Posted in category "Sex"

Charlotte Mew’s Fearful Longings

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 16, 2022 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Sex

“Charlotte Mew: Madness and Sapphic Desire,” by Rebecca Batley introduced me to this slightly mad, brilliant, and reclusive poet. Almost immediately she reminded of some closeted Catholic lesbians that I have met. These women longed for love and sex but were fearful of acting on their desire. They were afraid of losing their respectability; and the tension between their religious faith and sexual need filled them with dread and a sense of loss. No wonder they were a little unhinged. Deeply closeted women often don’t read signs well, and can fixate on women who aren’t interested in them. This results in a predictable rejection. 

Charlotte “Lotti” Mary Mew was born on November 15, 1869, in London, England. Several of Mew’s siblings suffered from mental illness and were committed to mental institutions. This scared Charlotte and her remaining sister Anne, so much that they made a pact never to marry. In 1898, their father died without leaving any money for the family. This forced the Mews to rent out part of their home, and Charlotte took a job.

As a schoolgirl, Charlotte fell in love with her headmistress, Lucy Harrison. Harrison herself fell in love with a teacher named Amy Greener, and they moved away. Mew had two other serious crushes: the writer Ella D’Arcy in 1898 and popular novelist and suffragette May Sinclair nine years later. Her loves were unrequited. There is no information on whether Charlotte’s physical longings were ever consummated with anyone, but her poem, There Shall Be No Night There describes a tender fantasy:

“Then through my blood the coming mystery
Of night steals to my heart and turns my feet
Toward that chamber in the lamp-lit street,
Where waits the pillow of thy breast and thee.
‘There shall be no night there’—no curtained pane
To shroud love’s speechlessness and loose thy hair
For kisses swift and sweet as falling rain.

What interested me the most about Charlotte Mew was the tension between her religious belief and her lesbian desire. Tensions and strains between our physical and spiritual selves have ripped apart, wounded, or maimed many lesbians. Charlotte Mew was no exception. Does God love me for who I am and what I am? Many lesbians have concluded that the answer is “No,” and leave religion to end their isolation and painful loneliness. Mew stuck with religion but suffered. She believed, but she also carefully coded her desires and doubts in her poetry:

“I think my body was my soul,
And when we are made thus
Who shall control
Our hands, our eyes, the wandering passion of our feet,
Who shall teach us
To thrust the world out of our heart: to say, till perhaps in death,
When the race is run,
And is forced from us with our last breath
“Thy will be done”?

“Madeleine in Church” by Charlotte Mew (1916)

In 1926, her sister, Anne, was diagnosed with cancer. Charlotte took care of her until she died in 1927. After her sister’s death, she became deeply depressed and entered a nursing home. She committed suicide by drinking Lysol, a disinfectant. Charlotte Mew died on March 24, 1928, at the age of fifty-eight. 

Charlotte Mew is buried with her sister Anne in Hampstead Cemetery, West Hampstead, London. The epitaph reads, “Cast Down the Seed of Weeping and Attend.” The phrase is from The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Vol. II (Purgatorio), Canto XXXI (31). Dante meets his ladylove, Beatrice, and recalls his love for her. She admonishes him.

“Cast down the seed of weeping and attend;
So shalt thou hear, how in an opposite way
My buried flesh should have directed thee.”

“Never to thee presented art or nature
Pleasure so great as the fair limbs wherein
I was enclosed, which scattered are in earth.”

The dismal reproach to follow a “higher good” instead of human love followed poor Charlotte Mew to her grave.

I wish instead to provide her and her work and art a happier ending, inspired by Psalm 126:6 –

“Those who go forth weeping,
Carrying sacks of seed
Will return with cries of joy,
Carrying their bundled sheaves.”

Almost 100 years after Charlotte Mew’s death, there are lesbians of faith who are married, enjoying the physical delights of a loving relationship, and looking forward together to the promise of salvation and eternal life.

The Farmer’s Wife, a poem by Charlotte Mew read by Tom O’Bedlam

 

 

 

 

Andy Warhol’s Catholic Influences

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 5, 2022 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

Andy Warhol is an influential and celebrated 20th century artist and pop icon. He was gay and was raised Catholic. His faith and sexuality influenced his art. As an adult, he did attend church from time to time, especially after he was shot and almost killed in 1968 by Valerie Solanas, a writer and radical feminist.

Andy Warhol with Bibles

“Revelation” an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum from November 19, 2021 to June 19, 2022, features Warhol artworks that are infused with both strains, often harmoniously and deeply revealing. The show was developed by the Andy Warhol Museum’s chief curator, Jose Carlos Diaz and curated at the Brooklyn Museum by Carmen Hermo.

Some of the show’s highlights include Warhol’s two gigantic versions of “The Last Supper” in pink and yellow; and a fusion of the face of Christ, an advertising tagline, and a shirtless young man; and a shot-up, scarred Warhol reminiscent of Christ’s wounds or a martyred St. Sebastian.

Much of Catholic dogma, art and religious expression is focused on the body. The sacrament of the Eucharist—eating and drinking Christ’s body—can have sexual overtones. Human figures in Catholic art history are often beautiful men, some in sexually suggestive poses. These influences went into Warhol’s formation as an artist and as a man, and he combined them with the pop arts trends of the day. Catholicism has inspired generations of homosexual artists through its sensual and sexually charged imagery.

 

 

The Mob Behind Dog Day Afternoon

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 26, 2021 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

John Wojtowicz

“I’m a Catholic and I don’t want to hurt anybody. Understand!” yelled Sonny Wortzik, the bank robber played by Al Pacino in the memorable 1975 movie, Dog Day Afternoon.  Pacino’s character was based on John Mojtowicz, 27, who along with 18-year-old Salvatore Naturile, and Robert Westenberg, attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan branch in Gravesend, Brooklyn on August 22, 1972.  Westenberg fled when he saw a police car. All three men were gay.  The night before the robbery they all had sex together at the Golden Nugget Motel.

