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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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Sexuality in Fashion: When Men Were Peacocks

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Dirck_hals_joyful_detail

Some time ago my kids and I were visiting a park where the peafowl ran free. I say peafowl because peacocks are only the males of the species; peahens are the females. It was spring so many brilliantly trained peacocks seemed to be everywhere that day, ready to impress. They strutted around with tails fanned out, giving them a shivering shake every now and then, as the smaller neutral feathered peahens seemed to be going about their business nonplussed. Several moms were standing with us in an open field watching nature’s show when I noticed some mom’s referring to the peacocks as “she” and “her.” It seemed they thought the courting male fowl to be female.

It’s always frustrating for me when I hear parents give their children misinformation instead of just saying, “I don’t know” then seeking out the right info. Dare I say something and correct these women in front of their children?

I couldn’t help myself. I had to. For science.

When I pointed out the fanciful birds were indeed male, they were surprised. It was strange to them that the female would be dull colored and the male so extravagantly plumaged. Because I couldn’t shut my mouth at that point, I also pointed out that pretty much the entire animal kingdom is set up that way. I eventually wound up explaining that males are colorful to help attract a mate and females are camouflaged to protect them, important vessels of procreation as they are, from predators. What I didn’t get to is that men have also been peacocks in our past, we just don’t remember. I’m not just talking about the swinging 60’s, the glam 80’s or even the metrosexual new millennium. Men centuries ago have had periods where they rocked wigs, highish heels, makeup, and fanciful dress. These were mostly affluent nobles but a rising merchant class meant the middle-income crowd could also indulge in fanciful fashion.

For most of ancient times, men and women dressed pretty much the same. In the 15th and 16th century, dress in the upper class becomes more elaborate. By the Tudor and Elizabethan time period men are slashed, puffed, sporting thigh high pumpkin hose and stockings. Then the 17th century arrived. Noblemen and aristocrats begin a journey into ostentatious display the likes of which we have rarely seen. The elaborate jewel pearl encrusted Elizabethan era becomes the sumptuous fabrics and ornate lace collars of the Jacobean era. Men are all about the ruff but not in the curled shaped upright ruff, instead, it’s wide, flat and made with exquisitely edged lace. There are even fancy lace cuffs appearing at the sleeves. The leg coverings saw short breeches descend from their height at the thigh, to knee length and full, then relaxing to a more natural form. Sashes and fancy garter ties are now all the rage. The heeled shoe makes its appearance, as does the high-topped boot that soars to such height it become fashionable to have them hang and sag around your calves.

As we head into the 17th and 18th centuries, men are wigged out, wearing makeup, high-heeled, and looking fabulous. Early 17th century Jacobean moves to the jaunty mid-century Cavalier, made popular by the Three Musketeers movies. Cavalier brings long curled locks, fancy long poufy sleeve peeking out from the end of coat sleeves, longer more elaborate coats, ribbon loops, the birth of the cravat and Jabot as neckwear, and petticoat breeches which were so wide they often looked like short skirts.

It culminates with the Restoration era where long curly locks are replaced by bigger long curly wigs, garter ties with bows become festooned with ribbon loops, jackets bloom with more ribbon loops, hats grow wider brims and longer feathers, shoes are heeled with fancily decorated as are the ever widening cuffs. Makeup becomes popular, mostly to hide scars due to smallpox along with the use of beauty patches that also help to cover scars. If you’ve ever seen The British Fops Lucien Callow and Fagan on Saturday Night Live, this is what they were making fun of. The Restoration era is the Fops heyday.

Dandy fashions continue into the rococo period to the early 18th century, but with fewer ribbon loops. The last stand of men’s fashionable extravagance, at least until the 1960s, would be the “macaroni” of the mid 18th century. Trendy men’s court fashion becomes its most metrosexual until it calms down to a more sedate dandyism spearheaded by Beau Brummel. Men’s fashion would become increasingly dull and drab as attitudes towards masculine dress become more rigid in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It’s interesting to note that the times that men are letting their peacock flags fly, are when sexual mores are more relaxed. The renaissance saw an increased acceptance of sex for pleasure, although usually within the confines of marriage. While cheating had to be kept on the down low, mistresses and boys on the side start to become more apparent in the literature of the time. The 17th and 18th centuries find the aristocracy enjoying what seems like a great deal of sexual freedom. Men marry to procreate and pass their fortunes and titles onto their progeny while pursuing mistresses and courtesans for pleasure. There is a sense that men flirted more and sex was more acceptable.

