blog about heterosexual women and their career choices?

I don’t think Sara is being thin skinned in objecting to this, although maybe that is the best way to marginalize her. Lesbians have been tagged as women who want to be men for the better part of a century. It is surprising and disappointing to see this same smear show up in a blog that is dedicated to “analysis and fact checking of anti-gay rhetoric.”

If you want to analyze anti-gay rhetoric, the first step is not to perpetuate it. The second step is not to belittle and blow off the input from your lesbian readers, assuming you want lesbians as readers.

Timothy Kincaid

July 27th, 2012


Yes. We now write only about heterosexual women and their career choices.

And, on rare occasions, perhaps some tiny tidbit may include some LGBT related stories, including gender non-conformity in notable historical figures. And sometimes even about other items that the authors find intersting like New Mexico red chili or the Amish country.

But mostly we try to stick to heterosexual women and their career choices, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.


Timothy Kincaid

July 27th, 2012

In seriousness, Beth, don’t you find the story of Dr. Barry interesting on some level? As a lesbian, aren’t you interested in knowing about this woman who lived outside of gender expectations – whether she was a woman who wanted to be a man or not.

I do understand the concern and I’m not just being dismissive. I know that in history what little we have about GBT men tends to be either those who received civil punishment or those who were discovered to actually be male though they lived as female. Out proud gay men didn’t exist much and those who lived quiet lives weren’t recorded for posterity.

But still it is important to know. And learn. More important, I believe, than hiding the parts of history that reflect me in a way that I don’t like.

Michael C

July 27th, 2012

Hello Beth, Gay men are also often tagged as men who want to be women. I would be offended if I read an article here that somehow perpetuated the idea that all gay men are gender confused. I would be equally offended if I read an article here that implied the same about gay women.

Do I think that the story about Dr. Barry is completely relevant to homosexual issues? No. In Mr. Kincaid’s snarky response to Sarah’s snarky comment, he expressed the same. Should BTB only publish articles about subject matter directly related to homosexuality? I don’t know, maybe? I think your concern about the public view of homosexuality and how it relates to gender only illustrates why stories about gender are relevant here.

Lastly, I would love more perspective from lesbian contributers! You can lend your knowledge and life experiences in many ways. You can recommend ideas for the Daily Agenda or contribute your story to the Local History Project.

Jim Burroway

July 27th, 2012

I wrote about Dr. Barry because his story (and I am intentionally using the masculine pronoun because that is how he consistently presented himself in his adult life) is illustrative of many issues that we often confront when we speak of sexual orientation and gender identity.

1) Women, whether lesbian or straight, had very few life choices available to them until relatively recently, and those choices were limited strictly on the basis of gender and nothing else. This story illustrates how one person may have bended gender in order to achieve what turned out to be a very remarkable career. In the most straightforward reading of Dr. Barry’s story, it is about how everyone, gay or straight, was straightjacketed by gender role expectations, expectations that everyone today, gay and straight, still must confront.

2) Until the 20th century, history is full of examples where some lesbians masqueraded as men (and gay men as women) in order to enter romantic relationships in ethnic neighborhoods, small towns and rural areas without incurring violent reactions from their neighbors. Often, these gender identities are transitory, lasting more or less only as long as they remained in those relationships in those communities. That pattern doesn’t apply with Dr. Barry’s case. But again, in the 19th century where gender roles were much more strongly the basis of identity than they are today, a few men and women chose to adopt the gender role that they felt more closely lined up with their sexual orientation.

Today, we no longer see gender role as playing any significant part in sexual orientation, although with people identifying as tops or bottoms, butches or femms, we still haven’t escaped those limiting categories completely. But I think we can agree that we are all much better off now that gender roles no longer need to march in lock-stop with sexual orientation and gender identity. And that goes for straight people as well.

3) It may be that Dr. Barry may have thought of himself as fully male in his sexual identity. The modern identity of transgender (specifically, transman) had no comparable terminology in the ninetheenth century, and so he would not have been able to articulate his identity in those terms. But if one were to retroactively assign an identity to him (without the benefit of asking him, of course, since he’s dead), a strong argument could be made that he was actually what we would call today a transman.

But in the end, we really don’t know. Dr. Barry is Dr. Barry, breaking many of the same boundaries of gender expectations that all of us — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight — do all the time. For us, it is much easier to do so. For Dr. Barry, it was much more difficult. I wonder what Dr. Barry gave up in order to have the remarkable career that he ultimately had. I also wonder if he actually did have to give up anything. Maybe he lived far more authentically than many of us are willing to acknowledge. These are interesting questions that his example brings up. The fact that his story has provoked such a strong reaction, in my mind, suggests that many of these challenges that he faced may still be with us today.


