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The Daily Agenda for Saturday, September 28

Jim Burroway

September 28th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Belgrade, Serbia (cancelled!); Columbia, SC; Cottonwood/Sedona, AZ; Johannesburg, South Africa; Moab, UT; Richmond, VA; Willemstad, Curaçao.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, MI; Chicago, IL; Indianapolis, IN; Jackson, MI; Jacksonville, FL; Lansing/East Lansing, MI; Mt. Pleasant, MI; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; Wilmington/Rehoboth, DE.

Other Events This Weekend: Queer Lisboa 17 Film Festival, Lisbon, Portugal; Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco, CA.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
A Same-Sex Marriage in Nevada: 1877. The LGBT acronym that we often toss about reflects the fact that we today understand ourselves as though we were measured along two distinct axis. The first axis (the L/G/B one) speaks of the gender of those to whom we are attracted; this defines us as gay, straight, or somewhere in between. The second axis (often lamented as the silent “T” by transgender advocates), describes how we see ourselves: we are male or female, and for most of us (cisgenders) our self-understanding of our gender matches our bodily appearance; for a few (transgenders), it doesn’t. Taken together, these two sets of descriptions — of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity as separate categories — have been adequate for most of us to describe who we are as sexual beings.

But notice what those descriptions do: they also describe states of being rather than things we’re doing. And this is a very modern way of thinking. Until very recently, one was much more defined — and one’s available life choices were much more restricted — according to one’s gender role, which defined who one is according to what one does and vice versa. And until fairly recently, it was madness to consider that the two could be seperable. And so gender roles went like this: the male gender role meant that men wore men’s clothing and cut their hair, they left the home every day to make a living, and they loved and/or married women. The female gender role meant that women kept the house, did the cooking, raised the children, wore dresses and petticoats, and they loved and/or married men.

Because there was no option to separate out one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or career aspirations from one’s gender role, it gets very complicated when we try to assign historical figures into today’s modern categories. There are countless stories of women who, in order to pursue career paths that would be closed to them (and this would include just about everything besides teaching, nursing and domestic work), take on the male gender role simply because they couldn’t do what they wanted to do as women (see July 25 for one possible example). We have far fewer examples of men taking the female gender role for similar reasons, but that is probably because there were far fewer career restrictions for men. But we also find examples of both men and women adopting the opposite gender role when entering what would otherwise be a same-sex relationship. Not everyone did this, but when they did, their examples are much trickier to understand: are we seeing a straight relationship with a transgender person, or are we seeing a gay or lesbian relationship where one adopts an opposite gender role in order to facilitate the relationship?

Today’s story illustrates that very question. On September 28, 1877, Sarah Maud Pollard, as Samuel M. Pollard, married Marancy Hughes in Tuscarora, Elko County, Nevada Territory. My friend Homer Thiel, a Tucson archaeologist and historian, wrote about that marriage in a guest post a few years ago:

Sarah Pollard was born in 1846 in New York, the daughter of a middle class merchant family. After working in a shoe factory in Massachusetts and sewing shirts in New York, she headed west to Colorado in the 1870s. She caused a stir because of her masculine appearance. Around 1876 she moved to Nevada and took up wearing male clothing in order to find work and she started calling herself “Sam.” She met young Marancy Hughes, born in 1861 in Missouri, and actively courted her. Hughes’ family hated Pollard and the couple eloped on September 28, 1877.

New Orleans Times-Picayune article about the Pollard marriage, June 23, 1878. (Click to enlarge.)

They were happily married for six months, and then Marancy broke the secret. The small silver-mining town of Tuscarora, Nevada was transfixed by the story. The matter ended up in court and after Marancy testified, a dramatic re-union took place. Stories about the troubled marriage were carried in newspapers across the country (even appearing in a New Zealand paper). The couple broke up two more times, before Marancy moved on to a marriage with a man in 1880.

Pollard’s story appears to have had a happy ending:

Sarah moved to Minnesota to start a new life by 1883, working by herself on a farm. The story of her successful farming career again made national newspapers, which noted she wore a bloomers-type outfit while plowing. By the 1890s she had met a woman named Helen Stoddard, a schoolteacher who was born in 1864 in Vermont. In later census records Helen was listed as her partner or companion. Sarah died in 1929, and Helen paid for her arrangements at a local funeral home, the owners puzzling over the relationship of the two women.

