Swish Zwicky

A notification from Pinterest this morning of this pin by someone with the name “nelly zwicky”:


Yes, a toy tank, German WW II vintage, I think — a seriously phallic replica, a butch plaything (one among many) on nz’s board “pat”; nz’s other board is Endroits à visiter (‘Places to visit’). All of which conjures up, for me anyway, the image of a flamboyant, or even downright swishy, francophone Kiwi queer. But maybe nz’s a woman with a dykey bent to military personnel and heavy armaments. (I learn nothing on the net about who nz is, so I’m free to speculate wildly.)

This led me to an undoubtedly real Nelly Zwicky, a writer from — extravagant astonished gestures here! — the town of Mollis, canton Glarus, Switzerland. Where the Zwickys come from.

And it all made me wonder whether it was too late in life to take up a career as Swish Zwicky, the Divine Miss Z.

From Wikipedia, an odd entry:

Swish is a US English slang term for effeminate behaviour and interests (camp), emphasized and sanctioned in gay male communities prior to the Stonewall riots.This behaviour is also described as being nelly in British English [and American as well], and both terms are often considered to be derogatory. Being swish stereotypically includes sashaying and the use of falsetto voices, feminine pronouns, and superlatives.

The article depends heavily on Martin Levine and Michael Kimmel’s Gay Macho: The Life and Death of the Homosexual Clone, which describes swish as the norm before Stonewall, then the ascent of butch as the new norm — a gross oversimplification of a complex state of affairs (I came out pre-Stonewall and became politically actuve post-Stonewall, so I have some first-hand knowledge of those times).

Two previous postings here. Item one, “Swish Exhibitionism” on 9/27/09, with a quotation from a t-shirt company:

Swish Embassy [note play on Swiss] is a Gay-owned and operated casual apparel company started in 2008. The inspiration for starting Swish Embassy was the observation that there should more options for fun, suggestive, relevant and appropriately fitted wear for gay men than the oversaturated chains that cater to Tweens rather than Queens.

Defiant celebration of swish queens. Work it, Mary! Meanwhile, we can expect swish cheese (all those holes, for the anally appreciative), swish watches (keeping Gay People’s Time), swish chocolate (flamboyant black men), Swish Army knives, swish cuckoo clocks, Swish Air, swish banks, and on and on.

Item two, “Inversion” on 12/8/14, where I wrote:

the idea of homosexuality as sexual inversion continues as a powerful folk belief, with bull dykes and nelly queens as its poster people.

… A dose of reality: for the most part, bull dykes and nelly queens don’t at all see themselves as transgender, as “really” belonging to the opposite sex; instead, they see themselves as a particular kind of person of their own sex, and most are comfortable (or even defiant) in these identities.

Searching on “swish” and “Zwicky” together brought me to The Gilded Edge, with Kay Stanis embroidery classes, in particular the class Élégant Éventail:

The swish of a satin gown and the glow of times past are remembered in this gold and blue fan, or as the French would say élégant éventail. The foundation for creation is #24 Congress Cloth and the silk fibers used are flat silks, Zwicky twisted silk, and silk sewing thread. These combine with smooth, rough, and check purls; Faconnee; Jacerons and braids. The stitches included are vertical, horizontal, voided, and diagonal satin used flat and over padding. The students will also learn how to transfer parts of their own patterns and make a new thread composite from metal thread components. The focus of the class will be on padding and filling areas with purls. The student should be proficient in Blackwork and laying flat silk.

(Though I could have stopped with Zwicky twisted silk, from the Zwicky thread company, I left in all that technical description just for fun — and to get to laying flat silk, which sounds like an elegant sex act.)


But on to the Nelly Zwicky for whom there’s some record. From a Historical Dictionary of Switzerland entry of 1/12/14, translated and compressed:

b. 27.7.1872 at Obstalden (formerly Glarus North), d. 26.3.1946 in Mollis (now North Glarus), prot., Of Mollis. Single. Educated primarily by her parents and encouraged by them, Z. in 1897 published her first novel, Die Wacht an der Rheingrenze [Watch on the Rhine Boundary, i.e., the French border], under the pseudonym Nelly Bergmann [‘mountain man’]. Others followed.

Including Pfarrer Melchior Zwicky’s Schicksal (Pastor Melchior Zwicky’s Fate) of 1939 (19 pages of family history, it seems). Apparently, she was also a mountaineer (hence, I suppose, the pseudonym).

Hmmm, a single woman vigorously pursuing a literary career on her own and devoted to mountain-climbing. We can only hope.

[Onomastic note. Yes, my Swiss grandfather’s name was Melchior. But my family, like many Swiss families, was parsimonious in its roster of personal names. For men, tons of Walter, Fritz, Kaspar, Arnold, and, yes, Melchior, over and over again, through a dozen generations and more. Genealogy can be tricky in the circumstances.]

One Response to “Swish Zwicky”

  1. JJM Says:

    “Yes, a toy tank, German WW II vintage, I think…”

    Alas, no. A Soviet-era Russian tank, a T-62, first introduced in 1961.

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