California will not be gay topped by New York. They had gay marriage before the Empire State and, yesterday, a first in the nation, the California Assembly passed a bill that requires schools to include the accomplishments of LGBT people in their history lessons at all grade levels. Gov. Brown is expected to sign it. The bill's sponsor, Mark Leno, said:
"It’s no different than instructing students about the historical role of an African-American man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fighting for civil rights and being assassinated for his efforts than teaching students about a gay American man by the name of Harvey Milk fighting for every man’s civil rights and being assassinated for his efforts. Why deny all students the benefit of that knowledge?"
For anyone concerned about teaching queer history in kindergarten, relax and look at San Francisco. The city adopted this curriculum nearly twenty years ago and it's been in place since 1992.
Meanwhile, in May the Tennessee Senate passed a bill that would make it illegal for teachers to mention homosexuality in any context before ninth grade. That bill is expected to go to the house in 2012.
Good time to review Debra Chasnoff's awesome documentary It's Elementary from 1996.
The new issue of the Gay & Lesbian Review features an article by Charles Francis about the recently unearthed 1966 letter Lyndon Johnson's Civil Service Commission Chairman John Macy Jr. wrote to Frank Kameny rejecting the idea that gay men and lesbians form an identifiable class of citizen deserving Constitutional protection. Macy wrote with extreme hostility about the need to keep gay people out of the government, citing other employees' "revulsion... apprehension caused by homosexual advances, solicitations, or assaults" and the "unavoidable subjection of the sexual deviate to erotic stimulation through on-the-job use of common toilet, shower, or living facilities." Macy also worried about the "public who are required to deal with a known or admitted sexual deviate."
Ick animus aside, the crucial legal point of Macy's letter was to say on behalf of the government that in the case of the Mattachine Society, and all gay people, "we see no oppressed minority."
This was not a casual correspondence, quickly sent and forgotten. Macy drafted it with CSC counsel Lou Pellerzi and gave it much thought, then and after. He claimed, "I believe it is most effectively done and sets forth a humane public interest position." Charles searched Macy's papers in the LBJ archives in Austin and found a later letter from Macy again thanking Pellerzi for "the landmark policy statement on homosexuals."
The Gay & Lesbian Review article says this single letter to Kameny "established a viciously discriminatory policy against homosexuals that lasted for decades." Last year, Judge Vaughn Walker cited the letter as a "finding of fact" in his decision striking down Prop 8. Which means it is now on its way to the Supreme Court, when they hear the California gay marriage case later this year.
For the full history, and the backstory of this powerful archive activism, click here.
Ever been to a party then gone home, only to find out later there was another room there where everyone was having a much, much better time? Sure, you liked listening to nice strangers make interesting points about progressive politics and bands you've never heard of, but after a few beers you would not have minded at all being in the middle of the naked dogpile pitting an Arizona tennis team against nine sailors from fleet week.
So it is with the long, deep, texty 500-page Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade and the big, bold, sexy 8.5" x 11" An Obscene Diary: The Visual World of Sam Steward. In fact, both are written by Justin Spring, but only the former is nominated for a National Book Award. The latter, a splendid companion volume of private sketches, watercolors, tattoo designs, and photos, is not getting nearly the attention it deserves. Many of the bookworm gays who love Secret Historian don't even know the Diary exists.
Talking to George Platt Lynes, Sam Steward dismissed his b&w Polaroids as "a kind of obscene diary... [with] no art." In his perfectly grounding intro essay, which is the only writing in the book, Spring says they're "something much more intimate, questioning, and personal," but admits these sex party souvenirs "were probably much more exciting to the participants than they are to us, today, as viewers." Although they form the massive share of the diary -- with three or four shots per page and more than two-thirds of book's unnumbered pages -- Spring notes:
Among all Steward's works, the Polaroid sex photographs are by far the darkest, most manic, most disturbing works in his collection. Steward himself never pretended that they were art, and he seemed not to find them sexually appealing either, confessing to Lynes, that "they leave me fairly cold." In truth, [they were not intended as pornography], that is, they were not created with the sexual stimulation of the viewer in mind. If anything, they are the by-products of sex play: souvenirs of outrageous, dangerous, and daring sexual exhibitionism."
"Dangerous" is an understatement at a time when mere possession of gay porn could mean jail. The images immortalize average to handsome men engaged in nudity, foreplay, kissing, oral, anal, threeways, bondage, spanking, and whipping, often with telling props or sailor caps and shirts. Some visual "stories" -- The Pick-Up, An Evening of Love, Surrender of Naval Forces, -- unfold shot by shot over several pages.
