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Coming out – athletes & artsts
E. Charlton Fortune

A professional basketball player (Jason Collins) coming out that he is gay has, if not rocked, then shaken the athletic world. It has also disturbed feminists because when a star female college player (Brittney Griner) recently said she was gay, there was not much of a to do about it, the inference being that it was not at all surprising that a female athlete might be a lesbian.

It has been thus for a long time, dating back at least 150 years or more. In the early part of the 20th Century many great female athletes were suspected of being gay. As Jonathan Zimmerman points out in an article today in the San Framcisco Chronicle, the great Babe Didrikson was described as ``mannish'' or ``not quite female'' by reporters.

Well, women artists also had a problem along that line in this country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was fine if they remained Sunday painters and didn't enter the competitions or try to make a living at art, thus taking money from males. If they did, their sexuality was often called into question in subtle ways.

Some of the women, in self defense, and if for no other reason than to give themselves a chance in the competitions, often used an initial instead of a first name to fool the judges, who were, of course, almost always men. For instance, if you find an early California Impressionist painting, and it is signed, say, by J.P. Everyperson, the J more likely stands for Jane than John.

This approach could actually work. For instance, an artist we now know as Mary DeNeale Morgan, signed her paintings M. DeNeale Morgan. There is a 1920s or so article, ironically in the same San Francisco Chronicle mentioned above, in which Morgan was pointed out as a fine artist, the critic writing, ``Mr. Morgan shows a bold, masculine stroke.'' Note he fell for her trick and called her Mr.

Morgan might have figured she got away with one, though perhaps disturbed that she only received attention because of her ``masculine'' painting. Has anyone ever written about Monet's ``fine, feminine bruskstroke''?

I wrote a play a few years ago about another woman artist of the time, E. Charlton Fortune (``Fortune's Way, or Notes on Art for Catholics (and Others)''). You note the initial instead of a first name. Fortune was among the greatest of California and American Impressionists.

I have her saying in the play, because she said it, ``One reviewer said of me, `Her work is unusually strong for a woman – having the vigorous brush stroke attributed to men only.' '' After a pause, she says, ``Well, I ask you, what am I to do? Develop a weak brush stroke?''

Which begs the question for her athletic contemporary, the great Babe Didrikson, what was she to do? Whiff the golf ball? Drop the disc? Wear more ribbons and lace?

In any case, Fortune didn't let the critics intimidate her – this was a woman who overcame a cleft palette and survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, roaming the burning streets with her mother on the night their house was dynamited.

She kept that strong brushstroke and it has  overpowered 99 percent of her male contemporary artists – she's had paintings sell for six and seven figures and she will be remembered as long as art is valued. This week an early painting by her sold at Bonham's in San Francisco for over $700,000.

The front of the painting was unsigned.

That was another way to deal with the problem.