The 18th century is a time where a more modern attitude towards sex takes root. When sex gets tightly buttoned up in the Victorian and Edwardian eras (19th to early 20th century) men’s dress becomes less ornate. During the sexual revolution of the 60s, we see the return of the dandy and a blurring of the gender lines in fashion. It makes me wonder if the absence of the metrosexual in preference for the more conservatively adorned hipsters has something to do with the current clash of sexual identity. Only time with tell. I’m hoping the peacocks return to parade and shake their stuff again.

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History of the Sex Doll: The Era of Plastic

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By Dollfriend (here) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dollfriend (here) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I remember seeing ads in my younger days for sex dolls. The photos always showed a very realistic looking woman that seemed to hint that this doll would be incredibly life like. You too can have your very own sexy maid or luscious girlfriend. Even back then I knew this couldn’t be possible since most of the blow up dolls I had seen were less than life like pieces of plastic. Even today, blow-up dolls based on famous porn stars have a misleading real photo on the box. When you see what they look like inflated, thanks to a handy site that inflated them and posted pics, there is much room for interpretation. The disclaimer by the manufacturers often states that the doll is based on the model show in the photos. (There isn’t even fine print to tell you that most of the time) We’ve progressed too much more life like dolls since those early days but the simple inflatable doll that barely looks human is still sold and enjoyed by their purchasers. Science helped us go from cloth and leather to rubber then vinyl starting in the mid 19th century

Vinyl and plastic have not been around for very long if you consider how long humans have populated the earth. Rubber has been around for a while but before the advent of vulcanization, it quickly became brittle and would gum up if heated. Around the 1840s, the process of vulcanization was developed paving the way for a more versatile and long lasting material. There is very little information to be found about early sex dolls made out of rubber. Iwan Bloch wrote about sex dolls in 1908, stating they were made out of rubber and other plastic materials, in both female and male form, and that some were made more true to life with the ability to simulate vaginal lubrication and even ejaculation.

Sarah Valverde’s thesis makes mention of an ad in a 1902 Paris circular that was translated by Henry Carey about a custom made doll. It suggests that they were capable of making something quite close to nature. I couldn’t find the source material for this but this is what is quoted in the thesis: “All moves, arms, legs, buttocks, head, eyes; a perfect likeness of the person whose photograph is sent…the complete apparatus, guaranteed against breakage, man or woman, 3000 francs”

I’d love to see how close this perfect likeness was. I’m thinking it may not be as life like as we see with modern love dolls.

Polyvinyl chloride was discovered in the 1870’s. Vinyl or PVC in its plasticized form is lightweight and flexible. It’s also cheaper than rubber, latex or silicone and allows the doll to be inflated. The blow-up doll was born. It’s hard to know how early vinyl blow-up dolls were created since the Comstock Law made it illegal to advertise or send via mail anything of a sexual nature. In 1968, the law had lost its last foothold and we start to see the first ads. Blow-up dolls can be made of welded vinyl or latex, which was invented in 1920. These dolls barely look human with simply shaped arms and legs that often don’t have fingers or toes. The head is often just a bulbous shape with a wide-open mouth lined for your pleasure, although not all of them have an open mouth. The doll will also have one or two other orifices for vaginal and/or anal penetration. The breasts will often have nipples painted on but very little else adorns the body. A head of hair can be painted on or can be just a crude wig. They usually don’t last long as they pop after repeated use. Ads in the 70’s and 80’s show dolls that can be ordered with different color hair and sometimes even different hairstyles to suit the customer’s tastes.

The porn star dolls have been around for a long time and often take a very active imagination to see any similarities. I couldn’t find any information on the very first porn star dolls although the Linda Lovelace doll that came out in the 70’s comes up. In fact, I can’t even find any information about who made the very first blow-up doll. Unfortunately, when you do a search for first blow-up doll or who invented the blow up doll you get a thousand hits for Hitler. Rumor has it that Hitler came up with the idea for an inflatable sex doll to keep soldiers from mixing with non-Aryan women. The Borghild project was also supposed to save Nazi soldiers from rampant cases of syphilis when visiting Parisian bordellos. A few photos that were purported to be evidence of these dolls turned out to be a hoax. Some say the soldiers were too embarrassed to be found with these dolls if captured by the enemy. The best part of this myth is that the prototype of this doll would be the inspiration for the Barbie Doll but Barbie was derived from the Bild Lilli doll fashioned to look like a popular comic strip character named Lilli.

