advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Friday, July 24, 2009

On Respect, Or, How To Avoid Mispronounciation

For today’s story, we will travel far afield from the typical domains of politics or science or law that have so often provoked our thinking into an often overlooked area of human relations:

To which gender do you belong?

It’s a simple question, or so common sense would tell us—either you’re male, or you’re female.

As it turns out, things aren’t quite so simple, and in today’s conversation we’ll consider this issue in a larger way. By the time we’re done, not only will we learn a thing or two about sex and gender and sexuality, we’ll also learn how to offer a community of people a level of respect that they often find difficult to obtain.

Do you get off casting hexes?
Assuming forms of either sexes
And oh...are you a boy or a girl?

--Imperial Drag, Boy Or A Girl?

The best place to start today’s story, I suspect, is with a story.

Regular visitors to this space will recall the recent conversation we had regarding the life and times of Gladys Bentley. The kind folks at the Bilerico Project (“daily experiments in LGBTQ”) asked me to repost at the site, and it was there pointed out to me that I was confusing gender and sexuality at various times in the diary.

It occurred to me that education was the solution here; to that end I located Lifelines Rhode Island’s TGI/Gender-Spectrum Terminology Guide (which, unless indicated otherwise, will be the source for the material you see here today). Tobi Hill-Meyer, who also posts at the Bilerico Project, was able to confirm to me that the information here “covers a lot more than most terminology lists I’ve seen”…and with a confirming source in place, I think we’re ready to move forward.

Actually, before we do that…a caveat. Everything that will be presented today is “in flux”. Terminology and attitudes and thinking evolve rapidly in this area, and Ms. Hill-Meyer would tell you to worry less about exact terms and to pay more attention to the general concepts that this discussion incorporates.

The first thing you should know is that biological sex, gender, and sexuality are three completely different things, neither associated with the other. What I mean by that is that an individual might be male, or female, some combination of the two (intersex persons)…or none of the above—but that has no bearing on whether that same person might find themselves sexually attracted to males, or females, or intersex persons…or no one at all.

Let’s start with biological sex.

The human body expresses sex in four different ways, the first being genetic. Genetic males carry an X and a Y chromosome, genetic females two X chromosomes. Intersex persons might have a single X chromosome (known as XO) or some combination of three or more X and Y chromosomes.

“Gonadal” males possess testes, gonadal females possess ovaries; intersex persons might possess undescended testes or streak ovaries.

Those persons who possess testosterone or DHT in the body are “hormonal” males. Estrogen and progesterone are found in hormonal females, and intersex persons might have levels of any of these hormones that are either high or low…or they might not have the “receptors” that allow the body to recognize the hormones that are present.

Morphological sex is expressed by the presence, in males, of the Wolffian duct and a penis. Females will possess a Mullerian duct and a vagina. Intersex persons might possess both a Wolffian and a Mullerian duct or incomplete internal sexual organs—or none of the above—and an enlarged clitoris, a “micro-penis”, or a shallow and fused vagina.

Perception, the folks at Lifelines would tell you, exists in two parts: gender, which is derived from the perception of whether you appear to others to be male or female, and gender identity, which is based on your own perception of yourself as male, female, neither, both, or whatever other label you might choose to attach to your gender identity. The “take-away” from this line of thought is that people are entitled to make their own choices regarding gender identity.

Sexuality, or sexual orientation as it’s used by Lifelines, can be a bit tricky, but it works like this: start with an individual’s chosen gender identity, then proceed to whom they are attracted to. For example, if your gender identity is female, and you are attracted to females, you would be a lesbian. Options include straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual…and pansexual, a term used by those who see more than two sexes—and genders—within the rich tapestry of human existence.

I ought, therefore I am.

--From Immanuel Kant’s Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Everyone still with me on all this?

Good, because now we get to the heart of the matter…the “how to show respect” part…and if you’ve been keeping up, what’s coming next will be fairly simple to grasp.