In the movie, the main reason for the heist was to get money to pay for a male-to-female sex change operation for John Wojtowicz’s wife. That may have been part of Wojtowicz’s stated reason, but was it the whole truth? According to Liz Eden (born Ernest Aron), Wojtowicz’s transgender wife, Wojtowicz owed the Gambino family money.  Some of that money went to pay for their December 1971 wedding, where they were married by a Roman Catholic priest. Liz Eden wore a wedding gown; John Wojtowicz his Army uniform and medals from the Vietnam war.

According to the FBI, Wojtowicz met Naturile a month prior to the robbery at a gay bar called Danny’s, located on Seventh Avenue South in the Village. Naturile agreed to participate to get money to rescue his two sisters from foster care. The guns used in the robbery supposedly came from Mike Umbers, 37, a Gambino family associate who ran a club, bar and bookstore in the West Village.  Umbers fronted several gay bars, callboy rings and pornography operations for the Genovese and Gambino organized crime families.  Wojtowicz was friendly with Umbers, much to the chagrin of his fellow Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) members. Wojtowicz was known as “Littlejohn Basso” (Basso was his mother’s maiden name) at GAA.

Sal Naturile

On August 26, 1972, this article about Wojtowicz’s Brooklyn heist appeared in the New York Times:

“An acquaintance of John Wojtowicz—who has been charged with robbing a Chase Manhattan branch in Brooklyn last Tuesday and holding nine persons hostage—reportedly told the Federal Bureau of Investigation yesterday that an underworld figure supplied the guns used by Wojtowicz and two accomplices in the holdup.” “The acquaintance, Gary Badger, was questioned by F.B.I. agents yesterday afternoon, but the bureau would not comment. A friend of Mr. Badger, however, said that he told the agents that five men, including Wojtowicz, began planning the robbery last April, but that two of the men later bowed out. Wojtowicz was pressed to carry out the robbery by the underworld figure, who owns Greenwich Village bars and is involved in pornography, Mr. Badger reportedly told the agents. Mr. Wojtowicz owed the gangster money, he said.”  Arthur Bell, a respected Village Voice columnist and investigative reporter, interviewed Badger, who showed up at a GAA meeting to make a plea for money to help bury his friend, Sal Naturile.

Arthur Bell knew Wojtowicz through GAA meetings and dances.  He interviewed Wojtowicz and published an article about the robbery in the August 31, 1972 edition of the Village Voice, “Littlejohn and The Mob, Saga of a Heist.” Wojtowicz described how he met a middle-aged Chase Manhattan bank executive at Danny’s.  The executive told him how he could rob the branch of $150,000 to $200,000.  The money in the bank’s safe was picked up early; so instead of the big payday only $29,000 was on hand.

Bell also knew Mike Umbers, and interviewed him in 1971, a year before the robbery.  The article, “Mike Umbers: Christopher’s Emperor,” described his start in the sex business; first as a pimp for high-class call girls and brothels, and then catering to gay men.  Umbers had his run-ins with police and other crime families. According to the article, “Corruption, Before and After Stonewall,” Mike Umber’s Christopher’s End club was trashed by police.  It was possible that police destroyed the interior with hammers and axes because Umbers wasn’t paying them off; or,  the attack was ordered by Al Moss, also known as Abe Moss, who ran some gay bars for the Gallo crime family in the West Village.

Mike Umbers (second from right) in front of Christopher’s End

I was interested to read that Al Moss had a nephew named “Red” who paid the police $2,000 a month to protect The Barn, an after-hours club on Hudson Street.  “Red” may be a reference to Red Mahoney, a long-time associate of Ed Murphy, who had his own checkered past as a gay blackmailer and gay activist. Mahoney worked with Murphy when he was alive and took over running the Christopher Street Festival after Ed died in 1989.  Mahoney ran the Festival until 1992, when he became ill and stepped down.  Mahony was a short, grumpy guy with dark red hair. He didn’t have Ed Murphy’s gregarious nature or command the same respect.

The vast web of connections between the mob (Genovese, Gambino, Gallo crime families), their associates (Murphy, Mahoney, NYPD), front men (Umbers), expendables (Wojtowicz, gay hustlers) and gay clubs and bars before and after Stonewall continues to amaze me.  The connections were essential to their multi-million dollar businesses of bars, clubs, pornography, prostitution and blackmail.

Was the middle-aged Chase Manhattan executive who tipped off Umbers and Wojtowicz being blackmailed?

 

 

 

 

 

The First Catholic Lesbian Book: Hungerheart -The Story of a Soul

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 12, 2021 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Sex

Hungerheart is a lesbian novel written by British author Christabel Marshall under her adopted male name, Christopher St. John. The book was published in 1915 in London by Methuen & Co. The novel is a first-person account of Joanna, “John” Montolivet that follows her search for love and passion. At one point she lives with Sally, a young actress, and they are “happy as a newly married pair, perhaps happier…” Sally decides to marry a man, and Joanna/John finds solace in the arms and bodies of stormy and dramatic women. Eventually she heads for quieter shores, and coverts to Catholicism. Her “friendship” with a young nun fulfills her heart’s hunger. “There are things that can be lived, but not chronicled, and our friendship is one of them,” Joanna/John describes. “Who in the world could understand our moments of union? Who in the cloister either? But they are understood in heaven…Thy love for me is wonderful, passing the love of men.”

Hungerheart never achieved the fame of another book written a decade later by another Catholic lesbian—Radclyffe Hall’s, The Well of Loneliness. Only a few copies of Hungerheart survive in research libraries. For some odd reason, it was not tagged with a homosexual or degenerate label but cataloged as a work about “Catholic spirituality.”