A game changer for the sex doll would be artist Matt McMullen’s desire to make a mannequin that had more realistic curves. While he was developing these prototypes made of hard latex with an interior skeleton, many people asked if they would be anatomically correct. A light bulb went off in Matt’s head as he realized the idea of just making a more lifelike mannequin was not where he should be heading. People would actually pay for his fully anatomical dolls, thus the Read Doll was created. Latex turned to silicone and Matt’s decision to switch from using tin cured silicone to platinum cured was taken up by the entire industry. The first female RealDoll was introduced in 1996, the first male doll in 2008.

In the 20 years since the first RealDoll was created a whole culture of iDollators has become a worldwide phenomenon. All this is a far cry from the false advertisement of those first vinyl dolls. Blow-up dolls continue to be made and sold, most likely because RealDolls and other high quality realistic love dolls are very expensive and very heavy. Sex doll technology is always improving as companies strive for a more realistic and more interactive experience.

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History of the Sex Doll: Before Plastic

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By Dvortygirl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dvortygirl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Sex dolls have come a long way in the new millennium. They’ve gone from a homemade companion to odd inflatables to the Real Girl. The need for artificial female companionship (the penetrative kind) has been around for centuries. For some the accompaniment of their own had is simply insufficient. Before modern silicone technology made the real doll possible, most sex dolls were made of vinyl or plastic. But what did we do before the advent of vulcanized rubber in the 1840’s and polyvinyl chloride in the 1920’s? We did the best we could with what we had, apparently.

It’s hard to find much documentation about dolls used for sexual acts before the 20th century. Most likely because those early dolls did not survive the test of time due to the materials they were made out of. Also, people just didn’t document that sort of thing. Stories have been told but not much solid written or printed evidence. We have to go on hearsay and there’s very little of that too.

Cloth was a material used to create dolls for centuries, sex dolls included. There are stories of dolls made of cloth or leather and stuffed with straw or bits of cloth as early at the 15th century. Most notably is the Dames de Voyages (or Damas de Viajes) said to be used by French and Spanish sailors of the 17th century. They may not have been the only sailors to use them. Lonely sailors were looking for “companionship” during long voyages on the high seas of this era. Women were not allowed on board ships as they were thought to be unlucky. Instead, figures were fashioned out of fabric and stuffed to give fullness. At the same time, the Dutch were traveling to Japan. The Japanese gave the name “Dutch Wives” to the dolls supposedly made of leather the Dutch sailors had with them for their long journeys to the east. The term is used even today as slang for sex doll.

The Japanese may have been inspired by the Dutch Wives to make their own sex doll. The Azumagata Ningyo (substitute wife/woman doll in Japanese) was written about in the 18th century but images or written records no longer exist. It may have been sold as early as the mid 17th century. It’s said that this doll made of tortoise shell; cloth and leather could be purchased in Ryogoku, a popular shopping district. I also found mentions of a sex doll referred to as a do-ningyo. This doll was in the shape of a young girl with a velvet vulva. Tahi-joro (traveling whores) was another term for these dolls. I’m somewhat unsure if the azumagata ningyo is shaped like a person or is just a pillow shape with an entry area that is lined with tortoise shell and velvet, silk or leather. Ningyo means doll in Japanese so I’m leaning towards a female shaped doll of some sort.

A fascinating thing that came up often in my research was that these dolls seemed to be reserved for those of higher rank in nearly every culture that used them. They were reserved only for those of a high rank, those higher up the chain of command or higher up the social ladder. These dolls sound extremely rudimentary so it’s hard for me to imagine a low ranking sailor or lower class citizen couldn’t enjoy the comforts of a rag doll with strategic openings. One wonders at the hygienics involved in something that may not ever get washed, or washed well, especially after a lengthy time of being repeatedly used. Did many share them or did you have an exclusive relationship with your raggedy love doll? If they were shared there is a certain “ew” factor when it comes to cleanliness and I don’t even want to think about the ease of transmitting STIs among your shipmates.

