Amazon Kindle, UK

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Robin Hood: Gay in the Greenwood?

"When Robin Hood was about 20 years old;
he happen'd to meet Little John; 
A jolly brisk blade right fit for the trade,
for he was a lusty young man."
The Times of 11 July 1999 reported on research suggesting that Robin Hood, who livd with his band of merrie men in their forest ghetto, may have been gay.  Maid Marion, the hetero love interest was a fiction added later to the earlier accounts. Robin’s genuine true love was Little John.  Surprised?
New studies of the medieval texts that first recorded his deeds suggest that the robber with a heart of gold was actually a gay outlaw who had been exiled from "straight" society. Little John, not Maid Marian, was his true love.
The revelation flies in the face of Kevin Costner's portrayal of the outlaw in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", and suggests that the title of Mel Brooks's film "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" may have been closer to the mark.
The reassessment is based on studies of the 14th-century ballads of Robin Hood, the earliest known accounts of his deeds, which detail his relationships with his "merrie men", especially Little John and Will Scarlet.
Stephen Knight, professor of English literature at Cardiff University, said the ballads, the first and most authoritative accounts of Hood's deeds, had clear homoerotic overtones.
He said: "Robin Hood and his men are all very male and live exclusively without women. The ballads could not say outright that he was gay because of the prevailing moral climate, but they do contain a great deal of erotic imagery. The green wood itself is a symbol of virility and the references to arrows, quivers and swords make it clear, too."
The ballads were written in Chaucerian English, made more complex by a strong dialect. One translation includes the verse: "When Robin Hood was about 20 years old; he happen'd to meet Little John; A jolly brisk blade right fit for the trade, for he was a lusty young man."
The ballads also show that Maid Marian - usually depicted as Hood's true love - never existed.
Knight believes she was added by 16th-century authors who wanted to make their works more respectable to heterosexual readers. He will present his research to fellow academics in a paper called "The Forest Queen" at a three-day conference in Nottingham organised by the University of Glamorgan this week.
The conference will include trips to places where Robin Hood and Little John are said to have lived together.
In modern times Hood has been depicted as a minor aristocrat who becomes an outlaw after his lands were confiscated in the 1190s by King John. He fights against the unjust king and his lackeys, famously stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
He is finally rehabilitated when Richard Lionheart, the rightful king, returns from the Crusades and makes Hood the first Earl of Huntingdon, a title that still exists.
The ballads, however, suggest a different story. They indicate that the real Hood almost certainly came from yeoman or peasant stock, that he roamed Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire in the late 13th or 14th century and that his popularity came not from giving away money but from his ability to flout authority.
One of the earliest works, "Robin Hood and the Monk", written anonymously in about 1450, describes the intimate friendship between the outlaw and Little John. It depicts them having a row over money that Knight describes as "almost domestic".
It is resolved only when Little John rescues his leader from their enemies. Similar themes are explored in "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne" - again Hood and Little John fall out but are reunited.
Some historians believe that Hood was a genuine character,but that ballads have been embellished with the exploits of other outlaw gangs, among many of which homosexuality would also have been common.
Barry Dobson, professor of medieval history at the University of Cambridge, agrees with Knight that the relationship between Hood and John in the ballads is "ambiguous".
He said the 13th century had seen increasing oppression of gays: "In the 12th century homosexuality was accepted, but in the 13th the church became much less tolerant and such people were driven underground."
Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the gay rights group Outrage!, which became notorious for exposing prominent people who had not declared their homosexuality, said the outing of Hood was long overdue.
"His lifestyle alone was enough to provoke speculation," he said. "It's about time school history lessons acknowledged the contribution of famous homosexuals."
But the idea that the tales of Robin Hood should be given a gay twist horrifies those used to seeing him as being "straight as an arrow".
Mary Chamberlain, secretary of the Robin Hood Society, accused the academics of trying to make their name at the expense of England's best-loved folk hero. She said: "Robin remains a highly regarded figure the world over and children like to play at being Robin Hood. These claims could do a lot of damage."
Hood's alleged descendants may also be dismayed. The Huntingdons' pride in their ancestry led to the current earl and hisfather both being given "Robin Hood" as their middle names.
This weekend, however, the current earl, William Edward Robin Hood Hastings Bass, swiftly distanced himself from the "gay" outlaw, claiming that they were not related after all.
He said: "It's a nice myth that Robin Hood was the first Earl of Huntingdon, but there is no historical evidence that he really was linked to my family."


