The Daily Agenda for Saturday, October 5
October 5th, 2013
Other Events This Weekend: Gay Days Disneyland, Anaheim, CA; Out on Film, Atlanta, GA; MIX Copenhagen Film Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark; AIDS Walk, Dallas, TX; Key West Bear Fest, Key West, FL; AIDS Walk, New Hope, PA; Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Tampa, FL.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
500 YEARS AGO: Vasco Núñez de Balboa Feeds “Men Dressed Like Women” To His Dogs: 1513. The Spanish coquistador and explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa is a revered figure in Panama, where you can buy a bottle of Balboa beer for about 1.50 Balboas (which is used interchangeably with the U.S. Dollar, also legal currency there). His name graces Panama City’s main port at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, as well as numerous avenues and parks throughout the country.
Balboa first explored the South American coast from present-day Columbia to Nicaragua in 1501, before settling on the island of Hispanola to become a farmer. When Balboa returned to the South American continent in 1509, he did so as a stowaway from Hispanola — a bankruptcy refugee, to be exact — but he quickly proved his worth with his knowledge of geography and local native culture, thanks to his earlier expedition. In 1510, Balboa founded the city of Santa Maria la Antigua del Darién on the northern coast of present-day Colombia near today’s border with Panama, and in 1511, he declared himself governor of Veragua, which roughly covered the Caribbean coast of present-day Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Balboa then spent the next three years exploring his domain, defeating various native tribles and and befriending others, and always remaining on the lookout for gold.
In 1513, Balboa arrived at the region in present-day Panama controled by the chief Careta, whose forces Balboa defeated and whom Balboa befriended. Together, Balboa and Careta defeated a rival chief, Ponca, and made an alliance with another chief, Comagre, whose son told them that if they really wanted to find lots of gold, they needed to conquer the tribes living on the coast of “the other sea” on the other side of the Isthmus of Panama. Balboa and his hordes set off to concquer their way south, and on September 20, when Balboa stood on a summit on the mountains alongside the Chucunaque River, he became the first European to see, on the distant horizon, the Pacific Ocean. Nine days and one battle later, Balboa walked knee-deep into the ocean with his sword in one hand and his battle standard in the other, and claimed possession of the “South Sea” and all of its adjoining lands for Spain.
While Balboa continued his journey along Panama’s Pacific coast, conquering and discovering as he went, he discovered, after killing chief Quarega and entering his village, what Balboa perceived to be the famously relaxed attitude among Quarega’s people toward the Peccatum illud horribile, inter christianos non nominandum. I say perceived, because it’s not exactly clear that Balboa’s men correctly interpreted what they saw. Sure, native groups throughout Panama had a reputation for tolerance of homosexuality and cross-gender behavior, so it’s not inconcievable that he found some of those goings-ons in Quarega’s court. But some scholars doubt that Balboa’s men actually managed to come across two full score of them in a single village. Some speculate that the Spaniards mistook the ceremonial attire of members of Quarega’s court for women’s clothing. Others suggest that in the political vacuum following Quarega’s death, there may have been some finger-pointing among political rivals who were savvy to the Spaniards’ disgust for the “sin so horrible.”
At any rate, at least forty of them — Gay men? Transgenders? Cross dressers? Or disgraced officials on the losing end of political score-settling? — were rounded up and devoured by Balboa’s dogs, in what has been described as the first recorded instance of Spanish punishment of homosexuality in the New World. About a century later, Antonio de la Calancha, a Spanish official in Lima, was still singing his praises, albeit somewhat inaccurately, of the man who “saw men dressed like women; Balboa learnt that they were sodomites and threw the king and forty others to be eaten by his dogs, a fine action of an honorable and Catholic Spaniard.”
[Sources: Charles C. Mann 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, (New York, Alfred A. Knoff, 2011): 348.
Ward Stavig. “Political ‘abomination’ and private reservations: the nefarious sin, homosexuality, and cultural values in colonial Peru.” In Pete Sigal’s (ed.) Infamous Desire: Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003): 134-135.
Walter Williams. “The abominable sin: the Spanish campaign against ‘sodomy’ and its results in modern Latin America” in ): in Larry Gross and James D. Woods’ (eds.) The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999): 128.]
California Studies Treatment for “Sex Deviants”: 1951. An item appeared in The Los Angeles Times describing efforts which promised “the eventual solution of one of California’s most difficult problems – the sex offender.” California had tried to “legislate sexual offenses out of existence” through more severe penalties, but lawmakers were “finally persuaded medical research might bring results,” and passed the Sexual Deviation Research Act in 1950. And with that, according to The Times, efforts were now fanning out to “several laboratories, schools, hospitals, and clinics throughout the State.” The Dean of UCLA’s Medical School was already bragging of research breakthroughs. “It is now possible, he states, to predict with a fair degree of accuracy, through blood and urine tests, the onset of a sexually psychopathic ‘attack’.” What, exactly, was being studied was obviously very sensitive; it took eight paragraphs before the LA Times writer finally got around to describing what these “sexual deviations” might be:
Another study underway is concerned with diagnosis and treatment of homosexual males. The purpose of this research is twofold: (1) to make physical, psychiatric, glandular and mental studies of the types of homosexuals who affect feminine behavior and (2) to investigate such psychological factors in homosexuality as the personal, family, social and cultural histories of patients. Results of these studies, it. is felt, should greatly add to more accurate diagnosis of types of homosexuality and its treatment.