The French, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese probably weren’t the only ones to come up with this tool for fornication. It paved the way for more realistic looking dolls once rubber is improved with the invention of vulcanization. It’s a shame none of these earlier dolls survived. It would be amazing to see what level of detail, or not, was given to the cloth doll. Unfortunately, we will probably never know what they really looked like or how they were made. Sex with simulacra will continue to evolve along with technology. It will be interesting to see where this this technology takes us.

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Stonewall Riots

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By Another Believer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Another Believer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The 60s were a turbulent time. We exited the era of the conservative nuclear family where you fit in at all costs into a decade where people were done with being something other than their authentic selves. Rights movements brought out firebrands for several marginalized communities. There was an overall feeling among groups that had been oppressed and abused that they were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Soon after the Stonewall riot, we would see the rise of the gay rights movement.

In 1969, The Stonewall Inn was a well-known gay bar on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It was a haven for the poor and extremely marginalized transgender and transvestite community, as well as prostitutes and the homeless. The gay community didn’t have many public places they could go to socialize much less be out about their sexuality. At the time it was illegal, as was serving gay patrons. It was also illegal to dress in clothing not assigned to your gender. You couldn’t even dance without getting arrested. A few bars catered to the community but the police raided them often.

These bars operated without a liquor license, they were denied due to the illegal proclivities of their patrons. The mafia was often involved and a dance of scratching each other’s back would involve payoffs to police to prevent the business from being closed down. Cops would raid the bars, line up patrons to check IDs, send some on their way or others to the waiting police wagon. The cycle would repeat when the bars would reopen the following night. They sent anyone without proper identification or dressed in clothing of the opposite sex to jail. The rule was men couldn’t look like women and women needed at least three pieces of feminine clothing. If rich and influential patrons were found during the raid they were often blackmailed so their little secret didn’t get leaked to the public. Fear kept the community from fighting back but that would not last.

At 1:20am on June 28th, eight police officers lead a surprise raid at The Stonewall Inn. The police would find this raid was not business as usual. Instead of dispersing, people started to gather outside. Inside, the patrons had had enough of the injustice and harassment so they fight back. Tensions rose, as did anger and frustration. Stonewall wasn’t just a gay bar but a safe place for the drag community to gather. Queens and crossdressers weren’t accepted even among the queer community at this time so the raid was a threat to one of their few safe havens. It was also a place that homeless youth under the drinking age, then 18 instead of the modern 21, could hang out for the price of a modest $3 admission. When the Stonewall was raided, they would lose one of the few places they could go to stay warm and safe rather than sleeping out on the streets.

During a raid, usually bar patrons would be line up by the police then either go home or go to jail. This time instead of a few smart mouths and some back talk, the police started getting more resistance. The police decided to arrest most of the 200 people in the bar but there was a glitch. The police wagons had not arrived yet. During the wait, the group got more violent. Outside more people had gathered along with some of the patrons who had been released to go home. Instead of going home they stayed. By the time the arrested bar patrons were being put into police wagons and police cruisers, the crowd had grown tenfold. When a woman was roughed up and hit with a billy club the crowd surged in anger. The crowd pelted the cops with coins, then bottles, even used a broken parking meter as a battering ram. Soon a small-scale riot had started and the Tactical Patrol Force was called in. They would pin the police down as they continued to push forward; efforts to quell the fray were met with even more resistance. The crowd even tried to flip the police wagon and firebomb the Stonewall Inn.

Even after everyone was violently dispersed, people returned from all over the city the next day. One raid turned into a week of protests. For six days there were chants, kicklines, leaflets handed out, and smashed windows. In true 60s protest fashion fire hoses would be used to disperse the crowd. The protests were a call for freedom and “Gay Power.” While things calmed down eventually, a need to take action had begun. A need had been brewing since the beginning of the 60s and was ignited at this West Village bar. The coming year would see big steps forward in the fight for gay rights, the Gay Liberation Front would be formed which would lead to the Gay Activist Alliance. The battle for gay rights had been around before the events at Stonewall. What could have been just another raid at this unlicensed bar turned makeshift community center for the marginalized among the marginalized became a turning point for gay activism. The gay right movement would no longer fight in the shadows but become a loud voice that demanded to be heard.

