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The Daily Agenda for Monday, February 10

Jim Burroway

February 10th, 2014

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Global Day of Action Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Last December, the Ugandan Parliament gave its approval to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would reinforce the penalty of life imprisonment for homosexuality, and greatly expands the criminalization of all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people. Even though President Yoweri Museveni hasn’t yet singed the bill into law, human rights activists in Uganda say that conditions had dramatically deteriorated for LGBT people there:

Since the Bill was passed, Ugandan civil society groups have documented at least seven arrests of LGBTI people. Two were required to have anal examinations to ‘prove’ they are engaging in same-sex sexual activity. These examinations are tantamount to torture and scientifically invalid. Ugandan civil society organizations report that anal examinations are becoming a routine procedure for men arrested on suspicion of engaging in sex with other men. LGBTI people are also increasingly being harassed and some individuals have been attacked by mobs.

The Global Day of Action was organized by Ugandan civil society and LGBT advocates to call on Museveni to reject the bill. Sexual Minorities Uganda has posted a list of eight things you can do to show solidarity with the Ugandan LGBT community, including a Twitter blast to the Prime Minister, the President’s office, and Parliament with one simple message: “Don’t Prosecute; Protect LGBT Ugandans: The world is watching” (Twitter handles are: Prime Minister: @AmamaMbabazi Parliament of Uganda: @Parliament_UG President @StateHouseUg).

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Advocate, March 3, 1983, page 45

When Backstreet opened its doors in Atlanta in 1975, it immediately set about defining an important element of the disco sound. Celebrities flocked to the club whenever they were in town, including Liza Minnelli, Peter Allen, Paul Lynde, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Cher. Gladys Knight showed up for a Sylvester performance. She also performed, as did Mary Wilson. As a private club, Backstreet was also one of Atlanta’s rare twenty-four hour clubs, a distinction it held until 2004, when the city of Atlanta began enforcing strict new ordinances requiring private clubs to close at 3:00 a.m. For the first time in its history, the DJ at Backstreet had to announce a last call to a confused audience. That move sealed its fate, along with long-running complaints from some of its gentrified neighbors. In a familiar story repeated in cities across the country, the very nightlife that drew people to the dilapidated Midtown in the 1980s brought new residents that complained about the noise from a never-ending party that drew them there in the first place. Later that year, the club that never closed, closed its doors for good, and was razed and promptly replaced by yet another high-rise condo development.

Post cards by J.C. Leyendecker, 1900.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
A New Homosexual Trait?: 1920. That’s the question that Dr. Walter Courtenay Rivers sought to explore in the February, 1920 issue of Medical Review of Reviews:

A sexuological brochure published in 1913 brought me some correspondence both home and foreign. Among the writers of these letters was an English public school ‘coach,’ whom later I met. I then found that altho he had written he was glad my book had appeared, he was an invert himself; not only that, but a member of a homosexual coterie; and besides, one who physically indulged his abnormality. Upon which I felt that his acquaintance and correspondence were too potentially compromising for my as yet extremely slight scientific name. I asked him to send his ‘case’ to Dr HAVELOCK ELLIS (to whom I wrote about him also), and declined further communication with regret, for of course clinical experience is the only road to discovery. However, one clue I did get. He kept a large cat of which he seemed very fond, and he remarked that many of his friends had the same taste in pets.

The “brochure” that Rivers mentioned was a booklet published in 1913, titled Walt Whitman’s Anomaly, which explores exactly what its title implied: that Walt Whitman was a sexual invert or, in the still-newfangled terminology of the medical literature, a homosexual. Rivers was undoubtedly surprised by his “coach’s” interest in the book, as its sale was “restricted to members of the legal and medical professions. This was quite common at a time when anything which might be remotely construed as non-condemning of the “abominable vice” was routinely banned as obscene. Havelock Ellis’s early works were not immune from such official attentions (see Feb 2). And so Rivers’s nervousness over merely maintaining a correspondence with an invert was neither out of the ordinary nor out of line.

And yet, Rivers’s articles and writings were among a growing body of literature which was just beginning to  try to figure out who these homosexuals were that they kept encountering. Given how little was really known about gay people, coupled with reluctance of the overwhelming majority of gay people to make themselves known, every tiny clue took in a huge significance. Including cats.

Since [Magnus] HIRSCHFELD’S (see  May 14) exhaustive work does not mention such a trait, the matter seemed worth inquiry, and it is attacked here in the following way: First I have taken HIRSCFIELD’S list of eminent men who were of inverted disposition, and looked for record of their affection’ for cats as pets; secondly I have taken eminent persons who are stated to have been cat lovers, and looked for evidence of inversion in them.