Christabel Marshall

The author’s book embodied her voracious love life. Christine Gertrude Marshall a.k.a. Christopher Marie St. John (1871-1960) was an English suffragette, a playwright and writer. After college, Marshall served as secretary to Lady Randolph Churchill and actress Dame Ellen Terry. Marshall became romantically involved with Dame Ellen’s daughter, Edith (Edy) Craig (1869-1947). The two women began living together in 1899. Marshall attempted suicide when Craig accepted a marriage proposal from composer Martin Shaw in 1903. Edith Craig was an actress, director, producer and costume designer.

In 1912 Christabel Marshall converted to Catholicism and took the name, St. John out of affinity with St. John the Baptist. Her friend, Claire Atwood, converted around the same time. Atwood gave Una Troubridge and Radclyffe Hall, another Catholic couple and close friends, a relic of the true cross acquired by her ancestors from a pope. Una put it with candles and flowers in a shrine in her bedroom.

In 1916, artist Claire (Tony) Atwood (1866-1962) moved in with Craig and Marshall. Their menage a trois lasted until Craig’s death in 1947. Una Troubridge used to call them, “Edy and the boys.” They often wore men’s attire to match their male names. “Miss Craig,” wrote Virginia Woolf in her diary, “is a rosy, ruddy ‘personage’ in white waistcoat, with black bow & gold chain loosely knotted.” Marshall wrote rhat the three women “achieved independence within their intimate relationships…working respectively in theatre, art, and literature, and drew creative inspiration and support from one another.”

Edith Craig

In 1932, when she was sixty-one, Marshall fell madly in love with Vita Sackville-West, a member of the Bloomsbury Group and a successful poet and writer. Their affair continued for several years and caused huge fights between Marshall and Craig. Atwood unsuccessfully tried to serve as a peacemaker.

In 1935, under her male name, Christopher St. John, Marshall wrote a biography of a distinguished physician, Dr. Christine Murrell, the first female member of the British Medical Association’s Central Council. Titled, “Christine Murrell, M.D., Her Life and Work,” St. John/Marshall wrote the dedication to both of Murrell’s lovers: Honor Bone, M. D. and Marie Lawson, a printer, editor, and tax resister. Like St. John/Marshall, Murrell had a threesome household.

Christabel Marshall/Christopher St. John died in 1960. She is buried next to Claire Atwood at St. John the Baptist’s Church, Small Hythe, England. This is the church where Dame Ellen Terry worshipped and where her funeral Mass was held in 1928. Edith Craig’s ashes were supposed to be buried there as well, but by the time of Marshall’s and Atwood’s deaths, they had been lost. A memorial was placed in the cemetery instead.

Why did so many Anglican clerics, creatives and/or socially prominent gays and lesbians convert to Catholicism in the Victorian and Edwardian eras? The Catholic Church has always been opposed to homosexual sex; but it also has been tolerant of gay sex among its members, including priests, the hierarchy and religious, as long as they were discreet and parroted official teaching in public. At that time, being Catholic was a little naughty, not socially acceptable, and showed a streak of rebellion and independence. Creatives were drawn to the sensuousness, the pageantry, and the mysteries in Catholicism. Catholicism emphasizes the body—the body of Christ in our mouth, the bodies of saints who give themselves up to pain and ecstasy, the homoerotic images found everywhere there are Catholic artists and cathedrals. For women, Catholicism offers many role models of women who lived full and fulfilling lives—without men.

Christopher St. John’s Shrine

 

 

The Catholic, Fruit-Flavored Liberace!

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 7, 2021 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

In 1959, the flamboyant entertainer, Liberace, sued the Daily Mirror, a British paper, for insinuating that he was a homosexual. Daily Mirror columnist, William Connor, writing under the pen name, Cassandra, described Liberace as “…the summit of sex – the pinnacle of masculine, feminine and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want…a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.”  In court, Liberace denied being a homosexual (“I’m against the practice because it offends convention and it offends society”) and sued for libel.  He won and was awarded £ 8,000. Liberace skipped off and coined his famous saying, “I cried all the way to the bank.”

To the day of his death from AIDS in 1987, Liberace denied he was gay. He belonged to the generation of show business homosexuals (Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Anthony Perkins, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Agnes Moorehead..) who believed that their personal lives were private, and certainly not political.  Liberace’s Catholic upbringing may have had a hand in shaping his attitudes, but so did social mores of post-World War II America. Actors and entertainers’ contracts included morals clauses. If they were exposed as homosexuals, their careers were over and they were economically ruined.  “I don’t think entertainers should publicly air their sexual or political tastes,” said Liberace. “What they do in the privacy of their home or bed is nobody’s business.”

He encapsulates the institutional Catholic philosophy of homosexuality for both clergy and laity:  flirt, enjoy romance, have sex with tricks and lovers, but always deny your homosexuality and condemn it in others.  Above all, say nothing political. This practice was most recently on display with the outing and resignation of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the general secretary of the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops in July 2021. Burrill was exposed through his cellphone data which indicated that he had repeatedly used his Grindr app to find men and had visited gay bars and bathhouses. 

Wladziu Valentino Liberace (May 16, 1919-February 4, 1987) was the highest paid entertainer in the world at the height of his fame in the 1950s-1970s. Born in Wisconsin to parents of Italian and Polish origin, “Mr. Showmanship” was known for his excesses on the stage and off. After watching a movie about Frederic Chopin in 1945, Liberace made the candelabra his symbol, always on his piano during a performance. But he was best known for his elaborate, sensational costumes. There was a “King Neptune” costume; a red, white, and blue hot pants outfit; one of his favorites called the “lasagna” costume, which featured a cape that fanned out when he spun around. Two of the most “over the top” capes were designed by Liberace’s dear friend and furrier, Anna Nateece. One was white fox fur with a train 12 feet wide and 16 feet long. The second was made from 500 mink skins and weighed over 150 pounds. They were both trimmed with rhinestones.