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History of the Pride Flag

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By РадужныйФлагКопия2.png: *Rainbow_flag_breeze.jpg: Benson Kua from Toronto, Canada derivative work: Ligth Mehanist (talk) derivative work: Hotshot977 (РадужныйФлагКопия2.png) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By РадужныйФлагКопия2.png via Wikimedia Commons

I remember getting ready to join my friends for my first Pride parade viewing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never seemed to get around to. This time I was invited by a group of friends, which is so much more fun than just going by myself. Everyone was going to dress up in bright rainbow inspired outfits; tutus, striped stockings, t-shirts, wigs, sunglasses, et al. Gothy me took one look in my wardrobe and made a dreadful discovery… I hadn’t a stitch of bright colored clothing and the idea of wearing anything bright and cheerful was downright terrifying.

But it’s Pride so I acquiesced. I went to the store and bought rainbow colored fishnet tights and wore my red Sex Geek t-shirt. That was an explosion of color for me.

I had a great time even though it was insanely crowded. There were fun floats, dazzling dancers, and significant supporters. It was great to see political figures; a few celebrities and proud parents along with the LGBT community celebrate with what seemed like the longest parade I had ever witnessed. I wonder how many of those Pride revelers knew the significance and history of the colors they were wearing. It’s not just about glitter eye shadow, rainbow tights, and tutus. The Pride flag has a history and there is meaning to the colors.

The original flag first flew in the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco on June 25th, 1978. Gay Pride parades had been around for 8 years at this point, starting with the parade on Christopher Street Liberation Day commemorating the Stonewall Riots of the previous year. Gilbert Baker wanted to create flags for the parade but found there really wasn’t a symbol for the movement yet. He came up with the idea of a rainbow to represent all the different gender, nationalities, and races as well as representing the beauty and magic of nature. Baker was influenced by the “Flag of the Human Race” that was popular during world peace demonstrations in the 60’s. It’s also been said he was inspired by the song “Over the Rainbow” Baker learned how to sew to make his own outfits for his drag performances. He brought together 30 volunteers who hand dyed and stitched together the first two flags in the attic of the Gay Community Center.

The first flag comprised of 8 colors, each imbued with a meaning. They are; hot pink – sexuality, red – life, orange – healing, yellow – sunlight, green – nature, turquoise – magic/art, indigo/blue – serenity/harmony, and violet – spirit. Baker then started working at the Paramount Flag Company where he convinced them to manufacture the new Pride flag. It became very popular, especially after the assassination of Harvey Milk in November of 1978. Paramount dropped the hot pink when fabric in the color was unavailable. In 1979, the turquoise strip was eliminated when the flag was hung from Market Street lampposts. They thought three colors on each side looked better than having the pole split the odd numbered stripe down the middle. The Indigo stripe was also changed to royal blue at this time. The flag has remained in this configuration ever since and is traditionally flown horizontally with the red stripe on top

Baker created two mile-long flags to commemorate the anniversaries of Stonewall and the original flag. On the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots the mile long, 30-foot wide flag consisting of the original eight colors stretched down Manhattan’s First Avenue. It was even confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the largest flag in the world. That flag would be dismantled and given to sponsors and activists. In 2003, an 8,0000 foot flag, 15 feet wide, was unfurled in Key West at the “Rainbow 25 and PrideFest” for the 25th anniversary of the first pride flag.

Today the Pride flag is flown all over the world. I hope you remember all the thought that went into this icon when you don your rainbow top hat, knee socks, and booty shorts. A great deal of suffering and strife is behind those bright colors. What’s wonderful about the flag and the overall feeling at Pride parades is that for a day we joyously celebrate life and freedom of expression while remembering the sadness and pain that many have experienced in the history of the movement.

 

 

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Sexuality in Fashion: The Myth of Wet Dresses and the Muslin Disease

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James Gillray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the late 18th to early 19th century, upper class women’s fashion changed dramatically. For centuries, they wore multilayered complicated dresses that often changed their silhouette to something not quite natural. Women were a mystery from the waist down with voluminous skirts and undercarriage that ranged from the tubular cartwheel farthingale to the basket like hips of panniers. It was a time of revolution both culturally and politically. The taking down of the extravagant monarchy in France during the March on Versailles in 1789 brought on a period of “austerity” in fashion. Gone are the grand gowns bedecked with ruching, ribbons, lace, and furs. The new era gowns were often made of muslin a type of cotton fabric. There are other influences that shaped this new silhouette and style. It’s said that the rise of the chemise style gown came about because it was what the women wore while imprisoned during the revolution. The classical style of ancient Greece and Rome becomes extremely popular and is seen in the rising waistline, draping fabric, and Grecian inspired dress trim, accessories, and hairstyles.

