20th Century

Origins of the Gay Pride Movement and Pride Parades

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The sixties were a time when many groups started to fight for their rights. Everything from the civil rights movement, women’s feminist movement, and the anti-war movement polarized Americans and got everyone out to organize, march, protest, and campaign. It was a time for big strides in social change on a variety of fronts. It saw the rise of the gay pride movement and the beginning of the now worldwide celebration of Pride parades.

The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were working towards uniting and providing support for the gay and lesbian community since the 1950’s. After the riots at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, it was no longer enough to protest quietly or disguise your identity in a vaguely named organization. The gay rights movement became much more vocal and confrontational. The Gay Liberation Front was created barely a month after Stonewall. Six months later, members of the GLF splintered off to help form The Gay Activists Alliance. Stonewall had become a rallying cry that gained momentum over the year that followed.

Members of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations decided at their meeting in Philadelphia to have a march in New York on the one-year anniversary of Stonewall. Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Brody, and Linda Rhodes were pivotal figures in getting the referendum passed. Back in New York, Rodwell hosted meetings in his apartment and at his bookstore, the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. Brenda Howard attended these meetings and would eventually become a driving force not only for the first march but many more Pride events that followed.

The Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place on Sunday, June 28th along 51 city blocks from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Those attending the first march worried they would not even make it from Christopher Street to Central Park. There was lots of hostility from a largely homophobic public. Despite the fear of being attacked, the march grew in number and jubilance as it made it’s way to Central Park. They chanted and carried signs, making sure to tell the public they were no longer going to stay quiet about their cause. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago also had a march that year. The following year saw more marches around the US, then the first international marches began.

In time, Pride would grow in attendance and host cities worldwide. The 1970s and 1980s were difficult times as the LGBT community had to fight hard against discrimination and also some hard fights within their own communities. Despite this, the passion to change politics and public opinion never waned. Gay Freedom Marches, Gay Liberation Day and Gay Freedom Day continued to be events to bring LGBT issues to the forefront and to make its causes known to a wider audience. The community and burgeoning rights groups would see many challenges in those early decades, from the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978 to the struggle against increased fear and homophobia during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s.

Pride events quickly evolved from the one-day march to weekend and weeklong festivals. The tone was more political in those early years but even as Pride celebrations became more festive, the undertone of politics and advocacy never went away. By the 1980s, the events changed from “freedom” and “liberation” titled events to the term “Gay Pride.”

Pride would be celebrated around the world, London in July of 1972, Stockholm in 1979, and Berlin in 1979. The ’80s saw an increase in world Pride events with cities like Paris, Dublin, Winnipeg, and Hamburg. Many Gay and Lesbian film festivals started in the US and internationally around this time. Pride events saw a great expansion around the world in the ’90s with the addition of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Thailand, Austria, Iceland, many Eastern European countries, and the start of EuroPride which changes the hosting European city every year.

The largest celebration is in Sao Paolo, Brazil with 3,000,000 participants and was named the largest pride parade in the world by the Guinness World Records in 2006. EuroPride has the next largest participants while San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have the largest numbers in the US. Taiwan is the largest in Asia, Tel Aviv is the largest in the Middle East and Toronto is the largest in Canada. The smallest had 100 participants in Sligo, Ireland.

You can now find Pride events in almost every country, from the largest cities to smallest islands, and the numbers continue to grow. Check with your local LGBT organizations, LGBT Community Center or online resources for lists of Pride events near you.

 

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Sex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators

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An interesting part of vibrator history is that they were often not manufactured nor marketed for masturbation. Many products used as sex toys were advertised as therapeutic massagers of the non-sexual kind. Household items sold with the word “vibrator” on the box were meant for relaxing muscles but often purchased as a “pervertable” (an everyday object used for sexual pleasure) rather than their original advertised use. Even the original Hitachi Magic Wand’s public relations department argued for decades that it was just to massage the kinks out of your shoulders and back, and not for use on more intimate parts of the body.

When you’re researching vintage vibrators, you usually find a parade of the usual suspects. In between the late Victorian hand crank massagers and the mid-century power tools, I found a couple that teetered on the sex toy edge. While I can’t find proof that they were used for solo sexy time (then again we can’t prove vibrators marketed for health care were all sex toys anyway) there’s something about them that just screams pervertable to me.

Vibra Bed may not be a conventional vibrator but the image on the box of a woman enjoying her “relaxing” time in bed made me wonder about the Vibra Bed’s intended use. I found two versions; the first has a late 60’s illustration then another with an early 70’s photo. In the box, you find a mid-sized square device you can attach to the bed to replicate those vibrating “magic finger” motel beds. Because everyone goes home from that no-tell motel going “Gosh I wish I had that vibrating bed action at home!” (Well, maybe a few did. Who am I to yuck somebody’s yum)

Vibra Bed made its first appearance in 1970. The good and services part of the trademark document lists it as a “vibrator for attachment to a bed or sofa for causing vibration of parts of the human body.” An ad in the Pittsburgh Press says it can be used with a sofa or chair. How well this small box works to make your entire bed, sofa, or chair into a vibrator is a question for the ages. Might be a nice full body massage after a long day or it could be about as effective as my cell phone going off repeatedly. Dynamic Classics Ltd., which went bankrupt in 1996 after losing a government lawsuit, had several items under trademark that were either fitness or travel oriented but nothing quite like Vibra Bed.

Sex Toy History: Unusual VibratorsAnother interesting find is the Filter Queen Vibrator by Health-Mor Inc. Filter Queen is known for its canister style vacuum cleaners. They carry a wide assortment of accessories including an attachment that turns your vacuum into a vibrator. The box shows how the hose vibrates and recommended use on various parts of the body. The attachment was invented by Eugene F. Martinec, vice president of manufacturing and inventor of many accessories for Health-Mor, and patented in 1962. At $14.50, this accessory is quite expensive, about $115 today. This price makes it more than twice the price of a Magic Wand and not as exciting. It looks like it came as part of an entire filter queen kit sold door to door, so may not have been purchased separately very often. Filter Queen is still in existence today, but no longer sells the attachment. Although an authorized dealer in Canada still offers the vibrator on their website.

