The Daily Agenda for Thursday, May 1

Jim Burroway

May 1st, 2014

Events This Weekend: Curaçao Pride, Curaçao; AIDS Walk Las Vegas, NV; Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Miami, FL; Hot Rodeo 2014, Palm Springs, CA; Prague Rainbow Spring, Prague, Czech Republic; São Paulo Pride, São Paulo, Brazil; Sitges International Bear Meeting, Sitges, Spain; Tokyo Pride, Tokyo, Japan.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Advocate, December 19, 1973, page 46.

The River Club was among the earliest clubs to advertise in the Los Angeles Advocate in 1968. Located near the entrance to Griffith Park and across the Golden State Freeway from the delightful riparian entertainments of the Los Angeles River, it was popular among Latinos, due mainly to its being far from the barrios and the prying eyes of friends and neighbors. It also attracted a smaller number of African-Americans for similar reasons, although there were also other bars that catered to that community closer to home. The River Club’s reputation as a friendly place for people of color made it an attractive location for Asians in the mid-1970s, and it maintained its international character right up until it closed in the early 1980s. The bar is gone and replaced with an apartment complex.

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923.

140 YEARS AGO: Romaine Brooks: 1874-1970. The American painter worked mostly in France, where she was surrounded by the brilliant colors of Fauvism and the decompositional attitudes of cubism, but her work hearkened back to the style of James Whistler. She was born Beatrice Romaine Goddard, and in 1903 she married John Ellingham Brooks. He was gay, but he couldn’t take her gender-bending manner of dress and hairstyle. Their marriage lasted only a year, but she wound up keeping his name. The following year, she discarded the bright colors of her works which were so fashionable and adopted the darker, more subdued colors which would become her trademark.

Brooks took a string of unconventional lovers, including the American heiress Winnaretta Singer and Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde’s former lover), and the Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein, who Brooks painted more than any other subject. Her paintings were almost all portraits, and very nearly all of them of women. By 1925, she had been featured in several successful solo exhibitions in Paris, London and New York, but after that year she produced only four more paintings. She briefly took up line drawing in 1930, but dropped that by 1935. Her longtime partner, Natalie Barney, also became her manager and continued to arrange shows for her. But after the Second World War, Brooks became increasingly reclusive and paranoid. By 1969, Brooks’s paranoia led her to stop communicating with Barney entirely. Brooks died in 1970 at the age of 96.

Michael Dillon: 1915-1962. The first transman to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, he started life as Laura. His mother died just ten days after his birth. He was raised by two aunts in Kent, England, studied at Oxford, and began working at a research lab in Gloucestershire. He had long decided that he was not truly the woman others thought he was, so in 1939 sought treatment from a doctor who was experimenting with teststerone. But before getting the testosterone pills from his doctor, the doctor insisted that Dillon see a psychiatrist, who violated Dillon’s confidentiality by blabbing about him all over town.

Dillon quit his professional job and fled to Bristol where he took a job at a mechanic’s garage. The hormones, by then, were having their effect and he was able to present himself as a man. In 1939 when Dillon was in the hospital for hypoglycemia, he came to the attention of a plastic surgeon, a specialty that was still exceedingly rare at the time. That surgeon agreed to perform a double mastectomy, provided the necessary paperwork so Dillon could correct his birth certificate, and put him in touch with another plastic surgeon, Harold Gilles, who was already being regarded as “the father of plastic surgery.”

Giles was in high demand to reconstruct penises for injured soldiors and he had also begun working with intersex people with ambiguous genitalia. He was willing to perform Dillon’s phalloplasty, but he already had a long line of wounded soldiers in front of him. So while Dillon was waiting for his surgery, he enrolled in medical school under his new legal name and became a physician.

When Dr. Giles was finally ready to perform the first of at least thirteen surgeries between 1946 and 1949, he entered an official diagnosis of acute hypospadias, a rare birth defect of the penis, in order to conceal the fact that he as performing the world’s first FtM reassignment surgery. Whenever Dillon returned to college following surgery, he attributed his limp and infections to war injuries. He also published a book, Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology, one of the first books to describe what would later be called transsexuality and transgenderism.

Dillon didn’t discuss his own history in Self; that would come out in 1958 when his aristocratic roots would betray him, when Debrett’s Peerage listed him as the legitimate heir to his brother’s baronetcy, while another guide, Burke’s Peerage, mentioned only a sister — referring to Dillon before he transitioned. By then Dillon was a ship’s doctor, and his ship was docked in Baltimore when the news of his sex reassignment broke. Reporters threatened to tear off his clothe4s to see the evidence of his surgery. Dillon fled to India where he began studying Buddhism, entered  a monastery and took the name Lobzang Jivaka. His problems weren’t over however, as his fellow monks and superiors refused to recognize him as male. He nevertheless wrote two books on Buddhism before dying on May 15, 1962 at the age of 47.

Tad Mosel: 1922-2008. It’s a sad commentary on where television has gone that its first decade of widespread existence is often looked upon as its golden age. That’s when people were still trying to figure out how to make the new medium work as an art form. Productions were on a shoestring budget, and in the very early years most programs went out live, forcing the actors and crew to stay alert and think on their feet. That immediacy made for compelling television that’s not often seen today.

Mosel was born in Steubenville, but the family moved to New York City shortly after his father’s grocery business failed following the stock market crash. His early exposure to Broadway in 1936 opened the young Mozel’s eyes to the theater. After serving in World War II, he studied at Amherst, did graduate work at Yale Drama School, and earned a Masters at Columbia. He quickly found a place in television in 1949, shortly after commercial broadcasting began in New York City, with his first teleplay on Chevrolet Tele-Theater. He considered that job a diversion, nothing more than an opportunity to make a little money — very little money because no “self-respecting writer” would dare write for TV — before returning to the theater. As he recalled in 1997,

Even drunken screenwriters wouldn’t write for television. So who was there left? It was us. It was kids who would work for 65 cents. And so with a very patronizing attitude you thought, “Well, if I could make a few bucks doing that, it would give me time to write the great American play.” It didn’t take too much experience to realize that television was a medium all in itself, and that it was a career all in itself, and it was a thrilling one. But we stumbled into it by being snobs if I may say so. They would give anyone a chance. I look back on it, and I think, “Weren’t we lucky to be there?” Because it was pure luck that we were there.

He went on to become a major script writer for television drama, with plays appearing on Goodyear Television Playhouse (1953-54), Medallion Theater (1953-1954), Philco Television Playhouse (1954) and Producer’s Showcase (1955), Studio One (1957-58), and CBS’s prestigious Playhouse 90 (1957-1959). He returned to theater in 1960 with All the Way Home, which opened to critical acclaim and earned him a 1961 Pulitzer. The play was also adapted for television and film in 1963. He continued writing screenplays until retiring in the 1980s. He died at age 86 of cancer in 2008. His partner of more than 40 years, graphic designer Raymond Tatro, had died thirteen years earlier.

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?


May 1st, 2014

Thanks again, Jim, especially for the bio notes on Michael Dillon, who was unknown to me. He and his doctors were pioneers and should be better known.

Ben in Oakland

May 1st, 2014

Dillon’s angioplasty?

Somehow, I don’t think you were talking about his arteries.

Jim Burroway

May 1st, 2014

Somehow, I think you’re right. Thanks for the correction.

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