The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, April 15
April 15th, 2014
It’s Tax Day in America, a day that has long been a yearly reminder of the ways in which gay couples have paid more taxes that straight couples in exchange for fewer government benefits and, historically, open discrimination. In the 1950s, that discrimination extended to federal bans on gays in government employment and the military, where the policy wasn’t “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but “get out, and here’s your dishonorable discharge.” With DADT gone and major portions of the Defense of Marriage Act voided, the playing field between gay and straight families have been leveled considerably. But in 1958, Helen Sandoz (see Nov 2), who had become president of the Daughters of Bilitis the year before, had plenty of reasons to lament the unfairness directed towards gays and lesbians of her day:
All morning I have been working on my income tax and this is a drearier task for the Lesbian than f or most people.
We live together, we own homes, we pool our resources and we work for the community, but we cannot enjoy the benefits of a household under the law.
According to statistics that I have seen here and there, there must be quite a lot of “married” homosexuals. This is a great boon to Uncle Sam, because, no matter how much these people make, no matter how much property they own, they will still pay the “single, one deduction” type of income tax. A pair of Lesbians may own a house, join the community league, contribute to all causes, keep the yard up as a credit to the area. They enjoy the taxes imposed by the state and county and city. They pay these taxes. But because the church and state do not sanction their “marriage” they must file as single citizens and pay the premium tax thereon. Property is held jointly, loans are made jointly. The mortgage broker doesn’t question the sex. Property taxes are levied jointly upon the owners. Only when it comes to income tax does the fairness disappear.
I do not cry for a small space on an income tax blank asking for me to check “sex” and leaving room for a variation. I do not ask for a special consideration. I Just think that one person in any household that is bearing its rightful burdens otherwise, should be allowed to claim “head of household” without a lot of claptrap about “relationship”.
Society may choose to condemn homosexuality. But those of us who live together and own property and join in our community’s interests are householders and have a right to consideration under the constitution. Shall we all become cousins?
Source: Helen Sanders (Helen Sandoz). “Me vs. Taxes” The Ladder 2, no. 8 (May 1958): 10.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
My how times have changed. The location is now a yoga studio.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Founded: 1979. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence founded a “convent” in San Francisco when three men, dressed in full traditional habits, went out in the Castro on Easter Sunday of 1979. Ken Bunch (Sister Vicious PHB), Fred Brungard (Sister Missionary Position) and Baruch Golden, were met with shock and amusement. Over the next several months, the attracted new members: Sister Hysterectoria (Edmund Garron) and Reverend Mother (Bill Graham). They quickly settled on a name for their group and composed a mission statement: “to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.”
Originally a form of camp street theater, the controversial nuns’ mission became deadly serious a few year later as the AIDS crisis gripped San Francisco. The Sisters became among the earliest bay-area AIDS charities at a time when few other established churches and organizations deigned to pitch in. The Sisters helped organize the first AIDS Candlelight Vigil, and have raised more than $1 million in San Francisco alone to benefit such groups as the Breast Cancer Network, Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic and the Gay Games. The Sisters continue to bring meals to those who can no longer care for themselves, and they fund alternative proms for LGBT youth.
The Sisters have branched out with twenty-four orders and seven missions across North America and sixteen orders internationally. And through it all, they continue to be the favorite targets of many religious-right organizations, many of whom still show scant evidence of performing the charitable work that the Sisters do. Ironic, isn’t it?
Leonardo Da Vinci: 1452-1519. Born in Vinci “at the third hour of the night,” Leonardo was apprenticed to the artist Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence at the age of fourteen. Early descriptions indicate that he was tall for his day (at least 5’8″), athletic and extremely handsome. One contemporary described him as “an artist of outstanding physical beauty who displayed infinite grace in everything he did.” At the age of twenty-four, Da Vinci was among four people accused of sodomy, a very serious accusation because it carried the death penalty. Those charges were dismissed on the condition that there were no further accusations. When accusations were made again that same year, charges were dismissed again, perhaps because one of those charged may have been linked with the powerful Medici family.
Undoubtedly, those accusations made Da Vinci very cautious, even in Florence where, despite those charges, homosexuality was somewhat more tolerated than elsewhere (so much so that in Germany, the word Florenzer became slang for homosexual.) While there’s no further contemporary mention of Da Vinci’s sexuality, it was generally known that the life-long bachelor was particularly fond of and generous with his handsome male pupils, some of whom may have inspired some of Da Vinci’s erotic sketches. Later historians mostly assumed that he was gay, an assumption that gained greater currency in the nineteenth century when German, French and British authors began examining the new understanding of what was to be called inversion, uranism, and, finally, homosexuality. Whenever nineteenth century authors sought examples of inverts in history, Da Vinci’s name nearly always earned a prominent mention.
Henry James: 1843-1916. His father, Henry James Sr., was a prominent Swedenborgian philosopher and litrary figure who counted Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle among his friends. His brother, William, was a groundbreaking American philosopher, psychologist, and physician. His sister, Alice, who struggled with mental illness and opium use for much of her life, was mainly known after her death for her candid, witty and insightful diaries which made her something of a feminist icon.