Mispronounciation is the act of referring to someone with the incorrect personal pronoun—in other words, incorrectly referring to a “he” as a “she”. To avoid this, all you need to do is refer to the individual using the pronouns that match that person’s appearance.

If the person to whom you are speaking is visually expressing their gender as female, that person is referred to as “she”, and vice versa. The fact that the person might not be “passing” in a manner that you find entirely convincing is irrelevant, as is the fact that the person may or may not have had sexual reassignment surgery.

If that same person were to express their gender, on another occasion, as a male, you would refer to the same person as “he”.

In keeping with the admonition to not worry so much about every single term, but instead to make an effort to grasp the concepts presented here, we will not endeavor to define everything on the list; instead touching on just a few terms and explaining why they are important.

“Tranny” is considered offensive and should be avoided.

A “crossdresser” is someone who does not associate their clothing choice with a desire to express as a different gender. In other words, when Rudy Giuliani dresses as a woman—even as he views himself as a man while doing it—that’s crossdressing.

Drag Kings and Drag Queens are entertainers who express themselves in an alternative gender. If the person with whom you are speaking is not on stage at the time…these terms are probably inappropriate.

Transsexual persons are taking hormones and have had sexual reassignment surgery…most of the time. (Some people use the term to describe themselves even though they have not had surgery.) This term is often used within the medical community.

There are some people who do not prefer this term, either because it implies that a mental illness is somehow involved, or because it implies a change of sexuality, as opposed to a change of gender. (You should know that the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, also known as the “DSM-IV-TR”, does in fact describe Gender Identity Disorder as a mental illness.)

The word transgender, which has been in common use to describe people who are expressing any number of gender options, is considered offensive by some people because it is sometimes used to describe a person’s gender choice, instead of the preferred “he” or “she”.

Androgyne persons do not wish to express a single gender choice, instead choosing to present themselves in a way that blurs the line between male and female. Someone who expresses their gender in this manner might or might not also express their sexuality the same way.

Trans is the currently preferred term to describe people who are…well, trans.

Someone who fits into any of the categories we have described here would be considered a trans person. A trans man would be someone who was female at birth, but is now expressing the gender choice of male; obviously a trans woman would be someone who was designated male at birth and is now expressing the gender choice of female. (“Trans” is a prefix defined as “across, over, or beyond”)

If you fit into none of these categories, but instead are always expressing yourself in the same gender as your birth gender, the term cisgender or cissexual is in current use; this derived from the prefix “cis”, which is defined as “on this side of”.

So what have we learned today?

We learned that there is a community of people who do not find the two gender choices “man” and “woman” representative of all the options available…and we learned that, within that community, there are people who might wish, from time to time, to vary their gender role.

Beyond that, we found out that gender and sexuality are separate and not interrelated, and that a person can change one while not changing the other.

We learned that addressing someone using the gender they have chosen is the best way to show that person respect—and the other thing we should be taking away from this discussion is that terminology changes rapidly, but the larger concepts presented here have more permanence, and over the long term I would expect those concepts to change less than the terminology.

So go forth and have some summer fun…and should the occasion arise, apply these principles, and summer will be more fun for those you meet up with as well.

And who doesn’t love that?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Aerodynamics, Or, Space: The Budget Frontier

Forty years ago this week an event occurred that changed the history of mankind forever.

An event so monumental that the memory lingers on, even though the venue where the event took place has been, shall we say, “repurposed”.

But we’re not here to talk about the time that Minnesota Twins Manager Billy Martin appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Instead, let’s talk space.

NASA is forever trying to interest the world in space exploration...and forever struggling to come up with the money to get things done.

Well, I’m not a scientist, nor an engineer, and I don’t assemble rocket vehicles...but I am a fake consultant, and if NASA took my advice, I’d bet my fake paycheck that money would be a lot less of a problem.

“You know what really makes your rocket ships go up?”

