Drag: A British history

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Drag is an art form that’s seen a great deal of success – and a little controversy – in recent years. Yet, as Jacob Bloomfield argues in his book, Drag: A British History, it’s also entertained British audiences for decades, stretching back to the music halls of the Victorian era and revue shows of the Second World War.

The bittersweet queer history of game development

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In 1990, Capcom was in talks to port its Super Famicom game Final Fight – a beat-‘em-up side-scroller adapted from a planned Street Fighter game – to Nintendo’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo heavily censored the port, including objecting to female enemies Roxy and Poison, on the grounds that it had a policy against depicting violence against women.

The Japanese developers responded that Roxy and Poison were either ‘transvestites’ or trans women, and would therefore not cause controversy by being attacked. Nintendo was unsatisfied by this, and replaced Roxy and Poison with male enemies called Billy and Sid for the English SNES port, as well as renaming a boss called ‘Sodom’ to ‘Katana’.

The Final Fight saga is representative of a lot of gaming history: queerness and transness often peek from under the surface of video games, buried and/or corrupted by censorship and pejorative assumptions, but visible if you dig a little. The hidden gay and trans history of game development is rich, and important to connect with, given the false assumption that gayness and transness are new, ‘woke’ invasions into traditional gaming.

But it’s also a complicated and difficult history, full of frustrations that temper the joy of finding hidden queer figures: Roxy and Poison are aesthetically cool characters who are fun to fight, for instance, but they’re symptomatic of how trans women are considered more culturally acceptable to injure than cis women. Gaming is sometimes thought to be in such an embryonic stage for queer and trans people that we’re expected to be grateful for any representation we’re given, rather than interrogating the nature and context of that representation. But gayness in games didn’t just show up in the 2010s. It was always there, or it was kept out.

Read on…

Italian fascists exiling gay people created an accidental queer haven

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Picture this. It’s the 1930s in Italy. You’ve perfected color-mixed outfits right down to the white, pointed-toe boots that are now en vogue, and you walk out of the house looking like a dapper dandy every morning.  Life’s not too bad except for little Benny Benito and his plan to round up and sequester all the “degenerates” and, man oh man, are you ever sitting on a secret.

The island of San Domino, part of the Isole Tremiti

Or rather, you were sitting on it last night, and it’s making sitting at work a little tricky today! Mussolini isn’t exactly known for being super tolerant about, well, anything. His answer to most problems was a little stabby stab. Seriously, he was expelled from school twice for stabbing his classmates. This man was the opposite of chill.

Eventually, you get rounded up under suspicion of being one of these “degenerates” and sent to the island of San Domino. When you get there, you realize that it’s… kind of a paradise, actually. In 1938, around 45 men (mostly from Catania) arrived on this Mediterranean island as part of Mussolini’s morally bankrupt campaign against homosexuality. Marked by pink triangular badges, they probably wore them with more style than any Boy Scout ever could.

The island of San Domino in Puglia became one of the biggest middle fingers to Italy’s leader during Mussolini’s reign. It was already inhabited when the gays arrived. They just made it infinitely more fabulous. Gay-tanamo Bay, if you will.

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Leyendecker: It’s all about the gaze

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J.C. Leyendecker was one of the most successful American illustrators of the early 1900s. His covers for The Saturday Evening Post were a great inspiration to Norman Rockwell, and he is credited with popularizing the modern images of Santa Claus and the New Year Baby.

But he is most well-known for illustrating The Arrow Collar Man, a dashing, sophisticated mascot for shirt collars, who was so adored he received love letters. What his fans didn’t know was that Charles Beach, the model for the advertising celebrity, was also Leyendecker’s lover who lived with the artist until his death. Read more…

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