I prefer Steward's drawings, reflecting his numerous styles, which Spring variously likens to Thurber, Beardsley, Cocteau, classical Greek painting, Picasso, Felicien Rops, and the gay erotic artist Etienne. Anyone who has looked at Rockwell Kent's woodcuts will see similarities with the bed scene below.
Hooray for being able to use your phone to take pictures of a brand new friend making out with you, and instantly being able to text that photo to your teachers, coaches, and clergy, but as romantic keepsakes go, it's tough to top this: Steward wrote a porn novella called Bell-Bottom Trousers about the erotic adventures of a lusty sailor ashore in Chicago, illustrated key scenes of character development, and self-printed many copies using the hectograph machine at Loyola where he taught. He gave the booklet to the sailors he tricked with. It was the early 1940s. An Obscene Diary reproduces the chaste cover image and the two-page spread of fourteen naked sailors very much enjoying their liberty.
Three more risqué images, including the best watercolor in b&w, after the jump.
In its sixth week out, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right has passed Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven to become the twenty-first ranked of LGBT top-grossing films of all time. With more than $16,800,000 gross, the movie is a big success because it cost only $4 million to make. If it earns $3 million more it will pass 1980's problematic Cruising to enter the top twenty. Go see it.
The documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition has earned $100,280 since its June 18 release.
Since April 16, director James Ivory's adaptation of Peter Cameron's novel The City of Your Final Destination has grossed $493,296 making it the second highest earning film ever for its distributor, Screen Media. Read it first, then see it.
As for the earlier policy, Francis writes:
Macy's letter -- dubbed the "Revulsion Letter" now in The Library of Congress -- explained why homosexuals were "unsuitable for federal employment", citing "the revulsion of other employees" when they work with an "admitted sexual deviate". However, Macy's primary focus was not on revulsion. His focus was on the very specific question of status vs. conduct. Macy wrote: "We see no third sex, no oppressed minority or secret society...". He continued, "We do not subscribe to the view that "homosexual" is a proper metonym for an individual. Rather we consider the term "homosexual" to be properly used as an adjective to describe the nature of overt sexual relations or conduct".
Macy sharpens the attack on the Mattachine Society to make his final point. "It is upon overt conduct that the Commission's policy operates, not upon spurious classification of individuals. The (Mattachine) Society apparently represents an effort by certain individuals to classify themselves as "homosexuals" and thence on the basis of asserted discrimination to seek, with the help of others, either complete social acceptance of aberrant sexual conduct or advance absolvement of any consequences for homosexual acts which come to the attention of public authority." The animus toward the Mattachine is so complete, Macy does not refer to "rights".
Macy reported directly to LBJ, sometimes through Johnson's Special Assistant, Bill Moyers. Before sending his letter to The Mattachine Society, Macy wrote his counsel with whom he worked on the letter, "I have reviewed with thoughtful care the proposed response to the Mattachine Society. I believe it is most effectively done and sets forth a humane, public interest position."
Here's hoping the Court sets forth a genuine "humane, public interest position" when they rule on Perry v. California.
Four years after successfully vying against other institutions for twelve historic DC Mattachine Society picket signs then keeping them in storage, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is finally displaying one of those signs in a permanent exhibit. The picket appears in the section of the American Presidency collection called "Public Opinion," devoted to how groups get the president's attention (e.g. demonstrating). After four years stalled without any clear signal of when the pickets would be on view to the public -- and with others fearing it could be as long a wait as the re-installation of a museum wing in 2013 or 2014 -- two founding members of the Kameny Papers Project got the Smithsonian's attention by publishing their essay about the standstill, The Smithsonian Puts Gays in the Vault, at the end of June. Within days, a dialog ensued and within two weeks, not three or four more years, this sign was hanging where it belongs.
The lesson is the same as the exhibit's: You must speak up in public to be heard.
The two gay documentaries released last week struggled to find a sizable audience over the weekend. The American Experience episode turned feature documentary, Stonewall Uprising (above), played in 4 theaters with an okay per screen average of $3,932, while 8: The Mormon Proposition played on 16 screens with an average of $2,660. For comparison, the Joan Rivers documentary opened a week ago on 7 screens with an average of $23,479. This weekend it quadrupled its screen count to 28 and averaged $8,079. Earlier this year the Banksy doc Exit Through the Gift Shop opened on 8 screens and averaged $21,345. (As for narrative features, the comedy Cyrus debuted Friday on 4 screens with an average of $45,429, almost catching the year's highest, Polanski's The Ghost Writer.)
