Tag Archives: homophobia

Eve Adams: A Life that Should Not Be Prettified

photo of Eve AdamsLaurie and Debbie say:

Eve Adams is the subject of a recent New York Times “Overlooked” obituary by Emily Palmer,  in the series featuring people who should have been remembered in the obituary section, but were not.  (Of course, the obit is behind the Times’ paywall.)

The article frames her, accurately enough, as

an outspoken gay writer and Polish Jew in an often homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant America in the 1920sand ’30s, one who published an early example of American lesbian literature written by a lesbian.Her “Lesbian Love,” a collection of short stories and illustrations, was published in February 1925. Written under the pseudonym Evelyn Addams, it explores the sexual awakenings and gender-defying nature of several dozen women of varying social pedigrees whom Adams had met in Greenwich Village and in her travels around the country as a roving saleswoman of revolutionary multilingual periodicals.

She had quite a biography:

Preferring men’s clothes and women’s company, Adams lived her life boldly at a time when the world considered the only decent way to live it was to keep it behind closed doors. She counted among her friends the anarchists and revolutionaries Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman as well as the taboos-shattering author Henry Miller.The United States government considered Adams an “agitator,” records show. Headed by J. Edgar Hoover, the “Radical Division” of the agency that would become the F.B.I. had been charged with spying on her since at least 1919.She was arrested in 1927 by an undercover police officer, Margaret M. Leonard, who had walked into Eve’s Hangout and obtained a copy of “Lesbian Love.” The book was deemed indecent, and Adams was held on several charges, including disorderly conduct. She was convicted and spent 18 months in jail before being deported to Poland on Dec. 7, 1927.

Jewish. Lesbian. Deported. To Poland. In 1927.

The rest of the story gruesomely writes itself.

By June 1940, as German troops were approaching Paris, [Adams and her partner Hella Oldstein Soldner] fled to the south of France. There are suggestions in the research about them that they may have aided the Resistance. The women were arrested while living in Nice and hauled to the Drancy internment camp in Paris in December 1943.Later that month they were crammed, with about 850 Jews, onto cattle cars headed for Auschwitz, according to Nazi police records. The journey took three days. Just 31 of the group lived to see liberation, in 1945, and though there is no record of their deaths at the camp, Adams and Soldner were not among them.

Palmer chose in her obituary to focus on Adams as a gay pioneer, a worldly trailblazer, and to end the article on an inspirational note. She doesn’t paper over Adams’ fate, but neither does she give it much attention.

When we look at this obituary, we see the story of a talented, committed, radical woman who was made unwelcome in her adopted country and sent back to a world where Jews had always been under siege and in danger. She was unwelcome anywhere, and despite everything she did to make a good life for herself, she was eventually destroyed for some combination of her religious/ethnic background and her sexual preference.

As a culture, we are almost unwaveringly committed to telling stories with hopeful conclusions, to turning our eyes away from the torture, the genocide, the abuse. We find some “inspiration” to hang onto, leaving the people who experience the unspeakable horrors to be forever alone with their memories — if they live to have memories at all. And when people do survive, we insist that their survival is enough to constitute a happy ending.

Eve Adams is worth remembering both for her accomplishments and for her fate. In the end, in the hell of the camps, who she was, what she wrote, who she loved, and what she believed was dissolved and erased. Everyone who died in the camps, everyone who dies at the hands of the police, everyone who is deported today to a dangerous homeland, everyone who dies of abuse of any sort should be remembered both for their individuality and for their common experience. The celebrated and deported Lesbian activist writer dies next to the housewife who never left her home village, and nothing about any of their deaths is inspirational, or hopeful.

