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.
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).
“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.
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.
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!”
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
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!
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.”
Happy birthday to Rebecca Walker! The bisexual activist and feminist writer is most well-known for being the first person to coin the term “third wave feminism” in the late 1990s.
Rebecca’s latest book is Enduring Violence: Everyday Life and Conflict in Eastern Sri Lanka, which was published in 2016 (x).
Rebecca Leventhal was born on
November 17, 1969 in Jackson, Mississippi. Her mother is none other than the
iconic Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Alice Walker and her father, Mel
Leventhal, is a Jewish American civil rights lawyer. When Rebecca was only 6-years-old,
her parents divorced. She would spend a majority of her childhood alternating
between living with her mother in San Francisco and her father in the Bronx in
New York City. At 15, she legally changed her last name to that of her mother –
Walker. She attended high school at The Urban School of San Francisco and
eventually graduated from Yale University in 1992.
1992 is also the year Rebecca
broke onto the mainstream’s radar with her article “Becoming the Third Wave” in Ms. Magazine. In the article, she tackles the judicial system and the media’s
treatment of Anita Hill and declares that it is in fact time for a “third wave”
feminist movement. Rebecca writes, “To be a feminist is to integrate an
ideology of equality and female empowerment into the very fiber of life. It is
to search for personal clarity in the midst of systemic destruction, to join in
sisterhood with women when often we are divided, to understand power structures
with the intention of challenging them.” To date, she has written over 10
novels. Her 2001 autobiography was titled Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a
Rebecca publicly identifies as
bisexual. She had a relationship with the fellow bisexual musician Meshell Ndegeocello,
whose son she also helped raise. In 2007, she had a son of her own with her
partner Choyin Rangdrol. Today, Rebecca travels around the country as a public
speaker and operates the non-profit organization the Third Wave Fund, which
encourages young women’s involvement in political and social activism.
Hannah was born as Anna Therese
Johanne Höch in Gotha, Germany on November 1, 1889. Her family was of
working-class status and although Hannah received a short education at the
Gotha Höhere Töchterschule, she was eventually taken out of school in order to
help her mother care for her younger siblings. When her youngest sibling, a
sister named Marianne, was finally old enough to care for herself, Hannah was
able to return to school. This time she chose to attend the School of Applied
Arts in Berlin. Her main passion was painting and fine arts, but she studied
the more “practical” crafts of glassmaking and graphic design in order to
appease her father.
With the outbreak of World War I,
Hannah returned home from school and joined the Red Cross; however, not a year
later she moved back to Berlin and found herself in the midst of the wartime
Dada movement. She continued her studies at the School of Applied Arts and
created embroidery patterns for ladies’ magazines so that she could have a
steady income, but her real life was lived in the bars and nightclubs of the
city where she bounced ideas off the likes of iconic artists such as Kurt
Schwitters and Piet Mondrian. One of her most well-known contributions was that
of the photomontage, which is exemplified in her 1919 piece Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the
Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany.
One of her most well-known pieces; Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic, 1919, collage of pasted papers, 90 x 144 cm, Staatliche Museen, Berlin (x).
Hannah was known to have relationships with both men and women. She was only married once, to a man
named Kurt Matthies, but one of her longest-lasting relationships was with the
famous Dutch writer and linguist Mathilda Brugman. Although the relationship
lasted 9 years and the two women openly lived together in the city of Hague,
Hannah never spoke publicly about her sexuality or sexual identity. When the Nazis
rose to power in Germany, much of her art was censored or destroyed after being
labeled “degenerate art.” Despite the danger it put her in, Hannah continued to
create photomontages throughout World War II and until her death on May 31, 1978.
The renowned poet, literary
critic, and Native-American activist Paula Gunn Allen was born on this day in
1939. While she identified as a lesbian in her earlier years, by the end of her
life Paula was identifying as a “serial bisexual.”
Paula Gunn Allen photographed by Christopher Felver in 2007 (x).
