Follow LGBTQ+ History Around the House
As you wander through the Filoli House, learn about LGBTQ+ history throughout the years.
“Drag Balls” or “House Balls” give drag, queer, and gender-nonconforming performers a platform for self expression and community building. This underground LGBTQ+ scene was first recognized in the 1920s in New York City, primarily formed by Black and Latinx drag queens and trans women. Groups of performers, known as “Houses,” formed as young LGBTQ+ people sought found families as their biological families often rejected them. Madonna's song “Vogue” shined a spotlight on one of the popular dance moves in the Balls. Balls and Houses continue to this day and competitions are held across the world, like in this Ballroom where Filoli hosted a drag performance this month.
Often, members of the LGBTQ+ community don self-identifiers so others of the community can recognize them. In the early 20th century, gay men of New York City would often wear a red bow tie to signal other gay men. Many more LGBTQ+ languages and codes were developed and are still used around the world.
Beginning in 18th-century England, a language called Polari was developed by the LGBTQ+ community in a time and place where being openly gay was illegal. In the 1970s a member of LGBTQ+ community was often referred to as a “Friend of Dorothy,” most likely stemming from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other books in the series by L. Frank Baum. The Oz books were wonderfully odd and filled with strange folks that were accepted as normal. In 1906's Road to Oz, Polychrome tells Dorothy, "You have some queer friends, Dorothy." And our plucky young heroine replies, "The queerness doesn't matter, so long as they're friends!" The phrase “Friend of Dorothy” might also originate from LGBTQ+ supporter and icon Judy Garland, who played Dorthy Gale in The Wizard of OZ.
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is widely regarded as an important early work on Lesbianism within society.The novel was banned by Great Britain soon after its 1928 publication. Filoli’s book collection largely originates from this time period and place. Not only was The Well of Loneliness a rare depiction of a Lesbian relationship, it was also semi-biographical of its author Radclyffe Hall. Its banning and trial sent shock waves through literary and artistic circles. Great Britain did not lift the ban until 1959. In the United States, the novel was tried on obscenity charges and ultimately deemed “not obscene” in 1929.
When famous Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was arrested for being gay in 1890’s London, he was seen wearing a green carnation and carrying a yellow book. Both items became symbols for LGBTQ+ self identification at the turn of the century in England. Like any other hat or lapel pin, they blend seamlessly into spaces like this Reception Room or any other gathering space where LGBTQ+ may want to remain both seen and unseen.
The Women’s Suffrage movement of the early twentieth century fought for women’s voting rights in the United States and gave a platform to the conversation regarding women’s place in society at large. For example, gendered spaces like this ladies’ Drawing Room. The suffrage movement had many LGBTQ+ women leaders– They fought for the right to vote and to not conform to heteronormative relationships and traditional feminine attire.
The language of flowers was popular during the Victorian era but has been used across time and communities. Violets have been associated with lesbian love since the 6th century, thanks to the work of the Greek poet Saphho, who was from the isle of Lesbos. Much of her poetry centered around the relationships and love between women, who she often described as wearing garlands of violets and other plants.
Alice B. Toklas was the longtime partner of author Gertrude Stein. Alice and Gertrude were both born in San Francisco and left for a life in Paris. While in Paris, the women became voracious art collectors and the center of café society. They held weekly salons at their home with guests the likes of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Toklas did indeed include her recipe for the hash brownie which contained Hashish, nuts, dried fruit but surprisingly no chocolate.