Between 1795 and 1799 a new group of fashionistas take the simplicity of the classical style to extremes. With the revolution somewhat in the past, decadent fashion makes a return with the Incroyables and Merveilleuses of the Directoire period. The Merveilleuse wore lighter weight muslin, gauze or linen gowns that were sometimes quite sheer. They did away with the underpinnings and often just wore a pink bodysuit underneath to accentuate the appearance of being nude underneath. Necklines were low and skirts often slit up the side. They wore sandals or lightweight slippers with ties that crisscrossed up their calves to the knee. The dresses worn by the general public were already scandalous even though they were still worn with undergarments that included a corset, petticoat, and even underwear, as long pantaloons were necessary under the less structured dress. This was mostly because the dresses and lightweight petticoat revealed a woman’s figure more than it had in centuries. You could almost see the natural shape of a woman’s legs and posterior! The Merveilleuse would take this to the extreme showing more than a silhouette but the hint of skin.

Unfortunately, I read often about the wetting down of muslin dresses to further expose the body in all its glory. Stories of women coming down with pneumonia which could lead to death, otherwise known as the muslin disease, due to walking around in wet garments. Despite it being repeated on many websites, I could not find any evidence of this actually happening. It looks like many people have taken the words of harsh critics who thought the clingy dresses looked like they were wet down as truth. There are lots of scathing caricatures that exaggerate the style to make fun and criticize. Out of all the images I’ve seen none of them indicate that the dresses were wet in any way. And really, I wonder how long these dresses can stay wet, certainly not long enough to make it through an entire ball I would think. It’s more likely “muslin disease” was just the product of women going out on a cold wintery day with plunging necklines and semi sheer fabric to remain de rigueur.

The wet t-shirt style escapades of the Merveilleuse are decidedly unsubstantiated. It was a short time when women could celebrate their silhouette. This freedom of sexual expression in dress would be short lived. Napoleon would bring on the return of repression and take away the more egalitarian role women had during the revolution. It would be more than a century before the flapper would bring back a similar freedom of dress and sexuality we saw with the marvelous Merveilleuse.

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Early Sex Manuals: An Overview

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Masterpiece1692edition

I remember being a fairly young kid, lets’ say junior high school age, and seeing a copy of The Joy of Sex for the first time. I was over a friend’s house and her parents had a copy on their bookshelf. I found the hippieish couple featured in the book hard to identify with but I was still enthralled with all the things you could do with, or to, other people sexually. Well, licking a hairy underarm pit made Jr. high school me go “eeewww” (and in truth is not something I choose to do today but I won’t yuck anyone’s yum) but most of the stuff looked cool.

You may be surprised to know that sex manuals didn’t start in the free love 60s and 70s. Nor were they limited to the Kama Sutra. You can find them scattered around history, from ancient to Victorian. It not only took a village to raise a child but it often took a village to teach women how to have them, and often even how to enjoy practicing sex in general.

There’s actually too many for me to write in full about each one in one post. Here is a list of some of the more significant sex manuals, up to The Joy of Sex, just to give you an idea of how far back we’ve been writing about sex. I’ll go into depth on each on in future posts.

3BC or 4BC – Untitled manual written by Philaenis of Samos

3BC – The Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana Mallanaga

900AD – The Canons of Theodore by Theodore

2nd Century – Ars Amatoria (Art of Love) by Ovid

11th Century – Elephantis by Constantine the African

11th Century – Liber de Coitu by Constantine the African

15th Century – Speculum Al Foderi (Mirror of Coitus) by author unknown

15th century – The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight by Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Nafzawi

16th Century – Ananga Ranga (Stage of Love) by Kalyana Malla

1680 – The School of Venus by Michel Millot

Late 19th century – The Wedding Night and Right Marital Living by Ida Craddock

1906 – Treatise on Cohabitation by Moses Maimonides

1917 – Private Sex Advice to Women by R.B. Armitage

1918 – Married Love by Marie Stopes (Considered groundbreaking at the time)

1926 – Het Volkomen Huwelijk (The Perfect Marriage) by Theodoor Hendrik Van De

Velde English Translation: Ideal Marriage: It’s Physiology and Technique 1930

1963 – An ABZ of Love by Inge and Sten Hegeler

1969 – Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask by David Reuben

1972 – The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort

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The Beggars Benison: 18th Century Gentlemen’s Club

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©Trustees of the British Museum

©Trustees of the British Museum

While I was looking for more information about a photo of a somewhat obscene silver platter dated 1732 that popped up while I was doing research (as we do), I came across an article titled “Masturbation Clubs of the 1700s.” In it, I read about the fascinating proceedings of the Scottish Club, The Beggar’s Benison. I also couldn’t stop thinking about something else. Let me get this out of the way right now.