For whatever complicated social / economic / mystical reasons, exclusively lgbt-themed works in film and books lately are failing to attract significant numbers of customers. Maybe it's the long tail phenomenon, maybe it's a form of post-gay indifference, or maybe in this case the potential audience, like all Americans, are burnt out on bad news right now. Nevertheless, supporting lgbt work is the only way more lgbt work gets made.
Happily, my favorite movie of 2010 so far, I Am Love, the ravishing film starring Tilda Swinton as a misplaced Russian who married into an oppressively elegant Italian dynasty and lunges for real love outside, appeared on 4 screens earning a nice $15,188 average. I'm not linking to the rave review from Anthony Lane in this week's New Yorker because it's wall to wall spoilers, but I will say there's an enchanting small but crucial queer subplot. This spring when I saw the director interviewed at Lincoln Center, he said it's his attempt at Buddenbrooks. If there's something deeply wrong with you and Tilda herself isn't enough to get you there, the movie's sets, clothes, music, and men are exceptional.
Naturally native Zeus (born in a cave in the eastern half) brought Europa to Crete and snatched Ganymede away from here: The island has a long tradition of abduction as a prelude to romance. Thanks to the dazzling, meticulous research by James Davidson, we now know that in ancient Crete, slightly older males showed their interest in younger men by abducting them. The abductor would check with the younger man's friends first and they would have a minimum of three days to decide whether or not it was a good match. If they approved, they would steer their bud to the agreed meeting point without telling him. The abductor would take him to a communal man house and kiss him in public -- but probably not do anything more -- then woo the abducted with three months of hunting and carousing with the abducted's friends, who had to help pay for the lavish presents he received. At the end of the three months, the abducted slaughtered a bull in honor of Zeus for a great banquet during which he announced his acceptance. It was a great honor to have been chosen, and for the rest of his life, the abducted got to wear special clothes announcing his higher status, and got exulted positioning at the start of games and battle. This is just one of the many stories that will hold you captive in Davidson's indispensable The Greeks and Greek Love.
My partner and I have been hiking bits of the E4, which as you know runs from Spain to Crete. I took the shot above near Sougia and below near Zaros.
Jane Austen's oeuvre ends at six novels because she died. E.M. Forster wrote six novels, then lived another 46 years after writing his last, A Passage to India (1924). You can attribute the loss of all the books he might have written to the cost of the closet. After Forster finally found sexual love with a man, Andrew Holleran notes, "Forster said he stopped writing because he no longer wanted to write about love between men and women; Kermode says it was because he lost his power of imagination."
The Kermode in question is Frank, whose new short book, Concerning E. M. Forster, looks almost exclusively at the author's work. In the latest Gay & Lesbian Review, Andrew Holleran critiques it alongside Wendy Moffat's A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster that looks primarily at the man's life. Holleran summarizes, "Moffat describes Forster’s private life without relating it much to his novels; Kermode describes his fiction without connecting it to his sexuality."
For months I've been in a fever of anticipation for Moffat's biography (on sale next week), of which Holleran writes,
Moffat covers all this in a way that makes the book hard to put down. She sets out to tell the story that Forster could not—what he referred to as “a great unrecorded history”—and has written the engrossing tale like a novelist... A Great Unrecorded History is particularly moving to a gay reader: the narrative of this man’s long life (Forster died at 91) contains things unique to Forster and things any gay person will recognize—his relationship with his mother, his long period of celibacy, his first love, his attraction to working-class men, the remarkable way in which he was kept in Bob Buckingham’s marriage. Moffat’s book is sympathetic. She charges Forster with misogyny at one point but only briefly; otherwise, she says, a friend of Forster’s “put it beautifully” when he said Forster believed “that the true history of the human race was the history of human affection.”
Yet for anyone who loves Forster's novels, the Kermode's study of the work also sounds appealing, especially when Holleran says it "reads like a conversation with a favorite professor."
Benfey quotes Lord:
"I suddenly saw like an appalling sunburst, fatal and final, that what I really wanted to do with the good-looking boys whose best pal I longed to be was not just horsing around in the locker room but doing freely with them in bed after lights out everything I had always till then been compelled to do in solitude with myself. In short, the creature I’d suddenly seen was that abnormal, that abominable thing called a homosexual, a loathsome mistake of nature, a cultural criminal whom any feeling person would naturally put in prison."