“The aerodynamics alone are so complicated—“

“Funding. That's what makes your ships go up.
I'll tell you something, and you guys, too.
No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

--From Philip Kaufman’s movie version of The Right Stuff

So here’s the thing: there was a time when spaceflight was the ultimate exploit...but not any more...or at least not at NASA.

These days, NASA views spaceflight as a job—and the International Space Station has become a workspace.

There is the process any more. Instead, it’s all about launching a payload to a platform where an anonymous Mission Specialist will conduct Fluid Merging Viscosity Measurements.

Even NASA TV, the Agency’s effort to make what they do more accessible to a wider audience, doesn’t seem to understand the basic elements of storytelling.

I mean, think about it for a minute: “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “Battlestar Galactica”...“Spaceballs”...every single one of them, with all the imitation space footage that money can buy (even the bad ones), are a thousand times more fun to watch than the real footage of the STS-127 Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver.

How is it possible that the one organization that has more film featuring genuine, no-kidding, space heroism than any other on the face of the Earth can’t make a space movie as interesting as Killer Klowns From Outer Space?

Why was “Apollo 13” actually more compelling to watch...than the actual Apollo 13?

To find an answer, we need to take a short detour—to Alaska.

Have you ever seen Ice Road Truckers? If you haven’t, well, let’s just say that it’s a master class in how to tell a story. In the series, the producers actually make something that potentially could be incredibly boring—watching people drive trucks—into fascinating television, and they do it by applying the three most basic principles of how to tell a tale:

Create one or more interesting “heroes”, a “protagonist” over whom the heroes must somehow triumph, and an interesting situation within which the triumph can either occur...or not occur.

And that’s exactly what happens on the show: the plot revolves around a group of “recurring characters” who face two protagonists: the Arctic, and each other, as they compete to see who will earn the most money. The interesting situations? Trying to get the trucks, and their cargoes, across the Arctic terrain; creating a variety of new “subplots” every episode.

“Say Captain, I’m sick; how far is it to land?”

“About three miles”

“Which way”

“Straight down”

--From 10,000 Jokes, Toasts, and Stories, Lewis and Faye Copeland

So how might NASA TV apply this principle?

The obvious first show: “Astronaut Candidate”. There is a huge amount of human drama in the candidate selection process...and with this show you can “humanize” both NASA and the people they send into space. The protagonists and the interesting situations? The other candidates and the tests required to make it through the process. (NASA does highlight their selection the form of a webpage that links to bios and headshots, and “b-roll” segments on NASA TV’s “Video File”.)

And why not humanize science as well? After all, an experiment doesn’t have to be just a “science payload” can also be a human asking a question about the nature of human existence. “Send My Experiment Into Space” would do the trick nicely; the idea being that you would follow the successful—and unsuccessful—experiments, and the people behind them, from inception to what happens at the Space Station to the “analysis phase” that follows (and at the same time creating interest in science and engineering among students exactly when we need more students interested in science and engineering).

“Rocket Builders” could focus on the activities that take place as the vehicles that transport astronauts and experiments are fabricated and assembled. People have to test rocket motors, transport components, and assemble the vehicles...and all of this has to be done in an extraordinarily hazardous environment under severe time pressures.

The images would be great, and the pressures on the people involved create story after story—and again, we get the chance to learn that space is a people business as much as it is a hardware business.

The final links in the chain, of course, are the flight crews in orbit...and in this regard, NASA has never quite been able to figure it out. We get to see a lot of welcoming ceremonies and farewell ceremonies, usually from a single “lockdown” camera—but we see very little about the actual lives of the crew.

Did you know that in May astronauts performed a series of spacewalks to repair the Hubble telescope? That the work was so risky that a second Space Shuttle was waiting to be launched in case an emergency rescue was required? If you either sort of remember these events—or weren’t aware of them at all—NASA has failed to tell their story.

“In Flight” could be blockbuster programming—and educational to boot—if the right people were behind the camera and doing the editing.

So that’s the story: NASA actually goes to space, and they take cameras with them, but they can’t seem to make space exploration as interesting to the public as driving a truck. They have an entire cable channel full of high drama and big adventure...and yet the ratings are death.