The first rule of Masturbation Club is there is no Masturbation Club.

I couldn’t resist.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Isn’t masturbation like a solo thing?” “Why would you join a club?” Or you might be thinking, Masturbation club? Where have you been all my life?” Either way, group masturbation happens today with Jack/Jill off clubs and group masturbation parties. Check your local listings. What I was surprised to find out is that gentlemen’s clubs focusing on sexuality were all the rage in early 18th century UK. They’ve gone in and out of fashion over the past couple of centuries.

I know, I really shouldn’t be surprised but I was.

I’m not even sure how I came across the photo of the large plate engraved with words, most noticeably “the way of a man with a maid” and “test platter.” Oh and the vulva framing an erect penis and testicles with a little charm hanging from the shaft. The little charm is most likely a sporran or purse but it looks rather odd where it’s placed on the erect phallus. Along the outside rim are etched the words “The Beggar’s Benison Anstruther 1732.” All of this just screamed, “Must google this!” and sent me down a rabbit hole into the libertine adventures of 18th century London and Scotland. I found out that Beggar’s Benison was not really a masturbation club it was more. I also found there were other clubs and lots of lascivious behavior in these “gentlemen’s” clubs. Many clubs with various themes sprung up in 18th century London.

The 1700s saw a change in attitude about sex that had been evolving over time. It was not the change you would think. While sex for pleasure has always been around, attitudes towards it often changed with the times and with social standing. It seems before the age of enlightenment, the middle ages were all about sex for procreation but mostly for the lower classes. The nobility still had to marry and reproduce but often looked for sexual pleasure away from the marriage bed. Sexual promiscuity really depended on wealth, class, and whether you can get away with it. The nobility had been sleeping around for centuries already and prostitution never went away even when Henry the VIII tried to close the brothels to keep fast spreading STDs at bay. Syphilis and gonorrhea were rampant at the time, having spread through Europe like wildfire. This didn’t deter the sexually adventurous, unfortunately, and problems with these diseases continued into the next century.

By the 1700s, it seems that men that possessed wealth and power managed to find new and more exciting ways to party. Reconstruction of the monarchy after 1660 found a society ready to throw away the shackles of puritanism. There is a growth in men’s clubs providing a place for men to act and speak more freely. Open talk about sex and sexuality became popular at some of these clubs. At the same time, prostitutes and brothel madams could hold a celebrity like status. Their published diaries were as sought after then as leaked sex tapes and kiss and tell biographies are today. The libertine lifestyle was all the rage of the day even though people like Tissot were working hard to prove that masturbation was a ruinous hobby that would lead to debilitating illness. Heading towards the 19th century one part of society was trying to develop anti-masturbation technology while the other was putting their penis on a plate and ejaculating into it.

The full name of the club was Most Ancient and Puissant order of the Beggar’s Benison and Merryland. It was founded in 1732 in Anstruther, Scotland. Benison means blessing and Merryland is a euphemism for a woman’s body. Kind of like a sexy amusement park. The name comes from the club’s origin myth that King James, dressed as a commoner, received a blessing from the maid who carried him over a stream. What I find intriguing about The Beggar’s Benison is that the stories may have been exaggerated and even the written documentation may not show the whole truth. Artifacts and records were saved and are currently held in a collection at the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland. David Stephenson, the author of the book The Beggar’s Benison, looked over the records and finds that some dates don’t match up and they are not written in the proper minutes form, something that rarely if ever happens at the time. It’s speculated that some of these records were either written by someone who wanted to make the club out to be more obscene than it actually was, either to make it seem more interesting or more grotesque. It’s possible the sexual activity was only during the 1730s.