If all we knew about Pollard was restricted to the events in Nevada, we would be left with an open question: Was she lesbian or was he transgender? But as the second half of the story reveals, the question itself was mistaken. What she did in Nevada was adopt a male gender role which allowed her to do male things: make a living and marry a woman. But a decade later, the evidence strongly suggests that she decided to forget about gender roles and just live — she farmed (a man’s job), wore bloomers while plowing (a woman’s garment; pants would have been much more practical), presented herself with a female name, and became a partner to a female schoolteacher — with Helen apparently maintaining a more traditionally female gender role but with Sarah’s gender role being flexible. No wonder the funeral home’s owners were puzzled by the relationship.

55 YEARS AGO: Three Tulane Students “Role A Queer”: 1958. It was in the wee hours of Saturday morning when three bored Tulane University Students decided to go to the French Quarter to “roll a queer,” the popular term in those days for picking out a fag, beating him up, and taking his money. They went to Cafe Lafitte In Exile, where they met Fernando Rios, a twenty-six year old tour guide from Mexico City. John S. Farrell, 20 and the group’s ringleader, met up with Rios in an alley, while the other two students, David Drennan, 19, and Alberto Calvo, 20, hid at the alley’s entrace to prevent an escape. Farrell later claimed that Rios “made an indecent proposal,” although other witnesses said Rios refused Farrell’s advances and tried to hail a cab. Either way, Farrell, hit Rios, took his wallet, and left Rios in the gutter. Rios died without regaining consciousness. Docters testified that both his eyes were blackened, there were severe bruises and fractures on his skull, nose and mouth, and he had received a bruising blow to his liver.

Meanwhile, the three students went to Calvo’s room and proceeded to brag to Calvo’s roommate, George Meyer. The four then burned the contents of Rios’s wallet, except for the $40 dollars they found. (That would be about $325 today.)

The next day, reports of Rios’s death was in the papers and on the radio, and thanks to the trio’s bragging, word of their adventures spread around campus. They decided that they had no choice but to turn themselves into police, but they did so with two caveats: they would claim that Rios propositioned them, and they would claim that they didn’t plan to rob him. The second point was key because Louisiana law defined murder as either the intentional killing of a person, or the unintentional killing of someone while robbing them. So their story went like this: Rios came on to Farrel, Farrell just decked him. No robbery, no murder. As for how they ended up with Rio’s $40, they had a story for that. As an afterthought, Ferrell went back later and got the wallet. So now the robbery took place in a separate incident after Rios was assaulted, not during it. Their lawyer even told the jury that when Farrell found out Rios had died, he was so contrite that he had left the stolen money in a church’s poor box. “The three boys are guilty of nothing worse than bad conduct,” the lawyer said.

The combination of a 1958 version of the gay panic defense, combined with full-blown animosity toward Rio’s perceived sexuality (there was no evidence presented during the trial to suggest that Rios was actually gay) and nationality (the Mexican government, controversially, retained an attorney to witness the proceedings) had its desired effect on the jury. The twelve white men found all three defendants not guilty. When ONE magazine reported the lamentable details to its readers, it asked,

How many more times must the innocent die and the guilty go free before the unsubstantiated claim of an “indecent proposal” ceases to be on alibi for robbery and murder?

[Source: “Dal McIntire” (pseudonym). “Tangents: News and Reviews.” ONE 7, no. 3 (March 1959): 13-15.]

US Civil Service Refuses To Meet With Washington Mattachine Society: 1962. Frank Kameny and Jack Nicholes founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., in 1961, soon after Kameny’s appeal of his 1957 firing by the U.S. Army’s Map Service was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. The federal government’s ban on employment of gays and lesbians was firmly in place, but Kameny didn’t let a small thing like the Supreme Court stop him from demanding the lifting of the ban. In 1962, the MSW requested a meeting with the U.S. Civil Service Commission to discuss the federal employment ban, but in a letter dated September 28, 1962, they were turned down cold:

UNITED STATES· CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION

Washington 25, D.C.

Sep 28 1962

Mr. Bruce Schuyler, Secretary
The Mattachine Society of Washington
P. O. Box 1032
Washington 1, D.C.

Dear Mr. Schuyler:

Your letter of August 28, 1962 and attachments relating to the purposes of the Mattachine Society of Washington have been read with interest. It is the established policy of the civil Service commission that homosexuals are not suitable for appointment to or retention in positions in the Federal service. There would be no useful purpose served in meeting with representatives of your Society.

Sincerely yours,

(signed)
John W. Macy, Jr.
Chairman

Lifting the ban would remain one of MSW’s highest priorities for the next thirteen years. When MSW began picketting for gay rights in 1965, the Civil Service Commission was one of their targets (see Jun 26). But it would take another ten years before the Civil Service Commission would finally end the ban (see Jul 3). In 2009, Frank Kameny received a formal apology from the openly gay director of the Office of Personnel Management, the modern-day successor to the Civil Service Commission.

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?

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