Saturday, 27 July 2013

Pride Connections

Today is Nottinghamshire Pride just down the road in Nottingham’s Arboretum. This year’s theme is “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”, featuring a character I mentioned in one of my “Star Gayzing” articles, the March Hare. Even at this late stage I’m not sure if I’ll dress up for it. Mind you, several years ago I went in my denim cowboy gear with big cowboy hat. My old mate Leon Unczur, then the Sheriff of Nottingham,  opened Pride that year, and we joked about who had the silliest hat!

Last year I mentioned how the whole Pride march idea was brought to the UK by Nottingham-born Bob Mellors. To celebrate today’s Pride here is a progression of connections which takes in Pride, the Nature or Nurture gay debate and an American Senator.

1)         Today’s Nottinghamshire Pride takes the theme of The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

2)         The first Gay Pride in the UK took place on 1st July 1972. It was co-founded by Bob Mellors, a Nottingham man who got the idea from the American Gay Liberation Front’s Pride march in New York in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots.

3)         Bob Mellors wrote an unpublished biography of Dr. Charlotte Bach, an evolutionary theorist who believed that humans are naturally being pulled towards becoming the opposite sex. The early Gay Lib movement to which Bob Mellors belonged was attracted to this idea, as it implied that homosexuality was pushing evolutionary change in the human species. In those days before proper research was done, this theory provided a “reason for being” in the gay community. When Dr. Bach died she left her entire library to Bob. But what Bob or anybody never knew in her lifetime was that she was actually a non-op transgendered person.

4)         Charlotte Bach was born Karoly Hajdu in Hungary. He married and had children, but eventually spent his entire life dressed as a woman. Her evolutionary theories became the basis of a new science of Human Ethology. Bob Mellors wrote the 4-volume work “An Outline of Human Ethology”. Apart for the Gay Lib movement the theories became popular with some eminent academics and writers, among them writer-philosopher Colin Wilson, who featured Charlotte’s life and work in his book “The Misfits”.

5)         Colin Wilson’s interest in Charlotte Bach was centred more on her status as an “outsider”, a social and geographic term he used as the title of his major book in 1956. In “Misfits” Wilson explored the sexual “outsiders” in various communities. In the 1970s Wilson, who was thrown out of the RAF by claiming to be gay, began writing about the occult, mysticism and the paranormal.

6)         Wilson’s books on the occult and the paranormal were popular in the era of the New Age revolution of the 1970s and 80s. People like Uri Geller became well-known celebrities due to their alleged psychic abilities. In the 1980s a counter-psychic revolution began, as scientists and, more prominently, magicians began to show that the psychic and paranormal powers were performed by trickery.

7)         Even though many psychics and their powers, whether telepathy, faith healing or spoon-bending, were proven to be trickery there remained many people who were willing to overlook scientific explanations and believe in the psychics. These people came from all parts of society, even the highest levels of influence. One person who was a firm believer in psychic powers, in spite of the evidence that disproved them, was the Senator of Rhode Island, Claiborne Pell.

8)         During one performance deliberately set up to expose the trickery of some psychic powers, Senator Pell (whose lesbian daughter Julia came out last year) still believed in the powers of the paranormal. The person who unsuccessfully tried to persuade him otherwise was one of America’s leading magicians, James Randi.

9)         James Randi is a leading authority on magic and paranormal “debunking”. One of his most famous confrontations  was with the afore-mentioned Uri Geller. Just as Uri Geller turned spoon-bending into  a “spectator sport” so James proved many times how it can be done by trickery. Several law suits flew between Geller and Randi over claims of defamation, but they came to an end in a mysteriously secret out of court settlement. What Randi, who came out in 2010 at the age of 81, has shown in that many tricks of the psychic’s trade have long been performed by magicians.

10)       James Randi is one of my favourite magicians. I’ve been an amateur magician most of my adult life (I may even post some YouTube videos of me doing some tricks sometime). In recent years there has been a resurgence of street magic and large-scale illusions. Gone are the days, it seems, of the traditional magician in the mould of Paul Daniels, David Nixon, Channing Pollock and the old masters of close-up magic. But still the mention of a magician still conjures up images of a deck of cards, a white rabbit, and a top hat ….

All of which bring me back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and today’s Nottinghamshire Pride.

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