In just the past few days we have been told that NASA is indeed the victim of chronic underfunding that has left the agency “in a terrible position”—and when you can’t tell your story effectively, funding becomes a problem.

On the other hand, if you put the stories of the people who are trying every day to advance the boundaries of science and human knowledge into a format that captures the imagination of that same public...well, bucks, my friends, equals Buck Rogers.

And as Walter Cronkite would have said: “That’s the way it is...”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Fake Consultant Exclusive: Political Robots Fail In Operational Service

It has been quite some time, Gentle Reader, since we addressed the issue of political robot design, but recent events have forced us to return to the subject once again.

As you undoubtedly are aware, three high profile ‘bots from Robotican™ Labs have recently experienced major failures.

It was originally thought that the problems were isolated to the Robotican™.1 Congressional Series of Devices...but it is now known that the failures also extend to the.2 Gubernatorial Series as well.

In today’s story we will examine what is known about these failures, how they may impact other devices in Political Service, and what solutions might be available to address these issues.

First, a bit of background: In 2007 we examined the state of the robotic art in considerable detail, and there is some information from that analysis which should be brought to the table today:

In putting today’s “non-optimal behavior modalities” into a proper context, it’s important to remember that Robotican™ Labs devices are not designed for fully autonomous operation—instead, they depend on central management of operating parameters and onboard software updates that are “pushed” out to the devices on a daily basis.

The reason for this design choice is to enable all Robotican™ devices to create a more consistent “ideological display” output: in other words, to allow the .1 Congressional Series, the .2 Gubernatorial Series, the .3 Presidential Series, the Murdoch Series of Media Robots (and the Murdoch’s derivative, the Atwater SpokesBot Series) to all deliver the same messages simultaneously, and to provide the ability to immediately revise that ideological output should operators determine the need for such change exists.

This can have its disadvantages, and there are many who have noted a “parroting” effect over the years; a problem now rendered more acute with the expanded use of YouTube as a campaign analysis tool by both opposition and independent researchers.

(Systems fielded by the Democrobot Device Program are far more autonomous, which reduces the “parroting” effect. Of course, this also makes it much more difficult to get the ‘bots to operate in unison; an effect that has been noted frequently by observers since at least 1968.)

The failure that is the easiest to explain, I’m told, is the recent breakdown of Robotican™ Lab’s Revo-Ensign v1994.1. The Revo-Ensign ‘bot is one of the many Revolution®-Class v199x.1 Devices that were introduced into service during the 1994, ’96, and ‘98 election cycles. Several of those devices have failed in spectacular manner, most notably the Revo-Vitter v1998.1, the Revo-Greene-Waldholtz v1994.1, and the Revo-Foley v1994.1.

Since the 1994 electoral cycle all Robotican™ Devices (including Murdoch Series Media Robots) have come with the Moral Majority snap-in pre-installed as an Operating System enhancement.

The problem seems to be an incompatibility issue between this snap-in and the Human.exe program’s RealityEmulatorProcess, which is one of the core processes that is allowed direct access to the Operating System Kernel.

In order to avoid “Uncanny Valley” problems, Robotican™ software engineers of the 1980s programmed for a certain number of “moral failures” in the robot fleet, but they could not anticipate the data errors that would result when Human.exe, the snap-in, and the OS Kernel interacted.

The most obvious sign of non-optimal behavior was seen in the Media.exe program. When the program is initialized it calls the MediaModulatorProcess (the second of three core processes that can access the OS Kernel). Software engineers now know that in failure mode the output from that Process can become severely garbled.

In some instances so many “unrecoverable errors” occurred that over the years since the snap-in was introduced several Revolution©-Class Devices have required “unscheduled withdrawal” from Political Service.

The repair appears to be fairly simple, and Robotican™ software engineers have, on several occasions, asked for permission to remove or modify the Moral Majority snap-in, but in every instance the requests have been denied by Corporate Management.