His homes exhibited the same excess. Mirrored walls, a marble quarry’s worth of floors, colonnades and fixtures, a casino with a slot machine jackpot of three candelabras, a canopied bed with an ermine spread. On the bedroom ceiling was a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel with Liberace’s face among the cherubs. Liberace loved dogs and had about 20 of them between his Las Vegas and Palm Springs houses. They must have had a hard time skidding and slipping on the shiny marble floors.

Liberace was camp before the word came into wide-spread use. When the word first appeared in the early 20th century, it denoted “ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical, effeminate or homosexual behavior.” In the 1966 Batman television series with Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward is the Boy Wonder—the campiest show ever–Liberace played a dual role as a concert pianist, Chandell, and his gangster-like twin, Harry, who was extorting Chandell into a life of crime as “Fingers” in the episodes “The Devil’s Fingers” and “The Dead Ringers.” According to Joel Eisner’s The Official Batman Batbook,” they were the highest rated of all the show’s episodes. The show had huge homosexual overtones as well. Burt Ward speculated in his book, My Life in Tights, that Batman and Robin could have been lovers. What drew fans to Liberace was not only his flamboyant and outrageous costumes and act, but his warm, gracious, polite, and down-to-earth way of speaking to fans and his audience from the stage or television. “I talked to my viewers as if they were my friends, my next-door neighbors,” he said.

Liberace gave a hint to one of his connections to Catholicism when he once remarked on religion: “There will always be the need for people to worship,” he said, “whether it’s religion, an entertainer or a movie star. I’ve always felt close to religion because it’s a form of show business.”  The late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Mother Angelica and even Bishop Robert Baron of Word on Fire could appreciate that statement. But when it comes to costumes, Liberace undoubtedly would feel closest to Cardinal Raymond Burke with his 20-foot train of watered silk, scarlet gloves, and jeweled red hats.

In November 1963, Liberace almost died from kidney failure during a performance in Monroeville, a town right outside of Pittsburgh, PA. The day before he had been cleaning his costumes in an unventilated room with a toxic cleaning solvent. The deadly fumes nearly killed him. He collapsed onstage and was rushed to St. Francis Hospital. Liberace was hooked up to a new device – a dialysis machine – and given a 20% chance of surviving. His doctors told him to get his affairs in order. “I took it very philosophically,” Liberace said. “I had led a good life, made a lot of people happy, and I had no regrets.” He described one experience during his hospital stay in his autobiography, The Wonderful Private World of Liberace that was a turning point in his recovery: “A very young and lovely nun wearing a white habit came to see me late one night, when I was very near death. She said that she was going to pray to Saint Anthony for me, and that he would make me well. The very next day, I began to get well. I described the nun to Mother Superior at the hospital and asked who she was. The Mother Superior said, ‘There are no nuns in the hospital who wear white habits.’” Dialysis took off after it saved Liberace’s life, and St. Francis Hospital gained a new, life-long patron. Liberace raised money for the hospital, financed a new intensive-care ward, and made sure that the sisters had tickets whenever he performed in Pittsburgh. 

Soon after his Monroeville hospital stay Liberace was snared by sexual blackmailers. “The Chickens and the Bulls” extortion scheme is forgotten now, but it was a scandal in the mid-1960s. In a New York Times article published on March 3, 1966 – “Nationwide Ring Preying on Prominent Deviates,” a celebrity believed to be Liberace is described. “A TV celebrity, a twinkling star who has millions of female fans all over the world, refused to take the witness stand. However, he did tell investigators that he had paid blackmailers more than $20,000. “I can afford to lose the money,” he said, adding: “I hope they die of cancer.”

That incident didn’t slow Liberace down. He had affairs, tricks, and romances, taking in live-in lovers, usually blond, blue-eyed young men with strong physiques. One of his lovers, Scott Thorson, said Liberace’s first sexual encounter was with a Green Bay Packer football player. Thorson is also the source for a story of an affair between Liberace and Rock Hudson.

4/17/79
Liberace show at the Las Vegas Hilton

Scott Thorson, 62, met Liberace in 1976 when he was 17. When he was 18, Liberace hired him to act as his personal friend and companion.  He also incorporated Thorson into his Las Vegas performances. Thorson would don a chauffeur’s uniform covered in rhinestones and drive Liberace on stage in a Rolls Royce. The five-year relationship ended in 1982, when Liberace had members of his retinue forcibly eject Thorson from his Los Angeles penthouse. Thorson admitted that at least part of the reason for the breakup was his drug addiction.

But Scott Thorson wasn’t finished with Liberace. Shortly after he was dismissed/dumped, Thorson filed a $113 million dollar lawsuit against Liberace, the first same-sex palimony suit in U.S. history. Liberace continued to deny that he was a homosexual and insisted that Thorson was never his lover. The case was settled out of court in 1986, with Thorson receiving $75,000 in cash, three cars and three pet dogs. Thorson sniped that Liberace was a “boring guy” in real life, and mostly preferred to spend his leisure time cooking, decorating, and playing with his dogs.

In August 1985, Liberace was secretly diagnosed as HIV positive. Cary James Wyman, his alleged lover of seven years, was also HIV positive and died in 1987 at the age of 33. Another alleged lover, Chris Adler, came forward after Liberace’s death and claimed that Liberace had infected him with HIV. Adler died in 1990 at age 30. Besides his long-term manager, Seymour Heller, private physician, Dr. Ronald Daniels, and a few family members and close friends, Liberace kept his HIV positive status a secret until the day he died and did not seek any medical treatment for it.  Urged by a former boyfriend to admit that he was sick, he refused, saying “I don’t want to be remembered as an old queen who died of AIDS.”

Liberace died on February 4, 1987 at The Cloisters, his home in Palm Springs, California. He was 67 years old. His death was initially attributed to anemia from a watermelon diet, and emphysema and heart disease from chain smoking. However, the Riverside County coroner performed an autopsy and while emphysema and coronary artery disease were present, the real cause was pneumonia due to complications from AIDS. Liberace received the Last Rites a few days before he died. “He had the rosary wrapped around his right hand. There was no jewelry. The rosary beads were his jewelry,” said his publicist, Jamie James.