Then Benfey writes:
"It is to avoid this fate, both inner and outer, that Lord flees to the Army. Later, he contrasts his own cowardly flight from reality with his younger brother’s motivations for joining up. “Teddy had heroically sought out danger and achieved the merit of dying,” shot by a Japanese sniper on Luzon, “whereas I had miserably run away from the inconvenience of being queer.” Lord’s ambivalence, one foot in the closet, leads to predictable misunderstandings during his early posting in a chemical warfare unit near Reno. He tells one of his superiors that he’s in love with him. “Don’t tell me,” the officer replies. “Don’t even think about telling me.”
"Lord gets a more encouraging, if lingeringly ambiguous, response from a mysterious young soldier named Johannes Friedrich Kessler, who goes by the name of Hanno, just like “the last of the Buddenbrooks in Thomas Mann’s novel.” Lord and Hanno embark on romantic excursions to ghost towns and silver mines in the Nevada outback, all the while discussing Tonio Kröger and young Werther. (“Guy in a story by Goethe,” Hanno explains. “Hopelessly in love. He kills himself.”) They reveal everything to one another except the one big secret, the “lurid, shaming, guilty secret,” that might seal their Burschenherrlichkeit, rendered by the well-hung and camera-shy Hanno as “glorious fellowship,” forever.
"Hanno emerges as the great might-have-been in Lord’s story, an embodiment of ideal masculinity, “the superior shiver of high culture,” and “another Germany.”
Buy My Queer War now.
How long ago were the 1990s? Jonathan Harvey says London theaters wouldn't produce his 1993 play Beautiful Thing because, "Everyone told me the ending [in which two boys slow-dance to the music of Mama Cass] would never work. No one believed a gay love story could actually end happily." His revised 1996 movie adaptation was a crossover hit (and one of my all-time favorites).
For other ways in which the 90s seem strangely behind the times, see Harvey's new dramatic comedy with music, Canary, which covers roughly four decades of lgbt history in the UK. The Guardian reports:
"Canary depicts the triumphs and setbacks of the gay community in Britain, from the 1967 legalisation of homosexuality to the equalisation of the age of consent 10 years ago. Its title comes from something a character says: "We're still the litmus test of whether a society respects human rights. We're the canaries in the mine."
"Harvey explains: "Everything is based on true events, such as the story of a man forced to undergo aversion therapy to 'cure' him of his homosexuality in the 1960s, who re-encountered his therapist in a gay club 20 years later. And I had to find a place for former Tory health minister Norman Fowler. He actually stood up against Margaret Thatcher's belief that Aids was an exclusively gay problem – but still had difficulty pronouncing the word 'vagina' and apparently believed that oral sex meant talking dirty."
"Harvey, having turned 40, now finds himself in the unexpected position of having become an elder statesmen. "I think of the play as a cautionary tale. Aids has almost come to be regarded as an old man's disease, while the gay community has become increasingly fragmented. I think there's a responsibility to make the younger generation of gay men and women aware of the struggles that brought us this far."
The show is in Liverpool until mid-May then tours nationally.
One of the few things we can agree on with certainty is that we would all be better people if we read Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love by Sheila Rowbotham. Jeanette Winterson and Peter Tatchell named it their favorite book of last year and now finally the current London Review of Books has an essay about it by Colm Tóibín. He loved it, particularly because Carpenter's prime decades of promoting homosexuality and socialism and healthy diets and sandal wearing and nudism happened to coincide with the sea change in British life from the mid-Victorian age to the Great Depression.
Two excerpts from Carpenter's own work show what a forward and timeless thinker he was. He faulted earlier, Victorian society for its
That was written in 1916. Eight years earlier, Carpenter had published a book about homosexuality in which he wrote:
Was Tóibín feeling frisky when wrote the review? A long (frankly skippable) preamble mentions how he "set about enticing two nice Catalan boys back to my flat" in Barcelona in 1977, and he relays many sexual details of Carpenter's life, most memorably his randy adventures at night and again the next morning with a young American visitor when he was eighty.
In an act of lunacy, Verso chose to release the U.S. edition of the book three days before Christmas. Six weeks later, this important biography has garnered exactly zero reviews. Don't miss it.