An item that just screams sex toy to me is the Vibra-Finger gum massager. The vibrating end of thisSex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators massager comes shaped like a rather realistic looking finger. Apparently, dentists highly recommended gum massage to combat Pyorrhea or soft irritated gums. It cost $6.95, had a 30-day money back guarantee, and a one year warranty. The instruction booklet recommends a 60-second massage after brushing your teeth and lets you know you can purchase replacement fingers for a $1 each. I’m not sure why these fingers had to look so disturbingly life-like, it doesn’t seem necessary to perform the cleansing and refreshing massage

Vibra-Finger advertised in several newspapers from what looks to be the 1950s. I couldn’t find any information about either the Dentagene Company or Atlas Industries, both listed as the parent company on the ads. Nor could I find a patent for it. When it was invented and first distributed, is a mystery.

I was surprised to find all of these items for sale on eBay, Etsy and online stores specializing in collectibles. Their distributors may be long gone, but the product is still lingering about.

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Sex Toy History: The Hitachi Magic Wand

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My first introduction to the Hitachi Magic Wand was in the movie Bachelor Party (1984). I was enjoying this delightfully awful Tom Hanks vehicle on HBO when the scene came up where two sex workers who get rerouted from a raucous bachelor party to a demure bridal shower. When the women arrive, they pull out a giant vibrator and a whip then casually ask, “Is there an empty outlet in here?” before sinking out of frame in a heated embrace. I had never seen the large wand like sex toy before, only the plastic oblong shaped vibrators sold at Spencer Gifts. It didn’t make me run out and get one, nor did I even think about it much after that scene. Little did I know but it was one of the most popular vibrators of all time.

I would later find out the name of this toy, the Hitachi Magic Wand. I would also discover that nearly everyone I know finds it an indispensable part of their sex toy arsenal. The Magic Wand is so popular it should have a fan club. So popular it’s even referred to as the Cadillac of sex toys. What’s also interesting is this popular sex toy is not really a sex toy but a muscle massager. At least, that was it’s original intent when it was first distributed back in 1968.

In May of 1968, Hitachi Sales Corporation filed to trademark the phrase, Magic Wand. In that document, the Magic Wand’s first use and first use in commerce as an electric massager are listed as April 25, 1968. The original packaging did not have the words Magic Wand on it, simply Hitachi massager. The packaging added the phrase Magic Wand in about 1969. Early packaging was plain with only the product name and logo. Packaging from the mid to late 1970’s shows it’s recommended use as a massager with photos of a model showcasing various parts of the body you would use it on like shoulders, legs, and feet. The instructions also suggested points of the body like neck, shoulders, and back.

The massager hasn’t changed much since 1968, a wand handle with the cylindrical shaped head and flexible neck. Early versions of the head are more cylindrical in shape and have a padded vinyl black or red quilted covering. The quilted head appears ribbed for her pleasure, even though it would not gain that status for a couple of years. The original massager only came in one speed, and the handle was fluted (like long grooves on a Greek column) and wasn’t tapered. They also came in three different colors like white, pink, and red. Hitachi initially included a vinyl bag but discontinued it in the mid 70’s.

Later versions, around the mid 70’s, do away with the more blunt cylinder shaped head with the quilted padding and feature the more rounded smooth head with the single groove you see today. The ones that were officially labeled Magic Wand seemed to debut a short time after the trademark was officially registered in 1969. The Magic Wand had two speed settings and the more familiar tapered body. One of my favorite versions is “The Workout” with its 70’s color scheme and uber macho dude replacing the woman in the usual packaging. I’m sure this made it appealing as a post workout massage as opposed to supplying relief to tired women’s shoulders and feet. There were subtle variations over time like changing the color of the power switch and the handle becoming more tapered. By the late 70’s, Hitachi stopped offering the wand in different colors and white became the standard. By the late 90’s, they added the now classic blue trim.

It’s popularity as a sex toy did not happen right away. Hitachi always maintained that this was a body massage device meant for health care and not a sex toy. Body massagers were often co-opted to be vibrators, but the Magic Wand got lots of great press by the mid 70’s, mostly initiated by Betty Dodson. Dodson initially preferred the Panasonic Panabrator but switched over to the Magic Wand. She was known to use the device in her Bodysex workshops then recommended the Magic Wand in her book “Liberating Masturbation” published in 1974. The news spread, and soon it became a sex shop staple. It’s been a best seller at Good Vibrations in San Francisco since they opened in 1977.

Since it was technically a body massager, it could be sold in regular stores. Dodson said she could get it in Macy’s small appliance section. Hitachi at times seemed none too thrilled their therapeutic massage device was usurped as a sex toy then oddly supportive of it. In 1992, they commissioned chocolate versions in honor of the 15th anniversary of Good Vibrations. Then in 1999, they issued a statement asserting that the wand’s only use was for health care. I guess you could consider using it for masturbation as health care, but I get the feeling that is not what they intended.

In 2000, they had a falling out with their US distributor, American Appliance Corporation. Coupled with their unease that their product was now famous as the ultimate masturbation accessory, Hitachi decided to cease production. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror. After a couple of months without a distributor, and prices of Magic Wands starting to skyrocket on eBay, they inked a deal with Vibratex as their new distributor.

Wait. Vibratex is a sex toy distributor, yet Hitachi denies it’s a sex toy. Hmmm…

In 2002, Magic Wands were flying off the shelves after a similar looking massager showed up in an episode of Sex and the City. Despite all this, in 2013 Hitachi decided again that it didn’t want to sell a sex toy and wanted to pull the plug on the product. Vibratex convinced them to remove the Hitachi name and sell them as the Original Magic Wand, or Magic Wand Original as was advertised in the rebranding debut in 2014. Manufacturing had changed slightly, which caused many to complain it is not as well build or long lasting, but it remains highly recommended.

