Friday, February 17, 2012

Gladys Bentley: How A 1920's Entertainer Who Was a Lesbian Changed Her Life

 Gladys Bentley: How A 1920's Entertainer Who Was a Lesbian Changed Her Life

When I read about this, I was pretty surprised to hear of homosexuality being an open issue in the 1920's but really its been around since the bible days. It goes to show that the struggle with the lifestyle has always been around.

This woman was pretty bold with her lifestyle and it was a hit for her career. But she later decided that it was not good for her life and became born again. 

Read the story below:

Gladys Bentley was born on August 12, 1907 in Philadelphia, PA. She was the eldest of 4 children born to a Trinidad born mother, Mary Mote (Bentley) and an American born father, George L. Bentley.

 Bentley was a muscular and masculine girl; by the time she reached adolescence, she knew that her attraction to women made her irreconcilably different from many of the people around her. As a result, she suffered harsh treatment from family, classmates, teachers, and even doctors who claimed they could "cure" her. She left home when she was sixteen.

Bentley moved to Harlem, where she found an underground social culture that included gambling, drug use, drag shows, and other behavior deemed illicit by the broader culture. In this so-called "sporting life," Bentley found the freedom to be an openly lesbian woman without risk of ridicule or abuse. She was not afraid to flaunt her lesbianism by flirting with women in her audiences and talking openly about her sexual escapades.

Dressed in signature tux and top hat , Bentley openly and riotously flirted with women in the audience.

Although on her recordings she did not dare have lesbian lyrics, she certainly played up this image in the clubs and in public. 

In 1950, Bentley wrote an article for Ebony entitled "I am Woman Again" in which she repudiated her former life, claiming to have "lived in a personal hell" of unhappiness and loneliness. She also claimed to have cured her lesbianism via female hormone treatments and was finally at peace after a "hell as terrible as dope addiction". 

She claimed to have married a newspaper columnist named J. T. Gibson (a man who soon after publicly denied that the two had ever wed). In 1952 she married a man named Charles Roberts. He was a cook and 16 years younger than Bentley, who lied on the marriage certificate, stating her age as 36 rather than 45. The two eventually divorced. 

Bentley did manage to still perform, usually at the Rose Room in Hollywood. She recorded a single on the Flame label and appeared twice on Groucho Marx's' television show. At this stage, Bentley became an active and truly devoted member of The Temple of Love in Christ, Inc. She was about to become an ordained minister in the church when she died of a flu epidemic in 1960 at the age of 52.

I truly believe that Ms. Bentley could have been a great support for other males and females who struggled in the lifestyle. By just seeing her change and be devoted to her church and the influence she already had on a community that loved her talent, she could have possibly been one of the greatest influences for change.


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