The Daily Agenda for Saturday, January 5
January 5th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” Released: 1948. The dry, scientific, statistics-laden Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was published by W.B. Saunders, a respected publisher of medical textbooks and journals who had no idea what they were getting into when they agreed to publish this book. Their experience was with a limited customer base where a run of 5,000 copies was considered a huge success. W.B. Saunders ended up publishing a quarter of a million copies during that first year instead.
The only person who wasn’t surprised by the runaway success of what became known simply as “The Kinsey Report” was Alfred Kinsey himself. He and his colleagues had spent the previous nine years interviewing nearly 12,000 people across the country, asking them questions covering more than five hundred details of their intimate, sexual lives. When the book was finally published, America was emerging from the frugality that marked the Great Depression and World War II, full of economic and cultural vitality and itching to settle down in their Levittown houses and start making thousands of babies. The Kinsey Reports quickly entered popular culture along with Tiki-chic, bachelor pads, and a huge post-war baby boom. Sex was breaking out all over, and “Kinsey” became a popular code-word for anything risque. It also introduced millions of Americans to the notion that gay people — and a lot of other people as well — were have gay sex. Now more than sixty years later, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (and its companion volume, 1953’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female) are still the books that everyone loves — especially those who have never read them. They are also the books that social conservatives love to hate, blaming them for sparking the sexual revolution of the 1960′s. For more information about the book’s impact, you can check out our report, “According To The Kinsey Reports,” which was written on the occasion of the book’s sixtieth anniversary.
“Male Hairdresser” Found Murdered: 1955. Miami’s Miami’s long-running anti-gay witchhunt had been going on for much of 1954 (see Aug 3, Aug 11, Aug 12, Aug 13 (twice that day), Aug 14, Aug 26, Aug 31, Sep 1, Sep 2, Sep 7, Sep 15, Sep 19, Oct 6, Oct 20, Nov 12 and Dec 16), but it almost seemed as though things might be calming down again for South Florida’s gay community as the new year began. Those hopes were shattered when Miami Beach police were called to an apartment when a resident discovered that his roommate, 29-year-old William B. Bishop, had been murdered. The Miami News’ front page report was very nearly as “hysterical” as the phone call that Bishop’s roommate reportedly made to police when he discovered the body. According to The Miami News:
Bishop’s nude body was trussed with handkerchiefs, a silk dressing gown sash and an electric wire cord, and he had been wounded. The exact cause of his death was unknown hours after one of the nearly hysterical roommates notified police at 8:10 a.m. Beach detectives and sheriff’s office homicide investigators found the body on the terrazzo floor of a jalousied porch in the apartment at 235 82nd St. Bishop shared the living quarters with two friends.
The Miami News didn’t identify Bishop as gay, but it may as well have. Not only was he identified as a “male beautician” in the headline, but his two room mates were also identified by name and professions: another hairdresser and a florist. The florist, William H. Tower, 22, told detectives that he went to bed at 6:30 p.m. the night before while the other roommate, Edward B. Hedgepeth, 27, went to bed at about 11 p.m. Neither of them heard anything unusual overnight. When Tower got up the next morning, he found Bishop on the porch.
Detectives apparently regarded the crime scene as quite a spectacle, and they invited reporters onto the porch to get a closer look at the body. The Miami News happily supplied the details:
Bishop’s hands were tied behind him with a man’s handkerchief and the dressing gown sash, which were twisted together. The wrists and ankles were bound together with the electric extension cord, and a dish towel and another handkerchief were knotted around the face as a gag. … John Berdeaux, sheriff’s homicide investigator, said: “It looks to me like a sadistic murder.”
The police also appeared to have allowed reporters to go through the apartment as well:
A desk in the apartment was littered with reading matter about homosexuals, including the book, “Strange Loves,” by Dr. LaForest Potter. The book was described on the jacket as a study in sexual abnormality.”
Reporters also drew parallels to another unrelated murder which had occurred the summer before of a “Coral Gables schoolboy (who) was found dead in a tree near his home… The youth had been bound with rope to a pole held between forks in a tree.” After noting that that crime was still unsolved (in fact, investigators weren’t even sure whether that death was a murder or suicide), the reporters apparently ran out of anti-gay stereotypes to exploit, and so the article came to an end.