While the wand has always recommended stopping use after 25 minutes to avoid overheating, many say the device can go much longer. Its eco-friendly cord means you don’t go through tons of batteries to use it. Getting its power from an outlet rather than batteries is a key to its power. Despite all the newfangled sex toys, including the recently debuted rechargeable Magic Wand Original, this time-tested workhorse will never go out of style or popularity.

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The Controversial Sex Manuals of Ida Craddock

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A while back, I did an article listing early sex manuals. Inspired by Women’s History Month and a desire to delve deeper into a book off the list, I decided to look into the work of Ida Craddock.

Born in Philadelphia in 1857, Ida Craddock turns out to be quite a fascinating woman. Her work is an interesting amalgamation of free speech, religious eroticism, and Onanism. Ida not only talked frankly about sex but also advocated sex for pleasure and seeing to a woman’s needs first, at least among married couples. She even gave detailed instructions to women on how to move during sex to make it more pleasurable. Ida not only offered her advice via written pamphlets but had an office on Dearborn Street in Chicago where she offered in-person consultations for married couples.

Anthony Comstock was not having any of it, especially since she distributed her pamphlets through the mail. Comstock’s war against corruption and obscenity managed to make the distribution of written material of a sexual nature illegal. Comstock and Craddock clashed early on after her editorials defending the belly dancer “Little Egypt” whom many conservative Victorians, Comstock included, thought an obscene addition to the World’s Columbian Exposition. It was Ida’s writing as a sexologist that would bring Comstock and his obscenity police after her again and again.

Ida did not start out as a sex educator. She was denied entrance to the University of Pennsylvania’s Liberal Arts program in 1882 due to her sex, even though she passed the rigorous entrance exams. Instead, Ida taught herself shorthand then went on to publish a textbook on the subject and teach stenography at Girard College. It was in her 30’s that she started writing about spirituality and sex.

Bought up in the Quaker faith, she abandoned it after developing an interest in a more alternative view of religion. Ida discovered the Theosophical Society, joined the Unitarian church, became secretary of the American Secular Union then dubbed herself a Priestess and Pastor of the Church of Yoga.

In contrast to her strict evangelical upbringing, Ida developed ideas about sex that she felt were an absolute necessity for men and women to enjoy marital bliss. She felt the lack of education about sex as cruel and abusive. Many women arrived on the wedding night not even knowing intercourse was on the menu much less how to do it. This ignorance leads to many a newlywed to have not only a horrific wedding night but would continue to hurt couples long after their honeymoon.

Despite being a free thinker, Ida’s desire for open and honest sex education commingled with the moral reform of the social purist. She then added a strong dose of Tantric techniques and teachings. This mixed cocktail of ideas made her booklets, The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living, fascinating to read as they were groundbreaking yet mired in oppressive Victorian mores. Both these texts not only contain the conservative Victorian views of female sexuality such as an abhorrence of contraception and the mistaken view that masturbation was a self-polluting act but also communicated ideas about sex that were revolutionary in their time like seeing to a woman’s pleasure first and educating people about sex before marriage.

It was not only unusual to get advice about sex but even more so from an unmarried woman. Perpetually single Ida told people she was married to an angel named Soph, and their lovemaking was spectacular. Her “Heavenly Bridegroom” may have been a convenient way to cover up having relations without being married but we’ll never know for sure. We do know she wrote extensively about spiritual sex.

The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living contain detailed instruction and information about sex that was rare for the time. Ida believed that lack of education was a terrible social ill and that women were being used as a vessel for their husband’s desires to the detriment of their health. She had heard stories of women who were given no instruction about their wedding night only to find themselves traumatized both mentally and physically. Ida surprisingly suggests in The Wedding Night, “In the majority of cases, no genital union at all should be attempted or even suggested, upon that night.” She recommends the bride and groom not attempt any sex on their wedding night but “go straight to sleep like two tired children.” This may have been unrealistic advice but her concern the couple having a satisfying sexual experience after a long and exhausting wedding day.

A positive mutual sexual experience lies at the core of both these texts. In The Wedding Night, a bride is required to be “aroused amorously, before that organ, in its state of activity, can become attractive.” Ida told her readers that women wouldn’t find a man’s erection desirable if she is not aroused yet also states that women don’t have any innate sexual desire. Ida asks the bridegroom to wait for sex until the bride shows desire, very unusual for the Victorian era. She tells the man to make sure to satisfy her passion first, but at the same time, she says woman’s passion is for affection and maternal love. She as times seems conflicted between women wanting to mother their husbands and sexually desire them.

Some advice in The Wedding Night is disconcerting but only to modern sensibilities. Ida tells her readers to not, under any circumstances, use the hand for sexual excitation on the women’s genitals. As she puts it, “There is but one lawful finger of love… and this is the male organ.” Ida also writes that the clitoris is to be “simply saluted” in passing. It needs to be ignored since it’s a “rudimentary male organ” and will pervert the sex act. Apparently, she is convinced that all sexual pleasure is derived from vaginal penetration only and any stimulation of the clitoris is to be avoided.

Ida thankfully states that a woman’s orgasm is just as important to her health as a man’s but doesn’t see clitoral stimulation as healthy since it is linked to male magnetism. She also thinks that a hooded clitoris is an unnatural condition and recommends circumcision. She even recommends having the hymen snipped if it is too tough. I would hope women did not take this advice.

In both texts, Ida believes the use of semen only for begetting a child. She sees withdrawal as unhealthy, and a man will show signs of ill health if he practices it. She goes on at length in Right Marital Living about the perils of preventing conception by any means. Men should not excrete semen in any way that does not result in the creation of a child and sites some “experts” such as Dr. W. Xavier Sudduth and Dr. Brown-Sequard. Dr. Brown-Sequard, a neurologist known for his groundbreaking discoveries about hormones and spinal cord injuries, supported the idea that seminal fluid needed to be reabsorbed into the body for men to maintain good health and virility. Dr. Sudduth was primarily an oral surgeon who later became a professor of experimental psychology. Ida quotes his “Psycho-Physics of Masturbation” in which Sudduth writes about the perils of masturbation and sex merely for the “means of sedation.”