Within hours of his death, his body was taken from his home directly to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles. He was buried on February 7th and is entombed with his mother and brother, George. The marble façade has the very enigmatic epitaph: “Sheltered Love.”  A memorial service for Liberace had been held the day before at Our Lady of Solitude Church in Palm Springs. Two stars were present – a neighbor, actress Charlene Tilton from the television series, Dallas, and Kirk Douglas. There was a second memorial service at St. Anne’s Church in Las Vegas on February 12th, with Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Robert Goulet, Rip Taylor and Sonny King in attendance.  In contrast to his glittery public life, Liberace’s burial was private, and his memorial services were quiet and low key. 

I agree with Liberace that not everyone is called—or should—make their private life public. Like most gays and lesbians of his era, he lied about or denied his homosexuality.  That is an unadmirable trait, but understandable in the context of his time, his entertainment career and his faith.  Except for a despised handful, there were no gay rights supporters, no “out” showbusiness people, religious, public figures, or academics until deaths from AIDS began in the 1980s and the gay and lesbian rights movement began to pick up momentum. His longtime publicist, Jamie James, once said, “He had this image, but he was no sissy. You have to be a pretty strong, brave person to wear what he wore and act like he did during those days. You had to have guts, believe me.”

Reading:

Liberace Cooks! – A Cookbook by Liberace. 1970

Liberace: An Autobiography by Liberace. 1973

The Wonderful Private World of Liberace by Liberace. 1986

Behind the Candelabra:  My Life with Liberace by Scott Thorson. 1988.

Liberace: The True Story by Bob Thomas. 1988

Liberace: An American Boy by Darden Asbury Pyron.  2000

Rocking the Closet: How Little Richard, Johnnie Ray, Liberace and Johnny Mathis Queered Pop Music by Vincent L. Stephens.  2019

 

 

 

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The Perils of Social Media

Posted by Censor Librorum on Aug 21, 2021 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the former general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, used Grindr, a gay male dating and sex hookup app, at his office, home and while on trips for the USCCB.  In his position at the USCCB, Burrill played a key role in coordinating national and diocesan responses to sex abuse and coercion scandals. He and several senior USCCB officials met with Pope Francis Oct. 8, 2018 to discuss how the conference was responding to ecclesiastical scandals related to sexual misconduct, duplicity, and clerical cover-ups.

On June 20, 2018, the day the McCarrick sex scandal became public, Burrill’s cell phone emitted hookup app signals at the USCCB staff residence, and from a street in a residential Washington neighborhood! He traveled to Las Vegas a day or two later. On June 22, the mobile device associated with Burrill emitted signals from Entourage, which bills itself as Las Vegas’ “gay bathhouse.”

Burrill resigned on July 20, 2021, after The Pillar, a Catholic investigative journalism site, revealed the extent of his almost daily Grindr usage.

“If someone who has made the promise of celibacy or a vow of chastity has a dating app on his or her phone, that is asking for trouble,” said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, NJ at a Zoom panel organized by Georgetown University.

The Pillar tried to reveal a few more Grindr exposés of priests in the Newark archdiocese and in the Vatican but they were squelched.

Less than a month later, another clerical higher up made the news: “Pope replaces Bishop After Video of Him Masturbating on Zoom Call with Another Man Leaks on Social Media.” Tome Ferreira de Silva, the bishop of the Diocese of Sao Jose do Rio Preto in Brazil, had previously been accused of having an affair with a young man working as his driver and ignoring credible allegations of local priests having sex with teenagers. The video was released to a local TV station.  A still of the video shows the bishop playing with himself.  Several previous Vatican investigations of the bishop came to nothing.

Monsignor Burrill slunk off without saying anything.  Bishop Ferreira de Silva publicly groused about his exposure.

When I read these stories and exposés a favorite saying from Lily Tomlin (another lesbian!) springs to mind:

No matter how cynical I get I can’t keep up!”

 

 

 

Finding Our Place As Catholic Lesbians: Chapter 4 – Desire

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 9, 2021 | Categories: Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Sex

Desire sharpens every cell of our awareness and makes us feel alive. This is especially true for lesbians, when we feel the first rush of arousal.  Sometimes this first happens in dreams, sometimes just seeing a particular woman across a room or just being overwhelming aware of her presence if she is standing close by. I was first aware of my desire for a friend in high school, and the power of that first desire stayed with me until my first sexual experience with a woman 10 years later. I have been asked what sex between women is like.  It is different than sex with men. A simple answer is that it is more playful, and also more intense. Sexuality is about pleasure, but it is equally about connection and intimacy, emotions and states of being that are not limited to simply a union between a male and female for the purpose of procreation.

The sex drive is so strong in human beings, so important, lesbians will risk their reputation, family, friends, life—everything, to be with the woman they want and love. Many lesbians, myself included, felt a sense of confusion replaced with relief when we understood our desire was for women, not men. The duplicity, the pretending, the fear was replaced by a discovery of our authentic selves.

Desert Hearts (1985)

The church offers women two options for sex:  sex with her husband for the purpose of becoming pregnant (to bring life into the world); or no sex at all by living a chaste life.  The idea of getting pregnant by a man you love and are married to is a beautiful thing. I am happy for all the women and men who have desired that wonderful experience and have the gift of a child.

“Life-giving” intercourse is not limited to a man and woman; it can also be experienced by two women or two men in a passionate, giving and mutually-affirming sexual relationship.  When you have sex with someone you love, whatever you do becomes another way of expressing your love and desire.

“How do I reconcile the Church’s reaction to the expression of love and the fact that I live in an openly lesbian relationship? Perhaps it is the wrong question,” said Maggie Redding, the founder of the Catholic Lesbian Sisterhood of Great Britain.

“Most of the Church’s teaching on sexuality is based on male sexuality. There is very little understanding of female sexuality. So I am firmly convinced the Church’s teaching embodies only half the truth.”