His father’s constant search for intellectual stimulation had the family nearly constantly on the move between the United States and Europe. The younger James’ adopted a similarly peripatetic life, traveling often between the U.S. and Europe. (He would eventually become a British citizen in 1915, just a year before his death.) His literary works often focused on the perceptions of Europeans and Americans as they encountered each other, and they nearly always examined the characters’ psychological motives. The Portrait of a Lady(1881), explores some of the conflicts between Old World and New World perceptions of personal freedom, duty, honesty and trust through the story of an American heiress whose fortune attracts the malicious attention of some American expatriates in Italy, one of whom marries her in a loveless and psychologically abusive relationship. Another American heiress figures in The Wings of the Dove (1902). She is stricken with a serious disease while visiting relatives in London, and the novel explorse her effect on those around her.
James was also an important literary critic. In his essay The Art of Fiction (1884), he sought to free authors of the prevailing conventions on what made a proper novel. James argued for the widest freedom in content and methods of storytelling. He wrote an important critical study of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and when he collected his own works for a final edition, he wrote a series of prefaces that subjected his own writings to the same penetrating criticism. James had ambitions to becoming a playwright, but his attempts were poorly received and he soon abandoned the effort.
James was exceptionally circumspect about his personal life. He never married, proclaiming himself simply as “a bachelor.” He was horrified by Oscar Wilde’s flamboyance, yet fascinated by his downfall. In one letter to a friend, James protested that Wilde “was never in the smallest degree interesting to me — but this hideous human history has made him so — in a manner.”
James’ biographers insisted that he was celibate due to a “fear of or scruple against sexual love on his part.” But as other diaries and letters to contemporaries and younger men have come to light over the years, a more complete picture of James’s private life has begun to emerge. His letters to American sculptor Hendrik Christian Andersson were intensely emotional and somewhat erotic. Similar letters to novelists Howard Sturgis and Hugh Walpole have also come to light.
James suffered a stroke in late 1915, and died a few months later in London on February 28, 1916 at the age of 72. His ashes were returned to America and interred in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Back in England, a memorial stone for him was placed in the Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner in 1976.
120 YEARS AGO: Bessie Smith: 1894-1937. “The Empress of the Blues” was born in Chattanooga, the daughter of a laborer and part-time Baptist preacher. He died before she could remember him, and by the time she was nine, she had lost her mother and a brother. Her older brother had joined a Black Vaudeville troupe owned by Moses Stokes, which featured Ma Rainey as blues singer. In 1912, Bessie joined that same troupe, but as a dancer rather than a singer. While it’s believed that Rainey didn’t teach Smith to sing, (Smith had been singing on the streets of Chattanooga from a very young age), Rainey is credited with teaching Smith about stage presence. By 1913, Smith began singing professionally, and her career exploded in 1923 when she began recording for Columbia Records. By then, she was the highest-paid African-American entertainer in her day.
In 1923, she entered a very stormy marriage with Jack Gee, but he was unable to accommodate her show-biz life or her open bisexuality. They separated but never officially divorced. Meanwhile, she recorded hit after hit for Columbia, including “Downhearted Blues,” “St. Louis Blues”, “Empty Bed Blues,” and the tune she is perhaps best known for today, “Gimme a Pigfoot (And a Bottle of Beer).” By the end of the 1920′s, the arrival of the “talkies” meant the end of vaudeville, while the onset of the Great Depression brought about a collapse of the recording industry. Smith continued touring in clubs, but the going was tough. By 1933, she was recording for Okeh records, where she was paid a non-royalty fee of $37.50 for each side. Those were her last recordings. She was critically injured in a car accident in 1937, her right arm nearly severed in the accident. She died the following morning at the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Her funeral in Philadelphia drew 10,000 mourners. Her grave however remained unmarked; her estranged husband kept pocketing the money raised for a tombstone. She finally got her marker in 1970, courtesy of Janis Joplin.
George Platt Lynes: 1907-1955. He first wanted to start a literary career after meeting Gertrude Stein and her circle in Paris. In 1927, he opened a bookstore in Englewood, New Jersey and took up photography so he could take pictures of his friends, and that is where his creative energies went. By 1932 Lynes opened his photography studio in New York and began exhibiting in the city’s art galleries. He earned commissions from the New York City Ballet, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodmans. After World War II, he moved to Hollywood, where he became chief photographer for Vogue and photographed such luminaries as Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, Igor Stravinsky, and Thomas Mann. His work was an artistic success, but a financial failure. He moved back to New York, but was never able to re-establish the success he once had.
You can see his passion for photography in his photos recalling why he took up photography in the first place: intimate (usually nude) photos of friends, lovers, performers and models. The artist Paul Cadmus (see Dec 17) posed for Lynes and recalled how he “used flattery to make everyone feel so comfortable.” Those male nudes were never published, at least not in his lifetime. In the late 1940s, he transferred many of his negatives to Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s Institute for Sexual Research in Bloomington, Indiana, and destroyed much of the rest of his work just before dying of lung cancer in 1955. In 2011, Rizolli published George Platt Lynes: The Male Nudes, marking the first time many of his beloved nudes appeared in print.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?