Happy Bisexual Visibility Day, everyone!! Although we are called 365 Days of Lesbians, we have also covered countless bisexual women who have lived throughout history on this blog and work hard to be allies to our fellow wlw sisters!
The French actress turned American femme fatale, Claudette
Colbert, was born on this day in 1903. The possibly bisexual performer had a
successful acting career that lasted over two decades.
Two of Claudette’s most scandalous roles were in The Sign of the Cross (1932) and Cleopatra (1934) where she appeared topless and semi-nude, respectively (x).
Émilie “Lily” Claudette Chauchoin was born on
September 13, 1903 in Saint-Mandé, France. In an ironic twist of fate, she was
nicknamed Lily by her family after the New Jersery-born actress Lillie Langtry
and the family would later migrate to New Jersey themselves. Claudette attended Washington Irving High School and
became heavily involved in their theater program, but still set out for Art
Students League of New York after high school with her sights set on becoming a
fashion designer. It wasn’t until she scored a small role in the Broadway play The Wild Westcotts in 1923 that
Claudette started to seriously pursue acting.
With her sights now set on acting as a career goal, Lily
Chauchoin became Claudette Colbert; Claudette from her middle name and Colbert
from her maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She started out with a five-year
contract with Broadway producer Al Woods, but eventually made the transition
over into films in 1929 with The Hole in
the Wall. She found her niche and became a household name in 1932 when
Cecil B. DeMille cast her as the femme fatale in his historical epic The Sign of the Cross. To Claudette’s dismay,
she would then become known as one of the leading femme fatales in Hollywood
and for her overly sexual roles. By 1933, she had starred in over 20 films and
was ranked as the 13th biggest box office star in America. A year later, she would win the Academy Award for Best Actress for It Happened One Night.
Claudette and one of her supposed lovers, Marlene Dietrich, on the slide during Carole Lombard’s party at Venice Pier Amusement Park, June 1935 (x).
Claudette was married twice; first to a man named Norman
Foster who was a director and her Broadway costar, but after they divorced she
wed a UCLA surgeon named Joel Pressman. Despite both her marriages being seemingly legitimate and loving, rumors of Claudette’s affairs with other actresses such
as Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Marlene Dietrich followed her for her entire career. Most
notably, Claudette had a very public intimate relationship with the out lesbian
artist Verna Hull in the 1950s. Although Claudette denied the rumors that she
was bisexual or a lesbian, she and Verna rented a home together in New York City
and even had neighboring vacation homes in Barbados. The relationship ended abruptly
and on bad terms in the early 1960s after the death of Claudette’s husband.
When Claudette passed away on July 30, 1996, she left her entire estate to
another woman named Helen O’Hagan, who she instructed in her will to be treated
“as her spouse.”
Happy birthday to Evan Rachel Wood! The bisexual actress who
you might recognize from True Blood or Westworld turns 30-year-old today.
In July of 2016, Evan spoke with The Daily Beast about her experience as a bisexual woman in Hollywood and her reaction to the Pulse Nightclub tragedy (x).
Evan was born on September 7, 1987 in Raleigh, North
Carolina. Both of her parents were involved in the entertainment industry, with
her mother working as an acting coach and her father operating a local theater
company called Theater in the Park. Evan, along with her three brothers and
sister, was homeschooled by her parents from a young age and was thus able to
receive her high school diploma when she was just 15-years-old.
She began her acting career in 1994 by appearing in several
made-for-TV movies, but her first big role came in the form on the 1998 film Digging to China, where Evan acted
alongside big names such as Kevin Bacon and Mary Stuart Masterson. She
officially arrived in 2003 with the release of the film Thirteen, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as
Best Actress. More recently, she has appeared on True Blood from 2009 to 2011 as Sophie-Anne Leclerq, as the titular
character’s daughter in the HBO miniseries Mildred
Pierce, and currently stars as Dolores Abernathy in the popular series Westworld.
