Category: bisexuality

SEPTEMBER 13: Claudette Colbert (1903-1996)

365daysoflesbians:

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.”  

-LC

SEPTEMBER 7: Evan Rachel Wood (1987-)

365daysoflesbians:

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.”

-LC

SEPTEMBER 5: Sarah E. Edmonds (1841-1898)

Historians speculate that over 400 women served in the American Civil War under male disguises. One of those women soldiers and an important “aspect of queer existence in Nineteenth Century America,” Sarah E. Edmonds, passed away on this
day in 1898.

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.

After the
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.

After
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).

Sarah later
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.

-LC

JULY 29: Clara Bow (1905-1965)

365daysoflesbians:

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.

-LC

JULY 24: Mara Wilson (1987-)

365daysoflesbians:

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, multiple television 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
Festival.

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!

-LC

JULY 15: Bi Any Other Name is published (1991)

365daysoflesbians:

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.”

-LC

April 8: Carmen McRae (1922-1994)

365daysoflesbians:

Looks like jazz is full of queer ladies! Today, we celebrate the birthday of Carmen McRae, one of the 20th century’s most influential jazz singers in the US. She was apparently bisexual, got married and divorced to men twice, and later on in her life was allegedly readily seen out and about with female partners.

Born in Harlem, Carmen McRae was of Afrolatinx descent: her father was from Costa Rica, and her mother from Jamaica. She was immersed in music early on, learning piano starting at age 8. At 17, she got to meet Billie Holiday, whom McRae considered to be her primary musical influence and to whom she always paid tribute by performing at least one Billie Holiday song at each concert. Throughout her whole career, Carmen played the piano and sang with the biggest stars in jazz – Dizzy Gillepsie, Betty Carter, Dave Brubeck, Louis Armstrong – and paid tribute to other giants such as Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan. McRae toured the US and the world for over fifty years, living most of her later life between New York and California.

-AK

DECEMBER 27: Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)

The famed actress and fashion icon, Marlene Dietrich, was born on this day in 1901.
Remembered as the woman who made the tuxedo gender neutral, she also had several
relationships with women throughout her life.

Marlene Dietrich dressed in her classic tuxedo and top hat, cigarette in hand (x).

Marie Magdalene
“Marlene” Dietrich was born on December 27, 1901 in a district of
Berlin, Germany called Schöneberg. Her mother was from a prestigious German
family and was heir to a jewelry and clock-making firm while her father served
as a local police lieutenant. As a child she attended Auguste-Viktoria Girls’
School. It was during her school days when her friends began calling her
“Lena.” She soon combined that nickname with her first name, Marie, and began
going by Marlene. After graduating from the Victoria-Luise-Schule, she began
seeking a career in show business.

Her earliest
gig was as a chorus girl with the touring vaudeville troupe, Guido Thielscher’s
Girl-Kabarett. After working in the theater circuit for a while, she made her
film debut with a small role in 1923’s The Little Napoleon. Her big break came
in 1930 when she starred in The Blue Angel; her role as the seductive cabaret
singer Lola Lola struck something within American audiences. Her signature song
from the film, “Falling in Love Again,” also became a hit. Marlene would go on
to make over 45 films in her career and become known as one of the most famous
femme fatales in cinema history.

One of Marlene’s
most famous scenes occurred in the 1930 film Morocco. One again cast as a
cabaret singer, she performs an entire song dressed in a man’s white tuxedo and kisses a woman in the audience. The scene was scandalous at the time, but also indicative of Marlene’s personal breaking of traditional gender roles;
she was known to dress in men’s suits in her daily life and was also one of the first women to be
enrolled at Sabri Mahir’s boxing studio in Berlin. 

Photographs of Marlene that were taken by the woman she had one of her longest love affairs with, Mercedes de Acosta (x).

The phrase “sewing circle,”
used to describe the underground gang of lesbian and bisexual women in old
Hollywood, is said to have been coined by Marlene herself. Although she was
married to Rudolf Sieber, she had multiple affairs with both men and women.
Some of her most notable lovers included Mercedes de Acosta, Claudette Colbert, Edith Piaf, and many more. She would pass away, aged 90, on May 6, 1992.

-LC

DECEMBER 1: Wonder Woman makes her first appea…

Happy December, everyone! Today we’re
covering the iconic superhero Diana Prince who made her first official appearance
as Wonder Woman in All-Star Comics on
this day in 1941.

The first comic book Wonder Woman ever graced the cover of, Sensation Comics #1, which was released in January of 1942. The tagline reads, “Featuring the sensation new adventure strip character – Wonder Woman!”

(x).

Wonder Woman was first introduced
in December of 1941 in All-Star Comics
#8. She entered during a time known as the “Golden Age of Comic Books” and became an
instant hit. She would appear again in Sensation Comics #1 in January 1942
before being granted her own independent comic book just six months later in
June 1942. The creator of the character, Dr. Dr. William Moulton Marston, wrote
all Wonder Woman stories with H.G. Peter illustrating until his death in
1947.

Ever since her debut, Wonder Woman
has been an icon for women who love women. Her homeland of Themyscira, an
island populated by only women warriors, has long been featured in the daydreams and
in-jokes of lesbians and bisexual women alike. This coding of Wonder Woman became
canonized in 2016 when DC Comics confirmed that Diana Prince has had
relationships with women as well as men. During an interview with Comicosity,
the Wonder Woman comic book writer Greg Rucka said, “[Y]es, [Wonder Woman is
queer]… But an Amazon doesn’t look at another Amazon and say, ‘You’re gay.’
They don’t. The concept doesn’t exist….are we saying Diana has been in love and
had relationships with other women? As Nicola and I approach it, the answer is
obviously yes” (x). Here’s hoping this side of the legendary heroine can make its
way to the big screens someday!

-LC

NOVEMBER 18: Lauren Jauregui comes out as bisexual (2016)

On this day in 2016, Fifth Harmony’s
Lauren Jauregui came out as bisexual in an open letter to the then newly
elected President Donald Trump.

In addition to her open letter, Lauren Jauregui spoke on her coming out experience in an interview at 2017 Beauty Con (x).

Lauren was born on June 27, 1996
in Miami, Florida. After being featured on
The X-Factor as a member of the girl group Fifth Harmony and becoming a
household name, she entered the realm of social activism and began speaking on
her experiences as a Cuban-American and as the daughter of immigrants. Since the
2016 election of Donald Trump, Lauren has written many open letters calling out
his perpetuation of xenophobia and white supremacy. The first of her open
letters was published on November 18, 2016 and was also the first instance
of Lauren commenting on her sexuality; she writes that she is a “bisexual
Cuban-American woman and I am so proud of it.” Read the letter here!

Since coming out, Lauren has been
awarded “Celebrity of the Year” at the 2017 British LGBT Awards. She was also
featured on the Halsey track “Strangers” and was chosen for the feature
specifically for her bisexual identity. Billboard heralded the song as “a
long-overdue bisexual milestone in mainstream music” and Halsey herself said, “I just love that Lauren and I are just two women who have a mainstream
pop presence doing a love song for the LGBTQ community.”

-LC