July 29th, 2012

It seems to me that Jim Burroway and Tim Kincaid need to get their stories straight, if you’ll pardon the expression. Either the Dr. Barry story was included because it is simply “interesting on some level” as Kincaid says, or it was included because, as Jim Burroway asserts (falsely and without evidence) “history is full of examples where some lesbians masqueraded as men.”

Jim, while there may be some women who “masquerade as men” that doesn’t mean they were lesbians, nor would it mean that such conduct says anything about lesbians or lesbianism. It is also true that history is “full of examples where some” gay men became florists, writers and murderers, but I doubt that BTB will adopt a practice of posting about florists, writers and murderers of any sexual orientation.

A lesbian is not the same thing as a “transman” and maybe that is where you have gone wrong in thinking that promoting stereotypes about lesbians is actually some kind of cutting edge commentary about how – in your words – “we speak of gender identity and sexual orientation.” “We” don’t speak of those 2 concepts as if they are bound together. You might, but “we” don’t.

So anyway, either this is a story about a lesbian, and thus also about the preference of BTB’s male writers to promote anti-lesbian stereotypes or it is an interesting human interest story. If the latter, I have no problem. I also enjoy Towleroad’s occasional posts on astronomy and music videos and I would enjoy this story in the same way. But if you mean to post things like this to equate lesbians with “transmen,” then I and your (few) other lesbian readers have a problem. It is up to you to decide whether to take that concern seriously or to laugh it off.

Jim Burroway

July 29th, 2012


Timothy found the story interesting, but I wrote it. There is no need for us to be on the same page as to why it’s included here — especially when you consider how often we disagree (sometimes vehemently) on other topics. So the whole “get your story straight” line is, well, petulant at the least.

But back to your objections. First of all, because I have no idea whether Dr. Barry is a lesbian, — I found nothing to indicate that he had any kind of a relationship with a woman — I did not write this piece to imply that he was. Why do you insist in labeling Dr. Barry as a lesbian?

Secondly, because I have no idea whether Dr. Barry saw himself as a man, I have no idea whether he would be someone we would today consider to be a transman. My suspicion is that he might well have chosen to identify as a transman if such a terminology was open to him. Out of respect for how he DID live and his accomplishments while living as a man, I do use masculine pronouns in referring to Dr. Barry just as I would anyone else who presents as a man. But whether Dr. Barry saw himself as a man internally, I have no idea.

And thirdly, you need not lecture me about the difference between transmen and lesbians. Would you please point out where you think that I said they were “equated” or even related? (And while you’re at it, you may wish to explain why you feel the need to put transmen in scarequotes.)

Fourthly, I would suggest that trying to insist that this story MUST either be about a lesbian or a transman would not necessarily be true to Dr. Barry. But if one, the other or both are true, does that mean that we should consign Dr. Barry to the ash heap of history because this story somehow makes us uncomfortable? Do we ignore it because it gets messy when we try to attach 20th century labels to a 19th century person? Does writing about Radclyffe Halll and including her photo as I did just two days later promote “anti-lesbian stereotypes”? Should I avoid writing about drag queens because they might promote “anti-gay stereotypes”? Should I ignore Thomas/Thomasine Hall because that story may “promote anti-gay stereotypes”? Should I ignore other examples in which real-life lesbians actually did pose as men in the 19th century so they could be in a same-sex relationship, perhaps because they felt it was the only avenue available to them? And while we’re on the subject of things uncomfortable, should I try to pretend that Harry Hay never existed because he later protested on behalf of NAMBLA? Of course not, although I’m sure many would prefer that I did. But no. In fact, we do post these stories, and many more. And they will undoubtedly include ” florists, writers and murderers” as well.

Of course you and I don’t speak of gender identity and sexual orientation as though they were bound together. And we don’t because in the 20th and 21st century, we have come to understand sexual identity and gender identity as two distinct things. But in the 19th century, many people did not understand it that way. Instead, they were tied together — artificially we would say from our 21st century vantage point — according to ascribed gender roles. That is precisely why I included this story, and why I have included other stories of men and women similar to Dr. Barry’s.

I fully stand by this post about Dr. Barry, just as I have written about other historic figures who have bent gender roles in order to find their ways through life. Just as we continue to bend gender roles today. By the mere fact that I love another man, I am violating a gender role. This is integral to our quest for equality. And we do ourselves no service whatsoever by ignoring those people in history who have fought to make their way in life under whatever terms that were available to them in their time. History isn’t for the comfortable. If we see something in history that is uncomfortable, then maybe that points to something that we still have to fight for today.

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