Lucy Hicks Anderson

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[A photograph of Lucy Hicks Anderson looking fantastic, year unknown]

Lucy Hicks Anderson was a Black trans woman born in Waddy, Kentucky in 1886. She, like many of the people featured on this blog, does not appear in high school history textbooks, or even in most university textbooks either. Instead, her story comes to us through the work of people outside of the academy who work tirelessly to ensure that the histories of their own marginalized communities continue to be remembered and (re)told.

At a very young age, Lucy began wearing dresses and other items of clothing gendered as “women’s clothing” or “feminine clothing.” According to blogger and activist Monica Roberts (aka the TransGriot), an African-American trans woman, “[s]ince the transgender definition hadn’t been coined at that time to diagnose what was going on in [Lucy’s life], her mother took her to a physician who advised her to raise young Lucy as a girl” (Roberts, 2011). Lucy left high school at age fifteen and began working as a domestic worker, eventually leaving Kentucky for Texas. After working for a decade in a hotel, she met her first husband Clarence Hicks, whom she was married to from 1920 until their divorce in 1929.

After her first marriage, Lucy went on to own and operate a brothel, and eventually met her second husband Reuben Anderson. They married in 1944, but unfortunately it was this second marriage that caused her to encounter various legal problems. When it was discovered by a District Attorney that Lucy was not born “biologically female,” she was prosecuted for perjury based on there being no legal objections to the marriage, with the transantagonistic implication that her being a trans woman “should” have caused there to be a legal objection.

Lucy, in response to this obvious pile of hateful garbage, told reporters that she “def[ied] any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.” After this initial set of legal problems, Lucy and her husband were convicted of fraud in 1946, as she had received allotment cheques from the American military as the wife of a U.S. soldier i.e., as the wife of Reuben Anderson. Unfortunately, Lucy and Reuben were tried and found guilty, with both being sent to prison. Once Lucy was released from prison, she went on to live in Los Angeles (because she was barred from returning to her previous home by the police commissioner) until her death in 1954.

Today’s post is dedicated to all of the QTPOC who lost their lives in the targeted hate crime shooting that took place in Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. Lucy’s story is emblematic of the ways in which trans and gender non-conforming people have been legally and extra-legally persecuted in the United States, and of how despite this, they continue to resist, thrive, and survive.

~ M

Bibliography

Black Past [Kevin Leonard]. “Anderson, Lucy Hicks [Tobias Lawson] (1886-1954).” http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/anderson-lucy-hicks-1886-1954. Accessed June 25, 2016.

Roberts, Monica. “Black Trans History: Lucy Hicks Anderson.” The TransGriot. http://transgriot.blogspot.ca/2011/08/black-trans-history-lucy-hicks-anderson.html. August 2011. Accessed June 24, 2016.

 

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Lucy Hicks Anderson

Joan Nestle

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[A wonderful photograph of Joan Nestle, found on her website http://www.joannestle.com/]

Born in May 1940, Joan Nestle is a Jewish working class lesbian icon of the twentieth century. Nestle grew up in the Bronx, New York City, with her mother Regina working as a seamstress in the Garment District to support her family.

Nestle, in her seventy-five years, has been an activist, a writer, an historian, an archivist. She is a self-described “queer, pre-Stonewall fem [sic]” for whom “sex and politics are inseparable,” each informing “the other; passions spilling over into social visions; social visions carried on every entry” (Nestle, xii). Nestle actively defended femme-butch relationships and gender identities at a time when there was no space or tolerance to do so in mainstream America. She fought on behalf of  and alongside Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, stood up for her community of working class lesbians, and was actively pro-sex during the sex wars of the 1980s.

Nestle even took on history itself, writing of how history is “a place where the body carries its own story” (Nestle, xv). She wrote herself and her communities into American history through her writing and teaching, claiming erotic writing as “a documentary [as much] as any biographical display,” a “people’s most private historic territory” (Nestle, xvi). Her writing did not, however, go without controversy, leading to her books being banned at various times and places during the sex wars and afterwards. Alongside her writing, she helped found and curate the United States’s oldest and largest lesbian archival collection, the Lesbian Herstory Archives (which were housed in her New York City apartment for decades).

Nestle is most definitely worthy of the title of Historical Hottie. We here at the Blog tip our proverbial hats to her beautiful spirit.

~ M

Bibliography

Nestle, Joan. A Restricted Country. San Francisco: Cleis Press Inc., 2003.