(It is not known if Fundraising.exe is impacted by the presence of the snap-in. The third “core” process, AcceptDonationsProcess, is called by the program, but considerable research conducted in the runup to the 2000 campaign cycle suggested the Process remains unaffected, even when the Operating System is in failure mode. More recent research, however, contradicts those conclusions.)

Now here’s where the story turns weird.

During 1998 and 1999 Robotican™ design teams were preparing to field test the Operating System Release Candidate for the Compassionate©-Class Devices that would be introduced into Political Service for the 2000 cycle and beyond.

Instead of removing the Moral Majority snap-in from the new OS, Corporate Management ordered engineers to create a new program, Faith.exe, as its replacement; the theory being that a closer association between Faith Factors and the OS Kernel would yield a more robust design that would be less likely to fail. Associated with the program are two new core processes, MoralObjectionProcess and JustifyActionProcess.

At the same time, a Revolution©-Class ‘bot was transferred from .1 Congressional Service to .2 Gubernatorial Service: the Revo-Sanford v1994.1. Normally, this would involve the installation of new OS components...but in this case, the Robotican™ design team was ordered to implement a retrofit of the Revo-Sanford to a Compassionate©-Class Device.

The result was the Compasi_Sanford v2000.2...and the problems began almost immediately...and strangely enough, on several occasions animals seem to be associated with the bizarre behaviors noted by engineers and technicians working on the project.

Examples? At one point in 2004 the Device was confusing pigs with humans, and in 2005 the Compasi_Sanford held a news conference to announce his intention to appoint a horse as his Legislative Liaison.

This was hardly a unique situation: an effort to retrofit a Revolution©-Class Device from .2 Gubernatorial Service to a Compassionate©-Class .3 Presidential Service Device resulted in the release of the GWBmatic 3000 v2000.3 and its own upgrade, the v2004.3—Devices that many say set the “gold standard” for political robot failure.

(There are some who would say the gold standard was not set by the GWBmatic 3000, however, pointing to the Evangi-Haggard v.1984.SB, which imploded in a most spectacular manner in 2006.)

Experts will tell you that you will encounter more problems with any retrofit project than you will in a “new build” project; the Robotican™ engineers I have been in consultation with are suggesting that the same effect is in play here.

It should be noted, however, that others feel the Faith.exe program and its MoralObjectionProcess and JustifyActionProcess are the real source of the problem, and that any effort to apply software of this type to ‘bots working in Political Service will inevitably result in disaster.

The third Device we will we discuss today is not part of a Series of Robotican™ Labs ‘bots, but is instead a “one-off” experimental design: the SarahCuda v2006.Xa.

For more or less a decade Corporate Management had been pressing design engineers to develop a system that could effectively function in a “consistent ideological output” environment while avoiding the “parroting” problem...and for those in the Robotican™ “Skunk Works” engineering group, this task now had the highest priority.

One possible solution, designers thought, would be to create disassociation between the SaraCuda and the Compassionate© Series of ‘bots.

With very little in the way of time or resources, Skunk Works engineers decided to attempt deployment of the still unproven “Maverick II” software suite, and by 2006 the Device was being field-tested in the remote and friendly environment of Alaska.

The software suite does have its limitations, however: because of the lack of resources available, there was no effort to develop a fully-functional QueryResponseProcess. Instead, the designers installed “call and response” and “predictive algorithm” technologies that were based on “sampling” responses into the Device’s onboard data storage facility for recall later.

Although the Device was experiencing anomalies during its experimental phase of Alaska Gubernatorial Service, Corporate Management was so desperate in the runup to the 2008 election that they rushed the SaraCuda into full operation, despite the concerns of test engineers.

“No Device can successfully function in a hostile media environment running call and response software, and they knew it when they sent her out there, and they did it anyway. I couldn’t believe they would be so willing to accept the risk, even after we warned them what might happen...”