Right Marital Living contains steps to attain orgasm without ejaculation. Ida calls upon a variety of deities for men to call upon to take his mind off of the bodily plane to stave off orgasm. Ida may at times come off as a good Christian woman in her writing, but she based her instructions on tantric sex, the practice of coitus reservatus or sexual continence, and even the nude embrace rooted in the Tantric practice of Maithuna.

After having moved from Chicago to New York, Ida’s persecution continued relentlessly. On October 16, 1902, Ida took her own life when faced with five years in a Federal prison for distributing her pamphlets. She had already done three months in a workhouse. Ida wrote a long letter to her mother and another to the public which denounced Comstock’s unrelenting censorship. Ida wrote she would rather die as she lived, a free woman.

To read the complete text of Ida Craddock, check out the following books.

4 Book Collection: Heavenly Bridegrooms, Psychic Wedlock, The Heaven of the Bible, The Wedding Night, Right Marital Living, and Other Papers on Marriage and Sex (Kindle Edition)

Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock by Vere Chappell

Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman by Leigh Eric Schmidt

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Roe v. Wade: A Quick History

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As I write this, Roe v. Wade is celebrating its 44th anniversary just a day after the Women’s March on Washington. I wanted to share a quick history of this Supreme Court decision since not even I knew all the details other than the date and the resulting outcome. This post is not going to go into all the details, though. Roe v. Wade has a complicated and controversial history that is fraught with emotion, especial in these times. So this will be a “just the fact, ma’am” kind of post*.

Lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee would meet Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) in December of 1969 through adoption lawyer Henry McClaskey. Norma was pregnant with her third child and could not legally get an abortion in the state of Texas. She went to McClaskey to see if he knew how she could get an abortion locally. He couldn’t help her with the abortion, but he contacted Coffee knowing she was working to file suit to change the abortion laws. Current laws only allowed a legal abortion if the mother’s life was in danger. Women wanted an abortion had to travel to another state or out of the country to get one.

Even though the case wouldn’t be settled in time to change her condition, Norma became the plaintiff in Weddington and Coffee’s lawsuit. It was filed as a class action lawsuit so that it included not only Norma but also any woman in the present or future. The suit argued that women were had a right to an abortion under the 14th amendment, as it was a right to privacy issue. It also challenged that this was an unenumerated right protected by the 9th amendment, unenumerated rights were implied but not explicitly referenced in the constitution.

Weddington and Coffee also put together another case involving a married couple, John and Mary Doe v. Wade. Since Mary Doe had medical issues and her doctor recommended she not get pregnant. Coffee thought having a couple instead of a single mother seemed like a better plaintiff for a case. Dr. James Hallford was also added to the case since he was facing criminal prosecution for performing abortions in the state.

They filed the lawsuit on March 3, 1970.

“Wade” was Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade. He was district attorney from 1951 to 1987. Wade was known for being the prosecuting attorney in both the Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby cases. Wade appointed John Tolle, one of his staff attorneys, to defend the suit instead of doing it himself. The state also appointed their attorney, Jay Floyd, to work on the case alongside Tolle.

The first district trial hearing was on May 22, 1970 before a panel of three judges of the Fifth Circuit Court; Judge Sarah Hughes, Judge William Taylor, and Judge Irving Goldberg. It got off to a rocky start when Judge Goldberg asked some hard-hitting questions and both Coffee and Tolle having trouble during their arguments. On June 17, 1970, the court dismissed Dr. Hallford’s intervention and the Doe’s lawsuit. They ruled in favor of Roe, finding the law unconstitutional as a right of privacy issue under the ninth amendment, through the 14th amendment.

Unfortunately, while the ruling stated it was unconstitutional to prohibit abortion, it did nothing to stop the courts from prosecuting. The ruling lacked the essential injunction against Texas that would prevent the state from prosecuting anyone who violated the law, even if it was deemed unconstitutional. The omission turned out to be in their favor as it gave Weddington and Coffee a chance to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On December 13, 1972, Weddington and Coffee argued before the Supreme Court. Jay Floyd returned to defend. The justices presiding over this case were Justices Harry Blackmun, Byron White, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Warren Burger, and William Douglas. They are down two justices due to Justices Hugo Black and John Harlan having just retired due to illness. After much debate and several arguments, the justices decided to reargue the case.

They returned to court on October 11, 1972, this time with Judges William Rehnquist and Lewis Powel. Rehnquist and Powel replaced Hugo Black and John Harlan but had not been sworn in until after the first hearing. Texas Assistant Attorney General Robert Flowers replaced Jay Floyd after a poor performance, and a terrible opening joke, at the trial but to no avail.

On January 22, 1973, the justices delivered a 7-2 decision in favor of Roe by right to privacy accorded by the 14th amendment. In the words of Justice Blackmun, “This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy”

*I’m quoting Dan Ackroyd as Joe Friday, not Jack Webb. Historically, Jack Webb never used that exact phrase even though it’s attributed to him

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Lysol’s Surprising Sexual History

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I did lots of driving over winter break, often 5-10 hours at a time. In that time, I had the radio on so I listened to lots of ads.

Lots and lots of ads.

In between the car dealership and fast food ads I kept hearing a weight loss ad that guaranteed a flat belly and would empty your gut of tons of toxic sludge. After hearing it a few hundred times, my brain started analyzing what I was hearing; you can’t physically have “tons” of undigested food in your belly, especially not toxic sludge, and someone couldn’t be so bloated it looks like belly fat. Is this legit? If not, why are they allowed to advertise? My brain started thinking about truth in advertising. Then I decided to write a post about one piece of historical non-truth in advertising that rolled around in my head on the drive back, Lysol’s use as a douche.

Let that roll around in your brain for a bit. Lysol. Douche.