Rivers encountered several difficulties in the first approach; Hirschfeld’s list went back into antiquity; Hirschfeld didn’t see pet ownership as an important detail to record, some names on Hirshfeld’s list weren’t prominent enough for such details to survive. But Rivers did find four worth mentioning: the 18th-century art historian and Member of Parliament Horace Walpole, the English poet Edward Fitzgerald, the French poet Charles Baudelaire, and the English essayist Walter Pater, for whom Rivers provided the following evidence of homosexuality:

The evidence of PATER’S inverted disposition might first be briefly given. He never smoked and never married; he was entirely averse to outdoor games altho not physically weak; he wore always a green tie; his works show passim a special sensibility to young male beauty.

But about their cats:

Four out of thirty-one is a proportion of one in eight. Is one out of every eight men, or, for the matter of that, one out  of every eight distinguished men, devoted to cats? I imagine most people would say no. Some men, and particularly distinguished men, have notoriously a horror of them. These four, by the way, were all writers, and HAVELOCK ELLIS states that inversion is particularly frequent amongst authors. They were also pretty exclusively homosexual; there is no evidence of a bisexual disposition

Rivers then compiled his list of known cat-lovers in history “taking only those who have been dead some time” — undoubtedly to avoid impugning the reputation of a living person and opening himself up to charges of libel. Rivers then lists them:

Pope GREGORY the GREAT, HOKUSAI, TASSO, A. DE MUSSET, PAUL DE KOCK, PETRARCH, COWPER, WORDSWORTH, LISTON the SURGEON, RICHELIEU, CIIATEAUBRIAND, T. GAUTIER, DR. JOHNSON, SIR WALTER SCOTT, DUMAS the ELDER, SHELLEY, JEREMY BENTHAM.

Of how many of these may inversion be deemed a likely characteristic?

The quest now is much more difficult. To begin with, of none can we expect the trait looked for to be recorded outright. It will be a matter of inferring its presence from other, and commonly associated, characteristics, such as friendship enthusiasm, feminine tastes, aversion to women, physical stigmata of degeneration, and so forth; while even these may easily escape biographical mention. Again, bisexuality, physical attraction to men and women both, may mask inversion. Perhaps for these reasons, none of these cat lovers figure in HIRSCHFELD’S list of eminent inverts already spoken of.

You will notice Rivers’s referring to “physical stigmata of degeneration,” a reference to degeneracy theory that I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these historical notes (see, for example, Sep 3Jan 25Feb 7). It was a medical axiom in those days that homosexuality, along with many other physical and mental ailments, were the result of evolution gone wrong. Before the industrial era, natural selection meant that the fittest survived. But modern society was now allowing all sorts of lesser-fit people to survive and breed, resulting in a kind of reversal of evolution — they called it “de-generation” — in which mankind was de-evolving or “degenerating” to a more primitive, less advanced state. The theory further held that degeneracy was not only imprinted on the brain, but  the “physical stigmata” or signs of the degeneracy could also be found on the body as well, whether it was a physical abnormality, or the shape of the head, the cut of the brow, the width of the nose — you can see racially where this went, can’t you?

At any rate, River’s struck two from his list immediately as not being gay, and concluded that only three were definitely gay. Three of seventeen now brings the ratio to somewhere closer to one in five. Clearly, he thought, he was onto something. But why cats?

And there is something else relevant to cats which is also relevant to our subject, and that is the close association in the human mind of cats with femininity. One always associates cats with the woman’s world, and of course male inverts are very often of feminine tastes. The former proposition seems the truer and profounder the more one tests it…

A good many readers, perhaps, will agree that fondness for cats does, on the whole, seem entitled to a place among male homosexual characteristics. If it be, then the reason is that it is a woman’s taste. My subject aforesaid, the public school coach, had his cat beside him when pouring out tea; which he did, if not, like COMPTON MACKENZIE’S inverted author WILMOT dispensing similar hospitality. See Sinister Street Vol 1. ‘with a myriad mincing gestures,’ still with quite unmasculine competence, gusto and deliberation; he sucked sweets, smoked only cigarettes. Indeed the tale of male homosexual traits has probably not yet been given anywhere with anything like completeness. For the heart of the inverted man seems always reaching out after something womanish in order to adopt it; or else recoiling from something that reminds him he is bodily a man. Of that unfortunate being it might almost be said:

Femina est: nihil feminitatis a se alienum putat.