--Harry Paratestes, Robotican™ design engineer

Although initial results were encouraging, it soon became clear that the limitations of the software were going to lead to the very disaster predicted by the design and test team. After the 2008 election, there was hope that the Device could be repaired and returned to Gubernatorial Service, but a cascading series of failures within the Operating System and the MediaModulatorProcess have now caused Corporate Management to initiate an “unscheduled withdrawal” of the Device from Service.

As of today it appears that the Device has been returned to Experimental Service, and it also appears that the call and response software is still running, suggesting that extensive development effort lies ahead before a successful redeployment can occur—or that the Device may be converted into a Murdoch Series Media Robot.

It’s time to bring this story home, so let’s see where we’ve been:

Robotican™ engineers are dealing with three different failures in three different types of ‘bots—and in two of those failures, there are crippling incompatibilities that appear to be beyond the ability of the engineering team to resolve. Corporate Management appears to be unwilling to acknowledge that an incompatibility exists...and unwilling to allow removal of the software that is at the heart of the failures.

In the third case, desperation compounded by lack of time and resources led to the massive failure of the still-experimental SaraCuda, and it now appears that an effort may be underway to “repurpose” the Device for Media Service.

Will the current Robotican™ fleet of Compassionate©- and Revolution©-Class Devices be capable of leading the charge back to victory, or will Corporate Management be forced to place a new generation of ‘bots into operation?

Can a Robotican™ Operating System be fielded that does not require the Faith.exe program or its derivatives?

And finally, has the reliance on a consistent ideological output—and the resultant “parroting” effect—become more of a detriment than an advantage in the effort to garner votes at election time?

These are the questions for the future...and the next time we address this subject, maybe we’ll have more answers.

WARNING—Self-Promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation Scholarship, and I was not selected in either the first or second rounds. There is one more chance...and today is the last day of voting...and while I’m not normally inclined to use the “hard sell”...I guess I will today.

If you like what you’re seeing here, and you’d like to help me make these stories even better, swing by the Democracy for America site (even if you have before...) and express your support.

All of us here thank you for your kind attention, and we now return you to your regular programming (which, in keeping with the “hard sell”, is rated PG, instead of the usual G).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Gay History, Or, This Is Not A Stonewall Story

Pride Month has come and gone, Gentle Reader, with no comment from this desk.

It’s not that I’m in some way insensitive to the subject; instead it’s more of a desire, once again, to stay off the beaten path.

And in that spirit, I do indeed have a story of Gay History...but it’s not from the Summer of ’69...instead, this story was already well underway before the Summer of ’29.

So put on something très chic and let’s head on over to the time of the Renaissance...because it’s time to meet Gladys Bentley.

As so often happens, I had no idea I would be writing a Gay History (HerStory?) story—and the funny thing is, it’s all Groucho Marx’s fault.

For those not aware, Groucho starred in what is now an ancient television game show, “You Bet Your Life”. The basic concept was that the guest would come on and demonstrate a talent, do a little comedic banter with Groucho, and then answer questions for money.

There is a newly released DVD set of episodes from the show, and I was watching the very first episode of the set...and along comes this woman who introduces herself as Gladys Bentley. After a few words, she sits down at the portable piano that was provided, and much to my amazement she proceeds to pound out some of the most amazing boogie-woogie it has ever been my pleasure to watch.

Naturally, a Google search ensued...and that’s when it got interesting.

You see, Gladys Bentley, in 1920s and 1930s Harlem, was the most famous Drag King of her time (yes, Virginia, there are Drag Kings, just as there are Drag Queens)...and all of a sudden, it was time to write a “couple days after Pride Month” story.

The history of early 20th Century Harlem is associated with two notable trends: black migration caused by the gradual desegregation of the neighborhood and the introduction of Prohibition and the speakeasy culture.

“...a costume ball can be a very tame thing, but when all the exquisitely gowned women on the floor are men and a number of the smartest men are women, ah then, we have something over which to thrill and grow round-eyed.”