A while ago I had stumbled upon old ads for Lysol as an effective douche, its cleansing power capable of saving marriages. I went back into the history of Lysol to figure out how this came about and found another horrifying bit of Lysol trivia. It was also used as birth control.

Now let that thought sink in. Lysol. Birth. Control.

I hadn’t realized that Lysol to was linked to birth control during some of the other research I had done earlier this year concerning the Comstock Act and Margaret Sanger. The Lysol ads preyed on the public’s self-esteem by making them self-conscious enough to purchase their product, as most advertising is wont to do. But these ads have an even scarier undertone, the fears of women living at a time with no reliable or affordable birth control nor the means to educate themselves about what was available to them.

When I went to Lysol’s “Our History” page, I first noticed the tagline “Over a Century of Healthing.” Health? Is this a word? Apparently, it’s not a word but sort of a thing. Thanks to Google for providing me the first search hit that included a woman who referenced Lysol and Healthing. She was part of Lysol’s Healthing initiative and stated that it was, indeed, a word. A word invented for a health initiative is not really a word, especially since it’s not even in the dictionary. It was Lysol’s way of describing that you’re not just cleaning when you disinfect with Lysol, you’re healthing since you are decreasing germs and the spread of infection. But enough of the grammar rant, back to the history.

The Lysol’s history page only mentioned how it has helped families do more for health since 1889 such as ending a cholera epidemic, in 1918 was the first effective means of fighting the flu, and in 1930 was introduced to drug stores and hospitals. No mention of douching but I don’t blame them. Lysol is an effective germ-killing cleaner, one that I use in my own household, and would I imagine they would love to distance themselves from that dubious era in their advertising. Indeed, Lysol was introduced by Dr. Gustav Raupenstrauch to help end a cholera epidemic in Germany and used in 1918 to combat the Spanish Flu pandemic.

The product originated in Germany, migrated to Great Britain then landed in America. A combination of cresol and soap (most likely castor oil soap) made Lysol a powerful cleaner but also a toxic skin irritant that can cause blistering and burns. Despite this, starting in the 1920’s an extensive ad campaign was introduced suggesting diluted Lysol as an essential part of feminine hygiene.

Ads showed women with concerned expressions on their faces and copy that talked about the marital distress caused by lack of proper hygiene. Lysol cured everything from fatigue to foul odor, along with being the answer to your husband’s lack of interest and avoidance of intimacy. Why even the elegant women of Berlin used it! Lysol was the perfect antiseptic for marriage hygiene.

Yep, the ad actually says marriage hygiene.

There was even a booklet available to teach you all about how to use Lysol since “There is so much misinformation about feminine hygiene.” The photo in the ad shows a proper Margaret Dumont-like mother offering the booklet to her attitudinal teen flapper daughter. Over the years the ads were geared towards women struggling with inattentive spouses. They beat on locked doors, were caught in spider webs, and drowning in doubt and misgivings. You could even take a love quiz, but it’s for married folk only. Apparently, women were, and other ad said, ignoring one small intimate physical neglect that could rob them of their husband’s love. Sadly, all these ads put the blame solely on the wife.

Couples therapy was pretty much out of the question during this period, so there was no way to find out if other issues such as depression, being trapped in a loveless marriage, or any other valid reasons for marital troubles were actually at fault. There could be another reason why there wasn’t enough intimacy in a relationship, the fear of getting pregnant. We were still in the midst of the Comstock Act that prevented any information or delivery of contraception to the public. According to historians such as Kristin Hall and Andrea Tone, these ads were also selling contraception. Douching post-coitus was a popular method of birth control. Since it was cheaper and easier to get than condoms or diaphragms, Lysol was the best-selling contraception method for 30 years.

Douching, in general, is bad for vaginal health, using a caustic disinfectant made it an even worse option. In 1952, the makers of Lysol exchanged the cresol for another chemical that made it less toxic, but it was still dangerous to use. Lawsuits were dismissed as allergies. It wasn’t even an effective method of birth control as a 1933 study showed that half the women who used it got pregnant. It wasn’t until the 1960’s and the advent of the pill that Lysol began to fade in popularity. It’s been so long most people had no idea the cleaner we use now (that recommends avoiding contact with eyes, skin, and clothing) was used this way.

And if you weren’t into Lysol, there was also Listerine. But that is another douche story for another time.

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Sylvia Rivera: Transgender Activist

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You can’t talk about Marsha P Johnson without talking about Sylvia Rivera. The two friends were passionate activists for transgender/non-gender conforming rights and were advocates for LGBT youth, especially the homeless. Sylvia was inspired during the Stonewall riots by the thought of revolution. She thought the revolution was happening and she wanted to be there for it. While there is still inconclusive evidence that Sylvia was at Stonewall during the riots, what is important to remember is what she did after the riots and during her lifetime that matters.

Sylvia was born Ray Rivera in New York City on July 2nd, 1951. Sylvia had a tumultuous youth growing up in the Bronx as her mother dealt with two difficult and often dangerous marriages. Her stepfather threatened to kill them when she was three. Unfortunately, she would lose her mother soon afterward to suicide. She tried to kill Sylvia too by offered the rat poisoned laced milk she was consuming to her too. Sylvia survived the poisoning but her mother did not. She was sent to live with her maternal grandmother. This new living arrangement was not quite an improvement on her life.

Being half Puerto Rican and half Venezuelan made life with her Venezuelan grandma, Viejita, challenging. Her grandmother didn’t like the dark skin she inherited from her equally dark-skinned father. Viejita also didn’t like her effeminate mannerisms. It also didn’t help when her father took Sylvia’s half-sister Sonia away, leaving her grandmother with the grandchild she didn’t want. She still took care of Sylvia but in a very strict environment, often resorting to beating Sylvia in a desperate attempt to normalize her. She went to all white Catholic schools, to a Catholic boarding school when her grandmother fell ill, and shuffled around to other homes of friend and relatives. She started wearing makeup to school in the 4th grade and dealt with some teasing at school, but the most abuse came from people in the neighborhood. She finally ran away from home at age 10.