Kay Lahusen: 1930. Her life partner, pioneering lesbian rights advocate Barbara Gittings, was probably more famous, but Kay Lahusen was an equal partner in the couple’s active participation in the early gay rights movement. She had been raised in Cincinnati by her Christian Science grandparents, and she encountered her first crisis over her sexuality while still in high school when she fell in love with another girl and developed what she thought was “the world’s greatest friendship.” But that friendship also stirred feelings of love, desire, and sex, “just like straight people feel. I have to tell you, I had a breakdown over this revelation.” She went to bed and stayed there for two weeks. When her grandparents called a Christian Science practitioner to the house to pray over her, Lahusen decided that she had no choice but to figure out how to pull herself up and deal with the situation head-on. “I just decided that I was right and the world was wong, and that there couldn’t be anything wrong with this kind of love.”
After a difficult breakup with that same girlfriend in college, she moved to Boston to work in the Christian Science Monitor’s reference library, where she observed that “they filed homosexuality under ‘vice’.” In 1961, she read Voyage from Lesbos: the Psychoanalysis of a Female Homosexual by New York psychiatrist Richard Robertiello, she contacted the author and asked where she could learn more about other lesbians. He told her about the Daughters of Bilitis and gave her a copy of the group’s magazine The Ladder. “So I wrote to DOB in New York and who got my letter but Barbara.” Gittings, who had organized the first DOB chapter in the East Cost when she established the New York chapter, invited Lahusen to a DOB meeting. Barbara herself was out of town, but Kay met four others at that small get-together. A short time later, Kay met Barbara at a DOB picnic in Rhode Island. “When I met Barbara at the picnic, I thought she was a very interesting person. I was quite take with her.” That meeting marked the start of a powerful lifelong personal and political partnership
Together, they established a much more politically active wing of the Daughters of Bilitis, and their strong push for visibility came to epitomize the East Coast approach to gay advocacy. When Barbara began editing The Ladder in 1962, she pushed the magazine into a much bolder direction. She quickly replaced the magazine’s hand-drawn covers with photos of real lesbians, photos which were often supplied by Kay — credited as “Kay Tobin” because, she said, “Lahusen is too hard to pronounce.” By then, Lahusen was becoming “the first gay photojournalist” by photographing an increasing number of gay rights pickets on the East Coast.
It was those pickets, including at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall (see Jul 4), the White House and Pentagon (see Jul 31), which became a source of growing tension between the East and West Coast branches of the DOB. Lahusen and Gittings, along with other East Coast gay rights activists like Frank Kameny (see May 21) and Randolphe Wicker, believed that a more direct and confrontational approach was needed if anything was truly going to change, and they were increasingly frustrated by the cautious and accommodating approach advocated by West Coast leaders. When the national DOB became paralyzed over how to respond to a police raid on a lesbian bar in Philadelphia, Lahusen and Gittings decided it was time to move on.
After leaving DOB in 1966, they began working with other men and women on the East Coast through a host of other organizations, including the Homophile Action League, the East Coast Homophile Organization (ECHO), the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO) and, after Stonewall, the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA). They also played key roles in the drive to get the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Kay’s activism continued into the 1980s when, after becoming a realtor, she organized a group of agents to march in New York’s Gay Pride Parade. Kay and Barbara remained together for 46 years, until Barbara’s death from breast cancer in 2007. Key currently lives in an assistance living facility in Pennsylvania.
[Source: Eric Marcus. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights : 1945-1990 : An Oral History (New York: HarperCollins, 1992).]
Alvin Ailey, Jr.: 1931. It can be said that Alvin Ailey single handedly elevated African-American dance from popular steps to modern art. It’s hard to imagine African-American modern dance without his Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, even though he was always proud of the fact that his dance company was integrated. Ailey combined modern dance with classical styles, bringing together a long, unbroken leg line (“a ballet bottom”) and a dramatically expressive upper torso (“a modern top”). “What I like is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers, especially for the inner kinds of things,” he once explained. His signature work, Revelations, drew on his memories of his early childhood in Texas, combining elements of blues, spirituals, and gospel music with a thoroughly modern choreography. His 1970 American Ballet Theatre commission, The River, had the ABT’s ballet company employing classical dance styles with the music of Duke Ellington.
Ailey relative openness about his sexuality was the source of continued tensions between him and his mother. When he was dying of AIDS in 1989, he asked his doctor to announce that he had died of a blood disorder to spare his mother the social stigma of dying from AIDS. Considering the many barriers that Ailey smashed to smithereens during the course of his career in dance, his final act stands as a sad anomaly. And yet his work endures. His dance troupe carries on his legacy through performances, commissions and in providing higher education to dance students through The Ailey School.
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