Today, we bring you not a birthday but a death. We tend to focus generally on birthdays because lesbians are always dying in mainstream media but Lady Frances Brudenell’s exact birth date is unknown (Wikipedia says before 1677), and even the exact year of her death is unknown: 1735 or 1736. Either way, it happened on February 23rd.
She was a countess and a baroness resulting from her two marriages, from which she had several children. But aside from that, because everyone knows aristocracy can get boring after a while, she was basically running this Irish circle of lesbians and bisexual women (“tribades” they were called).
And this wasn’t hidden at all, apparently. This guy who accused her of owing him money, wrote a satire against her in revenge, where he depicted her as Myra, “a promiscuous bisexual witch and lesbian.” No higher compliment, if you ask me. And what is it with guys calling lesbians and bi women witches? Not that I’m complaining. Apparently, this is one of the first uses of “lesbian” in the modern sense.
(The satire was also called “The Toast” – you can’t make this up.)
She’s buried in
St. Audoen’s Church
in Dublin, if you want to go and pay your respects to the mother of lesbian & bi witches everywhere.
She was born a hundred years ago exactly, in New York, to Jewish parents. Her teenage years were marked by tuberculous arthritis in her knees which led to her mother taking her to Switzerland so that she could get treatment. There, while going to boarding school, she developed a profound interest in literature, which she continued to have after her return to NYC and her introduction to the bohemian life of Greenwich Village, where she frequented all the lesbian bars and dressed in men’s clothing.
In 1938, she married fellow writer Paul Bowles, but this did absolutely not deter her from continuing to go to all the lesbians bars in Paris anytime the couple traveled to France. Paul and Jane were both bi, and most of their sexuality happened outside of their marriage. They traveled extensively together. Her later years were marked by a stroke at the age of 40, and from there on general ill health and alcoholism, as well as a permanent split from her husband.
Ellen Page is
a Canadian actress usually best known for playing a teen mom in movie Juno, or the Derby Roller skater Bliss,
aka Baby Ruthless, in Drew Barrymore’s Whip
It. But after she came out on Valentine’s Day three years ago she became an
inspiring model and advocate for the LGBT community.
Ellen Page, photographed by Marteen de Boer during the Getty Images Portrait
Studio hosted by Eddie Bauer at Village at The Lift on January 24, 2016 in Park
Philpotts-Page was born on February 21, 1987, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She decided
to go to a Buddhist school where meditation and yoga were on the curriculum.
She began her film career at 10 in Canadian TV then cinema (with roles for
which she collected several awards despite her young age), though started to get international recognition with the 2005
movie Hard Candy, and with her appearance
in blockbuster franchise X-Men as Kitty Pride, a girl who has the capacity to
walk through walls.
2007 movie Juno
attention from Hollywood with 2007 movie Juno, for which she received her first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. She portrays
a sassy, independent-minded teenager who gets pregnant at 16 – and her
performance was praised by the critics and the general public alike. The movie,
which reflects the director’s as well as Page’s mindset, is very much
‘pro-choice’ in that if she decides against getting an abortion, it is after
visiting an abortion clinic, and examining all the choices given to her
(eventually choosing to give the baby up for adoption).
2015 movie Freeheld with Julianne
Moore as Laurel Hester and Ellen Page as Stacie Andree
notable performances in Tracey Berkowitz’s The Tracey Fragments, Drew Barrymore’s Whip It,
Christopher Nolan’s Inception, or
Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, the
project of the film Freeheld came
along. The movie
is based on 2007 documentary of the same name about the true story of New
Jersey police officer Laurel Hester (played by Julianne Moore) who, after being
diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, had to fight against the county’s board of
chosen freeholders so that her domestic partner Stacie Andree (Page) could
benefit her pension after she passed. With her
involvement in the making of the movie (as producer as well as actress) she
felt the need and courage to come out of the closet. She explained that it took
6 years to make the movie, and that the process paralleled her own personal
journey to come out as gay, as she “felt wildly inappropriate to be playing
this character as a closeted person.”
comes out as gay in her speech in Las Vegas at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time
to Thrive conference on Valentine’s day in 2014.
“Here I am,
an actress, representing at least in some sense an industry that places
crushing standards on all of us. (…) Standards of beauty, of good life, of
success. Standards that I hate to admit, have affected me. You have ideas
planted in your head, thoughts you never had before, that tell you how you have
to act, how you have to dress, and who you have to be (i.e. as defined by
stereotypes of masculinity and femininity). And I am here today because I am
gay. And because maybe I can make a difference.”
interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Page
explains that being a closeted person hurt her career more, because she felt
sad and uninspired; that she felt guilt for not being out, and felt isolated from
the LGBT community. She also revealed in another interview with Elle Magazine that she
“would get panic attacks and sense an incredible discomfort because (she)
didn’t relate to the conformity that comes with (her) gender.”
she has been involved in several movies, like Tallulah, projects, but mostly TV Series Gaycation, in which she and Ian Daniel explore LGBTQ cultures
around the world by meeting travellers and hearing their stories.
Rihanna was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty today in 1988 in Saint Michael, Barbados and grew up in Bridgetown. She recorded under producer, Evan Rogers, in 2003 and signed with Def Jam Records after impressing their then-president, Jay-Z, after auditioning. She started to come across the air waves in 2005 with her deubt album, Music in the Sun, and followed this with her 2006 album, Girl Like Me which brought us popular singles such as ‘Pon De Replay’ and ‘SOS’. She took over creative control after her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad, which came with a change in her public image, or rather, the way she presented herself. She won her first Grammy with her famous single ‘Umbrella’ which she collaboarted on with Jay-Z. She released four more platinum albums, one of which was a Grammy winner, 2012’s Unapologetic. A lot of her singles are some of the best-selling singles of all time, including: ‘Take a bow’, ‘We Found Love’, and ‘Stay’ among others. She is the youngest artist to have fourteen #1 Hit Singles on Billboard 100 and has won eight Grammys, twelve American Music Awards, two Brit Awards, and won the inaugural Icon Award at the 2013 American Music Awards.
As a fashion icon, Rihanna released a line in 2011 with Armani. In 2014 she was the face of the French house of fashion, Balmain. June that same year, at the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Rihanna won the Fashion Icon Award, saying: “Fashion has always been my defense mechanism.” In December, she announced that she was now the creative director of sportswear fashion brand, Puma. In 2015, Rihanna became the face of Dior, the first black woman to do so. In 2016, she worked with Manolo Blahnik to create an all denim fashion shoe line and collaborated with Label Dior to create her own line of sunglasses, Rihanna which you can find on Instagram.
She played in Battleship as Petty Officer Cora Raikes, Home as lead character, Tip Tucci (which is on Netflix!), and you can catch her on the final season of Bates Motel, as Marion Crane, starting this Monday. And keep a lookout for her in Ocean Eight as Nine Ball to be released next year!
More Reasons To Love Ri:
When a man professed his love for her while presenting her an award, she dabbed in response.
Today: the Queen of Southern Gothic, Carson McCullers herself.
Her first and most famous novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, set the stage for the kind of things that Carson explores in her fiction: isolation, the experience of social misfits and outcasts, forces of oppression and their consequences on a personal level.
She was born Lula Carson Smith in Georgia. She learned piano when she was a child, and started getting into writing around 15, when her father gave her a typewriter. After graduating high school, she took off for NY. Her plan was to study piano at Juilliard there, but this was cut short by a bout of rheumatic fever. After returning from Columbus, GA, where she’d gone to recuperate, she worked a series of menial jobs while in parallel actively pursuing a writing career and attending night classes at Columbia. Her first story, an autobiographical piece, was published when she was just 19. She married Reeves McCullers, another aspiring writer, the following year, and they moved to Georgia but they divorced in 1941, at which point she headed back to NY and formed close friendships with many of the writers there. After WW2, she lived mostly in Paris, and in 1945, she remarried Reeves.
The later part of her life was overshadowed by chronic illness, alcoholism, and depression. In 1948, she attempted suicide; in 1953, Reeves tried to
convince her to commit a double suicide with him. She fled but he did go through it. By her early thirties, she had complete paralysis on her left side, a consequence of the strokes she endured in her youth. She ultimately died of a brain hemorrhage in 1967.
Carson may have been married to Reeves, but she certainly performed a lesbian persona in her public life. She wore men’s clothes, and aggressively pursued women, though it appears that none of her attempts to seduce women were successful. Her most famous love was the Swiss writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach. In an article for The Nation, Sarah Schulman writes about McCullers’s complicated relationship with women, gender, and sexuality:
In the absence of reciprocated lesbian love and the inability to
consummate lesbian sex, McCullers still wore a lesbian persona in
literature and in life. She clearly wrote against the grain of
heterosexual convention, wore men’s clothes, was outrageously aggressive
in her consistently failed search for sex and love with another woman,
and formed primary friendships with other gay people.
Schulman actually develops her exploration of McCullers’s identity and modes of identification in a New Yorker article, noting that
I started to realize that McCullers’s gender trouble was not of the
homosexual kind, and it slowly dawned on me that, had she been alive
today, not only would McCullers (and Williams and Capote) have probably
been in A.A. and on antidepressants, she might have been living as a
transgender man. She did once tell Capote, “I think I was born a boy,”
which doesn’t, in and of itself, mean much—but how many of us, as little
girls, have never had that thought? Most.
Here at 365 Days of Lesbians, we never get tired of “praise the Lorde” puns, and it’s only appropriate that we should honor her legacy today, on her birthday.
Audre Lorde is one of the major names when it comes to reading about Black/female/queer identities. As a Black writer (essayist and poet), Womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist, she has brought major contributions to the intellectual and literary landscape of the 20th- and 21st- centuries.
Recording of Audre Lorde live at UCLA in the early 1990s
She was born in NYC, the youngest of three daughters, to parents who were Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and Carriacou. As a child, she was nearsighted to the point of being legally blind. She learned very early on how to talk, read, and write, and everything in her life points to how precocious a writer & wordsmith she was – and she eventually attended Hunter College High School, a school for intellectually gifted students. In her autobiographical writings, she also described her relationship with her parents as difficult – they worked long hours and were emotionally distant. All of this may have encouraged her to turn to poetry as a potent form of expression.
She worked for many years as a librarian, in parallel to her writing, notably earning a master’s degree in Library Science from Columbia University in 1961. In 1966, she became head librarian at Town School
she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of color, along with with Barbara Smith and Cherríe Moraga (this is the press that notably published This Bridge Called My Back). Lorde notably helped women – and especially Black women – rethink feminism on their own terms, to escape the toxicity of white feminism
In 1984, Lorde headed to Berlin to start a visiting professorship. Once there, her influence was a source of inspiration for many black women in there; her impact on the Afro-German movement was chronicled in a documentary by Dagmar Schultz. Watch the trailer here:
Throughout the last years of Audre Lorde’s life, her recognition never ceased growing, but she was weighed down by a battle with cancer – first breast cancer, for which she underwent a mastectomy, then liver cancer. In her Cancer Journals, she explores her experience with breast cancer, and how it intersects with her identities. In 1992, Audre Lorde passed away from liver cancer; before her death, she participated in
It’s all good to be talking about lesbian history, but lesbian historians also do exist and it’s always great to have people from one’s community actively researching that community’s history and doing their utmost to bring it to light. Today, we bring you one such person: German historian Claudia Schoppmann.
Born in Stuttgart, in 1958, Claudia Schoppmann started out her studies in the fields of history, communication, and the German language; she now lives in Berlin. Her studies and books mainly focus on LGBT themes, and her main work, Days of Masquerade, was the product of extensive research on the lives and culture of lesbians under the Third Reich/in Nazi Germany. It explains how lesbian identities were perceived in different ways than male homosexuality, and more often completely dismissed or forgotten. The blatant lack of documents to work with then adds to the uncertainty of historiographic work within this time period.
What’s up with early 20th-century Broadway and all the lesbians? We don’t have a straightforward answer to that but we’ll do our best to clarify just how queer the theater milieu really was (still is?) by casting the spotlight (see what we did there?) on Katharine Cornell.
Cornell was a stage actress, writer, theater owner and producer whose legacy in the US theater world is undeniable. Her parents were from the US, but she was actually born in Berlin, Germany, where her father was teaching at the time. Her parents traveled back with her six months later to the US, and settled down in Buffalo, NY. She displayed early on a disposition for performance, and when she moved to New York City after her mother’s death in 1915 and joined the Washington Square Players, her talent was quickly recognized and praised. Even when she appeared in less critically successful plays, her performance still garnered tremendous praise, as when she played Jo in a stage adaptation of Little Women in London.
When she returned to New York, she met Guthrie McClintic, a young male theater director whom she married in 1921. This is generally acknowledged as a lavender marriage, though, since both spouses were known to be gay. Cornell was part of what was called “sewing circles” in NY – a phrase coined by actress Alla Nazimova to
describe the underground/closeted lesbian & bi actresses in early 20th-century Hollywood (though this was definitely extended to the NY Broadway milieu). Cornell notably had relationships with Nancy Hamilton, Tallulah Bankhead (remember her?), and Mercedes de Acosta, among others.
Cornell was the first actress to win a Drama League Award and, along with her friend Helen Hayes, was often called the “First Lady of the Theatre.” She formed a production company with her husband, which helped them have complete freedom in & control over the choice and production of plays. Cornell remained in the theater milieu even when the film industry started getting more prosperous and quickly enough pushed famous stage actresses to the side, as she was determined to help the theater remain a vibrant world. You can find a more complete description of all her roles and the evolution of her career in her Wikipedia entry, as well as in the obituary that The New York Times wrote for her, and this article on the archives focused on her life and work, hosted at the University of Buffalo. And enjoy this footage of her, in what is alleged to be her sole performance on screen, in the 1943 movie Stage Door Canteen:
Anthony photographed by Napoleon Sarony, date unknown.
She was born in 1820 in Massachusetts, in a Quaker family – which explains her lifelong involvement in activism. She was first active in temperance-focused circles, which led her soon after to women’s rights, and particularly suffrage for women. She endured a lot of opposition and abuse for her positions, but this didn’t deter from traveling and lecturing all around the country.
What is perhaps less well-known is her personal penchant for women. Of course, this was at a time when such words as “lesbian” had not entered mainstream vocabulary and historians are still divided on whether we can apply a modern label to 19th-century relationships, or whether there’s even enough to substantiate the hypothesis that Anthony was a lesbian – but still! It’s quite obvious that her most important relationships were with women, and she also never married. She was rumored to have been been the “third person” in the marriage of Elizabeth Cady
Stanton, her longtime companion with whom she traveled giving speeches. She was also rumored to be involved with a few other ladies.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, circa 1870.
Is she nonetheless a lesbian icon? No – at least not to us. Her passionate defense of the women’s right to vote was mainly focused on the white women’s right to vote. She made several statements that made her priorities clear, and at this point, our lesbianism is like feminism: if it excludes people, then it’s not for us. We thank her for her contributions, and move on to find other heroines.