A Queen in Exile
The White Party
A Celebration in White of the Heliacal Rising of the Dog Star
James Dye, by the Grace of God, QUEEN
Our royal secretary and keeper of the Dread Sovereign’s social calendar approached us at Gannwaithe this week with news of the White Party at O. Henry’s, Friday at 10 p.m. “And what,” we asked, “is a white party?”
“A party where everyone wears white, your Majesty.”
“Sounds tedious. And just a little bit racial.” Our royal person was then schooled in white parties and told that this one was a benefit for Blue Ridge Pride. “We just wish they would call it something else.”
“Perhaps the Non-Black Party?” the royal secretary suggested. He was chosen for the position because of his efficiency, not his overarching intelligence.
“We do not see that as an improvement. Get you to the library; find out what you can about this White Party business. We want history, good, solid history.” As if in defiance of our explicit orders, the royal secretary produced something like a portable typewriter with a television screen attached.
“Frank Wager started white parties as a benefit for the Health Crisis Network in 1985,” the secretary announced, thrilled by the enlightenment of the flickering blue screen.
“1985 is not history; for some of us it was yesterday,” we informed him. “Find some book with some dust on it, something by Herodotus or Thucydides.” He glared as if Thucydides were a Greek obscenity. Fortunately Gannwaithe Priory has an acceptably dusty library with all the classics. Dragging our bibliothecally-challenged secretary into its forbidding stacks, we set about educating him on the true origin of the White Party.
“We should begin,” we said, perusing the spines of several gilded volumes, “with something on the oppressive ban on white shoes after Labour Day. Perhaps Edith Head will be illuminating. We shouldn’t doubt, in our LGBT community, a rebellious streak when it comes to fashion.”
“It says here,” the secretary replied, hardly looking up from the electronic device that he carried before him, “that the White Party in New York City was held in February and that white was chosen because of the snow.”
“A fairly unsatisfactory explanation,” we concluded as we continued to scan the titles in our collection. “Besides, this White Party on Friday is taking place before Labour Day and well within the season of white attire. Didn’t Edith Head ever look up from her sewing long enough to write a book?”
The secretary had deposited himself at a desk and was typing again at an irritatingly fast pace. “This site says that white was chosen because it was a symbol of purity.”
“Purity? No, no, that couldn’t be it.” We came upon the venerable tome we sought. “Ah, Herodotus! One should always begin with the Father of History.”
“It says here”—the royal secretary has an annoying, somewhat nasal voice—“that it is a naïve assertion that Herodotus wrote the first histories.”
“Perhaps,” we conjectured, “he did not write the first but, because of a variety of sentence-openers, good transitional phrases, and a wealth of vocabulary, his histories endured, whereas the earlier ones, regrettably, formed the foundation for the Sahara.” We were beginning to wish that our secretary’s machine, like those myriad earlier histories, was fully six feet under the Sahara.
Because of a good bibliography and copious footnotes, the Herodotus led us to a number of other books, such that our secretary was forced to vacate the desk he had so recently occupied as we covered it with the heavy-bound knowledge of all time past. Having removed himself to a corner, the aforementioned machine on his lap, he seemed somewhat perturbed. Our royal person, however, was delighted at his evident discomfort and in what we found in the musty records of eminent historians.
As the afternoon waned we announced that we had found the link. “It is Aphrodite Urania, that mythic personage whom both Plato and, later, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs saw as the embodiment of transgender expression and homoeroticism.”
The royal secretary was typing again. “Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love. I don’t see the connexion. Seems kind of heterosexual to me.”
“That is because that unimaginative machine of yours is telling you about Aphrodite Dionaea, common Aphrodite. But Aphrodite Urania is heavenly Aphrodite, the primordial Aphrodite who presides over a higher love, a celestial love, a love not bound to earthly things or propagative acts. This is that white—and fashionable—purity of which you spoke.”
“Urania was the Muse of astronomy.” Again, the typing. And the voice, the voice that cried out for an adenoidectomy.
“Not that Urania,” we corrected him, not without a little satisfaction in it. Our royal humour is generally phlegmatic, but our patience was wearing thin. “We speak of Aphrodite Urania, the Aphrodite of Paphos, to whom Sappho prayed, begging for the love of her lady fair. The mother temple of Paphos was at Ascalon, where Aphrodite’s priests, arrayed in women’s robes, engaged in rituals not likely to lead to procreation, celebrating the heliacal rising of Sirius.”
“Sirius XM is a satellite radio service.” The royal secretary smiled, very pleased with his machine-generated intelligence.
“Sirius,” we continued, “is the Dog Star. Its ascendance, occurring near the summer solstice, ushers in the hottest days of the year, the Dog Days.”
“Dog Day Afternoon,” the secretary interjected, “a 1975 film starring Al Pacino, examining homosexual, transgender, and antiëstablishment themes.”
“Clearly Dr Jung’s collective unconscious at work,” we noted, adopting a patronising air. “The heliacal rising of the Dog Star and the beginning of summer coincide with the Stonewall Riots, the death of Judy Garland, LGBT pride celebrations, the annual Nilotic inundation, the Thesmophoria….”
“Would you spell that last one?” the royal secretary asked, as his electronic device was offering no assistance.
“Let’s just say it was an ancient Greek celebration corresponding to the heliacal rising of Sirius.”
“Did people wear white then?”
“It was ancient Greece; everyone wore white.”