“Female sexuality is different from male sexuality. It is much less easy to define what is a sexual act, especially in the expression of love between women. It is my passionate belief that women, especially lesbian women, have much to offer in the understanding of and solutions to questions about sexuality that are causing the Church great pain and conflict. Besides, we are the Church, too.”

 

 

Finding Our Place as Catholic Lesbians – Chapter 1 – Meeting Other Catholic Lesbians

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 3, 2021 | Categories: Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Sex

Kirkridge

An unmet need for connection, support and affirmation was the spark behind the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL) held at Kirkridge Retreat Center in November 1982. At that time, no Catholic women’s or gay organization spoke sensitively to the needs of Catholic lesbians, or in many cases, even acknowledged our existence at all.  Except for a small presence in Dignity, we were invisible and voiceless.

The goal of the first conference was to come together with others who identified as Catholic and as lesbian; but also to articulate how these two identifications were often at odds in our church, in the gay and lesbian community, and in us. To be one, we had to hide the other.  This lack of authenticity and wholeness affected every part of our lives and spirituality.

The conference organizers asked the participants what they hoped to get out of the conference.  Among the major themes were the following:

-A greater understanding of myself as a Catholic lesbian; establish friendships with other lesbian women who treasure and nurture their spiritual selves; support and direction.

-A renewal of my Catholic faith and a way to combine it with my lesbianism to a workable balance.

-Prayer & community in a supportive environment. For three years I experienced those elements as a Sister of Mercy. Though it’s been five years since I left the community, the prayer, community and supportive atmosphere are still missed.

-Sharing ideas and experiences with other women of the same background and philosophy in an atmosphere of openness and acceptance. To be able to be proud of being a Catholic and a lesbian without punitive consequences.

-An answer to the question, “How can one be a sexually active lesbian and a Catholic?”

-Help toward resolving my indecision if a lesbian can be Christian, much less Catholic.

-To meet Catholic women, get a better view of women (gay) in the church and learn how to incorporate my Christian gayness in the straight world without becoming bitter.

-A sense of reassurance that Catholic lesbians have not abandoned the church; that God is an integral factor in other lesbians’ lives. An opportunity to discuss Catholicity with other lesbians.

-A greater appreciation of my place in the gay community as a deeply committed Christian woman.

-Meet new people, gain new insight, broaden my thinking and have fun.

-The opportunity to meet and talk with other Catholic lesbians. To share feelings/common problems. To be quite honest, just to be able to do something as a group of Catholic lesbians to come away with a feeling of belonging. That there really are more Catholic lesbians out there than the 1 or 2 we see at church occasionally.

Kirkridge vista

What emerged from that weekend gathering was the realization that although there are many ways to identify as being Catholic or lesbian, we shared a bond to a faith with which we would always feel connected, even if we ceased to consider ourselves practicing church members.

What was special about Kirkridge and subsequent conferences was the opportunity to meet, hear and speak with other Catholic lesbians about shared gay experiences, especially the pain that often comes from a sense of rejection and exclusion. As one participated noted, “It is very rare to find lesbians who will own the fact that they have been/are part of the Catholic church. I hope to gain knowledge of other women’s experiences in order to share the past, and deal with the present with a new vision.”

Next:  Chapter 2 – Anger and Sadness

Read the entire article here.The Importance of Being Who We Are3

 

Ed Murphy: Gay Blackmailer and Activist – Chapter 7 – The Improbable Activist

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 20, 2021 | Categories: Accountability, History, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals, Sex

After the Stonewall raid, Ed Murphy went to work at Tele-Star, another gay bar.  The Tele-Star was raided soon after by police.  Murphy told friends that he refused to let police into the bar, so they had beaten him up very badly.  He was covered in cuts and welts, had bandages all over his face, his arm was fractured, and he was barely able to walk.  The beating may have been at the instigation of Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, who must have been furious about not netting him at Stonewall.  Some officers may still have been angry that Murphy impersonated a police officer during the “Chickens and the Bulls” extortion schemes, and it was payback time.  Murphy was also raped by a black inmate during his jail stay.  Murphy said the police heard he “liked niggers” and that he hung out with and protected black teenagers and transvestites.  After Murphy was released from jail, he stopped informing for the NYPD.

Ed Murphy, 1978

In 1978, Ed Murphy “came out” as a gay man and stopped informing on the Mob to the FBI.  He was 52. Murphy claimed that he wanted to quit both his careers as a criminal freelancer and as an informer, and work for gay liberation.  He wanted to become a “good guy.” Ed continued working at gay bars, which were mostly mob run, so his association with members of the Genovese and Gambino families continued until his death in 1989. I don’t see how the Mafia would let an informer walk around and live; Ed would have ended up in a swamp, empty field, or vacant lot. Having Ed inform to the FBI was useful—he could have been fed information about certain people and his informing allowed the Mafia to keep tabs on FBI activity and plans.  Ed saying that he no longer worked for the FBI may have been true or a ruse.  Murphy did testify in 1979 that he had been an undercover agent specializing in gay bars and corruption for the New York State Select Committee on Crime.

In a May 8, 1978, Village Voice article by Arthur Bell, “Skull Murphy – The Gay Double Agent,” Murphy disclosed that he decided to come clean  because certain mobsters became aware he was an informer. “Everything I know is on file at law enforcement agencies for certain people doing investigations,” he told Bell. Look, I’m getting old. I’m getting out of this business, baby. I’m doing it for one reason. I want to see their asses kicked.”