Paula was born on October 24, 1939
in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She grew up in the small town of Cubero, New
Mexico, which was a Spanish-American land grant village that bordered the
Laguna Pueblo reservation. Although Paula was of varying descent with Laguna,
Sioux, Lebanese, and Scottish people all along her family line, she always most
identified as a Native-American woman and with the Laguna people. Growing up,
her father owned a small local store and her brother was a much beloved poet
and teacher in the Laguna Pueblo-Anishinaabe community. Together, the family
was well off enough to allow Paula to attend the University of Oregon for her
undergraduate and then later the University of New Mexico for her PhD.
After graduating from college,
Paula became a professor and a writer. She worked in the English department of
over 7 different premier universities throughout her lifetime, even becoming the
head of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center in the 1990s. As a writer, her
breakout work was The Sacred Hoop:
Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, which changed the
face of academia when it was published in 1986. By combining Native-American with feminist theory, Paula brought a new radical perspective to both areas
of study; The Sacred Hoop is still
read in college classrooms today. During her life, Paula was also a fiction
writer and published over 15 novels, short stories, and poetry collections.
Although she was not as much of a
vocal member of the LGBT community during her younger years, Paula Gunn Allen
would later recount her experiences of sexuality and of struggling to find a
label that fit her. She began her journey by identifying as a lesbian, but
would later discover that she was bisexual. She eventually married twice and
had two children who survived her at the time of her death on May 29, 2008.
Film icon Lilyan Tashman was born
on this day in 1896. The bisexual American actress who rocked Vaudeville,
Broadway, and the silver screen throughout her lifetime is most well-known
today for her roles in Millie, Girls About Town, and So This is Paris.
Publicity photo of Lilyan Tashman from Stars of the Photoplay (x).
Lilyan Tashman was born to a
working-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York on October 23, 1896. She was
the tenth and youngest child to be born to her immigrant mother and father, who
had been born in Germany and Poland respectively. She attended Girl’s High
School and worked as a fashion and figure drawing model throughout her teen
years to help support the family. Her modeling career eventually blossomed into
a Vaudeville career and by 1914 she was a part of a successful travelling
troupe. Performing became cemented as Lilyan’s career when she was picked up to
join the Ziegfeld Follies in 1916.
Her stint with the Ziegfeld
Follies, although only lasting two years, allowed Lilyan to get a supporting
role in the hit musical The Gold Diggers.
She made her film debut in 1921 with the small film Experience, but after her attempt at leaping from the stage to the
silver screen wasn’t going the way she planned, Lilyan moved across the county
to California. Finally in Hollywood, her career took off; she appeared in five
films in just the course of one year and eventually signed a contract with
Paramount Pictures. Starring in over 66 films during her career, she became
known to audiences for her roles as the “other woman” or the seductive “villainess.”
Today, many consider Lilyan to
have been a bisexual figure. Her first husband was a colleague from her
Vaudeville days named Al Lee. The two were married in 1914, but soon divorced
in 1921. Her second husband was longtime friend and fellow actor Edmund Lowe.
The two lived together in their lavish Beverly Hills mansion called Lilowe,
threw extravagant parties, and were touted by the media as being Hollywood’s
new darling “it” couple; however, Edmund was a gay man and many believe their
marriage to have been one of convenience. Lilyan herself was rumored to have
had several trysts with women and even an intense relationship with Greta
Garbo, which left Lilyan heartbroken after Greta called it off. There is even a legend that Lilyan was almost charged with assault (for the SECOND time) after she
caught the actress Constance Bennett in a compromising position with her
girlfriend at the time.
Despite her vitality and
scrappiness, Lilyan tragically contracted abdominal cancer at the young age of
36. She would film five more films during the last years of her life, Frankie and Johnny being the last time
America would ever see her on film. After entering Doctor’s Hospital on March 21,
1934, Lilyan passed away from cancer at the age of 37. Her funeral at the New
York City synagogue Temple Emanu-El saw over 10,000 mourners, fans, and fellow
Hollywood elite in attendance.