Joan Nestle

Bayard Rustin

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[A photograph of Bayard Rustin]

In honour of the start of Black History Month, today’s Historical Hottie is the one and only Bayard Rustin – an all around historical badass that often gets written out of the “official” history of the mainstream Civil Rights Movement. Born in the state of Pennsylvania in 1912, Rustin was an outspoken socialist, Civil Rights advocate, and gay rights activist. As a Black gay man that was engaged in socialist politics and the Civil Rights Movement for much of his life, he was a constant target of hatred and violence amongst many, many groups in the United States (the FBI tried to use his supposedly “deviant” sexuality against him and the larger Civil Rights Movement, to name just one). He was one of the foremost leaders in the non-violent Civil Rights Movement, beginning in the early 1940s after he moved to Harlem.

Rustin is often overlooked or purposely forgotten in the history of the Civil Rights Movement because of his sexuality. Many different groups, both from within Black liberation movements and outside in broader American society, unfortunately criticized him due to his sexuality. Because of this, and also because of having been affiliated with the Communist Party, he was rarely given “public” notice despite serving as a key influencer, advocate, and adviser to some of the most prominent Civil Rights leaders (including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Without him, the Civil Rights Movement would be remembered in a vastly different way – yes, he was that important to the Movement (but I’m in no way reducing it down to just one man or a handful of people)! He took an intersectional approach to oppression and injustice in the United States, pulling together diverse intellectual and activist ideologies that attacked capitalist, racist, and homophobic power structures. Rustin passed away in 1987, and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2013.

Bayard Rustin was a revolutionary in more ways than one, and helps to remind us that the current struggles going on today amongst Black communities in the United States are not isolated events but instead are part of a much longer history. Here’s to Bayard Rustin and all the Black radicals like him that have fought + continue to fight oppression!

~ M

Bibliography

Rustin, Bayard. Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971.

Rustin, Bayard. Ed. by Bond, Julian. I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters. New York: City Light Books, 2012.

Bayard Rustin

Chavela Vargas

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[A photograph of Chavela Vargas in later years]

The name Chavela Vargas is an instantly recognizable one across much of Latin America and amongst admirers of the ranchera genre of music most commonly associated with México. Born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919, Chavela Vargas left her home country at the age of fourteen to live in México, her adopted home where she stayed for the next eight decades of her life.

To those who do not know much about rancheras, a woman singing them might not stick out as anything remarkable. Yet rancheras are a genre that is traditionally supposed to be sung only by men, for an audience of mostly other men. These songs are spaces where men were customarily allowed to express themselves emotionally, albeit so long as they were confined to particular patriarchal rules of behaviour with an assumed heterosexuality. Therefore to have a woman, and moreover a lesbian woman, sing these songs was a radical and subversive act.

Chavela Vargas was known the world over for not only her singing talents, but also for her affairs with women (including the likes of Frida Kahlo, María Félix, and Lola Beltrán) and her alcohol-fueled partying. She often dressed in “men’s” clothing, smoked cigars (a supposedly “masculine” past time), and partied harder than you can imagine. For a period of fifteen years, Vargas disappeared almost completely, leading some to believe she had even died. She was, however, recovering from alcoholism. Although many people knew she was a lesbian, she did not publicly affirm this until the age of 81 in her autobiography Y si quieres saber de mi pasado (2002).

Vargas continues to be a treasured cultural icon across the Americas, and is a key figure in queer Mexican and Central American history. She is important in broader queer history as often queer people of colour, and especially queer people of colour from outside of Canada and the United States, are marginalized or entirely erased from the broader study of queer history. Chavela Vargas passed away at the age of 93 in 2012. Her last words were “I leave with México in my heart.”

~ M

Bibliography

Garsd, Jasmine. “Chavela Vargas, Legendary Ranchera Singer, Dies.” NPR, August 5, 2012. Accessed on November 12, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2012/08/06/158166344/chavela-vargas-legendary-ranchera-singer-has-died

Moser, Benjamin. “Postscript: Mexico’s Majestic Lesbian Chanteuse, Chavela Vargas.” The New Yorker, August 17, 2012. Accessed on November 12, 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/postscript-mexicos-majestic-lesbian-chanteuse-chavela-vargas

Vargas, Chavela. Y si quieres saber de mi pasado. Madrid: Aguilar, 2002.

Chavela Vargas