Evan came out as bisexual on Twitter in 2011 and has since
become one of the most outspoken bi advocates in Hollywood. She opened up further
about her sexuality in 2011 in an interview with Esquire Magazine,and just in
February of 2017, Evan gave a powerful speech when she awarded at a Human Rights Campaign gala in
North Carolina. She concluded her speech with the words, “I choose to use my
voice because it would feel selfish to have acquired the platform to represent
the underrepresented and to not use it.”
An undated photograph shows Sarah’s appearance as her alter ego, “Franklin Thompson” (x).
Sarah Emma Edmonds
was born in December of 1841 in New Brunswick, Canada. At the time of her birth, New Brunswick was still an English colony. Despite growing up in a relatively happy home where she
worked on the family farm along with her sisters, Sarah ran away at
the age of 15 to avoid an unwanted marriage. Her mother was also a victim
of an early marriage forced by her parents, and so Mrs. Edmonds helped her
daughter adopt the disguise of a man and flee New Brunswick. Having adopted the
name Franklin Thompson, Sarah crossed the U.S. border and found herself working
as a bookseller in Hartford, Connecticut.
breakout of the Civil War, Sarah enlisted in Company F of the 2nd Michigan
Infantry – also known as the Flint Union Greys – under the guise of Franklin
Flint Thompson. Scholars have theorized that
the middle name Flint was chosen based on the fact that she had previously
been volunteering for the Union Army in Flint, Michigan. Sarah eventually
worked her way up from male field nurse to Union spy after her close friend,
the spy James Vesey, was assassinated and Sarah volunteered to fill his spot. Her
masterful skills of disguise came in handy during her spy career, claiming in
her memoir that she frequently went undercover as both men and women.
contracting a deadly case of malaria, Sarah was forced to give up her life as
Franklin Thompson. Fearful that her true identity would be discovered if she went to a
military hospital, she fled from her military duty and checked herself into a civilian
hospital. Although she intended to return to her Company once she was cured,
she was forced to leave the army for good once she noticed posters declaring
Franklin Thompson as a deserter and a wanted man. Instead, Sarah decided to
serve as a female nurse in Washington D.C. for the remainder of the war.
This illustration depicts a story Sarah tells in her memoir about comforting a fellow Union soldier on the battlefield, only to have the soldier confess that he was truly a woman in disguise! Sarah never reveals the deceased soldier’s name, but writes that she personally made sure they were buried near their brother under a mulberry tree and that she ensured their secret was never discovered (x).
married a Canadian mechanic and old childhood friend by the name of Linnus H.
Seelye. The two lived happily and ended up adopting two sons after their own three children
died young. However, in her bestselling memoir, Sarah recounts having had a
relationship with a woman during her pre-war years as Franklin Thompson.
Sarah writes that she “came near marrying a pretty little girl” while living as a “famous” bookseller in Connecticut and then later Nova Scotia.
It would be impossible to attempt to
label Sarah E. Edmonds under contemporary understandings of gender and sexuality. Still, she stands as a landmark figure in the long and rich history of female
cross-dressers, many of whom enjoyed relationships with other women. The historian Lillian Faderman recounts these women’s place in lesbian history in
her book Odd Girls & Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life.
The classic novel Rebecca
by Daphne du Maurier was first published on this day in 1938! The bisexual
Daphne’s magnum opus and its film adaptation has lingered in LGBT culture for
decades due to its heavy lesbian-coding of the character Mrs. Danvers.
Ever since it first hit shelves, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca has been a best-seller and is even still in print in the year 2017 (x).
Inspired by events in Daphne’s own life, Rebecca tells the story of a woman named
Mrs. de Winter who finds herself being psychologically haunted by the ghost of
her husband’s first wife whose name was, you guessed it, Rebecca. Having
married Mr. de Winter just a year after Rebecca’s tragic death in a boating
accident, the new Mrs. de Winter (who is never given a first name) is a very unwelcome
addition to the family’s home and social circle. Her primary tormentor is Mrs.