I find it impossible to believe that Ed Murphy ratted on the mob for years and lived to walk away after testifying. He was low level and sullied enough that a gunman could put a bullet in his head and get away with only a pretense of an investigation. Who would mourn? Not the influential gay men and officials that he served and compromised. Not the NYPD. Instead, Ed continued to live and work in New York at mob-affiliated gay bars and clubs.  He solicited cash donations from businesses, many of them mob-owned, to help fund the Christopher Street Festival and annual gay pride day parade. More likely, much of the information that Murphy provided had to do with corruption and sexual antics by politicians, government officials, men in law enforcement, and others that would be embarrassing to be publicly aired. A friend reacted to Murphy’s pronouncements: “Even the criminal element has a code of ethics. If the Skull’s planning a trip to heaven, he won’t get there by hurting people.”

In 1972, Murphy founded the Christopher Street Festival Committee.  It was started to help the local merchants profit from Gay Pride Day and, to give people who felt uncomfortable marching a place to meet and mingle with other gay people.  When I was marching in the 1980s and early 1990s, there were thousands more people at the festival than at the parade.  The parade included primarily middle class and affluent white people. There were a lot of banners of community service or activist groups, including religious groups and some church and synagogue groups.  The original march in 1970 started in the Village and ended up in Central Park.

CCL at NYC Gay Pride March, 1988

By 1974, Murphy had persuaded march organizers to start the parade uptown and finish at Christopher Street.  His main motive was probably money, since the bars, clubs, booth merchants, and area businesses would rake in bags of cash from marchers and revelers.  But while making money was the biggest driver, I also feel that Ed wanted to include the thousands of people who didn’t march out of fear of family rejection, job loss, or just fear.  Many of them were black, Latino, and blue-collar whites. Murphy almost single-handedly ran and controlled the festival.  Most participants were happy with the crowd and the freedom to “be,” if only for an afternoon or night. “People often wondered where they money went,” said Candida Scott Piel, a long-time AIDS and gay rights activist who helped to organize the Pride parade and rally in the ‘80s. “But if your group ever needed help, or you were just someone in need, Ed was always there to lend a hand or find someone who could.”

Every year Murphy would come by the Conference for Catholic Lesbians booth on Christopher Street to say hello, see how we were doing, and make sure that no one from the commercial vendor booths was bothering us. Eventually he would end up at one of the nearby bars, like Two Potato, holding court with a group of young guys. Prior to the Festival, Ed took part in the Pride parade.  He would ride with a group of young men in a Cadillac convertible. A picture from the 1984 parade shows him all dressed up in a blazer wearing a blue sash with the words, “The Original Stonewaller.”  His hands are raised as if in a benediction to the crowd.

Ed Murphy, NYC Gay Pride March, 1984

Ed Murphy’s life after Stonewall had taken a surprising turn after his previous incarnations as a juvenile delinquent, WWII soldier, armed robber, gay bar bouncer, pro wrestler, pimp, house detective, fairy-shaker, and informant: he became a community activist.  During the 1970s and ‘80s, Ed Murphy was known for charity work with homeless street youths, drag queens, prostitutes, people suffering with AIDS and the mentally handicapped.  He was named New York State’s volunteer of the year in 1977 for his work with people with developmental disabilities.

Ed Murphy would round up his friends and treat people in residential facilities to parties for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and summer picnics.  He would dress up as Santa Claus for Christmas, and in his all-purpose tramp-clown outfit for the other occasions. “He’s a marvelous man,” said the coordinator of volunteer services for one of the homes.  “Whenever we need something in a pinch, Ed Murphy is there. It doesn’t matter if it’s shoelaces or an excursion.” Murphy did whatever needed to be done to make Christmas special.  “One year we wanted to have a house for Santa Claus to sit in, but we didn’t have no money,” he recalled. “So a couple of the guys go down to this yard on 10th Avenue and rob some lumber. After the party, they put it back, but the owner comes into the bar and complains. I asked him what he’s yelling about, its only got a couple of nail holes in it.  The next year, he donates the lumber for free.”

From his job as a doorman/bouncer, Ed collected a group of fellow bar workers, patrons and ex-cons who help him with the parties.  “We’re here with Eddie,” said a man who pushed a cart full of presents for the residents told a reporter.  “The guy’s a nice guy, and, like, he loves people. I been in a few institutions myself, so I know what that means.” Murphy had an informal group of 50 bars, most of them gay bars, to help provide food, drinks, and gifts for the parties. “We don’t accept money,” Murphy said. “We’ll ask one bar for hamburgers, another for soda, and so forth.” He got bakeries to donate to AIDS hospices and old age homes.  He even got Detective Jim McDonnell from his “Chickens and Bulls” days to do some volunteer work when he retired.  Murphy surprised McDonnell with a plaque at an awards dinner.

After Stonewall, Ed Murphy appears to have made a complete transition from a thug who threatened gay men for money; to a burly, bewhiskered Santa Claus who distributed gifts and treats to bring joy to people who would have had neither.  What happened to Ed Murphy? Why did people never mention his role in the “Chickens and the Bulls” or even his alleged blackmail role for the mob at Stonewall?  It was the ultimate irony to see the man the cops were after during the Stonewall raid for financial crimes at the head of the Gay Pride parade proudly wearing the sash proclaiming, “The Original Stonewaller.”

 

Ed Murphy: Gay Blackmailer and Activist – Chapter 5: Stonewall Shakedowns

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 18, 2021 | Categories: Accountability, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals, Sex

The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City started life as Bonnie’s Stone Wall, named after the autobiography of Ruth Fuller Field (1864-1935), The Stone Wall.  Although it was written under the pen name of “Mary Casal,” the book was extraordinarily frank in its descriptions of lesbian love and sexual attraction.  In 1967, the building was reopened as a gay bar by “Fat” Tony Lauria, the son of a Mafioso and several partners.  One of them was Matty “the Horse” Ianniello, the acting boss of the Genovese family.   Ianniello was widely acknowledged as the Genovese capo who controlled most of New York’s gay bars and clubs.  The New York State Liquor Authority refused liquor licenses to any bar that catered to open homosexuals. This created an opening for organized crime to run bars without licenses and pay off police.

