Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgenders in Harlem.

When "Ma" Rainey belted out Prove it on Me, she meant just that. It was a direct challenge for the audience to prove her lesbianism on her. This kind of lesbian visibility was not peculiar to Gertrude Rainey's performance.

Songs like Sissy Blues, Lucille Bogan's B.D. Woman Blues and even Bessie Smith's Down-Hearted Blues where often she substituted female pronouns for male pronouns, made visible homosexuality in Harlem. It was during this decade that a peculiarly Afro-American gay subculture is permitted to surface. Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals were considered natural and were consistent with the sexual fluidity of the blues community.

The evidence for the accepted visibility of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and even transgenders are the extremely popular Drag Balls that were held at the Savoy and the Rockland Palace. These balls attracted many high-society voyeurs and housed interracial crowd. Many of the Negrotarians, a term Zora Neale Hurston coined for white patrons of black artists, were themselves queer. An example is Carl Van Vechten. Many of the queer white population flocked to Harlem at night for "rent parties," "buffet flats," and subterranean speakeasies.

Although these private parties gave gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders places to be, it was blues artists like Bessie Smith who provided them with a homosocial network. It is well known that not only was Bessie Smith herself a bisexual, but her own chorus line tended to be sexually fluid as well. As she traveled the blues circuits, she would provide her entourage with places to be in many cities. In the middle of the decade she would provide this regardless of the violent threat of Jack Gee.

For More Detailed Information:

Lesbianism in the Life of Bessie Smith Chris Albertson

A Spectacle in Color Eric Garber

Excerpt from: The Harlem Renaissance Steven Watson

Down-Hearted Blues

Jailhouse Blues

'Taint Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do