Danvers, the creeping housemaid who is resentful of the fact that the new Mrs.
de Winter is encroaching on Rebecca’s memory. Painted as a vindictive villain
who has been obsessed with Rebecca ever since she was a child, Mrs. Danvers has
long been read as a lesbian character; albeit a derogatory stereotype of one,
but a lesbian all the same. When the novel was adapted to the screen in 1940,
the lesbian subtext became even more prominent. Before the film was completed the Motion Picture Production Code sent a message to its director
regarding the subtext: “If any hint of this creeps into this scene, we will of
course not be able to approve the picture.”
The iconic scene from the 1940 film adaptation where Mrs. Danvers clings to Rebecca’s lingerie was featured in a 1995 documentary about the history of LGBT characters across film history titled
The Celluloid Closet for its obvious lesbian subtext.
Although Daphne du Maurier was happily married to her
husband, she also had multiple affairs with women and wrote
in her private diaries about preferring both men and women. The titular
character of her novel My Cousin Rebecca
was highly influenced by Ellen Doubleday, the wife of Daphne’s publisher and
also her lover of several years. We have also written about Daphne’s affair with the
British actress Gertrude Lawrence in the past. Sarah Waters, who is arguable
today’s most popular lesbian author, has cited Daphne as a big inspiration for
her own work and has spoken publicly about her belief that Daphne wrote lesbian-coded
characters as a way of working through her own “unruly feelings” about women or
perhaps releasing her own feelings of internalized homophobia.
America’s first “It Girl,” Clara Bow, was born on this day
in 1905. The possibly bisexual actress was one of the world’s first silent film
stars and, in her heyday, received over 45,000 fan letters a month!
It was Clara’s appearance in the 1927 film It that led to the creation of the title “It Girl” for which she is so famously remembered (x).
Clara Gordon Bow was born in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn on
July 29, 1905 in the thick of a summer heat wave that almost led to the death
of both newborn Clara and her mother Sarah. The Bows were a poor family who lived
in a working class English-Irish community; Clara’s father was frequently
out of work and her mother suffered from mental illness – diagnosed as “psychosis
due to epilepsy” at the time. Clara recalled her home life as being “miserable”
and found solace in athletics at school and by going to the cinema. By the age
of 16, she was already dreaming about becoming an actress. Her dream became a
reality in January of 1922 when a 17-year-old Clara entered and won Brewster
Magazine’s annual “Fame and Fortune Contest.”
After winning the “Fame and Fortune Contest,” Clara was cast
in her very first – albeit small – motion picture, Beyond the Rainbow. She wouldn’t strike it big until 1923 when she
was cast in her very first big Hollywood production, Maytime. It was with films like Maytime
and later Black Oxen that Clara came
to personify the popular archetype of “the flapper girl.” She later struggled
to tone down her Brooklyn accent with the rise of “talkies,” but was able to
land the hurdle with films such as The Saturday
Night Kid and Dangerous Curves.
Having dominated theater screens and gossip magazines alike during two
different film eras, Clara cemented her status as queen of Hollywood.
Clara Bow is photographed sitting on the lap of out lesbian director Dorothy Arzner, who eased American audiences into hearing Clara’s thick Brooklyn accent for the first time in her first ever sound film, The Wild Party (x).
Clara eventually married a fellow actor named Rex Bell,
retired from acting, and settled down at a Nevada ranch with her husband and
two sons. However, before she left Hollywood for the simply life, Clara was known
as a free-wheeling party girl who danced naked on tables and enjoyed sex with both men and
women. It was also rumored that Clara had a fling with director Dorothy Arzner,
who directed Clara in the famously lesbian-themed The Wild Party (which you can read more about here). Would Clara have identified
with the contemporary label bisexual? – the world may never know. After having
lived out both the glamorous acting career and happy home life she had always
dreamed about, Clara passed away on September 27, 1965 at the age of 60.