Matty “The Horse” Ianniello

The Stonewall, 1960s

The Stonewall Inn was a dump. The bar had no running water; glasses were washed in a bucket.  Urine soaked the toilet floor. There were no fire exits.  But The Stonewall Inn had a special draw: it was the only gay bar that permitted dancing.  From an upper room and back entrance, the Stonewall also offered drugs and male prostitutes. One of the bartenders, a chubby blond drag queen named Maggie Jiggs, presided over the main bar, and sold drugs in addition to Stonewall’s watered drinks.  Ed Murphy was the burly doorman-bouncer. Murphy had been a ubiquitous presence in gay bars since 1946.  He was still closeted in 1969, but he had sex with young men and pimped them out for tips.  Murphy was said to have worked with Gambino Family associate Mike Umbers, a pornographer, to pimp teenage boys to wealthy men. Umbers reportedly had a minor role in the “Dog Day Afternoon” botched bank robbery.  Umbers pressured John Wojtowicz to pay back his loan to the mob by robbing a bank.  Wojtowicz borrowed the money to pay for his wedding and sex change operation for his wife, Liz Eden. Wojtowicz claimed that the idea to rob a bank came from a Chase Manhattan executive that he met in a Greenwich Village gay bar.

Did Ed Murphy continue the blackmail schemes at the Stonewall Inn that he utilized earlier during “The Chickens and the Bulls” scandal?  Was he working with members of organized crime families to blackmail gay men?  Was he protected by the FBI as an informer?  All the evidence seems to point that way.

In his 2004 book, “Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution,” historian David Carter debunked the myth that the New York Police Department’s raid on Stonewall was intended solely to harass gay patrons. Carter studied the 1969 police files on the raid and interviewed the man who planned and led it, Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine.  Pine recalled that months earlier he was called into the office of his commanding officer to discuss stolen bonds.  Interpol had noticed that an unusual amount of negotiable bonds were surfacing in Europe and had requested that the NYPD investigate. Were the bonds legal or counterfeit? Who was behind it?

NYPD Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine

The NYPD investigation found evidence that the Mafia was involved along with some Wall Street employees who frequented the Stonewall Inn. Carter suggested that Murphy supplied members of the mob with names and personal information that could be used for blackmail.  The police concluded that bonds had been stolen by a closeted Wall Street executive at the bidding of gangsters operating out of the Stonewall Inn.  Lucian K. Truscott IV, the writer who covered the Stonewall Riots for the Village Voice, wrote an article for the New York Times in 2009, “The Real Mob at Stonewall.”  Truscott related that “Deputy Inspector Pine had two stated reasons for the raid:  the Stonewall was selling liquor without a license, which it was, and it was being used by a Mafia blackmail ring that was setting up gay patrons who worked on Wall Street, which also seems likely.”

The victims were set up for Murphy by the good-looking bartenders and waiters at Stonewall.  The waiters would get friendly with customers and ferret out personal details. If the customer was connected or had a big job on Wall Street, the man was a good mark.  “It’s really so insidious,” said one Stonewall regular, “when you’re talking to somebody that you find nice—he’s being nice, pleasant finally.  Eventually you tell him where you work, and then all of a sudden this happens.  It’s just so awful.”

Some victims had their wallets stolen by prostitutes.  The blackmailers researched which men might be vulnerable to extortion.  The Stonewall Inn also maintained a membership list. Anyone who wanted to be admitted needed to sign a book.  Wise patrons used fake names, but lots of others used their real names.  Blackmailers used these membership lists, plus the information pumped by waiters, to identify well-placed homosexuals in the financial industry.  Closeted Wall Street employees were probably threatened by Murphy.  I can see him promising to protect their anonymity, in exchange for financial instruments that the mob wanted.

The Mattachine Society of New York, the city’s first gay rights organization, had experience with Ed Murphy during “The Chickens and Bulls” extortion scandals a few years earlier.  They alerted their members and others who purchased their gay bars guide that Ed Murphy was active at The Stonewall and to be wary of him. “MSNY has also been informed that Murphy has an interest in the Stone Wall, a club on Christopher Street, and several other gay clubs in New York…We caution our readers NEVER to use your real name when cruising, NEVER to give your address to a questionable bar or club, and remember, that trick or hustler you’ve just picked up may be “working” for management!  We urge you, if you’ve been intimidated or blackmailed in the past, to report it to the D.A.’s office, or to M.S.NY.”

Dick Leitsch, Mattachine Society

In their March 1968 newsletter, the Mattachine Society described their role in aiding the New York City District Attorney’s office with information that led to the arrest of several blackmailers.  They also made a point to identify one of them—“Edward F. P Murphy, an ex-convict who is alleged to have been the head of a national ring which recently was active in extorting money from homosexuals…has served prison terms for larceny and for carrying deadly weapons, and was arrested for impersonating an officer, and for extortion…”

Ed Murphy was never charged in the Stonewall shakedowns or stolen bonds.  Neither the men who stole the bearer bonds nor the men who sold them were ever charged or punished.  However, the incident led to a crackdown in the financial services industry, and many gay men lost their jobs or careers and were ruined.  The head of the Mattachine Society, Dick Leitsch, gave this statement before the New York State Assembly at its “Hearings on Homosexuality” on January 7, 1971:

“Last year, following a wave of thefts from Wall Street brokerage houses, the State issued an order that all employees in the financial industry be fingerprinted.  Because of this, many old and trusted employees had to be let go, because bonding companies will not insure known homosexuals and the fingerprint checks turned up evidence of old arrests.  Banking and many other fields requiring bonds are off-limits to homosexuals because of this policy of bonding companies.”

This act capped a decade of exploitation and degradation of hundreds, if not thousands, of gay men and youths by Ed Murphy.  He was protected by the FBI, the NYPD, the Mob, the New York State Select Committee on Crime, and his own fists, friends, and personality.  He got away with it.  In a tremendous irony, the Stonewall raid to arrest him for blackmail instead morphed Ed Murphy into a gay liberation legend.