Four Flowering Plants That Are Decidedly Extinct - JSTOR Daily (2023)

The American "madness of thought" nearly 100 years ago cemented the use of the flower's name as a slang term for gay men. Oscar Wilde had already made the green carnation a symbol for them across the pond, wearing one on his lapel. Violets were associated with Sappho herself and calamus with Walt Whitman. A pre-Stonewall gay bar on the corner of Christopher Street and Gay Street was called The Flower Pot. And, of course, there's Georgia O'Keeffe.

What is the story behind all this floral symbology? Are queer people perceived as sensitive? Colorful? Beautiful? Frivolous? As literary critic Christopher Looby points out in the magazineCriticism, 1921 by Marcel ProustSodom and Gomorrahspeculated that courtship rituals between men were similar to the process of fertilization of the flower. Perhaps all the buzz about the north end of the Ramble in New York's Central Park is why this cruise spot has been nicknamed the "Fruited Plain." Or maybe that's why "night botanist" is one of the old-fashioned terms for queer men.

Here's an exploration of the history of four flowering plants in particular that were once decidedly rare.

sapphic violets

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The floral allure of queer people can be traced back to Sappho herself, legendary as the world's first known female lover of women.

Sappho (c. 630 – c. 570) was a Greek poetess who lived on the island of Lesbos, so close to the Turkish border that it can be seen from the shore. Her presence there was so profound that the word "lesbian" originated from her. Anyone from the island of Lesbos is a lesbian, but Sappho's heritage spawned the lowercase L lesbian we know today. In 2008, lesbian islanders sued for the right to speak and lost.

His early poetry contains many references to flowers and nature, painting a picture of an idyllic meadow where girls and women played decked in garlands. Unfortunately,only fragments of his works remain:

And you, Dika, put beautiful garlands in your hair,
weaving aniseed strips with soft hands:
since the blessed Graces look more to the flowery,
but stay away from those who don't have garlands.

many wreaths of violets,
roses and crocuses
…together you stand before more
and many scented wreaths
made of flowers
around your soft throat...
…with pure and sweet oil anointed me,
and in a soft soft bed...
you turned off your desire...
…no sacred place…
we expose,
no trees...

In these and other fragments he makes specific reference to roses, violets, crocuses, honey clovers, lotuses, and hyacinths. Also refers to "meadow flowers/spring flowers", "golden flowers", "blooming flower garlands", and "purple flowers" in general. She mentions the color purple or violet several times, which is perhaps where this color first became associated with the queer community.

Violet (in addition to lavender) remains in the pantheon of queer symbols today. Think of Mrs. Violet Venable by Tennessee Williams inSuddenly last summeror Violet in the classic lesbian cult filmConnected. And purple was one of the original colors of the 1978 rainbow flag.

Most notably, a group of seven gay writers who met regularly in New York City in 1980 and 1981 called themselves "The Violet Quill". Christopher Cox, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Edmund White, and George Whitmore met officially eight times over the course of a year, but also informally before and after these meetings, to read and critique the rest's work. . . (The racial aspects of these men's interactions and their writing are explored in "Race and the violet feather” by David Bergman.)

Interestingly, as literary scholar Sherrie Inness observes inJournal of the National Association for Women's Studies, in the 1926 playthe captive, a female character sends bouquets of violets to another female character, perhaps referring to Sappho. The theme of lesbianism in this work caused uproar and calls for boycotts and censorship. The New York City District Attorney's office finally caved to these calls and ended production in 1927. The association of violets with lesbianism in this play led to declining sales of violets at flower shops in New York. women wore the boutonniere as a show of support.

the madness of thought

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As Looby points out inflowers of masculinity, "daisy", "buttercup", and especially "pansy", as well as the widespread "horticulture boy" were early 20th century terms for "fancy homosexual men".

"Pansies" were at their peak in the 1920s and 1930s in New York and many other major cities across the United States. This became known as "pansies mania", a term coined by historian George Chauncey. Especially in New York City, drag balls starring "female impersonators" were extravagant and huge. Police eventually closed them all down, including a 1939 Harlem that ended a 70-year-old annual tradition (to learn more, seeGaylaw: Challenging the Apartheid Closetby William N. Eskridge). Likewise, the "foolishness of thought" of queer representation in Hollywood films was eventually shut down by the censors, but not before these films helped to bring queerness into the national consciousness.