Happy birthday, Mara Wilson! You might recognize her as
the lovable girl-genius Matilda from the 1996 film, but today Mara is an out bisexual
writer and playwright!
In 2016, Mara published an autobiography titled Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame (x).
Mara was born on July 24, 1987 in Burbank, California. Her
father worked in television, which led to her and her older brother Danny
auditioning for child roles in film and television. At first, Mara appeared in
commercials for companies like Texaco, Lunchables, and Marshall’s, but her
first big film role came 1993 with Mrs.
Doubtfire. Her role as the youngest daughter of the Hillard family in Mrs. Doubtfire put her name on the map and by 1995 she had starred in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, multipletelevision shows, and
had performed at 67th Academy Awards ceremony. It was that Academy Awards
ceremony where actor and director Danny Devito first noticed Mara and decided
to cast her for the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s iconic book, Matilda.
Matilda was a
resounding success and continues to be a staple of many people’s, specifically
young girl’s, childhoods today! However, Mara’s mother tragically passed away from
breast cancer not long after the filming of Matilda and the grief sapped away at Mara’s passion for acting. Her last major film
role was in the 2000 film Thomas and the
Magic Railroad and she has also done guest work on series such as Broad City, BoJack Horseman, and Welcome
to Nightvale. In 2013, Mara announced that she was retiring from acting and
has instead began to make a name for herself as a writer; she has since written
articles for the magazine Cracked and
had an original play, Sheeple, premiere at the New York International Fringe
In 2016, Mara came out as bisexual on Twitter. She did so in
a show of solidarity with the LGBT community after the Pulse nightclub
shooting, also saying, “I’m a relatively fortunate cis white lady, there’s very
little risk in me coming out. LGBT minorities are more at risk” and asking her
followers to donate to the GoFundMe page for Pulse survivors. You can follow Mara
on Twitter @MaraWilson!
On this day in 2016, animator and creator of Steven
Universe, Rebecca Sugar, came out as bisexual on a panel at San Diego Comic
Rebecca Sugar is the first woman to ever be an official show runner at Cartoon Network (x).
Rebecca was born on July 9, 1987 in Silver Spring, Maryland.
She began her career in animation with the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time, for which she was nominated
for Primetime Emmy Award for Short-Format Animation twice. She left the show
after the fifth season to begin production on her own original series, the now
famous Steven Universe.
premiered on Cartoon Network in 2013 and quickly gained a huge following of both
child and adult viewers. In 2016, the series was even awarded its own panel at
San Diego Comic Con, where Rebecca Sugar gathered with the other talents behind
the show to answer questions from fans. When one fan asked Rebecca what
inspired her to center Steven Universe around feminist themes, Rebecca
nonchalantly answered, “Well, in large part it’s based on my experience as a
bisexual woman” – this being the first time she publicly addressed her
sexuality! Rebecca went on to say:
“These things have so much to do with who
you are, and there’s this idea that these are themes that should not be shared
with kids, but everyone shares stories about love and attraction with kids. So
many stories for kids are about love, and it really makes a difference to hear
stories about how someone like you can be loved and if you don’t hear those
stories it will change who you are. It’s very important to me that we speak to
kids about consent and we speak to kids about identity and that we speak to kids
about so much. I want to feel like I exist and I want everyone else who wants
to feel that way to feel that way too.”
In response, the audience at the panel
exploded into a standing ovation.
On this day in 1991, the book Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out was published. Edited
by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka’ahumanu, the anthology was one of the
cornerstone publications in the bisexual rights movement of the modern age.
You can purchase the anthology and read more about its “sequel” productions here!”