Sylvia wound up on 42nd street and relied on sex work support herself. She was already no stranger to sex work as she had previously hustled with her uncle. She was taken in by the local drag community and changed her name to Sylvia. Her years in Times Square started in 1961, a tough time to be gay much less trans. She was also homeless and struggled with addiction. She often went to jail where beatings and sexual assault were common. Later in the 60s, Sylvia started to feel the draw to activism and more openly identified as a drag queen. Sylvia was just 17 during the Stonewall riots. She knew it was time to stop taking the harassment, beatings, and abuse. It was time to fight. She joined the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance; both organizations formed after Stonewall. Unfortunately, she found a reluctance to support cross-dressers and transgender people.

After the Weinstein Hall sit-in, Sylvia and Marsha P Johnson started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970. STAR helped young drag queens and trans youth with food and shelter. Sylvia spent her time helping the poor, the homeless, the people of color, and the gender non-conformists. She and Marsha looked after street kids struggling to survive around the Christopher Street docks. They put them up in their hotel rooms and even tried using an abandoned tracker trailer until the owner recovered it with the street kids still inside. Eventually, they rented a house owned by the mafia that became known as STAR House. STAR House had lasted two years before they were forced to leave. In that time they fed and housed as many people as they could. She and Marsha hustled on the streets to make money to provide for them so they could stay off the streets. They ran STAR as a collective with everyone helping to provide food and supplies. By 1973, with no place to house anyone, STAR was disbanded.

Being a trans into poor sex worker, Sylvia increasingly felt left out of the mainstream-leaning early gay rights movement but continued to find ways to fight. She was the only person arrested while gathering signatures for a proposed gay rights bill, a bill that eventually took out all mention of transgender rights in an attempt to please lawmakers and increase the possibility of it passing. It took 15 more years to pass, and trans rights were still left out. Sylvia even had to force her way to the microphone to speak during Pride. A group led by Jean O’Leary found men dressed as women offensive and tried to deny her access to the stage. Well, she did get there and had some enlightening words to share about the divisiveness of the gay rights movement.

All this was too much for Sylvia after a while, and she tried to commit suicide in 1974. She moved to Tarrytown where she worked a regular job, went to Pride events, and stayed under the radar for a while. She moved back to New York in early 90’s but tried to kill herself again in 1995 by walking into the Hudson River. Marsha’s body had been found in the Hudson River 3 years before, and despite writing a beautiful obituary for her, Sylvia felt Marsha was never appreciated for her work. Surviving this suicide attempt, she reignited her passion for activism. In 1999, Sylvia was invited to speak the World Pride Celebration in Italy and restarted STAR in 2001, changing transvestite to transgender. She also was an advocate for Amanda Milan, pressing for an investigation into her murder and helping with the funeral.

Sylvia passed away in 2002 from liver cancer. She lived the last years of her life at Transy House Collective, a house in Brooklyn run in the spirit of STAR house, and run by a former STAR resident. Her legacy lives on with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an organization that assists transgender, intersex, and gender variant people. Also, the corner of Christopher Street and Hudson Street is named Sylvia Rivera Way in her honor. She’s often called The Rosa Parks of the Modern Transgender Movement. She and Marsha were almost forgotten but thankfully their work for the community is now remembered and celebrated.

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Marsha P Johnson: Transgender Activist

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For Pride Month, I looked into the history of the Stonewall Riots. An important part of that history is relevant this month. The Stonewall Inn was significant because it catered to the outcast amongst the outliers. They not only provided a safe space for underage homeless gay kids but a place for the transgendered, cross-dressers, and the gender fluid. Gay, lesbian and trans patrons socialized together. It was a place where they could find others like themselves, a place where they could feel safe even if it was only between police raids.

Long before the riots, activist groups were already forming and worked under the radar for equal rights. Constant raids, harassment, and abuse leading up to Stonewall made it an exploding pressure cooker. There are many conflicting accounts of who “started” the riots. What’s more significant are the amazing people who stood up for their rights that night. One of the notable people present that night was Marsha P Johnson, a trans person of color.

Marsha P Johnson was born Malcolm Michaels Jr. on August 24, 1945, in Elizabeth New Jersey. Malcolm moved to NYC in 1966, and legally changed her name to Marsha P Johnson. The “P” she said, stands for “Pay It No Mind,” a preemptive answer to a question she knew was on people’s minds. Marsha identified as a drag queen, though sometimes she would slip into a male persona and become Malcolm on occasion. When that happened, she could be mean and vicious. A majority of the time, she was kind and gentle.

She spent much of her first years in Greenwich Village on the street, a fate for most trans folk and drag queens. Wearing women’s clothes or looking effeminate in a way was unacceptable so kids were often thrown out of the house or they ran away. Marsha decided to escape her family that would not allow her to leave the house dressed as women by moving to the Village. To make ends meet, Marsha found sex work a reliable, if dangerous, way to make a living. She lived for many years couch surfing, staying overnight with Johns or even sleeping in a movie theater during the matinees. She would later find a permanent home with friends.

Marsha’s exuberant nature coupled with her love for extravagant accessories on a non-existent budget was well known and loved. She could often be found with massive amounts of flowers in her hair or with an elaborate hat. She would piece outfits together between dumpster diving, second-hand clothes, and castaways from the flower market. Marsha’s penchant for dramatic clothing served her well while she was a member of the Hot Peaches, a renowned gay theater troupe that ran from 1972 to 1998. In the same spirit as San Francisco’s Cockettes, Hot Peaches was well known for its entertaining and thought-provoking performances. Marsha would read poetry or sing, to much acclaim.