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Image caption: A ball at Webster Hall in Greenwich Village in the 1920s. This image is in the public domain.

“Chauncey notes that while pansy fashion often draws on or reproduces the most degrading stereotypes of gay men, it does sometimes provide a space for some gay artists to speak out, resist, and even oppose heterosexist conceptions of fairies. and other queers," writes film scholar Mark Lynn Anderson in his 2011 bookTwilight of the Idols: Hollywood and the Humanities in 1920s America.

the green carnation

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The green carnation became an odd symbol in 1892 when Oscar Wilde instructed some of his friends to wear it in their lapels on the opening night of his comedy.For the Lady Windermere. From then on, wearing a green carnation on your lapel was a secret, subtle hint that you were a man who loved other men.

In 1892 Wilde's lover Lord Alfred Douglas wrote a poem called "two loves.” It is reminiscent of Sappho's poetry, painting a picture of a flowery utopia (emphasis on flowers added):

I dreamed that I was on a small hill,
And at my feet there was a floor that looked like
like a garbage gardenbloomat your will
with buttons andflores. There were pools that dreamed
Black and serene; there were whiteslilies
some, andazafranes, youviolets
Purple or pale, snake-likeFritilárias
Dimly seen through fetid grass and through green nets
shy blue eyesbeggarblinked at the sun.
and they were curiousflores, previously unknown,
floresthat were tinged with the moon, or with shadows
of the capricious moods of Nature; and here one
That he had drunk in the transitory tone
From a brief moment in a sunset; blades
Of grass that in a hundred springs had been
Slowly but exquisitely nurtured by the stars,
And watered with the fragrant dew of a long cup
Nolilies, which by sunbeams had seen
Only the glory of God, because never a dawn from Mars
The bright air of the sky.

The poem continues, describing a young man, whose "hair in the wind was entwined with flowers" and who wore "three chains of roses" around his neck. He approaches the poet and kisses him. “Her cheeks were pale and white/Like pale lilies, and her lips were red/Like poppies,” continues Douglas. The boy reveals that his name is "Love" and ends by saying: "I am the love that dare not speak his name". This phrase, "the love that dare not speak its name", was later highlighted as a reference to homosexuality in Wilde's 1895 gross indecency trial.

a dash of lavender

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This flowering plant from the mint family is inseparable from rarity. While we don't know if "lavender" refers to color or grass now in an odd context, either way, the word seems to have been used in that context since the 1920s. It is now used interchangeably with "rainbow" to signify "LGBTQ+" at events such as Lavender Graduations and the LGBT Bar Association's Annual Lavender Law Conference.

One of the most notable uses of “lavender” comes from historian Carl Sandburg, who wrote in 1926 about Abraham Lincoln: “A vein of lavender ran through him; it had soft spots like violets in May. Many took this to mean that Lincoln had a queer side, a claim I explore in my book,Queer, There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, which features Lincoln's intimate relationship with Joshua Fry Speed. Historians disagree, but it is reasonable to interpret "lavender" to mean love between men here, as there are other examples from the 1920s of "lavender" as a slang term meaning this. The real debate is how long this “sequence” lasted.

There are two main movements associated with lavender in the queer world:lavender scareand the menace of lavender. The Lavender Scare was a 1950s witch hunt for gay federal employees, much like the Red Scare was for communists, as detailed in "The Lavender Scare and Empire: Rethinking Cold War Anti-Gay Politics” da historiadora Naoko Shibusawa.

Betty Friedan called any potential association of the National Organization for Women with lesbians "the lavender menace" in 1969. Not wanting to tarnish her organization's reputation, Friedan led NOW to distance itself from lesbians. Rita Mae Brown and other lesbian feminist activists planned an action on May 1, 1970, in which they disrupted a large women's event by revealing "Lavender Menace" T-shirts and encouraging others to join them. They gained support from the crowd and the moment is remembered as a watershed in the movement. At NOW's next national conference in 1971, the organization changed gears and adopted a resolution that lesbian rights were "legitimate concern of feminism.”

No matter what the floral names call us, queer people are resilient. Like the women of Lavender Menace, we'll claim them all and proudly declare ourselves fagots. While all this horticultural symbolism may have started with comparing effeminate men to frilly flowers, it has become more than that. We bloom every year in a brilliant rainbow of colors around the world, always coming back no matter how bitter the winter.

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