Spearheaded by its editors Loraine Hutchins and Lani
Ka’ahumanu, who was a seminal bisexual rights activist and the only bisexual
speaker to attend the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal
Rights and Liberation, Bi Any Other Name
is an anthology book that ponders bisexuality in the internal and external
through a collection of poetry, art, and personal essays. The book was an
instant success and sold so many copies that it quite literally invented the
formal category of bisexual literature – after Bi Any Other Name was forced to compete in the category of “Lesbian
Anthology” at the 1992 Lambda Literary Awards, the American bisexual community
raged a protest that successfully concluded in the creation of multiple
bisexual specific Lambda Literary Award categories in 2006.
The book’s success also led to the publication of 10 other
books by the same contributors, making Bi
Any Other Name a series! Today, the original book has been
republished 3 different times, has over 4,000 copies in circulation, and was even
translated and sold in Taiwan beginning in 2007. Despite the original
controversy with the Lambda Literary Awards, Lambda has included the book in
its “Top 100 Queer Books of the 20th century” list. Bisexual rights legend and
former president of BiNet USA, Wendy Curry, once wrote of Bi Any Other Name: “This groundbreaking book gave voice to a
generation of previously unseen bisexuals. Rather than arguing statistics or
debating the sexuality of long dead celebrities, Hutchins and Ka’ahumanu gave a
space to normal bisexuals who told their lives. This created a new genre for
books on bisexuality.”
On this day in 1874, the “Mama of Dada” was born. The Baroness
Else von Freytag-Loringhoven, as she was known, was an eccentric bisexual woman,
a living work of art, and the originator of the iconic art piece Fountain.
Else photographed going about her daily life in Harlem, New York on January 10, 1921 (x).
Born Else Hildegard Plötz in Pomerania, Germany, Else’s
father was a mason who afforded the family middle-class status. She began
training as an actress and vaudeville performer at a young age and eventually
moved off to Dachau to study art. After finishing her studies, Else relocated
to Berlin – the heart of German Dada. It was in Berlin where she found a
community of like-minded artists who challenged the era’s gender and sexual
mores and refused to separate their selfhood from their art, but still, she was
one of the few women actively involved in the community. Other women included
the writer Mina Loy and the expressionist painter Gabriele Münter, both with
whom Else had affairs.
In 1901, she married an architect named August Endell
and the two had an open relationship until they divorced in 1906. She was soon
married to a translator named Felix Paul Greve, and although this relationship
would soon fall apart as well, Else’s marriage to Felix would change her life.
In 1909, finding himself penniless and in mountains of debt, Felix convinced
Else to help him fake his own death. The couple’s plan was to disappear from
Germany forever and start a new life in America, but after Else joined her
husband in the U.S., he abandoned her and Else was left alone in a foreign
country with no friends.
In America, she was forced to start her life from the ground up; she found work in a
cigarette factory and she also started modeling for photographers in New York City. It
was through her modeling career in New York City that she met and became
friends with legendary photographers such as Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, powerful connections that, once again, allowed Else to become involved in an artistic society. In
1913, she was finally able to give up the hustle and focus more on her art when she
married the wealthy Baron Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven; during this time,
her poetry was picked up by the prestigious journal The Little Review and her sculptures/“living collages” began
being shown in galleries. In recent years, it has
been discovered that legendary Dada artworks like Fountain
and God that were once attributed to
male artists and close friends of Else, Marcel Duchamp and Morton Livingston
Schamberg, were actually created by Else herself.
In 1921, Else left New York and moved back to Europe. First,
she returned to Berlin, but found it to be a devastated shell of her former home in the aftermath of World War I. She eventually settled in Paris, where she
struggled to make ends meet and had to be financially assisted by her wealthy
friends such as Djuna Barnes and Peggy Guggenheim. Else died a mysterious death
on December 14, 1927; she was found dead in her home, curled up with her beloved
pet dog. The cause of death was pronounced to be gas suffocation, but the exact
circumstances that led to the gas being left on in her apartment are unknown.