The Testing Platter was used to welcome in new initiates. Surviving documents state that the initiate would enter nude after being prepared in a closet. The initiate approached a table or altar in the center of the room where the Testing Platter awaited. It was apparently necessary to have an erection. Said erection would be placed on the platter with a white cloth placed over it. Then the officers and knights would join the initiate, also placing their erections under the white cloth so that they all touched. Wine was drunk; a passage from Song of Solomon was read, and often a piece of erotica. The documents state usually that “all frigged” which I’m taking to mean they all ejaculated onto the plate. Huzzah for gentlemanly brotherhood. None of this seems to have been thought of as homoerotic, merely celebrating the virility of manhood and sexuality. There are phallic drinking glasses, medals with erotic figures on the back, and some seals with similar imagery.

When not welcoming initiates, they read erotica and had rather serious lectures about sex. They hired “posture girls” to disrobe and pose so as to get a closer look at the most intimate parts of her body. No touching, no talking, just looking. Documents don’t tell us if this continued during the entire time the club was meeting. They only met about once or twice a year and seem to fall out of favor towards the end of the 18th century. It folded in 1836, just in time for the Victorian era to begin and a century of sexual repression. In it’s time, this band of sexual merry makers, or as Samuel Johnson defined them in his dictionary “An assembly of good fellows meeting under certain circumstances,” spread to Edinburgh, Manchester England, and possibly even St Petersburg. They would also spawn a spin-off group called the Wig Club. Someone would try to resurrect it in the early 1920s but to no avail. At least they left some very interesting collectibles and some scandalous stories behind.

I’ll leave you with the blessing placed upon King James and used among the Benison members (heh, I said members). “May prick, nor purse, never fail you.”

 

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Sexuality in Fashion: Split Drawers to Crotchless Panties

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I remember the first time I bought a pair of crotchless panties. I went to Fredrick’s of Hollywood and bought a set that comprised of ruffle-trimmed nipple-less bra and crotchless panties in a shiny black fabric. It seemed sexy at the time. I had imagined buying them ever since I saw them in Fredrick’s magazine ads when I was younger. When I put them on the fabric was a little cheap and uncomfortable. Don’t think I had them on for very long. I eventually found wearing a sexy pair of panties over a garter much sexier. That wouldn’t be the last time I wore crotchless undergarments. I would soon get into the world of historical reenactment and find myself wearing crotchless undergarments nearly every week, in the shape of Victorian drawers.

The idea of drawers being open at the crotch did not have the same erotic intention of the modern crotchless panty. In fact, up until the late 1700s women just wore a long chemise that went down past her knees under her dress, corset, and petticoats. Nothing was worn underneath since the skirts were long and the chemise and underskirts provided enough coverage. Undergarments that consisted of two legs that tied at the top but left the crotch area uncovered show up in the 1700s. It was thought that only prostitutes and women of questionable morals wore them. When dresses moved to a more natural shape at the end of the 1800’s this idea is discarded and pantalettes or pantaloons become acceptable. There was some reluctance to accept them at first as having something on underneath that resembled pants did not meet with immediate approval.

The reason split drawers are open at the crotch is to make going to the bathroom easier. When you have a corset and several layers of petticoats and skirts you can’t pull down underwear to sit. It’s easier to hike up your skirts and squat. Having been there and done that I can attest to the easy of the open crotch drawers. I once made the mistake and wrestled with my underwear in a bustle dress in a way that was completely exhausting and made me worry the underwear would win. My long cotton split drawers never once felt remotely sexy, even ones with pintucks, lace, and ribbons at the hem. My chemise came down to nearly my knees so nothing was exposed. In fact, I walked around in my skivvies in front of people often when I demonstrated how the Victorian woman dressed for a history event. One young gentleman found it difficult to talk to me in my underthings even though not a bit of skin below my sans cleavage neckline was exposed. Just the idea of me being in my underwear was enough to make him uncomfortable with my relative state of undress.

It interesting to see how we can go from going commando being perfectly acceptable but wearing tubes of cloth around our legs is immoral, to the idea of wearing a dress without panties bringing about a hefty dose of slut shaming. But then again we’ve gone from a glimpse of stocking being something shocking to the string bikini in less than a century. Our concept of what is considered scandalous in our clothing, even undergarments, can change in ways that seems odd to our modern sensibility. The idea of a certain style of underwear being acceptable while women of questionable morals only use another seems to be common in western dress. I imagine in several hundred years we may find what is acceptable under our clothes will change again.

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