In these writings, I will only refer to Gladys Bentley by name and also use the pronouns they/them/theirs. The choice to use these pronouns are not tied to the observation of Gladys' possible gender identity. I believe that we should not assign modern ways fo describing gender identity to figures of past times, as they may not have found them representative of who they were. Assigning identies to figures projects our own beliefs onto them and strip them of they power to have created their own story. The use of these pronouns is intended to encompass all of Gladys' identities in and out of drag as Barbra Minton, Bobbie and Fatso Bentley.
I honor all that Gladys was and who they chose to be, when they chose to be.
Gladys was born on June 1907 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, rejected by the arms of their mother because they weren't assigned male at birth.
In the article I Am a Woman Again in Ebony magazine in 1952, Gladys states feeling remised of love from their mother. It was a personal belief that this lack of love expression was the cause of their gender expression and choice to often identify as a man. This yearning for love led her down treacherous paths of redefining and acceptance in her career, gender and sexuality.
Viewed as an a perfect piece of African sculpture, animated by her own rhythm
by the poet Langston Hughes, Gladys sang through orders of stopping and with the risk of imprisonment.
Gender and Sexuality
these projects center water to represent the fluidity of Gladys' identity and the changes she experienced throughout her life, as challenging as they sound to navigate.
The Black Forgotten
This is in no means to say that the artists I view as a Black Forgotten had no carrier, received no praise and accolades, or do not get mentioned by even few. The term is matched to those who at the prime of their careen superseded all others are made history in their present day, yet have fallen into. obscurity. This obscurity could be caused by a loss of archival materials to the erasure because of intersecting schools of oppression that affect the figure (queerness, race, wealth, etc). I find myself asking the question "how was Gladys one of the wealthiest Black figures of the early 20th century yet minimal coverage of her can be found? How did she thrive as an international entertainer yet is not recognized in the vein of her counterparts like Moms Mabley, who shared electrifying nights of a stage with Gladys at Connie's in Harlem?Why is there such little information and materials left behind on her, making it hard for those who seek knowledge to sooth their desires? This is what creates a Black Forgotten figure. The heights of her career cannot be understood by those who seek to find Gladys today. This is why I journey to get to know Gladys, and treat Gladys like a friend.