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Those Were The Gays

by Dolly Bellefleur in History & Politics , 16 mei 2008

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Dolly Bellefleur Portrays Bet van Beeren, Queen Of Amsterdam’s Zeedijk

With a wink at “De Bonte Dinsdagavond Trein,” a legendary Dutch radio show in which cross-dressers Snip and Snap put drag on the map of the Netherlands, Ruud Douma a.k.a. Dolly Bellefleur hosts every first Wednesday of the month “Dolly’s Bonte Woensdagavond Trein,” a monthly magazine for GLBs and other queers.

“I’m only dead when you’ve forgotten me/ Roared the gay activist/ Oh, the pink rascal should only know/ How quickly his lifework is erased/ I’m only dead when you’ve forgotten me/ Cheered the drag queen in her coffin/ Ah, the poor thing should only know/ That there’s no-one who really misses her/ Those were the gays my friend/ They battled fervently once/ Against taboos and drab phrases/ But after their glory days/ Obscurity followed/ Those were the gays oh yes those were the gays.”

Thus sings La Bellefleur (in Dutch) in the title song of her radio feature “Those Were The Gays,” a new item in “Dolly’s Bonte Woensdagavond Trein,” in which she asks attention for queer heroes and pink pioneers of different feathers. Previous installments were dedicated to singer Jan Mesdag, cabaret performer Wim Hogenkamp, and designer and gay activist Benno Premsela. How did they struggle with their homosexuality, or didn’t they? Against which biases did they have to battle? What was their contribution to gay emancipation? What were their motives? What can we learn from the inspiring life stories of these colorful personalities? How did they cope with the approaching end? These are a few of the (vital) questions Dolly discusses every show with family, friends and colleagues of the person portrayed. The interviews are complemented with unique sound-recordings, often broadcasted for the first time.

During this season Dolly will be paying homage to, amongst others, Bet van Beeren, Queen of the Zeedijk, Hugo van Mondfrans (1940-1989; in the late Fifties and early Sixties performer in drag club Madame Arthur) and actor, singer, drag & drama queen, and chronicler of his own existence, Kamaran Abdalla (1959-1993). If you, reader of “Gay News,” think a queer hero who’s been important to you, should be portrayed, just e-mail your suggestion to

Photo - Dolly as Man specially photographed for the serie portrets of "Those Were The Gays"

Bet van Beeren (1902-1967)

The direct cause to dedicate the program on April 2 to Bet van Beeren is the reprint of the book “Bet van Beeren: Koningin van de Zeedijk” (by the late author Tibbe Bosch) and recent plans to make a feature film about Bet van Beeren. In the studio Dolly talks with Victor Tiebosch (producer) and Kiek Houthuysen and Ton Vorstenbosch (together responsible for the movie script).

Bet van Beeren (1902-1967) lives on in folklore as: a legend during her lifetime already, a unique and strong personality, afraid of nothing and nobody, and in many respects (liquor consumption, sexuality, generosity, and urge for expansion) bigger than life.

The bar owner had a significant influence on the social sphere of Amsterdam’s Zeedijk: pimps, hookers and the underworld treated her respectfully, as did the police. However, she also had a susceptible, religious side, according to the late Salvation Army Colonel Bosshardt, who was a respected guest in Bet’s bar ’t Mandje.

In this bar gay men and lesbian women could be themselves unprejudicedly and even dance together on some occasions. From an early age Bet had been open about her preference for other women. This was one of the reasons why her bar had a worldwide renown.

Everyone visited the bar, from the bottom to the top of the social ladder. But woe betide the one with a big mouth; he would be taken down a peg or two. The cutting off of a tie was a rather mild treatment.

The abundance of cut-off ties that adorns the bar’s ceiling to this day, constitutes a silent witness to many memorable moments. Despite her social skills, Bet was a lonesome woman, but she was at the center at the same time - the Queen of the Zeedijk.

Although Bet van Beeren died in 1967, the themes of her eventful life - the wish to be accepted as a human being, both social and sexual - are of all time. Bet, who lived openly as a lesbian in 1927 already, has witnessed several periods of pseudo-acceptance. At the end of the Thirties the general attitude towards homosexuality seemed to improve. The German occupiers, however, made short shrift to these developments. And after the initial euphoria of the liberation, the measures against homosexuals were sharpened. Only from the early Sixties onwards a more tolerant attitude developed, followed by a gradual emancipation of the gay community.

When Bet visited the opening of COC in the early Sixties, she left after half an hour, because she became confused by the confrontation with more sophisticated queens.

From lots of stories and anecdotes it seems that, despite her big mouth and laissez-faire attitude, she never felt really accepted. Her need for new sexual conquests time and again, her boasting that she could get any woman, the philanthropy she also boasted about, her verbal acts as bartender, the cutting off of ties; these got her illustrious renown, but have never really quieted her need for legitimization. That’s also why Bet couldn’t cope with criticism. Society’s hypocrisy was probably one of the causes of Bet’s tremendous lonesomeness: she never knew sincere sexual or social recognition.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 322, June 2018

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