The famous American poet and
playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay passed away on this day in 1950. Only the
third woman to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, she is believed to
have been an early bisexual icon for her affairs with both men and
Edna St. Vincent Millay in Mamaroneck, NY, 1914, by Arnold Genthe (x).
Edna St. Vincent Millay was born
on February 22, 1892 in Rockland, Maine. Her family was of modest means, her
father being a schoolteacher and her mother a nurse. Her middle name St.
Vincent was derived from the hospital in New York City, where her uncle’s life
had been miraculously saved not long before her birth. Edna would later write
of her childhood and say that she and her family lived “between the mountains
and the sea where baskets of apples and drying herbs on the porch mingled their
scents with those of the neighboring pine woods.” After her parents divorced,
Edna’s mother traveled around Maine with she and her sisters never staying in
one place too long. Despite her unconventional education,
Edna was eventually awarded a scholarship to Vassar College.
It was at Vassar where her affairs
with other women began, most notably with the English actress Edith Wynne
Matthison, who was over twice Edna’s age. After graduating in 1917, she moved
to New York City and lived in the bohemian neighborhood of Greenwich Village where she built a life for herself that she would later describe as having been “very, very
poor and very, very merry.” Although poetry was her main aim, Edna began seeing
much success as a playwright; she had lucrative careers with both the
Provincetown Players and the Theater Guild. Many of her plays and poems are now
legendary for their lesbian subtext, such as “The Lamp and the Bell,” Aria da Capo, and “Renascence.” She
would earn her spot in the history textbooks in 1923 after winning the Pulitzer
Prize for Poetry for her piece "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver,” becoming
just the third woman to ever be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
One of Edna’s greatest loves was the talented sculptor and famous lesbian expat Thelma Wood, who she met after
moving to Paris in January of 1921. Her relationships with men included a 26-year
long marriage to lawyer and war correspondent Eugen Jan Boissevain, as well as
a lengthy affair with the poet George Dillon. During World War I, Edna was a
staunch pacifist and contributed to the active anti-war campaign in her literary
circle; however, she changed her position with the dawn of World War II and
supported the Allied Forces. She made literary history once again in 1943 when
she became the second woman to every be awarded the Frost Award.
Edna photographed laughing with her friends in Paris, including her lover Thelma Wood (x).
Following an accident where she
fell down the stairs in her home, Edna suffered a heart attack and passed away
on October 19, 1950 at the age of 58. She was buried next to her husband Eugen,
who had passed away only a year earlier. Her estate and bisexual legacy was
eventually restored and brought to prominence in the literary canon thanks to the
work of her sister Norma, biographer Nancy Millford, and fellow Pulitzer Prize
winning poet and wlw Mary Oliver.
Happy birthday to Roxane Gay! The renowned
professor, feminist writer, and bisexual activist turns 43 years old today.
Although Roxane has not yet written formally about her sexual orientation, she speaks often of her bisexuality on her Twitter account (x).
Roxane Gay was born in Omaha, Nebraska on
October 15, 1974 to a family of Haitian descent. They later relocated to
New Hampshire, where Roxane graduated from Phillip Exeter Academy and then went
on to attend Yale University. Although she dropped out of Yale her junior year
and moved to Arizona with her partner at the time, she would eventually
complete her undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She received
her PhD in 2010 from Michigan Technological University.
After leaving school, Roxane
remained in academia as an English professor at Eastern Illinois University. She
burst onto the literary scene in 2014 with the publications of her novel An
Untamed State and a collection of essays titles Bad Feminist. In a review of Bad Feminist, Time Magazine called for 2014 to be “the year of Roxane Gay.” She
has since become a leading feminist speaker, editor, and writer. Her latest
work was a memoir titled Hunger, which came out in June of this year.