--“Lady Nicotine”, Geraldyn Dismond Major, describing the “Faggot’s Ball” in her “Between Puffs” column for The Inter-State Tattler, February 1929

For those unaware, 1920s Harlem was the home of an active gay community, and it was apparently the perfect place for a black woman who once wrote that “even as I was toddling, I never wanted a man to touch me....”. By the end of the decade she had worked herself up from playing rent parties to stardom on “Jungle Alley”: appearing at The Cotton Club and eventually becoming the “headliner-in-residence” at the predominantly lesbian The Clam House (the entendre being entirely intentional).

It is reported that there was a surprising amount of integration on Jungle Alley—of multiple kinds—which helped Gladys Bentley soon became the darling of the white, black, gay, and straight social sets. (Langston Hughes even modeled a character in the play Little Ham after her.) Her ability to write and perform some of the bawdiest lyrics ever while “working the room”—especially the ladies--kept The Clam House packed...and it set her up for an even bigger gig to come.

Connie’s Inn, another famous speakeasy, had closed, and in its place was the Ubangi Club. To “kick things up a notch”, as it were, the new management not only hired Bentley, but provided for her an entire chorus line of “pansies”; the combination of the effeminate male chorus line and the female butch headliner forming a sort of gender-bending fugue that that came together in elaborate stage shows produced by the likes of Leonard Harper.

Eventually she moved over to the Mad House, performing under the stage name of Barbara “Bobbie” Minton...which, before long, caused the club to change its own “stage” name to Barbara’s Exclusive Club in her honor.

She recorded music as well, first in the late 1920s, for OKEH records; some of that music can be heard today by visiting just the right websites.

Eventually...Miss Bentley became a Mrs....more than once.

“A friend, visiting her, pointed inquiringly at two pictures on Miss Bentley’s dresser...

“Who are they?” the visitor inquired innocently.

“Oh” Miss Bentley replied “That’s my husband (pointing to the male) and that’s my wife.”

--From The Third Sex By Albert Duckett, in “The Chicago Defender”, March 2, 1957

Bentley’s first marriage—to a white woman, in Atlantic City—was reportedly covered in the society pages of the New York papers. Bentley also reports that there were two marriages to men, in later years, both ending in divorce—a topic to which we will return later.

All of this came to an end as the Depression deepened, and in 1937, less than five years after she had moved into a Park Avenue apartment she moved out to Los Angeles to live with her mother.

World War II revived the gay scene on the West Coast, and Bentley was able to find work at bars such as the San Bernardino Club and Joaquin’s El Rancho in Los Angeles and Mona’s Club 440 in San Francisco (“Where Girls Will Be Boys!”), along with other artists such as Miss Jimmy Reynard and Miss Beverly Shaw.

(Fun Fact: Some sort of club has occupied the same location as the old Mona’s right up to this very day, and if you find yourself in San Francisco you can visit Apartment 24, the current occupant of the spot (the website tells us to “think of classic age rock star David Bowie's over the top apartment in the 1960s....”).)

In 1945 World War II came to an end...and not long after that, so did the “gender-bending” phase of Gladys Bentley’s life.

“I thought that nought is worth a thought,
And I’m a fool for thinking.”

--From The Chant of the Brazen Head, Winthrop Mackworth Praed

Before we proceed further, a few words about the public ”presentation” of homosexuality.

If you read media accounts from the 1930s—and later--that deal with gay issues, one thing that will become quickly apparent is the way the gay lifestyle is presented as an aberrant condition. You will likely also note the admonitions that a gay person must be suffering from internal torment, and unable to live a happy life.

Here are a couple quick examples:

“...Dr. Berger reasons that 99 out of any 100 Lesbians are successful in hiding their strange sex habit...

...Since it is easier for a woman to hide the fact that she is sexually cold than for a man to hide the fact that he cannot satisfactorily perform functions expected of a normal husband...