While Marsha was already a member of the Gay Liberation Front, she formed the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, STAR, with her friend Sylvia Rivera in 1970. STAR helped young drag queens and trans women with food and shelter. Their goal was to help cast out young street queens, but they were open to anyone who needed their help. They looked after any street kids trying to survive around the Christopher Street docks. Housing was a challenge. At first, Marsha and Sylvia put up as many as they could in their hotel rooms. They then tried using an abandoned tracker trailer until the owner recovered it with the street kids still inside. Eventually, they renovated a burned out house owned by the mafia that became known as STAR House. Marsha was “mother” to the kids at STAR House during the two years it lasted before they were forced to leave. She and Sylvia hustled on the streets to make money to provide for them so they could stay off the streets. They ran STAR as a collective with everyone helping to provide food and supplies as best they could.

Marsha and Sylvia continued to advocate and help street queens and queer youth even after their attempts to provide a permanent place for them was foiled. They were often seen at marches and protests together. Marsha was also involved with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), an AIDS advocacy group that formed in 1987.

In 1974, Marsha was photographed and painted by Andy Warhol. Warhol decided to do a series based on drag queens. He went to the Gilded Grape, a nightclub popular with cross-dressers, and took photos of several drag queens hanging out at the nightclub. These large format polaroids were transferred to paintings as a silk screen. Marsha’s photo, a brightly smiling portrait with a playful pigtailed wig, became part of his “Ladies and Gentlemen” series first shown in Italy.

As she became a beacon of light for street queens, an inspiring performer and a work of art, Marsha also struggled with mental illness. She even claimed to have visions. Despite not being accepted by the Catholic Church, she was very spiritual and was known to pray prostrate at the foot of a statue of Mary at the local churches. Living as gender non-conforming drag queen and a person of color was already a challenge. Coupled with the dangers of sex work this added immense pressure and stress in her life. During her lifetime, she experienced several attempts on her life by Johns, so many arrests she lost count, and many nervous breakdowns. Despite all this, Marsha was always known to give what little food and money she had to others. There’s a story that she used the last of her money to buy a back of cookies then wound up giving away most of it to the street queens she passed. Marsha’s would rather give away the last of what she had rather than see others go in need.

Marsha’s live was cut short in July of 1992. A few hours after the Pride March on July 6th, her body was found floating in the Hudson River near the Christopher Street piers. The police dismissed it as a suicide, but everyone who knew her argued that was impossible. There had been no indication she was suicidal. What they did know was that she was harassed shortly before she was found dead. Friends rallied to have her death investigated, but the case was closed. In 2012, Mariah Lopez lobbied to reopen the case and won. The New York police department reopened the case as a possible homicide2012. Unfortunately, I can find lots of info about the reopening of the case but nothing about any results. As far as I can tell, the case is still open and unsolved.

Marsha was a champion of trans rights and a guardian angel for the cast off runaways she found in the West Village. There are amazing stories of her vibrant personality and her endless generosity. While not without her demons, she made a big different in the lives of many and continues to be an inspiration long after her death.

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Margaret Sanger: 100 Years of Planned Parenthood

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“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” – Margaret Sanger

Planned Parenthood celebrates it’s 100 birthday on October 16, 2016. Even though birth control is now more readily available, the battle for reproductive rights and sexual freedom still continues. Let’s look back at the origin of Planned Parenthood, and its founder Margaret Sanger.

Margaret Louise Higgins was born on September 14, 1879, in Corning, New York to Michael Hennessy Higgins and Anne Purcell Higgins, the sixth out of eleven children. Margaret’s father made a meager living carving gravestones. He was an agnostic, an abolitionist, and supported suffrage. From an early age, Margaret and her siblings were encouraged to share their opinions. This was unheard of in a time where children were to be seen and not heard.

Despite Michael being open minded, the family still held to very traditional gender roles. Anne was a devout Catholic. She cooked, cleaned and cared for everyone in the household. On top of that, she went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, with several miscarriages. Two didn’t survive to adulthood. By the time she died at the young age of 49, she had looked much older than her years. Margaret was desperate to get away from the overcrowded house, crushing poverty, and taunting by the other children. Her older sisters pooled their money together to send Margaret to Claverack College and Hudson River Institute in 1896, despite their father’s disapproval. He felt nursing was an inappropriate career for his daughter to pursue She spent three years there then rushed home to take care of her ailing mother. She cared for her family after her mother died.

In 1900, Margaret went to New York City and became a nurse probationer at White Planes Hospital. There she met architect and aspiring artist, William Sanger. Margaret was smitten with Bill, and they married in 1902. Bill shared Margaret’s penchant for socialism and radical thinking. At first, they tried to settle down in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York but the builders of their new house had neglected to put an asbestos covering on the heating pipes causing a fire that destroyed their home. The Sangers moved to New York City in 1911 and became heavily involved in the artist community as well as workers rights and the labor movement.

Margaret worked as a visiting nurse in the slums of the east side during this time. There she saw the same issues she grew up with, large families living in poverty. Many mothers became so desperate they performed self-induced abortions. The curse of the working class, mostly immigrant women, was the lack of information about contraception. There wasn’t any way these women could learn how to stop getting pregnant; it’s was illegal and was considered an obscenity thanks to our old friend Anthony Comstock. Not only was it hard for the families to have so many mouths to feed with so little money coming in but also it took its toll on the women. Frequent pregnancies also meant more miscarriages and the steps they often took to end a pregnancy could be fatal. Margaret decided something had to be done and took on the crusade to give women more control and choice when it came to procreation.

This crusade came at a price. Margaret sought out all the information to could find about contraception. In 1912 she wrote What Every Mother Should Know then What Every Girl Should Know for the socialist magazine New York Call. Some welcomed the open discussion of sex while others were shocked by it. In 1913, she traveled to Scotland and France to do research on birth control. She would not return to the U.S. with Bill. Bill stayed in Paris to continue his work as an artist while Margaret returned to NY to pursue her work. Margaret and Bill’s separation sounds amicable in her autobiography. She did not want to keep him from pursuing his art, and he did not want her to have to stay and give up her mission. They finally divorced in 1921 and Margaret would marry again in 1922 to Noah Slee.