I think we can conduct a survey that is as scientific as anything Rivers accomplished. I’m generally a cat person myself — I like their independence — but we have one lovable dogs in the Burroway household: Buster, a purebred feral dog who looks exactly like the wild dogs seen on the nearby Indian reservation, and we still mourn Twister, our beloved bossy beagle mix who went on to happier grassy fields last November. What about you?

[Source: W.C. Rivers. “A new male homosexual trait?” Medical Review of Reviews 26, no. 2 (February 1920): 55-60. Available online via Google Books here.]

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
John Yang: 1958. The Chillicothe, Ohio native rose quickly though the journalism ranks, beginning with the Boston Globe in 198o, then Time in 1986 and the Wall Street Journal in 1986. In 1990, he moved to the Washington Post and remained there for the next ten years as a political reporter. In 1999, he made the move to television as the D.C. correspondent for ABC News, where he earned a Peabody for his coverage of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon. He then became a Middle East correspondent from 2002 to 2004. Yang recalled the phone conversation with Peter Jennings when he got that gig:

“I was extremely flattered because at ABC News, Peter Jennings had veto power over foreign correspondents. And this was an area that Peter cared deeply about. And actually Peter got on the phone …  It’s actually something that Peter said to me,” Yang recalled. “It’s that he thought that — and looking back, you can take what he said a couple of different ways, whether he meant [me] being Asian or being gay — but that he thought that what I would bring to that reporting was an understanding or an insight into … people who are marginalized.”

In 2007, he was once again in Washington, D.C., this time as White House correspondent for NBC News. He is currently based in Chicago.

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?

Comments

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Larry G
February 10th, 2014 | LINK

I have always had a cat in my home. Always! I feel you cannot have a proper home without one. That being said, my partner and I just got a puppy as well. I have a small apartment and she is the perfect size for the place. The funny thing I noticed is that I prefer male cats and female dogs. Not sure if that says anything about me or not but that is the way it is. I adore all of my pets and lavish them with attention and spoil them the way a parent would a child, they never want for anything. I still would say I am a cat person, but my little girlie dog has managed to work her way into my stony heart and warm me up to dogs.

Victor
February 10th, 2014 | LINK

I love dogs, as a rule, but I won’t own any pet that requires me to go out in the rain and snow against my will. I’d rather snuggle with my cat.

Lael
February 10th, 2014 | LINK

I have two Traditional Siamese Appleheads. So, basically, cats that are not the modern alien looking things that the breed has become. Definitely love my girls.

Not a big dog person as a rule, though I seem to be quite attractive to them. They love me. I am waiting until my girls have gone from age before allowing a dog into the house. Then I will get another pair of cats and a dog at the same time so that they can grow up together. The girls I have now are absolutely terrified of dogs, thus the waiting.

The Lauderdale
February 10th, 2014 | LINK

I have two rats. What do they say about those?

Ben in Oakland
February 10th, 2014 | LINK

Funny about the stereotypes allegedly secure heterosexual men have about gay people, straight people, cats and dogs.

None of it is ANYTHING that a little thoughtful experience won’t cure.

I love other people’s dogs, other people’s children, but for myself, cats have a way of being in the world– quiet and independent– that just appeals to me. I don’t find them standoffish or aloof at all.

My Missy died three years ago at 18. She was smart, sensitive, elegant, and one of the few animals of any type that had a sense of humor. I still miss her. she was the best cat in the world.

jpeckjr
February 10th, 2014 | LINK

Backstreet was my first gay bar. Went there sometime in the late fall of 1977, with a guy named Paul. We were both college students in Atlanta, at different colleges. I answered his personals ad in Creative Loafing. He wanted to meet someone who liked ice hockey, to go to Flames games with. Our friendship never really took off, though. But that first night at Backstreet, when he kissed me on the dance floor, was great! I think I still have the parking lot ticket somewhere.

A.M.
February 10th, 2014 | LINK

2 cats. I’m double gay I guess. :0

Paul Douglas
February 10th, 2014 | LINK

Unbelievable to me that Walter Courtenay Rivers couldn’t find something more important to spend his energy on back in 1920. Clearly a case of a bourgeois having too much time on his hands.
What a loser.

Soren456
February 11th, 2014 | LINK

I like cats. My childhood family cat was a Bengal. I wonder if he knew I was gay.

Nathaniel
March 4th, 2014 | LINK

Cats also seem to be a Lesbian thing – at least all the lesbians I have known own multiple cats. What would Rivers say about that?

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