--From The Third Sex by Albert Duckett, in “The Chicago Defender”, March 2, 1957

“...still, in my secret heart I was weeping and wounded because I was traveling the wrong road to real love and true happiness. I could not find them in the cruel, unusual world of my strange private life.”

That second example is from an August 1952 “Ebony” Magazine article written by Gladys Bentley, I Am A Woman Again.

In the article Bentley renounces her entire life...and in doing so she paints a portrait of a woman who would have been a whole lot happier if she would have had the freedom to just be herself.

She describes a childhood that was spent mostly alone, parents who tried to “fix” her gender confusion by making her dress in something other than her brothers’ attraction to her teacher that she did not understand...and what she herself portrays as “extreme social maladjustment”.

Even then there was a feeling that you could cure “Teh Gay”, and as a child Bentley’s mother “began to take me from doctor to doctor...”; an effort to which Bentley herself would eventually return.

Fast forward again to post-1945...and the time she married a sailor.

“Don” was a friend-of-a-friend from San Diego via San Francisco who was told to introduce himself to Ms. Bentley if he should happen to find himself in Los Angeles...which eventually happened.

Despite the fact that “I hated sailors at the time” because of their aggressive nature they began to spend a great deal of time together—so much so that she began to introduce him as her brother.

“One day, I told Don all about my life. I admitted to him that he had me very confused because I couldn’t understand what I was doing letting a normal man pay attention to me.”

In the midst of tremendous anxiety about the future of their relationship (what with Don being the accepting type and all, they had decided to marry), she decided to visit another physician, to whom she announced the news of her impending marriage.

““That’s just what I wanted to hear” the doctor told me. “Now I can tell you what I’ve known for a long time. Your sex organs are infantile. They haven’t progressed past the stage of those of a fourteen-year-old-child.””

The solution? Injections of female hormones, three times weekly.

(There are those, notably Eric Garber, who question this account.)

“The treatment was expensive but it was worth every penny it cost.”

Fast forward to two lines later in the story:

“Even though our marriage did not last...”

Eventually Bentley began to study religion seriously, and she was in the process of becoming an ordained minister at the time of her 1958 appearance on the episode of “You Bet Your Life” that was the genesis for this story in the first place.

(Another Fun Fact: An 11-year-old Candice Bergen appears as a contestant in the second half of that same episode.)

In one way, Gladys Bentley’s story came to an untimely end just two years later, in 1960, when she died from influenza...but in another, more profound way, the story remains unresolved to this day.

It is, after all, still impossible for most same-sex couples to marry—and the Federal Government has yet to acknowledge the legal marriages that have occurred.

And those who do choose to carve out a different gender rôle for themselves, as well as those who are merely “committing the crime” of being gay are still ostracized by many in the larger society, even to the point that “God Hates Fags” has become the rallying cry for a weird and twisted church.

That said, the story is moving in the right direction...Prop 8 notwithstanding...with several states now granting to same-sex couples the right to marry—and the LBGT community gaining more and more political power all the time (can you say gAyTM?).

The remainder of the Obama Administration promises to be an exercise in...well, we’re not sure: will the Administration live up to the Candidate’s promises—or will the LBGT community find itself feeling the same way vis à vis the Democrats as the “teabag” community (not that one...the other one...) feels about the Republicans: taken for granted while at the same time lacking better options.

So how’s that for a “not Pride Month” story?

History that stretches back more than 40 years before Stonewall...great music...a bawdy personal life...repression, regret, and recriminations...and in the end, an Administration that is having to face up to the demands of those who seek more equal treatment.

And all of that...because of Groucho Marx.

WARNING—Self-Promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation Scholarship, and I was not selected in either the first or second rounds. There is one more chance...and while I’m not inclined to use the “hard sell”...I guess I will today.

If you like what you’re seeing here, and you’d like to help me make these stories even better, swing by the Democracy for America site (even if you have before...) and express your support.

All of us here thank you for your kind attention, and we now return you to your regular programming (which, in keeping with the “hard sell”, is rated PG, instead of the usual G).