In 1914, Margaret and a group of friends came up with the new term “birth control” when they formed the National Birth Control League. She started a magazine called The Woman Rebel, which was considered obscene and thus illegal to distribute. Margaret found herself looking at jail time. When the judge and lawyers tried to pressure her into pleading guilty then promising not to break the law again in return for dismissal of the charges, Margaret decided to flee the country. This was a difficult decision since she now had two sons and a daughter and had been struggling with tuberculosis for some time.

Margaret spent her time in Europe learning everything she could about family limitation and sex education. She spent a great deal of time with Havelock Ellis, who’s Psychology of Sex was blowing everyone’s mind and the Neo-Malthusians. She traveled to England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands where she learned that other countries had a much more liberal attitude towards birth control, especially the Netherlands. Margaret mailed copies of The Woman Rebel while in Europe and prepared to publish her pamphlet, Family Limitation, upon her return.

Margaret eventually returned to the US. Being apart from her children for so long was difficult, and she was worried about her daughter’s health. Margaret managed to get the charges against her dropped despite Comstock tricking her husband into giving an undercover cop a copy of Family Limitation, which resulted in his arrest and jail time. She needed to offer more than the printed word, so she embarked on a cross-country speaking tour. Upon her return to New York, she set up a clinic to help women one on one. On October 16th, 1916, Margaret, her sister Ethel Byrne, and volunteer Fania Mindell opened the first birth control clinic, The Brownsville Clinic, in the US in Brooklyn. Nine days later they were arrested and put in jail. Their crime was distributing information about contraception, selling obscene books, and being a public nuisance.

In 1917, Margaret started The Birth Control Review, a scientific journal. 1921 saw the first American Birth Control Conference held in New York City. Margaret opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in 1923. She then started the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control to eliminate the Comstock laws. In 1939 the American Birth Control League merged with the Clinical Research Bureau to become the Birth Control Federation of America. Members of the BCFA decided to change the name to something more conservative so, in 1942, Planned Parenthood Federation of America was born.

Margaret lived to see the debut of The Pill in 1960 and birth control legalized for married couples in 1965 before she passed away on September 6th, 1966.

Want to read more about Margaret Sanger? Buy The Autobiography of Margaret Sanger.
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Oskar Kokoschka and The Silent Woman

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Some people just can’t get over a breakup. They pine for their former lover, taking out old photographs, memorabilia from their time together, maybe even going to their old favorite places. Or just stalking them and harassing them with repeated plaintive texts. Some people go to great lengths in their refusal to let go of their ex. Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka went that extra mile; he had a doll made of the girlfriend who jilted him.

Oskar Kokoschka was an artist, poet, and playwright. In 1912 he started a relationship with socialite and composer Alma Mahler, the widow of composer Gustav Mahler. They only lasted about two years together as in that time Oskar became more obsessed and enthralled with her while Alma’s feelings for Oskar became a bit more “meh.” Oskar volunteered for the Austrian army at the beginning of WW1 in 1914. While he is away, he gets nearly fatally wounded and returns home in 1915 after his recovery. He is wounded again, but this time with a broken heart. Alma had taken up with a former lover, Walter Gropius, and married him while Oskar was away. He deals with the breakup by finding a way to keep Alma with him. He commissions a doll maker to recreate Alma in life size doll form. One that looks and feels like her in every way.

Oskar contacted doll maker Hermine Moos with a detailed description of how he wanted the doll to look and feel. He sent all of Alma’s measurements along with a life-sized drawing and instructions to not only make the doll to the exact measurements but pay close attention to the dimensions of the head, neck, ribcage, rump and limbs. He wrote, “Please permit my sense of touch to take pleasure in those places where layers of fat and muscle suddenly give way to a sinewy covering of skin.” He wanted to transform her into reality, an experience he can embrace. He even gave examples for the main body stuffing and different stuffing for her breast and buttocks. All this detail was so time consuming, it took Hermine six, excruciatingly long for Oskar, months to finish.

The doll is indeed quite lifelike except for one disconcerting detail; its skin was made of feathers. The doll actually looks furry, though seems to be covered with small downy feathers. My guess is that Hermine took the idea of soft skin a bit too much to heart and found the softest thing she could find. Oskar was impressed with the look of the doll but not the fluffy body. He was upset that it made it extremely difficult to dress her in the fine Parisian clothing and undergarments he had bought. He said it was like she was covered in polar bear fur which made it difficult to even get a stocking on much less the clothing and delicate robes he wanted to dress her in. Despite the unnatural plushie quality of her skin, he did seem happy to see the likeness of his love and tried to make the best of it. Unfortunately, it never lived up to his expectations

Oskar spent most of his time sketching and painting the doll, something he had done often with Alma. There were rumors that he took the doll on carriage rides and to the opera, there may have even been sexual relations with it. There was no evidence that he actually did these things and may have been purposely spread by Hulda, whom he was involved with at this time, at his request. He had first thought of this doll as Eurydice returned to Orpheus from the dead. Instead of fueling his addiction, it cured him of it. After all the posing, sketching and painting, he had lost that loving feeling.

Once he had moved on from his obsession he decided to throw a party for The Silent Woman, the name he and Hulda called his ersatz Eurydice. The party got pretty wild. The next morning the police arrived and woke the sleeping post party participants along with Oskar with a report of a murder. When they went out into the garden the doll was found covered in what looked like blood. She was also missing its head. The blood turned out to be red wine. In his drunken state, he beheaded the doll and broke a bottle of red wine over its head. Apparently, he had been cured of his passion and was ready to move on.

Photos still exist of Kokoschka’s Silent Woman, as do the paintings and his original sketches and instructions to Moos. Perhaps Oskar would not have been so disappointed had he been around in modern times. He could have commissioned a RealDoll version of his beloved Alma. I’m sure there would be no risk of dressing his RealDoll feeling like wrestling with a polar bear. Those expensive Parisian fashions would have looked lovely on high-quality silicone.

Photo: Henriette Moos, Oskar Kokoschkas Alma-Puppe als Venus, 1919 © Privatsammlung, Courtesy Richard Nagy Ltd., London

 

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