Had it not been for the violent uprising at the Stonewall Inn back in 1969, New York would be a completely different place. Gay culture would be completely underground. Homosexuals would be arrested as criminals. Chelsea would have a lot fewer gyms.
But everything changed that June 28 when cops raided the Christopher Street bar and the fed-up patrons fought back, launching the modern gay-rights movement. The riots are chronicled in the new documentary “Stonewall Uprising,” opening Wednesday.
For those raised on Culture Club videos and “Will & Grace,” it’s hard to imagine how underground the gay scene was back in the ’60s — even in freewheelin’ New York.
The new documentary “Stonewall Uprising
The new documentary “Stonewall Uprising" opens Wednesday.
“A bar could be closed for serving a known homosexual,” says Danny Garvin, who participated in the riots and appears in the film. “I was in a bar called Julius’ one night having a beer, and I was standing, resting my elbows on the bar and just looking. The bartender tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Could you please turn around and face the bar. Otherwise, we could be closed for soliciting.’ You had to be cautious.”
Because serving homosexuals was illegal, almost all gay bars were run by the Mafia, including the Stonewall, which was controlled by the Genovese crime family.
Speaking of criminal, at the time, dressing in drag was also forbidden. The law stated that men were required to wear at least three articles of masculine clothing.
“You could get away with [male] underwear and an undershirt, but after that, it was a problem,” says Martin Boyce, who used to dress in drag and also participated in the riots. He also appears in “Stonewall Uprising.”
Back in the ’60s, the city didn’t offer many places for gay men to congregate, and one of the centers of the underground gay scene was a group of tractor-trailers parked at the end of Christopher Street. They were empty and left unlocked at night, and dozens of men would pack into them to have sex.
“I was across the street one time, and the police came by and banged on the truck with their sticks,” Boyce says. “And I hate to say it, but it looked like roaches were coming out.”
The police would also frequently raid gay bars, often confiscating the liquor and forcing revelers to line up and show ID. Anyone who didn’t have it could be arrested.
It was during one of these routine raids on the Stonewall that violence erupted. Shortly after busting the bar, cops were forced to barricade themselves inside as hundreds of angry protesters gathered on outside Christopher Street, throwing pennies, bricks and trash. One angry drag queen uprooted a parking meter and began bashing in the door, while another doused the door with lighter fluid and set it on fire.
“You could see the eyes of the police through a hole in the door, and there was a heightened sense of alarm,” Boyce says. “At first they were smiling, but they weren’t smiling when the door caught on fire.”
Police eventually called in reinforcements. As cops tried to clear the streets, Boyce and a group of other drag queens locked arms and formed an impromptu kick line, singing, “We are the Stonewall girls/ We wear our hair in curls/ We wear our dungarees/ Above our nelly knees!”
“We had to do something to them,” Boyce says of the police. “Finally, it was our turn to just do something.”
The unrest continued for four more nights. No one involved knew it at the time, but the incident had changed things in the gay community forever.
“That week in the street, there were a number of people who cheered me,” Boyce recalls. “I remember one day a sanitation worker said, ‘All right! ’Bout time you guys did something!’ I was shocked.”
A year later, in 1970, a pride parade was organized to commemorate Stonewall. It’s now an annual event, with this year’s march scheduled for June 27.
As for the Stonewall bar, it’s still there — only it occupies half of its former space. According to Boyce, it’s not all that popular anymore.
“It’s like going to see the Paris that you read about in the ’30s. It’s kind of dull,” he says. “It doesn’t have a reason anymore. It just has a memory.”

Personal View Of History: 'Stonewall Did That For Me'

In 1969, Michael Levine was at a popular gay bar in New York City when the police raided it. But instead of running away, the patrons stood up for themselves, in what became known as the Stonewall riots. For Levine, it changed his life — and the world.

Levine, 67, recently told the story of that night to his friend Matt Merlin, 34, at a StoryCorps booth.
It was a Friday night, and Levine was out on a date. "And I was at the bar getting drinks for both of us. We had just finished dancing," he says. "The music was blaring. It was a combination of beer and cigarettes and cologne.
"Suddenly, as I'm handing money to the bartender, a deafening silence occurred," says Levine. "The lights went up, the music went off, and you could hear a pin drop, literally."
His boyfriend rushed over to him and said it was time to go — the vice squad had come to raid the club. In those days, the vice squad routinely raided and emptied gay bars. Patrons usually left quietly, frightened at being identified publicly.
"We walked out onto Christopher Street," Levine says, "and there are what look like 100 police cars facing the entrance and crowds of people looking at us."
Levine recalls police officers telling all the patrons to go home. But, he says, "the drag queens, they're the ones who said to the police, 'We're not leaving.' And they formed a chorus line outside, in front of the bar. And they stood there, dancing in the street. They were all Puerto Rican drag queens and Irish cops. It was a funny, funny confrontation."
Every time the police succeeded in dispersing the group, the drag queens would regroup, and starting dancing their way back toward the Stonewall.
"When we came back on Saturday night, we stood there on the street and held hands and kissed — something we would never have done three days earlier," says Levine. "I stood there with chills. I got a chill seeing guys on the street holding hands and kissing."
And then Levine started getting calls from relatives — his brother, cousins, an aunt. All of them wanted to be sure he was OK. "We're just calling to find out if you're OK," he recalls them saying. "We know you go to places like this. We want to make sure you're all right."
The calls came, says Levine, despite the fact that he'd never told any of them that he was gay. "It was like I was wearing a sign on my back," he says. "They knew. We never discussed it. I never once had to say to anyone in my family, 'I'm gay.' "
"How did you feel about yourself between the beginning of Stonewall and after Stonewall?" Merlin asks. "Did you feel that you were a different person?"
"No, I didn't feel that I was a different person," Levine answers. "I was the same me: I was a homosexual person, coming from an old-fashioned Jewish neighborhood, living in Greenwich Village on my own.
"I felt the same. I felt comfortable. But I felt the world, now, is more comfortable with me. And Stonewall did that for me."
(From NPR)