Research would continue for at least another thirty years in California and throughout the western world, all to no avail. When the American Psychiatric Association finally determined in 1973 that homosexuality was not a mental illness in need of a cure, efforts to change sexual orientation in the scientific community slowly began to wane over the course of the next decade — with the notable exception of a very tiny religiously-motivated dissident minority, and their efforts to change sexual orientation still come up short. California’s law mandating research into curing homosexuality remained on the books, ignored and forgotten, until it was finally repealed in 2010. iN 2012, California began moving toward the opposite direction when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation which prohibits licensed professionals from providing conversion therapy to minors.
John Addington Symonds: 1840-1893. He fulfilled the expectations of Victorian England by marryng and having a family, but the poet and literary critic was always conscious of “men constituted like me.” As an early proponent of what was then called “male love,” Symonds was among the first to publish works for general audiences with direct references to homosexuality. His 1876 Studies of the Greek Poets, Second Series, included praise for Greek “friendship,” which led to withering condemnation from critics. One critic decried Symond’s “phallic ecstasy” and his “palpitations at male beauty.”
While Symonds became more circumspect in identifying himself with “male love,” he nevertheless continued to explore the theme. Symonds’s 1878 translation of Michelangelo’s Sonnets corrected, for the first time, the proper male pronouns which had been rendered female by previous translators. And in that same year, he published his poem “The Meeting of David and Jonathan” (1878), where Jonathan, “In his arms of strength / Took David, and for some love found at length / Solace in speech, and pressure and breath / Wherewith the mouth of yearning winnoweth /Hearts overcharged for utterance. In that kiss / Soul into soul was knit and bliss to bliss.”
But Symonds kept most of his writings on homosexuality private, first in letters to Walt Whitman, Edmund Gosse, and Edward Carpenter, and later in privately-circulated works like Male Love: A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883) and A Problem in Modern Ethics (1891), where he wrote in the introduction this answer to those who argued that the only good homosexual was a celibate homosexual:
I have taken no vow of celibacy. If I have taken any vow at all, it is to fight for the rights of an innocent, harmless, downtrodden group of outraged personalities. The cross of a Crusade is sewn upon the sleeve of my right arm. To expect from me and from my fellows the renouncement voluntarily undertaken by a Catholic priest is an absurdity, when we join no order, have no faith to uphold, no ecclesiastical system to support. We maintain that we have the right to exist after the fashion which nature made us. And if we cannot alter your laws, we shall go on breaking them. You may condemn us to infamy, exile, prison -– as you formerly burned witches. You may degrade our emotional instincts and drive us into vice and misery. But you will not eradicate inverted sexuality.”
In 1893, he began to publish more openly about homosexuality in Walt Whitman: A Study, and he began a collaboration with Havelock Ellis, who was then embarking on his landmark study, Sexual Inversion. Symonds died in 1893, ten months into that collaboration. When Sexual Inversion made its English debut in 1897, Symonds was listed as co-author. But Symonds’s executor, scandalized at the association, prohibited his name from being further associated with the book. Symonds was credited as “Z” in the second 1897 printing, and his essay “A Problem in Greek Ethics” was deleted. Interest in Symonds was revived in 1963 when Phyllis Grosskurth won the 1964 Canadian Governor General’s Award for John Addington Symonds: A Biography. Twenty years later, she would also bring The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds to print for the first time in 1984, ninety-one years after his death.
David Pallone: 1951. Major League Baseball umpires never become household names. But a few can somehow find ways to become memorable. That happened to Pallone on April 30, 1988, when he was umpiring at first base in Cincinnati when, in the ninth inning, he called New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson safe on a delayed call. That delay allowed another Mets runner to score the winning run. Reds’ manager Pete Rose rushed to Pallone to argue the call. Tempers escalated, one thing led to another, Pallone might have touched Rose, Rose definitely shoved Pallone, and Pallone immediately ejected him from the game. Fans showered the field with trash for the next fifteen minutes and Pallone had to be taken out of hte game to ease tension. Rose was suspended for 30 days and fined $10,000.
Later that year, Pallone was forced to resign when a New York Post article outed him as gay and claimed that he was part of a teenage sex ring. Those charges were later proven groundless, but Pallone says in his memoir Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball that team owners were unimpressed and pressured baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti to fire him anyway. Or, more accurately, Pallone was paid to leave, and strongly encouraged to do so. Today, Pallone is a diversity trainer and motivational speaker based in Colorado.
Thomas Roberts: 1972. The former CNN Headline News anchor became the first national anchorman to come out as gay when, in 2006, he spoke at the annual convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in Miami Florida during a panel discussion titled “Off Camera: The Challenge of LGBT TV Anchors.” Describing his appearance on that panel as the biggest step he had taken publicly to be out, he had been coming out at CNN over the past several years. But he found the tension between his public life and private life to be difficult to balance. “When you hold something back, that’s all everyone wants to know,” he told the gathering.
Roberts stayed at CNN until 2007, when he resigned to move to Washington, D.C. to pursue other opportunities. In late 2010, he began guest-anchoring for MSNBC, and became a full-time anchor in December. He now anchors “MSNBC Live” weekdays at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, and he occasionally fills in as host for NBC’s “Today.” In 2012, Roberts married Patrick Abner in New York, making Roberts the first (and the most hansome) national anchor to marry a same-sex partner.
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