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Little Richard: Traumatic History, Complicated Life, Joyous Music

Laurie and Debbie say:

Little Richard’s death last week was mourned all over the world, and his skill was lauded. No obituary we saw was as good as Myles Johnson’s profile, “Little Richard’s Traumatic Black, Queer Childhood Helped Mold Rock’n’Roll,” published in Vice in 2017. The article opens with an interview Little Richard did with Donny and Marie Osmond in 2000:

… he describes the bloody beatings his father would give him while naked and tied up. Richard breaks down in tears. His father was a deacon and dark, or “jet black, blue black” as Richard referred to him during the interview. He received these beatings because of his failing of gender and for performing queerness as a child in the deep South. Despite his father’s violence Richard says, “He didn’t want me to wear long hair, I wore it anyway. He didn’t want me to put rouge on my face, which I didn’t really have to have it, it was there anyhow. I wore it anyway.” 

When Johnson wrote this piece, Little Richard (age 84) had just denounced homosexuality on a Christian broadcasting network.

Despite the black roots of rock ‘n’ roll music and culture, [the expressions of stars like Freddie Mercury, Elton John, and David Bowie] have freed young white people, generation after generation, but imprisoned Little Richard inside guilt because of the belief that his queerness and what he had created was against God. It is sad to think that the people that created an environment for there to be a Summer of Love in 1967 or a punk rock movement in the 70s have hardly been able to receive the same type of societal freedom. In the case of Little Richard, what we have left is a man that designed something bigger than religion, being tamed by religion.

He wasn’t just a great musician, he was an extraordinary influence on the music of several decades.

To understand Little Richard, you must first return him back to his title: the architect of rock ‘n’ roll. Little Richard is credited not just being the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll artists, but as the designer of the entire genre to some musical historians. Ma Rainey and Chuck Berry also deserve credit. Richard inspired countless other legends ….In 2010 he told GQ, “Mick Jagger used to sit at the side of the stage watching my act. Every performance. Where do you think he got that walk?” According to Little Richard’s legend, Liberace was only playing piano in tuxedos when on tour with him, until the celebrated pianist spotted Richard performing in a suit adorned with glass. In the same interview, Elton John quickly talks about Richard’s influence on him, noting how the performer’s prowess as a pianist and his flamboyant style inspired him to sing about tiny dancers. “When I saw Little Richard standing on top of the piano, all lights, sequins and energy,” John said, “I decided there and then that I was going to be a rock ‘n’ roll piano player.”

The queerness which Richard eventually disowned had perhaps an even greater influence, Johnson argues:

Because a queer person played a huge role in creating the bedrock of American youth culture, which is rock ‘n’ rolll, is why we see these queer expressions resurrect routinely in the culture. This makes the cyclical rise of the rebellious, queer rock and pop star seem less as an act of cultural radicalism and more methodical. I’d argue that folks like Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Prince, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, George Clinton, Elton John, Lil Uzi Vert, Rick James, Young Thug, Miguel, and many more aren’t these random cultural explosions, but they’re actually following a pattern and blueprint set by Little Richard. They are staying faithful to who created the dreamscape so that they could even hope to make a noise.

Johnson clearly loves not only Richard’s music, but the man himself. Since he’s talking about the man more than the music, he doesn’t talk about the quality of the early songs: coming from a life of trauma and terror, Richard nonetheless offered his audience the invaluable gift of unmitigated, unfiltered joy. In spite of the horrifying pain, he brought an open-hearted exuberance to rock’n’roll which is certainly part of the reason so many great artists wanted to have what he was having.

And like so many stories of abuse, it didn’t end well for Richard:

In the twilight of his life, Little Richard is still that child being dominated by the toxic masculine force that attempted to beat the queerness out of him as a child. He relinquished his legacy and denied himself the fullness of who he is in order to not only look worthy in his God’s eye, but in the eyes of his abusive father that rejected him and caused him to cry on national television at the age of 67. And this, too, falls in line with the American tradition of cultural consumption. The worlds that Little Richard’s childhood pain and agony formed were stolen and appropriated, and used to liberate white audiences and fuel white supremacist capitalist gain. While today, Little Richard himself is a shell of who he once was. A quick, quirky headline between scandals. Just an old man waiting to return home.

Thanks to Lori Selke for the pointer. Follow Debbie on Twitter.