Is it fitting or ironic that the day Milk garners eight Oscar nominations is the birthday of the first openly lgbt politician elected to a state legislature (three years before Harvey, yet not a candidate for a biopic)? Think back to 1974: Patty Hearst was kidnapped, Nixon resigned, ABBA won the Eurovision song contest, Ali won the Rumble in the Jungle, The Godfather II was in movie theaters, and the planet's population reached four billion people, one of whom was Elaine Noble. In November 1974, she won 59% of the vote to the Massachusetts House of Representatives from Boston's Fenway/Back Bay neighborhoods and thereby became the United States' first openly gay person elected to a statewide office. In 1976, she was re-elected. Later she ran for Senate against Paul Tsongas and lost. In 1986, she and Ellen Ratner founded the Pride Institute in Minneapolis to treat gay people battling alcohol and drugs dependencies; it has since expanded to three locations. Although Noble has retired from public life and now lives in Florida, three months ago she gave a great interview to Windy City Times in honor of Lesbian and Gay History Month.
Prolific actor, singer, songwriter, and author of stories, three memoirs, and more than fifty plays, Noel Coward learned the importance of work early: At fourteen he began an affair with Philip Streatfeild, a thirty-four year old society painter whom he met only because his mother was Streatfeild's charwoman. Two years later, Streatfeild was dying of tuberculosis and urged his elegant friend Mrs. Astley Cooper to nurture the "delicate" Coward, which she did. He began appearing in plays, was discharged from WWI service for ill health, and had his first writing success at twenty-five with The Vortex, scandalously popular in London and New York for its wit and veiled hints of drugs and gay life. While the times changed, Coward did not; he kept that veil cemented in place for the next five decades.
Although many of his sophisticated camp comedies play peekaboo with the closet, especially the bi threesome in Design for Living (1932) and less popular later works like Song at Twilight (1966), the urbanely glamorous Coward never actually came out. The times were against him. A friend of King George, Coward traveled widely to perform for WWII troops and secretly worked as a spy, hiding behind his high life persona. The press attacked him for his excesses during wartime. The king suggested a knighthood, but Churchill disliked his "flamboyance" and blocked it. After the war, Coward fell in love with the actor Graham Payn and they stayed together nearly thirty years. In the 1956 they became tax exiles, landing first in Bermuda then in Jamaica where they were neighbors to the constantly bickering Mr. & Mrs. Ian Fleming. Coward enjoyed a revival in the 1960s and finally was knighted in 1970. He died in Jamaica in 1973, still with Payn. In 1984, the Queen Mother unveiled a statue of him in Poets' Corner.
Regent Releasing has posted a full length trailer for Paul Morrison's Little Ashes, about Salvador Dali's affair with Federico Garcia Lorca and their joint friendship with Luis Buñuel. The title is not explained in the preview but comes from this painting by Dali. At sixty-four, Morrison knows offbeat love stories; his 1999 feature, Solomon and Gaenor, about a young Jewish man and young Welsh woman who fall for each other against her family's wishes in 1911, was nominated for a best foreign language film Oscar. Regent has not yet announced a theatrical release date.
In Italy in the 1960s, Massimo Consoli was so eager for gay activism he subscribed to ONE and The Mattachine Review, despite having only a scant grasp of English. His own pioneering work for gay equality caught the attention of SID, which interrogated his neighbors, cost him his teaching job, and impelled him to move to the Netherlands. From that safe refuge, he published his Manifesto Gay in 1971 and as a result gay activists immediately formed FUORI! with branches in Rome, Milan, and Turin. Consoli attended the Gay May Day events of 1972 and arranged Italy's first commemoration of Stonewall on June 28, 1976, just one of the hundreds of political events he organized, ranging from demonstrations to conferences to book lectures. In the early 1980s he lived in New York and became good friends with Vito Russo, but after witnessing the emerging aids crisis he returned to Italy to educate people about safe sex. He was the first person to discuss anti-gay violence with the Italian police, who then established a liaison to the gay community; and in 1992 he initiated the demonstration at the Vatican against Cardinal Ratzinger's antigay writings which discuss homosexuality in terms of "an intrinsic moral evil." Consoli started the magazine Gay News Rome and wrote forty books, two standouts of which are Homocaust, about the Nazi's persecution of gay men, and an autobiographical novel Andata and Ritorno. He led pilgrimages to the tomb, outside Rome, of Karl Ulrichs, annually on his birthday August 28, and last year he helped get a statue of Ulrichs placed at the grave. Consoli himself died in November 2007, of stomach cancer. His papers dating before 1998 are in the Italian national archives and those after '98 are in a gay archive.