On a Budget? Check Out These Festival Freebies

piggy bankWhile lots of you are ramping up for back to school season, we’re putting the finishing touches on this year’s Festival! Our full program is now available for download, and you’ll notice that we’ve got quite a few free events that will be open to everyone.

If you’re interested in history, fashion, or gender studies we hope you’ll join us at our opening event on Wednesday, Sept. 23rd at the Buffalo History Museum where Patrick McDevitt will give a talk on the history of the men’s suit. The talk, a pop up exhibit, and a reception (including snacks!) are all free. The reception begins at 7pm and the talk will start at approximately 7:30.

Another new addition to our lineup is the Kids Tent, which will be open all day Saturday (9/26) during Festival hours. The Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Arts Center will host the “Gender Shop” on Rockwell Quad on the SUNY Buffalo State campus, where kids can explore notions of what it means to be a “girl” or “boy” through activities like dress-up and making their own video art. This is a great opportunity for kids to practice critical thinking skills while also getting a taste of what the Squeaky Wheel offers through its TechArts youth programs.

Between noon and 1pm on Saturday, the Rockwell Quad will also host a free “drag break.” In the world of drag performing, a “drag break” is an interlude during a contest when a drag performer entertains the crowd. Buffalo favorites such as Jayme Coxx will sashay through the Dining Tent in full regalia. Please feel free to introduce yourself and ask the performers questions about their professions and personae. These girls aren’t shy!

If you purchase a daypass by Sept. 23rd, you’ll also get a free boxed lunch from the West Side Bazaar. All daypass holders are also encouraged to attend our Gender Bender after-party on the Quad at 4pm, which will feature live music by Alison Pipitone and a cash bar!

Finally, all daypass holders will be given free admission to the Burchfield Penney Arts Center and to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

See you there!

Celebrating Annie Edson Taylor, the “Queen of the Mist ”

Queen-of-the-MistA key factor in selecting this year’s “Gender Bender” festival theme is the fact that Western New York is closely linked to the American women’s rights movement. But one piece of colorful local history that you probably haven’t heard about is the story of a solo female pioneer, Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. And she was 63 years old when she did it.

Taylor was an adventurer well before she attempted her most daring stunt on October 24th, 1901, a date that was, incidentally, also her birthday. Born in Auburn, New York, she was a schoolteacher in her early adulthood, but when her husband died just four years after their marriage along with her infant son, she spent the rest of her adult life traveling and working odd jobs.

In Bay City, Michigan she trained to be a dance instructor, and when she couldn’t find work, she opened her own studio. She later became a music teacher, then moved to San Antonio and on to Mexico City. Reaching old age and having little monetary wealth despite her many skills and experiences, she decided to become the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Although many believed it to be a suicide mission, Taylor went over the Falls in a custom made oak barrel padded with a mattress. Two days prior to her stunt a cat was also sent over the Falls in a barrel in an attempt to determine whether or not it would be possible to survive. Both Taylor and the cat lived, and posed for the press together in the photo above.

After completing her Niagara-Falls stunt, Taylor continued to travel and earned a modest income by speaking about her harrowing experience. Unfortunately, she never earned the fame and fortune that she had hoped to gain, and when her manager stole her famous barrel and disappeared it became more difficult for her to make a living off of her story.

Nonetheless, Taylor persevered and remained independent, continuing to speak at tourist destinations and even finding work as a clairvoyant until her death in 1921.

You can read more about Annie Edson Taylor in Charles Carlin Parish’s biography entitled The Queen of the Mist. And you can learn more about other daring women and men in history, literature, and the arts at this September’s Buffalo Humanities Festival!

The Real Eunuchs of Constantinople

Byzantine mosaicTo counter the popular belief that gender-bending is a relatively modern-day phenomenon, Prof. John Arnold will give a talk on Saturday, Sept. 26th from 3—4pm in Ketchum Hall at SUNY Buffalo State about the history of non-binary gendered people, particularly the eunuchs of Constantinople.  Eunuchs formed a visible and powerful group in the ancient city.

Castrated men such as Eutropius and Narses held high political and military positions even though they were deprived of the prime markers of male authority, the ability to penetrate and impregnate.  As such, eunuchs stood opposed to the uncut male bodies that normally wielded power.  Eunuchs were dangerously exposed to political opponents who construed their absent genitalia as signs of femininity and who used misogynistic language to marginalize eunuchs as “queer.”

If you want to read up on your history before Prof. Arnold’s talk, here’s a quick primer for you. According to the article,

“The Byzantine empire was a melting pot of East and West, with the Eastern Orthodox church reigning supreme and influencing almost all aspects of people’s lives, while the pagan elements from the time when Emperor Constantine relocated Rome to Byzantium as an intended new capital for the Roman empire, provided for an interesting and strange mixture of pious and fanatical Orthodoxy with a simultaneous exploration of ancient thought and lifestyle. As might be expected in such a situation there were many contrasts within the empire’s way of life and belief-system, the Byzantine eunuch being one of these.”

Prof. Arnold’s talk will also counter the common-held belief that the Middle Ages were somehow ignorant or backwards in regards to many of the values we hold today. In the battle for gender equality and LGBTQ rights, we often hear proponents of reform accuse conservatives of “trying to bring us back to the Middle Ages” when in fact these statements do a great injustice to history.

John Charles Arnold is Associate Professor of History at SUNY Fredonia, where he teaches courses on the ancient and medieval worlds.  His research concerns angel veneration in early Christianity and the sanctuary of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy.